Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

And Quiet Flaws the Don

July 17, 2017

“… don’t you think there’s something in this business deal that doesn’t quite conform to the code of civil law and the future prosperity of Russia?”
Gospodin Manilov

 

Mea Culpa

February 3, 2017

Waking The Dragon sincerely apologizes for the unprecedented accuracy of its feng-shui predictions (thus far) in the Year of the Fowl.  As always, the key to “successful” feng-shui prognostication is the preemptive construction of vague, broad, wide-ranging and sweeping statements about possible future events in every corner of the globe.  That way, at least a few “predictions” are almost certain to “come true,” permitting the soothsayer to take credit for being correct.  But still: this is way, way outta control.  Let’s review:

Fowl “Self-Penalty”

Wife’s TV clip poses new problems for France’s Fillon

 

Rabbits in clash with the Fowl

 

The East Under Tai Sui’s Glowering Gaze

 

Discredit Where It’s Due

Back in the day (a half-decade ago), I jokingly claimed that Waking the Dragon had somehow become “an uncompensated, unacknowledged strategic brand advisor to the Russian Federation.”  I made that quip after (at least) two instances in which my blogposts were followed by the eerie echoes of subsequent events in the wild, weird world of neo-Soviet Russia.  Somewhat more recently, I indulged in extended musing on the ways in which literary narrative can shape adversary intent … and how intelligence agencies can thus gain greater insight into the minds of their foes.  Little did I realize that an unintended audience was paying more attention than the intended one, and that –in some ways– I may have been ghostwriting a few chapters of the game plan for a truly improbable presidential campaign.  Truly ironic, given the theme of that post.

Therefore, although I’m continuing to organize and refine my thoughts concerning the cultural implications of narrative form and its uses in shaping mass opinion, the Neighbors are going to have to work quite a bit harder to learn my conclusions.  It won’t be handed to them on an earthenware platter labelled “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.

Out.

 

Tigers & You-Freightees

January 31, 2017

Just a few indicators that we’re now into the month of the Tiger during the Year of the Fowl:

Korean tigers return to Baekdu-daegan mountain range

The [South] Korea Forest Service announced that it has transported a pair of male Korean tigers named Duman and Geumgang to the tiger forest at the Baekdu-daegan National Arboretum in Seobyeok, North Gyeongsang Province. The Forest Service has set up a system of barriers around the forest to allow visitors to observe the tigers in safety.

“Mt. Baekdu tigers are a protected species designated as Level 1 endangered wild fauna,” said Park Jong-ho, director of the Forest Service’s forest usage bureau.

 

Bobcat escapes from National Zoo in Washington

A female bobcat, believed to be about 7 years old, was found to be missing Monday morning from its enclosure at the National Zoo when it didn’t show up for breakfast.

“We know that she is absolutely capable of surviving, even thriving, in this area,” said Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal care. “If she doesn’t return, she would likely survive on a diet of birds, small rodents, house cats or small dogs that are left alone outside,” Smith added.

 

Man Mauled by Tiger, Killed at Eastern China Resort

A man named Zhang who climbed a fence at Dongqian Lake Resort in Zhejiang province to avoid paying the entry fee was attacked and killed by tigers when he into ventured into their enclosure.  The attack occurred on Saturday [New Year’s Day] at the Tiger Hill enclosure in Ningbo Youngor Zoo.  One tiger was shot dead by local police, and three others nearby were dispersed using firecrackers.

 

Precautionary measures in the Fire Fowl Year

Russia grounds Proton-M rocket for 3½ months

Russia’s workhorse Proton-M rockets will be out of service for three and a half months because of engine problems.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said some employees at the Voronezh factory had been involved in faking documentation linked to the rocket and would be “harshly punished.”  The director of the factory resigned last week after Russian officials concluded that the crash of a Progress [space] cargo ship in December was the result of a malfunction by engines built at the plant.

 

Almost Heaven, West Slovenia

July 29, 2016

Near-term prospects may be improving for Danilo Turk –at least one potential veto voter seems to be hinting at a possible okey-doke:

Russian President Vladimir Putin will be visiting European Union and NATO-member Slovenia this weekend, signaling a bid to maintain ties amid simmering tensions between the Kremlin and the two Western-led blocs.  While in Slovenia –his only third visit to an EU-member country this year– Putin will attend a commemoration of the centenary of a chapel at Kranjska Gora, which was erected in the memory of dozens of Russian World War I prisoners of war who died in an avalanche while building a [road through a] mountain pass in the Julian Alps for the Austrian army.

Kranjska Gora_0

Putin will also unveil a memorial to Russian soldiers who died in World War II at the main cemetery in Ljubljana, and meet Slovenian officials. The memorial is made up of eight pillars symbolizing the eight-year duration of both world wars.  There is a crane atop each of the pillars and the names of 3,000 soldiers are embossed in marble. The memorial has been made by Russian sculptors and financed by Russia.

