Polish NATO Jets Buzz Russian Defense Minister’s Plane

I don’t know if you heard about this bit of news earlier this week—I think it was Wednesday—but two NATO F-16 fighter jets buzzed some Russian planes, one of which just happened to have Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on board.

I first saw the story in the American media. Here’s a link to USA Today’s take on it.

A NATO fighter jet buzzed the plane of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu before being chased off by a Russian jet in what would be the latest aerial confrontation between the West and Russia and its allies, Russian media reported Wednesday.

The Russian plane was flying over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea en route to the western Russian city of Kaliningrad when a NATO F-16 “attempted to make an approach” to Shoigu’s plane, RIA Novosti reported, citing its journalist on Shoigu’s plane. A Russian Su-27 fighter escorting the minister “displayed its weapons” and the F-16 flew off, the media outlet said.

Pretty usual, to be honest. Keep in mind this comes in the wake of a Russian fighter plane buzzing one of our jets recently. Allegedly the Russian plane came within five feet of the American plane! So yes, I do recognize this has been a recurring problem from the Russians. And in this case, the Russian planes were over neutral waters, but allegedly didn’t identify themselves when asked.

However, this incident I’m blogging about was a little bit different. You see, the Russian defense minister was on board. He was en route to Kaliningrad. It strikes me as more than a little coincidental that he was buzzed—I wonder if his schedule was known ahead of time. It seems like this was meant to send a specific signal to Russia. Not only that, but the Russians reported their take on the issue—and have a hilarious video as well. Here’s a video from TV Zvezda, the official media outlet of the Ministry of Defense.

The first plane we see is the NATO jet. Then a Russian Su-27 comes up, does a little wing tilt in the air to show off its weapons, and that’s that. Nothing bad happened, fortunately.

Until yesterday, I thought that was that, but then I saw a new development in the story. It has come out that the NATO jets belonged to Poland. Yes, Poland.

A pair of Polish F-16 supersonic multirole jets were on a NATO patrol mission when they were informed of Russian planes near the borders of countries whose airspace they were guarding, the broadcaster said.

According to RMF FM, they intercepted Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu’s Tu-154 plane and its two armed Su-27 jet escorts. According to Russian authorities, Shoigu was en-route to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, northeast of Poland, RMF FM reported.

The whole thing kind of ticks me off, to be honest, because it seems like Poland, who hates Russia, is basically playing chicken with a major nuclear power without regard for the consequences. And they can do it with impunity because if anything does happen, they’ve got NATO. This basically means Poland could drag the United States into a war with Russia over something stupid just because of NATO’s Article 5. Let me also remind you who pays the bulk of NATO’s costs. Hint: it’s not Poland. Scroll down to the section called “Direct funding of NATO” and you can see that the United States pays for 22% of the budget. Poland pays a measly 2%. Hey Poland, if you want to engage with Russian jets over neutral waters, how about coughing up a bit more money for this organization, huh?

Sigh. NATO should have been disbanded long ago. I’ve thought that for years and I still think that. It served its purpose during the Cold War. Now that’s over, NATO should be done with, too.

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‘Look At Me When I’m Speaking’: A Fabulous Row In The UN

Meet Vladimir Karpovich Safronkov.

To become a Russian diplomat, you have to be physically imposing. That’s my theory, anyway. Source

Until recently, Safronkov was a little-known deputy at Russia’s UN delegation. A career diplomat who was born on March 29, 1964, he attended the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), which seems to be a de facto prerequisite to have a career in Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Even after Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, passed away in January of this year, Safronkov didn’t exactly step right into the spotlight. I’d never heard of the guy until recently, and I don’t think I’m alone.

