Friday, March 14, 2014

Russia / Ukraine and why it matters (to me at least)

Breaking with my normal monologues on toys, games and other equally light material, I felt it necessary to shift gears momentarily to something more serious.  Being married to a woman of mixed Ukrainian heritage and as a practicing member of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, I have been paying special attention to the almost surreal developments in Europe's "breadbasket." We'll return to usual rants on the prequel trilogy and close-ups of Legos soon enough.

Why we should pay close attention to Russia, Crimea, and Ukraine.

Readers, This is based on what I know and what I have put together.  I am far from an authority or expert but this is more so a long buildup of thoughts committed to print mainly so I could make sense out of them.  Anyone who really wants to go beyond the headline, really does need to make a chart or list to figure out all that’s been happening.  Maybe if you have the stamina to get through this, you’ll see some things you previously have not heard or read and you are a little more informed.  This was the first political based writing I have done in a very long time so I’m a little more than rusty.  By all means, if you have corrections, let me know because I’m finding out new stuff on this sad subject hourly.  (update: I wrote this piece about 6 days ago and since then, Ukraine's troubles have been buried due to a wayward jetliner and the "blade-runner's" murder trial that has dominated the news ever since but this by no means accounts to any fact that Ukraine's situation has gotten better.  On the contrary, lack of press coverage has only emboldened Russia's illegal military and political actions against a sovereign nation.)  Good reading and God bless.

I have long advocated that Russia above all other entities including China, the so-called “Axis of Evil” and radicalized Islam was our biggest potential threat in the geopolitical world.  This was due to the  Soviet empire’s anticlimactic deflation, loss of satellite states and lack of political unity. This loss only left a gap and thirst which still breeds in Russia today to retake what they still see as their lost empire consisting of what would be the liberated Eastern European and Central Asian Republics of the Warsaw Pact.  A thing that perhaps makes them even more of threat than ever before is that they no longer have an arbitrary ethos of Stalinized Communism to hold them back thus eliminating them as an ideological threat.  On the surface, they are capitalists just like us except they prescribe to a brand of capitalism that even some of our biggest advocates for the uninterrupted free-market might hesitate to endorse.  How “free” is a free market in the hands of a blatant dictator? 
Certainly looks like you're maintaining a sense of peace and normalcy in Crimea

The United States in its all-too-regular sense of overconfidence and complacency was quick to assume the Russia was hobbled indefinitely following the fall of the iron curtain.  For us, it was easy to declare a war over, especially since we won it, “without firing a shot,” we say with a straight face to Central America and Southeast Asia.  But how easy is it for a nation to admit defeat who was yet to fight a battle?  To put in perspective, one can look to America where, nearly 150 years after the Civil War, we still have great-grandchildren lamenting the “lost cause” of state’s rights who still actively pursue the confederate agenda.  Would we be so obtuse to think Russia’s loss of empire and influence would go over smoothly, if at all?  We quickly dismissed any concern or worry of an ex-Soviet threat as deluded war cries from a misguided and obsolete political sector still sour over never getting one more “Good war” against the Red Menace they wanted to physically destroy since V.J. day.  Assuming every Russia suddenly embraced democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union is as unrealistic as assuming every racist in America joined the Rainbow Coalition after Obama’s election. 

However even basic economic assessments have stated the mass buildup of Russian wealth and the absolute boom of energy industry and production has left Mother Russia with insurmountable capital flow which is only growing.   They are a country completely autonomous for energy dependence and possess such an overabundance that they supply a quarter of Europe’s energy (1/3 which goes through Ukraine) and are the leading provider of natural gas.  The capital lost under communism was projected to take a century to regain within the Russian economy.  This was arrogantly miscalculated by, well, a century as Russia refilled its treasury and then some in a matter of twenty years after the economic shock therapy approach enacted by Boris Yeltsin who in 1991 literally shelled the same Russian parliament building he owed his career to when he “saved” it during the failed coup d'├ętat against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989.  We erroneously assumed they would try to rebuild their economy in a broken and defunct quasi-Soviet model.  Our “experts” never imagined Russia would use a no-holds-barred model created by free-market warrior, Milton Freidman whose very students were on jets to Russia to advise the new government on how to conquer an economy along the same lines of “Shock and Awe.”

Yeltsin was ruthlessly shrewd and scaled back all of his predecessor’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika and make Russia into a closed-door sector of super rich oligarchy that made their ill-gotten fortunes buying out all of Russia’s national utilities and infrastructure for literally pennies on the thousand dollar.  The best part was they used Russian tax revenue to buy out the previously nationalized state companies so the Russian poor and middle class literally paid for the mass-privatization of their new command-capitalist state so they then could pay now skyrocketing energy costs with the ceilings and price controls lifted.   All while unions, state jobs and desperately needed relief programs were being eliminated to add insult to injury as divorce, drug-abuse, suicide and murder rates jumped to double digit rates.  This was all deemed “absolutely necessary” steps for the economy to recover which seemed contrary when it included selling off the only solvent sources of revenue in the country to private investors who would decrease service, terminate employment and raise prices.  Who, in fact, was this necessary for?  This was all done with Western support, particularly from economic interests in the U.S. because this, to us, looked like nails in the coffin for any semblance of a pro-union, Leninist, nationalized state and spelling a death knell for our greatest ideological foe. 

