Originally posted on TIME:
No one knows what the first words of the almost-first man on the moon would have been. They would surely would have been contemplated well in advance. No such landmark moment was left to chance back in the days of the great lunar steeplechase. And they would surely have been in Russian.
Half a century ago, when the space race was raging, no truly objective, truly honest observer gave the Americans much of a shot. The Soviet Union simply had too big a lead, having launched the first satellite (Sputnik), the first space dog (Laika), the first human being (Yuri Gagarin), the first woman (Valentina Tereshkova) and the first two- and three-person spacecraft. And 50 years ago this week, on March 18, 1965, they seemed to have sealed the deal, when Alexei Leonov, then just 30 years old, became the first human being to walk in space. Had things gone…
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Originally posted on TIME:
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he considered putting the country’s vast nuclear arsenal on alert to prevent outside agents from stopping the Kremlin’s forced annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine last year.
Putin’s admission was aired during a prerecorded documentary called Homeward Bound, which was broadcast on a state-backed television network Sunday in the run-up to the first anniversary of Crimea’s annexation later this week.
In the interview, Putin claimed he began hatching plans to seize the peninsula after Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych fled the country following months of protests. Putin also alleged he personally delivered direct orders to the country’s armed forces, as thousands of elite Russian soldiers fanned out across Crimea last March.
When asked whether Moscow’s nuclear capabilities were also on standby, Putin answered bluntly: “We were ready to do it.”
The airing of Putin’s nuclear comments comes as the Russian strongman has seemingly…
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— Pundit Planet (@punditfap) March 15, 2015
Despite Peskov’s best efforts, the theories about what could be behind Putin’s mysterious absence have continued to swirl
Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been seen in public since March 5, and depending on whom you ask, he’s either dead, has had a stroke, has cancer, is being overthrown in a palace coup, or, contrary to his spokesperson’s denials Friday, has been out of the public eye because he has fathered a lovechild.
“Information that a child has been born to Vladimir Putin is not true,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Forbes Russia. “I am planning to appeal to people who have money to organize a competition for the best journalistic hoax,” he added.
Speculation on Putin’s whereabouts began when he canceled a high-level trip to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and then several other meetings this week, including the signing of a treaty with South Ossetia and an appearance at a meeting of top brass at the FSB, Russia’s domestic intelligence service. Putin’s absence has sent the Russian Twitterverse and media into overdrive, sparking the trending hashtag #ПутинУмер (Putin Died), as well as a cottage industry of theories — some absurd and others more believable believable — to explain what is keeping the usually omnipresent Russian president from the public eye.
Peskov, meanwhile, has been on the offensive, steadfastly denying the Russian rumormill — often with colorful details. After shooting down rumors about Putin’s ill-health earlier this week on the radio station Ekho Moskvy, Peskov added that “his handshake is so strong he breaks hands with it.”
Yet despite Peskov’s best efforts, the theories about what could be behind Putin’s mysterious absence have continued to swirl. The Kremlin’s website has been posting photos of the Russian president attending meetings during his physical absence, but the Russian news outlet RBC investigated Putin’s schedule and found discrepancies. According to RBC, the meeting with the governor of the northwestern region of Karelia, reported on the official site as having taken place on March 11, had actually occurred a week earlier, and a Karelian website had actually already written about it on March 4. On Thursday, the Kremlin claimed that Putin spoke on the phone with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. Sargsyan’s website issued the call with an identical transcript.
On Friday, the Kremlin issued three images showing Putin in a meeting with the head of the Supreme Court in Moscow on Friday. The state television channel, Rossiya 24, also aired video footage of the meeting. However, the dates of those photos have not been confirmed, and the footage have not been authenticated. Read the rest of this entry »
Whispers in Moscow about a leader’s health are nothing new
Moscow (AFP) – Where is President Vladimir Putin? The Kremlin was forced Thursday to insist the Russian leader was in good health as rumours swirled online over his week-long absence from the public eye.
“There’s no need to worry, he’s absolutely healthy.”
– Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov
Putin was last seen in public on March 5 when he met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and, ever since he postponed a trip to Kazakhstan this week, Russians have grown increasingly curious about what their usually omnipresent leader is up to.
The 62-year-old nurtures a fit, tough-guy image and rarely takes time off.
“There’s no need to worry, he’s absolutely healthy,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Echo of Moscow radio station on Thursday.
“As soon as the sun comes out… and it starts smelling of spring, people start getting delusions.”
