Tag Archives: KGB

Western mainstream media play into the hands of Russian police cover-up

The sheer and unadulterated naïveté of western mainstream media borders on – and now we have two options. It’s either a frightful lack of education, or an even more frightful stupidity.

Here’s the case: the most important (and knowledgeable) Russian opposition politician, Boris Nemtsov, is murdered just as he is on his way to a meeting at which he plans to reveal a few of the dirtiest secrets of the current Russian administration. That administration is led by a former high-ranking officer of the former Soviet secret service and espionage agency, the KGB. The agency, by the way, is still well, even though a couple of decades has passed since the official end of communism in the country. It exists under a few different names, but it still keeps the same offices, and its bosses are the same guys who used to work there under the one-party system. These people are all faithful to their country’s president: he’s one of them, always has been, too, after all, and it’s been at his pleasure that they had been allowed them to keep their jobs.

In any crime, investigators ask one simple question first. In Latin it sounds like this: cui bono? English translation (verbatim): to whose benefit?

In the Boris Nemtsov murder, the answer simple and straightforward: Vladimir Putin benefits. Judging by what Boris Nemtsov had already revealed, his forthcoming revelations were expected to mention unmentionable atrocities committed by the current regime. The worst part about it for Putin and his gang: Boris Nemtsov’s accusations have always been perfectly documented. One could not expect it to be otherwise in the current situation.

Whether we’ll ever find out (in general or in any detail) what Boris Nemtsov planned to say remains to be seen. The only thing we know for a fact is that it was explosive enough for someone to risk killing him.

Suspicions turned towards the Kremlin within seconds. But Russian police investigators – all of them in the service of their government and knowing that it is their duty to defend it at all cost – began forwarding all kinds of theories within minutes.

Such as: Boris Nemtsov upset a number of Ukrainian politicians because of his critical views of the developments in that country. They omitted to say, of course, that Nemtsov was against the Russian separatists whom he compared to Konrad Henlein’s Sudeten Germans. That was the group that had helped dismantle the former Czechoslovakia before the Second World War. They also, somehow, forgot that Nemtsov went so far as to compare Putin’s rhetoric to that Adolf Hitler when he defended the Sudeten Germans’ rights.

As soon as someone realized that these omissions weren’t helpful, the theory changed. Muslim terrorists has become the theory du jour. Doesn’t matter whence, and doesn’t matter why, either. Everybody is scared of the Islamists (and rightfully so), why not add some fuel to these flames?

Now, Russian police reports say, they’ve got some people from Chechnya in their hands, and the explanation is obvious: the Chechens hate Putin and they wanted to give him a black eye by murdering his opponent and having the world blame Putin.

How perfectly elegant!

The Chechens, of course, do hate everything that is Russian and everyone who is Russian. And why not? The methods the Russian military use to install Pax Ruthenia, or peace as the Russians prefer it to be, give ruthlessness a brand new meaning. The Islamic State murderers could take their correspondence courses from the Russians in Chechnya.

It is quite possible that the Chechens now in Russian custody will admit to cunningly planning and executing the plan to kill Boris Nemtsov. Russian police do not have to put up with nosy journalists who would expose their torture methods. Most of those who’d dare are either dead, killed in inexplicable circumstances, or silent, or in hiding.

In any case, the Islamist theory doesn’t hold water: this is not their modus operandi. This is not the way they do business. Beheading Vladimir Putin in front of Al-Jazeera television cameras would be the way they would get back at Vladimir Putin. Not murdering his opponent to give him a black eye.

All of this is pretty obvious to anyone with a modicum of knowledge and experience in ways how the Russians do business.

Not the Western mainstream media.

The arrested Chechen guy’s sister says – for the record, too – that all the signs point to the Kremlin. Judging by what she’s saying and how she’s saying it, she seems to know a thing or two about what she’s talking about.

Most Western mainstream media ignore her altogether. Those mainstream media that do not ignore her treat her statement as a biased opinion. We’re all entitled to our opinions, no matter how biased or stupid, right? So, this is the way they dismiss her.

What gets the major play? The Russian police statement.

There’s a world of difference between how the police see themselves in, say, Canada, and what role they have in Russia. In Russia, it is their duty to do their government’s bidding. In Canada, it is their duty to uphold the law, not the government of the day.

Same holds for the U.S.

Is the sheer and unadulterated naïveté of western mainstream media a sign of a frightful lack of education or an even more frightful stupidity?

It seems that it’s the combination of both.

Heavens forbid!

Boris Nemtsov’s assassination bound to remain mystery for ever

It takes a certain amount of stupidity (naiveté for the more polite crowd) for Western commentators to believe that Russian police would ever find the assassins of the country’s former deputy prime minister and president Vladimir Putin’s opponent Boris Nemtsov.