However, Safronkov made headlines last week when he angrily (and in my opinion, awesomely) told off the UK’s permanent representative to the UN. The British representative made some very pointed remarks about Russia’s stance on Syria—and Safronkov wasn’t having any of it. As my mom said about the photo below, if looks could kill…

Apparently you have to raise your hand to talk at the UN? Or maybe he’s just voting on some resolution.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in this case, we need to extend the metaphor and say that a video is worth a thousand pictures. (It sounded cleverer in my head before I typed it…) There are multiple videos of Safronkov telling off the British. I think this one from the Guardian is the best because it preserves the original languages of both parties. I’ve also embedded the video below—I’ve never embedded from the Guardian before, so I hope it works. The link above will also take you to the video.

[Edit, April 23: Sorry about the video embed, guys. I hear it doesn’t work. From what I can tell, my WordPress forbids this sort of code. I’ve embedded a video from YouTube below, which is a bit more extensive than the one from the Guardian. You can see the video from the Guardian on their website by clicking here.]

That video is just a small excerpt of what happened. If someone can find the entire thing with subtitles, I’d be happy to post it, especially since the video I have above leaves out the best part. Apparently Safronkov also said, “Don’t you dare insult Russia again!”

The video has raised quite a reaction in the media. Russians are talking about it. The British are talking about it. Even people over here in the US are talking about it. As you can imagine, there’s a split amongst people who have an opinion about it. Some think it’s amazing and others think Safronkov acted like a thug. My position is probably clear from this post, but in case it isn’t, I do think that British guy was a bit of an arse…

Also, the United States permanent representative to the UN, Nikki Haley, wisely stayed out of the kerfuffle.

The Other Elections

So, everyone in my country has been talking about the presidential election on November 8. It’s overshadowed a lot of other things in the news, including two other countries’ presidential elections that took place last weekend.

These countries are Bulgaria and Moldova—admittedly not countries the average American pays attention to in the best of times. Luckily I, your humble correspondent, do follow this area, as I’ve been blogging about Eastern Europe for years. Overall, the results of the elections can be summarized as a big win for Russia.

Moldova

Igor Dodon
Igor Dodon

Igor Dodon won. He’s a member of the socialist party is very pro-Russia. His platform includes improving relations with Russia and ending an association agreement Moldova has with the EU. Russia especially likes him because he recognizes Crimea as a part of Russia. He ran against a pro-European Union candidate and many say this was a victory for the anti-EU (and therefore pro-Russian) movement in Moldova.

Bulgaria

Rumen Radev in 2012, when he was still in the Air Force
Rumen Radev in 2012, when he was still in the Air Force

Rumen Radev won the Bulgairan presidential election. He is a socialist but, like Dodon, is also pro-Russia. Radev is a former Air Force general. He actually participated in a military training exercise in the United States in the 1990s and attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, graduating in 2003.

I’m less clear about Radev’s positions than Dodon’s, though he is pro-Russia, wants to develop closer relations with Russia, and wants the EU to drop the sanctions against Russia.

Meanwhile, a lot of the media and political analysts are describing this as a huge win for Russia. Not one, but two pro-Russia candidates have come to power. President-elect Donald Trump has also mentioned wanting better relations with Russia. I think there’s a good chance the United States could drop the sanctions against Russia. Now if only we could get the EU to do the same…

Who Killed Alexander Litvinenko?

Alexander Litvinenko, date unknown.
Alexander Litvinenko, date unknown.

I read this fascinating article earlier this year (in the end of January), sent it to my mom in an email with extensive commentary, then very foolishly forgot to post it here on my blog. The article, which appeared in Newsweek—that’s a mainstream publication, mind you—is called Who Killed Litvinenko? Perhaps Not Russia After All.

(If you’re not familiar with the Litvinenko case, consider reading this Wikipedia article. It’s quite comprehensive, if a bit biased in certain places.)

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Newsweek article. If you haven’t read it, you probably should or this post won’t make sense. 🙂

This is the only article I’ve ever read in the mainstream Western media that at least considers the possibility that the Russian state wasn’t involved in this. And the inconsistencies of the case are certainly interesting.
Continue reading “Who Killed Alexander Litvinenko?”

