Category Archives: Russia

Many Syrians see Russians as saviours

One gets the impression from our news media that those horrible Russians (or perhaps just the demon Putin) are unjustly bombing Syria, killing its citizens and causing all those refugees to flee to Europe.

Of course, that is “too bad to be true” (or “too good to be true” from the point of view of the US and NATO soldiers in the “information war). Sometimes a bit of objectively peeps through as in this article from the Guardian – In Assad’s heartland, villagers see Russians as saviours.

Although even there we can see the pressure to conform to the approved party line.

2712070 10/04/2015 Russian servicemen attach a Kh-25 high-precision missile to a Su-24 aircraft at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. Dmitriy Vinogradov/RIA Novosti

10/04/2015 Russian servicemen attach a Kh-25 high-precision missile to a Su-24 aircraft at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. Dmitriy Vinogradov/RIA Novosti

The Russians are the heroes of the hour. People greet the few foreigners who visit with a cheerful Russian “Dobry den!” and shout out their enthusiasm for President Putin, who they believe will deliver them from terrorism. Many think the west is supporting Isis, which they call by its Arabic acronym, Daesh. “We can see that the Russians are determined to defeat Daesh and the terrorists, whereas by contrast the Americans and their coalition don’t seem to have the same determination,” said Safwan al-Saada, the governor of Tartus. “In the last year they said they were fighting terrorism, but Daesh grew stronger, not weaker, so we can say their coalition is not serious.”

Read the rest at In Assad’s heartland, villagers see Russians as saviours.

What do you think?

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Putin’s UN address: “Do you realise what you’ve done?”

These two posts of speeches from the current UN General Assembly might provoke some discussion ( and I sincerely hope they do). They are the major speeches presented by US President Barak Obama and Russian federation President Vladimir Putin.

I have posted them in the alphabetic order of their names – and, in fact, the order in which they were presented on Monday.

My motive in making these full texts available, together with videos of the presentations, is to encourage people to find out what these leaders are actually saying. Particularly to encourage readers not to rely on soundbites and scraps of news filtered and garbled through the inevitable ideologies of the current geopolitical struggles. I think this is extremely important at this time of heightened international conflict.

Source: The Washington Post

PUTIN (THROUGH INTERPRETER): Your excellency Mr. President, your excellency Mr. Secretary General, distinguished heads of state and government, ladies and gentlemen, the 70th anniversary of the United Nations is a good occasion to both take stock of history and talk about our common future.

In 1945, the countries that defeated Nazism joined their efforts to lay solid foundations for the postwar world order.

But I remind you that the key decisions on the principles guiding the cooperation among states, as well as on the establishment of the United Nations, were made in our country, in Yalta, at the meeting of the anti-Hitler coalition leaders.

The Yalta system was actually born in travail. It was won at the cost of tens of millions of lives and two world wars.

This swept through the planet in the 20th century.

Let us be fair. It helped humanity through turbulent, at times dramatic, events of the last seven decades. It saved the world from large-scale upheavals.

The United Nations is unique in its legitimacy, representation and universality. It is true that lately the U.N. has been widely criticized for supposedly not being efficient enough, and for the fact that the decision-making on fundamental issues stalls due to insurmountable differences, first of all, among the members of the Security Council.

However, I’d like to point out there have always been differences in the U.N. throughout all these 70 years of existence. The veto right has always been exercised by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, the Soviet Union and Russia later, alike. It is absolutely natural for so diverse and representative an organization.

When the U.N. was established, its founders did not in the least think that there would always be unanimity. The mission of the organization is to seek and reach compromises, and its strength comes from taking different views and opinions into consideration. Decisions debated within the U.N. are either taken as resolutions or not. As diplomats say, they either pass or do not pass.

Whatever actions any state might take bypassing this procedure are illegitimate. They run counter to the charter and defy international law. We all know that after the end of the Cold War — everyone is aware of that — a single center of domination emerged in the world, and then those who found themselves at the top of the pyramid were tempted to think that if they were strong and exceptional, they knew better and they did not have to reckon with the U.N., which, instead of [acting to] automatically authorize and legitimize the necessary decisions, often creates obstacles or, in other words, stands in the way.

It has now become commonplace to see that in its original form, it has become obsolete and completed its historical mission. Of course, the world is changing and the U.N. must be consistent with this natural transformation. Russia stands ready to work together with its partners on the basis of full consensus, but we consider the attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the United Nations as extremely dangerous. They could lead to a collapse of the entire architecture of international organizations, and then indeed there would be no other rules left but the rule of force.

