Interactive: Russia’s sprawling military bases

russia military bases

 

Despite the unforgiving collapse of Soviet Union and the negative impacts it brought towards Russia for nearly a decade, Moscow can still afford a strong military presence in its surrounding ex-Soviet states, as seen by its sprawling number of military bases, scattered mainly across Eastern Europe (Ukraine and Moldova), Central Asia, and Caucasus region (see Azerbaijan and Georgia’s ‘defiant’ territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia). The numbers are infinitesimal compared to those of United States, its on-and-off political and military rival, but the influence their existence exerts is still comparatively formidable for these surrounding countries, though.

Check the full interactive on Al Jazeera, and click on each of the dots to know more about these bases.

Infographic: Ukrainian invasion – the sum of all fears

russian invasion

 

 

Will Russia invade Ukraine over Crimea’s matter? That remains a critical concern in today’s international relations.

First thing Kremlin has to consider though: it is technically, cost-wise, impossible for Moscow to launch a huge military offensive on a country populated by more than 45 million people, but that doesn’t also mean improbable as well. Russia had gotten with similar conflict with Georgia in 2008, but the government would be considerate enough to assume that Ukraine is no Georgia.

Well, there’s something that may inhibit Putin’s plan, at the very least: as much as 60 billion US$ has evaporated from Russian stock indices in a single day. A goddamn single day. He must have had enough inner fear himself.

But one analyst, in a counter-argument, and with his similarly risky data analysis, dares himself to invest in Moscow’s stock market. Read the full article in Quartz. Perhaps it’s also the same consideration that comes along Putin’s mind. Think again.

 

Infographics’ source: Business Insider

A Jewel in Two Crowns

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Photograph by Gerd Ludwig. Source: National Geographic

 

It is in Ukraine. It is, in geographical terms, not so far, but also not so distant, from Russia. It is ruled by an autonomous government supervised by Kiev’s authorities. But when it comes to bulk of its people, there is hardly any feeling about being Ukrainian though. They mostly talk in Russian, that’s fine; most of the populace in Ukraine is bilingual, back then, thanks to its centuries-long historical ties with the former, in particular during Soviet’s rule, lasting seven decades. Nevertheless, deep down their hearts, many of these residents feel more proud to be Russians, display Russian culture with more ostentatiously than with Ukrainian one, and almost everything they do in daily lives is much or less similar to their Russian counterparts.

This is Crimea, Ukraine’s uneasy peninsula.

2014 has been an entirely challenging year for Ukraine, notwithstanding its current, interim government in Kiev. A months-long political protest in Kiev that saw nearly a hundred civilians killed. Internal split between those who support Brussels and the others who favor Moscow much better (part of that reason may be attributed to Putin’s high willingness to provide financial rescue package worth 15 billion US$ to Kiev). A shaky, provisional regime now being tested with the interference of a few thousand Russian troops in Crimean peninsula, excluding numberless scores of pro-Russian militiamen now occupying most government offices in the territory. Exacerbate that matter with today’s Crimean parliamentary referendum, most of which favors ‘unification with Russia‘.

With another referendum for majority of the 2-million-strong population in Crimea scheduled in no more than 10 days, the future of this peninsula remains in deep limbo. Will it continue to be part of Ukraine? Or will it embrace back the hugs of Moscow?

 

This article, released in National Geographic Magazine‘s April 2011 edition, attempted to explore deeper what exactly happens in Crimea, the crown that, implicitly stated, dubiously ‘belongs’ to both Ukraine (in nationality) and Russia (in identity). Click the link to find out more.

 

Excerpt:

 

The Crimean Peninsula is a diamond suspended from the south coast of Ukraine by the thin chain of the Perekop Isthmus, embraced by the Black Sea, on the same latitude as the south of France. Warm, lovely, lush, with a voluptuously curved coast of sparkling cliffs, it was a jewel of the Russian Empire, the retreat of Romanov tsars, and the playground of Politburo fat cats. Officially known as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, it has its own parliament and capital, Simferopol, but takes its orders from Kiev.

Physically, politically, Crimea is Ukraine; mentally and emotionally, it identifies with Russia and provides, a journalist wrote, “a unique opportunity for Ukrainians to feel like strangers on their own territory.” Crimea speaks to the persistence of memory—how the past lingers and subverts.

In 1954 Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, signed Crimea over to Ukraine as a gesture of goodwill. Galina was 14 at the time.

“Illegal,” she said, when asked about the hand­over. “There was no referendum. No announcement. It just happened.”

What was Khrushchev thinking?

