Claire Berlinski shares a Turkish news report identifying one more vitally important, historically Russian territory which Moscow is determined to defend against “foreign interference.”
Russia will never accept “foreign interference” in Syria’s internal affairs, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told a news conference on Tuesday.
“No one can doubt the strength of the Russian-Syrian relationship,” based on their history and the interests of both people, Muallem said.
“Russia will never accept foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs. That is the red line,” he added.
Yes, that would be Damascus, the ancestral homeland of the Russian people. You all knew Dostoyevsky was from Aleppo, right?... Russians have been indigenous to Syria since the Mithridatic Wars. Everyone knows that.
As a thoughtful gesture of admiration and respect for his country’s leader, Sam Nickel set out to touch the breasts of 1000 Russian females. After which feat was accomplished, Nickel proceeded to shake hands with Vladimir Putin in order to pass along the mystical tactile energy produced thereby. Somehow I tend to think Putin got gypped.
The Russian Chronicle provides the first mention of Moscow in 1147 as the place where Duke Yuri Dolgoruky of Suzdal entertained his ally Duke Sviatoslav of Chernigov with “a mighty feast.”
It was not actually until 1156 that the same Duke Yuri fortified the hig ground between the Moskva River and its tributary the Neglinnaya, in essence, “founding the city,” but Moscow has never placed strong significance on truth and accuracy.
In any event, the people my Lithuanian ancestors generally referred to as burlokai , “beet-eaters,” last weekend set some kind of new record in whooping it up by using the facade of Moscow University as the 25,000+ sq. ft. projection screen for a rather astonishing light show.
That’s the Russians for you: simply awful at government, never heard of justice or the rule of law, but they do like to party.
The most recent issue of the Wall Street Journal’s monthly answer to the New York Times Sunday Magazine, WSJ, came out last Saturday, a week ago today, and featured a fascinating article on the Russian government’s painstaking restoration of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater.
Next month the red and gold curtain goes up for the first time in six years at Moscow’s legendary Bolshoi Theater, revealing a restoration that is the biggest, most meticulous overhaul the landmark building has received since it opened in 1856. Costing more than $720 million and directly supervised by the nearby Kremlin (even the deadline for the October 28 opening was set by presidential order), the project has spared no expense—from chandeliers to artisanal gold leaf and embroidered silks—in restoring the Bolshoi’s grand public spaces to their original 19th-century design. Backstage has also been upgraded with sophisticated lighting and hydraulics equipment, transforming the storied cultural institution into Russia’s most modern venue for opera and ballet.
Paramount to the project was that the theater be re-created in the original vision of the czars—ornately beautiful and handcrafted—so no detail was considered too expensive or painstaking. Hundreds of spruce wall panels were imported from the Austrian Alps to replace those ripped out by the Bolsheviks to make room for party congresses; decorative silk coverings were remade from scratch in a special workshop within a Moscow monastery; artisans shipped in from across Russia spent months with agate styluses rubbing more than 3,000 square feet of gold leaf onto the six tiers of seats, and tens of thousands of crystal pendants were removed, catalogued and then either restored or replaced on the dozens of chandeliers throughout the building. It’s a feat that few capitals have attempted, preferring to keep historic theater buildings mainly for smaller performances while constructing new, modern houses for the full company repertoire. But when the current Bolshoi hall opened in 1856 for the coronation of Czar Alexander II, it was bigger and grander than nearly all its European contemporaries (bolshoi means “grand” in Russian), and that’s how Moscow would like it to remain. ...
The current overhaul is the Bolshoi’s third reincarnation. First built in 1780, the theater burned to the ground twice in the 1800s. After a three-day conflagration in 1853 razed its relatively modest predecessor, the czar demanded a grander replacement. Albert Cavos, the Italian-trained architect who won the commission, designed the Bolshoi to mimic a musical instrument, with wood panels in the floors, ceiling and walls that would resonate and carry the sound, along with a vaguely violin-shaped main auditorium. “I tried to decorate the main hall as magnificently as possible but also lightly, in the style of the Renaissance, mixed with the Byzantine,” Cavos later wrote. Restoring that glory turned out to be a titanic task, however, because the Bolshoi’s disrepair dated back decades. In his rush to finish the project in time for the coronation, Cavos appears to have cut corners and the Bolshoi’s structural problems began within just a few years. In 1902, a sudden shift in the foundation jammed the doors of most of the boxes during a matinee, forcing terrified spectators to clamber along the balconies to escape.
