Jul 15 2010

The Russians are coming… or maybe they already came and went

Category: Russiaharmonicminer @ 8:14 am

Americans do Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactments.  The Russians go just a bit further back in time…  about a millennium, in fact, when the Rus (what they were called then) were big noise in their immediate neighborhood, busy building the cultural foundation upon which Vlad the Impaler created his domestic and foreign policy.

These folks are obviously having lots of fun.  I have to wonder if anyone snuck an AK-47 (another Russian invention) into their saddlebags.

If you enjoy the photos, there are lots more, some fairly fun, here.

Apr 07 2010

Hanging on to the Shuttle?

Category: national security,Obama,Russia,science,shuttle,spaceharmonicminer @ 8:03 am

Could moon rocket demise bring space shuttle reprieve?

The demise of NASA’s Constellation moon rockets is bringing faint hopes of a reprieve for the space shuttle.

NASA’s decades-old shuttle fleet has been headed for retirement since 2004, and only four more flights are scheduled. Now the White House’s plan to scrap the Constellation programme, a pair of rockets capable of taking astronauts back to the moon, has prompted renewed efforts to keep the shuttles running until new vehicles can replace them.

Two bills have been introduced in the US Congress to keep the shuttle flying while NASA works to develop replacements. The hope is that a modest extension, involving just a couple flights a year, could help retain jobs and maintain access to the International Space Station without relying on foreign launchers.

“If the space shuttle programme is terminated, Russia and China will be the only nations in the world with the capability to launch humans into space,” says Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who introduced the first of the two bills this month. “This is unacceptable.”

An extension to shuttle flights may struggle to win approval. Safety has been a concern, but a bigger hurdle may be money. The cost of a modest programme could exceed $2 billion per year, according to agency officials. “Where that money comes from is the big question,” shuttle programme manager John Shannon told reporters last week.

They seem to be able to find plenty of money in Washington for things that they think actually matter.  Does this matter?  Only if you think it’s fine for the USA to be dependent on Russia to get people into and out of orbit.

Obama obviously does.  Maybe he, too, has looked into Putin’s eyes and seen a man he can work with.

Or maybe Obama just doesn’t think it matters.

Apr 02 2010

Russia, Canada, global warming, the Arctic, and Big Brother

Category: global warming,national security,Russiaharmonicminer @ 8:43 am

A Russian view on Climate Change, the Arctic and Russia’s National Security

What does Prime Minister Stephen Harper have in common with the Canadian Minister of Defence? He shares a sinister, hypocritical and belligerent discourse bordering on the lunatic fringe of the international community. Yet Canada’s new-found megalomania is the least of Russia’s worries: How can climate change in the Arctic threaten her national security?

From Canada, Russia has become used to seeing and hearing positions of sheer arrogance, unadulterated insolence and provocative intrusion. Take for example Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s declaration that Canada is “an Arctic Superpower” (what all thirteen of them?) and the idiotic reference by the Canadian Minister of Defence, Peter McKay, about Russian “overflights” outside Canadian airspace. How can you “overfly” outside?

What these statements hide is Canada´s nervousness at the fact that international law backs up Russia’s claim to a hefty slice of the Arctic and that international law will favour Russia in delineating the new Arctic boundaries. Inside Russia’s continental shelf lie huge deposits of gold, diamonds, nickel, cobalt and copper.

The immense importance of the Arctic to the Russian economy can be seen by the fact that 22 per cent of Russia’s exports and 20 per cent of her GDP come from products obtained from inside the Arctic Circle, where around 90 per cent of Russia’s hydrocarbon reserves lie. Canada, on the other hand, derives less than one per cent of its GDP from products which come from this region.


Given that the permafrost covers 66 per cent of Russian territory, a dramatic change in climatic conditions could threaten all engineering structures in this region, considers Averyanov.

Besides this, Yuri Averyanov considers that interstate conflict is a real possibility due to the new policies of allies of the USA in the Arctic in expanding exploration and research operations. Indeed, the possibility is referred to in the Russia National Security Strategy, adopted in Spring 2009 and mentioning the use of armed force and conflict over hydrocarbon resources.