They would have to name one of their own.

And it takes a certain amount of gall bordering on outright chutzpah for Putin to write the murder victim’s mother to tell her he’s going to do whatever to takes to find those guilty of the crime and bring them to justice.

This is not to say Putin himself ordered the murder. As a former high-ranking KGB officer, he’s perfectly aware of the concept known as plausible deniability.

Here’s what’s going to help Russian authorities in their potential cover-up:

In addition to criticizing Russia’s government for corruption that has reached truly Byzantine levels, Nemtsov was also critical of lacking human rights, as well as of misdeeds by local authorities in the Yaroslavl region whence he had come.

Except: all those he had been critical of were linked to president Putin (and his office) in one way or another.

In particular, Nemtsov was highly critical of the expenses brought upon the nation by the Sochi Olympic Games organizers at a time when the majority of the population is close to starving.

Russia’s official investigators have already advanced several theories to explain Nemtsov’s death.

First, they suggested that Nemtsov is a victim of a provocation aimed at causing harm to the Kremlin (and the presidency) itself. It’s an attempt to destabilize the political situation in the country. They have said it with straight faces, pretending the political situation in Russia was indeed stabilized. It’s anything but.

Secondly, they came up with an Islamist revenge angle because Nemtsov had been highly critical of the recent attack against the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. So were many others critical of the attack. Why single out an opposition politician in the distant country of Russia?

No explanation for that, either.

And, of course, the third option’s got something to do with the developments in Ukraine. What exactly, the investigators wouldn’t reveal. Not in any detail, in any case.

Not a word about Nemtsov’s anti-graft campaign.

Former chess champion Gary Kasparov, who’s not on friendly terms with Putin’s administration, either, suggested Russia’s president didn’t necessarily personally issue thee order to kill Nemtsov. No need to. He did create an atmosphere in the country where political assassinations have become the norm rather than an exception.

That contrasts wildly with a statement by a Moscow-appointed ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. So far as he is concerned, it was the bloody Western imperialists, acting in cahoots with the Ukrainians, who did Nemtsov in.

Considering the series of politically-motivated murders, one wonders. All of the victims attracted Putin’s wrath in one way or another, and all of them were dangerous to him.

How about the former Soviet (and, later, Russian) spy Alexander Litvinenko? Responsible for investigations of what the Russians call euphemistically “organized crime,” Litvinenko said the government was responsible for the murder of Boris Berezovskii, a Russian oligarch whose commercial interests interfered with commercial interests of those in Putin’s circle.

A couple of Russian intelligence agents paid a visit to Litvinenko in London. Shortly afterwards he died of cancer caused by a dose of radioactive polonium these two somehow introduced into his cup of tea.

Or how about the murder of a fascinating Russian reporter, Anna Politkovskaia? She reported on Russian atrocities in Chechnya. She also exposed a number of illegal deals in which money flowed into the Kremlin and into Putin’s pockets.

Russian police said it was several people who had been guilty. Judging by their names, all of them are of Muslim origin. That still doesn’t even begin to explain why the Politkovskaia was murdered on Oct. 7 (in 2006). The day just happens to be Vladimir Putin’s birthday.

Russian courts sentenced the five alleged culprits to a variety of prison terms. They all appealed. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next.

Sergei Magnitskii, a lawyer who exposed massive corruption that involved a private investment fund and several high-ranking Russian government officials, was arrested on trumped-up charges of tax evasion. He died in prison. Pancreatic complaint was the official reason. Marks of severe beating found on his body suggest otherwise.

Alexander Perepilichnyi, another Russian entrepreneur who dared expose the Kremlin’s financial misdeeds, died in circumstances similar to Alexander Litvinenko’s premature demise.

One of the few things that seem to be certain is that Boris Nemtsov is dead and that the killing weapon was a Makarov nine-millimetre gun, a pistol in use in the Russian army and popular with the country’s police.

And the other thing we know for sure is that Vladimir Putin has one less dangerous opponent to contend with.

Russians release doping test samples – they claim

Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, step aside. Your doping scandals have been thrashed through the media left, right and centre. Yet, they can’t even begin to compare to what Russian sports authorities have done to show what can happen when winning (at all cost) is everything.

Representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have gone to Moscow and left the Russian capital the other day with more than 3,000 samples. They took all of it to a specialized laboratory in Köln am Rhein in Germany. Considering Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutka told the Reuters news agency on the occasion that his country will provide WADA with everything, it raises a few uncomfortable questions. Such as: who guarantees that the samples WADA has loaded on the plane have never been tampered with? Not that one is paranoid but: the Russians have a history rich on disinformation (bluntly put: lies and obfuscation).