We would get a world dominated by selfishness rather than collective work, a world increasingly characterized by dictate rather than equality. There would be less of a chain of democracy and freedom, and that would be a world where true independent states would be replaced by an ever-growing number of de facto protectorates and externally controlled territories.

What is the state sovereignty, after all, that has been mentioned by our colleagues here? It is basically about freedom and the right to choose freely one’s own future for every person, nation and state. By the way, dear colleagues, the same holds true of the question of the so-called legitimacy of state authority. One should not play with or manipulate words.

Every term in international law and international affairs should be clear, transparent and have uniformly understood criteria. We are all different, and we should respect that. No one has to conform to a single development model that someone has once and for all recognized as the only right one. We should all remember what our past has taught us.

We also remember certain episodes from the history of the Soviet Union. Social experiments for export, attempts to push for changes within other countries based on ideological preferences, often led to tragic consequences and to degradation rather than progress.

It seemed, however, that far from learning from others’ mistakes, everyone just keeps repeating them, and so the export of revolutions, this time of so-called democratic ones, continues. It would suffice to look at the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, as has been mentioned by previous speakers. Certainly political and social problems in this region have been piling up for a long time, and people there wish for changes naturally.

But how did it actually turn out? Rather than bringing about reforms, an aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.

I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you’ve done? But I am afraid no one is going to answer that. Indeed, policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned.

It is now obvious that the power vacuum created in some countries of the Middle East and North Africa through the emergence of anarchy areas, which immediately started to be filled with extremists and terrorists.

Tens of thousands of militants are fighting under the banners of the so-called Islamic State. Its ranks include former Iraqi servicemen who were thrown out into the street after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many recruits also come from Libya, a country whose statehood was destroyed as a result of a gross violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. And now, the ranks of radicals are being joined by the members of the so-called moderate Syrian opposition supported by the Western countries.

First, they are armed and trained and then they defect to the so-called Islamic State. Besides, the Islamic State itself did not just come from nowhere. It was also initially forged as a tool against undesirable secular regimes.

Having established a foothold in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has begun actively expanding to other regions. It is seeking dominance in the Islamic world. And not only there, and its plans go further than that. The situation is more than dangerous.

In these circumstances, it is hypocritical and irresponsible to make loud declarations about the threat of international terrorism while turning a blind eye to the channels of financing and supporting terrorists, including the process of trafficking and illicit trade in oil and arms. It would be equally irresponsible to try to manipulate extremist groups and place them at one’s service in order to achieve one’s own political goals in the hope of later dealing with them or, in other words, liquidating them.

To those who do so, I would like to say — dear sirs, no doubt you are dealing with rough and cruel people, but they’re in no way primitive or silly. They are just as clever as you are, and you never know who is manipulating whom. And the recent data on arms transferred to this most moderate opposition is the best proof of it.

We believe that any attempts to play games with terrorists, let alone to arm them, are not just short-sighted, but fire hazardous (ph). This may result in the global terrorist threat increasing dramatically and engulfing new regions, especially given that Islamic State camps train militants from many countries, including the European countries.

Unfortunately, dear colleagues, I have to put it frankly: Russia is not an exception. We cannot allow these criminals who already tasted blood to return back home and continue their evil doings. No one wants this to happen, does he?

Russia has always been consistently fighting against terrorism in all its forms. Today, we provide military and technical assistance both to Iraq and Syria and many other countries of the region who are fighting terrorist groups.

We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face. We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurds (ph) militias are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.

We know about all the problems and contradictions in the region, but which were (ph) based on the reality.

Dear colleagues, I must note that such an honest and frank approach of Russia has been recently used as a pretext to accuse it of its growing ambitions, as if those who say it have no ambitions at all.

However, it’s not about Russia’s ambitions, dear colleagues, but about the recognition of the fact that we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world. What we actually propose is to be guided by common values and common interests, rather than ambitions.

On the basis of international law, we must join efforts to address the problems that all of us are facing and create a genuinely broad international coalition against terrorism.

Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of forces that are resolutely resisting those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind. And, naturally, the Muslim countries are to play a key role in the coalition, even more so because the Islamic State does not only pose a direct threat to them, but also desecrates one of the greatest world religions by its bloody crimes.

