November 2014

29 November 2014

My latest inspiration for a journal post (it has been a long time) is derogatory words for Russians that are now popular in Ukraine by virtue of the 9-month Russian aggression. It is a pity to see slurs directed at any particular nationality gaining wider and wider usage, but unfortunately, in the case of Ukraine, the Russian public seems to so widely support Russia’s chauvinistic war against its much smaller neighbor (at least, if official Russian reports are to be believed) that the growing anti-Russian prejudice among Ukrainians is understandable, even if not fully justifiable.

The first that comes to mind is the term vatnik. This word refers to a kind of quilted jacket worn both by Russian soldiers and labor camp prisoners, and was perhaps most prominently visible recently as worn by “Strelkov” (Ivan Girkin), the Russian military intelligence officer who led the separatist war in eastern Ukraine for several months, but who has since apparently taken shelter in Moscow. Girkin can be seen wearing this jacket in many photos, but the term as applied to actual people connotes a Soviet-era slave mentality. The Ukrainian language Wikipedia page has a passage that translates roughly thus:

A collective form of Russian patriotic cattle. Likes totalitarian power (Putin, Stalin), subordination, equalization of people with the same brush, vodka and all things Russian. Hates the USA and everything non-Russian. The holy feast of the vatnik is on May 9, when the vatnik likes to drink and talk about how his “grandfathers fought.” Patriotic, impotent and incorrigibly stupid, irony and self-irony are absent as such.

The work vatnik is often shortened to simply “vata.” Here is a photo of the quilted jacket known as a vatnik:


Another derogatory word for Russians making the rounds in Ukraine lately is katsap. This word is very probably derived from the word for “goat” (kozyol) and refers to the long beards that were traditionally part of a Russian male’s appearance, rather like those of goats. But the word is also believed to have Turkic origin, as the Arabic word qassab means “butcher,” and the Turkish phrase Adam kassaby refers to someone who is a savage or despot. Here is a photo of Orthodox Christian Old Believers wearing the kind of beards that personify the katsap:


Finally, the term Moskal is used to refer to Russians generally, and has gained currency as a derogatory term for Russians in Belarus, Lithuania and Poland, as well as Ukraine. The term originated as a reference to those drafted as soldiers in the Russian Imperial (later Soviet) Army, who returned home to Ukraine speaking Russian. It now refers to any person who has lost his roots. Below is a painting by the Ukrainian national poet and bard, Taras Shevchenko, called “Katerina,” depicting a young woman returning to her native village after parting company with her fellow “Moskaly.” She looks oblivious to hostility of the dog, which barks at her as if she is an alien, sinister force:


The combination of the three slurs immediately conjures in my mind a new name, patronymic and surname: Vata Katsapovich Moskalyov (Вата Кацапович Москалёв). If such a person were to be visualized, he might look something like the man in the below photo. Pictures is Alexander Dugin, the head of the Department of Sociology of International Relations at Moscow State University and Putin’s personal state ideologist. The caption below the photo reads: “There are no more opponents of the Putinist course. and if there are, then they are mentally ill and they should be sent away for clinical examination. Putin is everywhere. Putin is everything. Putin is absolute, and Putin is indispensable.”



For those who can understand Russian, here is an interesting and colorful music video published in mid-March 2014, shortly before Russia formally declared the annexation of Crimea to be a fait accomplis. It is called “Idyot katsap po gorodu” (A katsap is walking around the city).



23 November 2014

Kolomoisky has explained why the Odessa Oil Refinery was blocked

The blocking of the Odessa Oil Refinery was carried out under court order by representatives of the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office to prevent the smuggling of oil that had been placed under arrest.

According to Censor.NET, the governor of Dnepropetrovsk region, Igor Kolomoisky, told this to Dozhd.

The petroleum products will be shipped to the warehouses of the “Ukrtransnefteprodukt” state enterprise.

Since the arrest of the factory, fuel had been secretly removed for the benefit of a businessman, Sergei Kurchenko, who is now in Moscow, says Kolomoysky. According to him, the police must stop the export of oil products, because they have to be responsible for the safety of property arrested in the execution of a court decision.

Until now, the leadership has prevented the export of the products of the Odessa refinery, recalling the failure of pumping equipment, but now security officials had decided to bring the situation under control.

