The Ryan Fogle spy scandal is unfolding. Who knows what will come of it over the next hours, days, and weeks. At the moment it all seems very weird. But as someone on Twitter reminded me, the British spy rock looked crazy at the time and it turned out to be real.
What is really weird is what the FSB found in Fogle’s possession:
Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was carrying special technical equipment, disguises, written instructions and a large sum of money when he was detained overnight, the FSB said in a statement Tuesday. Fogle was handed over to U.S. embassy officials, the FSB said.
Bad wigs, cheap sunglasses, and primitive cell phone aside, those “written instructions” sure do read like one of those Nigerian scam emails.
Image: Russia Today
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By Sean — 9 years ago
One reads a lot of weird and fanciful things about Russia. The place is such an enigma to some that attempts to understand it leads one to make all sorts of absurd connections. Take for example, Anthony Julius’ commentary “Dreams of Empire Strike Back” in the Guardian. Julius, whose bio says that he’s a “highly-regarded litigation lawyer specializing in media law and defamation,” poses the rather calumniatory question: “What do Osama bin Laden and Vladimir Putin have in common?” Those who think that the obvious answer is a resounding “nothing” will be surprised to find that Julius believes that the vozhd and the terrorist “have identical perspectives on one specific issue” i.e. the desire to recreate a past empire. He writes:
What is that issue? Bin Laden’s and Putin’s imperialist ambitions are novel because they are driven not by a desire to create something new, but to recapture something that has past. It is now appropriate to consider an additional age of empire, namely the age of attempted restoration.
For Osama bin Laden, it is the Arab-Islamic empire of the mid-seventh century. Bin Laden has romanticised this period in Arab history and sees himself as heir apparent to the earthly caliphate established (briefly) by the warrior prophet Muhammad. When justifying his attacks on western targets, he frequently makes reference to the crusaders and Jews who have thwarted the return of the Arab-Islamic empire.
Putin is also driven by a desire to revive a lost empire, the Soviet Union. In Ukraine and Georgia, Putin has shown that he is not reconciled to its dissolution. He tolerates the independence of the former Soviet states only when such independence is superficial. True acts of independence (such as asserting territorial integrity or attempting to negotiate the terms of an ostensibly commercial contract) are met with forceful demonstrations of Russian strength.
Reading this one might even walk away thinking that Putin is worse than Bin Laden. For while the latter sits in some undisclosed cavernous location along the Afghan-Pakistani border dreaming up “delusional” imperial ambitions, the former’s dreams are “real” backed with a formidable state and its military might. Putin, unlike his Islamist counterpart, is a “master tactician” who deploys the right weapon at the right time. In Ukraine it was the soft power of the economics of gas; in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the silent weapon of doling out Russian passports or using Russian mobile companies to “expand Russian influence in the region.” The August war was merely the cherry on top of Putin’s imperial sundae.
Predictably, in August last year, Putin seized the opportunity to complete his program of expansion. The final stage: the expulsion and murder of elements in the subject population. The burning of ethnic Georgian villages and the forced ejection or murder of their Georgian inhabitants by paramilitary irregulars, armed by Russia, suggests a systematic project of altering the ethnic composition of the regions in Russia’s favour. It defines a moment in which Putin’s imperial dreams became a reality.
I don’t know. Last I checked Russia wasn’t occupying Kiev or Tblisi, unlike say Baghdad and Kabul. Or standing idle as its 51st state turns Gaza into corpse laden rubble for no other discernible reason than to manipulate its election. Or using drones to wage a silent but deadly war in Pakistan. Perhaps the question is not about resurrecting old empires as it is about maintaining the borderless jurisdiction of a current one. Julius’ own dreams of Russian imperial revival have clearly obfuscated the real imperial reality before him.Post Views: 61
By Sean — 8 years ago
I don’t have a lot of time for blogging these days. The finishing touches on the dissertation (one . . . more . . week), job applications, and getting ready to spend the next year in Russia fill up all my time. Inevitably commenting on missiles, Medvedev the modernizer, not to mention Moscow’s Holy Father of Fury, has been relegated to the eternal back burner. Yet, there are some things in the world of Russia that just can’t be left to simmer on the boiler plate. Especially when it involves a pant-less Boris Yeltsin.
Former President Clinton recalled getting a security alert in 1995 that the Secret Service had found Mr. Yeltsin, in his underwear, outside Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue trying to hail a taxi. He was clearly inebriated, wanting a pizza. And he eluded security the second night, nearly causing an even more serious ruckus when he was initially mistaken for a drunken intruder, according to these accounts. What that says about the security near Blair House or those who protected Mr. Yeltsin is anyone’s guess.
Forget about the Blair House security, though the inability to nab a drunken Yeltsin does raise eyebrows. Is this tale not the perfect metaphor for the Yeltsin era? A mere four years after boldly standing on a tank and mouthing whatever democratic platitudes he could ride into power, Yeltsin is in America, plastered, and looking for pizza in his skivvies. Or worse almost getting 187ed by Blair House security. One can imagine a similar scenario when he signed the Belovezh Accords abolishing the USSR or when robber barons freely pilfered the Russian state. Drunk, pant-less, looking for pizza. If only a cab picked him up. If only . . .
Two questions, though. Did anyone ever explain why Boris was in his underwear? And, more importantly, were they boxers or briefs?
One things for sure. The dude knew how to par-tay.Post Views: 45
By Sean — 9 years ago
“I’m out of it for a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur.” Now I understand how Han Solo felt after being defrosted from carbonite. I go into the basement for two weeks and there are rumors of me being in a post-election hangover, or worse, murdered. Well, I assure you dear readers that I’m alive and well. Los Angeles may be ablaze (again) but I’m safe from the rings of fire, that is until I kick the bucket and meet the dark lord.