So, here’s the question again: who is making the guarantees everything’s above board and nobody’s trying to make any deals under the table?

It’s not a rhetorical question. And here’s the answer: nobody.

In case you’re wondering: remember, for example, the Chernobyl nuclear station meltdown? The one where everybody all over the world knew there was an unexpected release or radioactive material into the air in the Soviet terrirory (most reports went so far as to pinpoint the location within a few centimetres), and yet, the Soviets kept denying it all for days on end?

Or, to remain within recent memory, remember the Kursk submarine that went down in the Arctic, all and sundry aware of the tragedy and offering a number of helping hands, with the Soviets first denying there even was such a submarine, then, denying that it had some kind of technical malfunction, then, denying that they can’t save it by themselves, and, then, letting the entire crew die while help was just around the corner?

So, one more time: nobody can guarantee that everything’s going to be above board, with no under-the-table deals, so help us Nature. Not with the Russians in on it. Not with their president (a former KGB spy) in on it. Not with his KGB cronies helping him run the country any way they felt was useful – to them.

Here’s what happened

Originally, this scandal involved only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It would spread across the sporting spectrum as a forest fire in no time. Russian track-and-field athletes, swimmers, cyclists, biathlonists, cross-country skiers and weight lifters face charges of doping. Russian sports bodies’ chiefs stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy that permitted all that.

IAAF President Lamine Diack’s own son, Papa Massata Diack, has been involved personally, too. Young Diack has been IAAF’s marketing poohbah. This gives nepotism a brand new meaning.

Germany’s ARD television network charged recently that young Diack had personally helped Russian marathoner Lilya Shobukhova make her 2009 positive out-of-competition doping test disappear from the record so she could take part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She paid 450,000 Euros through her coach Alexei Melnikov.

Not that it helped much: Lilya Shobukhova didn’t finish due to injury.

The French newspaper, l’Equippe, found more documentation. Some of it links Russia’s widespread doping culture directly to the office of then-prime minister (and today’s president) Vladimir Putin.

In fact, decrees authorizing Russian sports bodies to use all means at their disposal (whatever THAT is supposed to mean) to achieve victories have come down under Putin’s own signature.

Russian officials, as could have been expected, denied the ARD and l’Equippe reports as smear campaign filled with innuendo and nothing more. Except, just several months earlier, these same officials had banned that same marathoner Lilya Shobukhova for two years because of doping. To add insult to injury, Lilya Shobukhova now went public, saying that some of the money she had to pay for the cover-up has been refunded to her.

He entire operation was easy enough. The athlete to be tested under the so-called out-of-competition protocol would be notified well in advance that the testers were coming, with precise date, time and place included in the warning. Most of the tests require collection of urine samples. Still, those athletes were allowed the privacy of their own washrooms, with the commissioners waiting (discreetly) outside. That, despite the requirement that the commissioners were supposed to be present at all times when the samples were collected.

Dr. Gabriel Dollé, the director of the medical and anti-doping department at the IAAF, stepped down after he had been interviewed by this august body’s ethics commission.

How perfectly honourable!

The German TV ARD and French paper l’Equippe’s probes found many more details. Not that they had any sporting ideals in mind when they went public with them. Titillating scandals such as these help enhance ratings. Better ratings help enhance advertising. Better advertising helps enhance the health of the bottom line.

Running concern

Sir Sebastian Coe, the legendary British middle-distance runner, boss of the 2012 London Olympic Games and the man expected to became the IAAF chief in the not-so-distant future says track-and-field is facing its worst crisis in the last four decades.

Depends on how you view it.

Canada’s own Ben Johnson had to return his gold at the Olympics at Seoul, South Korea in 1988. He won it in the crowning track-and-field race, 100 metres dash.

America’s own Marion Jones was involved in the doping lab BALCO scandal, and, sportingly enough, was economical with the truth when speaking to U.S. federal investigators. That landed her behind bars.

Johnson’s gold would eventually go to America’s Carl Lewis. This guy distinguished himself by not getting caught. Nobody in their right mind would believe that a human can run at 40 km per hour speeds. Horses can do that. Not humans.

Not surprisingly, the drug Johnson was caught with was Stanozolol, a medication used most frequently to improve muscle growth, red blood cell production, increase bone density and stimulate the appetite of debilitated or weakened (what? yes, you do hear it right!) horses. Stanozolol can be used for people, too, to help treat anemia and similar conditions. But definitely not in doses whose traces were found in Johnson’s body.

The numerous medals won by Marion Jones went all over the place to other female athletes whose medical and coaching staffs knew better than to associate with BALCO too openly.

Sir Sebastian used to face accusations of cheating himself, too.

Again, the point of view depends on the angle.

