Tag Archives: Russia

Russia vetoes probe into Malaysian airliner crash

So far as admissions of guilt are concerned, this one ranks with the best of them: Russia, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council, vetoed the idea of creating an investigative tribunal to probe the Malaysian airline flight MH17 catastrophe.

The aircraft was shot down while flying at about 11,000 kilometres above the Donbass region of Ukraine. Most of the evidence available thus far points to Russia’s involvement.

The incident cost the lives of 298 people. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Security Council representative, was the only person present to reject the tribunal plan out of hand. He didn’t have to explain anything. Neither do China, France, the United Kingdom and the United States have to explain why they veto any so-called “substantive” Security Council resolution, and the decision which resolution is substantive and which isn’t is theirs, too.

Here are the rules: the permanent members can abstain (not vote, that is), or make themselves scarce while a vote is underway (thus, not vote, again), but these moves haven’t got the effect of a veto. Only a majority vote against it or a veto can stop a Security Council resolution in its tracks.

And only the five permanent members, as established at the creation of the United Nations in 1945, have the right of veto.

Well, nobody has ever said that the United Nations is a democratic body, after all.

Here are the basic facts: 11 of the 15 Security Council members voted for the resolution submitted jointly by Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands and Ukraine. China, Angola and Venezuela abstained. Russia had been saying all along that the resolution would not pass. Now, it made sure of it.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte went so far as to telephone Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, to ask him to reconsider. To no avail.

Why, oh why?

Russia’s official reaction is simple: the tribunal would develop into an instrument of anti-Russian propaganda, and besides, you’d have to find the guilty party (parties) first, and judge them only after you’ve found them.

This has been known for decades as the Andrei Yanuarevich Vyshinsky theory of jurisprudence: once you’re brought before a court, it means you’re guilty.

Presumption of innocence? HUH? The accuser has to prove the accused’s guilt? HUH? The accused is innocent until proven guilty? What the heck are you talking about?

Vyshinsky’s approach worked splendidly during Josef Vissarionovich Stalin’s trials. True, some would later claim the trials were only based on occasional errors but, otherwise, Stalin was right, and so was, by extension, Vyshinsky.

Of course, what Russia’s behaviour caused is known as the boomerang effect. Thus Malaysia’s transportation minister, Liow Tiong Lai: “(This) sends a dangerous message about the impunity perpetrators of this heinous crime can enjoy.”

U.S. Security Council Ambassador, Samantha Power, said Russian veto will only bring more pain to victims’ families. Left unspoken: they would logically link their pain to Russia’s unwillingness to help find the perpetrators.

Russia’s Churkin said establishing a tribunal would have been premature. He said his country has always been prepared to cooperate in a full, independent and objective investigation.

Investigators who had been probing the crash since it happened have looked at the latter statement askance. What they have encountered so far has been anything but Russia’s cooperation.

Basic debate

The Malaysian airliner, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came crashing down in the area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists last July.

Experts say the plane was brought down by a ground-to-air missile launched in a Russian separatist-controlled area. They said it was a weapon nobody else but the Russian army had in its arsenal at the time.

Russia revealed recently a digital video recording that, it says, proves the plane was shot down using an air-to-air missile, launched from a Ukrainian fighter jet.

One minor mistake of major proportions: experts analyzed the digital video file and found conclusive evidence that it was fake.

Another Russian theory: Ukrainian army launched the ground-to-air missile.

Another minor oversight: the Ukrainians had no access to this kind of weaponry.

And, of course, a recently revealed video that shows the pro-Russian separatists inspecting the debris, exclaiming, oh, but we didn’t know this was a civilian plane, and similar words to that effect, isn’t helping the official Russian cause, either.

Ukrainian authorities, aware that the Russians would not accept any evidence they would present, gave up their right of investigation and transferred it to the Dutch. So, the office for airline safety of the Netherlands has received all of the debris, and has been trying to find the reasons for the crash. Its job is not to find the perpetrators. The Dutch attorney general’s office has been trying to find those guilty. It put together a commission that includes experts from Ukraine and the countries whose citizens had been among the victims.

There are no Russians on this body, and this makes Moscow even more paranoid.

Considering Russia has for centuries acted on the premise “it’s us against them,” and “everybody’s against us, and we know it,” no wonder its government is openly suspicious.

It remains to be seen what the Kremlin is going to think, say and do if Ukraine’s government decides to propose the formation of a similar tribunal at its earliest convenience at the United Nations’ General Assembly. To win, they would require just two-thirds of the vote, and Russia would be able to vote in any shape or form, but without the right of a veto.

The only problem: none of this is going to bring the 298 victims back.

Toronto’s Olympic dream Canada’s nightmare

Why the people of Toronto continue to think that their collection of villages is the centre of the universe as we know it remains a sweet mystery.

Why many others across Canada seem to keep swallowing this nonsense hook, sink and line has become an enigma beyond belief, too.

On the heels of the Pan American Games, whose bill is yet to be revealed, so all of us learn how much this sham is going to cost us, there seems to be a growing sentiment abroad, insisting that Toronto should bid for the 2024 Olympic Games. Why, they say, it’s the ideal moment in history: the PanAm Games have been a resounding success (says who? Oh, they say so, which means that’s how it’s got to be!), and besides, the other potential North American suitor has just pulled out of the contest. A window of opportunity if there ever was one!

If only they listened to what Boston’s Mayor Martin S. Walsh had to say.

Announcing that he was asked to sign a contract that would guarantee that the city of Boston would be responsible for potential financial losses, Mayor Walsh said he couldn’t in good conscience do anything of the kind. He is of the view that this ought to be somebody else’s responsibility (read: the organizers ought to be responsible, not the taxpayers). Besides, he was asked to sign a document the precise language of which would be revealed to him some two months after he had signed on the dotted line. No option to negotiate, Mayor Walsh added, and that sealed it for him.

In that one sentence, Mayor Walsh revealed the criminality of the Olympic system as we’ve known it for decades.

Olala, Marcel!

Enter Marcel Aubut, head of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

To refresh everybody’s memory (in case it needs refreshing), that would be the same Marcel Aubut who drafted Eric Lindros first overall in 1991 even though he had been perfectly aware that Lindros would refuse to join the Quebec Nordiques no matter what. As a result, Lindros, considered by many Wayne Gretzky’s second coming, would lose an entire NHL season. That makes Aubut’s move even more unconscionable. As a hockey official of extensive experience Aubut must have known that professional players’ careers are limited.

