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kottke.org posts about russia

Queendom

Queendom is a documentary film by Agniia Galdanova about queer Russian activist and performance artist Jenna Marvin and her unusual form of protest against the war in Ukraine and Russia’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people. From a short review in the Guardian:

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, some brave souls took to the streets of Moscow to voice their horror at the war, and were met with batons and police brutality. Radical queer performance artist Gena Marvin took a different approach. Wearing platform boots, body paint and wrapped in barbed wire, she walked the streets of Moscow in a stark, silent statement against the war. To call Gena a drag artist fails to capture just how subversive and courageous are her public “performances”. Her otherworldly costumes, created from junk and tape, show the influence of Leigh Bowery; her fearlessness evokes the punk provocation of Pussy Riot.

Marvin’s performances can be intense — check out this video from Paris in 2022. France had just advanced into the semifinals of the World Cup and she went out on the streets dressed in an all-black costume straight out of Alien or Pan’s Labyrinth:

Queendom opens in theaters and will available on streaming on June 14.

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Garry Kasparov: Stand With Ukraine in the Fight Against Evil

In an uncompromising TED Talk from a few days ago, Garry Kasparov warns we must confront “true evil” in the world when we see it, in this case Vladimir Putin and his regime.

Actually, my first article of warning was published in “The Wall Street Journal” on January 4, 2001. I saw evil because I heard evil. Putin was telling us what he was. All we had to do was listen. When Putin said that there was no such thing as a former KGB agent, I knew Russia’s fragile democracy was in danger. When Putin said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, I knew Russia’s newly independent neighbors were at risk. And when Putin talked at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 about a return to spheres of influence, I knew he was ready to launch his plan. It was the language from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, 1939. The language Hitler and Stalin used to divide Europe. And a year later, in 2008, Putin invaded the Republic of Georgia. 2014, Ukraine.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it? Dictators lie about everything they have done, but often they tell us exactly what they’re going to do. Just listen. Anyone who is surprised at Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine must not be aware about his long record, beginning with the Second Chechen War in Grozny more than two decades ago. Vladimir Putin has been a war criminal from the start.

When he was talking about the problem with compromising with authoritarians, I was reminded of a phrase I’ve heard in a couple of different contexts recently: meeting a racist halfway on their views is still racism; meeting a fascist halfway on their views is still fascism. As Rebecca Solnit put it in an article about the 2020 election: “Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?” Meeting a brutal authoritarian halfway, Kasparov is arguing, is still tyranny.


How Ukrainians Are Saving Art During the War

Building on the lessons of World War II, Ukrainians are trying to save their art and other important cultural artifacts from destruction during Russia’s invasion. When an invader repeatedly tries to deny the cultural distinction of a people for decades and even centuries, like Russia has done with Ukraine, saving buildings and statues and paintings can be of great importance.

Because under the 1954 convention, “damage to cultural property means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind”. So attacks on cultural heritage are a considered war crime. But treaties can only do so much. In the years since, conflicts around the world have rendered immeasurable damage to cultural heritage. A lot of it intentional. Like the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas. And Isis’ attacks on ancient sites all over Syria.

“That cultural heritage is not only impacted, but in many ways it’s implicated and central to armed conflict. These are things that people point to that are unifying factors for their society. They are tangible reflections of their identity.”

And Putin has made it clear that identity is at the ideological center of Russia’s invasion: “I would like to emphasize again that Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space.”

“He thinks that we don’t really exist and they want to destroy all the signs of our identity.”

BTW, regarding the destruction of the museum that housed works by Maria Prymachenko at the start of the video: according to the Ukrainian Institute, the works were saved from burning by local residents.


The Holodomor: When Stalin Starved Ukraine

In the early 1930s, desiring the bountiful wheat harvests of its farmlands to sell to Europe and wanting to subjugate its people, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin carried out a genocide in Ukraine that killed millions and hid it behind the guise of food shortages. It’s known as the Holodomor.

In Ukraine, it’s become known as “the Holodomor,” meaning “death by starvation.” It was a genocide carried out by a dictator who wanted to keep Ukraine under his control and who would do anything to keep it covered up for decades.