“It’s not our factory and we are not interested in it. We have the underused Kremenchug plant, and the Odessa refinery is to be closed so as not to spoil the ecology of Odessa. It should be shiny after the loss of the Crimea,” said Kolomoysky.

Recall that the Odessa refinery on Saturday was blocked by police and prosecutors. They were accompanied by men in camouflage with machine guns, as well as employees of the company “Ukrnafta.”



21 November 2014

Five parties have signed a coalition agreement: the main points

Ukraine will eliminate its non-aligned status and will integrate into NATO and the EU. Five parties of the Verkhovna Rada have agreed to and signed a coalition agreement

The Petro Poroshenko Bloc, People’s Front, Samopomich, Radical Party and Fatherland tonight agreed to a position and signed the coalition agreement. This was reported to LigaBusinessInform by a source in the parliament.

According to the source, the main points of the agreement are: abolition of parliamentary immunity for newly elected MPs, and a new procedure to be worked out and approved for impeachment of the president. Another point of agreement is integration into the European Union and implementation of all the items of the Association Agreement on the path.

Also, all five members of the coalition parties documented that the non-aligned status of Ukraine will be abolished. Instead, according to the agreement, entry into the NATO alliance will now be the objective of Ukraine.

In addition, under the agreement, members will adopt a new electoral system, undoing the majoritarian (first past the post) system and introducing a proportional representation system with open lists. Coalition members also agreed to carry out decentralization in Ukraine.

In addition, the parties agreed that Ukraine will return control of the Crimea and submit claims against Russia. Ukraine will also create permanent locations for the IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the east of Ukraine, and will allocate no less than 3% of GDP to defense.

According to the agreement, an Anti-Corruption Bureau and National Agency for Countering Corruption will also be established. In addition, the National Police will be established within the framework of the reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). The parties also agreed to implement de-communization, and to ban Soviet and Nazi symbols and propaganda. Furthermore, in the major cities mayoral elections will be held in two rounds, and on the local councils there will be fewer members.

Presentation of the agreement will take place today at 12:30 on the sidelines of the Verkhovna Rada.



20 November 2014

Again, the former “defense minister” of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Girkin (Strelkov), has come out with a public statement criticizing the “Novorossia” operation of which he was formerly a combatant part. In war, looting and atrocities are inevitable to some degree. But in the Russian puppet separatist states in eastern Ukraine, the current “authorities” are living up to the labels that the government in Kyiv has given them. When the conflict started, Kyiv alleged that the rebels had robbed banks, shops and ATM machines, leaving the cityscapes of Donetsk and Lugansk looking like wastelands from a zombie apocalypse movie. But when all the TVs, cars, refrigerators, canned food and other goods have been lifted, what is left? Answer: humanitarian aid. And so it is with the rebels now. Russian humanitarian aid is being stolen because it is being entrusted to thieves. So says the horse’s mouth…

Igor Girkin: “If it were not for Kyiv, 70% of the residents of Donbass would be starving, because the Russian humanitarian aid is being stolen.”

This is what Igor Girkin said in an interview with Russian media. According to Strelkov [nom de guerre of Girkin], he is closely monitoring the situation with regard to humanitarian assistance in the field in the Donbas, where fighting continues. According to his data, currently 70-80% of the civilians of Donetsk are on the verge of starvation, reports

At this stage, the products of the population are still there, but they will not last long. According to Strelkov, pensions and other social benefits are not available, so the people are actually surviving on humanitarian aid.

Girkin also said that Kyiv and Akhmetov are supplying humanitarian aid to the Donbas. This actually reaches its destinations. At the same time, he was outraged by the fact that the Donbas residents are not receiving Russian humanitarian aid in full.

According to him, the humanitarian aid from Russia is being stolen. He noted that without significant state support from the Russian Federation, his “New Russia” [Novorossia] movement cannot cope. The participants of this movement assist the families of wounded and dead militants.

Recall that earlier, Strelkov urged that the humanitarian aid delivered to the Donbas not be plundered. So, he said, often the Russian aid, which is not always enough, does not reach its destination, and in most cases ends up on the markets.



