Welcome!

Dear Readers:

Welcome to Awful Avalanche, here is my blog concept and what I do:

I scan online newspapers from Russian-language press, in search of interesting stories and political topics.  These are stories which Russians themselves are reading and commenting upon.

I translate or at least summarize into English the content therein.

My target audience:  Russophiles, or anybody else who is interested.

I pick stories and analysis which interest me, generally from the following categories (this might evolve):

  • Breaking News,
  • Celebrity Gossip
  • True Crime,
  • Cat Fighting,
  • Human Interest Stories,
  • maybe even some Cute Animal Stories too!

Sincerely yours,

yalensis

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Is Kaliningrad Ready For War? – Part II

Dear Readers:

Yesterday we started to work through this piece from VZGLIAD.

But first I made a detour into the history of German Königsberg and how it came to be Russian Kaliningrad,  We left off on the issue of Russia’s vulnerability to NATO invasion from the West.  Western Europeans seem to be born with a homing instinct like migratory birds or lemmings:  They must invade Russia.  If NATO predictably follows in the path of Napoleon and Hitler, then most likely they will attempt to just roll through Kaliningrad, on their way to St. Pete and Moscow.  Presumably the Polish and Lithuanian soldiers will take up the spearhead, engaging Russian soldiers in hand-to-hand Mortal Kombat, while American officers cheer them on from strategic positions in the rearguard.  The Germans, who have the most to gain by getting their old city back, will hopefully abstain from the fight, I am assuming that, unlike most of the animal world, they possess a sense of shame.

“Mon Dieu, here we go again!”

The real military danger here lies not in the fact that NATO tanks will just roll in, like a knife through warm butter, but in the fact that a panicky Russia would be forced, at that moment, to escalate and deploy tactical nukes against NATO tanks.  Which will escalate the conflict to a nuclear level in the blink of an eye.

Twould be far, far better for everyone involved if Kaliningrad could withstand that first brunt and keep the fight going at a conventional military level.  But current sitrep, according to reporter Andrei Rezchikov, is that the city is not ready for that.  It’s supposed to be a forepost of the Russian military, and instead, over the past few decades, it just became a party town and smugglers paradise.  Much work needs to be done to toughen the city up and get it ready for war.  And here I resume with Rezchikov’s analysis.

For many years, the NATO generals were clucking their tongues about Kaliningrad’s supposed “militarization” whilst busily bringing an American armored division right up to Russia’s border with Poland.  The public of Lithuania and Poland were scared out of their wits by media myths about Kaliningrad’s “militarization”, all of this obviously a smokescreen to hide the real militarization that was taking place from the other side.  Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz was apparently terrified of Russian warships arriving at the port.  Moscow’s decision to deploy “Iskander” rockets in the area also evoked a panicky and pugnacious response.

The Lithuanians were not far behind their Polish brothers in shrieking about Russian aggressive motives.  Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, a former member of the Communist Party of the USSR, chose to terrify her fellow EU members by “informing” them that Russian missiles in Kalinigrad could reach as far as Lisbon, Portugal.

Igor Konashenkov: “We know how many howitzers you have!”

When Russia undertook its war game “West-2017“, the United States took advantage of the ensuing hysteria to roll its Second Armored Tank Division into Poland.  The Americans have also deployed their Third Tank Brigade in the Baltic states, along with 87 Abrams tanks and heavy artillery such as the M109 Paladin, 144 Bradleys, and around 100 other such machines.  These facts and numbers were delivered to the Russian government by Chief Defense spokesperson General Igor Konashenkov.  According to Igor:  “Notwithstanding statements from NATO and the U.S. regarding the supposed insignificance of the troops which they have deployed up to the Russian borders, what we have here is not even a brigade, but rather a mechanized division of the U.S. armed forces, which could, in the course of two hours bring in all their men and equipment from the nearest American base in Europe, namely Ramstein Air Base.”  Konashenkov went on to point out that the hysteria of the Balts and Poles regarding the so-called “Russian threat” has been artifically whipped up by the Pentagon as a smokescreen for their own aggressive moves, as well as a component of their information war against Russia.

Main airbase of American occupiers in Germany

The reality is that Russian forces in the Kaliningrad area are smaller and weaker now, than they were even in the 1990’s.  For example, in 1991 the Russian Baltic Fleet had 32 submarines, and now they only have two.  There has been a similar decline in the number of fighter planes.  In 1990 the 11th Army Guard had 90,000 men.  By 2010 the number of infantry in the Kaliningrad Defense region constituted a mere 10,500 men.  With an additional 1,100 men in the marines.

In 2008 Russia pulled practically all of its tanks out of Kaliningrad, almost 900 tanks were pulled out!  Observers at the time noted this as proof of Moscow’s lack of aggressive intent with regards to its Western neighbors.  Just based on numbers for the Baltic fleet:  At the beginning of the 2000’s the relationship of forces Russia-NATO in the Kaliningrad arena were at the ratio of 1:21 in favor of NATO.  By the mid-2000’s that ration had changed to 1:32, and the gap continues to widen with every year that goes by.