In the 1930s, Soviet leaders under Joseph Stalin engineered a famine that killed millions as they sought to consolidate agricultural power. In Ukraine, they used additional force as they sought to clamp down on a burgeoning Ukrainian national identity. There, at least 4 million died. As hunger spread among residents, Stalin spearheaded a disinformation campaign to hide the truth from other Soviet citizens and the world. So many Ukrainians died that officials had to send people to resettle the area, setting off demographic shifts that last to this day.


Collecting Bodies in Bucha

The details of the atrocities committed against the people of Bucha, Ukraine by Russian soldiers are more horrifying than language has words for. Luke Mogelson and photographer James Nachtwey are reporting for the New Yorker from Bucha as loved ones and volunteers try to make sense of the destruction. Note: the descriptions and photos in this piece may be disturbing (but IMO, we cannot turn away from this). This is one of the tamer paragraphs:

On the far side of a stretch of railroad tracks, two elderly women had been killed in their house. One lay in the doorway, another in the kitchen. Both were bundled in heavy winter coats. Neighbors said that they had been sisters, both in their seventies. Their small house was filled with hardcover books, and they did not own a television; it was impossible not to imagine their quiet, literary life together before it was annihilated. In the only bedroom, two narrow mattresses were pushed together and covered by a single blanket.

Update: From the NY Times, Bucha’s Month of Terror.

As the Russian advance on Kyiv stalled in the face of fierce resistance, civilians said, the enemy occupation of Bucha slid into a campaign of terror and revenge. When a defeated and demoralized Russian Army finally retreated, it left behind a grim tableau: bodies of dead civilians strewn on streets, in basements or in backyards, many with gunshot wounds to their heads, some with their hands tied behind their backs.


Arnold Schwarzenegger Shares a Powerful Message to the Russian People

This is really good: Arnold Schwarzenegger recorded a message, subtitled in both English and Russian, directed at the Russian people (and briefly, Vladimir Putin) about the war in Ukraine. It’s a canny piece of media by an exceptional communicator — drawing on his obvious respect for the people of Russia and his father’s experience as a German soldier in World War II, Schwarzenegger tells Russian citizens that they’ve been lied to about the war by their leadership, that most of the world is against their actions, and warns them about the consequences of being economically and socially isolated from the rest of the world.

This is not the war to defend Russia that your grandfather or your great grandfathers fought. This is an illegal war! Your lives, your limbs, your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world.


Ukrainian Stamp Design Contest

After Russia invaded the country, Ukraine’s post office (Ukrposhta) decided to hold a contest to design a stamp that illustrated “Ukrainians’ determination to defend their land”. Out of 500 submissions, Ukrposhta chose 20 designs as the finalists.

design for a Ukrainian stamp featuring a lighthouse as a raised middle finger

design for a Ukrainian stamp featuring a Ukrainian soldier flipping the bird to a Russian warship

design for a Ukrainian stamp featuring a yellow sword cracking a Russian ship in half

(Paweł Jońca’s illustration would also have made an amazing stamp.) Many of the finalists, including the winning entry (middle stamp above), reference the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island who told a Russian warship “Go fuck yourself”. Ukrposhta is now working on getting the winning stamp printed so that people can use it for postage — because, perhaps unbelievably, the post office continues to deliver the mail & packages throughout much of the country. (thx, @jackisnotabird)


Sanctions Would Bite Russia Harder with Pro-Transparency Finance Reforms

The other day I shared a video and article by Oliver Bullough on how the UK enables Russia’s oligarchs to launder their money: Putin’s Oligarchs and the London Laundromat. Writer and researcher Casey Michel, author of American Kleptocracy: How the U.S. Created the World’s Greatest Money Laundering Scheme in History, is here to tell us that the US and EU countries are also guilty here. In a piece for The Atlantic, Michel argues that the present sanctions against Russia would be much more effective if the West were willing to address the use of anonymous shell companies and trusts to launder funds.

The Western response has been far broader than most experts anticipated, and threatens to throw the Russian economy into chaos. Yet there’s a catch. Absent significant domestic reforms in the West — reforms that should have been enacted long ago — sanctions targeted at the oligarchic and official figures close to Russian President Vladmir Putin risk inflicting little more than a flesh wound on Russia’s imperial kleptocracy.