And he crowned this sordid drama by trading Lindros a year later to two teams (the excuse that he and Pierre Page had no way of informing one another about their individual but separate talks does not hold water). The case had to be settled by an independent arbitrator, a scene that still makes the crowd at 1185 Avenue of the Americas in New York cringe.

To refresh everybody’s memory again (in case it still needs refreshing), that would be the same Marcel Aubut under whose personal and expert guidance the Quebec Nordiques were eventually forced to leave Quebec City in a financial shambles, only to resurface in Denver as the Colorado Avalanche and win the Stanley Cup within a year.

Of course, in fairness, who knows whether the Avalanche would have won anything without the presence of Patrick Roy in their net? It seems quite obvious that, had the Nordiques stayed put, theirs wouldn’t be the club the Montreal Canadiens would trade Roy to.

But that is hindsight. The fact that remains is that it was Marcel Aubut who caused the Lindros scandal, and that it was Marcel Aubut who helped bring the Nordiques to financial ruin and ignominious departure.

So, having this guy say that “It’s time to make it crystal clear, I am officially declaring that I will use the full power of my office to lead and advocate for Toronto’s candidacy to hold the 2024 Olympic Games,” that would be a clarion call for everybody concerned to run for cover.

Not so easy

Let them apply, so what? many might suggest.

Alas, that’s not how it works.

To put together a presentation for an Olympic Games bid costs money. There are firms that specialize in this kind of work. They charge their clients for every box of Kleenex they use when they happen to sneeze. With the deadline for bid submissions set for September 15, 2015, these consultants would have to work pretty hard and fast. Double (or triple) the original demand in order to account for the deadline pressure.

So, taxpayers would be shelling out their hard-earned loonies just so the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members have something to read in their leisure time. Without any guarantee whatsoever. Marcel Aubut might be presenting himself as a heavy hitter whose word spreads general fear in the IOC offices in Lausanne, Switzerland, but, in fact, he’s a featherweight so far as the Olympic poohbahs are concerned.

But, while the Olympians get set to gather to ponder on the individual bids by hicks who are willing to mortgage their citizens’ future for the chance they might appear on TV screens, bidding cities will have to prove they have sufficient facilities to host events on such scale.

No problem, the Toronto bid supporters will yell, we’ve just had the PanAm Games, and our facilities worked just fine.

First of all, they would be lying through their teeth. Track-and-field experts have been shocked by the small-country-county ambience of Toronto’s fields. Even Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium worked better during the track-and-field world championships in 2001.

Besides, the Olympic would-be royalty demands that their events happen in brand new facilities. They claim, as an excuse, that these facilities would then remain as legacy for future generations to use. Another bald-faced lie. There have been exceptions, to be sure. Some of the winter sports facilities in Calgary still remain in use. But going into more detail would reveal some horror stories that are better left for windy and rainy autumn nights. They are best shared by crowds that are sitting by the fireplace, with toddies all around. These stories are scarier than most of the Halloween costumes people could ever imagine.

In any case, even facilities built brand-new for the PanAm Games would be obsolete (in Olympians’ view) nine years hence.

Here’s what happens

Hordes of realtors, developers and sundry financiers will overwhelm all levels of government telling them this or that kind of work’s got to be done immediately, even before the Olympic crowd bothers to descend upon the bidding city. Whether it’s a conspiracy, as many Olympic watchers suspect, remains to be seen. But the fact is that, when asked, Olympic officials will nod in agreement: what, you didn’t read the fine print?

Interestingly enough, government officials proceed to spend like crazy sailors on shore leave. After all, it’s not their money they are spending. And there is a sufficient number of fools amongst their electorate who fall for the shamelessly idiotic propaganda about the Olympic Games. It’s the greatest sporting event on earth, and one that takes its responsibilities seriously, whether it’s the environment or the cleanliness of the athletes. We as citizens should be proud that the august Olympians decided that ours is the best spot on planet Earth to hold this event, that’s the motto.

And not even the fact that it took Montreal almost four decades to pay off its Olympic debt, and that it’s going to take Vancouver about that same amount of time to pay off its Olympic debt changes the hoopla.

If the Olympic Games were produced and paid for by private organizers and if they made money in the process, three cheers for them.

But since the Olympic Games are produced and paid for by taxpayers who have literally no say in what is going on, the picture changes.

There have been case studies during which analysts presented private entrepreneurs with Olympic budgets and accounting books, so far as they could lay their hands on them.

The private entrepreneurs were shocked both by the budgets and by the accounting that followed.

To use a most recent Canadian example, none of them would have thought of bringing snow (using trucks and helicopters) from Manning Park all the way to the mountains around Vancouver.

The more thoughtful people in the entrepreneurial crowd hated what they saw. Not because none of them got to hop on the gravy train. Because they saw where their taxes were going, and they didn’t like it one bit.

To be sure, by the way, this kind of megalomania is not limited to Canada.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, alpine skiing events took place quite far from the sea shores, separated from the Black Sea by massive mountain ranges. The organizers, in an attempt to make access easier for the tourist hordes who would want to watch the break-neck artists hurtling down the slopes, broke through the mountains. One tunnel after another, one artificial pass after another. The result: the moist sea air made it all the way through to the alpine events areas. Tons of artificial snow and sundry chemicals made the slopes acceptable for the skiers. Not for the nature. The alpine meadows have been devastated beyond belief and it will take decades for the scientists to be able to say whether they would ever recover.

So much for the Olympians’ environmental responsibility.

But sports are good for your health!

Absolutely. But not sports as performed at highest-level events.

First and foremost, to even have a chance of becoming an Olympic-level athlete, you’d have to become a professional in your chosen field. Nobody can make it on talent alone any longer.

Becoming an Olympic athlete is no guarantee of success, either.

Now, if you decide you want to spend the rest of your productive life jumping over hurdles or throwing all kinds of stuff so far as they can fly, it’s your business. You may even think that what you’re doing is useful for society. It’s your right to have opinions.

The buck stops once you accept a cent of public funding. And getting money from sports federations equals exactly that. These bodies wouldn’t be able to survive a single season without getting government support.