American Soldiers Meet Poroshenko in Ukraine

So remember when I blogged last week that the US military is training some units from the Ukrainian military to fight the Russian invaders/rebels of Donbass/brave freedom fighters/evil Putin robot clones bent on Communist world domination/whatever term you want to insert here? Well, that training commenced yesterday and I have hilariously amazing photos culled straight from the Runet (Russian-speaking internet) for you! I found them here, but I’m going to showcase all of them here, with amazing commentary, so you don’t need to even click on that link (unless you really want to, of course).

You know this training has the stamp of approval when US ambassador to Ukraine shows up! Seriously, Geoff, the glasses aren't that great of a look for you. Though Poroshenko seems to like it...
You know this training has the stamp of approval when US ambassador to Ukraine shows up! Seriously, Geoff, the glasses aren’t that great of a look for you. Though Poroshenko seems to like it…
The flags are flying at the same height because they just respect us that much. Or, they just want our money that badly. I'm betting on the latter.
The flags are flying at the same height because they just respect us that much. Or, they just want our money that badly. I’m betting on the latter.
Once I saw a photo of then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in the rain. He had a person holding his umbrella. Apparently Poroshenko isn't important enough to have one of those. At least that soldier has a hat, though.
Once I saw a photo of then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in the rain. He had a person holding his umbrella. Apparently Poroshenko isn’t important enough to have one of those. At least that soldier has a hat, though.
Lunch in the mess hall! I wish I could have been there for this. I think that soldier to the right of Poroshenko has a Ukrainian last name. Also, please note the uniform Poroshenko is wearing. He never misses an opportunity to wear it...
Lunch in the mess hall! I wish I could have been there for this. I think that soldier to the right of Poroshenko has a Ukrainian last name. Also, please note the uniform Poroshenko is wearing. He never misses an opportunity to wear it…
Geoff Pyatt, US ambassador to Kiev, is standing behind Poroshenko. He looks exhausted. I guess fomenting a revolution in a foreign country and then making sure the preferred party stays in power isn't easy.
Geoff Pyatt, US ambassador to Kiev, is standing behind Poroshenko. He looks exhausted. I guess fomenting a revolution in a foreign country and then making sure the preferred party stays in power isn’t easy.
More lunch. I'm telling you, I wish I could've been there. It would have been so much fun.
More lunch. I’m telling you, I wish I could’ve been there. It would have been so much fun.
No witty comments here because I have no idea what this is. Probably some boring presser.
No witty comments here because I have no idea what this is. Probably some boring presser.

Anyway, this training is supposed to go on for several months, if I remember correctly. If you think about it, the US is sort of fighting Russia right now, by using Ukraine as a proxy. I hope Russia does not return the favor.

Alexander Bortnikov

While reading the Eurasia Daily Monitor yesterday (you can subscribe to it by email here), I came across this quote:

The visit of FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov to Washington in February (Newsru.com, February 20), the visit of Kremlin Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to the North Caucasus the following month (Rbc.ru, March 11) and the recent visit of Sergei Smirnov to Tashkent all indicate that the Russian government is looking for a solution to the problem that the Islamic State organization poses for Moscow. As an ally of Bashar al-Assad, Russia isolated itself from all possible allies among the armed groups in the Middle East and from those countries that oppose the al-Assad regime. Moscow, therefore, is, forced to look for allies against a cruel and merciless enemy, and that enemy has now become the Islamic State.

I wouldn't want to mess with him! Found on the FSB website.
Alexander Bortnikov. I wouldn’t want to mess with him! Found on the FSB website.

I was surprised to see the bit about Bortnikov in Washington, as I didn’t remember seeing that in the news—but, as usual, the Eurasia Daily Monitor didn’t let me down. Alexander Bortnikov was indeed in Washington earlier this year. I’ve followed his career for a while—he’s head of the FSB, one of the post-Soviet sucessors to the KGB—and I can’t believe I missed seeing that he was here.