And during all these years of Russian decline, Poland and the Baltic states, along with all of NATO, continue to harp on hypocritically about the “militarization of Kaliningrad”.

[to be continued]

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Is Kaliningrad Ready For War? – Part I

Dear Readers:

Today I start a new series based on this piece from VZGLIAD.

As war clouds darken over Russia, as the ring of NATO encirclement grows tighter every day, the line of first defense, once the (almost inevitable) invasion begins, may well be the city of Kaliningrad, Russia’s lonely outpost on the Western frontier.  Analyst Andrei Rezchikov takes a look at this ancient, historic city and whether or not it will be able to bear the brunt of the invading NATO forces.  Rezchikov maintains that enormous resources must be put into restoring the military potential of an outpost that Russia herself allowed to decay badly over the course of several decades.

Will NATO troops be able to cross all 7 bridges without doubling back on themselves?

First some backstory about the city itself:  As everybody knows, Kaliningrad used to be known as Königsberg.  Mathematicians know the name well — it was here that mathematician Leonard Euler invented a new branch of math called Topology, based on his musings about the town’s famous seven bridges on the Pregel River.

The site of an ancient Prussian settlement, Königsberg became the capital of the Teutonic Knights, and was considered a big huge jewel  in the Prussian crown.  The obvious reason:  its strategic location as a port on the Baltic Sea, at the crossroads of the Western/German civilizational world and the Balto-Slavic civilizations to the East.  Besides being a seaport, Königsberg is also a railroad hub.  Ethnically mixed (Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, etc.), the city was mostly always in “German” hands (loosely speaking), although it did spend a couple of years under Russian occupation; I quote wiki:

During the Seven Years’ War Imperial Russian troops occupied eastern Prussia at the beginning of 1758 . On 31 December 1757, Empress Elizabeth I of Russia issued an ukase about the incorporation of Königsberg into Russia.  On 24 January 1758, the leading burghers of Königsberg submitted to Elizabeth.  Five Imperial Russian general-governors administered the city during the war from 1758–62; they included William Fermor and Nikolaus Friedrich von Korff. With the end of the Seven Years’ War the Russian army abandoned the town in 1763.

General Lasch surrenders to Marshal Rokossovsky

After that it the history of the city was all, like Prussia, Prussia, Germany, Germany, Germany, etc.  Right up until World War II.

Königsberg was a true center of German culture and civilization.  It was the home of spooky poet E.T.A. Hoffmann and respected philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Adolph Hitler loved Königsberg, had big plans for it, declared the city to be an “invincible bastion of the German spirit”.  Soviet Marshals Rokossovsky and Bagramion captured the city in April of 1945, after a 3-month siege.  The Red Army took 90,000 prisoners, so many that they didn’t even have enough guards for them, so the prisoners pretty much had to guard themselves.  Nazi General Otto Lasch held out as long as he could, but finally had to surrender to the Red Army.  Because he was so high-ranking, he got to surrender to Marshal Rokossovsky in person.  He handed the latter his sword, and no, Rokossovsky didn’t slice off his head, he was just, like, “Very well, very well, General Lasch, it’s over now.”

German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann was born in Königsberg

When Hitler, cowering in his bunker, heard about Lasch’s surrender, der Führer flew into a fury and demanded that Lasch be put to death for treason and cowardice.  Which didn’t happen.  Instead, Lasch was dragged off to the Soviet Union as a POW, put on trial, convicted of war crimes (might of had something to do with those 7,000 Polish and Hungarian Jews who were death-marched out of the city during the siege), and served his sentence until 1955.  After which, he returned to West Germany and died in 1971, after writing his memoirs.

So how did Königsberg became Kaliningrad?  To the victor goes the spoils.  At the Potsdam Conference, at which the winners carved up the loot, all of Northern Prussia was handed over to the Soviet Union, and incorporated as an oblast of the Russian Soviet Republic.  A year later, the historical name of the city was changed to something that still started with the letter K- but was more Russian sounding.  Named after Soviet political figure Mikhail Kalinin, who was actually the head of state for the Soviet Union between the years 1919-1946.  Most people don’t even know that the Soviet Union had a head of state, they think it was just, like, Lenin ruled, and then Stalin ruled, and both were bloody dictators.  But no, it was a bit more complicated than that.

The Namesake

“Josif Vissarionovich, when can I see my wife again?”

Mikhail Kalinin (1875-1946) was an Old Bolshevik.  Not only was he not Jewish, but he was actually one of the few Old Bolsheviks who came from bona fide peasant origins.  As opposed to being, say, a student, or a lawyer.  And Kalinin was his actual real name, not a Russified nom de plume.  He joined the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party in 1898, the year it was founded.  In other words, he was there from the very beginning.  And he joined Lenin’s Bolshevik fraction within the broader party, also from the beginning.  Was an alternate member of the Central Committee of the party from 1912 onward.

