Posts Tagged ‘Buryatia’

Southern Buryatia

August 6, 2014

My most recent Russian dream featured a pleasant excursion in the wooded, hilly terrain of southern Buryatia.  Narrow dirt lanes wound along the slopes above remote, shallow valleys covered in scrubby forest that was punctuated by the occasional bog.  At least three other people were in the car with me, but they were people I’ve never (yet) met:  no familiar names or faces.


At one point, we got out of the car to explore a marshy pond where huge, iridescent birch logs floated amid lilypads and other aquatic plants.  Or maybe they weren’t exactly birch logs, because the trunks’ bole was at least 3 feet in diameter and there was a somewhat metallic character to the sheen of the birchbark.  We walked on some of the logs, but no one started a birling contest.

And then … in the way that dreams have, things changed.  Small gaps in the surface of the forest floor showed us that beneath our feet there were manmade subterranean chambers hidden in the earth.  A closer look revealed that these underground rooms contained scattered pieces of obsolete machinery and miscellaneous spare parts.  No instruction manuals, no warning signs in Cyrillic characters, just discarded objects.

Back at the side of the road, wondering what we’d actually seen, a stranger materialized from pretty much the middle of nowhere.  He wore nondescript clothing, but had a hairstyle that was unusual –even by Russian (or Buryat) standards– and basically indescribable outside the dreamworld.  It was he who remarked, simply, “southern Buryatia.”




April 20, 2013

The subhead:  Putin pivots East.  And up.

Eighteen months ago, in an effort to shake off the most onerous shackles of Bush-regime foreign policy, U.S. SecState Hillary Clinton published an extensive policy pronouncement in Foreign Policy Magazine under the title “America’s Pacific Century.”  Perhaps significantly, she chose October 11 rather than September 11 as publication date. Based on two relatively minor uses of the word “pivot” in the article, the tagline “Pivot to Asia” immediately became Beltway shorthand for this policy initiative.

“The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics. … One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will be to [make] a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region. … [This is] a pivot to new global realities.”
“This kind of pivot is not easy, but … we are committed to seeing it through as among the most important diplomatic efforts of our time.”
“[The U.S. has developed] a coherent regional strategy that accounts for the global implications of our choices.  [This strategy includes] a sustained commitment to … “forward-deployed” diplomacy: strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening our working relationships with emerging powers; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights.”

Since then, in practice, here’s what the pivot has involved:

  • Intensified (re)engagement, trade development and bilateral cooperation with ASEAN nations — Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia — they’re seeking a counterweight to Chinese influence.
  • Assiduous reassurance to traditional military partners in East Asia  — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand — that Uncle Sam still loves and cherishes them.
  • Getting all up in China’s business using what by American standards is the most painfully polite and correct manner possible.  That’s not exactly how the Chinese see it, but at least some CPC officials understand we’re making a greater effort than in the past to avoid bruising sensitive feelings.

Who’s feeling left out?  Comrade Bear.  Despite the fact that Russia considers itself (and is) a Pacific (Ocean) nation, none of Obama’s pivot play takes public notice of Asian terrain north of the Amur River.  Is that some kind of unspoken message?

It must certainly seem that way in Moscow and points East.  Perhaps that’s why Comrade Bear last week paid a whirlwind visit to the eastern extremities of his farflung empire.  His choice of whistlestop locations and policy themes was rather interesting.

Note the helo rotors and windsock outside the gate.

Note the helo rotors and windsock outside the gate.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday visited the Ivolginsky datsan, a Buddhist monastery, the center of the Buddhist traditional faith in Buryatia. The Ivolga datsan was founded in 1945, the year marking the revival of Buddhism in the Soviet Union. He [met with] Lama Damba Ayusheyev, head of the Buddhist Sangha of Russia.

Putin promised “100-percent support” for Russian Buddhists, whose number is estimated at 700,000 to 1.5 million. The president described Buddhism as a “kind, humanist learning based on love for others and love for one’s country.”  “Buddhism plays a significant role in Russia … It has always been that way.  It is well known that the Buddhists helped during both world wars,” Putin told the lamas.


Putin twice visited the palace of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, the 12th Pandito Khambo Lama, now buried in Ivolginsky datsan: during his tour of the datsan and prior to his departure.  Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, the hierarch of Russian Buddhism, died at the age of 75 in 1927 while meditating in the Lotus pose.  His body was exhumed in 2002, [but it had not decomposed] after 75 years in the grave. The incorruptible body of Pandito Khambo Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itiglov has become one of the most revered Buddhist holy things.