The ideologists (ph) of militants make a mockery of Islam and pervert its true humanistic (ph) values. I would like to address Muslim spiritual leaders, as well. Your authority and your guidance are of great importance right now.

It is essential to prevent people recruited by militants from making hasty decisions and those who have already been deceived, and who, due to various circumstances found themselves among terrorists, need help in finding a way back to normal life, laying down arms, and putting an end to fratricide.

Russia will shortly convene, as the (ph) current president of the Security Council, a ministerial meeting to carry out a comprehensive analysis of threats in the Middle East.

First of all, we propose discussing whether it is possible to agree on a resolution aimed at coordinating the actions of all the forces that confront the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. Once again, this coordination should be based on the principles of the U.N. Charter.

We hope that the international community will be able to develop a comprehensive strategy of political stabilization, as well as social and economic recovery, of the Middle East.

Then, dear friends, there would be no need for new refugee camps. Today, the flow of people who were forced to leave their homeland has literally engulfed first neighboring countries and then Europe itself. There were hundreds of thousands of them now, and there might be millions before long. In fact, it is a new great and tragic migration of peoples, and it is a harsh lesson for all of us, including Europe.

I would like to stress refugees undoubtedly need our compassion and support. However, the — on the way to solve this problem at a fundamental level is to restore their statehood where it has been destroyed, to strengthen the government institutions where they still exist or are being reestablished, to provide comprehensive assistance of military, economic and material nature to countries in a difficult situation. And certainly, to those people who, despite all the ordeals, will not abandon their homes. Literally, any assistance to sovereign states can and must be offered rather than imposed exclusively and solely in accordance with the U.N. Charter.

In other words, everything in this field that has been done or will be done pursuant to the norms of international law must be supported by our organization. Everything that contravenes the U.N. Charter must be rejected. Above all, I believe it is of the utmost importance to help restore government’s institutions in Libya, support the new government of Iraq and provide comprehensive assistance to the legitimate government of Syria.

Dear colleagues, ensuring peace and regional and global stability remains the key objective of the international community with the U.N. at its helm. We believe this means creating a space of equal and indivisible security, which is not for the select few but for everyone. Yet, it is a challenge and complicated and time-consuming task, but there is simply no other alternative. However, the bloc thinking of the times of the Cold War and the desire to explore new geopolitical areas is still present among some of our colleagues.

First, they continue their policy of expanding NATO. What for? If the Warsaw Bloc stopped its existence, the Soviet Union have collapsed (ph) and, nevertheless, the NATO continues expanding as well as its military infrastructure. Then they offered the poor Soviet countries a false choice: either to be with the West or with the East. Sooner or later, this logic of confrontation was bound to spark off a grave geopolitical crisis. This is exactly what happened in Ukraine, where the discontent of population with the current authorities was used and the military coup was orchestrated from outside — that triggered a civil war as a result.

We’re confident that only through full and faithful implementation of the Minsk agreements of February 12th, 2015, can we put an end to the bloodshed and find a way out of the deadlock. Ukraine’s territorial integrity cannot be ensured by threat of force and force of arms. What is needed is a genuine consideration for the interests and rights of the people in the Donbas region and respect for their choice. There is a need to coordinate with them as provided for by the Minsk agreements, the key elements of the country’s political structure. These steps will guarantee that Ukraine will develop as a civilized society, as an essential link and building a common space of security and economic cooperation, both in Europe and in Eurasia.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have mentioned these common space of economic cooperation on purpose. Not long ago, it seemed that in the economic sphere, with its objective market loss, we would launch a leaf (ph) without dividing lines. We would build on transparent and jointly formulated rules, including the WTO principles, stipulating the freedom of trade, and investment and open competition.

Nevertheless, today, unilateral sanctions circumventing the U.N. Charter have become commonplace, in addition to pursuing political objectives. The sanctions serve as a means of eliminating competitors.

I would like to point out another sign of a growing economic selfishness. Some countries [have] chosen to create closed economic associations, with the establishment being negotiated behind the scenes, in secret from those countries’ own citizens, the general public, business community and from other countries.

Other states whose interests may be affected are not informed of anything, either. It seems that we are about to be faced with an accomplished fact that the rules of the game have been changed in favor of a narrow group of the privileged, with the WTO having no say. This could unbalance the trade system completely and disintegrate the global economic space.

