Thursday, July 02, 2015

Video VICE Uncovers Putin's Teenage Army

VICE News has an alarming video about children being trained in a patriotic youth club in the separatist Donetsk People's Republic.

VICE News traveled to Amvrosievka to meet children in a patriotic youth club that we first encountered on a Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) anniversary parade earlier this year, where they were marching, dressed in paratrooper uniforms, and waving a large DPR flag.

They have been trained in fighting with knives, hand-to-hand combat, and how to operate guns at the local school in Amvrosievka for the last five years. And they invited us as to see them participate in a regional competition called "Future Warrior." 

History Hijacked: Four Facts Recast By The Kremlin

According to Vladimir Putin, Soviet leader Josef Stalin (left, with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop at the pact's signing) had no choice but to agree to divide up Eastern Europe in a secret pact with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

A new Russian film on the 1968 events in Czechoslovakia has revived accusations that the Kremlin is twisting historical facts to forge a new ideology and justify some of its most controversial actions and policies.

Here is a look at some remarkable recent Russian treatments of history:

1968 Soviet-Led Invasion Of Czechoslovakia

A Russian film glorifying the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 has sparked fury among Czechs and Slovaks

Warsaw Pact: The Declassified Pages, which aired on state-run Russian television on May 23, justifies the armed crackdown on the democratic "Prague Spring" movement and claims Warsaw Pact troops were sent into Czechoslovakia to protect its citizens from a purported NATO threat.

Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek accused Russia of "grossly distorting" history and summoned the Russian ambassador in protest. Czech President Milos Zeman, who is seen as relatively Kremlin-friendly, dismissed the film as "Russian propaganda lies," according to his spokesman.

The Slovak Foreign Ministry accused Russia of "trying to rewrite history and falsify historical truths about this dark chapter of our history."

Defense Of The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Putin caused dismay across Europe last year by arguing there was nothing wrong with the infamous 1939 nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which led to the carve-up of Eastern Europe.

"What's bad about that if the Soviet Union didn't want to fight?" he asked a meeting with historians in Moscow. "Serious research must show that those were the foreign-policy methods then."

Last month, Putin again defended the pact during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying the deal was signed "when the Soviet Union realized it was being left one-on-one with Hitler's Germany" despite what he described as "repeated efforts" by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to form an anti-Hitler coalition with Western countries.

Merkel responded by pointing out that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact encompassed a secret protocol under which Stalin and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler agreed to divide Eastern Europe into respective spheres of influence.

The agreement paved the way for Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939, as well as the Soviet Union's invasion of eastern Poland in the following weeks and its occupation of the Baltic states in 1940.

Hitler Was 'Good' Until 1939

Amid Russia's persistent claims that Ukraine is teeming with neo-Nazis, a pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper caused stupor last year with an article asserting that Hitler was actually "good" before World War II.

"We should distinguish between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939, and separate the wheat from the chaff," read the piece in Izvestia, which rejected comparisons between Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland to Putin's annexation of Crimea. 

The author, Andranik Migranyan -- who heads the New York office of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, an NGO set up under President Vladimir Putin in 2007 -- credited Hitler with uniting Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland, and Memel "without a single drop of blood."

"If Hitler stopped at that, he would be remembered in his country's history as a politician of the highest order," Migranyan stated.

Critics reminded Migranyan about some of Hitler's most horrific policies prior to 1939, including the establishment of concentration camps, the purges of "non-Aryans," the creation of the Gestapo, and the bloody Kristallnacht pogroms in 1938.

Crimea As Sacred Cradle Of Russian Civilization

President Vladimir Putin has gone to great lengths to defend Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine by portraying the peninsula as a holy cradle of Russian civilization.

Speaking in a state-of-the-nation address in December, he said Crimea had an "enormous civilizational and sacral meaning for Russia, just as the Temple Mount of Jerusalem does for those who profess Islam and Judaism."

Grand Prince Vladimir is believed to have converted Kievan Rus to Orthodox Christianity in the 10th century after being baptized in Crimea.