A "not-Russian" grenade launcher-equipped soldier protecting a free press in Crimea.

At all costs, we did not want a Russian equivalent to Poland’s “Solidarity” movement rearing its ugly head.  The bottom line appeared to be good and stable markets were all we needed.   Clinton was too busy outflanking the right and gutting American social programs to notice or care about what was going on in the former “evil empire”.   To the multinationals, Russia was a warning for their goals of mass corporatization in newly liberated countries.  The goal was to make absolutely sure any future economic “liberations” would take place where U.S. and European led multinationals would grab the chokers of any new open markets unlike Russia who defiantly transferred internally control of their vast assets from the state politburo to private billionaires greatly keeping outside hands away from the profits.  It was a simple exercise in semantics as KGB now called themselves CEO.  The goal would be to stick to the Poland, South Africa or Chilean model of “rebuilding” (by selling off national assets as irrecoverable collateral to interested parties as cheaply as possible in exchange for impossibly high interest loans) as opposed to Russia (who did the same thing except they transferred their assets from the hands of individuals from the state).  The Poland model has applied to every liberated country since who ever considered asking for a loan from the I.M.F. The loans would come through but under brutal conditions, heavy interest and major strings attached to keep these countries as indebted as the sharecroppers of the Jim Crow south.  

For any American who complains about “aid” we are perceived to give out, they need to realize this aid comes under impossible conditions that usually includes the recipient being placed in our deep pocket indefinitely.  If history serves as an indicator, the only thing Ukraine needs less than money from Russia is “aid” from America.  This explains why there was such contention in Ukraine over needing the economic deal, bailout or trade agreement they were asking for (Western Ukraine from the EU and the Eastern Ukraine from Russia) Call it what you will, they were in the economic boat they were in much more due to actions on our side of the fence as opposed to the Soviet side from a post-Cold War perspective.  Keep in mind, this Cold War destabilization had nobody but Russia to thank which left Ukraine pillaged, plundered and with 7 million dead from terror, torture, famine and intentional systematic starvation.  

Now the thing to watch with all of this amassed wealth was where it was going and the political leadership in charge.  Vladimir Putin was a man of the “old guard” who would have been front and center during the coup launched by the apparatchiks in 1989.  “Gorby” was certainly not Putin’s cup of tea and the liberation of East Germany was the first step to collapse of the Soviet Union which was what he considers the greatest tragedy in his lifetime.  Gorbachev has openly criticized Putin as turning Russia into an authoritarian shell, leading it down a ruinous pathway and for undermining his goal of transparency and restructuring. Putin’s people dismissively answered, “We restructured enough.”

In his early years Putin rose through the ranks of the ghoulish KGB until being handpicked by Yeltsin to run the country.  He runs it riding, and often crossing, the line between president and dictator and often works unilaterally on an air of machismo, brutality and strongman arrogance he wholeheartedly admits while still proclaiming a longing for the days of the Soviet Union.   Those who disagree are quickly and quietly dealt with, unless you are to be made an example out of like the band “Pussy Riot” or if you are audacious enough to be caught being gay in public.  The society is anything but free and that’s how he likes it.  He surpassed the limit of a two term president? No problem, he named  Medvedev his successor who altered the constitution which allowed him to run and preside for a third non-consecutive term using his vast fortune to secure an ironclad victory and commanding Medvedev to hand the presidency directly back to him while consolidating presidential power even further.

                Meanwhile, where is all of this amassed wealth flowing?  The answer is simple; a vast military buildup at a tune of 90 billion a year.  Multiply to the ladder of a decade and you are talking a 900 billion dollar military!  (To put in needed perspective, they are the third biggest spender behind us and China and we outspend them seven-fold…honestly, we spend 1.5 trillion every two years, yikes) The Russian Federation has rapidly been expanding its influence and power counting on the U.S. preoccupation with two unnecessary wars and our declaration to fight the very concept of terrorism, which Russia (along with Turkey, Egypt, Columbia and a host of other unabashed human rights violators) jumped right on board to receive our enthusiastic support and “aid” in pounding the rebel factions like that of Chechnya, the Muslim Brotherhood or FARC into dust. Not so amazingly, a decade later, Chechen terrorism still exists as two pre-Olympic bombs rocked Russia this year alone.  Parallel to that, our country still lives under constant threat of attacks ranging to those on military bases to the Boston Marathon from loner Youtube-inspired radicals operating completely outside any predictable terror network.   Homeland Security is a proven oxymoron as we slowly prod closer to midnight on the doomsday clock.

On a regional scale, Russia has solidified supply, energy and defense alliances with Finland their biggest Nordic compatriot to the North.  Meanwhile we are seeing live-fire exercises from the Baltic Fleet to show they mean business to any ex-Soviet republics like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as well as an evident flexing of their ICBM muscle.  They have been vying for equal influence and domination in energy markets in the Arabian Peninsula lending support to Iran and Syria and are eyeing the much destabilized region as American forces pull out their foothold.  In 2008, they marched into South Ossetia to “protect their interests and of ethnic Russian speakers” completely unopposed and had the country locked down in hours.  Well, G.W. Bush, at Dick Cheney's insistence, allegedly pushed for harsh sanctions however the paper tigers of Europe greatly balked at the idea while halfheatedly condemning the action while not a single American policy maker would commit to any show of force against Russia in Georgia.  Sound familiar?  This at least discounts the current GOP rhetoric how the Ukrainian invasion could have been prevented with McCain or Romney in office since the Georgian invasion occurred under one of our most bellicose and cavalier Republican presidents who most certainly did not hesitate to unilaterally use military force to get what he wanted…(against countries with minimal armies, weak governments and no infrastructures but still) 