The only time that Kalinin ever went against Lenin was in 1917, that interim time between the February and October revolutions, when everybody in the Party went against Lenin.  The divisive issue being whether or not to support the Provisional Government.  I have covered this important issue in other posts, so won’t repeat that here.  But, bottom line, Lenin, with the force of his intellect, eventually was able to convince the others and win them over to his point of view.  That the government should shift from the Duma to the Soviets.  Long story short, Kalinin went on to a long and fruitful career in the Soviet government and was one of the few members of Lenin’s Central Committee who was not arrested in 1936-37.  Although, sadly, his wife Ekaterina was arrested as a “Trotskyite” and sent into internal exile.  Those must have been some lonely last 10 years for Mikhail Ivanovich without his beloved wife by his side.  But, on the bright side, he lived through the war and had Königsberg named after him right after he died.

And that is the story of how Königsberg  became Kalinigrad, and how  Kalinigrad became part of Russia.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the loss of so many territories, one might have expected Kalinigrad to return to Germany.  But, due to certain mysterious treaties and international rules regarding territorial integrity, Kalinigrad continues to be a part of the Russian Federation, the legal successor state to the Soviet Union.

Only one tiny problem:  Kaliningrad is what they call an exclave.  Due to some geographical properties, it happens to be cut off from Mother Russia proper and wholely surrounded by NATO countries Poland and Lithuania.  Which makes it, ahem, vulnerable to NATO attack.  And thus brings us back to our source material, which will continue tomorrow…

[to be continued]

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Prilepin’s Battalion: The Face Of Donbass – Part VI

Dear Readers:

As we continue to work through Andrei Veselov’s vignettes, yesterday we started to meet Donbass Rebel Beness Aijo, a half-Ugandan, half-Russian mongrel born in Soviet Latvia and now fighting for the Separatist side in Donetsk.  In other words, a typical Soviet man!  (The word “mongrel”, by the way, actually derives from the Caucasian Mingrelian clans.  Soviet Security Honcho Lavrenty Beria, for example, was a Mingrel.  And Stalin himself, albeit not a Mingrel, was a Mongrel – Ossetian on his dad’s side, and Kartvelian on his mom’s.  But I digress….)

The Mingrel and the Mongrel

I also digressed yesterday in looking at Aijo’s ideological background, his membership in Marxist-Leninist cadre organizations such as the Limonovite group, and the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist).  I am not even sure myself exactly what the Limonovites believe in, but the CPGB-ML clearly and predictably follows the Communist historical schism along the fault-line Marx-Lenin-Stalin-Mao.  While despising Beria’s enemy Khrushchev and lumping Trotskyites into the same category as Social-Democrats.  Both of which, I believe, are unfair, but this is not the right time or place to debate these fine points of historical feuds.  On the other hand CPGB-ML appears to hold quite a laudatory platform of internationalist positions; skimming their manifesto, they appear to be on the correct side of the various conflicts and imperialist wars taking place around the globe.  I reckon it was this geopolitical strategic vision which brought Aijo to the Donbass.  And, by the way, one of the great things about recruiting from Leninist cadre organizations is that you will find these people to be the most disciplined soldiers.  As if they had been training all their lives for that one mission.

Without further digressions, I return to my source material:



Veselov notes that Aijo received his education in Great Britain, studying to be a microbiologist, while also honing his cadre skills in the CPGB-ML.  Aijo regards the war in Donbass as a revolutionary war of national liberation which, in accordance with the laws of Marxism, must evolve into a socialist revolution.  He calls the Maidan events a “reactionary putsch” accomplished with the assistance of American and European imperialism.  Aijo cannot return to his birthplace, Latvia:  “They have opened, it seems, four criminal cases against me.  Accusing me of calling for the violent overthrow of the government, and participation in illegal armed groups.”

Hence, “I will not be able to return there until Latvia becomes a truly democratic state and recognizes the DPR and LPR.  And I am convinced that this will happen in the future!  At that point I will be able to go to Latvia.  In the time being, I have received citizenship from the DPR.”

Kuban

The next vignette is of a rebel code-named “Kuban” because he hails from the Kuban area of Russia.  If you look at the map, the Kuban is that pokey-outey peninsula sort of thing on the Russian side of the Kerch Strait from Crimea.  This is traditional Cossack territory.

Kuban’s ideology is diametrically opposite that of Aijo’s:  He is a religious man and believes that he is fighting for Russian Orthodox Christianity:  “I came here to defend the Orthodox faith and Holy Mother Russia, because the anti-Christian movement is in full swing here.”

[While fighting for different and even opposite things, Aijo for socialism and Kuban for Orthodoxy, it has to be said that neither man is deluded in his thinking.  Both of those things — socialism and Eastern Orthodoxy — are truly under attack in the Maidan Ukraine – yalensis comment]

Kuban is so religious that, even in the trenches, he forbids his men to swear.  “It’s a great sin,” he declares.  And at the company HQ he has organized a prayer-room which resembles a chapel.