The logic behind the annexation, however, is disputed as the conversion of Kievan Rus established the foundations for both the Russian and Ukrainian states.

The Black Sea peninsula was also home to various populations before Russia first annexed it from the Ottoman Empire in 1783, including Greek colonies some 2,500 years ago and Crimean Tatars, who today are considered the region's indigenous population -- and have been under increasing pressure since the Russian takeover in March 2014.

-- Claire Bigg

Russian State Newspaper Duped By Parody About U.S. Military Strikes On FIFA

The Russian government’s official daily newspaper appears to have been duped by a satirical report stating that U.S. Senator John McCain supports American “military action” against FIFA after Switzerland this week arrested seven officials with global soccer’s governing body on corruption charges.

In a May 29 op-ed published by Russia’s state-owned Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the author states as a fact that McCain “has decided to sic the Pentagon” on FIFA after the officials were arrested in Zurich on May 27 based on a request by U.S. prosecutors.

“It seems the time is not far off when McCain will demand that American forces invade the UN headquarters,” writes the author, Vladislav Vorobyov.

The kindling for Vorobyov’s rage, however, was a parody piece by the well-known American satirist Andy Borowitz that was published May 28 on the website of the the U.S. magazine The New Yorker.

Borowitz’s piece, titled McCain Urges Military Strikes Against FIFA, clearly lampoons the U.S. senator’s reputation as a security hawk whom critics -- including top Russian officials -- regularly portray as dangerously supportive of deploying the American military to solve international crises.

In 2007, McCain famously quoted a parody of the Beach Boys song Barbara Ann in a joke about launching military strikes against Iran.

“That old Beach Boys song, ‘Bomb Iran,’” McCain said at an appearance in 2007 during his failed presidential campaign. 

In his Rossiiskaya Gazeta op-ed, Vorobyov cites the following fake quote from McCain concocted by the satirist:

“These are people who only understand one thing: force,” McCain said on the floor of the United States Senate. “We must make FIFA taste the vengeful might and fury of the United States military.”

Russia’s leadership, including President Vladimir Putin, have reacted angrily to the arrest of the FIFA officials in connection with a U.S. corruption case and a Swiss criminal probe linked to the bidding process that awarded Russia the World Cup in 2018 and Qatar the World Cup in 2022.

Swiss authorities announced they were opening their own criminal probe tied to the bidding process that awarded Russia the World Cup in 2018 and Qatar the World Cup in 2022.

Swiss authorities on May 27 arrested senior soccer officials for alleged corruption in connection with a U.S. case targeting FIFA executives and launched their own criminal proceedings relating to the way the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 were awarded to Russia and Qatar.

Before the Kremlin commented on the shocking legal drama unfolding over alleged activities at global soccer authority FIFA, the Russian Internet and other media lit up as Russians reacted to news of investigations that could cast a harsh light on Russia's successful bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

“If [McCain] had real power, who would he have given the order to bomb next?” Vorobyov writes in his op-ed. “Soccer stadiums?”

The Russian news portal The Insider cited Rossiiskaya Gazeta editor in chief Vladislav Fronin as saying that he was unaware of the situation with the op-ed and could not comment. 

-- Carl Schreck

Russian Official Stirs Scandal With Underage Marriage And 'Shriveled' Women Remarks

Russia's children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov (file photo)

The man tasked by the Kremlin with protecting Russia's children has riled his critics by defending marriages between adults and minors, adding that some women look "shriveled" by the time they're 27 years old.

According to Russian law, the minimum legal age to marry is 18. However, Pavel Astakhov, President Vladimir Putin's ombudsman for children's rights, noted in a May 14 radio interview that "in exceptional situations" the law allows for the minimum marrying age to be "established by regional authorities."

"In Chechnya it's 17 years old, in Bashkortostan it's 14 years old, in the Moscow Oblast it's 16 years old," Astakhov said in the interview with the Moscow-based Russian News Service radio station. "There are places where there is no minimum boundary." 