As an athlete, you may claim that you are presenting yourself as a role model for the younger crowd so that they become hooked on sports, too.

There’s nothing easier to explode than this myth. If money various levels of governments grant to various sports federations, up to and including the Olympic committee, were spread among schools, so they can build and maintain sports facilities, hire and keep physical education teachers, and are able to keep physical education as a daily class on their schedules, that would be the proper way of engaging in sports.

The highly trained gladiators just don’t cut it. And that’s ignoring all their doping and other dirty shenanigans.

To sum this angle up: the federal government has, quite properly, resisted spending taxpayers’ money in support of professional hockey clubs.

It should tell the same thing to all those who come, caps in hands, asking for federal government support in staging events such as the Olympic Games. The government is not in the business of professional sports.

And if those would-be organizers start pushing their point by saying what an economic bonanza their event would turn out to be, the government should issue a collective smile and say: Is that so? So, go ahead, invest, and be successful. We’ll watch your progress with considerable interest.

And if the potential organizers, blackmailers, one and all, start crying, the answer should be even simpler. Let them eat cake.

Middle East beginning to lose its clout

A rat is at its most dangerous when it is cornered and sees no way out.

This is precisely what’s been happening to some formerly mighty Middle Eastern monarchies lately. Oh yes, they still carry their heads of state in aircraft filled with golden washroom basins and other such stuff, but their grip on the world economy is getting looser by the day.

Meaning?

Meaning that the oil hegemony that used to keep the rest of the world by the throat no longer exists. These kingdoms spent the money they made off oil exports on luxuries for their aristocracy, spread of Islamic ideology all over the world, and almost nothing on general education, improvement of their populations’ lot and finding alternative methods of supporting themselves. Consequently, the end is nigh.

An interesting point: modern technologies for oil extraction developed in North America, have made, for example, the U.S. last year’s largest crude exporter, beating Saudi Arabia hands down.

Here a few calculations for the next year, based on several intelligence sources’ estimates (independent of one another): in 2015, the U.S. is expected to produce 12 million barrels of oil a day, exporting one full million of it daily. Iran, by comparison, is not expected to produce more than 1,5 million barrels a day.

While none of this has made international headlines, this has: the Palestinian Authority asked the United Nations to recognize its territory as a country. Where this would have created some heated discussions across the spectrum a year or two ago, now, the request was turned down without much debate.

Why? Because loss of oil superpower status equals loss of relevancy.

Come think of it, there was much more debate about the issue within the Palestinian Authority’s territory. Hamas, a terrorist organization if there ever was one, and de facto ruler of the area, has been unhappy about the request. Such recognition of statehood would have meant recognition and stabilization of borders, including those of Israel. So far as Hamas is concerned, this would be anathema. Israel has no right to exist.

In any case, the simple change inside the oil markets has meant not only that prices have been going down. It also spells doom for those who had thought the world was their oyster and they could dictate where it was going and how using the threat of either cutting oil supplies, or increasing their prices.

No longer.

Yes, some of the monarchies have been eyeing tourism as a replacement for the flow of petro-dollars. Witness all those towers and sundry palaces in their countries. They even are willing to go so far as to permit booze in those places, much to the chagrin of their religious leaders.

Except tourism is no replacement for a weapon such as crude oil. It can support Monaco or Monte Carlo or, even, Las Vegas, but certainly not a region that used to think it could become a world leader.

The list of losers includes Russia as well as the Middle East monarchies.

The list of those on the winning side includes not only the U.S., but also Canada, Mexico, as well as some African countries, such as Nigeria.

The times of shameless blackmail of European politicians, using Middle Eastern petro-dollars, are over.

Yes, we still see paroxysms, such as Sweden not only jumping the gun and recognizing the Palestinian territory as a state before the United Nations turned this frightfully stupid, shortsighted and provocative request down. But then again, this is the same country whose social democratic government only recently suspended democracy till at least the year 2022.

Yes, we still witness useful idiots (there exists no milder and more generous description) who carry anti-Israeli (and anti-Semitic) slogans around and blame the Muslim backwardness on the Jews rather than on their own rulers. We can safely expect their rhetoric to become more heated when the only source of income these Middle Eastern countries have enjoyed dries up.

Except: money speaks, and where there’s no money, there’s no political will, either. European Union politicians’ spines may grow a bit stronger than they have been lately.

The single-issue groups that have been claiming Muslim lifestyles were to be adopted in the countries Muslims had immigrated to will face critical financial shortages: most of them receive support from the Middle Eastern monarchies. It is also to be expected that regular citizens of Europe will become louder than they have been thus far. This, by the way, has been becoming a new (and welcome) feature of communal life in Europe. Hopefully, this will spread.

This has nothing to do with denying Muslims the right to believe what they wish to believe.

This has everything to do with denying Muslims the right to impose their beliefs on all and sundry.

We can expect a few years of violence: the Middle Eastern (and Russian) rulers will be blaming the rest of the world for their nations’ ills. Anybody but themselves. And the Middle Eastern religious leaders will become even more shrill than they are now. Again: it’s the infidels who are guilty of it all, not the centuries of mental, emotional and physical repression their nations had to endure under their leadership.

Is there any hope for them? And for the rest of the world?

Who knows? Forcing these monarchies to go around, begging, won’t do the trick. Continuing to do their bidding won’t cut it, either.

Convincing them to grow up and realize we’re now in the 21st century is our only hope. It’s going to be a slow and painful process. But the first step is behind us: Middle Eastern monarchs no longer rule the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is becoming aware of it.

Doping scandal of major proportions rocks the world’s sports community

Will most of Russian athletes be stripped of their Olympic and other international championships medals and banned from competition for some pretty considerable time?

What began as a scandal involving only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has now spread across the spectrum. That Russian track-and-field athletes, swimmers, cyclists, biathlonists, cross-country skiers and weight lifters now face charges of doping is one matter. That Russian sports bodies chiefs now stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy that permitted all that, is another matter.

And that IAAF President Lamine Diack’s own son, Papa Massata Diack, has been involved personally, too, makes it the mother of all sporting scandals.

Young Diack has been IAAF’s marketing poohbah, a position that gives nepotism a new meaning.

Germany’s ARD television network charges that young Diack has personally helped Russian marathoner Lilya Shobukhova who paid 450,000 Euros through her coach Alexei Melnikov to 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.