Katz

The next man, Alexei Petrov, a local hailing from the town of Gorlovka, goes by the nickname “Katz” which refers to a fictional character, Izya Katzman, from a Russian sci-fi novel called “The Doomed City“.  I have not read this work myself, but according to the English-language blurb:

The novel is set in a mysterious world where enigmatic Mentors run a sociological experiment. The mentors gathered volunteers from Earth from various places and times: from Germany of the 1940s, the USA of the 1960s, Sweden of the 1970s, etc. The volunteers do not know the goals or conditions of the experiment. In spite of different native languages the people can effortlessly communicate with each other. Most of the people live in the City that is skirted by a swamp on one side and a desert on the other. Apparently, the experiment runs out of control, the City is shaken by a social unrest and an egalitarian system of job rotations is replaced by a dictatorship.

Izya Katman, a minor character in the story, is described thusly:  Taken from Leningrad, USSR.  Born in 1936.  Abducted in 1968.  Profession unknown.  Physical description:  tousled, fat, untidy and also inapproprately cheerful.  Very well read and intelligent.  Constantly cracking sarcastic jokes.  Probably the most sound person of all in the Doomed City.  Conducts experiments, trying to figure out what is going on, sneaks out and reconnoitres to the North, finds some lost inscriptions, etc.

Our own Katz, Alexei Petrov, who used to be a journalist himself, tells the reporter that he is not fighting so much for the DPR army, but on the other hand, he knows exactly what he is fighting against:  Fascism, Neo-Nazism and Ukrainian Nationalism.

“I especially researched the issue of Neo-Nazism in the Ukraine.  The Yanukovych government played footsie with the Nazis from “Svoboda” Party, with Tyagnibok, they wanted to bring them to heel, turn them into a convenient sparring partner for the elections.  But they got it back in spades.”

The inevitable conclusion:  Never play footsie with Nazis.

The Final Word

Now that we have met some of the men serving under Prilepin, their Commander himself gets the final word on his variegated and multi-cultural crew:

“People are different, but very few are interested in a specific ideology.  There is just an intuitive, irrational sense of one’s own truth.  That’s what it is all about.

“You have visited with us today in the trenches, on the front lines.  As you no doubt noticed, the men are worried about their meals, about getting cigarettes.  They worry about their ammunition supplies and how we are going to move forward.

“Is this really the right time to argue about Lenin and Stalin?  In Russia everyone is upset about Nikolai II and Mathilda.  In Russia people think that if we can’t save Nikolai II or Lenin’s Mausoleum, then the world will come to an end.  But here on the front lines we have other things to think about.”

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Prilepin’s Battalion: The Face Of Donbass – Part V

Dear Readers:

We continue to meet some of the men who serve in Prilepin’s Battalion in the Donbass.  They were interviewed up close and personal by reporter Andrei Veselov in this interesting piece from Ria.  Journalists and even ordinary non-trained-in-journalism bloggers like myself have to make editorial decisions what to call these men:  Rebels?  Separatists?  Freedom fighters?  The other side, the fascist junta in Kiev, call these guys Terrorists.  And launched the so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) against them.  Which failed spectacularly, leading to the current stalemate.

ATO resulted in military defeat for the Ukraine

They say that one man’s terrorist is another man’s hero.  And unless a man is actually wearing a suicide vest and blatantly walking into a crowd of completely ordinary, innocent people, with murderous intent, then one should curb one’s tongue before uttering the word “terrorist”.  The act of taking up a gun is not necessarily the act of becoming a terrorist.  It’s all relative, as Einstein might say.

But the Ukrainian government’s harsh appraisal of these men is backed by the full might of Western governments, armies, NATO, and their various propaganda machines who crank out deceptions and lies every minute of every day.  With their cartoonish portrayals of anybody they consider to be geopolitical enemies, be it Arabs, Persians, Koreans, Venezuelans, or, in this case, Russians.  In their comic-book interpretation of the world, Russia has no legitimate geopolitical interests, and all Russians are just plain evil.  As Goldfinger might have said:  “I want you to die!”

Shaman

But some Russians refuse to lie down and die.  The next fellow we meet is a Russian volunteer named Sergei, who goes by the call-sign “Shaman”.  Sergei is an actual Russian and hails from the Moscow area.  He is the type the pro-Ukrainians point to, when they claim that the Donbass rebels are actually an invading army from Russia.  Sergei even served in police/military type units in Russia, for example he was a Special officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also served in Narcotics Enforcement  units.  If this were a Hollywood movie, then Sergei would be the grizzled and cynical, yet wise-cracking counter-intelligence guy in this motley unit.

Shaman

Despite his police/military background, Sergei is not a rah-rah supporter of the current Russian government, which he regards with skepticism.  It was the May 2014 events in Odessa which radicalized him and sent him off to war:  “I decided to head for Donbass after the mass killings in the Odessa Trade Union building.  That was a turning point for me.”

Sergei initially served in the personal bodyguard of Luhansk leader Igor Plotnitsky, who actually looks like a Hollywood stock Russian villain, jowls and all.

Igor Plotnitsky – stock villain?

Later, leveraging his former skills as a Narco-cop, Sergei joined a unit that engaged in anti-smuggler operations.  “Our unit fought against contraband throughout the entire Luhansk Republic.  I was wounded [in the course of these operations] and went off on medical leave.  I was back in Russia for about a year, then I received an invitation to return and serve here, and I agreed.”

