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…

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What A Week!

As you’ve probably heard, we Americans had a presidential election almost two weeks ago. Between trying to stay away and see who won—I only made it to one in the morning or so, which was before they called the election—and reading the news more in the past ten days than I have in the prior year, well, readers, I was exhausted. Much too exhausted to blog, unfortunately. I actually deleted the Twitter app early last week so I could have some peace and quiet to do some reading.

Before I deleted the app, I did a mass unfollowing of people I followed on Twitter. In the aftermath of the election, a lot of people I thought were nice suddenly revealed themselves to be… not so nice. I didn’t unfollow them because of disagreements in our views. I just have no desire to unfollow people who enthusiastically post and retweet a photo endorsing a disgusting act of violence against the future First Lady. As a result, my Twitter feed suddenly has a whole lot more Russian in it. And more Russian is never a bad thing. 🙂

Anyway, I digress. Blogging should return to normal, pre-election levels shortly. I also hope to resume Wednesday Music—I’ve actually completely forgotten about it for the past weeks!

Announcing A Retirement

No, I’m not retiring from my job—I obviously don’t have nearly enough money to do that yet—nor am I retiring from blogging (though I actually have considered doing that, too). I’m retiring from an activity I’ve done pretty consistently for the past six and half years. Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve come to an inevitable conclusion: I can’t blog about politics anymore, especially the stuff relating to Russia/Eurasia/Eastern Europe.

Let me emphasize that: I just can’t do it anymore.

Over the years, I’ve gradually scaled back my politics blogging. Remember, before I had this blog, I wrote a different blog that was a lot more politically focused. Here’s a short timeline of my political interest and involvement:

  • 2007, middle: I start my first blog. It’s focused more on stuff like my pets than on politics.
  • 2007, late: I experience a “political awakening” almost overnight in which politics goes from boring to exciting. The awakening was a result of a controversy in a blogosphere in which I participated. To this day, I can still spout off facts about obscure European political parties that no one on this side of the Atlantic cares about.
  • 2008-2009: American politics becomes a lot less fun, but I’ve always liked the international stuff more anyway, so I tend to stick to that.
  • 2011: I decide that I just don’t want to write my old blog anymore. I didn’t know this at the time, but I think this was the beginning of my politics burnout. I start a new blog that I intend to be less political… but I feel obliged to write some political stuff anyway.
  • 2012: American politics becomes even worse than before, which I didn’t think was possible. Depressing lesson learned: never say something is the worst it can get because it always could be worse.
  • 2013, end: Protests erupt in Ukraine. I’m in grad school by this time, so in between my studies, I follow them very closely.
  • 2014: beginning: After Viktor Yanukovych is forced out of power, Russia moves to retake Crimea. (I say “retake” because Crimea once was a part of Russia—the Russian Empire, to be exact.) With this real life incident, a war erupts on Twitter. (See explanation below for more details on the Twitter war.)
  • 2015: I decide that I am done with dealing with this stuff and stop following most English-language news relating to Russia.

Ever since all this stuff with Ukraine started—which was in November 2013, though it really, really started to pick up in the first months of 2014—the Russia-watching environment online has become incredibly toxic. (I’ve blogged about this before.) On any given day, you can observe the following exchanges between the pro-Russian side and the pro-Ukrainian side, usually taking place on Twitter:

  1. Someone on the pro-Russian side criticizes Poroshenko. This may be founded or unfounded criticism.
  2. Someone on the pro-Ukrainian side gets mad and calls the pro-Russians fascist Putinist thugs who are worse than dogs (or something to that extent).
  3. Someone of the pro-Russian side calls the pro-Ukrainians Banderites (after controversial Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera).
  4. Both sides devolve into a storm of ad hominem attacks, often using foul language. The original point is completely lost (assuming there was an original point, because often there wasn’t) and anyone who tries to step into the fray to point out that maybe both sides make good points, or this time a certain side is right, is dragged in and insulted, too.

As you can probably imagine, there’s precious little constructive dialogue going on. For example, if I pointed out that Stepan Bandera did kill a lot of innocent non-Ukrainian civilians (to my knowledge, this is a historical fact), the pro-Ukrainians would jump down my throat and call me a fascist (and sometimes worse). If I pointed out that confiscating private property in Crimea wasn’t a very nice or legal thing for Russia to do—well, as you can guess by now, the pro-Russians would pounce on me with equal fervor.

The problem is this whole “us vs. them” attitude that prevails. As long as that’s in place, independent thinking is discouraged because people are punished for not toeing the party line. And I’m sick of it.