Rampant financial anonymity in places like the U.S. makes it relatively easy for powerful rich people to evade sanctions. A Russian oligarch may have multimillion-dollar mansions in Washington, D.C.; or multiple steel plants across the Rust Belt; or a controlling stake in a hedge fund in Greenwich, Connecticut; or an entire fleet of private jets in California; or an array of lawyers setting up purchases at art houses around the country. And all of that wealth can be hidden-perfectly legally-behind anonymous shell companies and trusts that are enormously difficult to penetrate.

If Western policy makers hope to hold Putin’s cronies truly accountable, sanctions will have to be paired with pro-transparency reforms that can disassemble this web of secrecy. Western governments should start by ending anonymity in shell companies and trusts; demanding basic anti-money-laundering checks for lawyers, art gallerists, and auction-house managers; and closing loopholes that allow anonymity in the real-estate, private-equity, and hedge-fund industries. That is, if the sanctions are to retain their bite, the entire counter-kleptocracy playbook needs to be implemented-immediately.


Putin’s Oligarchs and the London Laundromat

In this entertaining and informative video, Oliver Bullough, who has written a pair of books on money laundering (Moneyland and the forthcoming Butler to the World) takes us on a tour of London while telling us how “the most efficient scaled-up money laundering system in the world” has helped Russia’s oligarchs hide their billions and keep Putin in power. Bullough also wrote about the UK’s role in laundering oligarch money recently in The Guardian.

Russia is a mafia state, and its elite exists to enrich itself. Democracy is an existential threat to that theft, which is why Putin has crushed it at home and seeks to undermine it abroad. For decades, London has been the most important place not only for Russia’s criminal elite to launder its money, but also for it to stash its wealth. We have been the Kremlin’s bankers, and provided its elite with the financial skills it lacks. Its kleptocracy could not exist without our assistance. The best time to do something about this was 30 years ago — but the second best time is right now.

We journalists have long been writing about this, but it is not simply overheated rhetoric from overexcited hacks. Parliament’s intelligence and security committee wrote two years ago that our investigative agencies are underfunded, our economy is awash with dirty money, and oligarchs have bought influence at the very top of our society.


Russian Bear Steps on Ukrainian Lego

illustration of a giant red Russian bear about to step on a small Ukrainian flag made of Lego bricks

An absolutely fantastic poster by Polish illustrator Paweł Jońca of a giant red Russian bear about to step on a small Ukrainian flag made of Lego bricks. A printable digital download of this poster is available “by paying ANY amount” with all proceeds going to humanitarian aid for Ukraine (specifically to Polska Akcja Humanitarna).


The Colorful Work of Ukrainian Artist Maria Prymachenko

painting of a peace dove by Maria Prymachenko

Maria Prymachenko is one of Ukraine’s best-known artists. Known for her colorful, expressive, and “primitive” style, Prymachenko won a gold medal for her work at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris and Pablo Picasso is said to have remarked “I bow down before the artistic miracle of this brilliant Ukrainian” after seeing her work. Prymachenko’s paintings featured animals (both real & fantastical), everyday Ukrainian people, food & agriculture, and themes of war & peace.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine announced that the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum had been burned in the Russian invasion and that 25 works by Prymachenko had been lost. Luckily, according to the Ukrainian Institute, local residents were able to save the paintings.

You can find more of Prymachenko’s work below and at WikiArt.

painting of people, flowers, birds, and the sun by Maria Prymachenko

painting of a woman and sunflowers by Maria Prymachenko

painting of a multi-headed blue beast by Maria Prymachenko

painting of a pink beast with two snakes coming out of its mouth by Maria Prymachenko

painting of a flowery boar in the forest by Maria Prymachenko

painting of some women in an ox cart by Maria Prymachenko


Ukrainians Were Prepared to Defend Their Country: “Who Else But Us?”