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

Help from up top

That, of course, is not all. ARD and l’Equippe, the French sports newspaper, have unearthed more documentation, and 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 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 ago, these same officials 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.

What’s fair is fair, right?

How did the cover-up work? Could have hardly been more simple: 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. Not only that: as most of the tests require collection of urine samples, 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Doping: what else is new?

ARD, an abbreviation for Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a.k.a. Consortium of public broadcasters in Germany in English, has been known for its hard-hitting documentaries. Besides, it is precisely the Germans who ought to know whereof they speak when it comes to doping. A sports medicine institute in Leipzig in the former East Germany has been in the forefront of the doping science for a very long time. Some of its leading researchers have spent the last couple of decades or so working with athletes in China. Doing what?

Meanwhile, l’Equippe newspaper has been known as the publication of record when it comes to investigating doping in cycling, during the Tour de France, in particular.

Not surprisingly, a huge number of international sports officials have been expressing shock bordering on outright dismay, as if they hadn’t known for decades that this has been going on in one form or another. The chest-beating has been coming loud and clear, from former fencer and now head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach, all the way to the founder of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and IOC member, Canada’s own Dick Pound.

Pound comes the closest to saying “I told you so,” an expression he would have done better keeping to himself.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Coe, a former British runner, later the boss of the 2012 Olympic Games in London and now a leading candidate for the IAAF presidency, is on record as saying that there should be a widespread redistribution of medals. This promises a fine spectacle, with officials going back – well, Sebastian Coe hasn’t said yet how many years back – to double-check ancient doping test results. What will the IAAF officials do if the samples no longer exist? How will they prove the old samples, if and when found, haven’t been tampered with?

According to some British sources, the Olympic poohbahs are now considering banning Russian athletes from all competitions. As if the Russians were the only ones doing this. They were the only ones caught, for the time being, that’s all.

Why the crocodile tears?

Of course, it’s all hypocrisy.

Sprinters running at speeds reaching 40 kilometres an hour speeds, even if only for less than 10 seconds, aren’t normal human beings. Marathoners getting close to covering this distance in less than two hours aren’t normal human beings, either. We can consider one sport on the Olympic schedule after another to see that it’s been artificially created bodies who have performed these achievements.

Yes, yes, yes, some say it’s the diet, others say it’s the new training methods, still others say it’s all of it combined.

But the conclusion is simple and straightforward: what these athletes are (and have been) achieving is not normal.

But, of course, viewers all over the world are fans who want to see such out-of-this-world achievements. They are paying good portions of their hard-earned money (in whatever currency) to see the modern gladiators ply their trade. It has become an industry on its own: without viewer interest, there wouldn’t be so much coverage that pretends it’s news. Without so much coverage that pretends it’s news there wouldn’t be so many dollars invested in advertising. Speaking of which, when a sprinter shows that this or that running shoe is the best, it’s still within the boundaries of the understandable. But when, for example, a weight-lifter promotes products of female hygiene, it becomes a comedy.

And yet, the solution is simple. If you asked the athletes whether they would digest something that would guarantee them Olympic gold and, at the same time, premature death within five years of victory, an overwhelming majority would go for the doping.

It’s perfectly irrelevant if they would agree in the wild hope that, within those five years, a cure would be developed for whatever they had brought upon themselves, or because their imagination doesn’t stretch that far, or that they are of the view that, at least, they had taken care of their families.

What matters is: they would do it.

So, why not let them?

Why not realize that even the original Olympiads in ancient Greece were filled with not only outright doping, but blatant cheating, too? (If you let me win this race, my sponsor will guarantee you a job at so many drachmas a year, plus room and board.)

Why not admit that the anti-doping crowd has been playing catch-up all along, never really getting even close to the level of those who’d been using performance-enhancing drugs?

Just drop the pretence, leave (taxpayer-supported) Olympic organizations and sundry sports bodies out of it, pass the deal over to pharmaceutical companies, and change the slogan. Get rid of the ancient Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). It’s Latin, anyway, and how many people speak (or, at least, just understand) Lingua Latina these days? Replace it with “My drugs are better than yours, nyanyanyanahnah,” and be done with it.

Of course, we won’t have titillating stories of athletes who wouldn’t pass the normal sobriety tests to enjoy any longer.

Will it be such a huge loss?

Did Picasso support Russia’s bid for World Cup of soccer?

Nothing beats a good bribe if and when you’re after the right to host a World Cup of football (soccer for North American readers).

According to intelligence sources, FIFA vice president and UEFA president Michel Platini’s personal collection now features a painting by Pablo Picasso that used to be hidden in Russia’s national archives.

FIFA is football’s (soccer’s) governing body all over the world. UEFA’s fiefdom includes all of Europe.

These allegations of bribery, of course, neatly fit the allegations of a massive vote-buying scandal involving bids for the two forthcoming World Cups: the 2018 in Russia, and the 2022 in Qatar.

A report out of Great Britain lists a Picasso painting (or Picasso paintings) as having been removed from Russia’s national archives – either from the Hermitage Gallery in the Palace Square in St. Petersburg or from the Kremlin in Moscow itself. Of course, one wonders: has there been an art archive hidden in the Kremlin? Or did the report mean the Tretyakov Gallery on Lavrushinsky Lane in Moscow, and it only wanted to say the painting was removed on orders from the Kremlin?

Cloak-and-dagger operation

The British House of Commons Media and Sport committee claims it got its information from what it called “high-level intelligence gathering and surveillance on the other countries bidding to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.”

It is good to remember in this context that the British did submit their bid for the 2018 World Cup, too, but were not successful. The 2018 and 2022 bid situation was somewhat convoluted: FIFA told its members they can bid on either event or on both of them. The British first tried bidding on both, and then concentrated on 2018. It didn’t do them much good.

Russian authorities, as could (and should) be expected, hotly denied any underhanded skulduggery, bribes included.

Now, of course, this particular denial is coming from a country that gave birth to the rule that one oughtn’t believe any rumours until they’d been officially denied. So, Russia’s denial doesn’t prove anything.

What did not help matters was what happened after FIFA ordered an investigation. Some 18 months later, it received the Adjudicatory Chamber’s report. FIFA said the report cleared both Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing. No need to start the bidding charade again, FIFA said. But the language of its statement that announced FIFA’s decision was somewhat involved for a layperson (and convoluted for experts in legalese, too): “The various incidents which might have occurred are not suited to compromise the integrity of the FIFA World Cup 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole.”