Beness Aijo

The next man we meet has a very interesting ethnic and political biography.  Handsome and photogenic,  Beness Aijo is Ugandan on his father’s side, and Russian on his mother’s.  He was born in 1979 in Rēzekne, Latvia, hence a Soviet citizen.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Aijo presumably became a Latvian citizen.

Beness Aijo at a demonstration

[The rest of today’s installment, discussing ideological issues, are not in the Ria piece, they are my own insertions, from wiki and other sources, with the purpose of providing more background to Aijo’s evolution – yalensis]

Aijo is a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who was arrested in 2005 for protesting the visit to Latvia of American President George W. Bush.  Accused of attempting to overthrow the Latvian government, Aijo emigrated to Great Britain, where he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), a hard-line fraction that split from the Labour Party in 2004.  CPGB-ML is led by Harpal Brar, a retired law professor and Chairman of the Party since 2004.  Indian-born Marxist Brar published a book called Social Democracy:  The Enemy Within.  In which he rightfully castigates the British Labour Party, whose sell-outs of the British working class would certainly fill up more than just one volume.

I quote in full this paragraph from the wiki, as it sheds light on why a man like Aijo would decide to join the Donbass rebels:

CPGB-ML Chairman Harpal Brar

The CPGB-ML supports governments around the world which it perceives to be socialist or anti-imperialist. Some examples are Venezuela, Russia, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Syria, Iran, and People’s Republic of China. Delegations from the Chinese embassy have attended meetings of the CPGB-ML and members of the CPGB-ML and Red Youth (the youth wing of the CPGB-ML) have made visits to Ecuador.  The party also supports the struggle of the Palestinian people against Zionism in Israel, which it characterises as an apartheid state.  It called for a defeat of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and a movement of direct action and non-cooperation among British working people in order to exert political influence. It was one of many anti-war parties to oppose NATO actions in Libya and Syria and support the governments of Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. In 2011, the CPGB-ML party chairman Harpal Brar visited Libya during the war to express solidarity with the Libyan people in their fight against NATO.  However, the Stop the War Coalition expelled the CPGB-ML for its defence of the Libyan and Syrian governments.

Aijo fought to return Crimea to Russia

Given these geo-political foundations  and an anti-imperialist position which regards the Russian government as also “anti-imperialist” [highly dubious proposition, IMHO, except that the role assigned to Russia by the West sort of throws it into the anti-American camp willy-nilly], it is not surprising that Aijo chose to join up with the Donbass rebels.  The description of CPGB-ML ideology shows them to be surprisingly consistent and principled in their platform of international issues.  For example, calling for the defeat of their own nation (=Great Britain) in Iraq is not only principled and courageous, but even laudatory.  This comes straight out of the Lenin playbook.  Recall that Lenin called for the defeat of “his own country”, e.g., Russia, in the imperialist wars of 1904 (against Japan) and 1914 (against Germany).  It takes guts and balls to do this, especially in the middle of a war frenzy.  The only similar example I can think of in recent American history is those courageois left-wing college students circa 1968 who chanted:  “Ho Ho Ho-Chi Minh – NFL is gonna win!”

Aijo’s membership in the CPGB-ML took him to many places, many demonstrations, many militant actions.  All of this seemingly, like the Invisible Hand of History, preparing him for Crimea and Donbass.  On 14 September, 2013, in Moscow, Aijo participated in the congress of the political party The Other Russia, whose founder is — you guessed it! — Eduard Limonov!  In case you forgot, from Part I, Zakhar Prilepin himself, the founder of the Battalion in which Aijo currently serves, also emerged from the Limonovite crucible.

And who knows, maybe 100 years from now, historians will write that Eduard Limonov was one of the most influential political figures of the 21st century – wouldn’t that be something!?

[to be continued]

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Prilepin’s Battalion: The Face Of Donbass – Part IV

Dear Readers:

We continue on with  this piece from RIA News.

The Rapper

Andrei Veselov’s next subject, an officer in the Prilepin Battalion, preferred not to give his name.  He says he does not fear anything, he just doesn’t like to be singled out as somebody special.  We will call him Officer N.  Yesterday I mistakenly posted that N is from Kazakhstan — that was a too-quick pre-skim.  N is actually a local, born and raised, but his father came here from Kazakhstan.  As a youth N was an athlete, a boxer.  He received a serious injury, which ended his athletic career.  He subsequently went on to study law.  He reports that half of the students he studied with “fight for the other side”.  Initially N fought in Givi’s “Somali” Battalion and was wounded several times.  Now he fights in Prilepin’s Battalion.

Iconic Commander Givi (right) with members of his Somali Battalion

N complains that the worst thing about this war is its indeterminate character.  Now that it has assumed a long-term “positional” character [not unlike the trench warfare of WWI].  “It’s not like the war we had in 2014, but it also cannot be called peace.  It’s aggravating to be constantly wondering:  Is it okay to go for a stroll with your girlfriend around Donetsk?  And knowing all the time that your comrades are going hungry in the trenches, and being shot at.  It really sucks to exist in this type of situation.”  Nonetheless, N has no intention of laying down his weapons until the conflict is truly over.  “And when this war is over, then I may just take off and go live in a different country.  Why shouldn’t I travel the world?  I have been in other countries, I even know English.  I really like rap-music, and for a long time I was fully engaged in American culture.  I consider myself a highly multicultural person, as the expression goes.  But I have vowed not to leave until all is quiet here.  At that point no bastard will be ever be able to say to me:  What are you doing here?  You have a war going on at home.”

