Death of a Russian Samurai

Those who know me personally are aware of my long-standing interest in Japan. Translating a piece on a surprising and worthwhile story that took place during the Russo-Japanese War is one way of showcasing it.

Espionage History Archive

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 was to prove advantageous for Japan and its Western maritime backers Britain and the United States, while the conflict was a multifaceted disaster for Russia. Amidst the bloodshed, however, were found moments of chivalry exemplified by the warriors of each side. Here is one such account:


Hunter and scout Vasilii Timofeevich Riabov was born in 1871 and grew up in the village of Ivanovka outside Penza. Almost a century and a half has gone by, yet his memory persists through the centuries.

After his discharge from active military duty and joining the reserve, Riabov relocated to the neighboring village of Lebedevka. He was a brave and active man, he loved the theater and his wife, even though he sometimes hit her after drinking. And sometimes he used other people’s things without permission. That happened too. But he atoned for all his sins with his act…

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The Spy with the Broken Bracelet

My newest translation for the Espionage History Archive: KGB vs CIA—the story of capturing a female American spy and martial-arts expert in 1970s Moscow.

Espionage History Archive

Veteran chief of the KGB’s elite Alpha Group Maj. Gen. Gennady Nikolaevich Zaitsev recounts the 1977 operation to arrest CIA intelligence officer Martha Peterson, who worked out of the US Embassy under diplomatic cover. Peterson had been handling a valuable agent – Aleksandr Ogorodnik, code-named Trigon, a highly-placed staffer at the Soviet Foreign Ministry. Little did Peterson know at the time that Ogorodnik had already been arrested and committed suicide in custody with poison supplied from Langley. The trap carefully laid by the KGB’s Second Chief Directorate was set…


It so happened that I had the opportunity to participate in an arrest of a spy even before joining the spetsnaz Alpha Group. At that time, I served in the Seventh Directorate of the KGB of the USSR. Do you remember the film TASS is Authorized to Declare …? It told the story of how the KGB exposed Trigon, an enemy agent…

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Do You Realize What You Have Done: Brussels Bombing in Context

Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster — and nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life. I cannot help asking those who have forced that situation: Do you realize what you have done?

-Vladimir Putin addressing the United Nations in September 2015.

March 22, 2016 entered contemporary history as another day made dark by a new terrorist act in Europe. This time it took place in Brussels, Belgium roughly following the general pattern of its Parisian predecessor in late 2015 by targeting multiple heavily populated areas: a major metro station and the city’s airport. These violent acts resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries and were later attributed to the so-called Islamic State terrorist group, although at the time of writing the criminal evidence is just making its way into the media.

SYMBOLS OF EUROPEAN POSTMODERITY

Whereas some described the Paris attacks as targeting the very heart of European culture and civilization, the 2016 bombing of Brussels symbolizes the war against the capital of the European Union and all it represents, as well as the NATO headquarters, the most powerful military alliance in the world. Indeed, border closures alone in the wake of such crises undermine the very idea of this Union and thus send a strong message. Terrorism’s raison d’être is to cause maximum disorientation and fear among the civilian population, which is why, it seems, the perpetrators chose public spaces rather than government buildings.

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Putin’s Path to the KGB

Espionage History Archive

Using his unique access to the Kremlin, German journalist Alexander Rahr shares the inside story on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s formative years in Leningrad and his path to the KGB. 


Putin never concealed his background. Spiridon, his grandfather on the father’s side, was a cook, but not a regular one. Initially, he prepared meals for Lenin, then—for Stalin. A person working in such a position and in such proximity to the Kremlin’s leaders could not not be a staffer at the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), KGB’s predecessor. Spiridon served the dictator daily, and it is beyond any doubt that he was being watched much more closely than any Politburo member.

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Hounding the Bear: Hybrid Methodology of Containing Russia

Bear-hounding is a hunting technique, in which a pack of dogs pursues a bear until exhaustion—at that point the hunter can make his kill. And that is to what Karen Shakhnazarov, a well-known Russian filmmaker of Armenian origin, compared Russia’s predicament in the current geopolitical situation.

russian bear cartoon

As the Tariff-War Must End, Udo Keppler, Puck, U.S., 1901. Source: LOC.

The bear analogy in Russia’s case is a contrived and, often, derogatory image describing the barbaric Other outside the West. It has deep historic roots, as literary and artistic examples indicate. But it is also one that works metaphorically. As a large continental power spanning Eurasia including some of the coldest places on earth—one with nuclear capabilities—Russia is not unlike the bear. In fact, many Russians themselves have reappropriated this comparison.
Even President Vladimir Putin has used it on a number of occasions.

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If You’re So Smart, Then Why Are You So Poor? Russia’s 1990s Revisited.

 

“We never tried to wake our children up on weekends: the more they sleep, the less they eat.”

