Author Archives: Jim Kovpak

About Jim Kovpak

Journalist, translator, actor, humorist

Emergency Serious Post: Protests in Moscow

So the last thing I wanted to do was write another serious post about Russia on this blog, but as my mic is nowhere near up to par for the video I wanted to make, I feel like I should write my thoughts about the recent protests in Moscow here.

Is this tEh rvOlUtIoN?!! No, far from it. But there were several things that jumped out at me when watching the footage of the protests. For one thing, the level of civil disobedience seemed much higher than in the past. Apparently the Garden Ring road near Tsvetnoi Bulvar was closed off. For those not familiar with Moscow, this is a major important street encircling the center of the city. After one day, over 1,300 protesters were detained.

What I also noticed was the more violent response from the riot police, which included a lot of swinging batons and there was even some blood drawn. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, Russian riot police, particularly in Moscow, are still often much more reserved than their counterparts like Berkut in Yanukovych-era Ukraine or even in Western countries. When Berkut went after the students on Maidan in the end of November 2013, they came in swinging and broke bones. From my experience and observations, Russian riot police snatch people. It’s forceful, it’s scary, and they often do it to people who aren’t actually involved with the demonstration, but it’s efficient and doesn’t tend to cause serious injury. We may be seeing an end to those days. Mark Galeotti seems to suspect  it has to do with authorities’ fears about provoking a Maidan-like reaction. After all, excessive use of force by police was what turned a small student protest focused on a single issue into a revolution that drove out a regime, and there’s nothing Putin fears more than being driven out of power.

I think this leads to a sort of paradox because while on one hand Putin and other authorities are wary, perhaps unrealistically so, about provoking a larger resistance movement, on the other hand it’s crystal clear that Putin and his cronies have zero reservations about unleashing the full violence of the state against unarmed civilians if they should feel the threat of revolution is immanent. We know from his own words and the message of his media machine that Putin believes the masses need a strong hand and a strong leader does not show weakness in their eyes. Putin is of that mindset that believes that leaders cannot forfeit their legitimacy via rigged elections, massive corruption, or gross human rights violations. This same mindset only sees problems with Russia’s historical leaders when they make concessions to rebelling masses. Both Nikolai II and Gorbachev were “weak” because they didn’t murder enough of their own citizens and that is why they were toppled.

And the leader of the Kremlin regime has demonstrated these beliefs not only in word, but in deed. Apart from producing numerous conspiracy theories about the sniper massacre on Maidan in 2014 (and in fact Putin himself repeated one of these conspiracy claims to Oliver Stone), Putin continues to back Bashar al-Assad, arguably the most murderous person of the past decade, to the hilt. He continues to do so despite the rampant use of chemical weapons and the continued use of barrel bombs. Assad famously took this “not me” approach in response to protests after the flight of two other Middle Eastern leaders, and I have no doubt Putin has drawn conclusions from Assad’s experience and praxis. Indeed, when something resembling revolution is brewing in Russia, it will be “Putin or we burn the country.”

We haven’t seen anything approaching that level of violence yet, however, which suggest to me that the authorities don’t yet feel so threatened, even despite Putin’s record-low ratings this year. In fact they’ve even granted another protest permit in a few days. While the authorities can’t necessarily rely on the working masses in the hinterland anymore, those people don’t seem ready to join any mass Russia-wide movement, and while the opposition has made a lot of inroads outside the capital in recent years, it may be that the authorities still believe this to be a Moscow-based phenomenon, one they are confident they can handle.

Russian society is still very atomized and divided by distance, which makes it easy for people to ignore the plight of others in different locales. Moreover, it is still afflicted with the great power delusion, which may not be strong enough to stop Russians from standing up for their own rights, but isn’t strong enough for them to go as far as they need to and put an end to the last major European empire. They demand to live in dignity, yet they still think Tatars should be happy speaking Russian and that Crimea is theirs. Until they realize that these are lies and paltry privileges they get in exchange for bondage under authoritarian regimes in the Kremlin, I don’t think any truly revolutionary movement will build within Russia. But then again, I’ve believed more or less the same about this since at least 2008.