The Count

The next fighter interviewed goes by his call-sign “Graf”, which is Russian for “Count”.   As in, for example, The Count of Monte Cristo.  Graf explains his call-sign, which is actually part of his real name:  “I have divergent roots.  One grandfather was Reinhold Reinholdovich Graf.  The other grandfather was Ivan Ivanovich Safonov.  My mother did not want to part with either set of names, so my parents decided to combine them.  My first name is Rodion, and my family name is Graf-Sofonov.  With a hyphen.”

Rodion taking a selfie

Once again, and God please forgive me again, here is Graf’s hit-list page.  Which reports that he was born on February 27, 1992.  Oh, and I just noticed a strange coincidence:  Crash-Top’s hitlist page also reported his birthday on February 27, but in 1986 in his case.  Is that just a coincidence that both men share a birthday, or does the hit-list page just use February 27 as a default date when they don’t know the actual one?  I confess I do not know the answer to that question.  And one thing that truly irritates me about the Mirotvorec site, besides the fact they are inciting to assassination, is that they blast you with egregriously schmaltzy Russian music when you click on the site.  Avakov’s little joke, no doubt.

In any case, if the 1992 year is correct, then Graf is a mere youth, only 25 years old.  He tells Veselov that he was one of the first members to join the Prilepin Battalion, having first served in the “Mangust” Company.  Graf started out as a trainer and worked his way up to Commander of his unit.

Rodion hails from Luhansk Province, to be precise from the village of Petrovka, which is close to the city of Schastye.  “That’s occupied territory now, under the control of the Ukrainian army.  I went off to fight in May of 2014.  I have not been home since that day.  The front line is 3 kilometers away from my home.  And in the past 3 years the front line has not budged one inch.”

Prior to the incidents on Maidan, Rodion actually served in the Ukrainian army.  At first in the training center of “Desna”, then in the 15th Mountain-Infantry Battalion.  After his demobilization he worked for a while as a manager in the sale of parts.  When Maidan erupted in 2014, he considered joining the demonstrators:  “At first I liked what I saw there.”  But soon enough he came to see the “true face” of Maidan:  “The Right Sektor, the Banderites, the chants of Lynch All Moscowites!  I didn’t like any of that.”

When Graf went home in April of 2014, his father told him that there will be war.  “He was right, of course.  I shot back at him:  Okay, then give me a gun.  I honestly don’t know if I was being sarcastic or not, but soon enough I was given an AKS-automatic rifle and two cartridges.  That’s how it all started.”

Next:  The story of Shaman, from Moscow.

[to be continued]

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Prilepin’s Battalion: The Face Of Donbass – Part III

Dear Readers:

Continuing to translate/summarize  this piece from RIA News.  We continue with the brief biographical vignettes of some Rebel fighters interviewed by reporter Andrei Veselov.  So far we have met Prilepin himself, Commander Sergei Fomchenkov (aka “Foma”), and Prilepin’s Chief of Staff Alexander Kreshtop.  Kreshtop sounds like “Crash-Top” in English, but it’s not a nickname, it’s his real name.  Being fascinated by names, I googled it, and it is thought to be of Czech origin (e.g., Krištof), same as English “Christopher”.  From the original Greek “Khristo-foros” (Χριστόφορος “One who bears Christ within him”).

Crash-Top

Usually a first name, “Christopher” as a surname is (according to that piece I linked) widely spread through the Czecho-Slovak and Slovenian areas, and only goes to show what a melting pot the Slavic world is; and in particular the world of the Donbass and Ukraine in general.

Whatever his family’s original ethnic roots, back in the mists of time, Crash-Top grew up in Luhansk self-identifying as a Russian, a member of the Russian civilizational world/cultural sphere, and a Russian language speaker.  This put him at odds early on with the forced-Ukrainization of the various governments which came and went under independence.

Luhansk native Crash-Top

Although it is dangerous to make generalizations, one can talk about a “typical” (perhaps “stereotypical”) mentality of Donbass/NovoRossiya people.  These people, whom Ukrainian nationalists despise, and call by various insults, such as “Colorado beetles”, “vatniks”, “Sovoks”, “bandits”, etc.,  are said to be the “true Russians”, more Russian than the Russian citizens themselves.  Donbass people identify with Russian history, going back to the Catherine the Great era, and beyond.  They are human paradoxes, being both Russian Orthodox in their faith, while also being atheists.  They are nostalgic for the Soviet Union, an era which spread Russian culture across a wide geographical base.  In Soviet times Ukrainization wasn’t such an issue as it is now.  True, the Soviet government aggressively promoted national languages and national elites, a policy which evokes scorn from today’s crop of Great Russian chauvinists and nationalists.   I personally maintain that Lenin (and Stalin, and the others) had their reasons for crafting this nationalities policy, and that it seemed like a very good idea at the time.  While not denying that the contortions of History turned these benevolent policies into a living time bomb that threatens Russia’s very existence in our era.