In the weeks leading up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the NY Times did a short series of videos about how average Ukrainians were preparing to defend their country. On Jan 28, video journalists spoke to military and residents in Mariupol:

My main takeaway from this video is that the war in Ukraine has been ongoing for some time; the recent invasion is an escalation — a significant one to be sure, but definitely part of whole series of Russian moves. As Fiona Hill replied in a recent interview when asked if we were on the brink of World War III:

We’re already in it. We have been for some time. We keep thinking of World War I, World War II as these huge great big set pieces, but World War II was a consequence of World War I. And we had an interwar period between them. And in a way, we had that again after the Cold War. Many of the things that we’re talking about here have their roots in the carving up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire at the end of World War I. At the end of World War II, we had another reconfiguration and some of the issues that we have been dealing with recently go back to that immediate post-war period. We’ve had war in Syria, which is in part the consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, same with Iraq and Kuwait.

All of the conflicts that we’re seeing have roots in those earlier conflicts. We are already in a hot war over Ukraine, which started in 2014. People shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that we’re just on the brink of something. We’ve been well and truly in it for quite a long period of time.

From Feb 8, a visit to a civilian training center, where people learned how to handle weaponry and field dress wounds:

From Feb 22, a profile of a small paramilitary group that’s been fighting the Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country for years now, sometimes in collaboration with official forces:

One of the paramilitaries said:

God forbid, if a full-scale war breaks out tomorrow in Ukraine, there will be tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of volunteers just like me. Just like in 2014.

And on Feb 26, a video of civilians in Kyiv waiting to pick up weapons to help defend the city:

One of the people waiting in line, Hlib Bondarenko,1 spoke about why he was there:

We are in a queue where people are waiting to get their weapons to fight the Russian invaders. There is no reason to believe that they’re going to stop anytime soon. And their objective, at least to me, seems to be the occupation of my entire country and the destruction of everything I love. I’m just a regular civilian. I have basically nothing to do with war or any other thing like it. And I wouldn’t really want to participate in anything like this, but I don’t really have any choice because this is my home.

  1. The video identifies Bondarenko as a computer programmer, but according to LinkedIn and Dribbble, he’s a UI/UX designer.


Why Russia Is Invading Ukraine

In progress before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and completed as Russian troops began their advance into the country, this video is a helpful overview of some of the geographical, historical, demographic, environmental, political, and economic reasons why, from the perspective of Putin & Moscow, Russia wants to bring Ukraine back into their orbit. (via open culture)


The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Good morning, everyone. As you have likely heard, Russia invaded Ukraine earlier today. Here’s the news from Reuters, NY Times, Associated Press, and CNN. From Reuters:

Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday in a massed assault by land, sea and air, the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War Two.

Missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities. Ukraine reported columns of troops pouring across its borders from Russia and Belarus, and landing on the coast from the Black and Azov seas.

Although I hope I’m wrong, this is not likely to end well for anyone and my thoughts are with the people of Ukraine, those in nearby countries, and also with Russian citizens & soldiers who will bear the consequences for the actions of their “leadership”.

So I wanted to get that out there but also to acknowledge that I don’t know how much I will be talking about this on the site, even though it’s potentially such a big deal. There have never been any hard and fast rules about what goes on the site or not. I am not a journalist and I generally don’t cover current events and news here — but sometimes I do. The pandemic has been a massive exception in that regard over the past two years — it felt irresponsible not to talk about it here, link to resources, amplify expert advice & opinion, and attempt to counter deliberate and deadly misinformation. There are going to be much better sources of news, information, opinion, and analysis about the situation in Ukraine than kottke.org, so I’m going to largely leave them to it. Also, I have not been feeling super sturdy lately, and I’m not sure diving into WWIII is the best thing for me to be doing right now.

Again, just wanted to acknowledge that in case you were wondering why I’m not covering “the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War Two”. Be safe out there, everyone.


How People Live in the Coldest Place on Earth

YouTuber Kiun grew up in Yakutia, a region of Siberia that is known for having some of the coldest weather on Earth (we’re talking -40°F on a warm day). In this video, she talks about what daily life is like there, including details about the open-air markets (meat & fish stay naturally frozen) and having a car (owners basically have to keep them running all winter). From a Wired article about Yakutia:

Here arctic chill is simply a fact of life, something to be endured. People develop a variety of tricks to survive. Most people use outhouses, because indoor plumbing tends to freeze. Cars are kept in heated garages or, if left outside, left running all the time. Crops don’t grow in the frozen ground, so people have a largely carnivorous diet — reindeer meat, raw flesh shaved from frozen fish, and ice cubes of horse blood with macaroni are a few local delicacies.