 

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Eric Garland: Time For Some Descent Into Madness!

So yeah- Eric Garland is still a thing, apparently. He calls himself a “Strategic Intelligence Analyst” these days, and turns out he has some strong opinions on Bernie Sanders.

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Yeah. There’s a lot to unpack there, but it’s probably better to just chuck the whole suitcase into an incinerator instead. I have no idea how to respond to that other than to point out that Bernie Sanders did in fact release 10 years of tax returns, and while I’m haven’t browsed them all myself, I’m fairly confident there’s nothing about receiving massive payments from the GRU in them.

Naturally Garland’s bizarre statements provoked some negative feedback, which of course he’s convinced is coming from the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency. That’s when things got even weirder.

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Let’s just get this out of the way- Vladimir Putin has never had any sisters. He was his parents’ third son, the two brothers that preceded him both died in childhood in the 30’s. Garland’s bizarre, frankly sick scenario here sounds like descriptions of what goes on in Bashar al-Assad’s prisons.

I’ve got to be honest, I’m now starting to wonder at this point whether Garland is still funny or whether he’s actually going to pose a danger to himself or others. What does it say when a man can go on Twitter and write like Dril without actually being Dril, i.e. just a type of performance artist? Are we supposed to laugh or be horrified? I’m not sure anymore.

 

Special thanks to a reader for producing the cover image for today’s piece  -J.K. 

Admiral Kuznetsov Converted to Submarine

SEVEROMORSK– Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced that the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, will be converted to an “advanced, high-tech submarine.” This announcement contradicted earlier reports that the carrier would be scrapped after suffering damage during an incident involving a floating dry-dock.

“Western media has always laughed at our aircraft carrier, but we are the ones who laugh last,” said Captain Igor Kostyakov, a spokesman with the Russian Northern Fleet.

“All this time the Kuznetsov was undergoing trials to become the first working submarine aircraft carrier since the Second World War.”

According to Kostyakov, two incidents in 2016 when aircraft crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, thought to be due to technical problems aboard the carrier, were actually “special landing trials.”

“Obviously aircraft based on a submersible carrier must be able to land in conditions when the deck is awash. That’s what they were training.”

The Admiral Kuznetsov was the target of much ridicule online when it left Russia for the eastern Mediterranean in 2016 in order to take part in Russia’s assistance to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Most of the criticism centered around its long cloud of smoke that could often be seen for miles around. The carrier was also implicated in several more serious incidents besides the aforementioned aircraft losses.

In January 2017, the carrier was implicated in the crushing of four endangered pandas in Madrid. Ten days later, it was suspected in a supermarket robbery in Malaga. The Russian Ministry of Defense has denied all charges.

Kremlin Admits Past Five Years Was Elaborate April Fools’ Day Joke

MOSCOW– In what may be called one of the most elaborate pranks in history, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov revealed that the past five years of Russian foreign policy had been a “massive April Fools’ joke” at a briefing on Monday.

“Andy Kaufman has got nothing on us,” Peskov said, tears streaming down his face as he clearly struggled to contain his laugher.

“The look on your faces this whole time- priceless! Absolutely priceless!”

Over the next two hours, Peskov revealed how Putin and other members of his government and security apparatus plotted to play what they called “the greatest prank of all time” on the West. Summarizing the plan, Peskov explained that it would begin first with the annexation of the Crimea, then a war in Ukraine, and finally a host of various international scandals and incidents over the following five years. The events themselves, however, were not the most important part of the plan.

“Of course starting wars and poisoning people in other countries, in and of themselves, are really just acts of aggression and assassination,” Peskov explained.

“The real prank, the thing that made the whole five-year affair so hilarious, was that we planned to just stupidly deny everything despite overwhelming evidence that we were guilty. To that end, we harnessed the entire state media apparatus.”

