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Category archive: Russia

Monday September 04 2017

A few weeks ago, Patrick Crozier and I recorded a conversation about the First World War.  Patrick’s short intro, and the recording, are here.  (It would appear that Croziervision is now back in business.)

The “If only” of my title is because we talk about the question of “what if” WW1 had never started.  What might have happened instead?  The unspoken assumption that has saturated our culture ever since is that it would surely have been far, far better.  But what if something else just as bad had happened instead?  Or even: something worse?

We discuss the reasons for such pessimism.  There was the sense of economic unease that had prevailed since the dawn of the century, resulting in a time not unlike our own.  And, there was the fact that Germany, Austria, Russia and Turkey were all embarked upon their various journeys from monarchy to democracy, and such journeys are always likely to be, says Patrick, bloodbaths.  Whatever happened in twentieth century Europe, it surely would not have been good.

Wednesday February 22 2017

The chapter of Tim Marshall’s book Prisoners of Geography (see also these earlier excerpts: Africa is (still) big. And Africa’s rivers don’t help, Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East) that I found the most informative was the one on The Arctic, because this is the part of the world that he writes about concerning which I know the least.  How catastrophic - if catastrophic at all - global warming will eventually become, and whose fault it will be if it ever does become catastrophic and what to do about it , are all matters of fierce dispute.  But the fact of global warming is not in doubt, as Marshall explains (pp. 267-271):

That the ice is receding is not in question - satellite imaging over the past decade clearly shows that the ice has shrunk - only the cause is in doubt. Most scientists are convinced that man is responsible, not merely natural climate cycles, and that the coming exploitation of what is unveiled will quicken the pace.

Already villages along the Bering and Chukchi coasts have been relocated as coastlines are eroded and hunting grounds lost. A biological reshuffle is under way. Polar bears and Arctic foxes are on the move, walruses find themselves competing for space, and fish, unaware of territorial boundaries, are moving northward, depleting stocks for some countries but populating others. Mackerel and Atlantic cod are now being found in Arctic trawler nets.

The effects of the melting ice won’t just be felt in the Arctic: countries as far away as the Maldives, Bangladesh and the Netherlands are at risk of increased flooding as the ice melts and sea levels rise. These knock-on effects are why the Arctic is a global, not just a regional, issue.

As the ice melts and the tundra is exposed, two things are likely to happen to accelerate the process of the greying of the ice cap. Residue from the industrial work destined to take place will land on the snow and ice, further reducing the amount of heat-reflecting territory. The darker-coloured land and open water will then absorb more heat than the ice and snow they replace, thus increasing the size of the darker territory. This is known as the Albedo effect, and although there are negative aspects to it there are also positive ones: the warming tundra will allow significantly more natural plant growth and agricultural crops to flourish, helping local populations as they seek new food sources.

There is, though, no getting away from the prospect that one of the world’s last great unspoiled regions is about to change. Some climate-prediction models say the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by the end of the century; there are a few which predict it could happen much sooner. What is certain is that, however quickly it happens and dramatic the reduction will be, it has begun.

The melting of the ice cap already allows cargo ships to make the journey through the Northwest Passage in the Canadian archipelago for several summer weeks a year, thus cutting at least a week from the transit time from Europe to China. The first cargo ship not to be escorted by an icebreaker went through in 2014. The Nunavik carried 23,000 tons of nickel ore from Canada to China. The polar route was 40 per cent shorter and used deeper waters than if it had gone through the Panama Canal. This allowed the ship to carry more cargo, saved tens of thousands of dollars in fuel costs and reduced the ship’s greenhouse emissions by 1,300 metric tons. By 2040 the route is expected to be open for up to two months each year, transforming trade links across the ‘High North’ and causing knock -on effects as far away as Egypt and Panama in terms of the revenues they enjoy from the Suez and Panama canals.

The north-east route, or Northern Sea Route as the Russians call it, which hugs the Siberian coastline, is also now open for several months a year and is becoming an increasingly popular sea highway.

The melting ice reveals other potential riches. It is thought that vast quantities of undiscovered natural gas and oil reserves may lie in the Arctic region in areas which can now be accessed. In 2008 the United States Geological Survey estimated that 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids and 90 billion barrels of oil are in the Arctic, with the vast majority of it offshore. As more territory becomes accessible, extra reserves of the gold, zinc, nickel and iron already found in part of the Arctic may be discovered.

ExxonMobil, Shell and Rosneft are among the energy giants that are applying for licences and beginning exploratory drilling. Countries and companies prepared to make the effort to get at the riches will have to brave a climate where for much of the year the days are endless night, where for the majority of the year the sea freezes to a depth of more than six feet and where, in open water, the waves can reach forty feet high.

It is going to be dirty, hard and dangerous work, especially for anyone hoping to run an all-year-round operation. It will also require massive investment. Running gas pipelines will not be possible in many places, and building a complex liquefaction infrastructure at sea, especially in tough conditions, is very expensive. However, the financial and strategic gains to be made mean that the big players will try to stake a claim to the territories and begin drilling, and that the potential environmental consequences are unlikely to stop them.