Having noticed that most African runners spend most of their time training in high altitudes, only to come down to race in lower elevations and beat everybody hands down, Sebastian Coe (as he was then) followed in their footsteps.

Is that cheating?

If you tried to replicate the effect training at high altitudes has on an athlete’s body by injecting oxygen into an athlete’s blood, it would be called blood doping. That’s illegal. If, on the other hand, you were to spend a few months in, for example, the Andes, now, that would be considered an innovative approach to training. Yet, the effect is the same.

Was Sebastian Coe cheating? You be the judge.

That uncomfortable angle might, however, explain Sir Sebastian’s calls for prudence. Still, he said, if the accusations are proven beyond any doubt, the penalties should be harsh enough to deter any followers.

He’s definitely not afraid of the embarassment a proper clean-up job would cause the sports to suffer, Sir Sebastian said. He is scared that if people try to sweep all these allegations under the proverbial rug, spectators would lose any interest they have had so far in watching sports.

Which is all this is about.

Sir Sebastian should have mentioned Russian officials’ penchant for publishing fake information, distributing falsified data all over the place or, to put it bluntly, lying through their teeth. It’s called disinformation, and if anyone’s a past master in this field of human endeavour, it’s the Russians. History proves it beyond any doubt, reasonable or not.

Sir Sebastian didn’t say it. Why not? As mentioned, he’s a presumed heir to the top post at the IAAF. Except, he still would face a vote by the body’s general assembly. Here are the numbers: the IAAF consists of 212 member federations. It used to be 213 but the November 2010 meeting of the IAAF Council found that the Netherlands Antilles was going to cease its independent existence.

Like it or not, the Russians still carry considerable weight within that body. They can have unhealthy influence on the outcome of the voting. So, Sir Sebastian, who used to say the Russians ought to be stripped of all of their medals and let’s be done with it once and for all, is now backpedalling. Ever so gently, but still, distinctly enough.

So, what’s the issue?

The issue is that all this outcry and indignation are hypocritical.

Nothing more, and nothing less, either.

Professional sports are all about business. They are part of entertainment industry. So, they do their utmost to entertain. If they were to manage to find ways for humans to catch lightning with bare hands and twist its shape according to their spectators’ wishes, so much the better.

That people are wiling to pay good money to watch well-trained humans (animals would seem to sound better and closer to the truth) performing acts beyond the limits of human abilities is a strange phenomenon. It’s not particularly new. Attendance at Greek Olympiads, predecessors of the modern extravaganzas, would make today’s organizers turn yellow with envy. Doping and outright cheating were a normal way of doing things then, and nobody would even bother to shrug about it, let alone create expensive bodies to oversee what these bodies call “the cleanliness of the sports.”

That professional sports would develop into a global business of such gigantic proportions is a sign not of the athletes’ godly (or ungodly?) abilities but of pure marketing genius.

It is also a sign of something more sinister. Nobody described it better than the British writer, George Orwell. He wrote an essay for the Tribune newspaper in December of 1945, commenting on the visit of Soviet football team Dynamo. Some people, not so much out of sheer naivete but, rather, knowing a marketing opening when they saw one, would go so far as to herald the visit as a sign of everlasting peace between the democratic (no matter how Royal) Great Britain, and the communist Soviet Union.

After all, who could blame them if “everlasting” didn’t last even till the end of Soviet footballers’ trip to Great Britain? The organizers (meaning: the guys who promised everlasting peace) have collected the spectators’ money and spent the rest of the time laughing all the way to the bank.

That average people in both countries were still going hungry following the war was not much of a concern to them.

Anyhow, herewith a few quotes from George Orwell’s piece.

The Sporting Spirit

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. …

Then, chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism — that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.

If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators. I do not, of course, suggest that sport is one of the main causes of international rivalry; big-scale sport is itself, I think, merely another effect of the causes that have produced nationalism. Still, you do make things worse by sending forth a team of eleven men, labelled as national champions, to do battle against some rival team, and allowing it to be felt on all sides that whichever nation is defeated will “lose face”.

Thus spake George Orwell in 1945. Remember: in 1945. Thus spake George Orwell 69 years ago.

He said it all, and let’s leave it at that.

Computer criminals will suffocate the world one day

We’re staring a Trojan horse in the face. Its name: computerization.

The North Korean government drove the message home rather forcefully the other day. Its computer gurus, hackers in unofficial lingo, broke into Sony Corporation’s internal computer networks wreaking havoc all over the place.

They had a good reason, too. Sony Corporation, in a frightfully stupid and typically Hollywood move, sponsored a new flick, to be known as The Interview. Its creative crowd thought it exceedingly and outrageously funny to base the plot on U.S. intelligence telling two American journalists about to talk with North Korea’s Beloved Leader (not my description, North Korea’s) that it would be useful for humanity if they went on and killed him.