– Dmitry Peskov, to Echo of Moscow radio station
Putin also postponed a meeting to sign an alliance agreement with the leader of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, and did not show up at a meeting of the FSB security agency.
Peskov said the agreement with the rebel region may be signed next week and that Putin’s attendance at the FSB meeting was not planned.
He said Putin was busy with Russia’s economic crisis and has “meetings constantly, but not all meetings are public.”
Asked if Putin’s handshake remains firm, Peskov laughed and said: “It breaks your hand.” However he evaded a question on when Putin would next be seen on television. Read the rest of this entry »
A ceasefire will begin in eastern Ukraine on 15 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced.
“We have managed to agree on the main issues,” he said following marathon talks involving Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, as well the leaders of France and Germany.
French President Francois Hollande said it was a “serious deal” but not everything had been agreed.
Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting in the east of Ukraine.
via BBC News
Russian Bombers More Aggressive Near U.S. Territory
Sam LaGrone reports: While Russian military aircraft have stepped up their activity everywhere from the North Sea to the Baltic to the Black Sea in the last year they have also been spotted more frequently closer to the U.S. territory in the Arctic, the head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) told USNI News on Tuesday.
In particular – flights of Tupolev Tu-95 Bear ‘H’ Bombers have increased recently NORTHCOM’s Adm. Bill Gortney said.
“They’ve been very aggressive – under my NORAD hat – for us in the Arctic. Aggressive in the amount of flights, not aggressive in how they fly.”
Since the March seizure of the Ukrainian region of Crimea by Russian forces Moscow has significantly stepped up air patrols in Europe, Asia and near the Americas.
The flights extend as far North as the edge of American air space near Alaska and as far South as U.S. holdings in Guam.
In December, two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornets intercepted a two Bears near the Beaufort Sea entering a U.S. and Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Read the rest of this entry »
Pentagon 2008 Study Claims Vladimir Putin Has Asperger’s Syndrome: ‘An Autistic Disorder Which Affects All of His Decisions’Posted: February 4, 2015
Putin’s actions have been under particular scrutiny since early 2014, when Russian annexed Crimea from neighboring Ukraine
WASHINGTON — Ray Locker reports: A study from a Pentagon think tank theorizes that Russian President Vladimir Putin has Asperger’s syndrome, “an autistic disorder which affects all of his decisions,” according to the 2008 report obtained by USA TODAY.
Putin’s “neurological development was significantly interrupted in infancy,” wrote Brenda Connors, an expert in movement pattern analysis at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Studies of his movement, Connors wrote, reveal “that the Russian President carries a neurological abnormality.”
The 2008 study was one of many by Connors and her colleagues, who are contractors for the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), an internal Pentagon think tank that helps devise long-term military strategy. The 2008 report and a 2011 study were provided to USA TODAY as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Putin’s ‘neurological development was significantly interrupted in infancy…the Russian President carries a neurological abnormality’.”
– Brenda Connors, expert in movement pattern analysis
Researchers can’t prove their theory about Putin and Asperger’s, the report said, because they were not able to perform a brain scan on the Russian president. The report cites work by autism specialists as backing their findings. It is not known whether the research has been acted on by Pentagon or administration officials.
The 2008 report cites Dr. Stephen Porges, who is now a University of North Carolina psychiatry professor, as concluding that “Putin carries a form of autism.” However, Porges said Wednesday he had never seen the finished report and “would back off saying he has Asperger’s.”
Instead, Porges said, his analysis was that U.S. officials needed to find quieter settings in which to deal with Putin, whose behavior and facial expressions reveal someone who is defensive in large social settings. Although these features are observed in Asperger’s, they are also observed in individuals who have difficulties staying calm in social settings and have low thresholds to be reactive. “If you need to do things with him, you don’t want to be in a big state affair but more of one-on-one situation someplace somewhere quiet,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »
Christopher Walker is executive director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. Robert Orttung is assistant director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs.
Christopher Walker and Robert Orttung write: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity appears to resist the laws of political physics. Despite the price of oil sinking below $50 a barrel and the Russian economy falling into a tailspin, Putin’s approval ratings hover above 80 percent, seemingly defying gravity.
“The cream of Russian society is voting with its feet, leaving a stultifying, ever more corrupt environment for greener pastures that allow them to productively apply their talents.”
But the numbers should not be taken at face value.
Deeper scrutiny is especially important because the more Putin’s sky-high popularity ratings are mentioned, the more they become accepted wisdom. Western news media and political analysts frequently report on them without providing critically needed context.