“He wasn’t,” she snapped. “Khrushchev had roaches in his head.”

Crimea was a lovely present, but the box was empty. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union anyway. “My parents discussed the transfer, but we weren’t concerned,” Galina said. Moscow was still in charge. No one could have ever imagined the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when Crimea would be pulled out of the orbit of Russian rule along with an independent Ukraine.

The Ukrainian tumult

Russian parliament approves use of force in Crimea

 

 

[Putin’s] going to lose on the international stage, Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose, and he’s going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza. – US Secretary of State, John Kerry, during an interview in NBC’s “Meet The Press”, in response to Putin-led Russia’s decision to dispatch several thousand troops to the tumultuous Crimea, a pro-Russian autonomous region in Ukraine, now already shaken by internal split between those who support integration with European Union, and those who advocate closer relationship with Moscow.

Read a complete summary of the 2014 Crimean crisis on The Guardian.

 

 

Bonus: here is another longform article, titled ‘Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine‘, about the country’s ongoing political deadlock on The New York Review of Books. Here is the excerpt as follows:

 

The protesters represent every group of Ukrainian citizens: Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers (although most Ukrainians are bilingual), people from the cities and the countryside, people from all regions of the country, members of all political parties, the young and the old, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Every major Christian denomination is represented by believers and most of them by clergy. The Crimean Tatars march in impressive numbers, and Jewish leaders have made a point of supporting the movement. The diversity of the Maidan is impressive: the group that monitors hospitals so that the regime cannot kidnap the wounded is run by young feminists. An important hotline that protesters call when they need help is staffed by LGBT activists.

On January 16, the Ukrainian government, headed by President Yanukovych, tried to put an end to Ukrainian civil society. A series of laws passed hastily and without following normal procedure did away with freedom of speech and assembly, and removed the few remaining checks on executive authority. This was intended to turn Ukraine into a dictatorship and to make all participants in the Maidan, by then probably numbering in the low millions, into criminals. The result was that the protests, until then entirely peaceful, became violent. Yanukovych lost support, even in his political base in the southeast, near the Russian border.

The prison life of Mikhail Khodorkovsky

khodorkovsky

 

 

Let us make an analogy like this: Napoleon was once a conqueror, and in his deathbed, he became a by-product of his own political ideals.

The nearly same thing applies, at least, for the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky: once Russia’s richest man, once a frequenter of Davos meetings and other first-class economic summits either in Moscow or abroad, once a close ally of Vladimir Putin, once an owner of Russia’s largest oil empire, Yukos, a terrific conqueror of the country’s abundant oil reserves worth hundred billion dollars, and also once one of Russia’s most feared oligarchs, now he is mostly a man of ‘nothing’. Charged with attempts to challenge Kremlin, during Putin’s rule, he now lost his golden seat (also a side effect of his own political ideals), and is now incarcerated in a below-freezing Siberian prison, possibly for decades.

Financial Times journalist, Neil Buckley, goes in-depth to reveal to us more about Khodorkovsky’s new life in prison, and how it has tremendously changed his life.

Personal suggestion: tune in to Coldplay’s Viva La Vida to increase your understanding of this article.

Excerpt:

 

Has ever a businessman experienced such a dizzying ascent to fortune, then such a headlong plunge from grace?

Khodorkovsky used money from setting up a small business in Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika era to found a bank, Menatep, which benefited from big deposits of Russian government budget funds. The profits helped buy a stake in Yukos in the infamous “loans-for-shares” privatisations of 1995, when the businessmen who would become oligarchs loaned money to a near-bankrupt government and were allowed to buy state assets at knock-down prices. Within years, the couple of hundred million dollars he spent gaining control of Yukos had become billions.

Khodorkovsky was the first oligarch to realise the way to real wealth was not by simply selling oil but by adopting western governance standards to boost the Yukos share price. He was the first, too, to reinvent himself, like the US robber barons a century earlier, as a philanthropist, launching the non-profit Open Russia Foundation to run educational projects.

His fallout with Putin had many causes. Khodorkovsky dared to confront the president with a thinly veiled allegation of top-level corruption in a televised meeting in February 2003. He tried to build a private oil pipeline to China, contravening state policy. He engaged in aggressive lobbying against increases in oil taxes. He negotiated to sell a stake in Yukos to America’s ExxonMobil. He was simply too independent. He refused to take his place in the matrix of competing interests and clans, of state and private oligarchs, held in check not by rule of law but, as Russians say, po ponyatiyam, “by understandings” – with Putin as arbiter.