He added that in the Caucasus Mountains region, which includes several Russian regions and former Soviet republics, "emancipation and sexual maturity happens earlier."

"Let's not be hypocrites," he said. "There are places where women are already shriveled at age 27, and by our standards they look like they're 50. And, in general, the [Russian] Constitution forbids interference in citizens' personal lives."

As RFE/RL's Russian Service notes, Astakhov's comments came amid a murky story involving a purported pending marriage between a 17-year-old girl from Russia's mainly Muslim republic of Chechnya, in the North Caucasus, and a local police chief who is reportedly either in his 40s or 50s.

The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported last month that the girl appealed to its reporter, Yelena Milashina, who wrote that the police chief threatened to kidnap the girl if her parents did not bless the union. 

On May 12, the girl gave an interview to the tabloid-style news site LifeNews, which is believed to have close ties to the Kremlin, saying she planned to willingly marry the police chief. 

Chechnya's Kremlin-backed strongman president, Ramzan Kadyrov, took to Instagram on May 14 to defend the marriage, quoting a famous line from Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin: "All ages are to love submissive." 

Astakhov is widely despised among Russian opposition activists, in particular due to his support for a 2012 law barring U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children.

Putin signed the legislation in retaliation to a U.S. law imposing sanctions on Russians deemed by Washington to be complicit in the 2009 death of a whistleblowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other human rights abuses.

Kremlin critics piled on Astakhov following his comments on underage marriages and "shriveled" women.

"Why is he in the government? Why are we paying his salary?" Russian opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny wrote on his Twitter feed. 

-- Carl Schreck

Fashion Statement: Lukashenka's Top Cop Wears NKVD Garb At Parade

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) chose the standard military garb, while Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich (left) decided to go with something a little riskier.

It's Victory Day, there's a parade, and you're a top Belarusian official. What do you wear?
If you're President Alyaksandr Lukashenka or a member of his entourage, you go with the reliable standard: olive drab military garb, preferably with lots of medals. Barring that, a no-fail navy suit, red tie preferred. (And don't forget the new ribbons of compromise -- Belarusian colors on the right, Russia's St. George colors on the left.)
But what if you want to stand out?

That seemed to be the dilemma facing the country's interior minister, Ihar Shunevich, who showed up at the May 9 festivities in vintage attire: a deep-blue uniform from the NKVD, the Stalin-era secret police.

The 1943 model worn by Shunevich features a belted shirt with a stiff upright collar, a cross-shoulder holster, voluminous breeches, jackboots, and a blue cap with distinctive turquoise trim.
The press service of the Interior Ministry has declined to comment on the thinking behind Shunevich's outfit.
But Mechyslau Gryb, a retired lieutenant general with the Belarusian police, said Shunevich may have sought to honor the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany by adopting a World War II-era silhouette.
"It's the first time I've seen such a thing," Gryb said. "Usually, the police and the military stick with their new uniforms because they're considered more prestigious and more attractive than the old ones."
Others had stronger feelings about the minister's getup, recalling the NKVD's execution of hundreds of thousands of "enemies of the people" during Stalin's Great Purge.

"Of course, Minister Shunevich's unusual uniform is kind of a costume, something to have fun," said art and culture expert Syarhey Khareuski. "But when someone turns human suffering and death into a costume party, it means that society has reduced the value of human life."
There was no public word on the issue from Lukashenka, who has displayed strong nostalgia for the Soviet era -- the country's internal intelligence agency is still called the KGB -- and has faced questions over the disappearance of critics earlier in his 21-year rule.

-- By Uladzimer Glod & Daisy Sindelar

Karachi Dog Cull Sparks Anger

Pakistani commuters drive past a pile of dog carcasses on the road side in Karachi on May 12.

The killing of hundreds of stray dogs in a government-organized cull in Karachi, Pakistan, is meeting with fury as images spread through social media.

Photos showing scores of dead dogs lined up along roads have led to protests from animal-rights groups and a storm of criticism of city authorities.