These issues affect the interest of all states and influence the future of the world economy as a whole. That is why we propose discussing them within the U.N. WTO NGO (ph) ’20.

Contrary to the policy of exclusiveness, Russia proposes harmonizing original economic projects. I refer to the so-called integration of integrations based on universal and transparent rules of international trade. As an example, I would like to cite our plans to interconnect the Eurasian economic union, and China’s initiative of the Silk Road economic belt.

We still believe that harmonizing the integration processes within the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union is highly promising.

Ladies and gentlemen, the issues that affect the future of all people include the challenge of global climate change. It is in our interest to make the U.N. Climate Change Conference to be held in December in Paris a success.

As part of our national contribution, we plan to reduce by 2030 the greenhouse emissions to 70, 75 percent of the 1990 level.

I suggest, however, we should take a wider view on this issue. Yes, we might defuse the problem for a while, by setting quotas on harmful emissions or by taking other measures that are nothing but tactical. But we will not solve it that way. We need a completely different approach.

We have to focus on introducing fundamental and new technologies inspired by nature, which would not damage the environment, but would be in harmony with it. Also, that would allow us to restore the balance upset by biosphere and technosphere (ph) upset by human activities.

It is indeed a challenge of planetary scope, but I’m confident that humankind has intellectual potential to address it. We need to join our efforts. I refer, first of all, to the states that have a solid research basis and have made significant advances in fundamental science.

We propose convening a special forum under the U.N. auspices for a comprehensive consideration of the issues related to the depletion of natural resources, destruction of habitat and climate change.

Russia would be ready to co-sponsor such a forum.

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, it was on the 10th of January, 1946, in London that the U.N. General Assembly gathered for its first session.

Mr. Suleta (ph) (inaudible), a Colombian diplomat and the chairman of the Preparatory Commission, opened the session by giving, I believe, a concise definition of the basic principles that the U.N. should follow in its activities, which are free will, defiance of scheming and trickery and spirit of cooperation.

Today, his words sound as a guidance for all of us. Russia believes in the huge potential of the United Nations, which should help us avoid a new global confrontation and engage in strategic cooperation. Together with other countries, we will consistently work towards strengthening the central coordinating role of the U.N. I’m confident that by working together, we will make the world stable and safe, as well as provide conditions for the development of all states and nations.

Thank you.




The chemical party

Just imagine teaching chemistry this way.

I guess you would have to lay off the juice, though. Otherwise, there could be some impossible bonding – and student recall would be low.

Thanks to: Sciencegasm shared Universitetet i Oslo (UiO)’s video.

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70th anniversary of first use of atomic weapon against civilians

Image credit: The Human Survival Project

Today is the 70th anniversary of the first ever use of an atomic weapon against humans – civilians at that.  The US dropped the bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Two days later they dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

There will be a lot of information circulating about this incident and its military and political significance. However, the Russian Historical Society has published an historical document which could be of interest. It is the just declassified report from Soviet ambassador to Japan on the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is from the Archive of Foreign Policy of Russia. The report was recorded a month after the attacks.

The original report is available on-line at Report of the Soviet ambassador to Japan about the state of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb. For those who do not read Russian here are the highlights (thanks to Fort Russ – Russia declassifies the report on the aftermath of the US nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki):