A comedy, you know. Insert a laugh track here.

Whether Beloved Leader Kim Jong-Un took it personally isn’t known, not for the record, anyway. That his government did is obvious. They made it clear through the “independent” reporting of their mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

While they denied any hacking of anybody, they also hinted Sony Corporation had to pay for its sin of laesa maiestas, the crime of violating their Beloved Leader’s majesty. That, you should know, is an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign. The Kim family is nothing if not a hereditary gang of sovereigns. Whether the Koreans like it or not.

Of course, so far as the denials go, the good old rule that says one shouldn’t believe any rumours until and unless they have been denied officially comes into force.

Anyhow, upon having its computer networks hacked, Sony went and pulled the film from distribution before it even hit the theatres.

Not that it did much harm to the viewing public. It must have been drivel to end all drivel. The move did obviously hurt Sony Corporation’s bottom line, but who cares, except for Sony Corporation and its shareholders, right? But Sony Corporation’s apparently shocking display of appeasement attracted the wrath of none other than U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama. We’re not going to be intimidated by any censors, not we, he thundered. Sony should have talked to me, he said, and I would have talked them out of this shameful (and shameless) surrender.

Considering this came from the chief censor himself (under the guise of political correctness), if there ever was a tragicomedy, this is it.

Let’s leave aside the minor detail of Sony replying it did talk to some very high-ranked White House officials, and the uncertainty of what has been actually said during the conversations, by whom and to whom.

It’s perfectly irrelevant for what’s going to follow.

And here it is: it is most unfortunate that most politicians and news outlets haven’t paid much attention to the sad fact that our world is in mortal danger.

Anybody and their dog, from the Taliban to al-Qaeda, from Hamas to any rogue state, can hire a young college geek for a few bucks and they would be more than happy to display their prowess by bringing down a bank or two. No need, even, to go as high as hiring Russia’s ex-KGB expert, Yevgeniy Valentinovich Kaspersky. This guy moved from the nefarious former Soviet espionage and security agency to start his own company. The Kaspersky Lab now offers all kinds of security software. Some say it beats hands down most of similar applications on the market these days. And it’s expensive. In twisted computer logic, this means Kaspersky’s capable of writing the most explosive hacking programs, too. Considering that his record shows he’d go anywhere where the money is, just imagine if any of the known (or unknown) terrorist groups decide they want to bring the world down.

Unimaginable?

How about this scenario: banks brought to a standstill, your credit or debit cards no longer working, your accounts emptied by persons unknown (unknown, that is, for the time being, and culprits identified when it’s too late). You would have to resort to cash, provided, that is, that you still have access to any of it. The cashiers in your favourite grocery stores would not be able to use their machines to add up the cost of your purchases. Most of them unaware of basic arithmetic operations, they would have to ask their great-grandparents to teach them how to use their fingers and toes to perform such basic tasks.

Let’s hope the abovementioned great-grandparents are still alive and remember what they heard many decades ago in Grade One.

One can develop this scenario ad nauseam, but one wouldn’t want to give Sony Corporation (or any other movie moguls, for that matter) any ideas for new (and realistically good) catastrophic movies.

Anyhow, that’s where we’re at right now, and we should thank God, whoever and wherever she may be, for the warning the North Koreans have given us.

A notepad and a piece of pencil, anyone?

Will Russia honour its former criminal leaders?

Who cares that Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin have committed crimes against humanity?

Vladimir Putin, their successor in the Kremlin, certainly doesn’t.

Talking to a Soviet war veteran during D-Day commemorations in Normandy, Putin said it would be a good idea to have a referendum to decide whether to rename Volgograd to its original historic name of Stalingrad. That it used to be Tsaritsyn before it would become Stalingrad never seemed to have crossed his mind.

The communists in St. Petersburg (or Petrograd in Russian) happily jumped on board. Vladimir Dmitriyev, their leader at St. Petersburg city hall, said it would be a splendid idea to rename his city, too. It would become Leningrad once again. Russia’s communit leader Gennadii Zyuganov agreed wholeheartedly.

The movement to name those cities after two of the three greatest war criminals (Adolf Hitler was the third one) of the 20th century has begun gaining strength. The forthcoming celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, coming next year, have given the plan yet another impetus.

“Two hero-cities, Leningrad and Stalingrad, aren’t on the maps of the world,” said Dmitriyev, the communist fraction chief in the St. Petersburg city hall. “It is necessary to renew the historical justice.”

Putin’s office would try to soften the impact Putin’s words had. His spokesman, Dmitriy Peskov, said Putin never said it was his wish to have those two cities renamed. This contradicted his chief’s outspoken statement to the effect that it would be worth the country’s while to put the question to the citizenry in a referendum. The backpedalling was understandable. Several influential parliamentarins in the Russian Duma expressed outrage over the idea. Except: some of the local politicians have already announced they were planning to use the “historic” names on some occasions, especially those that are linked to the war in one way or another.

