Archive for January, 2015


January 26, 2015

A pessimistic , but very likely prospect for Ukraine in the article which I am re-posting from


January 23, 2015

Events this week may finally wake up Kyiv to the reality it is facing. Ukraine is at war with Russia. It has been so for many months, as was obvious some time ago to those with eyes wanting to see. Ukraine’s government has not been in that group, and as military reverses mounted, hiding from painful facts has continued. In their own way, Kyiv mouthpieces have been nearly as dishonest in their depictions of the Russo-Ukrainian War as the Kremlin.

In the face of mountains of contrary evidence, Kyiv insisted that the war in the Donbas has been an “anti-terrorist operation” and that the enemy found there are “terrorists” rather than the Russian soldiers that most of them are. In recent days, Moscow has dropped any pretence and is dispatching battalions across the border essentially openly. Once commonplace efforts to mask insignia identifying these units as regular Russian troops have dissipated as Vladimir Putin feels he no longer needs to hide his aggressive presence in Ukraine.

Why should he? Kyiv is a paper tiger, the Europeans are cowered in the corner, terrified of the Kremlin’s next move, while Obama is talking tough about how Russia is losing this conflict, despite the fact that obviously it is not. As usual, Obama is all vapid and chest-puffing talk, coupled with very little action. The White House’s tendency towards escapism in foreign policy has become increasingly marked in a manner that ought to worry all those who like a free Europe, but Obama has no grounds to criticize Kyiv for its dishonest depiction of events in Eastern Europe.

The fall of Donetsk airport this week says a lot about Petro Poroshenko and his presidency, none of it flattering. While there was little Ukraine could have done about the loss of Crimea last spring — they were floored by Putin’s unleashing of Special War with its “little green men,” just as NATO was, and Ukraine had no desire to confront Russia head-on, thinking a wider war might be averted — Kyiv’s leadership since then deserves harsh assessment.

Ham-handed summertime efforts to put pressure on Russian troops and their local proxies led to disaster at Ilovaisk, where ill-prepared and supplied Ukrainian troops and volunteers were cut to pieces. Rather than take the obvious lesson from this, that due to a lack of troops, especially battle-ready ones, Ukraine needed to establish more defensible positions in the Southeast, Kyiv did nothing of the sort.

Instead we wound up with the needless siege of Donetsk airport, an objective of no strategic value except that Poroshenko and his administration said many times that it must be held at any costs, implying Ukraine itself would be lost if this worthless heap of rubble fell to the rebels. Given such rhetoric, one might expect a no-holds barred effort to reinforce the defense, but this being Poroshenko, nothing of the sort happened.

Instead the “cyborgs” bravely holding on to Donetsk airport remained outnumbered, poorly supplied, and dismally led, so their eventual defeat was only a matter of time. With astonishing stupidity, just last weekend Poroshenko, breathing fire, publicly promised that all lost Ukrainian land would be retaken, then turned around and said he was a peace president, not a war president. Then he promptly flew to Davos to hang out with the global one-percent-of-one-percent jet-set. It’s no surprise that many Ukrainian frontline soldiers hate Putin yet actively despise their own president.

I’ve already called on Poroshenko to step down if he cannot manage the war, and it’s painfully clear that he cannot. My counsel last week, that Ukraine must emulate Croatia in the 1990’s — and definitely not Georgia more recently — if it wants to win this war, has been met with pushback from fans of Poroshenko, whose argument really boils down to: this is hard. Yes, war is very hard, perhaps even hell if you believe certain battle-tested generals.

A lot of Ukrainians are angry that they have been left in the lurch by NATO, forgetting that they are not a member of the Alliance. NATO will never go to war over the Donbas and the sooner Ukrainians accept that and stop feeling sorry for themselves and get in the war, the better. To be clear: Putin has engaged in naked aggression against his neighbor, just as Milošević did against Croatia in 1991. Yet if Zagreb had approached that war as Ukraine has dealt with its current crisis, complaining instead of fighting, substituting hashtags for strategy, one-third of Croatia would still be in Serbian hands today, an eternally frozen conflict, and that country would still be decades away from membership in NATO or the EU.