12 November 2014

The issue of a Russian military presence in Ukraine continues to buzz in international media outlets. The US administration and others have still refused to use the term “invasion” in reference to Russian actions in Ukraine, but it is widely believed that Russian regular military personnel and hardware have been active inside Ukrainian borders for several months. The threat appears to be building as winter approaches. Here is an excerpt from Shane Harris, writing in The Daily Beast webzine:

On Tuesday, the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europea or OSCE] witnessed a convoy of 43 unmarked green military trucks with tarpaulin covers moving towards Donetsk. Five of the trucks were towing 120mm howitzer artillery pieces, and another five were towing partly-covered multi-launch rocket systems, the group said. That comes on the heels of a report last week of “convoys of heavy weapons and tanks” moving into the city, reportedly belonging to the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russian-backed separatist group. The convoy included more than 40 tankers and trucks–19 of those were each towing a 122mm howitzer.

And according to an independent assessment provided to The Daily Beast, there are as many as 7,000 Russian troops inside Ukraine now, and between 40,000 and 50,000 amassing on the country’s eastern border.

Phillip Karber, a former Pentagon strategy adviser who has worked closely with the Ukrainian government, said in an interview that he had just returned from Ukraine, where he spoke with commanders at the front. Karber said that in addition to the thousands of ground troops, as many as 100 tanks are inside Ukraine now, more than 400 armored vehicles, and more than 150 self-propelled artillery and multiple rocket launchers. Another 350 to 400 tanks are poised along the border, along with more than 1,000 armored vehicles and 800 self-propelled artillery, Karber said.

As many as 7,000 Russian troops are already in Ukraine, by his estimate.



5 November 2014

In the chaos of war, details get lost. Atrocities are inevitably committed by all sides in a full-scale conflict, and the fighting in eastern Ukraine has reached that level at times. Here is an impressive account chronicling the spiral of war from the time armed pro-Russian separatists seized control of administrative and local government buildings in April of this year. The piece is long but comprehensive, and worth reading for a decent grasp of how the war in Ukraine escalated.

Here is an excerpt from the 3 November article by Lucian Kim in Newsweek:

Ukraine’s lopsided war with Russia began in April, when armed men started seizing administrative buildings in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The provisional government in Kiev—swept into office in February after protesters toppled the kleptocratic regime of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych—was still reeling from the loss of Crimea, which Russian troops grabbed in the post-revolutionary power vacuum.

Fearful of the country’s further dismemberment, the Kiev authorities responded with a clumsy “anti-terrorist operation,” only to discover that their security services were demoralized and riddled with Russian informants, while the Ukrainian army was under-equipped and woefully unprepared to counter armed and vicious pro-Russian separatists.

Poroshenko’s election as president in May signaled that Ukraine was finally getting its act together. His confidence gave fresh impetus to the fight against the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” whose ideology is a mishmash of Communist-era slogans, czarist imperialism and Russian Orthodox Church iconography.

The full article is available here:


4 November 2014

A phenomenon gaining worldwide recognition as something more than idle conspiracy theory since the EuroMaidan Revolution in Ukraine is that of internet “trolls” working for the Putin regime. Trolls are professional commenters who leave posts and remarks on popular websites to advance or attack a particular point of view. Since EuroMaidan in February 2014, this activity has intensified rapidly, and stories like the one below (and those to which it features links) have emerged in the international press to expose this development in the Russian propaganda war. The consistent theme is the demonization of US President Barack Obama, the belittlement of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and the glorification of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin-financed propaganda operation is a coordinated, well-organized effort involving legions of Russian writers (many in need of money), the establishment of hundreds of special IP addresses, and the renting of office and apartment space in Russia to run the operation. Some popular news and opinion websites running articles on Ukraine – including the English-language Moscow Times – have disabled comments to stop their sites being used for attacks and insults. The below article from The Interpreter links to a translation by the EuroMaidan Press of a Russian-language piece that appeared on the website on 28 October…

Thriving on Forums, Paid Kremlin Trolls Move Into New Offices


18:46 (GMT), 3 November 2014

The independent Russian news site (Delovoy Peterburg, or “Business St. Petersburg”) published an article October 28 about the “Kremlin Troll Army.” (We’ve covered these paid trolls flogging the Moscow line in past issues.) says the trolls, based in Olgino, a historic district of St. Petersburg, are now moving into new offices in a four-story building, somewhere along tree-lined Savushkina Street.