Russia is Slovenia’s top non-EU trading partner, but the trade between the two has dropped by nearly 30 percent since EU sanctions were imposed [following Russia’s 2014 Ukraine incursion].  Some media reports suggest that the United States had advised Slovenia against inviting Putin given the enduring tensions between Russia and NATO. [However,] Slovenian authorities have been emphasizing the ceremonial nature of Putin’s visit and the absence of formal talks.  Slovenia has supported EU and NATO policies with regard to Russia while also striving to push aside obstacles to relations, which are underpinned not only by trade but in particular by shared Slavic culture.

St_Cyril_chapel

It’s pretty clear that Putin is (and has been) making a blatantly obvious point about the numerous Russian soldiers who have died on European soil during the past 100 years.  This is probably considered diplomatic subtlety by Russian standards of international relations, and people who “share Slavic culture” probably understand the message all too well.

So what might this mean for the Moldovan candidate?  I don’t know.  What does Auntie Sam have to say on this topic?

 

Pika-Chu

July 19, 2016

Once again, “evidence” that Comrade Bear heeds the message of this blog (in some respects, at least):

The (Chabad Hasidic) Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said in a statement Tuesday that it does not mind people playing “Pokemon Go” near synagogues and other cultural buildings …  as long as it is not disturbing the congregation.  Pokemon has prompted a mixed reaction [in Russian society].  While Russian airports and banks have endorsed the game, the Russian Orthodox Church and some Duma deputies have angrily complained that the Western-developed app [sic] has harmed Russia.

Those Russian nationalists would benefit from a basic geography lesson and a refresher course in late Imperial history:  Nintendo => Japan => East, not West.  Of course, their confused disorientation is entirely understandable … because everyone in Russia is a bit on edge, what with centenary “celebrations” of the October Revolution looming on the horizon.

There’s no actual cause for concern, however, because the next major nation to undergo a genuine social revolution (rather than a mere sham regime change) will have the opportunity to guide the course of world affairs for at least a century.  So rather than fear civic instability, true patriots (of whatever nationality) should embrace the possibility of dramatic change –in the interest of human survival and sustainable ecology.

Pikachu

Mixed Bag

March 15, 2016

First, the good news: Russia troops and warplanes are (allegedly) leaving Syria.

Sukhoi-34_Latakia

Now, the bad news: they’re headed toward Kaliningrad Poland.

Lech_Kaczynski

 

Trail’s End

February 25, 2016

When will we know that the end is near for Putin’s Russia?  When his underlings repeatedly take their tactical cues from Waking the Dragon, that’s when.  Almost two years ago I urged Europe’s fractious peoples to “Make Art, Not War” as the preferred approach to resolving social conflicts (and we know how that worked out).  But somebody somewhere was listening, because Russia soon embarked on an intensified soft power cultural offensive by deploying its vast strategic reserves of artistic capital –the museum collections of the Hermitage, Tretyakov Gallery, Savitsky Museum and so on.  Art exchange programs with England’s British Museum and National Portrait Gallery ensued, as did a major exhibition deal with the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris; just a few prongs of a multi-tined salient that appears intended to insert the tips of several wedges between the United States and its allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf.

Russia Today

What’s the goal?  Mainly, reducing support among NATO member states for economic sanctions against Russia.  And this strategy appears to be enjoying partial success.  Britain, France and Germany have all been making muted murmured remarks looking ahead to the expiration of sanctions.

But hey, all that’s just ice floes under the Bolshoi Kamenni Bridge.  What really matters, what’s truly disturbing, is the impact my recent blogposts have had in Russian domestic politics.  At the end of January, I blogged about Werner Herzog‘s visit to the mountain ranges of Colorado, and his impromptu diatribe against the stupidity of the netizen masses. And I closed the post with an image culled from the extensive lowbrow oeuvre of Messrs. Howard, Howard and Fine which illustrated Hollywood’s Depression-era riposte to Marie Antoinette’s famous 18me siecle quip “Let them eat cake.”  In short, a riff on the classic Stooges pie-fight that featured escalation to layer cake.  Unfortunately, some nameless Moscow apparatchik took this as a literal suggestion for enhancing political discourse.

  • Former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov said he was sitting in a central Moscow restaurant [February 9] when around 10 men of “non-Slavic appearance” entered, threatened him and rammed a cake into his face. The incident came several days after Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechnya republic, posted a threatening video on Instagram that showed Kasyanov in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle.  The Kremlin called the cake attack an act of “hooliganism” and rebuffed the idea that it was related to Chechnya’s leadership.
  • Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny on Thursday [February 25] said attackers threw two cakes in his face in Moscow, adding that the assault was linked to the Kremlin.  Navalny said the attack outside his office was carried out by “some jokers” who “chucked two cakes at me and legged it.”  “Putin and Medvedev see hurling cakes as the only way to respond to the challenges of the opposition,” he wrote on Facebook.