Huh?

What didn’t help matters, either, was the strange fact that FIFA’s lead investigator dissented and said so publicly. Michael Garcia announced he would appeal.

What?

Yes.

Garcia went so far as to issue a statement saying, verbatim: “Today’s decision by the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the Investigatory Chamber’s report.”

Here’s the translation: the final report is a bloody lie. The winners cheated. And cheating happens to be unsportsmanlike.

Garcia, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, examined the 2010 vote. The funniest part: Garcia submitted his still unpublished report to criminal authorities in Switzerland. That’s where FIFA is based.

Oh, those nosy reporters!

It all began with reporting in The Sunday Times of London.

These stories, the paper said, were based on what it described as a secret “database” put together by English soccer officials as they were bidding unsuccessfully to host the 2018 tournament. British embassies and former intelligence officers unearthed and collected the information used in the allegations of bribery-induced vote rigging.

Not unexpectedly, Michel Platini of France, a member of the powerful executive committee of FIFA, denied receiving the gift, calling the report a “ridiculous rumour.”

Besides, Platini told the French news agency AFP, “The allegations in The Sunday Times are completely fictitious. This case is now in the hands of my counsel for possible libel.”

Why Platini? Could it be a typical example of the traditional love that has existed through centuries between the French and the English?

Not really. This is far too important. It is also good to remember that Platini leads UEFA, the European soccer authority that oversees the Champions League. Many consider him as a possible successor to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election next year.

Aiming high

The Sunday Times 15-page statement submitted to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British House of Commons goes so far as to name Russia’s president Vladimir Putin as having been personally involved in the bribery scheme.

It took one single vote in 2010 by the FIFA executive committee members to decide the winning bids of both 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

This is highly unusual in and of itself.

This kind of voting also suggests that the numerous reports saying the bidding process was rife with opportunities for bribery, kickbacks and voting pacts couldn’t have been too far off the mark. Especially because investigators associated with England’s unsuccessful bid for the 2018 Cup uncovered evidence that Russia and Qatar had joined forces to influence votes in a pact “seemingly brokered through a major bilateral gas cooperation agreement.”

In another interesting twist, the FBI and IRS took an interest in FIFA’s executive committee. The two bodies turned Chuck Blazer – the lone American on the committee in 2010 – into a cooperating witness in a federal criminal probe based in the Eastern District of New York.

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported that Blazer had met personally with Putin in the lead up to the World Cup vote, posting photographs of himself with the Russian president on his blog.

Later, after FBI and IRS confronted Blazer with evidence of unpaid taxes, he agreed to go undercover for the feds, secretly recording his meetings with soccer officials during the London Olympics in 2012.

Why is all this important?

All of this serves as yet another proof (as if one was still needed) that the gigantic sports events have turned into moneymaking machines for groups of well-connected entrepreneurs.

These things are no longer about sports, no matter how you look at it.

Populations all over the world are massaged by mass media to become supporters of the various Olympic Games, World Cups and other such gatherings of professional athletes. What they do not realize is that – as faithful taxpayers – they pay for most of the costs. The money ends in the pockets of those who build the sites and those who grant them the right to stage these events.

So, it’s not so much megalomania as it is a money grab.

If private entities were to stage such huge events, there would be no special reason to complain that they ended up with a profit. They risked, they won. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

It’s when taxpayers pay for the dance and private businesses win the door prizes that these things begin to smell funny. When, on top of it all, all kinds of officials get to share in the proceeds without sharing a cent with those who had originally paid the piper, the whole scenario begins to stink to high heaven.

How long will it take before taxpayers see the light?

KHL loses three teams, finds three replacements elsewhere

One day you’re up, fighting for cup victory in game seven, and the next day you’re gone.

Well, to be less dramatic: it took a few weeks for Lev Praha of the Russian KHL to start gasping for life. First, they lost to Mike Keenan-led Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Gagarin Cup finals. Now comes the news its shareholder owners Yevgeni Myshkovskii and Petr Speychal haven’t got enough in the kitty to continue. The club’s budget last season said the club needed $40 million (Canadian) to operate.

According to news out of Prague, no such money is forthcoming, and the club will have to fold.

The owners issued a statement forthwith, denying they are quitting. They are dealing with the situation, they said, and next Monday would be the deadline for a definitive answer. Until then, the owners added in an official statement, all news about the club’s demise are pure speculation.

As (wrongly) attributed to Mark Twain, and paraphrased, news of their death was greatly exaggerated. Except, the reports come from a region known for yet another pearl of wisdom: don’t believe any rumours until they’ve been officially denied.

Just to make matters more involved for the KHL, the venerable Spartak Moscow is headed to the poorhouse, too. In addition, Donbass Donetsk won’t be able to play because of the tense political (and military) situation in Ukraine. Donetsk, after all, is one of the neuralgic points in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Here’s the main issue: for whatever reason, Russian oil and natural gas giant Gazprom has decided to cut its epenses on professional hockey in half. Gazprom just happens to be KHL’s main sponsor. To what degree sponsoring the KHL made any economic sense to Gazprom in the first place is hard to fathom. After all, Team Russia’s main sponsor at international events is another Russian company. One that exports weapons. So says its logo on Team Russia’s official jerseys.

Of course, says the KHL, no need to worry: we have Finland’s Jokerit Helsinki joining as of next season, and a team from Sochi, and another one from Togliatti. The former club, HC Sochi, a.k.a. Sochi Leopards, has former NHL player Vyacheslav (Slava) Butsayev as its coach. The latter, known as Lada, used to be Torpedo. It was kicked out of the KHL in 2011 because it didn’t have a good enough arena. It was renamed Lada because the Soviets used to build their version of the Italian car, Fiat, under the nickname of Lada, in a local car factory.

So far as Lev Praha is concerned, the first signs of trouble emerged earlier this spring. According to early June quotes from Rashid Khabibulin, the team’s sports manager, there were issues when the club tried to negotiate a new lease deal with Prague’s O2 Arena. He didn’t specify what issues then, but now, say some Czech insiders, it is becoming obvious what they were. Lev wanted to pay less than what the arena owners had been asking for.