I don’t really read English-language news anymore, at least when it relates to politics. I still read the Russian news because I want to keep up on my Russian, but I do my best to avoid anything relating to the Ukraine conflict. I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to blog about, and I certainly don’t want to discuss it with anyone anymore.

The thing is, over the past year or so, I’ve found other hobbies that are a lot more important and more fulfilling to me than Russia blogging and Russia watching ever were. I’m getting more and more into my fiction writing, especially since I started the Writing Challenge. I’ve met a lot of people on Twitter who also are writing fiction, and they’re a lot nicer than most of the Russia watchers I know. I’ve started doing crafts, specifically knitting and crochet, again. I’m playing violin, too—not as much as I’d like since I’m busy with work, but half an hour of practice is better than nothing, I figure.

So what does this mean for my blog? I’m still going to be writing it, that’s for sure. It’s just that the focus may shift a bit. I want to get into foreign language blogging more. I love the Russian language, so I have a lot to say about that. I also plan to blog about language learning in general. I definitely want to blog about writing. And I’m sure I’ll come up with random things here and there, since I usually do.

To any readers who did read this blog for the politics, I’m sorry. I just really can’t do it anymore. Since making this decision to stop obsessively following politics, I have felt better and more content than I have in a long time. The Russia-watching people of the internet will get along fine without me, I’m sure. (And even if they didn’t, I’m kind of at the point of not caring anymore. Sorry.)

And now, I am going to go read a nice book that has absolutely nothing to do with politics, Russia, or a combination of the above topics.

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.

The US Has Sent Troops To Ukraine To Train Ukrainian Military 

So I haven’t researched this extensively, but the Russian-language media is reporting that the United States is sending 290 military instructors to Lvov, Ukraine to train troops there, including members of the Azov, Yaguar, and Omega battalions, among others.

The article is here, if you read Russian. Needless to say, the Russians aren’t too pleased about this. I’m not either, considering that the Azov Battalion is known for being especially nasty. They’re pro-Nazi (they use Nazi imagery; I’ll update this post with photos later) and are a rather odious group in general. If my country is actually helping them—well, that’s just appalling.

Yuriy Sergeyev’s UN Speech

Remember waaaay back in March, when I asked if anyone had a video of the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN’s speech? Well, I actually found said speech on YouTube last week! No, I haven’t been looking for it ever since then. I forgot about it, then somehow followed a link and stumbled upon it. Here it is, if you’re wondering. It’s in English and Russian.

Or click here to see on YouTube.

Honestly, I’m weirdly thrilled that I found it. Also, Mr. Sergeyev speaks excellent Russian.

Russia Orders Snap Test of Nuclear Missiles

That awkward moment when Russia orders a snap test of its nuclear missiles… right after abruptly ending cooperation with the US that allowed for monitoring and securing of Russia’s military stockpile.

Russia has ordered a snap drill of its Strategic Missile Troops (RVSN), which control the country’s 305 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads, according to a statement issued by the unit’s high command today [i.e. January 20, because I forgot to post about this article until today!].

“More than 1,200 servicemen have been drafted to take part in the test exercises,” Colonel Igor Yegorov from the RVSN said. “Throughout 2015, we have planned at least four similar such drills,” he added.

I’m not saying I have inside information or anything—because I most definitely do not—but I’m willing to bet that the intelligence community is still skimping on Russia analysts. (In 2011, a recruiter told me that there was basically no money to hire anyone specializing in Russia and that all the money was going towards those with Chinese or Arabic language skills.) Because, you know, in this post Cold War era, how could we possibly have competition with Russia, am I right or what?!?

Does NATO Have Troops In Ukraine?

So. You may have heard that the war in Ukraine heated up yesterday and today with an attack on Mariupol, a Ukrainian city near Crimea. The pro-Ukrainian people are blaming the Russians, the pro-Russian people are blaming the Ukrainians, and the whole thing is a mess because civilians are getting hurt and dying.

This video is making the rounds in the Ukraine-watching blogosphere. It was shot in Mariupol after the attack. It’s only 40 seconds long, so I’d really appreciate it if you could watch it, especially if you’re a native English speaker. In it, a woman tries to interview a man wearing combat fatigues and carrying an assault rifle. He replies brusquely, “Out of my face, out of my face, please.” And yes, he says that in English. Natively-accented English, I might add. Don’t believe me? Watch the video:

Now, there could be several explanations for this:

