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Russia and ex-Soviet Union (English)

Putin and Russia, the world’s ‘heartland’

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Russia has always fascinated me--the mystical orthodox faith brought to Kievan Rus in the ninth century, the stern heroes who defended Muscovy against the Golden Horde in the 13--15th centuries,  the vast spaces, the remarkable literature of Pushkin and Tolstoy, the Bolshevik Revolution against imperialism ... The West has always been a bit jealous of its proud race of genius.


I fell in love with Russia as a teen when I discovered Prokofieff and insisted--rebelling against my teacher--on playing his fiendishly difficult Toccata in D minor for my Conservatory diploma. I have no idea how I managed it now, but I did, and the piece and my performance proved to be a fine metaphor for the logically impossibility of 20th century Russia, which lived on war and revolution, dreams and nightmares. Prokofieff returned to Russia in 1933, at the peak of Stalin's repressions, and produced his greatest works, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, War and Peace, his war sonatas (not to mention his Ode to Stalin). That hooked me.


Today's standoff between the Russian bear and the American eagle is yet another epic struggle in Russia's history, at the heart of Eurasia--the world's "heartland". It had a narrow brush with complete collapse in 1985--98 under Gorbachev/ Yeltsin, a weak, indecisive leadership, a metaphorical reenactment of Boris Godunov seizing the throne in the 16th century. 1985--98 was a repetition of Godunov and the legendary Time of Troubles.

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Gorbachev’s legacy: Russia's 9/11 or Let a hundred weeds bloom

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Perestroika is like an airplane that takes off without knowing where it will land. (Bondarev)


Reading Taubman’s exhaustive biography of Gorbachev, Mikhail Sergeevich, I was rivetted time and again, marvelling (as did Shultz and everyone who cared): how did this guy get from collective farm winner of the Red Banner of Labour to the top? My first question in reading a bio is ‘would I like to have this person as a friend?’, then ‘would I like to be him?’ Gorbachev gets a firm Nyet on both. But he’s important and pleasant, and this 700-page bio is full of real characters acting out a drama of Shakespearian dimensions.

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Browder, Magnitsky and the Whole Damn Thing

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Review of Bill Browder, Red Notice: A true story of high finance, murder, and one man’s fight for justice, Simon & Schuster, 2015.


‘Red notice’ is the catch phrase for an interpol arrest warrant. There is sort-of one out on Browder, accused by the Russian government of tax fraud, though only Spain briefly acted on it in May 2018 before releasing him, saying it was a political case. Browder, our speculator-hero, who made and spirited out of Russia hundreds of millions, compares his last flight from Moscow to London in November 2005  as “like those who had narrowly escaped Phnom Penh or Saigon before their countries fell into chaos and ruin.”


Here as elsewhere his memoirs full of incongruencies, though occasionally hitting a bull’s eye. Phnom Penh was indeed descending into chaos in 1973, but Saigon’s legendary ‘last helicopter’ moment was not a descent into chaos, but a liberation from the chaos of American invasion, that killed millions and devastated Vietnam over two decades.


And Moscow in 2005 was finally beginning to look like a normal country after 15 years of ‘chaos and ruin’, thanks, not to the western briefcase crowd, but to a large extent to Browder’s nemesis, the now legendary Putin. Putin is the star in history books; self-styled ‘human rights’ activists like Browder, mere footnotes.


Browder is the grandson of the CPUSA leader in the 1930s--40s, Earl Browder,

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Russia in Ukraine: enemy or friend?

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Putin is either an aggressive schemer, to be opposed and vilified at all costs, or a wise, restrained real-politician, balanced irreconcilable forces next door. Which is it?

The 2014 coup in Ukraine succeeded due to the fierce campaign led by neo-fascists, heirs to the Banderistas of 1940--50s, now lauded as freedom fighters, but seen at the time as terrorists, murdering Ukrainians and Jews, and sabotaging a Ukraine in shambles after the war.

They had almost zero support then, having collaborated with the Nazis to kill tens of thousands, but their hero, Stepan, was honoured with a statue in 2011, erected by the godfather of the current anti-Russian coupmakers, the (disastrous) former President Viktor Yushchenko. Ukraine’s Soviet war veterans were outraged and the statue was torn down in 2013, just months before the coup, bringing the Bandera-lovers back to power.
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Wood's The Way of the Strangers Part II: Imperial Blowback and Bad Theology

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Last month, I wrote Review of 'The Way of Strangers': Spiritual cancer or spiritual diabetes? and also about the power that Islam has to help prisoners build a new life. ("Natives finding Islam"). Prison and Islam are closely linked in the West.

The world as prison

The only way the West knows to deal with the problem of radical Islam is to search out, arrest, and imprison suspects. John Walker Lindh, captured in Afghanistan in 1991, and Chaudary became icons of resistance in prison, though they did not carry out terrorism themselves. Similarly, Cerantonio and his four comrades are currently facing 10-year sentences for merely trying to go to Syria, though they never even launched their private motorboat, hoping somehow to miraculously arrive in Syria.

They represent the more famous, the tip of an iceberg of unsung hundreds imprisoned for just wanting something, be it mistaken. The underlying cause behind this ongoing tragedy, which Wood seems uninterested in pursuing, is of course the occupation of Muslim lands, the system of imperialism itself. Sending righteously angry young men to prison just confirms their belief in the injustice of the system.

To at least provide some value to their prison time, Michot told British prison authorities that the best way to deal with radicalization in its cellblocks was to make Arabic compulsory for all Muslim prisoners and provide balanced Islamic sources for study. "Islam has to be understood as a middle way between the spiritual cancer of ISIS and the spiritual diabetes of Hamza Yusuf."

Putting offenders in jail merely reinforces their belief, as John Walker Lindh's 20-year sentence shows. He has been immersed in Islamic and Arabic studies in prison, at taxpayers' expense. Georgelas also made good use of his three-year stint. No doubt Chaudary did the same. Prison is an appropriate place to find Islam, as history shows. You have nothing more to lose, lots of time, in need of solace and inspiration, humbled before all, equal to all. It only takes one articulate Muslim to reach out to his fellow inmates. Many Muslims have found Islam in prison, transforming their lives.
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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html