Sunday December 25 2016

The idea was that, all alone in my snuggery, I would do lots of tidying up.  I have done some, but mostly I have been reading Anthony Beevor’s book, misleadingly entitled ”D-Day”, and unmisleadingly subtitled “The Battle for Normandy”.  For Beevor’s story goes from the early agonising about whether (because of the weather), and if so exactly when, the landings would be launched, right up until the German catastrophe that was the Falaise Pocket.  Then as now, despite much behind the scenes agonising, the short-term weather forecaster got it spot on, despite having far less to go on than his equivalents have now.

There’s nothing like the misfortunes of others to cheer you up.  Which is a terrible thing to say and I wouldn’t say it if there was any chance that my bad attitude was able to reach back into the past and make the sufferings of those soldiers, and all those French people caught up in the fighting, even worse.  But it won’t do that.  And anyway, what I mean is, I am really just acknowledging how much worse things were for that generation than they have been for mine.

And then, come Christmas time, there was the Battle of the Bulge for all the participants in this book to put up with, if they’d not already been killed, or injured and stretchered off.

I haven’t been reading this book solidly, in its correct order.  I have been dipping into it, reading about this or that episode, pretty much at random.  Today I was reading about how Brittany was liberated, which until now I knew very little about.  It helps a lot having been to all the towns and cities that get a mention.

Earlier, I read about what those Hawker Typhoons did, known to me until now only as an oil painting.  What the Typhoons did was destroy a hell of a lot fewer counter-attacking German tanks than they claimed at the time and ever since, but they scared the hell out of the German tank guys, which was almost as effective.  The counter-attack was duly snuffed out.

And when that book has finished entertaining me, I have another book, full of more evidence concerning how nice my life has been, this time about something that happened a year earlier.  Kursk.

Monday October 17 2016

When you talk about an airplane being blown up, that usually means it has been exploded, destroyed, incinerated.  This airplane, however, has been blown up, yet it looks like this:

image

Details at 6k.  This posting here is basically a celebration, of the fact that I am now able to get to 6k, copy pictures from 6k, etc.

For the last few days, right up until nearly now, my computer was unable or unwilling to access 6k.  Everything else: okay, but rather clunky.  6K: not.  I checked if this was 6k’s fault by trying to access 6k via my mobile, and that worked.  Ergo, it was me.  Strange, and rather frustrating, because I like 6k.  And now, for some equally bizarre reason, my computer did some sort of internet connection hiccup involving that thing where it says something about a testing process and says you have to check in again, with some password you never knew you had which you can actually ignore by just opening a new window, and once I reopened a new window, everything was suddenly back working properly.  And: 6k returned.

Dodgy connection?  Well, maybe, but I hadn’t touched any of the connections.  Why did this happen?  Don’t know.  And: don’t care, unless it happens again.  Then: it did happen again.  Fiddled about with connections.  TURNED COMPUTER OFF AND TURNED COMPUTER ON AGAIN.  Seems now to work.  Weird.

Also weird is what the Russians are about to be getting up to.  (The airplane above is Russian.) Some things never change.  The Russians are always doing one of two things: pretending to be weaker than they are, or pretending to be stronger than they are.  They seem to be in a stronger than they are phase just now.

Life is full of mysteries.  More so, as you get older.

Friday November 28 2014

The biggest cat news right now is that a tiger is causing an international incident, between Russia and China:

Chinese media claims the feline in question is Ustin, one of five electronically-tagged Siberian tigers released by Russian authorities in May and June 2014.

The big cat has since wandered into northeastern China where, national news agency Xinhua reports, he entered a farm, killing fifteen goats over two nights and leaving another three missing.

Xinhua claims Ustin was among the first group of tigers released in May by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia denies this claim, suggesting that he was released in June, by Russian conservationists.

Apart from that, the only decent cat story is about a place in America that smells of cat piss.  They don’t yet know why.  They may never know.

Thursday October 02 2014

Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark.  Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.

I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them.  He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo.  So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough.  (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:

image

The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland.  Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?

Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing.  Nazi-Soviet Pact.  (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre.  Warsaw Uprising.  (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century.  Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause.  With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.

Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education.  She had a point.  Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days.  But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?

See also this, recently at Samizdata.

On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list.  A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise.  (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.

Tuesday June 17 2014

Michael J, frequent contributor to this blog (he contributed yesterday’s photo, for instance), has a piece up today at Samzidata concerning a mysterious tank that he photoed in Southwark.  It’s an old T-34 apparently.  Michael calls it “a Soviet tank”, but it might make more sense to call it “the Soviet tank”, for this was one of the decisive weapons of World War 2.

Here is another tank:

image

This is to be seen outside the “Firepower Museum”, which is next to the Woolwich Arsenal.  According to one of the contributors here, this is “an Iraqi 2SC Akatsiya”, but another commenter says its a “2S3 152mm spg”, spg meaning self-propelled gun, aka tank.  Sounds like a type of computer file.  Or then again it could be the Special Patrol Group.