Be that as it may, even in the aggressively multi-cultural Soviet Union, ethnic Russians were not made to feel uncomfortable in whatever areas of the vast nation they were born in or migrated to, in the course of their careers.  They were looked up to as civilized leaders, as big brothers of the smaller nationalities.  The Soviet anthem itself declared, in its very first two lines, that

Союз нерушимый республик свободных
Сплотила навеки Великая Русь.

(“This indestructive union of free republics
Was put together by Great Russia.”)

Given such respect at a national level, ethnic Russians could live anywhere in the Union that they pleased, and were not called “occupiers” nor treated as such — that came later, with Russia’s fall and denigration at the hands of the Nomenklatura.

Party of Regions Is The Key To the Riddle

In order to learn more about Crash-Top’s biography, google led me — may God forgive me — to the Ukrainian “Mirotvorec” site, which is basically a hit-list calling for assassinations of persons (and their families) deemed enemies by the fascist government in Kiev.  On his hit-list page, you can find a brief biography of Crash-Top.  He was born in Luhansk in February of 1986, which makes him 31 years old.  That was the bit I needed, to put into context Crash-Top’s coming-of-age story that turned him into an armed rebel.

The broader background being this:  After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s subsequent “Independence”, the series of ensuing governments, each worse than the other, started putting the screws to non-ethnic Ukrainians, especially those in the Eastern part of the country.  See (and Americans can relate to this), Ukraine is politically and geographically divided East vs. West, just as America is/was North vs. South.  (Although in more recent decades, that division is blurring, and replaced by the so-called “Red State” vs “Blue State” political divide.)  Every free election in post-Soviet Ukraine showed a razor-thin margin between “West” political parties, which came to be known under various names (“Svidomite”, “Banderite”, “Orange”, etc.); and the main “East” political party (=Party of the Regions).  The Ukrainian election cycle (similar to American succession of Democrats, Republicans, Democrats, Republicans, etc.)  teetered back and forth between Orange and Regions. Much of recent Ukrainian history can be simplified to a stubborn attempt, on the part of Orange, to change the rules of the game and to destroy Regions, once and for all.  Why?  Now, that is a mystery in and of itself.  Regions was a completely corrupt and venal party which continuously and egregiously sold out its voting base.  And yet Donbass people routinely went out and pulled the lever for this party, which did virtually nothing for them except fleece them.  Once again, this sounds awfully familiar to American politics!  One could turn it around and ask the question:  Why do African-Americans always go out and pull the lever for the Democrats? – LOL!

The last two times Regions won the Presidency via fair elections (albeit both times were squeakers), the results were overthrown by stage-managed Orange riots supported by the U.S., Western Europe, and NATO.

Ukraine’s “Orange Revoluton” overturned the results of a fair election.

First there was the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004, which overturned the results of a fair election which had put Regions Boss Viktor Yanukovych into the Presidency.  Yanukovych was deposed and replaced by pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko.  Yanukovych skulked away, licked his wounds, and rebuilt his power base.  Ten years later, Yanukovych wins again, another squeaker, and again the results are overturned, this time by the Maidan Revolution.  The Orange side was really determined to annul any election which did not go their way!  Maidan went much father than Orange had done, this time seriously attempted to murder Yanukovych (who escaped to Russia), banned Regions altogether, and turned Ukraine into the equivalent of a totalitarian one-party fascist state.  And that’s no exaggeration.

Viktor Dioxinovich: Was afraid the Donbass people would rise up against him

Crash-Top related to Veselov how, upon reaching the age of 16 (that would have been 2002) and obtaining his own passport, he was forcibly classified as a “Ukrainian” even though he kept insisting that he was a Russian.  Two years later — now Alexander is 18 years old — Orange Revolution happens.  Once again, it is all about punishing Donbass for voting for the other guy, for Regions.  The new illegal “President” Viktor Dioxinovich, sends armed supporters from his base in the West, into the Donbass, to patrol the streets and make sure the locals don’t rise up against his rule.  “Those police walked through the center of town with dogs,” Crash-Top recalls, “and told us to our faces that Donbass is a bandit town, and that we are all bandits.”

When a man is telling you what he remembers, and the reasons why he decided to pick up a gun, then one should listen to that man.

Which is where we left off yesterday.  I must leave off again, and that is enough for Crash-Top, but the next installment will move on to the interview of an interesting Rebel who hails from Kazakhstan…

[to be continued]

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Prilepin’s Battalion: The Face Of Donbass – Part II

Dear Readers:

Today we continue translating/summarizing this piece from RIA News, authored by reporter Andrei Veselov, who travelled to the Donbass to interview these interesting men in person.  To find out who they are, and why they fight.