Officials quoted by Spain's Cadena SER say the cull is necessary because many of the animals have rabies, a virally borne disease that kills tens of thousands of people worldwide every year.

Pakistani authorities say around 150,000 people in Karachi were bitten by dogs in the past year and some 15-20 percent of them contracted rabies.

Karachi is Pakistan's largest city, with a population of more than 23 million people.

But animal-rights groups say the cull -- in which dogs are usually poisoned -- is inhumane. They argue that rabies can be reduced by vaccinating the canines and the large stray-dog population controlled through sterilization.

Karachi officials say such measures are too costly.

Twitter users expressed alarm at the dog killings, with some arguing that Pakistan's questionable record on human rights suggests there's not much hope for the humane treatment of animals. 

Others have defended the government's actions, pointing to the high cost of a campaign to sterilize and vaccinate dogs in Karachi and the enormity of the city's stray canine population. 

But the problem of large packs of stray dogs roaming cities and biting residents is an international problem, and government officials have been criticized for their methods of culling dogs in such countries as Romania, Tajikistan, Ukraine ahead of the 2012 European soccer championship, and several Russian cities, including Winter Olympic host Sochi in 2014.

-- Pete Baumgartner

Estonian Weekly Urges 'Go Ahead, Make Fun Of Estonians'

Allar Tankler said his newspaper's greatest disappointment would be if it discovered that "people can't think of anything -- not even a crass, prejudiced joke -- when they hear the word 'Estonia.'"

An Estonian newspaper is using a debate about freedom of expression on religious and political topics to launch an international contest to find the best jokes about Estonians.

After proclaiming on Facebook, "we dare you to make fun of us," the weekly Eesti Ekspress announced competitions for the best political cartoon and joke about Estonia or Estonians, with the winners to receive all-expenses-paid trips to -- you guessed it -- Estonia.

Eesti Ekspress editor in chief Allar Tankler told RFE/RL that after the shock terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in early January -- in which 12 people were killed, including five political cartoonists -- his staff debated the issue of media freedom and its boundaries.

"What if our tolerance for freedom of speech only stands as long as someone else is being made fun of?" Tankler said his staff asked themselves. "Can we actually remain calm and carry on, maybe even laugh along, when it’s us being made fun of? So we wanted to test our tolerance."

The weekly says in a Facebook promotion that the contests are being held to further the debate about the "role and boundaries of humor" and to see if jokes are allowed to be offensive and to test what is "politically correct and socially acceptable."

The Eesti Ekspress, which is Estonia's first politically independent newspaper, adds that the ultimate goal of the contests is to increase "the tolerance of everyone."

Tankler said the contest was also inspired by the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat's call in April for Finns to send in nicknames -- many of which were derogatory -- that they use for the neighboring Estonians, whose capital, Tallinn, is a popular tourist destination for Finns.

Tankler said many Estonians -- and Finns -- were outraged by the newspaper's contest and that even Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves intervened.

The Helsingin Sanomat later apologized and the contest was canceled.

But Tankler said the incident led his staff to again wonder what the limits are to humor and who sets those boundaries.

He said he thought a large number of Estonians are "terribly worried" about what other people think about them, something he believes comes in part from Estonia being such a small country.

Tankler said his newspaper's greatest disappointment would be if it discovered that "people can't think of anything -- not even a crass, prejudiced joke -- when they hear the word 'Estonia.'"

He said that "then we will know we have to give the world something to joke about."

All of the entries for the contest, due by May 29, will be published online and in the newspaper on June 3.

Readers will then vote on their favorite joke and political cartoon to determine the two winners, who are to be announced on June 12.

Tankler said he and his staff were looking to see if they can actually get outraged by the contest entries, joking that it will take a lot because Estonians are considered by some of their "dear neighbors" to be "notoriously stone-faced."

If anyone has a particularly off-color or stereotypical joke about Estonia or Estonians, Tankler said it should be sent to by May 29.

-- Pete Baumgartner

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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