Several Lev players, approached by the media, tried to put brave faces on: it’s not official yet, they would all say, and they hope the owners will find a way.

Only the owners’ bankers know whether this optimism is justified or not.

And they’re not telling.

I spy, you spy, everybody’s spying

This is not to say that Russian president Vladimir Putin suffers from paranoia.

This is to say that he believes that everybody’s against him. Not even that: Vladimir Putin is perfectly convinced of it.

This can be the only explanation for his statement that the Internet is the brainchild of the U.S. espionage agency, the CIA, and that the American spooks have been controlling it all along, since its inception, all the way up to today.

One wonders what former U.S. vice-president, one Al Gore, would have to say about that. After all, Gore has become famous (or infamous, depends on your point of view) when he announced to the world that Internet was his brainchild, and nobody else’s.

If one were Al Gore, one would demand explanations from Vladimir Putin, and pronto.

One wonders, however, whether Putin’s answers would be forthcoming any time soon. The guy is extremely busy so far as the Inernet is concerned. First, he had his people infiltrate the management of VKontakte, a Russian version of Facebook. Then, he had his intelligence service people demand that Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte, share his network users’ information with them. In particular, Durov would reveal later, they were interested about the accounts of those who hadn’t been happy with Vladimir Putin’s works and had enough courage to say it publicly.

Durov, quite properly, turned the Russian intelligence service down, was kicked out by Putin’s management crowd, told his programmers he was leaving, the programmers said they would be leaving with him and, for the time being, Durov and his group are somewhere else, but definitely not in Russia.

To make everything look and sound legal, Russian parliament (Duma) voted in a new law, one that says that foreign social media networks must have their servers in Russia, as well as keeping their users’ data for six months.

Governments’ control manias

Not that this is anything new. The European Union (EU), obsessed as it is with controlling everything that exists wherever it can look, has been trying for years to get control of the Internet (and Internet-based communications especially). The Bruxelles bureaucrats base their demand on security, just as the Chinese government has done some time ago, when it demanded control over anything Google did in their country, including censoring some parts of the search engine’s results that could be accessed by Chinese citizens.

As it is, some of the most important parts of the Internet are controlled by ICANN. What the heck is THAT?

Here’s your answer: is is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It is anon-profit public-benefit corporation with participants from all over the world. ICANN says it is dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. As it says itself, ICANN promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet’s unique identifiers.

Through its coordination role of the Internet’s naming system, it does have an important impact on the expansion and evolution of the Internet.

Why is there nobody else?

One reason: size of the North American market.

The other, just as important: the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations body, hasn’t been able to come to an agreement how to operate the Internet. That led to fractioning of the entire thing, with ICANN sitting on top, but with an ever-growing number of other non-governmental (and non-profit) groups taking part in operating it.

So far as the Internet is concerned, this is a much better state of affairs than having governments making sure nobody’s able to stir the stagnant waters of their governing by being too nosy.

A spy is a spy is a spy

Of course, it is quite logical that Russia’s Putin would believe an opponent’s intelligence agency is behind everything he cannot control. Himself a former rather high-ranking KGB officer (and a spy), this kind of thinking is in his blood.

Putin is not alone. German chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff  want to get the Internet out of American control, and take it straight under their respective governments’ control. They are both perfectly livid – to the point of hysteria – about U.S. spy agency NSA’s monitoring of their own communications.

All of this flies in the face of what the Internet is and is supposed to be.

Granted, the networking projects – spawned originally in very individualistic minds of computer scientists – got a boost when U.S. military became interested enough to fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, a.k.a. the ARPANET. The network would, first of all, link a number of universities. That would eventually get it from under U.S. government control.

Government control, or, rather, financing, helped get the fledgling computer networking off its diapers, out of the world of fantasy not even the most imaginative computer scientists of the time would dare think of. It made it reality.

Anything wrong with that? Well, that would be another topic for another day.

Government control as some governments like to achieve it now, is all about George Orwell’s 1984 and its concepot of Big Brother.

Not so shocking in Brazilian president Rousseff’s case. Her father, Petar Rousseff, fled Bulgaria when, as an active member of the local communist party, he was justifiably afraid of prosecution. On arrival in Brazil he’d become an entrepreneur. His family would move up the social ladder. His daughter Dilma, as has been usual in such and similar cases, would return to leftist politics, and she wouldn’t abandon them even after becoming rich herself.

Bluntly: governments have the right to control everything, including people’s thoughts. That would be as natural to Dilma Rousseff as breathing in and breathing out. She would couch it all in anti-American propaganda which only goes to show that she knows what’s fashionable these days amongst the intelligentsia.

It’s funnier in Angela Merkel’s case. A former research scientist in the field of physical chemistry, she spent her youth in the frightful atmosphere of her communist homeland, the GDR (German Democratic Republic). What was so democratic about the GDR, one fails to figure out.

But if you decide to learn more about Frau Chancellor’s past, you won’t be as surprised.

A few details: her father was a pastor, yet, the family not only could travel (and travelled) frequently from the East to the West, but did so using one of the two automobiles it owned. Both situations unheard of. Travel, especially travel between the East and the West, was strictly under the control of Stasi (secret police and intelligence service). Automobile ownership was under strict control, too. Owning a car was a sign that the person who had received the voucher to buy one was a reliable comrade. Owning TWO cars? This has had led to a few eyebrows shooting up. Some went so far as to conclude that Merkel’s father had a “sympathetic” relationship with the communist regime. Such freedom and privileges for a Christian pastor and his family would have been impossible in the GDR otherwise.

Angela Merkel was a member of the Free German Youth (FDJ), a body under the strict control of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED), a communist party under any other name. It would be difficult to hold this membership in and of itself against her. While voluntary on paper, membership or lack thereof would open (or shut) doors to education beyond grade eight.

Except: Merkel became a member of the FDJ district board and secretary for “Agitprop” (Agitation and Propaganda). She would claim later that she was secretary for culture, something her former chairman contradicted with passion deserving of better things.

Not that she’d be a dissenter of any kind. Her science was what mattered, and if it involved membership in this or that communist front organization, so be it.

Why ought one wonder that Angela Merkel has no issues with government snooping all over Internet servers that it has under its control? Is she not aware of what such approach cost most people who used to live in what used to be the communist GDR?