It was Peter the Great, Russia’s Tsar at the time, who founded St. Petersburg in 1703. The name was translated into its Russian version (Petrograd) in 1914, and in 1924, following communist leader Vladimir Lenin’s passing, it became Leningrad. When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, the authorities of the day brought the original name back.

It would take several years for Stalingrad to become Volgograd. Then-Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, revealed that Stalin was a mass murderer in a then-secret speech at the communist party congress in 1956. Stalingrad, the place that saw one of the major battles waged during the World War II, became Volgograd only in 1961.

Why is this an important issue?

Vladimir Lenin brought the criminal ideology of Marxism to Russia and led the overthrow of a democratically elected government in October of 1917.

Some people believe to this day that he was a relatively benign ruler, that it was Stalin who turned the Soviet Union into one great death camp.

Not so.

It was Lenin who instituted state-sponsored terror in his country. In fact, Lenin said publicly he would do it. And he did. The so-called Extraordinary Commission to Fight the Counter-revolution was his invention. It was the infamous Cheka, that would develop into GPU (Glavnoie politicheskoie upravlenie – Main political administration), then NKVD (Narodnyi kommissariat vnutrennikh del – National commissariat of internal affairs), through the ministry of state security (MGB) all the way to the still-feared KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti – Committee for state security).

It was Lenin who personally ordered that his new government start building concentration camps all over the country. Under Lenin’s specific orders, they were supposed to deal with those who had the gall to look askance at the new rule and rulers. In fact, Lenin coined the name, too.

It was Lenin who personally ordered the massacre of the last Tsar’s entire family in what used to be Ekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk under the Soviet rule, and Ekaterinburg now again.

Stalin, Lenin’s successor, would oversee the deaths of more than 20 million people, most of them perfectly innocent of any crime.

Stalin was the guy who ordered that, in order to subdue Ukraine, the country be exposed to a famine that would kill millions.

The list of crimes against humanity perpetrated by these two would take volumes of historical data to describe. Suffice it to say that calling them criminals is the nicest thing one can say about them.

And yet, here come efforts to rehabilitate them, to make them look like great leaders whose lives’ deeds have put the world on the path to progress.

Progress, indeed.

The strangest thing about it all is that not many people elsewhere in the world would murmur a single word in protest. That is, if they even ever registered the strange goings on in Russia.

Just imagine the uproar if someone suggested that Braunau am Inn, a small Austrian town that had the misfortune of being Hitler’s birthplace, be renamed into, say, Hitlerstadt.

Putin’s Russia re-defines chutzpah

So far as gall is concerned, Russian government seems to have perfectly unlimited reserves of it, and then some.

The latest example: Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s minister of foreign affairs, demands “legal guarantees” (whatever THAT means) that Ukraine will remain neutral and will not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

As a reminder: NATO is a military alliance, formed in 1949. Canada is one of its founding members.

Growing potential for Soviet post-Second World War expansionism, seen as a major threat by the West, was the original idea behind the treaty. The Soviets, having promised their wartime Allies they would permit free elections in countries they had “liberated” would end up holding elections that were anything but free. Thus, they created a group of countries, called originally “people’s democracies,” only to become a network of communist dictatorships. Since the Soviets were giving all kinds of signs it was not their intention to stop there, the West acted to instill a bit of fear in them and, at least, slow down (if not stop) the Soviet expansionist plans.

The Soviets hated NATO with a vengeance that would have deserved better things.

Now, NATO has committed an unpardonable act: considering Ukraine a candidate for membership, it told the Russians to stay within their borders and stop violating Ukraine’s borders.

On and off

What has happened is this: Ukraine became a NATO membership candidate in 2008. The pro-Russian government of president Viktor Yanukovych, elected in 2010, said it would rather that Ukraine remained non-aligned. Yanukovych’s party changed the country’s policy in an internal document dealing with its political orientation, but it never officially withdrew Ukraine from NATO.

The important thing to remember here: Yanukovych is the guy deposed from his presidency following his about-face when it came to the European Union (EU), and he is, at the same time, the guy who claims he’s Ukraine’s president still, making these pronouncements from the safety of Russian government’s security installations.

Russian government has been acting in the traditional way, maintaining what have been in fact Tsarist imperial policies. These have included hostility toward the West, in general, and the overwhelming wish to have secure buffer zones between the West and Russia proper, in particular.