The train terminal and the city of Hiroshima were destroyed so much that there was no shelter to hide from the rain.
The city was a scorched plain with 15-20 cement buildings left standing.
Several dozen thousand people huddled in the dugouts on the outskirts of the city.
People who came to help the victims during the first 5-10 days died.
A month after the bombing grass began to grow and new leaves appeared on the burned trees.
Glass windows in the cement building of police department, which was left standing, blew out inward. The ceiling was bulging upwards.
The zone of impact was 6-8 kilometers, where all the buildings were damaged.
At 5-6 kilometers mostly roofs were damaged.
Some areas were not affected by the rays, suggesting that the energy was expelled unequally by bursts. Some people who were close to the injured did not receive any burns. This pertains to sections significantly removed from the impact.
Everything alive was destroyed in the radius of one kilometer.
The sound and the flash were heard and seen 50 kilometers away.
On person reported seeing a flash and feeling a touch of a warm stream on his cheek and a needle pinch.
Many people only had injuries from shattered glass.
Burns were mainly on the face, arms and legs.
A doctor reported seeing three bombs dropped on parachutes, two of which did not explode and were collected by the military. The doctor experienced diarrhea after drinking the water. Other rescuers got sick after 36 hours. The doctor said that in those affected the white blood cell count reduced from 8000 per cubic centimeter to 3,000, 1,000 and even 300, which causes bleeding from nose, throat, eyes, and from the uterus in females. The injured die after 3-4 days.
The injured, who are evacuated heal faster. Those who drank or rinsed with water in the impact area died thereafter.
After a month it was considered safe to stay in the impact zone, however it was still not conclusive.
According to the doctor, rubber clothing offered protection against uranium, as well as any material which is a conductor of electricity.
A girl who visited the area a few days after the blast got sick in 1-2 weeks and died 3 days after.
Nagasaki is divided into two sections by a mountain. The section sheltered from the blast by a mountain had much less destruction.
Japanese driver in Nagasaki said no rescue work was done on the day of the bombing, because the city was engulfed in fire.
Nagasaki bomb was dropped over a university hospital in Urakami district (near a Mitsubishi plant), all the patients and the staff of the hospital died.
The driver said, some children who were up on the trees [playing?] survived, but those on the ground died.Most people in Hiroshima said the bomb was dropped on a parachute and detonated 500-600 feet above the ground.
The head of the sanitary service of the 5th American fleet, commander Willkatts said that no parachutes were used in the dropping of the bombs. He also said no bomb could fall without detonating.
He said after the bombing the zone of impact is safe and the Japanese are exaggerating the effects of a nuclear bomb.

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MH17 tragedy: 1 year on

Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. The Malaysian airliner Flight MH-17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard and sharply raising the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in which Russia and the West back opposing sides.    REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev (UKRAINE - Tags: TRANSPORT DISASTER POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3Z3QS

Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Credit: REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

At the first anniversary of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 the international community is none the wiser about who shot it down and the weapon used. But the one thing we do know is the blame game continues.

The only official report we have from investigators to date was released last September (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact). The final report will probably be released in October (see Investigations into MH17 crash expected to go on until year-end, says Najib).

But a draft of this final report is now in the hands of interested governments. This has resulted in speculation about its contents and stories which claim to be based on leaks. However, the Dutch investigators, have denied – or at least refused to confirm – the circulating stories.

As expected in the current geopolitical climate, the “blame Putin” propagandists are very active, although the stories seem to blame the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine, rather than the Russian Federation itself. For example, this from CNN:

“Dutch accident investigators say that evidence points to pro-Russian rebels as being responsible for shooting down MH-17, according to a source who has seen the report.

“According to the source”, the report says it was a Buk missile — a Russian surface-to-air missile — that was used, launched from a village in Russian rebel controlled territory.”

I am always suspicious of “according to a source” stories – they have so often proved to be no more than the reporter’s imagination.

Other reports do not point the finger but say the investigators now have a clear idea of what missile was used. A recent presentation from technical experts in the firm Almaz-Antey which manufactures missiles of the sort which may have been used shows what can be gleaned from the shrapnel fragments in the wreckage and the pattern of damage on the fuselage. Both in identifying the specific missile used (and, therefore, its possible owners) and its trajectory and launch site. This presentation is very technical and quite long but very interesting.

Although this presentation was aimed mainly at getting European sanctions on the company lifted by legal action, the material was also supplied to the Dutch Safety Board which is the official investigator of the causes of this tragedy.

Almaz-Antey’s conclusion is that, if a BUK missile was used, it was an older model no longer manufactured in the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian armed forces does have these  missile systems (see MH17 crash: ‘Old Buk missile used’ – Russian firm). Mind you, that does not prove who fired the missile because the armed forces in the Donbass region may have possessed one or more such systems captured from the Ukrainian armed forces. And may have trained Ukrainian operators who had defected to the rebels.

So, at this stage the real causes of this tragedy are still unknown. It looks like we will know something more definite in October. But the geopolitical propaganda struggle continues.

I suspect the rumours and unconfirmed stories attributing blame to the eastern Ukrainian rebels are nothing more than propaganda – precipitated by the fact of the anniversary of the tragedy.

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Don’t put all the blame on the Germans – a lesson from World War II


Sculpture of the “Unbowed man” at the Khatyn Memorial site. The sculpture depicts Yuzif Kaminsky, the only adult to survive the massacre, holding his dead son Adam. Credit: John Oldale.Click to enlarge

The recent commemorations of Victory Day in Europe – the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe – got me thinking about how we refer to Germany as the perpetrator of the horrors in that war. Often we more correctly use the term “Nazi Germany” – but still it must place a burden of guilt on many Germans who were, and are innocent.