Given the complete lack of serious mobilization for war by Poroshenko, the next move is Putin’s. Given rather strongly suggested Russian objectives, plus looking at a map, it’s likely Russian forces will next move on Mariupol, in an effort to create a land bridge to Crimea. Outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian troops will resist bravely, again, and again they will lose. At this point there is nothing militarily stopping Putin from creating Novorossiya, a Russian pseudo-state running from the Donbas across the Black Sea coast over to their pseudo-state in Transnistria.

Creating Novorossiya would deprive Ukraine of any coastline, which is another reason Putin may seek to do that. It needs to be understood that, after so many needless and humiliating Ukrainian defeats, Putin is only one operational-level victory away from breaking hard-pressed Kyiv’s military in any meaningful sense. The Kremlin can already dictate its terms in the Southeast of Ukraine, and soon it will be able to exert its political will, without a full-scale invasion, over the whole shambolic country.

Putin has the military means to take over all Ukraine, particularly given Russia’s total control of the air, but that would be a fool’s errand, a humanitarian nightmare coupled with an endless insurgency. We can assume the General Staff has told “the boss” what would happen in that case, and we can hope Putin is listening. More likely is the creation of Novorossiya, step by step, under the Russian tricolor, and with that the shattering of any Ukrainian conventional military capability — and political will.

After that, the partition of Ukraine will be easy. The most likely end-state would be a three-way cutting up of the country, with Novorossiya, like Crimea, being joined to the Motherland by a triumphant Putin. The middle of the country around Kyiv, still called Ukraine, would emerge a rump Russian vassal state, independent in name only, to serve as a buffer between Russia and NATO. Ukraine’s West would go its own way, by default. Consisting of an expanded East Galicia, Austrian until 1918, this is the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism, unclaimed even by Russian hardliners, who acknowledge its special status and history. Those with long memories will recall that in 1918, after the Habsburgs fell, the West did not seek immediate union with the rest of Ukraine: expect the Kremlin to “remember” this soon. West Ukraine, the remnant not eaten by the Russian shark, would soon join NATO and the EU, as the Russians off-record understand and accept.

This fate is not preordained, yet it approaches fast, and should be acknowledged as the likely outcome of this war by Ukrainians who seem unable to grasp the gravity of the situation Ukraine faces — starting with Poroshenko. Should Ukraine be broken and partitioned by Russia, a sad history will have repeated itself, and Putin will have thoroughly overturned Europe’s post-Cold War order. This is only part of a broader struggle between Putin and the West — since members of the Russian elite are publicly warning of war with the United States, we may want to pay attention — but Ukraine is the main battleground for now. There Putin is winning, and he will continue to triumph unless Kyiv decides to get serious about the war that has been forced upon Ukraine. They will lose much more than Crimea and the Donbas if they do not.


January 7, 2015

2015-01-07Ilya_Efimovich_RepinThe Russian artist Ilya Repin was as great in painting as Leo Tolstoy was in literature. His pictures carry a true Russian flavor. For one, Religious Procession in Kursk Province was characterized by Richard Brettell, an internationally respected art 2015-01-07Easter procession-Repinhistorian, as a “summa of Russian society, diverse members of which move uneasily but restlessly together down a dusty path through a naked landscape towards a future that cannot be seen even by the painter.” Or take Repin’s famous work Ivan the Terrible and  his Son Ivan depicting the historical 16th  -century story of the Russian czar mortally wounding his son in a fit of rage. The Emperor’s face is fraught with terror, as his son lay quietly dying in his arms, blood dripping down the side of his face, a single tear on his cheek. You look at the son and you see the whole of Russia.2015-01-07REPIN_Ivan_Terrible

Browsing through the Internet I came across two other pictures by Repin brought together, which show how differently the painter saw the Ukrainian and Russian peoples. The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire exploits the legend about the Ukrainian Cossacks sending a reply to the ultimatum of the Turkish Sultan in year 1600. The Cossacks’ letter is a collective writing and in the picture they are discussing every word of it. The humor with which the reply is charged is kind of “smutty”: whatever the Sultan demanded is echoed back by the Cossacks with insults and profanities. Repin admired the Cossacks: “All that Gogol wrote about them is true! A holy people! No one in the world held so deeply freedom, equality, and fraternity.”