These policies have existed under the Tsars, they flourished under the communists, and they are alive and well under Vladimir Putin. The fact that they are somewhat outmoded, indeed, stupid, even, now, doesn’t matter. What matters is Mama Rossia (Mother Russia), overseeing her holdings and making sure they are safe (and she is safe doing so).

That one needs to twist historical facts from time to time in order to do so? So what? That the claim that, for example, Crimea has been always Russian and today’s government is only restoring it to its rightful owner is a bloody lie? Who cares? We stole it in the 18th century from its previous owners, and that makes it ours. And if you don’t like it, tough.

But now NATO has mentioned that there is this Article 5 of the treaty. It says the Alliance will help any of its members in case they suffer an attack from the outside. The article makes no difference between full and candidate memberships. And NATO told Russia it is perfectly prepared to meet its obligations.

Whether it will, or would, now, that’s a different question. It could lead to a nuclear exchange. Who would win?

Neither Russia, nor the West, is the answer.

And who would lose?

Here, the answer is less clear, and you can make cases for at least three scenarios (one side loses, the other side loses, they both lose).

That humankind in general would lose, that seems to be nobody’s concern.

NATO and EU: different animals

Russia, in any case, sees that NATO is not as wishy-washy a body like the European Union. That group, formed originally as a body to support the good old continent’s economy, has become a centralized and bureaucratized fossil, run by aging Maoists, Trotskyites and other such political nobodies, with imperial ambitions of their own.

So, NATO – without any sign of diplomatic delicacy – is picking up the stick known as Article 5. That is giving Russia pause. But not much of it, obviously. If Ukraine says it wants no help from NATO, their goes the stick.

But how to achieve that?

Yanukovich seems like a spent force as a Ukrainian president.

But nothing beats using insurgents who say the West has devilish plans with and for Ukraine, stoking up all kinds of more-or-less traditional phobias and paranoias. These guys then attack legitimate Ukrainian government offices, proclaiming this or that region of the country independent and concluding their declarations with calls for help from Mother Russia. We have seen this kind of scenario played somewhere before: oh, yes, Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring of 1968.

In any case, who is going to prove the insurgents were not, in fact, working for Russia’s intelligence forces? The West can refuse to recognize the referendum results in Crimea that said most of its citizens wanted to be Russian. The West can refuse to recognize Crimea’s brand new constitution that says the place has always been and will always remain Russian.

What else can the West do?

In theory, a lot, coming close to military confrontation but not crossing that fateful line.

In real life? Not much. It has lost its willingness and, as a consequence, ability to stand up and be counted. Whether it’s because the West’s hands aren’t too clean, either, that’s another question. It is true, for example, that the West has compromised a huge chunk of its integrity when it only tried to whisper that the atrocities the Russians had been committing in Chechnya were beyond unacceptable. Putin told the West’s leaders, in no uncertain words, too, that he is saving the world from what he termed was “green danger,” meaning Islam. To the extent that, indeed, all kinds of Islamic fundamentalist groups have been using the war in Chechnya as training grounds to prepare their men for sundry methods of combat.

Silence that deafens

What did Western leaders do? To their credit, they didn’t say, oh, ah, if that’s the case, then, pray proceed. To their discredit, they didn’t say anything else, either. Their silence confirmed what Putin had been saying (in Russian tradition) all along: the end justifies the means.

Not that the West hadn’t known this saying before, and from other sources, too. After all, it has been attributed to Niccolo Machiavelli. And he himself stole it from ancient Greek playwright Sophocles. In his play, Electra, Sophocles said (in verbatim translation): “The end excuses any evil.”

But Russian president Putin has taken his administration’s gall to new levels. He’s come close to chutzpah, which is gall to end all galls.

Putin wrote a threatening letter to EU leaders, telling them to mind their own bloody business, and he can turn off deliveries of Russian oil and natural gas to Ukraine any time he pleases, and then, where are you?

He said that Ukraine owes Russia money for some of the stuff that had been already delivered, and it would be only legitimate on Russia’s part to stop delivery until all accounts are settled.

Russian ITAR-TASS news agency published the full text of the letter Thursday, and, on that same day, a U.S. State Department spokesthingie announced that Putin’s threat bordered on blackmail.

Technically, it didn’t. You’ve got to pay your bills, or your phone company or energy suppliers are within their rights to deny you service.

Logically, it did: Putin’s timing defined it.

But, and that was the funniest thing, upon hearing about the U.S. reaction, Putin told all and sundry that nice people don’t read mail that isn’t addressed to them.

And this from a former Soviet KGB spy whose job it had been to do just that!

Combined with his foreign minister open interference in another country’s policies, this goes to show the West should have told Russia to behave or else long ago.

It’s getting too late now.

Donetsk would rather move across the English Channel

Once British, always British. And that is why Donetsk, a major Ukrainian city, should secede from Ukraine and join Great Britain forthwith.