The trolls needed more space as they have a growing staff already at 250, working round the clock to produce posts on social media and mainstream media comment sections, mainly in Russia, but also in the West.

Some are getting professional salaries as high as 10 million rubles a month (US $229,594) to manage the stream of invective against targets from President Barack Obama to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko. was able to get an interview with a former paid Kremlin blogger who worked at International Research, Ltd (Internet Issledovaniya OOO), the name of the company created to perform this task.

EuroMaidan Press has translated most of the article here:

Around 250 people work 12-hour shifts, writing in blogs 24/7, working mostly in the Russian blogging platform Livejournal and a Facebook-esque social network Vkontakte. This is a full-cycle production: some write the posts, others comment on them. Most often they comment each other in order to boost the ratings. The refrain is always the same: the good Putin, the bad Poroshenko and the ugly Obama. The former workers at the Internet loyalty factory told about its inner workings.

They sit at an ordinary kitchen in an ordinary apartment. No portraits of the leaders on the walls. There’s a smell of soup. A cat gets under everyone’s feet. A young man and woman who met there and quit on the same day. They don’t regret this decision one little bit

W: We worked 12-hour shifts for two days with two days off. A blogger’s quota is 10 posts a day, 750 characters each, a commenter has to write 126 comments and two posts. A blogger has three accounts to manage. You have to distribute the 10 assignments between them. An assignment consists of a talking point, most often news, and a conclusion you should reach. So you have to fit the solution to the answer. Roughly, you write that you’ve baked tasty pies which means that life in Russia is great and Putin is a good guy. Visit Russia Today’s website – all our assignments are there.

Read more at The Sad Life of Putin’s Troll Army.

This piece follows up on an investigation done by Max Seddon of Buzzfeed.

Before that, Russian journalists investigated the first troll farms which they found were paid for out of United Russia coffers, working with an ideological formula which they deployed at home and abroad. Their research was first covered in Wikipedia in an entry on “Web Brigades,” then became the target of an editing war and was removed when Kremlin operatives intervened and got the text changed to marginalize them.

The first study of Kremlin manipulation of the burgeoning Internet goes back to 2003, when researchers first identified and called out these firms and their paid trolls.

All of these original authors were forced into exile from Russia, and appear to have gone silent since.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick


3 November 2014

As this article by Anna Pivovarchuk in the English-language Moscow Times newspaper illustrates, the Russian-backed proxy war in Ukraine that has been going on for most of 2014 is only partly “proxy.” It is much more than a case of the Kremlin simply arming and equipping anti-Kyiv rebels in the east. It is a full-fledged Russian military operation which the Putin regime is attempting to conceal from the Russian public because Russian military personnel are being killed, and public opinion in Russia (on which Putin is riding high at the moment) is at stake. In fact, Russian soldiers are being killed in combat in Ukraine under a shroud of secrecy, and their bodies are being transported back to Russia for secret burial. Attempts by investigative journalists to uncover the truth are met with further human rights violations – against the journalists themselves. This is another reason the current regime in Moscow deserves unambiguous condemnation from the civilized world.

Silent Deaths: The Price of a Russian Soldier’s Life

By Anna Pivovarchuk – 27 October 2014

On Oct. 17, following a search at the offices of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers in the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk, Lyudmila Bogatenkova, the head of the branch, was arrested and charged with fraud. The 73-year-old, who is disabled and suffers from diabetes, spent two nights at a detention center and had to be taken to the local hospital following her release on Oct. 20. She has released a statement declaring her innocence.

The case is unprecedented, and not only on legal grounds. Under Russian law, it is unusual to detain those charged with economic crimes, as well as pensioners or invalids, unless they represent a risk to society. Given Bogatenkova’s age, health and charges, the incident demonstrates the depravity that enters the justice system when politics are involved.

In late August, Bogatenkova was one of the first to announce that the 11 Russian soldiers declared dead earlier that month were killed in Ukraine. According to official statements, they were either killed during an exercise in the Rostov region on the border with eastern Ukraine or were discharged from the Russian armed forces and entered Ukraine as volunteers.

The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers stated that all were contract soldiers who were part of the 18th Brigade, stationed in Chechnya. The Defense Ministry refused to comment, citing that it had no information about the death of its soldiers on Ukrainian territory.