This criticism of Obama comes from the same people in Congress who groused when we lent limited air support to the rebels who killed Moammar “Mad Dog” Gadhafi  (a known enemy of the US for decades linked to numerous attacks against American military personnel and civilians) but called Obama weak when the American people and congress directly refused his wishes to topple another Russian supported dictator Bashir Al-Assad, a man who not only gasses, poisons and uses illegal WMD’s  against women and children but also directly lends support to weapons production in Iran.  So which is it?  Should we have let Gadhafi live and kill Al-Assad or neither or both?  Obama is a bloodthirsty tyrant when he helps eliminate a key terrorist leader everyone since Reagan has been gunning for but he is a weakling when Congress refuses to allow him to stop a terror state more powerful than Iraq or Afghanistan because the American people are “tired of war.” … the logic sounds a little dicey to me.   A note of history repeating itself regarding our military being pulled out too soon due to the demands of a partisan congress and uneducated electorate occurred when U.S. Special Forces were pulled from Somalia because of the published photographs of U.S. casualties in Mogadishu when that very city became a hotbed for Al-Qaeda recruitment and training even possibly being the location that perfected the method of shooting down American attack helicopters which happened 16 times between 2006/07 in Iraq.  Our embarrassment over this tactical and public relations gaff was a major reason why we greatly held up international peacekeeping operations in Rwanda shortly after and the bloodiest war in the history of the world occurred and is still happening now.

Russian "Peacekeeping Efforts" in South Ossetia

Russian troops still occupy portions of Georgia to this day and it demonstrated that with exception to England and possibly Germany, at the speed and size of Russian mobilization and organization, they could lock down the European continent in a matter of days while the E.U. was still vacillating over not making hypothetical sanctions they would never pass too tough.  Apparently, Europe cannot have Russia raising the cost of Natural Gas any more than they do.  Gazprom already hyper-inflates the price to their customers at a rate of 40% across Europe while 15% domestically and they need to make back the revenue lost from the 2008/09 recession and competition from U.S. Shale.  Germany, the biggest potential voice to curb Russian action, itself is 1/3 dependent on Russian energy however there is currently talks among German lawmakers regarding transferring to American oil and gas exports but this is a long way from happening and would be a logistical nightmare.  As of now Russia’s gas and oil exports charge roughly 4 times the price they pay at home to all of Europe.  Any analysis of cost projections can tell that Russia’s foreign energy prices are only on their way up and that is without Ukraine on the table.

Uzbek soldiers rescuing a baby.

Kyrgyz mobs seizing a RPG from a soldier.

Prior to 2010 and beyond, Russia has been directly linked from multiple directions to the inciting of race riots in Kyrgyzstan against Muslim Uzbeks through key players in direct contact with the Kremlin during the riots as well as  allegedly paying unidentified gangs *possibly of Tajik origin* to shoot indiscriminately from moving vehicles at both Kyrgyz and Uzbek civilians sparking what Amnesty International dubbed, “gross crimes against humanity” through the burning alive and mass rape of potentially thousands (hundreds were the official number because only those with proper burials were counted so cases where multiple bodies in a single torched home were counted as one if at all…the numbers are very skewed because entire Mahallas “Uzbek neighborhoods” were torched) in while the Northern Kyrgyz paramilitary and military watched or directly participated through looting or murdering any local police who tried to uphold order.   Russia then refused to send in any aid or assistance to the southern Kyrgyz and Uzbek governments desperately calling for intervention to restore order, after all, destabilized regions are so much easier to take advantage of especially when two neighboring countries now have an enflamed hostile mistrust bred between them.    This isn’t anything new as nearly every neighbor be it Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Moldavia was all cited Russian antagonizing ethnic tensions and encouraging violence and turmoil at every turn including the Tartar minority in Crimea.

In another turn for the bizarre in 2010, the cloak and dagger plot was even more deep on the apparent involvement of the murder of Poland’s president, the chief of staff of the Polish military and 18 members of parliament among 76 others in 2010 when the plane carrying them to Russia for a memorial service ironically for the Poles massacred by Stalin during WWII suddenly crashed on the Russian side of the border.  Russian soldiers and investigators arrived to secure the scene…after stealing at least three credit cards from the bodies of the dead on board.  Russia tried to head up the investigation however Polish authorities eventually detected evident amounts of TNT and nitroglycerin in the wreckage on the plane to which the cause of crash was officially dubbed, “Malfunction on part of pilot error.”  I’ll add the pilots were ordered by Russian control towers to circle in dense fog until a point of no return and then ordered to make a landing attempt in conditions with zero visibility.  No matter what, the people on that plane were not living to see another day.  The discovery of the explosive powder was explained as trace materials from unexploded WWII bombs in the area….convenient how it jumped all over the wings, engines and 30 seats within cabin.   Russia still is withholding information from their side of the investigation that Poland is still pressing for.  A large number of Poles hardly believe that story.  Add the fact that the military prosecutor in the case shot himself in the head and Poles rioted at the Russian embassy in Warsaw in 2013 during an Independence Day celebration over the tragic and hazy end to their leadership.  You can’t make this stuff up!