“All of this should tell us something. Today, the Kremlin must work far harder than it has to manufacture regime support. Its fiercer propaganda and harsher repression suggest that the Russian population is less willing to accept Putin. To compensate, the state apparatus has been shifted into overdrive.”
First, Putin’s popularity has been achieved in an information vacuum. An informal set of censorship rules, actively enforced by the Kremlin, makes it virtually impossible to discuss important issues and question official actions through the mass media. Today, independent voices rarely reach into Russian living rooms over the airwaves. In recent months, the government has tightened its noose, pressuring even outlets serving niche audiences, such as the news Web site Lenta.ru, the newspaper Vedomosti and the Moscow station TV Rain. Meanwhile, feverish state propaganda feeds Russian television audiences an unchallenged and delusive flow of information designed to show the country’s leaders in the most positive light while blaming problems on “fascists,” “foreign agents” and “fifth columns.”
Second, Putin’s political repression makes certain that only the bravest and most self-sacrificing individuals challenge his rule. Emerging opposition leaders are either removed, smeared or co-opted before they gain sufficient popularity to present a threat. A popularity figure of 80-plus percent simply tells us that Russians cannot conceive of an alternative to Putin. Read the rest of this entry »
Russian Air Force SU-27 Cockpit Detail
Photo: Vitaly Kuzmin
Russia Says Mohammed Cartoon Publication Illegal: ‘One Cannot Laugh at the Feelings of the Faithful’Posted: January 16, 2015
Russia is an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian country, but is also home to a sizeable Muslim minority
Russia’s media watchdog on Friday warned publications that printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed was against the country’s law and ethical norms following the Charlie Hebdo attack in France.
“The publication in Russian media of such caricatures go against ethical and moral norms worked out over centuries.”
“The publication in Russian media of such caricatures go against ethical and moral norms worked out over centuries,” said the media and communications watchdog Roskomnadzor.
“Disseminating caricatures on religious themes in the media can be considered insulting or humiliating to the representatives of religious confessions and groups, and qualified as inciting ethnic and religious hatred.”
– Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media and communications watchdog
The publication would also violate the Russian media and anti-extremism laws, the watchdog said, adding that it was asking Russian media to “refrain from publishing caricatures that can be seen as a violation”.
The watchdog published the statement as a response to the ongoing debate on the “legality of publishing caricatures depicting religious objects of worship which affect feelings of religious people.”
“It further said Charlie Hebdo’s post-attack issue featuring a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the front page was an ‘unacceptable response’ to the shooting, because one ‘cannot laugh at the feelings of the faithful’.”
Many newspapers and magazines around the world reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris office was attacked by Islamist gunmen on January 7, leading to the deaths of 12 people.
Although Russia’s leadership extended its condolences to France, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov participated in the unity march staged at the weekend, pro-Kremlin commentators and Muslims accused the cartoonists of provoking the attack. Read the rest of this entry »
Mike Bird reports: The value of the ruble isn’t the only thing that is vanishing in Russia. A Moscow hedge fund chief executive has disappeared, along with all the money in the firm’s accounts.
That’s according to a stunning feature in The Wall Street Journal. Kim Karapetyan, 29, the youthful founder of Blackfield Capital CJSC, has disappeared, much to the dismay of his staff, which didn’t know until a group of men charged into the firm’s plush offices.
From The Journal:
The firm’s employees didn’t know anything was amiss until mid-October, when three men charged into Blackfield’s offices in an upscale complex along the Moscow River in central Moscow, said people who were there.
The men, who didn’t identify themselves, said they were looking for Blackfield’s 29-year-old founder, Kim Karapetyan, according to the people who were there.
But Mr. Karapetyan wasn’t in the office that day or the next, when senior executives explained to the staff of about 50 that there was no longer any money to pay their salaries, said one former senior executive and ex-employees. The executives disclosed that all the money in the company accounts — some $20 million, including investor cash — was also missing, they said. It couldn’t be determined whether investors were from Russia or other countries.
“Our CEO just … disappeared,” said Sergey Grebenkin, one of the firm’s software developers, in an interview.