See also Visiting the Coldest City in the World and A Photographic Window into the Remote Siberian Territory of Yakutia.


Why Does Vladimir Putin Want Alexei Navalny Dead?

After Vladimir Putin, dictatorial leader of Russia for over 20 years now, had seemingly insulated himself against losing power through control of the media, law, elections, and the wealthy allies, a lawyer named Alexei Navalny began to expose the corruption in Putin’s regime with a series of posts to his blog and on YouTube. Navalny continued his investigations, gaining public popularity and running for public office. Putin imprisoned him and tried to have him killed. This Vox video explains in more detail why Putin wants Navalny dead.

More reading on Navalny: Vox explainer, Masha Gessen on recent pro-Navalny protests in Russia. (via open culture)


A Photographic Window into the Remote Siberian Territory of Yakutia

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev’s photos of the remote Russian territory of Yakutia (also known as Sakha, ultra-cold in the winter and hot in the summer) and the people who live there are really something.

Yakutia is the largest region of Russia, but it is almost not explored by man. The number of population is only one million on three million square kilometers. There is no other corner on the Earth where people live in such a severe and contrasting climate. In summer the air warms up to 40 degrees Celsius and in winter it drops to 60 degrees below zero. There is the longest duration of winter, temperatures below zero and snow lies here from October to mid-April.

The transport system has made Yakutia one of the most inaccessible areas in the world. There are almost no railways and few roads. Some places can be reached by plane or helicopter only. The remoteness from the world and severe climatic conditions determined a special way of life and culture of local residents.

That culture includes an enthusiasm for filmmaking, which Vasilyev has also captured.

However, Yakutia is famous not only for the severe climate and gold which is mined here, but also for the cinema. Yakut films participate in international festivals in Europe and Asia, receive awards, which are already more than 80. Yakut Hollywood is called “Sakhawood”.

People with different experiences are engaged in filmmaking. Most directors have no special education, for some of them directing is not the main way to earn money. Actors are people who work in the theater, or people who have never acted in a movie before. About 7-10 feature length films are shot here per year, from romantic comedies to fairy tales, based on local legends and beliefs. Sometimes Yakut movies have better box office than world blockbusters.

You can find more of Vasilyev’s work on Instagram.


The Simpsons Intro Reimagined as a Russian Art Film

The Simpsons has never exactly portrayed its characters in a flattering light, but this version of the show’s title sequence reimagined as a Russian art film by Lenivko Kvadratjić is downright depressing. (via bb)


An Interview with a Contemporary Russian Spy

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Deniss Metsavas served for many years with the Estonian Defense Forces and was, at the same time, a Russian spy. In this video for The Atlantic, Metsavas describes how he was recruited by Russian intelligence using kompromat (compromising material).

For years, Metsavas navigated his disparate allegiances. He got married and started a family. But as he grew in prominence in the Estonian Defense Forces, his Russian handlers began to demand highly classified information on Estonia’s involvement with the United States and NATO, specifically with regard to weapons. Metsavas tried to extricate himself, only to find that his handlers would stop at nothing to obtain the intel-including ensnaring a family member in the increasingly dangerous situation.

Watching the video and reading the accompanying article, you get the sense that maybe the Cold War never ended…


How the KGB Weaponized Fake News (and How It’s Still Hurting Us Today)

The US government created HIV. The CIA killed Kennedy. The KGB deliberately spread disinformation designed to hurt the US and its allies for decades. In this excellent three-part video series from the NY Times, they show how this KBG program worked and how, under Vladimir Putin, it continues to affect world politics.

The first installment is an introduction to how the KGB wielded disinformation as well as a profile of one of their most successful operations: convincing the world that the US government created the AIDS epidemic. It took almost 4 years, but an article planted by the KGB in an Indian newspaper was eventually reported by Dan Rather on the CBS evening news, embraced by anti-AIDS activists, and believed by many foreign governments.

In the words of a KGB agent that defected to the US, the goal of Soviet disinformation was “to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite the abundance of information, no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interests of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.” It was a denial of service attack on the truth.