Gateaux

Okay, if this is how it’s gonna be, two things are clear:  Russia is gonna need tremendous bumper crops of soft white wheat and sugar beets to meet its booming demand for cake flour and frosting, and Moscow’s bakeries are gonna have to work double shifts around the clock to finish all their orders scheduled for delivery this coming Saturday.  Why?  Because …

Opposition supporters are preparing to mark Saturday’s one-year anniversary of the shooting of politician Boris Nemtsov close to the Kremlin with a march through central Moscow.

 

 

Leopard Spotted

January 25, 2016

A few months ago (September 2015) Salon.com published a brief article by Jonathan Haslam that summarized some basic counterintelligence analysis employed by the KGB back in the day (the 1970’s):

[CIA] officers in the field stationed across the globe under diplomatic and deep cover were readily identified by the KGB.  As a consequence, covert operations had to be aborted as local agents were pinpointed and CIA personnel compromised or, indeed, had their lives thrown into jeopardy. … How could these disasters have happened with such regularity if the agency had not been penetrated by Soviet moles?

[Instead, KGB officer Yuri Trotov‘s method was] a clever combination of insight into human behavior, common sense and strict logic.  Bureaucracies … are fundamentally creatures of habit and, as any analyst knows, the key to breaking the adversary’s [operational security] is to find patterns and repetitions.  From the late 1950s at the Soviet mission in Thailand and later Japan, Trotov first applied his methods to identifying U.S. intelligence officers in the field.  He began systematically combing the KGB archives for consistent patterns observable in the postings of CIA counterparts. What Trotov came up with were 26 unchanging indicators as a model for identifying U.S. intelligence officers overseas.  Why? Because the CIA personnel office in Langley shuffled and dealt overseas postings with as little effort as required.

Some indicators were based on long-standing U.S. government practices established as a result of the ambivalence with which the State Department treated its colleagues in intelligence [who operated under diplomatic cover]. These “structural defects” in the relationship between the United States’ key operational departments responsible for foreign policy [allowed] Trotov to produce telephone book-size volumes listing U.S. intelligence officers for KGB chief Yuri Andropov.

open_books

Here are a few of Trotov’s indicators:

  • published biographies of CIA officers contained obvious gaps
  • entry-level pay scale was much higher for a CIA officer than for a State Department Foreign Service Officer (FSO)
  • genuine FSOs had to attend the Institute of Foreign Service for three months before entering the diplomatic service, CIA officers did not
  • after three to four years abroad an FSO could return home, whereas a CIA employee could not
  • when CIA officers returned to the US, they did not normally appear in State Department listings, but when they did, they were classified as research and planning, research and intelligence, consular or chancery for security affairs
  • CIA officers could be relocated within the country to which they were posted, FSOs were not
  • CIA officers usually had more than one working foreign language
  • Their cover was usually as a “political” or “consular” official
  • internal embassy reorganizations usually did not change the rank, office assignments or telephone numbers of CIA personnel
  • CIA agents’ offices were located in restricted zones within the embassy building
  • CIA officers replacing one another [at a foreign station] tended to fill the same post within the embassy hierarchy, drive the same make of vehicle, rent the same apartment, etc.

 

What & So What

Okay, so the U.S. intelligence community eventually figured out how the Soviets/ Russians and their allies can spot a spook. Surely “we” have made the necessary adjustments, right?  Not exactly.

A while back I saw a article on the website of an overseas newspaper in a certain allied nation.  The article announced the arrival of a new U.S. consul in town, illustrated with the official State Department photo portrait of the diplomat in question (U.S. flag in the background, of course).  A brief biography followed, outlining the FSO’s background, education and career.  If I were Yuri Trotov (I’m not), I’d immediately be paying closer attention to this guy, because several of my indicators were there in plain sight:

  • Graduate of a state university in a state with a significant military presence
  • Therefore … possible childhood experiences living in Europe or Asia as a military dependent (see subsequent career)
  • Travel in {Europe1}, {Europe2} and Canada during university
  • Two-year gap between university graduation and entry into State Department: possible military service … or intell training
  • Speaks {European}, Arabic, {Asian}
  • State Dept. career (moderately scrambled/ altered to protect the officer’s identity from less-imaginative “analysts”):

political officer in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
assistant cultural attaché in {capital, Asian nation}
public diplomacy officer in Baghdad, Iraq
consular official in Islamabad, Pakistan
consul in {city, Europe1}

In assessing these indicators, I would draw the conclusion that this particular “FSO” is likely to be a counterterrorism specialist focused on Islamist militant groups, and that the consular posting to {Europe1} is either (1) an R & R assignment after years of service in dangerous third-world nations, or (2) a counterterrorism liaison slot in a country worried about terrorist attacks from returning ISIS jihadis masquerading as refugees.  Perhaps both.