The Bolshoi barely survived the early Bolsheviks, some of whom argued for shuttering what they saw as a symbol of aristocratic excess. Vladimir Lenin saved it, and Communist officials ordered that extra seats be stuffed into the main auditorium for party congresses. The theater also endured Soviet-era renovations—concrete was poured under the floor and into a special resonant chamber below the orchestra pit, dulling the sound—and a Nazi bombing in 1941, when an 1,100-pound bomb badly damaged the lobby.
When the theater was closed for renovation in 2005, engineers were shocked by what they found. Foot-wide cracks ran through the walls, and foundations had been reduced largely to dust. The stout columns on the front of the building were treated like arthritic joints, rubbed with special salves and wrapped in plastic for weeks to leach decades of pollution from the limestone. After removing the Soviet-era concrete from under the floor, restorers considered replacing the original mechanism of large stone balls that allowed the auditorium floor to tilt for performances but quickly become flat for grand imperial balls. That update proved too complex, but designers did steepen the angle to improve sight lines and house a larger orchestra pit—big enough for Wagner. “You will feel the fortissimo in your body,” says one engineer. ...
The Soviet hammer and sickle… [has] been replaced with the original double-headed eagle, the emblem of the Romanov dynasty that had pride of place over the Czar’s Box.
Dmitri offers a characteristically insouciant (some would say, “accident-waiting-to-happen”) Russian approach to playing with seriously dangerous toys.
Gasoline-flavored pork! Yum.
Dmitri has his own blog: FPS Russia, devoted entirely to videos of the man himself playing mostly with the kind of stuff the BATF doesn’t want you to have. Are flamethrowers legal in Russia, do you suppose? Does anybody know what the “FPS” in FPS Russia stands for?
Haaretz sympathizes with the terrible bad luck that seems to pursue scientists and engineers who provide assistance to Iran’s nuclear program. It’s really a lot like all the deaths which overtook the people who violated that pharoah’s tomb.
The five nuclear experts killed in a plane crash in northern Russia earlier this week had assisted in the design of an Iranian atomic facility, security sources in Russia said on Thursday.
The five Russian experts were among the 44 passengers killed when the Tupolev-134 plane broke up and caught fire on landing outside the northern city of Petrozavodsk on Monday.
The experts – who included lead designers Sergei Rizhov, Gennadi Benyok, Nicolai Tronov and Russia’s top nuclear technological experts, Andrei Tropinov – worked at Bushehr after the contract for the plant’s construction passed from the German Siemens company to Russian hands.
The five were employed at the Hydropress factory, a member of Russia’s state nuclear corporation, and one of the main companies to contract for the Bushehr construction.
The sources said that the death of the scientists is a great blow to the Russian nuclear industry.
The experts were tasked with completing construction of the plant and ensuring that it would be able to survive an earthquake.
According to the sources, although Iranian nuclear scientists have in the past been involved in unexplained accidents and plane crashes, there is no official suspicion of foul play. Investigators are probing human error and technical malfunction as the causes of the crash.
Careful reading between the lines may discover that there is a message of some kind embedded in this news story.
I missed the best April Fool’s Day prank of 2011. It was the appearance of the Sokoblovsky Petite Lap Giraffe web-site, complete with Giraffe Cam.
The alleged Petite Lap Giraffe breeder operation, tracing its history back to Czarist times, was praised by Ad Week as:
a great example of taking an awesome random detail from a TV campaign and running with it online. The site, concepted and built by Grey (with The Mill in New York handling special effects), offers lots of great tips on owning a tiny giraffe. “PLG’s love being indoors in filtered air conditioning. If they can listen to music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov it is dream,” notes the copy, which is all humorously written in broken English. And look, they’re tidy: “PLG’s are very clean. With training they will go in box like cats. Allergies never a problem.” Well, I’m sold. Too bad I’m No. 14,870 on the waiting list, with an expected delivery date 21,000 years in the future.
The ads behind all this were the “Gregor the Russian billionaire” commercials (see below).
Shahab 3 missile test launch (photo: ISNA - Rooholla Vahdati)
Anna Mahjar-Barducci, writing for the Hudson Institute, informs us that a replay of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is right around the corner. This time, it will not be Russia but the crazed mullahs of Iran placing potentially nuclear-armed medium range ballistic missiles within range of US cities.
Iran is planning to place medium-range missiles on Venezuelan soil, based on western information sources, according to an article in the German daily, Die Welt, of November 25, 2010. According to the article, an agreement between the two countries was signed during the last visit o Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Tehran on October19, 2010. The previously undisclosed contract provides for the establishment of a jointly operated military base in Venezuela, and the joint development of ground-to-ground missiles.