The picture Barge Haulers on the Volga depicts quite different people. Laboring men are pulling a large boat upstream the Volga River. They are about to collapse in exhaustion. You may call them stoical and even, to a certain degree, heroic, but the impression is that they have put up with their fate.

2015-01-07Two peoples

For me, these two pictures parallel the two nations as they are now, in the beginning of the 21st century.


January 7, 2015

2015-01-07FSB-GRU-Russia's overt and covert warsAlexander Bednov, a prominent rebel commander in the separatist eastern region of Ukraine was killed when separatist security forces tried to arrest him. An arrest warrant for Bednov and several other battalion members had been issued by separatists’ prosecutors’ office for murder, abduction, torture and other abuses.

What happened doesn’t look like a case of mere infighting among rebels. Bednov (the moniker “Batman”) was too influential and too well-guarded to be done away with so easily. The present-day leader of the separatist region Igor Plotnitskiy wouldn’t have dared to dispose of Bednov without the Kremlin’s consent or without, what is more likely, its direct participation. Besides, all other separatists’ commanders also have their own cellars where they practice torture and murders – à la guerre comme à la guerre – so it wouldn’t be logical to accuse only Bednov of the crimes other war lords are not accused of.

Sooner, it was Putin’s attempt to consolidate the motley rebellion forces before the multi-party negotiations on the future of the region (with the participation of the West) – just to demonstrate that the separatists are united and authoritative enough to come up with their demands.

However, there’s another implication in here if we consider late Bednov’s political views. He was a an adherent of a new state in the region– Novorossiya, and a strong opponent to the Donbass remaining a part of Ukraine, while other leaders (including the financial mogul Plotnitskiy) are less radical and more controllable by Moscow. Apparently, it would be more preferable for Putin not to “feed” the Donbas but to keep it officially integrated in Ukraine, control Ukraine by proxy and, of course, have western sanctions cancelled.

When we look back into history, an analogous case may be traced in the Spanish civil war in the 1930s. The pro-Moscow Spanish communists headed by Dolores Ibarruri and Jose Diaz had a conflict with more radical (Trotskyist) Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (P.O.U.M.), which is why Josef Stalin sent the Soviet intelligence officer Alexander Orlov with his task group to liquidate Andreu Nin, the P.O.U.M. leader – very much like the Russian secret service task force was sent this time to murder Bednov.

IMHO, Bednov, in the capacity of the Donbas leader, would have accorded more with Ukraine’s interests than Plotnitskiy. I don’t like the idea of the Donbas being a political hot potato in my country’s hands.


January 5, 2015

2015-01-05YablochkovWhen I shared with my colleague, a former military, the news that Russia is developing a new strategic 2015-01-05Edisonbomber which will have better characteristics than its NATO counterpart, the colleague gave a smile: “It’s a question whether the nation will be able to afford it – they are cash-strapped. The developmental costs for the similar American aircraft were in $50 billion range. Even if the Russians do something of the kind, it will hardly be more than a few planes for test flights. And then… there are other reasons…Remember what happened to their manned lunar program?”

Apparently, my colleague was referring to problems other than technical. In 1961 President Kennedy proclaimed a manned landing on the Moon. Soon afterwards Nikita Khrushchev reportedly said to leaders of the Soviet rocket industry: “”Do not leave the Moon to the Americans. Anything you need in order to do it, will be provided.” In August 1964 the Soviet government finally gave full go ahead to the lunar landing effort, but two months later, in a palace coup, Khrushchev was forced to step down, which also meant the death of the Soviet lunar project.