Media pundits have since argued that Obama and much of our State department was taken by surprise by this and how unexpected this course of action is on Russia’s part.  Surprised? Yes.  Unexpected? No.  Secretary of State Kerry said, “[Putin] was using 19th century policies in a 21st century world” According to him we haven’t seen military takeovers or invasions since 1899? Since when?  Where do we get the disillusion to think dictators do not exist or territory is not to be coveted or people subjected against their will?  If he’s saying landgrabs only existed pre-1900, he need not look further than the very history of the U.S. as our armed forces were in a direct illegal occupation of the Philippines that very year!  This egalitarian la-la land is what emboldens dictators to take such audacious actions.  I’m sure in the world of Post-Versailles Europe no one would have ever imagined the rapid growth and conquest of Hitler and his Third Reich after the closure of an erroneously dubbed “war to end all wars” or the empires of Europe would have ever taken Napoleon and the rabble of post-revolutionary France seriously as a force to dominate all of Europe.   I should rephrase…the U.S.  Assumes land takeovers and subjection of populations do not take place unless we deem it necessary to our national interest.   That or the U.S.-supported dictator behaves in terms we deem acceptable such as Manuel Noriega or, more specifically, Saddam Hussein’s acceptable gassing of the Kurds (a people with little strategic, political or economic importance to our interests) prior to his unacceptable invasion of Kuwait (an oil-rich close ally of the Saudi’s who carry major weight in Washington).  The former action we overlooked (even taking him off our list of terrorist nations) while the latter landed Operation Desert Storm at his doorstep.

According to Russia, "Helluva guy!"

Our state department views this in a perplexingly contradictory manner. That being it is unfathomable when another world power does such a thing like physically invade another country for the purpose of annexation such as Russia or kills women and children in Syria or criminalize the entire homosexual population in Uganda.   Meanwhile we apathetically watched by while millions were slaughtered in the Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leonne, Tibet and Indonesia, continue to stand by while North Korea carries on with its explosive rhetoric and test launches tactical missiles on a monthly basis, and are somehow satisfied with a deal that still allows Iran to pursue nuclear energy pathways. (a deal the Iranian government steered as a political victory at home and a U.S. defeat abroad)  How is it we condemn some while permitting the same actions elsewhere?  Putin along with Hong Kong has directly supported and granted asylum to wanted fugitive Edward Snowden regardless of the perceived heroism or villainy of his actions in a concentrated effort to disgrace the American intelligence system and its political leadership among its people as well as made direct efforts to tap our diplomatic communications and leak them to further discredit our reputation.  Putin wrote a defiant Op-Ed piece for our New York Times outright challenging and criticizing our president’s desired actions to stop the crimes against humanity in Syria and accuses the West of interfering in his affairs???   All the while, he is being granted the title of “most powerful man on Earth” by Forbes Magazine while the IOC, in their normal history of rewarding brutal, awful countries, granted the honor of hosting the Winter Olympics in an imaginary Potemkin-village rightly fitting as a real-life vacation locale for Josef Stalin.  Maybe we can have the summer Olympics at the Berchtesgaden or Jonestown next.

Russia’s unilateral move into Ukraine should raise more than an eyebrow.  Considering there were multiple diplomatic pathways they could have pursued and leaded to “ensure safety” of ethnic Russians or “Protect Russian interests” as were the official excuses from the Kremlin.   As a permanent member of the UN Security council with veto power, Russia would have great flexibility to bend a diplomatic situation to their favor.  They could have worked with Tymoshenko and Yatsenyuk to ease Ukrainian authority of the Crimean Peninsula to Russian governance undoing the 1954 deal while protecting the 1994 agreement of Ukrainian sovereignty.  With Russia’s wealth they could have justified the aid package they supplied prior to the EuroMaidan crackdown as a purchase of some effect to the Crimean region instead of just taking it off the table.  Russian control isn’t unheard of and Ukraine’s new government, in the spirit of open democracy, might be reluctantly open to a fair referendum.  Even if they weren’t, elections were coming up in 8 months and with limitless Russian money and stirred up anti-Kiev sentiment, this could have been easily put on the ballot as a referendum.  Crimea still wouldn’t normally be a shoe-in to join Russia as it already approved remaining within Ukraine’s borders in 1991.  The fact that Russia need an illegally appointed government in Crimea, closed door elections and a 30,000 strong military occupation clearly shows how unlikely a fair referendum would have went.  As a leading member of the OSCE, Russia could have gone in with monitors to ensure ethnic Russian rights were being protected and there was no destabilization or “anarchy” as they put it within the Ukrainian government.  Instead armed paramilitary are attacking and firing at monitors sent do exactly what Putin’s excuse was; to guarantee safety of citizens of Crimea.  When that isn’t happening mobs are threatening and beating members of the media for attempting to cover the clear hostile actions of such peaceful, downtrodden Ethnic Russians.  Strange how during all of EuroMaidan, no members of the media, Eastern or Western were attacked or stopped by the protestors.   

I know when I want to keep the peace, I allow a convicted terrorist to control the local government
and violent demonstrators to intimidate 40 percent of the territory.