“Russia is not conducting a military operation in Ukraine” has been the official mantra propagated by the Kremlin since the annexation of Crimea, when “little green men” — unmarked Russian special forces — participated in the takeover of the peninsula. State media mentioned a Russian casualty in Ukraine in early September, claiming that the paratrooper killed in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine was officially “on vacation” at the time of death.

In the meantime, widespread evidence of Russia’s covert involvement in the conflict has surfaced with persistent regularity. There was the case of the 10 paratroopers who got “lost” in Ukraine during a routine border patrol, the scattered Russian tanks and military rations, and the hushed transport of dead soldiers who were killed during the battle for the Donetsk airport in May.

This secrecy is a well-rehearsed policy. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, planes carrying bodies of soldiers landed at night, in an attempt to cover up the escalating casualties of the conflict. Similar attempts to play down increasing casualties incurred by the Russian army were made during the first Chechen war from 1994 to 1996.

Current attempts to cover up the presence of what Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu amusingly termed “polite people” in Ukraine is politically expedient and fits the pattern of the Russian government’s continued disregard for the lives of its soldiers, but it becomes nearly impossible to conceal in the age of the Internet and smartphones.

The Kavkazsky Uzel website reported that families of the killed soldiers have been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements about the conditions of the soldiers’ deaths. Ukrainian bloggers published photographs of documents and weapons belonging to Russian soldiers who were killed in the Donbass, while the Gruz200 website continues to run photos and names of those killed, captured or missing, as does Russia’s Dozhd TV. cites a surreal case of a paratrooper from Pskov, whose funeral was announced by his wife on the social-networking site VKontakte, only to be replaced by a message stating he was alive and well. When a journalist tried to call, a man claiming to be the deceased soldier picked up the phone, yet the funeral went ahead as planned.

War is chaotic, and there is bound to be misinformation, mistakes and false accusations. Yet when the Russian government insists that these are “volunteers” fighting an ideological war in their own free time, it reveals the lack of responsibility of the Kremlin for the lives of those it has commissioned to fight for it. And this is where the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers becomes an irreplaceable buffer against lies, indifference and sometimes plain criminality.

The NGO was formed in 1989 to provide legal aid to Russia’s vast army of conscripts and their parents, numbering about 4 million. Every year, the Moscow office receives more than 7,000 complaints, 60 percent of which are against violations of human rights to life and human dignity. According to a U.S. State Department human rights report, in 2010, Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed 14 deaths from hazing, while the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers put that number at 2,000.

Veronika Marchenko, head of the Mother’s Right NGO, estimates that about 2,000 to 2,500 soldiers die each year, with the official figure as low as 471 for the year 2010. In many cases, families struggle to find out about the real causes of death — forced to accept the often mutilated, tortured bodies of their sons with no official explanations. Without organizations such as the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, they would have no one to turn to.

The committee came to prominence during the first Chechen war, when the Russian government often refused to negotiate the release of captured soldiers, abandoned them behind enemy lines or left them for dead, including from friendly fire. Images of women who traveled to war-torn Chechnya to negotiate the release of their sons with Chechen militias will linger in the memory of anyone capable of basic empathy.

What Bogatenkova’s disclosures reveal is not only an effort to cover up Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian civil war, but an attempt to shirk all responsibility for those dying in it. Needless to say, there will be no compensations paid out to the families, no legal recourse to justice or even knowing the circumstances of death. Little, yet a last comfort for the bereaved relatives.

A few days after the statement by the committee was made public in August, the Justice Ministry listed the St. Petersburg branch as a foreign agent — a designation it denies. A deputy from Pskov, Lev Schlossberg, whose newspaper first published photographs of the killed paratroopers from the region, was assaulted shortly after he called for a public disclosure of casualties in Ukraine. Numerous news outlets began to recall Bogatenkova’s previous allegations of fraud, which were all dismissed.

In an earlier interview with Dozhd TV, Bogatenkova was unafraid: “With all this dirt being splashed over me on the Internet, I always said: You can come and pour sh– over me, head to toe. But when I see a mother and son smile, and when they thank me, crying, that is my biggest reward.”

In today’s Russia, with its newly found devotion to the Orthodox Church and its moral code, the price placed on human life and dignity still remains conspicuously unholy.

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