Truly, the Lenin of Buddhism!

Closer to Heaven

Russian President Vladimir Putin on his Far Eastern trip visited the Vostochny cosmodrome construction site for the Soyuz-2 launch complex … being built in the Amur Region not far from Uglegorsk. The first launch of rockets from the spaceport is scheduled for 2015; the first manned launch for 2018.

Vostochny cosmodrome

During a video [chat] session with the International Space Station, Putin proposed naming the town that will be built near the cosmodrome after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian and Soviet rocket scientist and [early 20c.] pioneer of astronautic theory.
“A research center and a town will be built here — not just a spaceport, not just a launch site — so I think that it will be proper if after consulting with the local residents we name the future town Tsiolkovsky,” Putin said, noting that not a single locality in Russia currently bears the name of the scientist.

Who’s gonna argue with that?


Tsiolkovsky (1857 – 1935) spent most of his life in a log house on the outskirts of Kaluga, about 120 miles southwest of Moscow. A recluse by nature, he appeared strange and bizarre to his fellow townsfolk.”

Rockets of Another Kind

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Friday that if an armed conflict breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, there is a risk that North Korean missiles [might accidently strike Russian territory].  “My apprehensions are not linked to the prospect of Pyongyang’s using them against Russia,” he said. “They can be meant against other countries but might suddenly turn towards us.”
“We must prevent a twist of events in this direction, because we can’t put at risk either our territory or our citizens. We have Space and Air Defense Troops for the purpose,” Rogozin added.


Meanwhile …

Marshal Shaposhnikov

 “The anti-submarine destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov has made a routine visit at the South Korean port of Busan,” announced Captain First Rank Roman Martov, spokesman for the Russian Pacific Fleet. The Marshal Shaposhnikov, tanker Irkut and rescue tugboat Alatau are en route to their base at Vladivostok following a five-month anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden.  On April 16, an official Russian delegation headed by Commander of the Pacific Fleet convoy Rear Admiral Vladimir Vdovenko paid a protocol visit to the Command of the South Korean Navy.

Lunghu would have loved to be a fly on the wall at THAT drinking party!  Russians! Koreans! Sailors! Busan! Female entertainers! Certainly not a night that anyone will admit remembering the next day.

It may be worth noting that:

Marshal of the Soviet Union Boris Shaposhnikov was born in 1882 near Chelyabinsk, and later became the principal strategic thinker in the Red Army.  He was the author of Mozg Armii (The Brain of the Army), a three-volume treatise of military theory published between 1927 and 1929.  According to Shaposhnikov, “pre-mobilization” for war should consist of as many measures as could be taken to prepare for actual war mobilization, but in an atmosphere of the utmost secrecy.

What does all this mean?

It sure looks like a pivot to the East by President Putin and his supporting cast of characters.  Russia hopes to benefit from China’s discomfiture at the Asian “fullcourt press” diplomatic initiative being mounted by the United States, and thus seeks to enhance economic ties with China while improving bilateral relations in other areas as well:

  • Lunghu believes that Comrade Bear intends to use his public support of Ivolginsky datsan as an unmistakable hint to China about Russian expertise in co-opting Buddhists, lamas and religious fervor.  The subtext:  we might be able to help with your Tibet problem.  Maybe your Falun Gong problem too.  Comrade Bear is extending the friendly fraternal paw of socialist nationalism to like-minded neighbors in the southeast.  Just lookin’ to avoid Big Sha.
  • Both Russia and China intend to outflank/offset the United States’ air, sea and land initiative by vaulting into outer space in a big way.  Although ostensibly motivated by a quest for scientific exploration and mineral resources, this is really a race to the strategic high ground from which the entire planet can be commanded.
  • Russia also wants to leverage Korean uneasiness about being caught between China, the U.S., and Kim Jong-un.  Russia-ROK maritime trade is vital to the economy of Russia’s Far East, and South Korea is a prime target market for Gazprom exports.  And then there’s that whole thing with Katya Putin’s Korean boyfriend … Lunghu’s still waiting for the KBS k-drama television series.

Inveterate geopoliticians will see these efforts as the latest manifestations (version 3.0) of The Great Game between Russia and her Anglo-American competitor-adversaries. Unfortunately, that brand of 19c. thinking will doom us all to yet another cyclical repetition of history’s instructive mistakes.  The outcome of zero sum games is always zero for most of those involved.