You can read more about his visit here, but the article’s in Russian. Basically, he was here for some anti-terrorism summit and said that as many as 1,700 Russian citizens may be fighting in Iraq on the side of the Islamic State.

Personally, I think this ought to mean increased cooperation with Russia, since we have a common enemy, but I’m guessing the people who actually make policy don’t see it that way. Oh well.

The Fall Of McFaul

I keep forgetting to post about this article I found several weeks ago. It’s from February 2014 and I missed it back then—I was probably having grad school angst or something like that—but it’s still an interesting read. It concerns everyone’s favorite ambassador to the Russian Federation, Michael McFaul. Back when McFaul was ambassador, I used to read about him a lot. Then I stopped because he had so many embarrassing gaffes that I started to despair after a while.

The announcement that the US Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Michael McFaul, will resign after the Olympic Games in Sochi comes just over two years after he assumed the post. At the time, his appointment was greeted with enthusiasm from his many admirers in the Washington foreign-policy establishment. The prevailing view was captured in a fawning profile in the pages of Foreign Policy in which he was described as a ‘brilliant scholar’; as ‘a man of profound intellectual and personal integrity’; and ‘with his shock of blond hair, Hollywood handsome.’

I wish I could say that last sentence was an exaggeration… but it’s not. I read the very article the author references. I believe it’s right here and unfortunately may be behind a paywall.

The reaction to the appointment among the professionals over at Foggy Bottom was somewhat less ecstatic. Those familiar with McFaul’s work as the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs noted with disdain that it was he who was responsible for the memorable ‘reset’ button flub which saw Secretary Clinton hand a ‘reset’ button to the Russian foreign minister that was instead labeled with the Russian word for ‘overcharge.’

It’s also important to note that the word they put on that fateful “reset button” can also be translated as “reload,” as in to reload a weapon. Back when that happened, I believed it to be an honest mistake. Now, I’m not so sure.

Worse was the perception among some career officers that McFaul out-maneuvered the sitting Ambassador to gain the post in Russia. As 2012 approached, the assumption at State was that the widely respected John Beyrle would be reappointed as Washington’s man in Moscow. By all accounts Beyrle had excellent relations with his counterparts in the Russian government and was widely admired by the Embassy staff. The speculation is that McFaul, as the 2012 elections approached, was uncertain of Obama’s reelection chances and persuaded the President to unceremoniously drop the experienced and long-serving Foreign Service officer Beyrle and appoint him in Beyrle’s stead.

If this is true, it’s a crying shame. Beyrle was an excellent ambassador. The Russians loved him, probably in part due to his open admiration of Russian language and culture, in addition to his excellent Russian language skills. They may not have always liked what the US government did, but they respected Beyrle for putting so much effort into mastering the Russian language.

There’s more to the article, but I’m not going to quote it here because it’s pretty much more of the same thing. It’s not long and I’d highly suggest reading the rest.

Poroshenko’s Provocations

Sigh. The government in Ukraine gets stupider with each passing week, it seems like. Two weeks ago Newsweek published this gem of an article, called Ukraine Brings in Law to Try Fugitive Yanukovich in Absentia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in a move to head off discontent before an election, signed a law on Tuesday that will allow ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich to be tried by court in his absence for crimes carried out while he was in power.

Poroshenko and his pro-Western government, who are seeking a strong mandate in a parliamentary election on Sunday, face criticism from many for not being tough enough in bringing to justice Yanukovich who fled “Euromaidan” street protests last February with his family and cronies.

Kiev authorities accuse Yanukovich, who is in Russia, of involvement in the deaths of protesters who were shot dead by police at the time, large-scale theft of state property and funds, and an attempt to overthrow the new leadership.

Up to now, Ukrainian law has not allowed for the prosecution of people abroad to be tried in their absence for crimes committed in Ukraine.