-Natalia

Recently, the Russian-speaking segment of the Internet got flooded with personal photographs from the 1990s. I first took note of them on my own Facebook feed. Some appeared expectedly funny—imagine the hairstyles!—others were nostalgic. Yet what seemed like a spontaneous flashmob turned out to be a planned event. In fact, this social-networking experiment was organized by the Yeltsin Foundation in conjunction with one opposition publication.  It targeted the under-40 demographic, but especially those born in the late 1980s-early 1990s, who were too young to remember some of the horrors of that decade. Thus, the purpose of this pseudo-spontaneous photo-sharing was to reshape the memory of a nation about the early years following Soviet collapse. This memory has been overwhelmingly negative: looting the country’s natural resources by the select few, mob violence in the streets, daily hunger, institutional collapse, and national humiliation, just to name a few aspects.

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Mission to Syria

My contribution to the Espionage History Archive on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and Syria upon the latter’s request. The details seem, at times, eerily reminiscent of today’s events, as these excerpts from the memoirs of a Soviet diplomat reveal. It is this kind of mix of history, diplomacy, and intelligence that I find particularly fascinating and, thus, a pleasure to translate!

Espionage History Archive

The Soviet Union’s first ambassador to Egypt, Nikolai Vasilievich Novikov, recounts his pioneering role in establishing diplomatic relations in 1944 with Syria. Novikov provides a rich context to the genesis of Russo-Syrian partnership, describing the geopolitical arena and its attendant intrigues conducted by rival great powers like Britain and France. Novikov’s passage serves as an excellent background to an alliance between Russia and Syria that has regained strategic significance in the Great Game of our own day. 


One hellishly hot day, June 15, when all the thoughts of Cairo’s residents charred from heat turned if not toward the relaxing beaches of Alexandria, then toward a cool bath or a shower, a respectable-looking stranger from Syria showed up at the Soviet Embassy. Met by advisor Daniil Solod, he introduced himself as Naim Antaki, a member of Syria’s parliament from Damascus, and the former Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Naim Antaki

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State Propaganda? Realities of the Russian Media Landscape

The trope of ‘Russian state propaganda’ in mainstream Western media is a persistent one, especially as of late. This continued focus expresses one’s own loss of control as older cable-news models are in decline, the media landscape becomes more diverse, and various web platforms allow younger savvy users to locate alternative information sources. This kind of repetitive finger-pointing is also simultaneously meant to delegitimize Russia’s foreign-language broadcasting and to explain the support for Putin domestically.

The notion in question relies on a number of related assumptions:

  • that Western countries do not have state media;
  • that corporate media is impartial;
  • that state media cannot feature opposing points of view and is thus inferior to its corporate counterpart;
  • that media consumers, the general and even the educated public, are incapable of critically analyzing the information they receive.

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Stories from Oles Buzina: Unheroic “bandera”

Much like his caustic historic text on SS Galicia, Ukrainian author Oles Buzina was not very fond of Stepan Bandera—another one of official Kiev’s current ‘heroes’. This following prophetic text, written in 2011, also demonstrates why Buzina became a political dissident in his own home and possible reasons for his assassination in the spring of 2015.

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STORIES FROM OLES BUZINA: UNHEROIC “BANDERA” (2011)

(“Stories from Oles Buzina” was a regular column for Segodnya newspaper, covering historic subjects. In the Russian language, “story” and “history” (istoriia) are the same word, which plays an important role in this context.)

Demoted! On January 12th, 2011, the website of the president of Ukraine reported that Stepan Bandera lost his official title of Hero.

Translated by Nina Kouprianova

The views of the original author do not necessarily reflect those of the translator.

It is not by accident that I wrote the word “bandera” in the feminine and in lower-case letters, despite the fact that this article will discuss that very same Bandera, who was a man and whose proper name, according to grammar, naturally began with a title-case letter.

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The Walking Dead: Russia’s Immortal Regiment as Ancestor Veneration

“You are but millions. We are hordes and hordes and hordes.” (“Scythians,” Alexander Blok, 1918)

On May 9, 2015, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, was on an official visit to Moscow in order to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Upon seeing countless people marching in the streets, he assumed that what he was witnessing was an anti-Putin protest. This kind of ‘misunderstanding’ was not a surprise. After all, European and North American mainstream media is fond of exaggerating anti-government protests—by a handful of affluent pro-Western ideological Liberals—that are limited to large urban centers. Yet that day, foreign journalists were forced to cover something unprecedented, though underestimating the numbers: half a million Muscovites marched through the city carrying mounted photographs of their family members, who participated in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945).

But then I saw that, on the contrary, the marchers hailed your government. I saw that they did it with pride, I saw it in their faces. They waved to us as the UN delegation passed by, which was very pleasant. And so I really think you deserve all this love of the people.

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