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Crimea: Putin's War for Oil and Gas?

Sunday’s New York Times may have fitted the final piece into the puzzle of what Vladimir Putin’s costly Ukrainian landgrab is really about: offshore oil and gas. Putin has portrayed himself as a man with a mission, namely to protect ethnic Russians from an increasingly oppressive Ukrainian government. But that’s the story for domestic consumption, including the Russian Orthodox Church. In annexing Crimea, the Russians can also claim ownership of—or at any rate, control over—an enormous area of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, off the Crimean shoreline, and with them their underwater resources.

Crimean Tartars Remember Exile—in Kyiv

The 70th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars—when some 200,000 people were rounded up and expelled from their homeland in the space of two days, between May 18 and 20, 1944—was a much more subdued occasion in Crimea than previous memorial dates. For the first time in years, the Crimean Tatars could not hold their traditional rally in the central square of Simferopol and had to gather on the outskirts of the capital after the Kremlin-installed authorities banned most public meetings. Worse still, the Crimean Tatars marked the date in the absence of their leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev—who was deported from Crimea as an six-month-old and later spent 15 years in Soviet prisons for his campaign for the return of the Crimean Tatars to their homeland—because the Kremlin had banned Dzhemilev from entering Russia and Crimea.

Bachelet To Deepen Statist Policy in Chile

With no waste of time, the recently reelected President Michelle Bachelet of Chile and her socialist advisers have begun pushing a transformational agenda of education reforms and increased taxes that greatly expand statist intervention in the country’s mixed economy. The drive to increase state control was promised in Bachelet’s election campaign last year and in her inaugural address in March. But it was not until this week that the details were set forth, in an announcement in advance of her state of the union address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow. What Bachelet is proposing in her second term as president is a profound change in Chile’s educational system with measures that span everything from how private schools are financed to how schools and universities admit their student bodies.

The Battle for the South China Sea

Furious mobs fire-bombed Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam in retaliation for China placing an oil rig in what Vietnam claims are its territorial waters. Hanoi is cracking down on “hooligans” and even peaceful demonstrations, but Beijing still decided to evacuate thousands of its citizens.

Earlier this month the Vietnamese and Chinese navies squared off with each other in the South China Sea over the very same issue.

This is just the beginning of what could be a very long conflict. Vietnam and China both claim the Spratly Islands, as do Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei.

Nobody lives permanently on any of them. They’re a dispersed archipelago of specks, many of which are underwater at high tide, that in aggregate only make up one-and-a-half square land miles. They don’t have any resources per se, but maritime borders are extensions of land borders, so whoever claims the Spratlies can claim the waters around them. And the waters around them are valuable, hence the oil rig and Vietnam’s violent reaction.

Rioters spared at least one factory because it flies the American flag. Don’t be surprised. Vietnam’s people are no more angry at Americans right now than Americans are angry at the Vietnamese. The war between our two countries is almost forty years old, as far back in history as World War II was in 1984. Most of Vietnam’s negative energy is directed at China, which it has struggled on-and-off against for centuries. A Vietnamese diplomat put it into perspective: “China invaded Vietnam seventeen times. The US invaded Mexico only once, and look at how sensitive Mexicans are about that.”

Vietnam’s perception of China is more like Poland’s view of Russia than Mexico’s of the US. “This threat posed by China toward Vietnam comes not only from geographical proximity,” wrote Le Hong Hiep at East Asia Forum in 2011, “but also the asymmetry of size and power between the two countries. China is 29 times larger than Vietnam, while Vietnam’s population, despite being the world’s 14th largest, is still only equivalent to one of China’s mid-sized provinces.

The South China Sea will be contested for a long time. The United States has naval dominance now, and it aggravates the Chinese for the same reason Americans would be aggravated if Beijing had naval dominance in the Caribbean or off the coast of New York or California. There’s a difference, though, and it’s huge. The Caribbean is peripheral, but more than half the world’s merchant shipping passes through the South China Sea.

China naturally wants to push the US out of its yard, but the other states in the region don’t want the US navy to leave because they’d be overwhelmed at once by the Chinese. The Guardian quotes a Vietnamese café owner in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) who says, “I worry that if we didn't have the support of the West, we would definitely be at war with China, and we would lose.” Even with American dominance, China’s navy has confronted not only Vietnam’s, but also that of Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia,  and Brunei.