Peskov then broke down laughing as he recounted the ways in which some independent media outlets and commentators in the West actually took Russia’s denials seriously, even as the Kremlin knew its deliberate lies were “totally idiotic.”

“Can you believe there were- there are people in the West who after all these years seriously believe we didn’t shoot down MH17?” Peskov asked reporters.

“There are. There really are. The Ukrainian military had zero reason to fire at a single plane flying at that altitude, from east to west, while they were fighting a war against an enemy with no air force whatsoever. And yet despite that, and despite the fact that we must have put out no fewer than two dozen different stories, many of which blatantly contradicted each other, some of your citizens still bought it! And they thought they were the clever skeptics who don’t fall for government lies!”

Peskov again broke down laughing after that point and needed to take a few minutes to regain his composure before moving onto the topic of Syria.

“Syria was another one where your gullible audiences totally fell for the flimsiest lies. Remember how many times in 2018 our Ministry of Defense said it knew that the White Helmets and possibly Western special forces were about to stage a fake chemical attack? Did you ever get suspicious when that never happened? What kind of idiot would you have to be to believe something that stupid?  Sure, the false flag to bring Western intervention could have made sense that one time in 2013, but after that, two, three times? Come on? You’d have to be the dumbest imbecile in the world to believe that!”

According to Peskov, “only a total, utter moron” could believe the claims and denials of the Russian government.

“Bellingcat had us dead to rights on the identity of the Salisbury poisoning culprits,” he said.

“If we had been telling the truth about these two men, we had the perfect opportunity to totally discredit those Bellingcat nerds forever. And yet despite the fact that we never even attempted this and instead kept spinning more and more unbelievable alternative theories about the poisoning, so many of your self-proclaimed media skeptics totally believed our side! Hilarious. Absolutely hilarious!”

Putin’s spokesman also told reporters that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the encouragement of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, even treated the prank like a type of competition, whereby different Russian embassies around the world would compete for whose official Twitter account could “tweet the dumbest thing” and still have followers believing them.

“The competition was fierce, but our embassy in the U.K. won ever year, hands down,” Peskov said.

When asked if the revelation of this five-year prank meant that Russia would pull its forces out of Ukraine and apologize for incidents such as the downing of MH17 and the Salisbury poisonings, Peskov said it would not.

 

Russia Mulling Switch to ‘Western Cyrillic’ in Bid to Popularize Language Abroad

MOSCOW– Russia’s State Duma is currently proposing a historic language reform bill that would see the Russian language switch from Cyrillic to what they are calling “Western Cyrillic.” The new alphabet is based on the way Cyrillic often appears in advertising and art in the West, particularly in the United States. Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin explained the basis and rationale for the new alphabet in an address to the legislative body on Friday.

“Westerners apparently think the letter ‘ya’ is an R, and that our letter ‘D’ is an A- well soon they could be right,” Volodin said.

To demonstrate how the new alphabet would work, Volodin presented slides of various advertisements, book covers, t-shirts, and video game cases in order to explain how words would be pronounced in the new alphabet. One example was the cover of the book Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs―A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder

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Cover of Once Upon a Time in Russia, which Duma Chairman Volodin claims is a good example of why the alphabet needs to change

“In our current alphabet, this cover would be very confusing to read,” Volodin said.

“As a Russian speaker, your mind wants to read ‘Oisye Uroi a Time Ii Yaussia.’ With the new alphabet, however, what the Westerners call ‘those backwards N’s or backwards R’s’ will actually be N’s and R’s.”

The new alphabet was designed at Moscow State University’s linguistics department, whose researchers scoured the internet for Western media containing examples of faux-Cyrillic to use as a basis for new letters. At times different Cyrillic letters have been used to replace Latin ones, which means that linguists sometimes have to debate which replacement is more common and therefore more suitable. Many examples come from the 1980’s, however, even recent media can be useful, such as the promotional material for HBO Films The Romanovs, and the very popular FX series The Americans.