Either way, I wish ya the best of luck.  But in any case, stay out of Russia.

 

 

 

Void Where Prohibited

November 22, 2015

I’m not at all pleased that Kazimir Malevich‘s Black Square has intruded upon my consciousness twice in the past few weeks.  In the first instance I was myself partly to blame, because I attended a presentation by an art theorist academic whose talk meandered in eccentric orbits, guided by the gravitational pull exerted by Black Square over the past century.  The experience must have primed my attention for an unexpected return engagement, because I actually took notice of a minor media report proclaiming as novel what I’d thought was old news:

An X-ray examination of Kazimir Malevich’s famed “Black Square” painting by Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery found that two earlier paintings [are concealed] under the black expanse.  [According to] Tretyakov director Zelfira Tregulova, there’s also an inscription by the artist using the title of a 19th century black square painting by the French humorist Alphonse Allais that purportedly portrays two black men fighting in a cave at night.

Malevich_1929_brun

There are four known variants of Black Square, the first in 1915 and the last circa 1929 or thereabouts.  The version in the Tretyakov Gallery is (I think) from 1923, but strictly speaking the precise provenance doesn’t really matter.  That’s because the meaning and significance of Black Square always lies outside the frame –in the totality of the social context/ experiential “reality” that accompanies the spectator through time and space to her spot in front of the canvas.

Black Square is a window into the void, a place where a steady gaze brings the viewer no more information than a passing glance … or, alternatively, all the information that anyone can ever know.  Is that its intention?  What would Malevich say?  It might depend on the occasion:

“I transformed myself in the zero of form and emerged from nothing to creation.

Malevich’s 1915 painting is sometimes cited as a historical milestone which marks the break between representational painting and abstract painting —-and Black Square has thus become one of the key (should I say “iconic”?) shorthand symbols for the complex and contested transition from a representative regime of art to the aesthetic schema that still (sorta-kinda) prevails today.  Whatever.

The final, smallest, Black Square painted by Malevich was intended [to be displayed] as a diptych together with the Red Square for the 1932 Leningrad exhibition Artists of the RSFSR: 15 Years.  The two squares, Black and Red, were the centerpiece of the show.

Malevich_Red_Square

Perhaps this would be the appropriate time to note that:

In United States maritime warning flag systems, a red square flag with a black square occupying the middle ninth of the flag is used to indicate a storm warning.  The use of two such flags denotes a hurricane warning.

Uh-oh.

Malevich_Red_Cavalry

 

Bear-Assed Nekkid

October 10, 2015

OK, it’s obviously “a thing” now: in his big-stage public appearances, Barack Obama is making damn sure that he gets photographed in front of a state flag that sends an additional message beyond the usual shoutout to local homies.  This time, it was port-of-call San Francisco –for an in-and-out DNC fundraising performance at the Warfield Theater.

2015_Bear-Obama_5

Introduced by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Steph Curry, Draymond Green and a half dozen of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Obama arrived in California riding his highest approval ratings in the Golden State since the start of his second term in 2013.  Sixty percent of the state’s registered voters approve of Obama’s performance, while 33 percent disapprove. [ The remaining 7 percent are too high to care. ]

And although POTUS’ public remarks ostensibly focused on a hot-button domestic political topic  –“the gun massacres that we see with growing frequency in this country“–  that big-ass bear behind him was marching under a red star that evoked ongoing massacres in another country … on the other side of the world.

Talkin’ ’bout Syria, where Comrade Bear is strewing his scat all over the countryside.  I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that Saturday’s fundraiser was held at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater. Get it? War Field theater?  Golden State Warriors?  This time, Team Obama’s intellectual montage imagery is making a veiled statement about international affairs in the Middle East. But what, exactly?

Well, for one thing, Brer Bear appears to be walking right toward the Stars and Stripes.  That may not be such a good idea, and may not turn out well.  Why, just last week, a resourceful Montana hunter heeded his granny’s advice and fended off a bear attack in hand-to-paw combat:

While hunting elk, Chase Dwello came face-to-face with a grizzly. The bear, who had been asleep, was now awake and startled. Dwello was knocked to the ground and tossed around by the grizzly, his head clenched in the bear’s powerful jaws. He survived by keeping his cool … and shoved his arm down the bear’s throat when he got the chance. He was lucky; the grizzly gagged and left him beaten and bruised.

Turns out that large animals like bears have a sensitive gag reflex.  Let’s wait and see what Comrade Bear will choke on.  Perhaps a hockey stick.

20151010_Bear-Obama