So far, the only anarchy after the EuroMaidan protests have been violence directed at civilian governments of Eastern Ukraine under attack by “pro-Russian” Ukrainians.   “Pro-Russia” is loosely referenced since numerous reports out of Ukraine have alleged many “Pro-Russian” protesters in fact are Russians and members of their military who crossed into Ukraine to start trouble, incite violence and attack government buildings.    These “Pro-Russians” are not advocating for a Ukraine aligned with Russia…they are advocating for Ukraine to cease existing and to be agglomerated into Russia directly not just in Crimea but within all of Eastern Territorial Ukraine.  What we are witnessing is the literal theft of a country at the hands of terrorists and strong-armed goons of the Soviet era.   

The "Goblin King" of Crimea, Askimov.

All the while, Russia is flatly denying that any Russian troops are actually on the ground and that the thousands of armed men storming state buildings and seizing military bases are Ukrainian self-defense groups autonomous of Russian command.   This is a head scratcher that such large numbers of well armed and supplied men operating with absolute disregard for the rule of law and completely opposed to a Ukrainian lead Ukraine would have stood by since November and allowed the events of EuroMaidan to take place…all with weapons impossible to get within Ukraine’s borders…driving army vehicles with Russian tags on them.   Crimea’s actual government was dispossessed and overthrown and convicted terrorist Sergei Askimov is ruling as a dictator.  He is a leader member of a separatist group called “Other Russia” allied with similar “Russian Front” advocating for the overthrow of Ukraine and was jailed on charges of terrorism in 2001.  As a “popular Russian” candidate this man (along with his “Russian Front” Party) only received 4% of the regional vote in Crimea among an ethnic Russian majority when he and separatist allies ran for office legitimately last time but now the man also known as “Goblin” in criminal circles is calling the official political shots for this hotly contested region.  The Ukrainian Communist Party gets more of a vote than they do!  On Thursday, regarding Crimea’s “vote” to secede, a widely quoted “member of Crimean Parliament” named Sergei Shuvainikov was the sole voice of this in the worldwide news media.  He has long advocated violent separation and is a direct ally to Askimov yet these are men who are now the global voice of Crimea.  These Russian nationalist groups have long advocated violence and instability in the name of creating a reborn Soviet state.  Their homes resemble bunkers adorned with World War II imagery and anti-Ukrainian messages of hate and are constantly screaming how Ukraine is trampling their culture, language and rights as Russians while nearly everyone in the Ukrainian parliament openly speaks Russian and many key office holders are from the south and east and still are there after Maidan.   While they speak of their birthrights to posses Crimean, they are actively and hypocritically against the ethnic Tartars who are the true cultural hosts of the peninsula accusing them of lying about their origins and use anti-Muslim racism openly. 

Common sights in Crimea for the Separatists funded by Moscow

Yet in “Separatist” Kiev, the Moscow-dubbed, “Nazi, Nationalist and criminal force” running the country actually is a mix of dual Russian and Ukrainian-speaking, Tartar, Eastern, Western and Jewish individuals.  The acting president is a Baptist Pastor!  Hard to believe an anti-Russia, Nazi state being run by Baptists, Jews, Roma and people of mixed Russian and Armenian descent.  Ever since Maidan began in 2013, in Crimea there have been hundreds of mystery billboards, fliers and “grass roots” political mobilization against the Kiev protests financed by discreet donors and a lot of unannounced backdoor visits from Russian political figures to and from the area.  Russia has over 100 million dollars invested in over 60 political projects in the region even before the multibillion dollar bailout.  This alone gave Yanukovych all the motivation he needed to use deadly force.  Yet, according to the Kremlin, the minimally funded International Endowment for Democracy was somehow superseding decades of Russian influence, a clear strong-arm military and paramilitary presence and countless millions of dollars. This goes on and on and on.

Rewind to the previous election of Yanukovych which was majorly financed by Moscow.  He takes power and the previous Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko was unjustly jailed for a dozen trumped up charges ranging from corruption, to abuse of power to murder while the free man was well known to be one the most abusive and corrupt leaders in post Soviet Europe.   With his leading opponent out of the way, he pretty much was free to stay in power indefinitely and by no means was she what we would call “liberal.”  On the contrary, she followed an economic policy in step with the conservatives of this country.  He ran the country under Russia’s demands and was to instill Ukraine as part of the Eurasian Union, effectively a Kremlin controlled dictator’s club.  His crackdown of the EuroMaidan protests only demonstrated why he was unfit to rule as he operated with gross, criminal capacity.  He did this with full support of Moscow and this was evident by the fact immediately after his fleeing the country he is seen in Moscow and issues a broadcast from southern Russia dismissing and now calling illegitimate the very government (the same that existed while he was president) who legally impeached him for fleeing his position.  While Ukrainians demanded the rule of law and a true transition to a democratic country, Russia’s invasion was for so much beyond a land grab.  Ukraine represented absolute defiance to the will of their superpower neighbor and the threat of a free society opening political, economic and social avenues to all.  Any victory for something like this is an absolute threat to a regime which brutalizes and represses at will like those who control Russia.  This could be directly mirrored to the case of Cuba and America’s fanatical desire to destroy such a visible case of defiance to our political will to dominate the Western Hemisphere.  This is why the nations of Europe unanimously invaded France following their revolution and the likes of Voltaire was expelled and the works of Mozart were banned in the Austro-Hungarian Empire for potentially inspiring similar egalitarian thinking.  In Russia at all costs, any revolt in Ukraine must be portrayed from start to finish as evil, illegal and doomed to fail lest any of the mass portion of repressed, impoverished Russians get the same idea.   A sad lesson was Ukraine until 1994 was the world’s third biggest nuclear power and as part of the 1994 agreement between the US UK and Russia completely disarmed and ceased proliferation.  This sets a terrible reverse incentive from any nuclear nation considering disarmament and a major justification for any country pursing a nuclear program to work faster in achieving their goals because apparently lack of nuclear armaments will only lead to a foreign invasion.  Ukraine literally filled its silos with dirt and planted daisies on top and have a Russian occupation to thank.