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In the current Russian Cyrillic alphabet, this would read “The Amyeyaisans,” but if the new language reform passes, it will be read as it appears in English

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Unfortunately not all examples are salvageable. This name shown in the film The Bourne Identity cannot be corrected in any was as to be pronounceable by a human being.

So far it isn’t clear whether Vladimir Putin will approve the new reform should it pass the State Duma. However, Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently hinted that the Russian President could see the reform as a way to secure his historical legacy.

“This would be the biggest reform of the Russian language since the Bolshevik Revolution,” Peskov said.

“We could finally start to improve our relations with the rest of the world. Instead of telling them they’re writing our language incorrectly, we’d essentially be telling them they were right all along, and that our Cyrillic alphabet is really just a funny looking equivalent to their Latin alphabet- nothing more.”

During the same briefing, Peskov showed reporters a slide to demonstrate how President Putin’s name would be written in the new alphabet: “VLДDIMIЯ РЦТIИ.”

Bandera, Shukhevych Had ‘Intense Sexual Relationship’ -Viatrovych

KYIV– Head of Ukraine’s Institute and National Memory and beloved writer of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) young adult fiction series Volodymyr Viatrovych dropped a bombshell on fans on Thursday when he announced that two of his biggest characters in the franchise had what he called “An intense sexual relationship.”

“Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych- all the fans who really pay attention knew what was going on there,” Viatrovych said, adding that the new plot point was “canon.”

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So far reactions from the fanbase have been mixed over what they call Viatrovych’s latest “retcon” to the series.

Dasha Ponomarenko, a 22-year-old student from the city of Lviv, said that she see’s the change as mostly positive.

“I mean sure, it’s great that he’s giving his main characters more progressive values that fit 21st century Ukraine,” she said.

“But just once it would have been nice to see things like this in the story rather than Viatrovych just saying them after the fact on Twitter.”

Oleh Kolysnik, 19, said he wasn’t against the changes, but that he didn’t really see evidence for the relationship between the two in the material he’d read in school.

“Relationships have to have build-up, chemistry, ” he said.

“You can’t just drop that on the die-hard fans who pay attention to every detail without laying the groundwork.”

Some were not pleased with the revelation, however. Yaroslav Tereshchenko, 18, is a member of the National Corps, one of the most rabid fan-clubs for Viatrovych’s work.

“This is nonsense,” Tereshchenko said at a recent event for fan-fiction writers who write their own stories based on the characters in Viatrovych’s fitional universe.

“Neither Stepan Bandera, nor Roman Shukhevych, were homos. This just shows how Viatrovych is ruining his own work due to pressure from the Marxist SJWs (“Social Justice Warriors”)!”

According to Tereshchenko, fan-fiction writers often “ship” different characters, a term meaning to put two characters in the story into a romantic relationship even if this isn’t in the text. However, he expressed his anger at Viatrovych for declaring this allegedly new relationship to be “canon,” making it an official part of the fictional universe’s history.

In the past Viatrovych was praised for introducing progressive values to some of his characters. For example, long after the OUN series was finished, Viatrovych changed many key points in the story to reduce needless violence and make some characters more positive. For example, he declared certain parts of Ukrainian Insurgent Army leader Roman Shukhevych’s backstory, such as the part where he spends time in Belarus fighting for Nazi Germany, to be “non-canon” and part of a “dream sequence” that did not actually happen.

Viatrovych said that most of the replies to his latest retcon tweet thread have been “overwhelmingly positive,” but he also reminded fans that while he encourages them to imagine his characters however they like, as the author and their creator, his word is final when it comes to what happened or didn’t happen in his fictional universe.