On the other hand, it seems to me, it almost ignores the very real responsibility of people from other nations for these atrocities. (Although, granted some speakers will also refer to involvement of collaborators).

The Khatyn Massacre

Many years ago I visited the war memorial at Khatyn, in Belarus. This was a very moving experience because it symbolised how that nation had lost a quarter of its population during the war. All the residents of this village had been herded into barns which were then set alight – anyone attempting to escape was shot. The photo above shows part of the memorial depicting the man who was thought to be the sole survivor.

Very moving.

I certainly got the impression that this horror was perpetrated by German soldiers. But my reading in recent days convinces me I was wrong, and had been wrongly informed. The perpetrators were a nazi battalion – but one established in Kiev and made up mainly of Ukrainian nationalists. Here are some details from the Wikipedia entry on the Khatyn massacre:

Khatyn or Chatyń (Belarusian and Russian: Хаты́нь, pronounced [xɐˈtɨnʲ]) was a village of 26 houses and 156 inhabitants in Belarus, in Lahoysk Raion, Minsk Region, 50 km away from Minsk. On 22 March 1943, the entire population of the village was massacred by the 118th Schutzmannschaft Nazi battalion. The battalion was formed in July 1942 in Kiev and was made up mostly of Ukrainian nationalist collaborators from Western Ukraine, Hiwis[1][2][3] and the DirlewangerWaffen-SS special battalion.

The massacre was not an unusual incident in Belarus during World War II. At least 5,295 Belarusian settlements were burned and destroyed by the Nazis, and often all their inhabitants were killed (some amounting up to 1,500 victims) as a punishment for collaboration with partisans. Khatyn became a symbol of all those villages. In the Vitebsk region, 243 villages were burned down twice, 83 villages three times, and 22 villages were burned down four or more times. In the Minsk region, 92 villages were burned down twice, 40 villages three times, nine villages four times, and six villages five or more times.[4] Altogether, over 2,000,000 people were killed in Belarus during the three years of Nazi occupation, almost a quarter of the country’s population.[5][6]

It’s worth following up some of the links for more details.

The Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, which included the Schutzmannschaft Nazis involved in this and many other massacres, carried out anti-Jewish and anti-partisan operations in most areas of Ukraine. While these units were formed directly after the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 Ukrainian nationalist organisations existed before that invasion. These extremist organisations were not just “nationalist,” but were racist – expressing hatred for Poles, Jews and above all, Russians. And these three groups became their victims during the war.

Misinforming tourists

I had happily accepted the story that the Khatyn Massacre was perpetrated by “Nazis” – assuming they were German Nazis. So this information came as a bit of a shock to me. Worse – the role of such nationalist forces was not talked about much during Soviet times in fear of encouraging antagonism between the different republics. So innocent tourists were left in the dark about the true origins of the perpetrators – despite the fact that the leaders of the battalion involved had been brought to justice. As Wikipedia says:

“The commander of one of the platoons of 118th Schutzmannschaft Battalion, Ukrainian Vasyl Meleshko, was tried in a Soviet court and executed in 1975. The Chief of Staff of 118th Schutzmannschaft Battalion, Ukrainian Grigory Vassiura, was tried in Minsk in 1986 and found guilty of all his crimes. He was sentenced to death by the verdict of the military tribunal of the Belorussian military district.

The case and the trial of the main executioner of Khatyn was not given much publicity in the media; the leaders of the Soviet republics worried about the inviolability of unity between the Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples.”

A lesson for today

So the message is – when your hear about Nazi atrocities the perpetrators were not necessarily German. We should not forget the role played by collaborators and non-German nationalists in the Holocaust and other atrocities.

epa04318197 New soldiers of Ukrainian army battalion 'Azov' attend their oath of allegiance ceremony before departing to eastern Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 July 2014. The government in Kiev does not recognize the declared independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and pro-Russian militants refuse to cooperate with the pro-European leadership in Kiev. Ukraine insisted that there would be no ceasefire or negotiations before the pro-Russian separatists in the country's east give up their arms.  EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

New soldiers of Ukrainian army battalion ‘Azov’ attend their oath of allegiance ceremony before departing to eastern Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 July 2014.Image Credit: EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

And this is not an abstract appeal. Today the inheritors of the Ukrainian nationalist organisations which committed these atrocities are alive and very active in Ukraine. They even have military battalions fighting in the current civil war. Worse, the US has now sent their own troops into Ukraine to train National Guard battalions which include units like the Azov Batallion which is based on extreme National Socialist ideology.