Limonovite youth radicalized by Russia’s Troubles

As mentioned yesterday, this particular Battalion has no particular nickname, it is just called “Prilepin’s Battalion”.  Yesterday we met its leader, Major Zakhar Prilepin.  Given his radicalization in the 1990’s and his membership in the Limonovite fraction (the National Bolshevik Party, which is not a legally registered political party in Russia), it is not all that surprising that Prilepin would end up fighting as a volunteer for the Donetsk Separatists.  After all, Sensei Limonov instructed his disciples well in the art of rumbles and street-fighting.  Which is a good, if not adequate, preparation for actual war.  Limonovites had [I speak of them in the past tense] a mixed ideology, combining Communism/Stalinism, a nostalgia for the Soviet Union, and (primarily) an ardent Russian patriotism.  Their opponents have called them Nationalists, anti-Semites, and worse.  But the real Russian nationalists are actually nothing like the Limonovites:  They are racists, Great Russian chauvinists, and would never be caught dead with a hammer-and-sickle insignia.

Anyhow, if Tolstoy were still alive and writing the story of this brutal war, he would say that all of Prilepin’s previous history led him to his Destiny in the Donbass.  What is more surprising is that the literary circles that Zakhar frequented in Russia, expected something different from him.  As Prilepin mentioned to the interviewer:  Once he became a novelist and poet, an intellectual, the Russian Liberal literati somehow expected him to adopt their political views.  Which tend to coincide with the geo-political talking points of Washington D.C.  Prilepin pointed out the irony of these kreakles, who pretend to be pacifists, but actually support the brutalities of the other warring side:  Kiev.  Just as previously, they tended to support the Chechen jihadists against Russia, whilst masquerading as peaceniks!  It’s one thing to take a side, quite another to be a flaming hypocrite.



The Prilepin Battalion is quartered in the former “Prague” hotel, in the very center of the city of Donetsk.  Both HQ and barracks are all here.  One hundred kilometers away is the actual front line, where the two warring sides interface.  On the other side of the front stands the enemy:  Ukrainian marines.

Foma

Prilepin Battalion maintains a regular rotation, each soldier spends a few days on the front line, and then is rotated back to safer ground.  Battalion Commander is Sergei Fomchenkov, a Russian with the call-sign “Foma”.  It is noted that both Foma and Prilepin, being volunteers from Russia, are the exceptions — most of the men serving here are locals hailing from Donetsk/Luhansk.

Commander Sergei Fomchenkov

“Foma” has been here since the very beginning of the conflict, starting in the artillery section of the Second Brigade in Luhansk.  [It should be noted that the war between the Ukrainian army and the Seps is primarily an artillery, not a tank war, although there have been tanks, as well.]

Foma remarks that he and Prilepin have known each other for around 20 years.  Way back in 1999 Foma took part in an “action” in Crimea, then still under Ukrainian jurisdiction:  “We climbed up the tower of the Sailors Club and hung a banner reading Sebastopol is a Russian City!  We chanted:  Sebastopol!  Crimea!  Russia!  We built barricades.  The Ukrainian Special Forces drove us out of that tower and threw us in jail.  We paid for that action with 6 months in prison.”

Crash-Top

Next we meet the Head of HQ, Alexander Kreshtop, whose name in English sounds like Crash-Top.  That’s his real name, though, not a call-sign!

Crash-Top stands guard

Kreshtop is a local born and bred, from Donbass.  He is the poster-child of the primarily working class Donbass Rebel:  Formerly a miner, a factory worker, a mechanic.  Not a Russian citizen, not a political person, just an ordinary guy who went to war to save his town from artillery barrages.  If he were on the other side of this conflict, then Hollywood would make a movie about him, because his story precisely fits their propaganda mold.  It’s just that he plays for the “wrong” team, in their view.

Kreshtop decided to go to war when he saw ordinary people, including children, dying at the hands of the Ukrainian artillery: “My motivation is quite simple:  When I saw children dying.  I have kids myself, and I worry about them a lot.”

[Kreshtop is not exaggerating.  The Ukrainian Federalists wantonly, egregiously, without any precision, and without any concern for human life, have shelled, and continue to shell, the cities and towns of Donbass during their so-called “Anti-Terrorist” operation.  In fact, one of the main strategic goals of the Rebel armies is to widen the protective perimeter around residential areas.]

Ukrainians shelled Donbass apartment blocks

According to Kreshtop, the Donbass conflict did not spring up overnight.  It had been brewing for a long time.  [yalensis:  Having immediate political roots in the East-West division of the nation along political lines, e.g., Orange Parties in the West versus Party of the Regions in the East.]

The repressions against ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers, “Donbasso-phobia,” in Kreshtop’s words, “is not a made up thing, it’s a real thing.  By nationality I am a Russian.  I was offended when I received my first passport, at the age of 16.  I filled out the form, I wrote everywhere on it that I am an ethnic Russian, then they handed me a passport saying that I am a Ukrainian.”  Another insulting incident struck Kreshtop as he was growing up:  “After [Orange Party] President Viktor Yushchenko was elected [in a very tight and contested election in 2004], the Ukrainians demonstratively patrolled the Donbass region, bringing in police from the Western provinces.  They strutted about the center of the city with their dogs, and told us right to our faces:  Donetsk is a bandit city, and you are all bandits.”

[to be continued]

.

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