In the event of a showdown between Russia and Canada, it is obvious that Russia would win. Yet Canada is becoming more and more arrogant, feeling its back covered perhaps by Big Brother to the south. Maybe it is time for Canada to stick its nose into its own affairs and forget adventures which might bring it dire consequences.

How about that? The Russians, of all people, referring to the USA as “Big Brother.”  Anyway, since “hockey stick” global warming is looking less and less likely (not that it ever looked very likely), the Russians should relax.  And in the worst case, both Canada and Russia will be so busy fending off rabid polar bears that they won’t have time to worry about anything else.

It is a uniquely Russian weirdness to think they own more of the arctic than Canada.  Just to get the picture:

It looks to me like Greenland has a better claim than Russia.  Or maybe if Russia gets too uppity, the fine folk at Ward Hunt Island will mount a punitive expedition, using the massive Canadian navy.

Mar 27 2010

The whitewash in the media continues, #3

Category: government,media,military,national security,Obama,Russiaharmonicminer @ 8:51 am

Hope springs eternal, I suppose. The major media continues to hope that the public has the memory of gerbil… or maybe a lobster. I suspect, however, that the Democrats may discover that the voting public has the claws of a lobster come this November.   Nevertheless, when you ordain a president based on hope, I suppose no one should be surprised if you evaluate his efforts from the standpoint of hope.  But hope is about all you have, despite your opinion that after Two big wins, a presidency <is> transformed for Obama:

Two big wins for Barack Obama at home and abroad — a historic health care bill and a new arms treaty with Russia — have injected sudden momentum into a presidency that had been looking beleaguered.

Well, yes, the health bill was historic, in the sense of a politically suicidal Congress ramming something through that 70% of the public really didn’t want, with naked bribery that would be illegal if a anyone else did it.

“What a week here,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs wrote on his twitter feed, as Obama concluded a new strategic arms reduction treaty in a call with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday.

What a week indeed.   As far as can be determined at this time, the cuts to which Russia agreed are in the area of strategic weapons only.  That means that battlefield and tactical nukes aren’t affected…  and Russia has a great preponderance of those.  It is those weapons that are a bigger threat to Europe, former Soviet satellites, and the Middle East, since they are all Russia has to counter its relative weakness in conventional weapons, compared to its Cold War heyday (though Putin is building up again, and fast, to try to recover the conventional strength that Yeltsin squandered, from their point of view).  Russia has plainly signaled its intent to use its possession of the main oil pipe into Europe (in the Georgia invasion) to control the Euro-powers.  Russia wants to regain its superpower status.   Putin is not a peace maker, unless it temporarily serves his larger purpose, which is expansion and power.

Biggest concern:  will Russia use this to get the USA to make cuts that matter, while Russia simply decommissions aging technology that may not be working too well anyway?  Second biggest concern:  how much of that aging nuclear technology and fissile material will be safely decommissioned into secure storage, and how much will mysteriously evaporate into the ether, maybe showing up on the black market?

It is risible that Putin and Medvedev would agree to ANYTHING that they didn’t believe strengthened them and weakened the USA in relative terms.  The US media (and, I fear, the US State Department) don’t seem to grasp the distinction between a piece of paper and actual peace.  North Korea has agreed to all kinds of things, and the media have hailed the negotiations that produced the agreements, and then had abrupt memory loss when North Korea reneged, leading to calls in the media for more negotiations.  Review the definition of insanity.  The Soviet Union, we now know (based partly on KGB files opened to the public after the collapse of the old regime), bent most arms agreements we ever made with them, when they could.  Putin regrets the passing of that brutal state, and is doing his best to emulate its power-grasping tendencies.

Putin has been busy rehabilitating Stalin in the minds of the Russian public.  Does anyone actually think that Putin/Medvedev are signing agreements either out of fear of US nuclear preemption (about as likely as the US nuking Mexico), or out of altruism and the desire for international amity (maybe they should get Nobel Prizes)?  If you are one who harbors either belief, I have a nice property with an in-ground swimming pool in Siberia that I’d love to sell you.  The pool isn’t heated….  but with global warming heating up Siberia, all you really have to worry about is rampaging polar bears looking for an ice floe to surf on.