At a moment when NATO members found an agreement, in the recent Lisbon summit (19-20 November 2010), to develop a Missile Defence capability to protect NATO’s populations and territories in Europe against ballistic missile attacks from the East (namely, Iran), Iran’s counter-move consists in establishing a strategic base in the South American continent – in the United States’s soft underbelly.
According to Die Welt, Venezuela has agreed to allow Iran to establish a military base manned by Iranian missile officers, soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Venezuelan missile officers. In addition, Iran has given permission for the missiles to be used in case of an “emergency”. In return, the agreement states that Venezuela can use these facilities for “national needs” – radically increasing the threat to neighbors like Colombia. The German daily claims that according to the agreement, Iranian Shahab 3 (range 1300-1500 km), Scud-B (285-330 km) and Scud-C (300, 500 and 700 km) will be deployed in the proposed base. It says that Iran also pledged to help Venezuela in rocket technology expertise, including intensive training of officers
Venezuela has also become the country through which Iran intends to bypass UN sanctions. Following a new round of UN sanctions against the Islamic Republic, for example, Russia decided not to sell five battalions of S-300PMU-1 air defence systems to Iran. These weapons, along with a number of other weapons, were part of a deal, signed in 2007, worth $800 million. Now that these weapons cannot be delivered to Iran, Russia is looking for new customers; according to the Russian press agency Novosti, it found one: Venezuela. ...
If Iran, therefore, cannot get the S-300 missiles directly from Russia, it can still have them through its proxy, Venezuela, and deploy them against its staunchest enemy, the U.S..
But that is not all. According to Reuters, Iran has developed a version of the Russian S-300 missile and will test-fire it soon, as declared by the official news agency IRNA, two months after Moscow cancelled the delivery to comply with United Nations sanctions. Iran, in fact, has its own capabilities for constructing missiles that could carry atomic warheads. According to a study recently released by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, Iran is presently aiming to perfect the already existing solid-fuel, medium-range missile that can carry a nuke to hit regional targets, such as Israel. If a missile base can be opened in Venezuela, many US cities will be able to be reached from there even with short-medium range missiles.
The situation that is unfolding in Venezuela has some resemblance to the Cuba crisis of 1962. At that time, Cuba was acting on behalf of the USSR; now Venezuela is acting on behalf of Iran. At present, the geopolitical situation is very different: the world is no longer ruled by two superpowers; new nations, often with questionable leaders and the ambition of acquiring global status, are appearing on the international scene. Their danger to the free world will be greater if the process of nuclear proliferation is not stopped. Among the nations that aspire to become world powers, Iran has certainly the best capabilities of posing a challenge to the West.
Back in the 1962, thanks to the stern stance adopted by the then Kennedy administration, the crisis was defused
Nowadays, however, we do not see the same firmness from the present administration.
Unlike Nikita Krushchev who obviously did not desire a shared nuclear apocalypse, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an arch-fundamentalist Shiite Muslim who believes in, and eagerly awaits, the appearance of the 12th “Hidden” Imam, the Mahdi, who will return suddenly accompanied by Jesus to announce the arrival of the universal conversion of mankind to Islam, and Ahmadinejad has given ample evidence that he believes the time is ripe for the arrival of the Mahdi and believes that he is in a position to hasten his appearance.
The United States in 1962 had decayed to the point of abandoning the Monroe Doctrine, which had previously placed the Americas under US protection against foreign colonization, and President Kennedy got rid of the Russian missiles via a face-saving secret surrender presented publicly as a US foreign policy triumph. The US gave Russia a pledge never to invade Cuba or overthrow the Communist regime 90 miles from Havana, and withdrew US missiles from Turkey.
Today, America is in general far weaker in character, infinitely more pacifistic than in 1962. We have Barack Obama, not WWII Navy veteran John Kennedy, in the White House. What will Obama do or not do? The prospect is depressing.
A nuclear-armed Shahab-3 could arrive from Venezuela to Southern US cities in roughly half an hour from the moment of being launched.
The Telegraph is reporting that Maj. Gen. Yuri Ivanov, deputy head of Russian intelligence service known as GRU, died in Syria recently. Speculation is rampant that he was assassinated. He had been staying in the northwestern Syrian resort of Tartous when he disappeared, with his body later hauled in by Turkish fishermen.
Here is some background on Ilanov:
Major-General Yuri Ivanov, 52, was the deputy head of Russia’s foreign military intelligence arm known as GRU which is thought to operate the biggest network of foreign spies out of all of Russia’s clandestine intelligence services.
…Reports have suggested he was on official business and the location where he is reported to have disappeared was only about fifty miles from a strategically vital Russian naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus which is being expanded and upgraded to service and refuel ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. The facility is Russia’s only foothold in the Mediterranean Sea, and Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, is known to be concerned that Moscow will use the upgraded facility as a base for spy ships and electronic espionage directed at the Middle East.
