‘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.

Happy Easter!

Traditional Russian/Ukrainian dyed eggs called pysanki [писанки]

Happy Easter, dear readers! This year is the last until 2025 that western Easter and Orthodox Easter are on the same day. I hope everyone had a good holiday.

Everything Wrong With Mark Henshaw’s ‘The Fall of Moscow Station’

At least the cover is nice…

Okay, the tile of this post is slightly misleading. There may be more wrong with this book—Mark Henshaw’s The Fall of Moscow Station—that I don’t know about because I stopped reading on page 70. (To put things in perspective, there are 338 pages in this book.) All of the inaccuracies have to do with Russia or the Russian language. They drove me so crazy that I could not finish this thing. I’d had really high hopes for it, too.

  • Page 24: A character says, “I am familiar with military tattoos. The one on the victim’s shoulder is not uncommon among soldiers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate. You might know them as the GRU, the old masters of the Spetsnaz Special Forces.” Honestly, this isn’t wholly inaccurate—the Spetsnaz served in the GRU, but they’re also in other branches of the military and intelligence services. Perhaps the author knows this and omitted it from the book because it was beyond the scope of information we needed. However, I’ve been unable to locate any information about tattoos specific to the GRU or Russian military. I could be wrong, but I feel like the author might be confusing this concept of tattoos with the Russian criminal underworld, where there are specific, distinctive tattoos used.
  • Page 27: “‘Spasibo.’ Arkady Lavrov ignored the American in favor of the sentry. ‘Pozhaluysta zakroyte dver.‘” Maybe it’s just me, but throwing in a pozhaluysta (please) when asking someone to close the door boggles the mind, especially since the speaker is an intense spy who’s the director of the GRU. To me, it would be more likely he’d bark in Russian, “Zakroyte dver,” with the implication in his tone that if the door wasn’t closed promptly, there’d be hell to pay.
  • Page 42: On a CIA dossier describing a character’s resume, we have the following information: “Listed as Vice President for Communications Security, ‘Zelyonsoft’ [zelyeniy is Russian for ‘gold’].” No, zelyeniy [зелёный] is green. Zolotoi [золотой] is gold.
  • Page 60: Remember that GRU director on page 27 who was ever so polite in asking for the door to be closed? Well, here we have this sentence about him: “But the FSB general was a solider and appreciated the willingness to take the initiative.” People, the FSB and the GRU are two totally different intelligence organizations! The FSB grew out of the KGB when the Soviet Union fell. The GRU is foreign military intelligence. And then there are other intelligence organizations like the SVR for external intelligence (though allegedly the FSB works in this area as well). My point is, they’re all different and you’ve got to keep them straight if you’re including them in a book. Wouldn’t it be rather silly to mess up the FBI and the CIA in a spy thriller?!

And there you have it. I was so frustrated with the book because I kept being jolted out of the story by these issues, so I stopped reading it on page 70. Maybe I’m picky, but there are lot of books out there and limited time to read them, so I’ve got to be choosy. I finished reading an alternate history recently (SS-GB by Len Deighton) and I’m still plugging away at Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard in Russian. If someone else has read The Fall of Moscow Station and tells me it greatly improves later, maybe I’ll finish it. But until then, I think I’ll read other books.

April Fools’ Greetings from the Russian Foreign Ministry!

I found this excellent post on a blog I follow… Seriously, listen to the recording (there is English around 0:30 if you don’t speak Russian). It’s nice to know Foreign Minister Lavrov has such an excellent sense of humor! Also, to hear the recording, you’ll have to go visit the full post by clicking on the title below. I can’t figure out how to embed that in my own post, thanks to Facebook’s confusing interface!

Dispatches from the Asylum

Leave it to Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, for a little humor on this April Fools’ day.

(Skip to the 0:30 mark for English)

“You have reached the Russian Embassy. Your call is very important to us. To arrange a call from a Russian diplomat to your political opponents, press 1. To use the services of Russian hackers, press 2. To request election interference, press 3 and wait until the next election campaign. Please note that all calls are recorded for quality improvement and training purposes.”

Choice!

Photo credit:  I, Sailko [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Words Of Wisdom From The Admiral

No Wednesday Music today, dear readers. I couldn’t find/decide on a piece! But I did write a post, so at least that.

Regular readers may know that I’m a huge admirer of Alexander Kolchak, a Russian admiral who served in the Imperial Russian Navy and later became famous as a noted military and political leader for the White Movement during the Russian Civil War. I’ve been fascinated by him since I saw a Russian film called Admiral back in 2008. (Just so you know, the TV series is way better, but unfortunately not available with English subtitles.)

Anyway, about a week ago, I wasn’t having such a great day at work. Everyone kept giving me stuff to do (and of course wanted it done yesterday, i.e. the day before they gave it to me), I was worried about not being able to finish, and it was very frustrating. I opened up Twitter and, lo and behold, what did I see? A quote from Admiral Kolchak! I follow a pro-White Movement Twitter account (actually, I follow several, because that is the depth of my obsession) and someone tweeted this nice photo. It certainly won’t win any awards for graphic design, I’ll give you that, but it really made my day.