Fast forward through the end of the Cold War and to the rise of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Now Russia is creating fake news stories like Pizzagate which now form the basis of US domestic and foreign policy because our President watches Fox News every morning. In the second segment, the Seven Commandments of Fake News are introduced:

The commandments are:

1. Find the cracks in the fabric of society, the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions.
2. Create a big lie, something that would be very damaging if you could get people to believe it.
3. Wrap the lie in a kernel of truth.
4. Conceal your hand, make it seem like the story came from somewhere else.
5. Find yourself a useful idiot.
6. Deny everything, even if the truth is obvious.
7. Play the long game.

In the third video, they look at what can be done to combat Russia and other players in this war of disinformation, and how ineffective the response has been on the part of the US government (including the Obama administration) and social media companies:

There are certainly no shortage of useful idiots for Putin to exploit. Fox News and Trump top the list along with the alt-right media charlatans, but YouTube’s algorithms, Facebook’s business model, and the everyday American citizens like you and me are also to blame. Add into the mix that Trump is also waging his own disinformation campaign against the American public, and there’s a lot to ponder and despair.

See also Putin’s Playbook for Discrediting America and Destabilizing the West.


Photos of the Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

As part of his The World in Faces project, Alexander Khimushin has been making portraits of the indigenous people of Siberia wearing native dress.

Alexander Khimushin

Alexander Khimushin

Alexander Khimushin

The photo at the top is of three-year-old Gulnara Kayarina wearing her everyday outfit:

She lives in a portable little 2x3 meter house on skis, wrapped in the reindeer skins, at the endless tundra, about 50 km away from the nearest settlement of Tukhard (pronounced Too-Hard) — one the the remotest and coldest places of Krasnoyarsk Krai. Located at the Taymyr Peninsula (Arctic part of Siberia and the Northernmost region of Eurasia) Tukhard is accessible by helicopter only. Gulnara is one of two daughters in the family of reindeer herders Prokopy and Maya Kayarin. Her sister Rimma is a bit older, she is 5. Both girls live nomadic life with their parents and their reindeer in the vast snowy expanse of the tundra, extended as far as the edge on the Arctic Ocean. Nenets People are one of five ethnic group on Indigenous People of Taymyr Peninsula. Most of Nenets People still live traditional lifestyle in this extremely remote and coldest region of the world. Right now the region experiencing a so-called polar night — 45 days long period of total darkness. Winter temperature regularly drops below -40C/-40F. With a combination of strong winds with a speed as high as 35 meters/sec the climate of Taymyr is certainly one of the most extreme ones of the world.

You can follow this project on Facebook and Instagram.


Vladimir Putin’s “quasi-mystical beliefs” and the rebound of authoritarianism

You might remember Yale historian Timothy Snyder from his 20 lessons on fighting authoritarianism (which he turned into a short bestselling book, On Tyranny). Snyder has a new book out called The Road to Unfreedom that covers the rebound of authoritarianism first in Russia and then in Europe and America.

According to this review from The Economist, the book goes into some detail about the ideological beliefs of Vladimir Putin in his quest to undermine Western democracy. A favorite thinker of Putin’s, a Revolution-era philosopher named Ivan Ilyin, advocated for a Russian monarchy while another, Lev Gumilev, believed that nations draw their power from cosmic rays?

Also present in Mr Putin’s thinking is an even more extreme anti-liberal ideology: that of Lev Gumilev, who thought that nations draw their collective drive, or passionarnost (an invented word), from cosmic rays. In this bizarre understanding of the world, the West’s will to exist is almost exhausted, whereas Russia still has the energy and vocation to form a mighty Slavic-Turkic state, spanning Eurasia.

The result, according to Snyder:

What these ways of thinking have in common, Mr Snyder argues, is a quasi-mystical belief in the destiny of nations and rulers, which sets aside the need to observe laws or procedures, or grapple with physical realities. The spiritual imperative transcends everything, rendering politics, and the pursuit of truth in the ordinary sense, superfluous or even dangerous.

You can see where the election of Donald Trump — with his own “quasi-mystical belief in the destiny” of himself and without “the need to observe laws or procedures” — is a welcome ally/patsy for Putin.