Lithuanian anti-Russian Protestors

Should Putin’s excuse as a humanitarian crisis hold up, what would this mean of any other country host to an ethnic Russian population?  We saw Germany use these reasons for the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, Anschluss in Austria and their incursion into Alsace-Lorraine and the Rhineland under the guise of protecting ethnic Germans German interests.  With this potential precedent being set, what of Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Kazakhstan or Moldavia which are countries Putin doesn’t consider “real” but more so wards to the Pax-Russiana he covets.   All host ethic Russians and have populations where 75 percent or more speak Russian.   What is being reported is an armed takeover with upwards of 30,000 Russian troops and armor completely locking down the Crimean peninsula and amassed on the border of East Ukraine while the Ukrainian army is on high alert and awaiting orders.  What our popular media has yet to report are the witnesses from the ground surfacing information of why the Russians were so hard up to confiscate Ukrainian ordinance and weaponry and continuously are pressing the issue on Russian newsmedia outlets.   Within Ukraine, there are reports of Russian Special Forces planning to instigate a false flag operation attacking ethnic Russians with Ukrainian military equipment giving justified reasoning to invasion and use of lethal force.   The “ethnic Russian” population has been incessantly inciting violence against the interim Eastern government this whole time while police and pro-democracy forces have demonstrated nothing short of superhuman restraint.  All of this is very reminiscent of the Gleiwitz incident Hitler used to rationalize the invasion of Poland if not a carbon copy, it seems the tsar is taking many lessons from the fuehrer in conquest.   Russian state television has long been demonizing the Euromaidan protests for nearly half a year and have been portraying images of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian military into Poland as Russians fleeing the Ukrainian demonstrators into Russia.  At the tune of 20,000 state workers, many under threat of termination from their jobs, marching “freely” in Moscow to support invasion, the few courageous enough to demonstrate for peace at the Kremlin were quickly rounded up, detained and whisked off to who knows where.  There are also reports of Moscow bussing in thousands of Russians from Russia to pretend to be ethnic Russian Ukrainians to incite violence and cast their phony ballots in the referendum to liberate Crimea…a referendum Crimea already had…in 1991…and they chose to stay in Ukraine.  Even among the allegedly “oppressed” Russian Crimeans who talk to the press (the press they don’t attack) refuse to give proper identifications of surnames.  Maybe because that would be a dead giveaway that they, in fact, aren’t citizens of Ukraine???
It's really easy to save people who are in no danger whatsoever.

With lack of any action from the international community besides pulling ambassadors from Moscow and threatening sanctions and visa revocations, all of which Putin has preemptively weighed, this has only emboldened Russia further.  They have not been given a single real reason to stop their actions.  Once can only wonder what his aim is?  A military takeover of that magnitude seems like a buildup to something much bigger and a literal testing of the water to see what the NATO response would be which as of now has been nothing.   If Russia possibly could have legally annexed or at least landed major political control over Crimea without a single soldier under justifiable reasons for monitoring a transitional shaky government with potential hostilities to them, why do all of this without intent to use it?  This like the dropping of the two nuclear bombs on a crippled Japan is not really for the apparent stated reason of “humanitarian reasons” or “preventing an invasion of Tokyo” but for the underlying reasons to send a more than direct message to much bigger players in the world of possession of might and absolute willingness to use it.  We speak of Russia being isolated but what of China, the second largest economy in the world who has derided our condemnation of the invasion and has lent support to Russia’s actions?   Russia and China, even as a combined economic force is far too powerful to ignore and from a tactical or security standpoint neither is the very unstable baggage they bring with them in Iran, North Korea and Syria.
A bunch of "not-Russian soldiers" acting like Russian soldiers.

My magic eight ball prognosticates some bad times in our near future.   America and Obama, whether we or he want to or not, are being looked to again as leaders of the “free world” to take the lead against the body of Soviet Imperialism which had been not dead but, in fact, dormant all these years.   However we have an extenuating set of impossible limitations and circumstances to fight a military strongman who acknowledges only the force of your bludgeon and the size of your weapon with nothing more than empty threats and unorganized squabbling on how quietly we should yell.  Hitler later admitted, he would have stopped right in his tracks had anyone even demonstrated a remote show of force…If you do not think Putin will be saying the same thing a years from now on his seat on the empire of the Russian Eurasian Federation, you may want to think again.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Toy Fair 2014...deep pockets required.

The Toy God's have spoken and boy have they ever!