Russia (which, for appearances’ sake, named itself the “USSR” for a period of seven decades) has never been a fertile ground for technical innovations. Ideas were produced but they almost never caught on. At my high school the teachers never missed an opportunity to emphasize the priority of Russian inventors as compared to foreign scientists. All of us knew that Pavel Yablochkov and Alexander Lodygin were the first in the world to invent an electric bulb, Ivan Polzunov made the steam engine before James Watt, the Periodic Table of chemical elements was developed by Dmitriy Mendeleyev and every pupil could tell you that May 7th was “Radio Day” – i.e. the day when Alexander Popov invented the radio (the date was celebrated nationwide every year). On the other hand, our teacher never told us about what used to happen to those inventions after they were made. Polzunov’s project was sent to Empress Catherine. She awarded him 400 rubles and promotion two ranks (to captain-poruchik) but did not seem to appreciate the new technology, as she recommended hydropower (not steam) be used to return the pistons as done in Britain. After Ivan Polzunov’s death at age 37 the machine worked three months, then was disassembled and replaced by convenient hydropower, despite paying off its costs in those three months.

Even more illustrative is the example of Yablochkov’s arc lamp (“candle”). Yablochkov experimented on arc lighting in Russia. By the autumn of 1875 he had moved to Paris where in 1876, he was awarded French patent # 112,024 for his electric candle. The first public exhibition of the candle was in London on 15 April 1876. It enjoyed immediate success and popularity. The Yablochkov candle could burn for an average of one and a half hours in a lamp before the candle had to be replaced.

The candles rapidly increased in popularity as another exhibition was held in London on 17 June 1877. Their first commercial use was at the Louvre in October 1877 (that’s when Paris got its nickname that it’s still called today—“The City of Lights”). Units were sold in many European countries including Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Greece, as well as in cities on other continents including Rio de Janiero, Mexico City, New Delhi, Calcutta, and Madras. The Shah of Persia and the King of Cambodia used the candles for illuminating their palaces. At the height of the candle’s popularity, the 8,000 of the candles were produced in France per day. The Russian government persuaded Yablochkov to come back to Russia after he got rich in France—and to do it in Russia. He came back, started a company, and went bankrupt—he couldn’t find investors! He couldn’t even get the hotel he was living in to install his lights. They preferred gas lights!  In the long run, Yablochkov returned to his home province of Saratov, and set up an office where he worked on plans for lighting the city. He died on 31 March 1894. Yablochkov was buried in the village of his parents in the Church of Archangel Michael. The church was destroyed by the communist regime in the late 1930s, so in 1947, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth, Sergey Vavilov, then president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, attempted to locate the exact grave site. By interviewing village elders and reviewing archival records he arrived at a probable location, and a monument was erected on this site on 26 October 1952.

In 1964 two Russians  Alexander Prokhorov and Nikolay Basov  and  an American Charles Townes shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the laser. But no Russian company is making money off lasers nowadays. It never went into the Russian inventors’ heads to commercialize the idea. Meanwhile, Charles Townes took out a patent on what he had developed, sold it to a business, got his slice and … Russia is buying all its cameras, printers, etc. from the West.

The most recent example is fracking. The Russians developed the idea of hydraulic fracturing in the 1950s. A few articles were published in scientific journals and that seemed to be the end of it. In the 1980 the Americans took it up and now Chevron, Exxon, BP are teaching the Russians how to successfully do fracking.

Why so? One reason may be that the social and political environment does not contribute to the implementation of ideas. In western countries successful entrepreneurs are cult figures. Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates have iconic status… Stories go about their not particularly having sweated over their courses at school, some of them were even university drop-outs. But they rose to the heights thanks to their brilliant acumen…  In Russia scientists shun away from business which is considered by them to be dirty, corrupted and criminal, and which it, for the most part, is.

