Archive - May 2014

Putin Through The Looking Glass – Thoughts on the Russia/Ukraine Situation

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Putin Through The Looking Glass
By Yuri Kruman

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“So, what do you think about Russia/Ukraine?” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that question in the last six months, I would buy an island nation and lord over it benevolently.

Being a Russian immigrant makes one an instant authority, you see. Naturally, in the Land of the Short Attention Span, the question demands a simple answer. Death to the dictator! Long live the people! Long live democracy! Americans love buzzwords.

What is it that you want to hear? Yes, Putin bad, but strong. Ukraine, yes, good. Western Ukrainians, yes, fascist thugs. Eastern Ukrainians – they’re really Russian, anyway. If only things were that straight forward or that simple. Not a chance.

And what’s my take, a Soviet product’s – and a Jew’s? Three of my four grandparents were Ukrainian by birth. And what does my American upbringing tell me?

First, some game theory. What’s the result when one side really knows the game and moves ten steps ahead? Game over. And when the other side’s caught napping, unprepared? Case closed. Presenting Anschluss 2, accomplished. Go sanction that, dear Mr. President!

Secondly, Putin. Yes, he’s a highly trained KGB colonel and strategic thinker extraordinaire. He’s managed over time to steal and stash away a cool 40-70 billion dollars from state-owned and other criminal enterprises. He waited out Iraq, Afghanistan, then waited for Obama to wind down, then for his own Olympics for prestige, carefully building credibility as global counterweight. He gave us hints; to him, the break-up of the Soviet Union was the worst disaster of last century. Solution? Build USSR version 2.0.

Is he a despot or a “sovereign democrat”? Can’t we just call a duck, a duck? He’s brought to heel the Russian media and Duma and judiciary system, plus all its oil and minerals, then broke the opposition’s back through every means available, holds no more barred. The czar is naked, walking not quite softly, carrying a big stick.

Heil Putin? Yes and no. Oddly enough, he’s been quite friendly to the Jews. Yet, all the while, on state TV, there’s rampant Holocaust denial and familiar trope. Conclusion: Jews are useful as a hammer on Ukraine’s far Right and to pull Western sympathy against Ukraine.

And in Ukraine? Aren’t they all just neo-Nazis, waiting to take over and kill Jews? Not quite. The current Prime Minister is Jewish. Several candidates for President are Jewish. The revolution in Maidan was started by an ethnic Afghan journalist, fought side-by-side by Israeli army veterans, Armenians, Belarussians and even Red Army veterans, along with far-Right Svoboda party members. Could ethnic cleansing happen there? If past is any indication, yes, but chances are remote.

And anyway, what is this episode about? Why should I care, here in New York?
Ukraine has been the target of great powers many times before. Stalin was keen to steal its wheat for Russia in the 30s, starving millions. Then Hitler tried the same, for Germany. Before that, it was Poland, Lithuania. The “breadbasket of Europe” is essential to the thing itself.

And what is Putin’s interest here? He sees himself as equal to America and keen to weaken us and strengthen Russia’s own profile. He’s leading Europe’s far-right fringe in trying to break up Europe by its ideologies. It starts with homophobia, dialed-up, anti-Americanism galore, then keeps on with attacks on liberalism and democracy. It ends inevitably in a cult of personality, a “strongman” come to save Great Rus from awful enemies without.

In economic terms, divided Europe is less likely to buy oil and gas from us Americans, keeping dependence on fair Russia. Ukraine is central to Vlad’s plans for economic union in the Russian sphere, along with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Quite logical when oil and gas are 70 percent of one’s economy. Let’s not forget, Crimea houses Russia’s only Black Sea port and fleet. Good luck, convincing him to part with that.

How has he done it so, without a drop of blood spilt by his men? Just as when Hitler entered Czech Republic to “protect” the Germans living there, Putin has done the same, claiming abuse of Russians and the need to shield them from all harm, plus history. Using this logic, he would take America to “save” its Russian Jews. No thanks, we’ll pass, wholeheartedly.

And was it justified? Have the US, EU and NATO not “encircled” Russia with their missile shield plans, economic unions? Well, yes, of course. Russians are skeptical – rightfully so – about American and European intentions. But does this justify invasion of another country’s sovereignty? We know the answer – clearly, no.

How could we let this happen, in plain sight? This isn’t even ancient history, just 25 years on from Soviet Union. Barely enough for babies to grow up and have their own. Truth far outpaces wisdom, in this case.

And so we have it, East against the West, again, Russia against U.S. Life imitates itself, just through the looking glass. 25 years ago, I was a 6 year-old living in Soviet Russia, none the wiser. Today, both hindsight and experience, just maybe hints of wisdom – make this story both predictable as rain and infinitely sad. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Great Mother Russia’s cursed – with minerals, ambition and great misery. Cue the eternal Russian Soul.

At least this time, we’re on the right side of the Iron Curtain.

On Receiving (and Asking) “Stupid” Questions of an Author

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Tim Parks in the NYRB on being asked (and inadvertently, asking) stupid questions of an author at a book festival.

IMHO, there are (almost) no stupid questions that seek to get at the connection between my “real life” and my fiction. There is indeed an absolute continuity between the two. All the same, neither tact nor common sense ever hurt the formulation of such a question. Enjoy!

http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/may/01/stupid-questions/