No doubt Obama supporters will claim that the new agreement has strong verification protocols built in.  Maybe.  But Russia is a big, big country.  Obama has been busy cutting our space program, our military and our intelligence agencies.  Exactly what resources will he use to verify that Russia isn’t holding out the same way the Soviets did?  Those agreements had “verification” built in, too.

In six days, two of the biggest projects of Obama’s presidency came to fruition after months of painstaking work, transforming the image of an administration that had swung hard but failed to connect on big agenda items.

He has STILL failed to connect on the government takeover of health-care.  Don’t confuse holding hostages with hitting home-runs.

In any case, the public really hasn’t evinced much concern about Russian nukes lately, though doubtless the media will try to pump this “achievement” up into something deserving of the prematurely awarded Nobel Peace Prize.  I suppose my problem with this is simple:  Obama has not built up any trust in his ability to tell our friends from our enemies.  He is captive of the moral equivalence view that American objectives are no worthier than Russian ones.   At bottom, he does not believe in American exceptionalism, so he cannot defend American interests with a whole heart.  After all, we’re no better than anyone else.

By Friday, Obama could savor the spectacle of the pundits he frequently decries, switching from a “this presidency is over” mantra, to hailing him as a conquering domestic president and a global statesmen.

Yeah, and come next November he could be savoring that lobster we talked about. The claws, that is.  Now, that would be a change worth hoping for.

Feb 23 2010

It is very sad

Category: energy,Obama,Russia,science,space,technologyharmonicminer @ 9:43 am

Charles Krauthammer – Closing the new frontier

“We have an agreement until 2012 that Russia will be responsible for this,” says Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian space agency, about ferrying astronauts from other countries into low-Earth orbit. “But after that? Excuse me, but the prices should be absolutely different then!”

The Russians may be new at capitalism, but they know how it works. When you have a monopoly, you charge monopoly prices. Within months, Russia will have a monopoly on rides into space.

By the end of this year, there will be no shuttle, no U.S. manned space program, no way for us to get into space. We’re not talking about Mars or the moon here. We’re talking about low-Earth orbit, which the United States has dominated for nearly half a century and from which it is now retiring with nary a whimper.

Our absence from low-Earth orbit was meant to last a few years, the interval between the retirement of the fatally fragile space shuttle and its replacement with the Constellation program (Ares booster, Orion capsule, Altair lunar lander) to take astronauts more cheaply and safely back to space.

But the Obama 2011 budget kills Constellation. Instead, we shall have nothing. For the first time since John Glenn flew in 1962, the United States will have no access of its own for humans into space — and no prospect of getting there in the foreseeable future.

Of course, the administration presents the abdication as a great leap forward: Launching humans will be turned over to the private sector, while NASA’s efforts will be directed toward landing on Mars.

This is nonsense. It would be swell for private companies to take over launching astronauts. But they cannot do it. It’s too expensive. It’s too experimental. And the safety standards for getting people up and down reliably are just unreachably high.

Sure, decades from now there will be a robust private space-travel industry. But that is a long time. In the interim, space will be owned by Russia and then China. The president waxes seriously nationalist at the thought of China or India surpassing us in speculative “clean energy.” Yet he is quite prepared to gratuitously give up our spectacular lead in human space exploration.

As for Mars, more nonsense. Mars is just too far away. And how do you get there without the stepping stones of Ares and Orion? If we can’t afford an Ares rocket to get us into orbit and to the moon, how long will it take to develop a revolutionary new propulsion system that will take us not a quarter-million miles but 35 million miles?

To say nothing of the effects of long-term weightlessness, of long-term cosmic ray exposure, and of the intolerable risk to astronaut safety involved in any Mars trip — six months of contingencies vs. three days for a moon trip.

Of course, the whole Mars project as substitute for the moon is simply a ruse. It’s like the classic bait-and-switch for high-tech military spending: Kill the doable in the name of some distant sophisticated alternative, which either never gets developed or is simply killed later in the name of yet another, even more sophisticated alternative of the further future. A classic example is the B-1 bomber, which was canceled in the 1970s in favor of the over-the-horizon B-2 stealth bomber, which was then killed in the 1990s after a production run of only 21 (instead of 132) in the name of post-Cold War obsolescence.