Since my last post, I have since sold a ton of my Joes, games, Legos and G1's and cleared out the toy room to convert into a playroom for the little man.  It was a fair trade and he needs a great place to play instead of a toy museum.  Everything is in storage in my basement.  All I'm saying is he will have a great set of birthdays from 5 on when he gets to dive into those boxes. But after this years Toy Fair, it's looking like I may have to add a few choice items to those boxes.  :)

Hasbro has had an overall disappointing year so far at least for me Star Wars-wise, still haven't seen wave 2.5 for the black 3.75 series...I mentioned in my last post in September about the Nikto guard I wanted and it looks like he is going to go the way of the Imperial Navy Commander that I so far haven't seen ever on the pegs.  I haven't seen any new stock for the 3.75 black series in any of the local retailers.  I did get the Boba Fett 6" and have seen him consistently at my local Target store.

All I can say is I hope Hasbro makes nice with the chain stores and gets their upcoming lines stocked and out for sale!  Toy Fair showed some impressive entries in all of their major lines.  Star Wars is an old school collector's dream come true with tons of vintage era original trilogy stuff in beautiful detail.  Transformers have a ton of classics and generations and some great voyager and leader class bots.  GI Joe is getting some proper love for its 80's characters and vehicles.

Beyond Hasbro, Lego is making some impressive entries as well as NECA and Funco whose ReAction figure line is giving amazing treatment to tons of 80's properties that never we graced with action figures.  You're going to need some deep wallets for 2014!

In the spirit of keeping this relatively brief, I won't go into listing off every single thing that has been unveiled nor will I go into my pessimism regarding crappy stocking and retailer stubbornness but I'll just list off a few wish items and things that caught my (and I'm guessing anyone else who shares my tastes) eye.

Start with the big guns and by far the best news of the show.  Star Wars.  Not only are there some strong showings for the new Rebels line just in time to reignite interest in Episode VII's release next year but there have been some highly anticipated figure announcements that I'm sure pleased a lot of collectors and fans, especially of the original trilogy.  The Black Series is showing some powerhouse lineups with the 6" line covering an amazing looking Darth Vader (with removable three piece helmet), Chewbacca, Jedi Luke, Biker Scout with Speeder Bike and Jabba the Hutt, additionally your going to see a standard Clone Trooper and Revenge of the Sith Anakin with good and evil face deco option and a repaint of the Sandtrooper with black paulderon. On top of this Hasbro's Q and A announced we will see an episode VI Emperor Palpatine for this line down the road, awesome.  Only sour note here is Jabba does not include Salacious B Crumb nor his dais which are rumored to be in a SDCC exclusive set going the way of the Carbonite Han...rrrr.

Moving onto the 3.75 line for the black series, we are seeing a dream wave.  I've never seen a wave since I started collecting where I literally wanted every figure and this one may very well be the first.  Luke in Dagobah gear with Yoda, Toryn Farr (never made), a new Vader, a rerelease of Hoth Luke, Snowtrooper officer (never made), Also never made for modern lines, we see Ree Yees and  my absolute favorite never yet produced figure, Sgt. Doallyn (I've been waiting for him for 30 years and Bane Malar was the closest we ever got to him) Slam Freaking Dunk! 


I'm glad the figure line is showing such OTC love since Lego is primarily going the route of the prequels with exception to a small mini set of a Death Star Turbolaser cannon early in the year (nicely with 2 Imperial Gunner and Royal Guard minifigs...strange no Death Star Troopers) however later in 2014 for the holidays we are getting some great treatments of the Snowspeeder, B-Wing, AT-AT, Star Destroyer and Cantina (FINALLY) along with minivehicles and a super detailed Sandcrawler (minifigs we haven't seen are Greedo, Cantina Band members, Nien Numb, General Madine, sleeker Storm and Snowtroopers, General Veers, Scanning Crew, New Imperial Officers of both green and black uniforms and an emperor's hologram!)...Also we are going to see rereleases of Batila Shan, Imperial Royal Guard, Dack Ralter, StarKiller and Darth Malgus for those who missed it.  I will, however, believe it when I see it.

Next up are the transformers. I'll just preface this part with the fact that I hate the Bayformers and everything associated including the overcomplicated, messy, bone-like designs that don't even translate well as the toys they were inspired by and thus intended to be.  Transformers also apparently are too hard to transform for children so they are releasing a 1-2 step line that clicks into place like the Generations Slammer Cassettes for the newer players.  I'll just say they look hideous.  This is also not the Rescue Bots or Robot Heroes that are intended for little kids, this is a branch of the actual transformers line.  I'll just say, "kid, if a Transformer is too hard for you, go kill yourself." The Trans4mers figures look terrible as well.  Grimlock looks like an Academy Award and doesn't even look like he'd fit in with the Beast Wars line, Hound has a Beard (what?) and is not a jeep, Galvatron is some kind semi (okay)...whatever I won't even go on.  They are making a G1 cartoon inspired modern Optimus figure that looks nothing like the awful big-screen rendition because blue and red would be just too colorful for Bay's reimagining where the Transfomers are homophobic, racist and fart.   His bot mode is a little too Japanime but he does have a solid alt-mode so good for him.  Okay done with that onto the good stuff. 

As close as we'll ever get to the Valkyrie, It definitely will do!
I know he's not a Toy Fair reveal but I freaking love this figure!

