One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Ambassador of Now Defunct Multinational Agglomerations

The bio of Stephen Sestanovich at the bottom of this Washington Post op-ed reads as follows:

The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University. He was U.S. ambassador at large for the former Soviet Union from 1997 to 2001. [emphasis mine]

I wasn’t aware that we were maintaining an ambassador to entire collections of countries that dissolved almost a decade earlier (presumably Thailand was included in Mr. Sestanovich’s portfolio). Makes me wonder who the current ambassadors to the former Habsburg and Ottoman — to say nothing of the Mongolian or Persian — Empires are.


April 27, 2009 Posted by | Russia, U.S. politics | , , | 2 Comments

Was Johnny Appleseed a Kyrgyzi?

Previously unknown bit of random trivia: the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan is “home to the genetic parent of all the apples of the planet.”  But that evidently has not been enough to keep the country well-off enough to turn down a $300 million bribe loan from Russia to close down an important U.S. base in the country.

Apples for a base?

Apples for a base?

(image from flickr user Don-Piefcone under a Creative Commons license)

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Asia, Foreign politics, Russia | , , | Leave a comment

Putin say whaaa?

putinSpeaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Russian President Prime Minister Vladimir Putin demonstrates his lack of a sense of irony.

Multilateral political mechanisms have proved as ineffective as global financial and economic regulators. We know that provoking military and political instability, regional and other conflicts is a helpful means of distracting the public from growing social and economic problems. Such attempts cannot be ruled out, unfortunately. To prevent this scenario, we need to improve the system of international relations, making it more effective, safe and stable.

Funny…I can think of a few commentators who might apply Mr. Putin’s diagnosis quite easily to a certain country that has encouraged separatist movements, invaded a neighboring country, and manipulated the price its gas exports…As he so tellingly — but unironically — admits, such attempts to mask internal problems by fomenting instability “cannot be ruled out.”

(image from flickr user World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license)

January 30, 2009 Posted by | Russia | Leave a comment

Brewing bitterness

A look inside a German barracks

A look inside a German barracks

Reporting findings that German troops in northern Afghanistan drank 1.7 million pints of beer and 90,000 bottles of wine on the wall, London’s Daily Mail bitterly declares that “German soldiers are ‘too fat to fight’ Taliban because they drink so much (while our boys go dry).”

The New Atlanticist‘s James Joyner, speaking from experience, says that that’s bunk, and that if German soldiers are huffing and puffing, it’s because they need to work off the “beer and sausages” with a little more exercise.

While it’s been quite some time since I last wore a uniform, I can attest that the 0.77 liter daily average beer consumpton — or even the full liter per day that the soldiers are authorized — would not have been considered inordinate.  Or, at least, not inordinately high.  And we adhered to rigorous physical training and weight monitoring standards, with expulsion from the Army mandatory for those not meeting standards. To the extent that Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan are out of shape, then, it’s a function of lack of PT rather than having a couple pints of beer.

(Or they could just take one of these fantasy pills.)

Clearly, it seems the Brits are just upset that they might not be able to get good happy hour specials at home for too much longer.  If the Russians can make do without find cheap and dangerous substitutes to vodka, then the Brits can too.

(image — not actually a German barracks — from flickr user ifranz under a Creative Commons license)

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Brittania, Russia | , , , , | 1 Comment

Russians can’t afford water anymore

vodkaWell, more or less.

The global financial crisis has grown so bad that Russians are cutting back on vodka.

I don’t think this has ever happened before.  Ever.  Vodka was given to Russian soldiers in World War II…the same soldiers who were being given brooms because there weren’t enough guns.  Honestly.

Look what the poor Russkies are being driven to:

Other drinkers went for anything with alcohol content, including cosmetics, perfumes and cleaning agents to bring about the same effects as vodka, whose name in Russian is the diminutive of the word for water.

It’s official.  The global financial crisis has now reached its tentacles into (Russian) life’s most basic staples.

(image from flickr user Wysz under a Creative Commons license)

November 25, 2008 Posted by | Russia | , | 1 Comment

Russia: big, strong, and Hitleresque?

Georgia expert David Smith opens a piece on the resurgent militant nationalism of Russian president Dmitri Medvedev by juxtaposing the following quotations:

Germany will be either a world power or it will not be at all. – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925

Russia can either be big and strong or it will cease to exist. – Dmitry Medvedev, speech to senior military officers, The Kremlin, September 30, 2008

This is not Hitler-tainting (Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore vegetarians are evil) at its worst, but nor does it entirely escape the misleading insinuations typical of most Hitler comparisons.  The quotations are indeed eerily similar, but one must go beyond the initial parallelism to ask what each statement actually means.  Sure, both are expressing a rather brutish, chest-thumping insistence on national greatness, but really, where is the insight in this?  Hitler wanted Germany to be great; Medvedev wants Russia to be great.  Ergo, Medvedev = Hitler?


Dmitri Medvedev...Hitler without the 'stache?

It is unsurprising that Medvedev wants Russia to be “big and strong” (you kind of have to automatically grant Russia the former, notwithstanding the failure to explicitly annex the proportionally enormous amount of territory in Abkhazia and South Ossetia), just as it is a given that German dominance formed the core of Hitler’s foreign policy agenda.  But assertive nationalism does not a megalomaniacal dictator make.

The juxtaposed quotations, of course, seek — at least subtly — to compel a more significant inference.  The purpose of comparing to Hitler is, if not merely to impugn, to suggest that a similar path toward evil is being traveled.  In this case, the implication is that Medvedev, as demonstrated by his willingness to invade Georgia, is set to go to the most aggressive lengths to establish its hegemony.

Smith finds fodder for this argument in the common second half of the two juxtaposed quotations: the all-or-nothing counterbalance that if Nazi Germany and Putinist Medvedevist Russia failed to assert themselves as major world powers, then they would, respectively, “not be at all” or “cease to exist.”  As a fairly common example of rhetorical excess — Medvedev is willing to see his vast country nuked to oblivion over the retention of Dagestan? — this parallel formulation by no means indicates that Russia, in its insatiable quest to become “big and strong,” will emulate the rather foolish global domination plans of the Thousand Twelve Year Third Reich.

Germany survived Hitler, and by any rational standard, Russia will survive the considerably more juvenile ambitions of Medvedev and his sidekick.

(image from flickr user World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license)

November 25, 2008 Posted by | History, Russia | , , | 2 Comments