  • The video wasn’t actually shot in Ukraine. (How does one explain the Russian spoken in the background then?)
  • The video has been edited and spliced, as in it was shot in Ukraine but a man speaking English was added in. (Possible… but unlikely, in my opinion.)
  • The video was shot in Ukraine and the soldier is Ukrainian and happens to be a brilliant linguist who has eliminated every single trace of a foreign accent from his speech, enabling his pronunciation, cadence, and colloquial vocabulary to fool multiple educated native English speakers. Is this possible? Of course. Is it likely? Absolutely not. Take me for example: I am good at Russian. But even I have a foreign accent in Russian. No matter how much I work on my pronunciation, my cadence and intonation give me away. My point here is not to brag, but simply to say that accents are made up of more than pronunciation of words. A ton of stuff goes into an accent and it is very hard to “fix” all of this to match native speakers of a language you’ve learned later in life.
  • There’s some other logical explanation that I’m not seeing. Always a possibility, of course.
  • Or, finally, the video was indeed shot in Ukraine and there are foreign troops from NATO countries currently there. Since this hasn’t been on the news, one must assume that these troops are clandestinely there, unbeknownst to the public in their native countries, and may have been in Ukraine for some time. In fact, they probably wouldn’t have been noticed at all, had this man not slipped up.

What do you think? Is that soldier a native English speaker? Is he a foreigner from Ukraine? And just where is his accent from? A ton of people on Twitter are saying he’s American. This American writing this has her doubts, though! You see, I hear a trace of a Commonwealth accent there. I’m not sure I’d say British, though there seems to be a British influence, which is why I have talked about NATO troops, not American troops.

Ukrainian Fascist Oleg Tyagnibok Has A Twitter Account

Oleg Tyagnibok in 2013. Source
Oleg Tyagnibok in 2013. Source

And he has a website. (The Twitter account is here and has 162,000 followers. It’s scary that even after all these years, during which a plethora of scholarship has shown how evil the Nazis were, that many people still believe in this stuff.)

Anyway, the biography page on his website reads like some sort of satire. I don’t advertise this fact often, but I can actually read Ukrainian. (Not as well as I read Russian, mind you, but well enough to do actual research in this language.)

Олег Тягнибок народився у Львові в сім’ї медиків. Найбільшими цінностями родини споконвіку були патріотизм і вміння відстоювати переконання. З дитинства Олег запам’ятав обшуки кагебістів у своїй квартирі. Його дід, український священик Артемій Цегельський, відмовився перейти на Московське православ’я, за що відбув з сім’єю сім років сибірського заслання. Уся родина постійно була під наглядом. Через роки Олег скаже, що підсвідомо свій вибір зробив ще тоді – коли під час обшуків зникали безцінні родинні реліквії – старі фотографії, листи.

In English (I actually took this from the English version of his website and slightly modified it for clarity):

Oleg Tiagnybok was born into a family of doctors. The highest values cherished in it were patriotism and dedication to one’s commitments. In his childhood, Oleg was frequent witness to home searches by the Soviet security service, KGB. His grandfather, Ukrainian priest Artemi Tsehelskyi, refused to join the Moscow-affiliated church, a deed for which he and his family spent 7 years in exile in Siberia. The family had constantly been under KGB surveillance. Later, Oleg said that his choice in life had been made in those years when valuable family relics, old photographs and letters, went missing after the searches.

Seriously, this is one of those things you just can’t make up. If I saw this somewhere without knowing the source, I’d assume it was a bad caricature of the rabidly anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalist. Except… it’s actually real.

(And by the way, I’m not trying to say the KGB didn’t oppress people—because they did. The KGB didn’t just spy in foreign countries, it also operated within the Soviet Union and treated its own citizens horribly. But there’s a difference between talking about bad stuff that happened in the Soviet Union and acting like every single ill that Ukraine has ever suffered is a direct result of the existence of Russia. One leads to a legitimate discussion; the other to unfair blame being placed on a certain country. I think I’ve made it clear which is which.)

The Most Popular Politician In Moldova

This is priceless:

The Socialist Party’s billboard advertisement shows the party’s top leaders in an intimate conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The party’s election campaign motto was, “A Prosperous Moldova Together with a Powerful Russia.” The Socialist Party calls for abrogating Moldova’s Association Agreement with the European Union and for holding a referendum on Moldova’s accession to the Russia-led Customs Union (to be expanded into the Eurasian Union as of January 1, 2015). Symbolically at least, this is a party of the Red Left (Soviet five-pointed red star as electoral trademark, red flag, no political affiliations in Europe).

Putin has long ranked as the most popular of all politicians in Moldovan opinion surveys (a reflection of Russian television’s impact on this society). Socialist Party leader Dodon has become the first Moldovan politician to associate himself with the Putin image and capitalize on it. The Kremlin has evidently authorized this image transfer, which catapulted Dodon from obscurity to sudden prominence.

You know a country has bad politicians if the most popular politician in that country is foreign!