Talk about a slippery slope.

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What a nice idea


Click to enlarge – Moscow Celebration of Victory day.
Image Credit:
 NBC News

The recent commemorations of ANZAC Day (in New Zealand), Victory day (Internationally) and Mothers’ day got me thinking about how we mark these events. Thinking spurred on by a family discussion precipitated by a difference of opinion about the Victory day Celebrations (or the reporting of them) in Moscow.

Firstly – Mothers’ day. I was struck by Facebook entries some of my relatives made dedicated to their mothers. The sincere expression of love and respect for, and thanks to, their Mothers. Quite moving but really lovely to see the expressions of gratitude to parents.

ANZAC Day is a notable day in New Zealand. In my youth, many people felt bad about it because of its glorification of war and support of a bad war in Indo-China. Being of “call-up” age at the time my pacifist tendencies (and support for the Vietnamese) meant I rejected what ANZAC Day seemed to stand for then.

But more recently ANZAC Day celebrations in New Zealand have come to recognise the horrors of war, to oppose militarism and to be a time when we remember the sacrifices of our relatives who died in wars. It has come to be more concentrated on the losses at Gallipoli in the First World war (the event which initially launched ANZAC day).

There was very little here marking the Victory Day Celebrations commemorating the end of the war in Europe on 8/9 May, 1945. And local reporting of overseas commemoration events was no better. A pity, as many New Zealanders did fight and die in Europe – and for a much better reason than some other wars we have fought in.

Personalising the commemorations

The media sometimes makes a big thing of the Military Parade in Moscow’s celebration of Victory Day – and I must admit military parades don’t appeal to me. But, unfortunately, our media often ignores the mass participation in Victory Day Celebrations. The photograph at the head of this post is a shot from this year’s mass commemoration in Moscow (click to enlarge – it is worth it).

It is the nature of this mass participation which interested me.  It is sometimes called the parade of The immortal regiment. Here is how the US Rusky Mir Foundation, which reported on an immortal regiment march in New York, describes this mass participation:

“The Immortal Regiment (or Besmertny Polk) dates from 2012, when people in the Siberian city of Tomsk were debating how to keep the memory of World War II heroes alive even as the veterans themselves passed on. They asked people to create large posters with photos of their relatives who had served in the war, and carry them in Victory Day parades. This year, more than 800 cities will have a “Besmertny Polk” parade.”

That is the idea that appeals to me – the use of portraits of lost relatives in these commemorations. It personalises the celebration and expression of gratitude – in much the same way that Facebook posts on Mothers’ day do. And it figuratively enables our lost relatives to be seen participating in the events.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see more people bring along and display photos of their relatives in New Zealand’s ANZAC celebrations? That would help improve the personal and family aspects of the celebration and the display would surely be moving.

Here is some video footage of the Moscow parade – but there is a lot more around, much of it from other countries.

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Why is Vladimir Putin so popular in the USA?


Photo credit: REUTERS

Most readers are aware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a very high popularity rating in his own country – a rating that most politicians  would die for. But it turns out he is also popular in the USA.

Putin came in at the number one spot in this year’s TIME 100 reader’s poll with 6.95% of the votes. According to TIME:

“Putin edged out rapper-singer CL (of the South Korean girl-group 2NE1) to claim the number one spot with 6.95% of the votes in the final tally. Pop stars Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift rounded out the top five with 2.6%, 1.9% and 1.8% of the votes, respectively.”

Putin was the only political leader in the top ten:

“Barack and Michelle Obama sat just outside the top 10 with 1.4% and 1.2% of the votes, respectively. Besides Putin, the only non-entertainers to crack the top 10 were the Dalai Lama (1.7%), Malala Yousafzai (1.6%) and Pope Francis. (1.5%).”


I guess Putin is happy with the result – perhaps he is doing something right.

But here’s the interesting thing:

“More than half of the votes — 57.38% — were cast within the United States. Canada and the United Kingdom followed with 5.54% and 4.55% respectively.”


One of the tamer cartoons demonising Putin

Despite continuous demonisation of Putin (and the Russian Federation) by the mass media in the US, UK and Canada in recent years he seems to be more popular than any other political leader – including the leaders of the countries where the readers live!