Here is something else you can see across the road from the tank, in the form of some armour plating that has been rather severely tested:

image

But best of all, I think, is the nearby clutch of Metal Men.

Tuesday April 22 2014

The speaker I had previously arranged had to cancel, hence the delay in me telling the world about it, but … my speaker at my last Friday of the Month meeting on April 25th, i.e. this coming Friday, will be my good friend (and frequent commenter here) Michael Jennings, talking about Russia.  Russia is lways an important topic of discussion, but it is of course now also a particularly timely and newsworthy one.

Here is what Michael has just emailed me about what he will be talking about.

On the 21st of last month, I arrived in Moscow. This was my first trip to Russia. That this was my first trip to Russia was somewhat curious. I have been a frequent traveller for twenty five years and a compulsive one for the last ten years, and throughout that time I would have always put Russia in the top few countries that I wanted to visit, and yet I never did.

This was not, however, remotely, my first trip to the lands of the former Soviet Union. I had previously been to Latvia and Estonia (twice). I had previously been to Ukraine (five times). I had previously been to Moldova (twice). I had previously been to Georgia (four times). I had previously been to Armenia (twice). The former Warsaw Pact countries further west than that, I have been to many times - around 20 times in the case of Poland, half a dozen times to Romania, and multiple times to all the others.

My reasons for visiting these countries have always been private. I go where my curiosity takes me. I go where my financial resources can take me. And I go where other, bureaucratic and practical obstacles are relatively easy.

What factors led to my choice of destinations? Well, two practical factors. One was the ease or difficulty of obtaining a visa. The other was the ease, of difficulty of physically travelling there. The rise of discount airlines was a key factor in all of this, also. Their presence in markets not only makes it easier and cheaper to get there, but is at least an indicator in how open to the west the country is trying to be.

Going east, there has long been a psychological boundary between places looking east to Moscow and places looking west to, well, no particular city or place, but western Europe in general. The business with the visas and discount airlines has made it easy to go up to that boundary, if you will, as it moves around. At times, it has allowed me to go over that boundary, sometimes to slightly hairy places such as Transnistria and Abkhazia - breakaway regions of Moldova and Georgia respectively. More commonly, though, what I mean by this is the drabber regions of Ukraine or Moldova.

However, it was time to bite the bullet, and go completely to the other side. So, Moscow. As it happened, the wall appeared to be permeable. The western discount airlines have started flying to Russia, at least in a small way. The visa process was baroque and Soviet, but the customer service was with a smile. I had Russian contacts who were happy to catch up for a beer in one of the many English pubs in Moscow and St Petersburg. Even when they worked for the Russian government, they were happy to talk pretty frankly about what was going on.

And yet, in the couple of weeks before I arrived, Russia had been asserting its power over Crimea. On the day I arrived, (according to Russia, at least) Russia formally annexed Crimea. (I got to see a lovely fireworks display over the Moskva river in the evening.) The places I could go on a discount airline without a visa retreated that day, possibly for the first time since 1991.

And that was the overall impression I got of Moscow and St Petersburg. There is a feel of modern cities in both places, but certain things are askew. And certain things are absent. (Soviet style customer service still exists in many places. But in others it doesn’t.) Middle class life feels like middle class life in many places, although if you are poorer, I suspect life is very different. On Friday I will describe some of this, and if I am bold I will try to draw some conclusions.

Excellent.  And to Michael, my gratitude for having got me out of a small bind with what will, I am sure, be an excellent talk at rather short notice.  Not that the short notice will affect its quality.  If it is as good as the talk he gave at my home last year about globalisation, all those who attend this Friday will be much educated and much entertained.

I’m guessing that the mood of the meeting will be a lot like this Samizdata QotD from Michael Totten.  But that’s only a guess.

Michael Jennings talking about Russia this Friday
Vladivostock from above
Faberge - Brutalism
Photoing the A380 from above – from the ground
How hydrogen bombs work
Polish girls in Moscow doing a selfie
Bad times for the NHS
Meow
Kyrgyzstan cemetery and awesome frogs
Soviet health and safety posters
Let us now trash infamous men
Cool sculpture
Digger and chain
James Waterton on a very smart very dumb Russian
Soviet space leftovers
The cats from out of town that cleared out the rats during the siege of Leningrad
Unravelling the puzzle – and making it into a movie
David Farrer photos
Hotelicopter
They aren’t complete idiots all the time
“Who are you going to sell it to if we don’t buy it?”
Clang
Non-bio oil
I’d be cheering
Outstanding and numerous aerial photos of St Petersburg
Sounding like a different country
Celebrating a victory
Meltdown in Russia … and New Zealand
Winter wonderland
Russian weirdness for the Anglos
Friends of Slava
Slava dies
Billion Monkeys photo their own demo!
Amazing map of amazing new Moscow bridge
Shame you can’t do this kind of thing here
New Moscow road bridge
Other people’s photos (4): Kitten on man’s head