Watching the Shadows
Kremlin

Wagner Group revelations expose Kremlin lies

Russia’s heretofore secretive private mercenary force, the Wagner Group, has opened its first official headquarters, in an office building in the city of Saint Petersburg—with a stylized W logo and the words “Wagner Center” in Russian emblazoned on the glass door facing the street. Putin-allied oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin last month also publicly confirmed for the first time that he is the founder of the mercenary outfit. These are amusing developments after years of claims that the Wagner Group—which is accused in a string of horrific human rights abuses both in Ukraine and across Africa—doesn’t actually exist. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Europe
dagestan

Russia: anti-draft uprising spreads

More than 2,000 people have been detained in protests across Russia since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization of military reserve troops to fight in Ukraine. The demonstrators are risking long prison terms under laws passed shortly after the Ukraine invasion was launched, which have facilitated a harsh crackdown on dissent. At least 20 were detained in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, where police fired in the air to disperse local villagers who were blocking a highway. But the following day, the protests spread to the regional capital of Makhachkala, where demonstrators shouting “No to war” were attacked by riot police. Reports indicate that it is not only military reservists who are being called up, and that a general conscription is actually underway in some areas. There are also reports of disproportionately high numbers called up in poor regions populated by ethnic minorities, such as the North Caucasus. (Photo via Moscow Times)

North America
russian alaska

Russia: irredentist claims on Alaska

The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament threatened to “claim back” Alaska if the United States freezes or seizes Russian assets in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine. “Let America always remember: there’s a piece of territory, Alaska,” Vyacheslav Volodin said at the last session of the State Duma before summer break. “When they try to manage our resources abroad, let them think before they act that we, too, have something to take back,” Volodin said. He noted that deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy had recently proposed holding a referendum in Alaska on joining Russia. The day after Volodin’s comments, billboards proclaiming “Alaska Is Ours!” appeared in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, apparently placed by a local “patriot.” (Map via Wikipedia)

Central Asia
russia

Podcast: the looming breakup of Russia

In Episode 118 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the possibility that Putin’s criminal adventure in Ukraine could backfire horribly, actually portending the implosion of the Russian Federation into its constituent entities, the “autonomous” republics, oblasts and krais. Troops from Russia’s Far East were apparently involved in the horrific massacre at the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. But indigenous leaders from Siberia and the Russian Arctic are breaking with Moscow over the Ukraine war. Rumblings of separatist sentiment are now heard from Yakutia (Sakha), Khabarovsk, Kalmykia, Kamchatka, Tatarstan, Tuva, the Altai Republic, and the entirety of Siberia. China, which controlled much of what is now the Russian Far East until the 1850s, has its own expansionist designs on the region. Frederick Engels called for the “destruction forever” of Russia during the Crimean War, but it may collapse due to its own internal contradictions rather than Western aggression. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map: PCL)

Central Asia
Itelmeni

Russian indigenous leaders protest Putin’s war

Exiled leaders of Russia’s Itelmen, Kamchadal, Udege, Shor, Saami and Selkup indigenous peoples issued a statement declaring that they are “outraged by the war President Putin has unleashed against Ukraine. At the moment, the entire population of Ukraine is in grave danger. Old people, women and children are dying. Cities and towns of an independent country are being destroyed because their inhabitants did not want to obey the will of a dictator and a tyrant.” The statement adds: “As representatives of Indigenous peoples, we express solidarity with the people of Ukraine in their struggle for freedom and are extremely concerned about ensuring the rights of Indigenous peoples during the war on Ukrainian territory, including the Crimean Peninsula that remains illegally occupied by Russia.” (Photo of Itelmen people in the Kamchatka Peninsula via Wikipedia)

Europe
antiwar

New wave of anti-war protest sweeps across Russia

Police detained more than 4,300 people in over 50 cities across Russia as activists mounted a second wave of protests against the invasion of Ukraine. From Moscow and St. Petersburg to the Siberian city of Irkutsk and the Pacific port of Vladivostok, thousands chanted “No to war!” and “Shame on you!”—a message directed at President Vladimir Putin. In the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, a mural glorifying Putin was defaced—prompting a charge by the riot police. The independent monitoring group OVD-Info reports that over 8,000 have now been arrested in anti-war protests across Russia since the Ukraine invasion was launched. After the first wave of protests, the Duma passed a law imposing a 15-year prison term for anyone who opposes the war—or even calls it a “war.” Reporters have been arrested for defying the edict that the invasion only be referred to as a “military operation.” (Photo: protesters in St. Petersburg. Sign reads “In war we will lose everything.” Via  OVD-Info)