We are seeing a ton of Classics and Generations figures coming out of the woodwork.  Some amazing Leader and Voyager class figures that look like pure revamped updates of their G1 counterparts.  Whirl, RoadBuster, Scoop, Jetfire (YYYYEEEAAAAAHHHHHHHH) are all looking like must haves.  I'm loving the Targetmasters and for those who you who likes the minicons, the Generation's line is releasing tons of them including Swerve, Windcharger, Tailgate, Gears and Cosmos among others including a three pack of minibots that are all combiners!  And It looks like we will see another SDCC/Toy's R Us exclusive re-release of Grimlock for the Masterpiece line for those who missed him.  He would like very nice next to my Soundblaster.  Let's hope he comes at a reasonable price tag as opposed to the Takara 200 dollar re-release we are seeing floating around on BBTS. Despite yet another terrible reimagining of the Autobots and Decepticons in theaters, we will see a strong showing of figures.  Lets hope the T4's don't take up too much shelf space which box out the guys we want.  You know they will though.

Finally to the third of my major brands...GI Joe...This franchise is celebrating its hallmark 50th anniversary this year so we will be seeing a bunch of relelases in the otherwise dormant line... A lotta repaints...meh and it doesn't look like we will be seeing any single figure releases other than three-figure battle packs and two-figure versus packs.  Even the vehicles are two packs with two pack in figures.  So down the line we see Blowtorch vs H.E.A.T. viper, Lowlight vs Night Viper (painted red not green), Lady Jay vs Baroness, Arctic Snowjob (redundant) vs Arctic B.A.T. and the three packs are Beachhead vs Cobra Trooper and repaint Viper and Destro vs Hawk and Leatherneck. 
 The vehicle sets are the Cobra WOLF with Ice Viper (my all time favorite vintage figure) vs a repaint Sky Hawk with arctic camo with another Snake Eyes in arctic gear...meh and a repaint Vamp Mk II vs Cobra Night Landing in two decos of repaints of Flint vs Cobra EELs all previously released other than the night landing boat.  Really Hasbro, this is some serious fleecing of Joe Fans by forcing them to rebuy figures they already have for a taste of some new product considering there are legions of characters specially from the late 80's you haven't revamped.  This is like the Star Wars threepacks that made collectors buy a second Tusken Raider and Fett for a single Snaggletooth figure....Do you want these things to be returned with "the Corps figures" switched in the boxes because that's where I see this going.

 On the other hand, if you like the GI Joe Kre-O Line, wow.... there are some beautiful additions.  First off, you can get a Kre-O sized Terror-Drome with cobra trooper, Gung-Ho, Mainframe, Tomax, Xamot, Corbra Trooper, Sky Hawk vehicle and Serpentor.  Also coming up is a Firebat, Wolverine, Python Cycle with some great Kre-ons like Snow Serpent, Lady Jaye, Scrap Iron, Torch,Wetsuit, Alpine, Doc, Footloose, Lowlight and Night Creeper.  Looks like a pretty strong showing but again, the stocking of this line as a Toys R Us exclusive has been abyssmal as of now as I've only ever seen the blind bag Kre-ons for Joes stocked ONE TIME in the last 2 years.   So, if you can find these guys, they are definitely worth checking out.

When else can you contextually have your figures "bring out the Gimp"?

The Funco production of Pulp Fiction, Terminator, Goonies, Back to the Future, Universal Monsters, Nightmare Before Christmas among other popular 80's lines all piggypacking on the very cool Alien figure line released earlier in 2013.   They look straight out of the late 70's/early 80's Kenner lines with limited articulation and nice rubbery sculpts.  I love the vintage look however the playability of these lines seems limited and only geared at a small collecting base.  At 10 bucks a figure, it still seems reasonable to get a few nice desk pieces and I'm sure many fans of each property will enjoy seeing their favorites get some proper action figure conceptualization.

See the Rocketeer in the corner!?!?

The bigger scale/ pricier  figures lines such as Kotobukiya and Neca are all producing some nice stuff. We are seeing additions to Gremlins, Robocop, Godzilla, Planet of the Apes and Alien.  I'm eying the Aliens-line with a nice Bishop, Kane and Power Loader planned for release and apparently a soon-to-be Ripley since Sigourney Weaver finally granted her likeness to be made in toy form, yay!  Koto is making quite a few new Marvel and DC figures along with a nice Star Wars lineup. Hot Toys is making a great looking Batman, Joker and Iron Man stuff.   Not my cup of expensive tea so check it out on your own if interested.

Holy Sweet Mother of God!

My show stopper and where I end it is with Lego...did you see the Lego Movie Sea Cow????? It's essentially the airship to end all airships and is set at a beastly 250 bucks!  I acutally built a similar creation back in the day with my friends who put all our castle and pirate sets together to build a massive multi storied airship and even that, as awesome as it was, doesn't hold a candle to this amazing beast!  Additionally, for those of you wanting some Lego to go with your Ghostbusters fix, your long awaited prayers are answered with the fan-created Ecto-1 with the likes of Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Zeddemore for a paltry sum of 50 dollars.  Hell to the Yeah.  Also we can expect the Lego Simpsons house coming along very soon as well as Simpsons action figures commemorating their best guest stars including James Brown and Tom Hanks.  Credit card debt will be well worth it with the likes of all these amazing toys coming around this year.  If I had to choose; Ecto-1, 6 inch Speeder Bike, sgt. Doallyn and Ree-Yees and the Jetfire Leader Class and I'd be good for the year.