Moreover, there is the question of seriousness. When John F. Kennedy pledged to go to the moon, he meant it. He had an intense personal commitment to the enterprise. He delivered speeches remembered to this day. He dedicated astronomical sums to make it happen.

At the peak of the Apollo program, NASA was consuming almost 4 percent of the federal budget, which in terms of the 2011 budget is about $150 billion. Today the manned space program will die for want of $3 billion a year — 1/300th of last year’s stimulus package with its endless make-work projects that will leave not a trace on the national consciousness.

As for President Obama’s commitment to beyond-lunar space: Has he given a single speech, devoted an iota of political capital to it?

Obama’s NASA budget perfectly captures the difference in spirit between Kennedy’s liberalism and Obama’s. Kennedy’s was an expansive, bold, outward-looking summons. Obama’s is a constricted, inward-looking call to retreat.

Fifty years ago, Kennedy opened the New Frontier. Obama has just shut it.

Feb 10 2010

Is Obama our Gorbachev?

Category: national security,Obama,Russia,socialism,societyharmonicminer @ 9:45 am

Is Obama an American Gorbachev?   And if he is, does that make you feel better?  Pravda certainly seems to love the idea:

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev believes that US President Barack Obama still has the support of the electorate despite opinion polls showing his support slipping. Gorbachev had positive comments and words recently when discussing nuclear disarmament treaty negotiations.

“The election of Obama was not an accident,” Gorbachev said. “It is true however that there has been some slippage in support for him.” While he said that he liked Obama “a great deal,” Gorbachev acknowledged that Obama faces considerable difficulties as he attempts to change his country’s policies.

“US policy is changing, but it’s a difficult process,” he said. Gorbachev feels that the United States had missed “many opportunities” in the past, but chances are better with Obama. “I am very pleased that now Obama has changed course and has gone back to dialogue and the process of nuclear arms control,” said Gorbachev, speaking through an interpreter.

Some have said they see Barack Obama as the US version of Mikhail Gorbachev. When the United States found itself in the midst of a global economic crisis, the administration decided it was time to launch the dialogue and discussion idea for peace in the world spoken about in the campaign. This is what Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to do during his leadership of the Soviet Union. During his trip to Moscow, Obama met with Mikhail Gorbachev.

The United States is suffering from a worst case of “buyer’s remorse” since the fall of Nazi Germany. President Obama under the circumstances can only really work for change in the health care system, which is a life-and-death matter. The sordid rackets so ostentatiously infecting the system boil down vividly to lives ruined and bankrupted, and a system more frightful to deal with than disease itself. Probably the home truth is that health care will end up being rationed one way or another due to the change in the Democratic Congress.

Economically, the US isn’t in a recession it’s in a collapse. Dmitry Orlov outlined the process in his book “Reinventing Collapse” about the parallels between the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the prospects for demise of the US as currently constituted.

Mikhail Gorbachev presided over the Soviet dissolution. In the USA, the outcome this time might not be very appetizing. It would be one of the supreme ironies of history if it turned out that the US was incapable of ending its most self-destructive rackets peacefully and bloodlessly, while Russia made her transition in a peaceful, orderly manner.

Time will tell. Until then, Russia has proven once again she is a reliable, stable and responsible partner in international relations, has tremendous respect in the international community due to the fact that she honours international law and the agreements she signs and provides a remarkable opportunity for investors, showing signs of increasing strength in the fundamentals which underpin the economy.

The main thing to remember about Gorbachev is that he presided over the dissolution of the government he headed, followed by a considerable period of great instability in Russian society, followed by the current more-or-less dictatorship that masquerades as a democracy.

Feb 05 2010

Relax, Al, the Russians are feeding the bears

Category: Russiaharmonicminer @ 9:31 am

Polar Bears Prefer Bread

Russian sailors serving on submarines have noticed an interesting fact – the most preferred food for polar bears is bread, they like it very much, just look on those photos, how they risk their lives jump from one ice piece to another to get closer to the submarine and ask some more of this when the submarine appears on the surface of the cold polar ocean breaking the thin ice apart.

The Russian Bear is feeding the bears, it seems. Who knew they had a yen for bread?