Yes, it is true that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) used the Internet’s social media networks to gather information on what they termed “people of interest.”

This hasn’t got as much to do with those networks as it has with the NSA. Would you punish a hammer because it gave a nail such a terrible headache?

Gone are the times – if they ever existed – when it wasn’t sporting for gentlemen to read others’ mail.

We can debate ad nauseam to what degree it is kosher and to what degree it is not, to cast vast surveillane networks all over the place, in the hope that such nets may help catch fish that one’s been chasing all over the place. Whether it’s permitted is one thing, whether it’s done is another matter altogether.

And, by the way, if the Brazilian and German spy agencies hadn’t been spying in the U.S., they weren’t doing their job.

Calling the Internet a CIA invention and tool, as Russian president Putin is doing, that would be hysterically funny. If he didn’t mean it, that is.

The tragedy is, he means it.

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.

Who’s failed Ukraine and the Ukrainians?

The West has nobody else to blame but itself for what’s going on in Ukraine. And lest anybody thinks that Russia’s takeover of Crimea is the final step, let them think again.

Russia has been used to enjoying her superpower standing. That dates back to the Tsarist times, this is not just her relatively recent communist past. But it was her communist past that brought Mother Russia firmly down on her knees. Communism does that to national economies.

The accepted wisdom has it that Tsarist Russia was a dirt-poor country that was going nowhere fast.Thus, the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917.

An old joke comes to mind: the country’s most momentous event is called October Revolution, but they celebrate it in November. And that’s how everything works over there.

Poor? Yes, absolutely. Going nowhere fast? A perfect lie. After all, Russia was quite capable of feeding herself, something that can’t be mentioned in polite society about Russia under communism.

But even with her trousers filled with holes, Russia (the Soviet Union, that is) could always claim she was a superpower that made her adversaries shake in their boots.

A few steps down the memory lane

Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky led the so-called February Revolution of 1917. The plan was to overthrow Tsarism and install at least a semblance of democracy in Russia.

Debates rage even today whether the idea of democracy in Russia was premature, and the fact remains that all of this was happening while the First World War was still going on.

German Imperial Staff, facing their country’s looming defeat, would come up with a plan some call brilliant. How to get Russia, one of Germany’s enemies, out of the equation? Simply: hire Vladimir Iliych Ulianov-Lenin and the group of his fanatical followers, most of whom were living in the safety of neutral Switzerland, finance them, and bring them over to Russia. The aim was to overthrow Kerensky, all the while introducing Lenin’s brand of Marxism, and putting the country in such a disarray it would beg Germany for forgiveness and plead for peace.

This move did NOT prevent Germany’s loss, but it did bring Russia to her knees.

Lenin introduced drastic measures to secure his victory. He was the guy who introduced Russia to the concept of concentration camps, mass executions of hostages and prisoners and other similar steps to convince the populace that it would obey or else.

Lenin died in 1924.

His replacement, Josif Vissarionovich Stalin, an organizer if there ever was one, developed Lenin’s form of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” close to perfection. Except, not even the ruthless system could feed the nation. Especially considering that Lenin has created what would become the Soviet Union, making Mother Russia a centre of an empire at a time when she could not afford it.

Stalin would continue with Lenin’s imperialism.

After the Soviet Union became part of the victorious allies who defeated Germany’s Adolf Hitler and his Nazis, the Soviets would become honoured guests at the tables of the mighty. They would even win the right of veto at the newly established United Nations’ Security Council.

Soviet citizenry in general – and its Russian segment, in particular – were proud: theirs was a superpower rubbing shoulders with the rest of the world’s powers, and whenever the Soviets said something, it carried considerable weight.

Skipping a few eras ahead, eras that would only confirm that communism really wasn’t the best idea to ever emerge and be imposed on a nation (or a group of nations), we get directly to Mikhail Sergeievich Gorbachev. This typical “apparatchik” whom only the naïve western elites could consider a Second Coming knew one thing: his country was on the brink of a total collapse. What he did not realize was that once just a bit of the bitter truth spreads around, it would be the death of communism. He unleashed “glasnost,” and the rest, as the cliché has it, is history.

Boris Nikolaievich Yeltsin, Gorbachev’s successor, just bowed to the inevitable, dismantling the Soviet Union (and letting the so-called union republics decide which way they wanted to go).

That was the end of Russia as an empire.

And then along came Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, a former high-ranking secret police (KGB) official, a guy brought up in making sure his country would remain an empire forever.

Which brings us full circle back to today’s realities.

So, what’s going on, anyway?

When Stalin’s successor, Nikita Sergeievich Khruschev, donated Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, he couldn’t have imagined that the Soviet Union would once cease to exist. For him, the transfer was largely symbolic: it would be Moscow, for all he cared, issuing the marching orders, so what?

But when Ukraine became an independent country, that would change the map right then and there. How? Simply: Crimea, with its closeness to the Black Sea where the Soviets kept a major part of their navy, as well as with its closeness to sundry natural resources, became a part of a country that was, at least on paper, independent of Russia.

Meanwhile, the West, in its endless arrogance, would be rubbing the loss of superpower influence in Russia’s face again and again.

Remember the former Yugoslavia? Russia, a natural ally with the Serbs (they have some common history), would object to the West’s handling of that country. No matter how strenuous Russia’s protests, the West would simply shrug them off, telling the Russians to keep their mouths shut. It was an adult game, minors aren’t allowed in.

Whether the West’s handling of the former Yugoslavia made any sense, now, that’s another question for another day.

What is important here is the fact that Russia felt slighted, fearing her imperial ambitions were being trumpled upon yet again.

And the Russians are nothing if not proud. Especially if they’ve been taught since their early childhoods that theirs is a world superpower. Part of their education tells them, too, that the West is a decadent, decaying society with no future whatsoever.

And the West, by the way, goes out of its way to prove the Russians right. Just look at the European Union (EU) for the closest example at hand.

Putin used exactly that in 2008. The Republic of Georgia, Stalin’s birth place, too, thought of applying for EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership. Putin came up with a reason how to show the Georgians who the boss is. Hitler would have been proud: proclaiming he was only saving the endangered lives of Russians, Putin ordered his military to invade Ossetia, a part of Georgia. That was in 2008. All the West did was an indignant”tut-tut,” without even telling Putin his move wasn’t cricket and that this is not how to really play the game.