One last finishing touch. A few years ago I was in Turkey translating for my colleague and helping him with tickets, accommodation, etc. while the colleague was being treated for a malignant tumor (in Ukraine there was no gamma-knife to perform that kind of surgery,  and I’m not sure if there is one now). Before we returned to Ukraine, the chief doctor of the oncological center in Turkey where we were staying suggested that their team visit Kyiv and speak to the Ukrainian oncologists about their experience in treating cancer. Incidentally, in his time the doctor had been working at the Division of Oncology at the Stanford School of Medicine, so he knew what he was suggesting. Back in Kyiv, it took me three weeks to phone all potentially interested doctors and to knock dozens of doors explaining that doctors from Turkey were ready to come to Kyiv at their own expense to deliver lectures and demonstrate the equipment.  You don’t even have to pay for interpretation services, I said, I am the interpreter. The last words I heard from a high-positioned medical bureaucrat during my final phone call were: “I don’t need that headache. I feel quite comfortable as I am now…”

Just a graphic example of what the “environment” is…


January 3, 2015

While thinking about New Year’s resolutions which people take annually and fail to live up to after about a week, I remembered Robert Browning’s words:

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?

However, knowing the lines and the authorship, I – to my embarrassment – didn’t know in what connection the poet had used the words. A short research revealed that Robert Browning put these words into the mouth of a Renaissance painter Andrea del Sarto, who, possessing unsurpassed technical skills, lacked the spirit and soul of his contemporaries Raphael and Michelangelo.  Browning’s poem “Andrea del Sarto” has also another title – “The Faultless Painter.” The protagonist admits that being faultless as a painter, he is only a craftsman, and is stuck with earthly inspirations, but a real talent is able to glimpse heaven.

So, let’s not be afraid to reach for something we won’t probably catch. We still capture a SOUL.

2015-01-03John_Heyl_VincentAs for New Year’s resolutions, the most inspiring I know were done by Bishop John H. Vincent, an American Methodist Episcopal Bishop (d. 1920, aged 88):

A RESOLVE for every morning of the New Year: I will this day try to live a simple, sincere and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking, cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity and the habit of holy silence, exercising economy in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust and a child-like trust in God.


January 2, 2015

???????????????????????????????We often are inspired into action by some subordinate or supplementary items that accompany that action. When I was a high school student, new textbooks were powerful stimuli for me to delve into school courses. I used to buy textbooks for a new academic year one after another all through the summer – as regularly (or rather, as irregularly) as they were supplied to our village store from the regional educational center. The books were shiningly clean and flung a thrilling fragrance at me, and I started reading them and working on them even before school began each September. Foreign languages were (and they are
until now!) my passion too, and when my Dad once – some 50 years ago – came home late at night with a German textbook for me, I didn’t get a wink of sleep in my bed that night thinking about how I would begin a new stage of learning in the morning. That was a 7th form course book (Deutsch für die VII Klasse), and I have been keeping it on my shelf until today. Even though it is already worn and shabby after it suffered many readings in many hands, it remains so much dear to me.


2015-01-02PedometerAnother long-standing hobby of mine is jogging. I jog once or twice a week, covering each time a distance of about 10 to 15 kilometers (depending on the stretch covered, I usually take one or two days to get my sinews restored and also to do physical jerks with ankle weights and dumb-bells). This year I got an Omron pedometer as a
Christmas gift from my daughter. You enter your data in there (your body weight, height, step stride), fix the device somewhere on your clothes and you may forget about it. All through the day the pedometer performs all the necessary calculations while you move about, and each time you decide to look at it tells you how many calories you have already spent. Shall I say how excited I was to get the smart thing? This morning I easily jogged 21 kilometers within 2 hours and 19 minutes having lost about 1,900 kcal! The last time I jogged for so long was a year ago!


Generally, the digital era we are living in has wonderful tools to invigorate us for
doing things. The subject matter and methodology used by makers of the Duolingo project for learning foreign languages may be criticized, but the moment I get an automatically processed encouragement in my email box “You are on fire! Continue you …-day streak on Duolingo” I open the site again and again doing my daily portion of learning.