HUH?

Indeed. Thus a group of young Donetsk citizens. And they DO have a case.

A British entrepreneur named John Hughes founded the city in 1869.

Hughes hailed from Wales, and the place he considered best to expand to in Ukraine was right in the middle of a huge and rich coal mining region, with steel foundries all over the place.

Pronounce the founder’s last name. Got it? Now, read the original name of Donetsk: Yuzovka. Sound similar? That’s because it was meant to be.

And that is why the Donetsk youngsters took to VKontakte (http://vk.com/), a European version of Facebook, to declare their intentions and start a petition for a binding referendum.

VKontakte says it is the largest European social network with more than a 100 million active users. It runs in three language versions: English, Russian and Ukrainian. Your pick.

Anyhow, organizers wrote (verbatim translation from the Russian version): “Donetskists! English brothers! This is the deciding moment!

“ONLY YOU WILL DECIDE WHERE YOUR CHILDREN WILL LIVE AND WHICH LANGUAGE THEY WILL BE SPEAKING!

“As is well known, Yuzovka (Donetsk) is truly an English town, founded by the great English entrepreneur John Hughes. The Russians have been lying to us for more than 100 years that this was originally a Russian town, while the Ukrainians have kept saying it was Ukrainian.

“We demand a referendum to decide that Yuzovka returns to her mother country, Great Britain.

“Hail John Hughes and his city! God save the Queen!”

Here’s the original version of their declaration, as published on a regional news site, Donbass.ua:

Дончане! Братья-англичане! Наступил решающий момент!

ТОЛЬКО ТЕБЕ РЕШАТЬ, ГДЕ БУДУТ ЖИТЬ ТВОИ ДЕТИ И НА КАКОМ ЯЗЫКЕ ОНИ БУДУТ ГОВОРИТЬ!

Как известно, Юзовка (“Донецк”) исконно английский город, основанный великим промышленником-англичанином – Джоном Юзом. На протяжении более сотни лет русские обманывали нас, что это исконно-русский город, а украинцы – что украинский!

Мы требуем референдума по возвращению Юзовки в своё исконное лоно – в состав Великой Британии!

Слава Джону Юзу и его городу! Боже, храни Королеву!”

Within a day of the referendum demand, some seven thousand Donetsk citizens cast their votes, with more than 60 per cent saying they were all for joining Great Britain, and about 16 per cent saying they would like to become something of an autonomous region under British mandate, with English as its official language.

Donbass.ua is of the view the entire matter has been meant as a satirical spoof on what’s been going on in and around Donetsk in recent weeks and months.

And there’s been a lot going on. According to the Russian news site, newsru.com, there have been demonstrations staged by some Russian nationalists. They want the southeastern Ukrainian region to join Russia, just like Crimea had. The pro Russian crowd clashed with the defenders of what they describe as “unified Ukraine” about two weeks ago. According to the latest accounts, there was at least one casualty, but nobody’s sure: news coverage is based on which side the particular journalist is reporting for.

According to newsru.com, the eastern  part of Ukraine has supported the recently deposed president Victor Yanukovich. In fact, the site reports, the Donetsk regional parliament has formed a working group to prepare a referendum about joining Russia.

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s office claims his government has no plans to invade and swallow eastern Ukraine. Nobody believes THAT statement. Everybody has grown up knowing they must not believe any rumours until those rumours have been officially denied.

Thus the movement to join Great Britain, instead. Funny, ridiculous, even, as it may sound to the uninitiated, there is a serious note behind the whole thing.

People of Donetsk remember their history, too. They are aware that Donetsk, now a two-million-citizen city, lost its original name (Yuzovka) in 1922, to honour Josif Vissarionovich Stalin: it was renamed Stalino. It got its current name in 1961, because Stalin’s name became anathema following revelations of his crimes against humanity in general and the peoples of what used to be the Soviet Union in particular.

People of Donetsk also know that their raw material resources and industrial base make their region a tidbit the Russians would be more than happy to welcome into their empire.

Russian KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) Vladimir Shalayev announced the other day that the Donetsk hockey team will not be playing its playoffs home games at home but, rather, in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. He cited unrest in the region. Players’, referees’ and audiences’ safety and security were of paramount concern, he said.

Consider the source: Shalayev used to be a high-ranking Soviet state security (KGB) officer. So was his country’s president, Putin. And if there is anyone Putin trusts implicitly and explicitly, it’s his former KGB colleagues.

So, little wonder some people of Donetsk would go to any lengths to avoid becoming part of the all-mighty Mother Russia.

Alas, no word yet from either the Buckingham Palace or 10 Downing Street. If they still believe the whole thing about Donetsk joining Great Britain is a joke, they should start thinking of beginning to think again.