If anyone had any doubts about how serious Russian President Vladimir Putin is about the idea of a Eurasian Union, they should banish them now. After his annual address to the Federal Assembly his determination to do everything possible to make the union a tangible reality became quite clear.
So read some signs held up a few hundred demonstrators in front of the recently rebuilt Palace of the Grand Dukes in Vilnius braving the snow in a last-ditch effort to persuade Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to agree to an association agreement with the EU.
There’s a lot of talk in this world. Indeed, thanks to the technological gizmos on which we now spend so much of our time, we are surrounded by talk. The jibber jabber is constant, whether we get it directly from the mouths of the people around us, or from radio, TV, or the Internet, or our “mobile devices.”
A short editorial in The Guardian this week reminded me that this Friday is the 50th anniversary not only of the assassination of JFK but also of the deaths of two well-known 20th century intellectuals: Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis.
Russia’s policy in the Middle East has taken a new turn in recent days, after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the generals who run Egypt and emerged from their meeting with sensational news: Moscow is prepared to sell Cairo up to 2 billion dollars of weapons.
Yesterday I read an interesting report from PEN, the writers’ association, which recently carried out a survey among 520 American writers on their attitudes to fugitive former intelligence worker Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US government’s surveillance programs.
Even if he is styled as the “president,” the head of the Russian government’s executive branch is a de facto monarch. Accompanied by holy Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, President Vladimir Putin flipped through touch-screen presentations, watched videos and listened to talks by Father Tikhon Shevkunov, rumored to have access to Putin’s inner circle.2
Some years ago I attended an event in Moscow that was called “Fighting Without Rules.” In fact, the fighting was not entirely without rules – gouging and hitting people in the loins were forbidden – but otherwise, pretty much any combat strategy was permitted, and gloves and protective headgear were banned. It was brutal and exhilarating. And then the kids stepped into the ring.1
Over the 22 years of Ukraine’s independence, people have grown used to its endless maneuvering. Ukraine began by proclaiming the goal of European integration, which was common to the logic of Eastern European development after the fall of communism. But it also tried to maintain a special relationship with Russia.2
This week I have been moving house, as my landlord decided to sell the building I was living in. It’s been a major pain in the neck, especially as I haven’t found another place yet and will be staying with relatives until I do. But the forced move has also been illuminating, at least insofar as I had no idea I owned so many books until I started boxing up my library.1
The other day, a famous writer asked me why I came to Moscow. I had trekked across construction mud and broken pavements to see him at the central Moscow radio station where he is hosting a program – and with dark clouds gathering outside and a rainstorm coming in, the question seemed particularly pertinent. It also seems pertinent to ponder in my final Trendwatcher column – to produce a kind of lasting message, a mark in time.1
It is exactly 10 years since Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at the time Russia’s richest man and former owner of the oil giant YUKOS, was seized by special police unit in the airport in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. He was marched away, handcuffed and under armed guard. Later came trial, imprisonment and international fame, albeit not, perhaps, of a kind he ever hoped to acquire.1