???????????????????????????????Yesterday, while seeing the New Year in, we went to the website showing the exact time and welcomed year 2015 the moment all zeroes appeared on the screen. I made pictures of digits showing the time about a minute before and about half a minute after 12 AM. At 00.00.00 exactly my wife, my daughter and I were holding our glasses toasting each other and the future. Precision is my inspiration.


January 1, 2015

2015-01-01A most significant political result of 2014 for Ukraine was the grown national maturity of the people. Thanks to Mr. Putin, more and more people here started to identify with this country and with its (hopefully) European future as opposed to what had been prepared for them by the ex-President Yanukovych and his Kremlin patron. I am even glad for the people of Donbas and Crimea to have separated from Ukraine: let them stay where they are and carry on loving Father Putin as long as they do not attempt to encroach on my land. And, as millions of Ukrainians, I am thankful to those people and governments all over the world who, by their decent and sober stand, managed to bring Putin to his senses – at least for the time being.

In Soviet times it was not officially forbidden to “love” Ukraine. The Party allowed you to sing about how wide the Dnieper was (but at the same time it was advised to remember that the river flew through the territory of two other “fraternal” republics – Russia and Byelorussia). You could say proudly that Kyiv (the Russian spelling “Kiev”) was the heart of Ukraine, but only by adding that the city was the “brother of the great Moscow.” You might speak about the rich black soils of the country — only you had to always add that the fields were cultivated by the “collective farmers.”

Regarding their national sentiments, the Soviets were split into patriots and nationalists. If a person was a patriot, it automatically meant that he was a patriot of the Soviet Union: the phrase “a patriot of Ukraine” was oxymoronic – very much like “hot snow” or the “black sun.” If, in some way, the person demonstrated his being a Ukrainian, he was on the Party’s radar screen. When I was being interviewed for my first job in the 1970s, the Party secretary asked me about my family. I told him that a son had been born into our family and added that the son’s name was Bogdan.  A couple of weeks after I was employed, the same Party secretary suggested that I should prepare a report at our university’s political seminar about how the Communist Party had solved the national problem in the multinational USSR. I guessed why the secretary told me to come up with that theme: the name Bogdan was a genuine Ukrainian name and was associated with Bogdan (Bohdan) Kmelnytskyi, the 17th-century national hero of Ukraine.

If you insisted on your “Ukrainianism”, you could be categorized as a “bourgeois nationalist.” In this view I would like to make a line of division between a great-power nationalism, which I call “chauvinism”, and the nationalism of an oppressed nation, which is for me equivalent to “patriotism” or, in simpler terms, to the love of one’s own country, to a wish to see one’s country independent and just, free and prosperous, godly and civilized. That love and wish were the driving force for the activities of Yevhen Konovalets, Andriy Melnyk and Stepan Bandera before and during WWII. The Soviet Union left no unturned stone to discredit their names and the ideas of Ukrainian nationalism. For one, Stepan Bandera was accused of collaborating with Hitler during the Holocaust. It was just the other way round: Bandera got imprisoned by the German fascists, while lots of Jews were fighting alongside with the Banderovites against the German fascists – just as seventy years later they were fighting against the Putin-backed Yanukovych. This time they even got a proud name: Judo-Banderovites. Incidentally, I always advise my compatriots to learn from the Jewish people how to love one’s native country and how to build it. And also to how to be nationalists — with the first book of Jewish nationalism being the Old Testament itself.

During the latest parliamentary elections in Ukraine the whole of the Obolon disctrict in Kyiv where I live was flooded with leaflets and billboards promoting the candidacy of a local money-bag. However, the victory was gained by a person who was a Maidan activist and a participant in the ongoing war with Russia. I am happy to post his leaflet – I also voted for him.

And one finishing touch: today is Stepan Bandera’s birthday. Actually, that was the reason why I thought of writing this blog.

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