Although from what I know of Russian bread, I’m surprised it doesn’t sink like a stone.

BTW, the overheated rhetoric on bears “risking their lives” is funny… Doesn’t the writer know that polar bears can swim, rather well?   If they fall off an ice floe, they’ll just swim to another one…. like bears have been doing for several tens of thousands of years…. or more.

With the weather we’ve been having around here lately, I’m thinking of putting in a bid on a used Russian submarine to use for commuting.

Dec 27 2009

Murderous nostalgia

Category: corruption,Russiaharmonicminer @ 1:32 am

Sixty Percent of Russians Nostalgic for Soviet Union

Russians still consider the dissolution of the Soviet Union as negative and they think this process could have been avoided, studies by sociologists show. As Vladimir Putin put it, it was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Over the last two years, the number of Russians who regret that the former Soviet Union broke up has not been declining.

This opinion is now shared by 60 per cent of respondents, Interfax was told at the Yuriy Levada Analytical Centre. This sentiment peaked in December 2000 with 75 percent.

Regret for the break-up of the Soviet Union is mostly shared by pensioners (85 per cent), women of all ages (63 per cent), 40-55 year-olds (67 per cent) and older respondents (83 per cent), those with less than average education (68 per cent), lower income (79 per cent), and rural residents (66 per cent). So it seems that those who actually lived in Soviet times feel that way. This is a significant fact.

“I think everyone has a certain nostalgia for the Soviet Union,” said Zhanna Sribnaya, 37, a Moscow writer. “It’s trendy because people my age, they can buy what they see, and they want to see their happy childhoods. We remember when ice cream cost 7 kopeks and we remember Pioneer camps [similar to Scouts and Brownies] when everyone could go to the Black Sea for summer vacations. Now, only people with money can take those vacations.”

Bring back those gulags! Reopen the torture and execution chambers in the Lubyanka! Drive over some more Eastern Europeans in tanks!

While you’re at it, find another 30 million or so people who are wasting oxygen and starve them out… those you don’t just shoot outright, that is. 

Then see how close you can come to provoking a nice nuclear holocaust, and still live to tell the tale.

Sep 28 2009

Russia buying arms from Israel and others?!?

Category: Israel,military,Russiaharmonicminer @ 9:11 am

It seems now that it has become common for Russia To Spend More on Purchasing Arms Abroad.

The Ministry of Defense is looking at the armory and equipment produced by foreign manufacturers. After the war in August 2008, there were many discussions about purchasing Israeli unmanned aircraft systems. The systems were purchased without much buzz. Shooting equipment for some of the Special Forces departments is purchased abroad. Recently it was reported that a Mistral-class helicopter carriers may be purchased in France.

I’m especially interested in the notion of Russia buying arms from Israel.  Just consider what it would mean if Israel became a major supplier for Russia.   Israel is known for making cutting edge weapons systems, both in small arms and more high-tech items.  It would be very interesting if Russia became dependent on Israel for some items it found essential for its own military.  That would be bound to affect the Russian participation in Middle East matters….  and Russia’s recent slightly harder stand towards Iranian nukes may be evidence of that.

It bears watching.

Aug 09 2009

From Russia With Love, Part 2

Category: media,Russiaharmonicminer @ 8:53 am

What’s Behind Russia’s Killing Spree?

As the Telegraph puts it, “there used to be three key people when it came to uncovering human rights abuses in Chechnya, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the lawyer Stanislav Markelov, and the human rights researcher Natalia Estemirova. In the space of less than three years, they’ve all now been murdered.”

This begs the question: what are they saying that the Russian government is trying to silence?

Remember when it was popular to compare Bush to Hitler, call him a fascist, and imply that he was a dictator in disguise, trampling the constitution, blah endless blah?  There were panic sticken journalists and pundits everywhere, in great feat that the evil forces of government oppression were going to fall upon them any day now.

It never happened, of course, because George W. Bush was a principled man who believed the Constitution actually meant what it said, and he agreed with it.

I live for the day when the more extreme American journalists and pundits will move to Russia, and start saying the same things about Putin or Medvedev that they said about Bush.   The difference, of course, is that this time what the screaming lefties said would be true.

Although that would not protect them.

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