For the past few weeks I’ve been devoting my Bolshevik will and strength to finishing a dissertation chapter. “Bolsheviks can storm any fortress” read the Stalinist slogan, and I did. I do have to finish this damn dissertation at some point. And well if I have to pick between you my dear reader and my career, well my petite-bourgeois sensibilities win out every time. Just don’t hate the player, hate the game. So over the next few months expect more periods where I go underground . . .
But the delusions of grandeur aren’t about me and my rumored doom. They have more to do with what’s been going on in Russia over the last few weeks. Well, not in Russia exactly, but more how it’s being interpreted by the gatekeepers of English language reporting. As we know, Obama was elected President of the United States, and Dima Medvedev instead of showing the proper deference to the new Emperor decided to address the Duma where he blamed the US for the global economic crisis (he’s right) and threatened to put missiles in Kaliningrad to match American intentions of putting missiles in Poland. Was this the challenge to Obama’s “lack of experience” that everyone predicted? The New York Times thought so. It called Medvedev’s move “a cold-war-tinged challenge for President-elect Barack Obama.” After all, the Times reasoned, “Russia’s leaders know full well that the American missile defenses pose no real threat to their huge nuclear arsenal. But playing the victim is an easy way to divert attention from Russia’s shrinking democracy, and now from declining oil prices.” A new President but the Times plays the same old record. So much for hope and change. Russia’s just the same old big bully, they say. Sigh.
But digging at the US wasn’t all, or even the real focus of Mr. Medevev’s speech. Sorry to disappoint my fellow Americans, but sometimes you aren’t at the center of everyone’s existence. To quote the NY Times again, “The dark flashbacks didn’t end there.” Surprise! Medvedev isn’t the liberal everyone hoped, prayed, and sacrificed small animals and virgins for. He’s a Putinist of perhaps a lighter shade, but still a Putinist. Dima’s most recent affront to Western democratic sensibilities was his proposal that the Russian presidential term be extended from four to six years. Immediately, pundits cried “authoritarianism” and revived the corpse of Putin’s impending return to Russia’s top job. The logic goes that since Putin didn’t want to risk international condemnation for changing the Constitution when he was President (as if there wasn’t enough condemnation already), he sent is little bear to do the dirty work.
The changes were submitted to the Duma on Friday and they passed without a hitch. No surprises there or in the Guardian‘s Luke Harding usually predictable analysis: The changes entrench “the Kremlin’s grip on power and paving the way for an early comeback by Vladimir Putin.” In fact, rumor has it that Putin will be back as early as 2009! For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this signals Putin’s “early comeback” especially since people like Harding believe that he never went anywhere in the first place. After all, isn’t Putin the de facto President anyway? Is Medvedev Putin’s puppet or not? Make up your damn mind.
In addition to extending the presidential term, Medvedev also proposed extending the terms of Duma reps from four to five years. This will certainly make representatives of United Russia happy. Since the majority of Duma seats are based on lists and not direct candidate elections, this will solidify their place for one more year. Rest easy, comrades. But not too easy . . .
Medvedev also made some other interesting proposals in his speech that went virtually unnoticed in the Western press. One is to change appointments for governors. Instead of being appointed by the Kremlin, candidates for governor would chosen by their parties and be elected by a majority vote in their respective provincial Dumas. Ekspert called this move “the most radical of all presidential initiatives.” If this is implemented, governors would be more accountable to the regions they represent rather than to the Kremlin. True, the Kremlin will certainly have a hand in the process via the back door–United Russia, after all, dominates every regional parliament–but it is a move toward some semblance of political decentralization.
The question, however, is why? Why extend terms of President, Duma reps, and propose altering regional politics? Many have pointed out that it’s all about the boys in the Kremlin tightening their grip. Perhaps, but I have a different take.
Taken together, Medvedev’s proposals are a gift and a check to bureaucratic power. Extending Duma terms gives reps a bit more time to rest on their laurels. Score one for the national political elite. Making governors accountable to locals is feather in the cap of local elites. Score one for them. Extending the presidential terms to six years, however, is a potential check against this transfer of power. The President will be in power longer than any one Duma member and given more time to put pressure on regional governors and their parliaments.
Extending the presidential term also suggests something else. In his speech, Medvedev spoke of “effective government.” In one sense, his proposals are exactly about effective government. They potentially, and I say potentially, increase the President’s effectiveness in influencing governance. But this doesn’t mean that it’s about the Kremlin strengthening itself. Quite the opposite, in my view. Extending the top dog’s term says to me that the center still can’t trust its regions to implement its agenda. Therefore the President needs two more years to ram it down their throats.
Political power in Russia is indeed centralized because the history of regional politics from the Tsars to Putin have been one of autonomy, localization, stonewalling, foot dragging, or worse, exploiting the center’s directives. Russian rulers’ solution has been to centralize its power. But here is where the inner contradiction of centralization rears its ugly head. The center must weaken the periphery to run the country as effective as it can, but in that weakening it makes itself the only real political force of reform, negating the power local need to prosecute the center’s policies. The center is thus weakened by its very effort at becoming more effective. The question then becomes how do you rule effectively and subordinate the machinations of regional boyars without giving them too much power to muck up your agenda? It sounds as if Medvedev, with his proposed changes, is faced with the same conundrum. Whether they will provide some semblance of an answer remains to be seen.
To think people believe that Putin wants this job back?!Post Views: 195