See also Putin’s playbook for discrediting America and destabilizing the West: “Just wanna make sure you all know there is a Russian handbook from 1997 on ‘taking over the world’ and Putin is literally crossing shit off.”


Unknown Soviet photographer left a huge cache of photos behind when she died

Masha Ivashintsova

Masha Ivashintsova

Masha Ivashintsova

Born in 1942, Masha Ivashintsova was a photographer based in Leningrad who, when she died in 2000, left over 30,000 photographs that she never showed to anyone, not even her family.

My mother, Masha Ivashintsova, was heavily engaged in the Leningrad poetic and photography underground movement of the 1960-80s. She was a lover of three geniuses of the time: Photographer Boris Smelov, Poet Viktor Krivulin and Linguist Melvar Melkumyan, who is also my father. Her love for these three men, who could not be more different, defined her life, consumed her fully, but also tore her apart. She sincerely believed that she paled next to them and consequently never showed her photography works, her diaries and poetry to anyone during her life.

After her death, her daughter and son-in-law found the photos in the attic and have built a website to showcase Ivashintsova’s work; it’s also being shared via Instagram.


The Road Movie, a feature-length compilation of Russian dashcam videos

The Road Movie, out in theaters in January, consists of nothing but videos taken from Russian dashboard cameras. There are car accidents, animal hijinks, fistfights, high/drunk people, meteors, and fires. The trailer is really entertaining…I’m curious to see the entire film to see how it’s stitched into something resembling a narrative that can sustain a viewer’s attention for more than 20 minutes.


Putin’s Playbook for Discrediting America and Destabilizing the West

Last week, journalist Jules Suzdaltsev wrote:

Just wanna make sure you all know there is a Russian handbook from 1997 on “taking over the world” and Putin is literally crossing shit off.

The book in question is The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia by neo-fascist political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, whose nickname is “Putin’s Brain”. The book has been influential within Russian military & foreign policy circles and it appears to be the playbook for recent Russian foreign policy. In the absence of an English language translation, some relevant snippets from the book’s Wikipedia page:

The book declares that “the battle for the world rule of [ethnic] Russians” has not ended and Russia remains “the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution.” The Eurasian Empire will be constructed “on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us.”

The United Kingdom should be cut off from Europe.

Ukraine should be annexed by Russia because “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness, its certain territorial ambitions represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics”.

The book stresses the “continental Russian-Islamic alliance” which lies “at the foundation of anti-Atlanticist strategy”. The alliance is based on the “traditional character of Russian and Islamic civilization”.

Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists”. Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements — extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

Ukraine, Brexit, Syria, Trump, promotion of fascist candidates in European elections (Le Pen in France), support for fascism in the US…it’s all right there in the book. And they’ve done it all while barely firing a shot.


How Vladimir Putin rose to power and Made Russia Great Again

This video from Vox explains how Vladimir Putin took advantage of the post-Soviet political and economic chaos in Russia to become its leader in a very short period of time and what’s he done with that leadership since then.

Vladimir Putin has been ruling Russia since 1999. In that time he has shaped the country into an authoritarian and militaristic society. The Soviet Union dissolved into 15 new countries, including the new Russian Federation. In Putin’s eyes, Russia had just lost 2 million square miles of territory. But Putin’s regime has also developed and fostered the most effect cyber hacker army in the world and he’s used it to wreak havoc in the West. But the election of Donald Trump brings new hope for the Putin vision. Trump’s rhetoric has been notably soft on Russia. He could lift sanctions and weaken NATO, potentially freeing up space for Putin’s Russia to become a dominant power once again.

Watching this, it’s easy to see how Putin’s progress in Making Russia Great Again, not to mention the authoritarian methods he employs, would be appealing to Trump.

See also Here are 10 critics of Vladimir Putin who died violently or in suspicious ways.


Relive the 1917 Russian Revolution through the voices of the day

Romanovs In Color

“1917. Free History” is a project that lets you relive the events of the 1917 Russian Revolution from letters, photos, videos, and texts written at the time.

The project consists entirely of primary sources. It includes not a trace of invention. All the texts used are taken from genuine documents written by historical figures: letters, memoirs, diaries and other documents of the period.