I wonder why that is? Is the naive demonisation counter-productive?

Do readers here have any suggestions?

Note: The TIME 100 readers’ poll closed April 10. It is not the same as the annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, spanning politics, entertainment, business, technology, science, religion and other fields. That is actually chosen by the editors of TIME – this year’s list will be unveiled April 16.

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Ukrainian “suicides?”

Several days ago Ukraine Today reported the death of a former politician in the Yanukovych government which was overthrown in a coup last year. He was Oleksandr Peklushenko, the ex-head of a regional council in central Ukraine. Authorities are claiming he committed suicide – but he appears to be the 7th, 8th or 9th such Ukrainian opposition politician to “commit suicide” in the past month or so.

I can’t help wondering if the methods used to purge opposition figures in Ukraine have moved well beyond the well-reported process of throwing them into dumpsters.


The head of the Chernovtsy municipal hospital for war veterans was “lustrated” in October. Dr. Manolya Migaychuk was accused of not fulfilling his responsibilities and was forced to resign, according to local media.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported  5 officials died in a suspicious way in a single 34-day period between January 28 and February 28 (see Suicide Or Homicide? In Ukraine, Old-Guard Officials Dying Mysteriously).

January 26 — Mykola Serhiyenko, the former first deputy chief of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, died in his Kyiv home after apparently shooting himself with a registered hunting rifle.

January 29 — Oleksiy Kolesnyk, the former head of the Kharkiv regional government, died after apparently hanging himself.

February 25 — The former mayor of the southeastern city of Melitopol, 57-year-old Serhiy Walter, reportedly hanged himself. . . Walter had been dismissed from his post in 2013 and put on trial for abuse of power and ties to organized crime.

February 26 — One day after Walter’s death, the body of the 47-year-old deputy chief of the Melitopol police, Oleksandr Bordyuh, was found in a garage. According to news reports, Bordyuh’s former boss was a lawyer involved in Walter’s trial. Media reported that the cause of Bordyuh’s death was ruled a “hypertensive crisis,” or stroke — a term that police frequently use in instances of suicide.”

February 28 — Mykhaylo Chechetov, the ex-deputy chairman of the Party of Regions faction in Ukraine’s parliament, died after jumping or falling out of the window of his 17th-story apartment. Chechetov was a former head of the State Property Fund. At the end of August 2014 another former head of the State Property Fund, Valentyna Valentina Semenyuk-Samsonenko was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head, with a gun lying nearby. She led the agency from April 2005 to December 2008. Her family told reporters they dismissed the possibility of suicide, saying that she had spoken fearfully of someone taking out a contract on her life.”

In recent months, a number of other former and current officials were reported as having “committed suicide” in Ukraine – the former deputy head of “Ukrzaliznytsia”, Nicholai Sergienko, former head of Kharkov regional council, Nikolai Kolesnik, ex-mayor of Melitopol and former MP, Stanislav Melnik.

Who is responsible?

An epidemic of suicides by opposition politicians is of course possible – after all the regime in Kiev is hounding and jailing their old opponents and that must be stressful for the victims. But it is hardly credible.


Perhaps we could just blindly line up with the current political “wisdom” and blame Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. After all, our news media seems to think “Putin did it!” is a sufficiently sophisticated explanation for all things ranging from the shooting down of commercial airliners to the recent Moscow assassination of Boris Nemtsov (a deputy prime minister in a previous government under Boris Yeltsin).

Or are our media at least intelligent enough to realise that would be asking too much of its readers?

It seems that our news media has instead decided just to keep quiet about this rash of “assassination/suicides” in Ukraine. Maybe they cannot see any political advantage in reporting them – unlike the Nemtsov assassination.

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Reality of war for civilians

The civil war in Ukraine is almost forgotten by our news media but it is only getting worse. Poroshenko’s announcement that the US is to supply lethal weapons to the Kiev government means things are going to get much worse before they get better.

But this is what it is like for civilians being evacuated by Donetsk forces from the current battle area near Debaltseve.

[eng subs] Uglegorsk residents evacuated by the militias from the town destroyed by UAF “Grads”.

As one of the refugees demands – Poroshenko should negotiate. A political solution is necessary and it is the only way to end this war. It is what the suffering civilians need.


For balance here is some footage on the evacuations from the side of the Kiev troops.

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