But Poroshenko, who was elected in May and who hopes for a strong pro-Europe coalition of support from Sunday’s election, said on his website that he had inked amendments to the criminal code which would allow for those “who have robbed our people” and were hiding abroad to be tried by a court in their absence.

The only silver lining to this (other than the fact that I cannot see Russia sending Yanukovych back to Ukraine anytime soon) is that I’m not sure whether this law actually helped Poroshenko in the election or not. His party did not win a majority in the recent elections, nor did it receive the most vote in general (Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s Narodniy Front [People’s Front; ironically this is also the name of a pro-Putin group in Russia] won the most votes, with Poroshenko’s Bloc a close second).

It seems to me that, in a time of economic turmoil, when Ukraine’s economy is under the threat of completely collapsing, the president ought to spend his time more productively than on a vindictive law like this.

And then there’s this article, which I saw at the beginning of October but completely forgot to blog about.

The status of English, not Russian, should be elevated as a second most popular language, Pres Poroshenko said, addressing Ivan Franko University students in Lviv on Oct. 3, our correspondent reports.

While the number of people realizing the important role of Ukrainian as a state-forming language is growing, many disagree with the elevation of Russian to the country’s second state language, he said.

I personally think Russian and Ukrainian should have equal status in Ukraine. Ukraine has consistently refused to give Russian official status—though if memory serves correctly, Viktor Yanukovych tried to change that.

Ukraine is such a mess right now, it’s ridiculous.

If Putin Wants Sweden, Let Him Have It!

So, you may have heard of the mysterious, probably Russian submarine that’s roaming around Swedish waters (to the extent that a submarine can roam, of course). RFE/RL says:

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that “there have been no irregular situations and, even less so, accidents involving Russian naval vessels.”

But the respected Swedish daily “Svenska Dagbladet” has reported that a damaged Russian submarine is at the center of a search by Swedish boats, troops, and helicopters for an unidentified submarine that began on October 17.

The newspaper says the Swedish military had intercepted a distress signal in Russian that was sent to a naval base at the Baltic seaport in Kaliningrad.

The Swedish military has refused to comment on the newspaper’s reports.

Putin's interlocutor, Sergei Ivanov, currently Chief of Staff for the presidential administration.
Putin’s interlocutor, Sergei Ivanov, currently Chief of Staff for the presidential administration.

Now, the title of the post is supposed to be a joke—a joke, I repeat, so don’t leave me indignant comments about me being a lawless Russian imperialist. I’m just having a very fun time imagining the conversations taking place in the Kremlin about this incident. Here’s the scene:

President Putin paces in his office. Sergei Ivanov, a fellow ex-KGB man, but one who is more cautious (and possibly cleverer) than Putin, urges restraint.

Putin: How dare they accuse us of having a submarine there! As if we would ever want Sweden.

Ivanov: But Vladimir Vladimirovich, we do have a submarine in Swedish waters.

Putin: Never mind that! Do those stupid Swedes remember what happened after they tangled with us? It may have been in the eighteenth century, but we trounced them! And remember the Battle of Poltava?

Ivanov: Mr. President, they probably don’t remember that.

Putin: If we invaded Sweden, they’d capitulate in a day! Or even less!

Ivanov: That may be so, but it would be unwise to invade Sweden, as it is an EU member.

Putin: The EU? Tell me, Seryozha, how many divisions has the EU? None, of course!

Ivanov: As true as that may be, it still would be unwise.

Putin stomps out of office to chew out Viktor Chirkin, commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, leaving bewildered Ivanov behind.

Like it? I totally should be a playwright, right?

On a more serious note, Russia certainly has been engaging in more and more military provocations. Smart countries and their intelligence agencies ought to keep an eye on this.

The first commenter who finds the veiled Stalin reference in my little Putin scene wins… something. I’m not sure what, but I’d like to think my reference is well-concealed, so anyone who spots it has my respect.