“1917. Free History” is a serial, but in the form of a social network. Every day, when you go onto the site, you will find out what happened exactly one hundred years ago: what various people were thinking about and what happened to each of them in this eventful year. You may not fast-forward into the future, but must follow events as they happen in real time.

“1917. Free History” is a way of bringing the past to life and bringing it closer to the present day. It is a way of understanding what the year 1917 was like for those who lived in Russia and in other countries. We have scoured archives and storerooms for texts, photographs and videos, many of which have never seen the light of day before.

For instance, 100 years ago today writer Maxim Gorky wrote:

The events currently unfolding appear grandiose, moving even, but the meaning behind them is not as profound and great as everyone takes it to be. I am trying to remain sceptical, although I am also moved to tears by the sights and songs of the soldiers marching to the State Duma. We can never go back, but we’ll not move much forward. A sparrow’s step maybe. A lot of blood will be spilt — more than has ever been spilt before.

Russian physiologist and Nobel Prize winner Ivan Pavlov wrote:

My assistant came in late today. He tried to explain that the revolution has halted all street transport. I believe that a revolution is no excuse for being late!

The image at the top of the page is Tsar Nicholas II with three of his daughters. Spoiler: he abdicates his throne tomorrow.

See also Who are you in 1917 Russia? (I ended up in the Democratic Right quadrant, just right of center.)


A massive billion-dollar movable arch now covers the destroyed reactor at Chernobyl

A building which cost $1.5 billion and was 20 years in the making was moved into position over the highly radioactive remains of the main reactor at Chernobyl this week. The time lapse video above shows how the building was inched into place.

The new structure, which is about 500 feet long, has a span of 800 feet and is 350 feet high, is designed to last at least a century and is intended to prevent any additional spewing of toxic material from the stricken reactor.

Even with the building in place, the surrounding zone of roughly 1000 square miles will remain uninhabitable.


Permafrost thawing in Russia has led to an anthrax outbreak

A Siberian heatwave has led to permafrost thaws that have released long-dormant anthrax bacteria, resulting in the hospitalization of 13 people and the death of over 1500 reindeer.

Citing earlier work from 2007, they estimated anthrax spores remain viable in the permafrost for 105 years. Buried deeper, the bacteria may be able to hibernate for even longer. At the same time, where meteorological data were available they indicate temperatures in Yakutia are increasing.

“As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back,” the scientists warned, “especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.” Cattle grave sites should be monitored, they concluded, and “public health authorities should maintain permanent alertness.”

Another one of those delightful little climate change gotchas, like the near-death of the Great Barrier Reef.

Update: Eric Holthaus talked to some experts and climatologists and yes, pathogens released by warming are something we were warned about and we need to be concerned about it.

Romanovsky says the possibility that additional pathogens may be released from the permafrost, if that is indeed the source, makes it even more important to study this specific outbreak closely. Once in the water supply, in theory, a future pathogen could spread outside the local area, carried by people or by migrating birds or animals.

Though the current outbreak is happening during an unusual period of extreme warmth, Romanovsky says that, “if it gets warmer in the future, and it seems like it will, the thawing permafrost could be massive.” A further degradation of the permafrost would allow more opportunity for the emergence of sequestered microbes.


How to read a Russian criminal’s tattoos

Arkady Bronnikov is an expert when it comes to translating the tattoos of criminals in Russia. To date, he’s collected over 20,000 tattoos, and he’s compiled a “jail slang” dictionary with over 10,000 terms.

The Siberian Times reports:

“Some general rules: crosses often depict the thief’s level of authority. Thiefs are the ones ruling in jails, not murderers.

“Tattoos with knives mean those jailed for hooliganism. Tattoos with beasts - lions, wolves, tigers - mean those jailed for violent robberies. Spiders and syringes indicate drug users.

“The church is another frequent symbol, the number of domes means the number of jail terms, just like rings. Often they have to add extra domes, even though they do not look right for the design.

“There is a lot of text in tattoos. For example, ‘Damn those who decided to improve a man with the help of jail’ or ‘Jail is not a school and prosecutor is not a teacher.’”

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