What did it tell Putin? Not much more than what he had already known for quite some time (he used to be a Soviet spy, after all): the West is a decadent, decaying society with no future whatsoever. Did the West offer Georgia guarantees? Yes, why, it did. Did the West act on them?

And the main message: ladies and gentlemen, Russia’s back on the pitch, and it’s paying the referees’ wages, to boot.

What is it all about?

Russia bases its international relationships on the so-called zero-sum game. She has been doing so throughout most of her history, Russian politicians say. Really, she does. Since she has become a superpower centuries ago, to say the least.

Yes, she does. Whenever she’s forced to. Otherwise, whatever there is for grabs, that’s what she takes. Wherever a Russian cossack’s horse stops, it becomes Mother Russia.

Fairness? What the heck’s that?

And what is this zero-sum game, pray tell?

Here’s what it is: the theory of games holds that a zero-sum game represents mathematically a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) is balanced precisely by the losses (or gains) of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, the result will be zero.

And the theory of games has got it right.

President Putin is keenly aware of Russia’s history: nothing beats having a buffer zone around your borders. That’s the entire issue of his handling of Ukraine in one sentence.

Superpowers don’t become superpowers by listening to popularity opinion polls within the international community and the public at large.

Look at EU’s behaviour: does that group behave like a superpower?

Look at the U.S. administration: does it represent its country like a superpower?

All that talk about democracy and human rights, so far as Putin is concerned, is pure drivel, to put it politely.

Putin has been saying all along he doesn’t like Ukraine’s turn toward the West.

After all, relationships with the West have been a sore point within Russia’s political life for centuries. Even if a group that favours westernization wins, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Usually, they lose on the first occasion that comes along. The forces that say Russia can go it all alone return to power. Their motto: who needs the West anyway, we’re so much better, besides, we own the Russian soul, too, and who else can claim that?

Ochi chornye, and another sto gramm vodki, eh?

Economically speaking, if Russia becomes master of all she surveys, she’s got enough resources to remain an autarky (self-sufficient, that is) – provided she knows how to run her own business.

To be able to do so, Russia is of the view she needs nobody poking their nose into matters that are none of their business.

And that includes handling its buffer zones.

West’s sheer and abject failure

Self-conditioned to absolute stupidity by all that politically correct nonsense, the West has never realized, neither acknowledged, that the new Ukrainian government isn’t much to write home about. Not knowing these issues, the West was in absolutely no position to do anything about them, either.

And Russia’s act of showing her military prowess had to come as a shock.

Russia’s leaders remember well the historical ties that bind their country to Ukraine proper. They also know that the West’s ties to Ukraine are much weaker. Yes, Ukraine can serve as Europe’s breadbasket, as she has done so many times. Yes, the oil and gas pipelines that move these resources to Europe go mostly through Ukraine.

Where Russia’s leadership is mindful of Ukraine’s importance to their country’s strategical priorities, both in political and economic sense, the West is bellyaching. Sacré bleu! How can you be doing this to us? We’ve been so nice to you, have we not?

No, you haven’t, is Russia’s reply. Ukraine as part of the West is something we have every reason to hate. And if you have problems with THAT, congratulations, you’ve got something we haven’t.

Considering the West may wish that Ukraine become its part but isn’t willing to put their wallets where their mouths are (perhaps excepting financing the militants at Kiev’s Maidan), Putin can safely shrug them off. He knows that there is no power in the West that would be able to get Ukraine out from Russia’s bearhug. Not only that. He knows, too, that even if there were such a power, it wouldn’t have the wherewithal to try.

To top it all: it was the two strongest EU countries, Germany and France, that vetoed Ukraine’s application for NATO membership.

What does it mean? Nothing more that it’s a signal for Putin: Russians value Ukraine much more than we do, and we can hardly care less.

The West has shown it’s all wet. Since Russia is only willing to negotiate when the other side shows her a fist of iron, that does not bode well for the West.

The last two Western politicians to successfully negotiate with the then-Soviet Union were U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Neither of them would blink or budge. And where’s the Soviet Union now?

Why should Canadians care?

Lost in all that hoopla is the continuing struggle over who actually owns the area around the North Pole (and the place itself).

The fact that Santa’s address is listed in Canada Post’s books as North Pole, Canada, H0H 0H0 is a laughable aside that does not matter.

What does matter is that both countries have similar interests and both of their mainlands are in close proximity to the imaginary point.

Geologists and other such scientists claim the ocean floor is filled with natural resources, some of which come under the heading of “strategic.” Oil, for example. Natural gas, for example.

You can rest assured that – once Russian president Vladimir Putin considers the question of Ukraine settled – he’s going to turn his attention to other areas he considers vital.

The Arctic happens to be one of them. And not only because of its untapped richness. One look at the map (or globe) reveals that there’s no buffer zone between Canada and Russia in that area. Come to think of it, there is no buffer zone between Alaska and Russia, either, excepting the relatively narrow Bering Strait.

Recalling that Putin has been of the view that gifting Crimea to Ukraine was illegal, what’s going to stop him if he decides to describe the sale of Alaska by Tsarist Russia to the U.S. highway robbery and declares it illegal, too?

Canada’s government is one of the very few administrations that have been consistently trying to stand up to Putin’s shenanigans. Hats off. Whether travel bans on top Russian officials do the trick and scare Putin beyond belief is another matter altogether.

Putin has also quite openly expressed his views of U.S. president Barack Hussein Obama: the current White House occupant is nothing but an untrustworthy, unreliable weakling whose basic education deserves much better, too.

The West has excluded military reply as an option. Logically, too. At least, so far as this logic ignores the plight of ordinary living people. Nobody’s asking them.

Putin would be perfectly correct if he expands his apt description of U.S. president Obama as an untrustworthy, unreliable weakling whose basic education deserves much better to most of the West’s political leaders. In fact, come to think of it, the word leader should not apply to them, and neither should their description as politicians. They are politicking, and that doesn’t impress a Putin (or any similar dictator) one iota.

What’s Putin’s next step? Any of the Baltic republics, perhaps? That would be interesting: they are all both EU and NATO members. Expanding his might west of Ukraine, too?

There’s but one thing we know for sure: facing a dictator, Western democracies have failed yet again.

It’s a bloody shame.