No attempts to contact or find Karapetyan were successful, and he is still MIA. The company’s website brags that its “systematic investment process helps avoid human-factor, cognitive-biases, and emotional-trading errors,” but the CEO running away with all your money seems like a fairly big human error. Read the rest of this entry »
STICKIN’ IT TO THE MAN: ‘I refuse to comply with the requirements of my illegal detention under house arrest. The bracelet with some effort has been cut off with kitchen scissors’Posted: January 5, 2015
Putin Critic Alexei Navalny Defies House Arrest
Navalny received suspended sentence on 30 December for embezzling money but was not released from house arrest
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Monday he would no longer comply with the terms of his house arrest and had cut off his monitoring tag.
Navalny, who led mass protests against Vladimir Putin three years ago, was handed a suspended sentence on 30 December after being found guilty of embezzling money in a trial that led to his brother being jailed on similar charges.
“It is stupid to brag, but I am the first person in the history of Russian courts to be sitting under house arrest after the verdict.”
He was placed under house arrest almost a year ago during the investigation but said in a blog that he was perhaps the only person in Russian legal history to be kept under house arrest after being sentenced.
He said he should have been released after sentencing in late December but instead was being held pending the publication of the verdict on 15 January – a situation that even the police did not know how to deal with. Read the rest of this entry »
The Navalny brothers were found guilty of embezzling 26.7 million rubles ($470,000) from cosmetics company Yves Rocher Vostok and stealing more than 4.4 million rubles ($80,000) from a processing company between 2008 and 2013.
Critics have called the charges politically motivated. Alexei, an anti-corruption blogger and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has maintained his innocence.
The judge on Tuesday gave Alexei a suspended sentence of three years and six months while Oleg was sentenced to prison for the same amount of time.
Alexei yelled angrily as the sentence against his brother was read in the courtroom.
The brothers were also ordered to pay a fine of more than 4 million rubles ($70,000) to the Multi-Profile Processing Company. Read the rest of this entry »
A few days ago, the first reviews began to trickle in for the comedy The Interview, which depicts a shambolic attempt to assassinate the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
Unfortunately, they were less than enthusiastic. One critic called it a ‘non-stop sledgehammer … bereft of satiric zing’, while the Hollywood industry paper Variety called it an ‘alleged satire that’s about as funny as a communist food shortage’.
“Trains could crash, pipelines explode, the financial markets risk going into meltdown, the National Grid might crash, hospitals could fall dark, cash dispensers might go dead and ordinary life might come grinding to a halt. Last year, the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based cyber unit was caught hacking into major American corporations such as the nuclear power company Westinghouse Electric and the United States Steel Corporation.”
Even the film’s makers probably imagined that having earned back its budget from its target audience of American teenagers, their picture would soon disappear into well-deserved obscurity.
Climb-down: Randall Park as North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un in The Interview, which has been pulled from release after Sony Pictures was hacked and confidential material leaked across the Internet
Terrorists:Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju remembered the three year anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il. If North Korea was to launch a cyber attack it could bring the West to its knees in 15 minutes
How wrong they were. For it now seems certain that The Interview will go down in history not as an indictment of Hollywood’s obsession with the lowest common denominator, but as a chilling symbol of the future of international conflict.
When, two days ago, the film’s parent company Sony announced it was cancelling its Christmas Day release, the decision was widely seen as an abject surrender to foreign pressure.
All week, North Korean hackers have been leaking secrets found in Sony’s emails, from insider gossip about the star Angelina Jolie to the script of the next James Bond film.
In an attempt to shore up wavering cinema chains who were uncertain as to whether to screen the film, Barack Obama recommended that ‘people go to the movies’.
But as pressure mounted, it became clear Sony’s American bosses lacked the courage to stand up to Kim Jong-un’s cyber bullies. And when the hackers issued a terrifying warning to American audiences, telling them to ‘remember September 11, 2001’, Sony simply lost its nerve.
Thus, The Interview has vanished from the schedules, and it seems unlikely it will ever return.
In the meantime, Hollywood figures have been queuing up to denounce Sony’s decision as an awful setback for free speech. ‘Today, the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished bedrock principle,’ said the director Judd Apatow.
The actor Rob Lowe went further: If Sony had been in charge of the Allied war effort in World War II, he said, then the Nazis would have won.
In many ways the story could hardly be a better metaphor for American foreign policy in the past few years.
After almost a decade of reckless, ham-fisted over-stretch under George W. Bush — typified by this month’s appalling revelations about the CIA’s torture programme — the U.S. has turned inwards.
Obama’s policy in Syria and Ukraine has been a shambles, his attitude to Russia is dithering and pusillanimous, and he seems entirely bereft of ideas about how to fight back against the jihadists of Islamic State. Read the rest of this entry »