Europe
Belarus

Belarus ‘votes’ to abandon nuclear-free status

Amid an atmosphere of repression, Belarus voted in a referendum to approve constitutional changes that consolidate the power of long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko—and drop the country’s nuclear-free status. On the eve of the vote, Lukashenko expressed his willingness to redeploy nuclear arms in the country’s territory, saying: “If [the West] transfers nuclear weapons to Poland or Lithuania, to our borders, then I will turn to [Vladimir] Putin to bring back the nuclear weapons that I gave away without any conditions.” After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus ceded the nuclear weapons deployed on its territory to Russia, and the Belarusian constitution declared that the country would remain a “nuclear-free zone.” This clause has now been expunged from the document. (Map via PCL Map Collection)

Europe
antiwar

Anti-war protests sweep across Russia

Thousands have taken to the streets of cities across Russia in open protest of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—from Kaliningrad in the west to Vladivostok in the east. What began as isolated “solo pickets”—essentially the only legal form of public protest in Russia—quickly snowballed into mass unpermitted marches and rallies. The largest demonstrations were reported from Moscow and St Petersburg, where they were met with riot police in full body armor. In Moscow, Red Square was closed off by military vehicles, preventing protesters from marching on the seat of government power. Independent monitoring group OVD-Info counted some 1,800 protesters arrested by security forces in some 60 cities, including Tyumen, Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Yekaterinburg. Popular slogans include “No to war” and “Hands off Ukraine.” Many demonstrators were heard to shout “Arrest Putin, not me!” as they were dragged away by police. (Photo of St Petersburg protest: OVD-Info)

East Asia
kurils

Podcast: 007 in the New Cold War

In Episode 97 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg dissects the geopolitics of the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, and how the Daniel Craig reboot of the series has finessed the cultural icon’s role in the New Cold War. Famously, the film was produced pre-pandemic, with its release postponed a year due to the lockdown—and its key plot device is a mass biological warfare attack, anticipating the conspiranoid theories about COVID-19. Yet it could also be prescient in warning of a superpower confrontation over the Kuril Islands—disputed by Russia and Japan, and an all too likely flashpoint for global conflict. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map: International Kuril Island Project)

Planet Watch

Podcast: climate change and the global struggle

In Episode 81 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the fast-mounting manifestations of devastating climate destabilization—from Oregon to Siberia, from Germany to Henan. In Angola, traditional pastoralists are joining the ranks of “climate refugees” as their communal lands are stricken by drought. In Iran’s restive and rapidly aridifying Ahwazi region, protests over access to water have turned deadly. These grim developments offer a foreboding of North America’s imminent future. Yet media commentators continue to equivocate, asking whether these events are “linked to” or “caused by” climate change—rather than recognizing that they are climate change. And the opportunity for a crash conversion from fossil fuels that was posed by last year’s pandemic-induced economic paralysis, when already depressed oil prices actually went negative, is now being squandered. Oil prices are again rising, with the return to pre-pandemic dystopian “normality.” Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo of Ahwazi protesters in Iran: Ahwazna)

East Asia
Kamchatka

Mysterious ‘ecological catastrophe’ in Kamchatka

Fears are mounting over an environmental disaster of still unknown origin in Russia’s Far East after residents reported dozens of dead sea animals washed onto a beach from the Pacific. Greenpeace Russia said tests conducted on water samples taken from Khalaktyrsky beach in Kamchatka krai showed petroleum levels four times higher than usual, and phenol levels 2.5 times higher. “The scale of the contamination has not yet been determined, but the fact that dead animals are found all along the coast confirms the seriousness of the situation,” the organization said in a statement, warning of an “ecological catastrophe.” Residents who used local beaches also complained of vomiting, fever and rashes. Krai authorities have launched an investigation. Some scientists suggest that rocket fuel may have leaked into the sea from the military’s Radygino firing range, which is six miles from the seashore and was used for missile tests as recently as August. (Photo: Einar Fredriksen via WikiTravel)

Central Asia
shaman

Demand release of dissident Siberian shaman

Russia’s Memorial Human Rights Center is calling for the release of Alexander Gabyshev, a shaman from the Siberian region of Yakutia, who has been forcibly interned at a psychiatric clinic. Gabyshev is best known for making multiple attempts to travel on foot to Moscow with the intention of “exorcising” President Vladimir Putin. The statement called Gabyshev a “political prisoner,” noting: “He was deprived of freedom solely because of his political and religious beliefs.” Memorial asserts that there are no legal grounds for involuntary hospitalization in Gabyshev’s case. (Photo via Hromadske)