Click to see larger
Нет поражений. Есть временные трудности. -А.В. Колчак

In English, the quote is: “There are no defeats—only temporary obstacles.” Or at least that’s how I’ve translated it. There seem to be a surprising amount of shades of meaning of the word поражение [porazhenie].

Now, I realize there’s a certain bit of irony in quoting a man who was betrayed by troops who were supposed to be on his side, which led to him being handed over to his enemies, interrogated/tried by a kangaroo court, and murdered at the conclusion of this “trial.” (Kolchak’s murder took place ninety-seven years ago as of yesterday, February 7. Maybe that’s why I’ve been reflecting on this recently…) I’m not really sure what to call that other than a defeat. But hey, I think it’s an inspiring quote and I’m rather partial to anything Kolchak-related.

A lot of people at work have quotes on little pieces of paper pinned up at their desks. Most people have random inspirational stuff or favorite Bible verses. I may have to put this one up. Now that will garner some inquiries from my team, I’m sure!

P.S. Here’s how the tweet looked when it showed up in my Twitter stream. It made me so happy that I had to take a screenshot.

Yes, my phone is in Russian!
Yes, my phone is in Russian!

P.P.S. I researched this quote and to be honest, it’s quite hard to find a substantiated source for it. In my research, I found this slightly more wordier version: Не может быть поражений — могут быть лишь временные трудности. It pretty much amounts to the same thing in English, though. Despite the unsubstantiation (is that even a word?), I like it and am going to resolutely believe it is true unless I find out otherwise.

Look What Arrived In The Mail…

Dear readers, look what arrived in the mail for me last week.

From Russia with love
From Russia with love

In English, the title is Kolchak: Supreme Leader of Russia by Pavel Ziryanov. Yes, I ordered this online and about a week later, it arrived. It actually didn’t come directly from Russia. The seller I bought it from is based in New York. I read parts of this book when I was in graduate school and had access to an excellent collection of Russian-language books at the university library. I meant to buy it but forgot until recently. Luckily, I found it online, impulsively ordered it, and here it is.

And seriously, I got it for an excellent price. Only $19.00, including shipping. I found this exact book on a Russian website and even with the exchange rate that’s favorable to America right now, it was more expensive. Plus it would have taken forever to get here and the shipping was more expensive, as the site ships internationally with a private carrier. (Because, trust me, you don’t want to entrust the Russian postal service with anything of vital importance.)

A Century After the Russian Revolution, Will Putin Bury Lenin?

So reads the headline of an article published at Royal Russia last week. Here are some choice excerpts:

The embalmed corpse of Vladimir Lenin, whose seizure of power following the Bolshevik Revolution sealed the fate of the Romanov dynasty and ushered in more than 70 years of communist rule, lies on view in a squat stone mausoleum just outside the Kremlin walls.

Amid intermittent calls from Russians to put Lenin in the ground, Putin — who is often described as pragmatic — may have been weighing the possibility for years. And 2017, the centenary of the revolution, would seem like the time to do it.

For one thing, burying Lenin could drive home the message that revolution is bad.

He criticized Lenin last January, accusing him of planting a “time bomb” beneath the state and sharply denouncing brutal repressions by the Bolshevik government. Putin went further when he denounced Lenin and his government for brutally executing Russia’s last Emperor along with all his family and servants. “Why did they kill Dr. Botkin, why did they kill the servants, people of proletarian origin by and large? What for? Just for the sake of concealing a crime,” Putin said during a meeting with pro-Kremlin activists.

Others have gone further. Natalia Poklonskaya, a Russian lawmaker and former prosecutor in the Russian-imposed government of Crimea, lumped Lenin together with Hitler and Mao Zedong as “monsters” of the 20th century. And ultranationalist Zhirinovsky has called for Moscow’s Leninsky Prospekt — Lenin Avenue — to be renamed after Ivan the Terrible.

In a reference to the Bolshevik Revolution during his state-of-the-nation address on December 1, Putin said that coups invariably lead to “the loss of human life, casualties, economic decline, and misery.” He warned against “speculating on tragedies that occurred in nearly every Russian family” as a result of the revolution — a warning, at least in part, not to try anything like it again.

There’s more to the article, so you can go read it if you want. Also note that the reference of Natalia Poklonskaya lumping Lenin with Hitler and Mao was discussed on this very blog last year.

As for my personal opinion, Lenin’s burial is long overdue. I’ve despised the man for years. They should cremate him and scatter his ashes in an undisclosed location as was done to Hitler’s body after his suicide in 1945. If that was good enough for Hitler’s remains, it’s good enough for Lenin’s.

(Do I think this is going to happen? Honestly, no. But I can hope!)