Guest Post: Ukraine Wonk Explains Elections, Neo-Nazis, and Russian Propaganda

By Joe Dandleton

With less than a week to go to Ukraine’s historic presidential election, it’s a good time to discuss what this means for Ukraine, the West, NATO, Russia, Putin, and the Baltic states. There are several dozen candidates but only three in the top three and only one can win after two rounds of democratic combat. Already things are looking difficult for incumbent Petro Poroshenko, known as the “Porky Chocolate Man” on the streets of Kyiv. He’s facing series challenges from TV comedian Volodymyr Zelensky and Gas Queen Yulia Tymoshenko, who comes in both her normal female form and a male form known as Yuriy Tymoshenko. In a way, you could almost say the top three is a top four, but that’s what you’d say because you’re not Ukraine-savvy and never worked for the State Department like I did. So take my word for it, Russian trolls, it’s a top three- both Tymoshenkos count as one person.

Back to Zelensky. Is he the Kremlin’s candidate? Or is the Kremlin’s candidate Zelensky? Does anyone truly know for sure in this era of hybrid warfare and dezinformatsiya? No, no one does. Except me. And I will tell you this about Zelensky. He’s a comedian, and comedians see their careers go down in flames all the time. Sure, he might be doing very well now (possibly with Kremlin support channeled through Belarus’ Last European Dictator Alexander Lukashenka), but who’s to say he doesn’t pull a Louis CK before election day? And if he does, do we know if it was genuine or could it have been a case of kompromat set up by the Russian intelligence services. Nobody knows. Nobody can know. That’s the point of clandestine hybrid warfare and dezinformatsiya, known as deza for short.

But there’s one factor everyone (except me) is forgetting during this critical time when Ukraine is standing at the crossroads at the intersection of N. Fulfill Minsk Street and Get Totally Fucked Road, and that is the neo-Nazi ultranationalists such as Andriy Biletsky’s National Azov C14 Corps. Recently they have been holding rallies all across Ukraine attacking Poroshenko. It is they who coined clever nicknames for him such as the aforementioned Porky Chocolate Man, Piggly-Wiggly, and President Fuckface. The question is, who does the Azov 14 Corps actually work for?

To my trained eye, this whole movement appears to be some kind of complex Russian hybrid propaganda campaign. Given the state of advanced animatronics these days, it’s entirely possible that Russia has created a small army of androids capable of marching in parades and mouthing simplistic slogans. Think this is too far-fetched? Just look at how many articles on RT and Sputnik are about sex robots. There are so many that I don’t even have to use Google to learn the latest developments in sex robots; Russia has become my number one source on that. And besides, you cannot say these National Corps thugs aren’t robots when you haven’t administered anything like a Voight-Kampff test or ripped one of them in half to see if they have milky blood a la Bishop from Aliens.

Of course maybe the neo-Nazis aren’t a Russian propaganda ploy to undermine Poroshenko. Maybe I’m just writing the above to make light of those who insist they are working directly or indirectly for Russia. Maybe I am in fact just amplifying the Kremlin’s narrative of a Ukraine overrun by Nazis. You don’t know. I don’t know. You definitely don’t know. Andriy Biletsky may know. Someone should probably ask him. If you do, ask him what he’d do if he were in the desert and saw a tortoise lying on its back. It’s like a turtle if that helps.

The fact is we’re down to the wire in Ukraine. There is corruption and not enough reforms. Or possibly too much reforms and not enough corruption. Will Poroshenko be the one to bring balance to the reforms and corruption so one does not displace the other and allow Putin to seize more of Ukraine? Or will Zelensky and the Tymoshenkos unleash the National Corps which could be as much under the control of Vladimir Putin as it is under the control of Interior Minister Avakov? Too early to call. Much too early. But I feel like we’ll have a lot of answers to a lot of questions we never knew we had until tomorrow, next week. Stay tuned.

 

Joe Dandleton is a DC based analyst who spent a year and a half working for the US State Department in Ukraine after 2014’s Euromaidan Revolution. He says he is lost and can’t find his metro card or keys and that it is ‘getting very cold and dark out now.’