One wonders whether this is another variant of the U.S.S. Liberty episode in which Israel is warning the Russians not to stray too far into Israel’s business and its “sphere of influence.” I have written here about the possibility of an Israeli attack on Syria. Given this, the Mossad cannot have liked one of Russia’s top spies setting up a new base in Syria. Israel undoubtedly feels it has its hands full anticipating attacks by Hezbollah or Syria on its northern front. To add Russian mischief to the mix would be even more dangerous for Israeli interests.
The Guardian further adds that Ivanov was the architect of several spectacular assassinations of Chechen separatist leaders on foreign soil, one in Qatar. It seems perfect justice for Ivanov himself to have died in similar circumstances.
Of course, this is speculation. But given the dearth of facts, it seems credible speculation that awaits further confirmation or repudiation.
This incident recalls a not dissimilar one in 2008, in which a Syrian general and confidant of Pres. Assad was assassinated by a sniper while sunbathing at his southern Syrian coastal villa. In that case too, if I recall correctly, the Syrians originally reported that Gen. Suleiman died in a “swimming accident.” The general was Syria’s main liaison with Hezbollah and responsible for supplying it with sophisticated weaponry, and as such would’ve been a desirable Mossad target.
Furthermore, Israel, if it killed Ilanov, is sending Assad a message that it has penetrated his circle and those of his closest allies. No one is safe.
It’s difficult to see who else might have been responsible, but if Israel really did assassinate a very senior and important official of Russian military intelligence, that was certainly a bold and risky move. The Russians are decidedly not the United States. They believe absolutely in avenging this kind of thing, and the long knives will be out.
Intelligence services typically do not engage in killing one another’s officers for the obvious reason that retaliation is certainly within the capablities of the opposition and intelligence professionals are not eager to affix targets on their own backs.
If Mossad really killed the second-in-command of Russian military intelligence, there has to have been a very very good reason for such a drastic and dangerous step. And if it was Mossad, we can expect to see intelligence service gang war break out openly as a result.
George Friedman of the security consultancy Stratfor discusses the differences between the Russian approach of using very long-term, deep-cover recruitments and the US reliance on technical intelligence. It’s a lot easier to find Russians willing to acquire perfect English and reside for decades in the United States than to find Americans able to speak Russian like a native and willing to spend virtually their entire adult lives living as a Russian.
Interestingly, one of the recently exchanged Russian spies made a try to penetrate Stratfor. In that case, though, the Russians were apparently trying for technical surveillance.
One of the Russian operatives, Don Heathfield, once approached a STRATFOR employee in a series of five meetings. There appeared to be no goal of recruitment; rather, the Russian operative tried to get the STRATFOR employee to try out software he said his company had developed. We suspect that had this been done, our servers would be outputting to Moscow. We did not know at the time who he was. (We have since reported the incident to the FBI, but these folks were everywhere, and we were one among many.)
Thus, the group apparently included a man using software sales as cover – or as we suspect, as a way to intrude on computers. As discussed, the group also included talent scouts. We would guess that Anna Chapman was brought in as part of the recruitment phase of talent scouting. No one at STRATFOR ever had a chance to meet her, having apparently failed the first screening.
I did a quick pass through the best on-line sources on Intel issues, but no one at the moment has any more information.
They had lived for more than a decade in American cities and suburbs from Seattle to New York, where they seemed to be ordinary couples working ordinary jobs, chatting to the neighbors about schools and apologizing for noisy teenagers.
But on Monday, federal prosecutors accused 11 people of being part of a Russian espionage ring, living under false names and deep cover in a patient scheme to penetrate what one coded message called American “policy making circles.”
An F.B.I. investigation that began at least seven years ago culminated with the arrest on Sunday of 10 people in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia. The documents detailed what the authorities called the “Illegals Program,” an ambitious, long-term effort by the S.V.R., the successor to the Soviet K.G.B., to plant Russian spies in the United States to gather information and recruit more agents.
The alleged agents were directed to gather information on nuclear weapons, American policy toward Iran, C.I.A. leadership, Congressional politics and many other topics, prosecutors say. The Russian spies made contact with a former high-ranking American national security official and a nuclear weapons researcher, among others. But the charges did not include espionage, and it was unclear what secrets the suspected spy ring — which included five couples — actually managed to collect. ...
The defendants were charged with conspiracy, not to commit espionage, but to fail to register as agents of a foreign government, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison; 9 were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. They are not accused of obtaining classified materials.