Robert D. Kaplan’s latest book, Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, describes maritime Southeast Asia as a major upcoming theater of conflict. “The composite picture,” he writes, “is of a cluster of states that, with problems of domestic legitimacy and state-building largely behind them, are ready to advance their perceived territorial rights beyond their own shores. This outward collective push is located in the demographic cockpit of the globe; it is here in Southeast Asia, with its nearly 600 million people, where China’s 1.3 billion people converge with the Indian Subcontinent’s 1.5 billion people. And the geographic meeting place of all these states is maritime: the South China Sea.”

Don’t expect these confrontations to be as harsh as those between Russia and its neighbors. Russia is more paranoid and aggressive than China, and it’s a land power. Water tends to stop or at least slow military expansion. (Does anyone think Taiwan would be independent today if Chinese soldiers could drive there in tanks?) But water doesn’t stop all projections of strength. That’s what navies are for. And China’s is the fastest-growing on earth.

Wars are rarely fought over resources anymore. Most modern conflicts are about power and ideology. (Some of the wars I’ve covered were also about identity. Syria’s civil war has elements of all three.) The contest over the South China Sea, though, is old school. Perhaps it will be bloody and perhaps (mostly) not. Nobody knows. But Vietnam and China are both becoming stronger and more prosperous, and Beijing is ramping up its naval power at the same time the Washington is scaling back.

The region began heating up less than two months after Asia’s Cauldron was published, and we have not heard the last from this part of the world. As Walter Russell Mead put it even before Vietnam’s riots, the battle for the South China Sea is officially on.

An Opposition Newspaper in Cuba?

Dissident, author, and blogger Yoani Sanchez is starting an opposition newspaper in Cuba. I’d like to say that’s terrific and that the Castro regime is finally beginning to liberalize politically, but several of her reporters have already received warning calls from State Security, so let’s not get excited just yet.

One of two things is happening here. Old habits die hard and State Security can’t help itself. Or the regime plans to allow a token, bullied, and censored opposition paper so it can say it respects freedom of speech when it fact it does not. 

European Jitters Over Ukraine

Among European governments there is widespread sympathy for Ukraine as a smaller country being bullied by a bigger one, as well as a sense of but-for-the-grace-of-God in many of its neighbors in the region. But there is also growing anxiety over how the crisis is impacting Europe’s economic recovery.

For one thing, the Ukrainian confrontation could jeopardize Russian energy supplies to EU countries just when Europe is seeing glimmers of improvement. More than a quarter of the European Union’s total natural gas needs are supplied by Russia, and more than 50 percent of it passes through pipelines in Ukraine, making the transit country a linchpin in the EU’s energy security. In the past, when Russia has cut off supplies to Ukraine in disputes over pricing the impact was felt in Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia.

Why Is the Pentagon Honoring a Chinese General?

General Fang Fenghui, China’s chief of general staff, is now in the US on a five-day tour of American military facilities, including the naval air station in San Diego, where he inspected the USS Ronald Reagan, one of America’s 10 active aircraft carriers. Most notably, he will receive a “full-military-honors arrival ceremony” at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The visit comes as a fleet of about 80 Chinese vessels, both military and civilian, are protecting a drilling rig that China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, positioned just off Vietnam’s coast at the beginning of this month. China’s ships rammed and collided with Vietnamese craft defending waters that Hanoi believes to be within its exclusive economic zone. The rig’s location is near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

Alexander Yesenin-Volpin, Father of Russia’s Human Rights Movement Turns 90

May 12th marked the 90th birthday of Alexander Yesenin-Volpin, a towering figure in the Russian human rights movement—indeed, its founding father. A renowned mathematician, poet, and philosopher who was arrested and sent to psychiatric prisons three times—under Stalin (1949), Khrushchev (1959), and Brezhnev (1968)—Yesenin-Volpin successfully convinced his fellow dissenters in the early 1960s that the right way to resist Soviet totalitarianism was through a peaceful, nonviolent, law-based human rights movement.

Separatists Terrorizing, Kidnapping, Beating Citizens in Ukraine

Several weeks ago, I had written of a woman, G, from the town of Druzhkivka, in Donetsk Province, who had noted in her last e-mail to me: “Alexander, they will kill us.” In turn, I had ended my blog post with the comforting words: “I haven’t heard from G since that last note. Although I’m sure she and her family are safe, I still shudder at the thought of how terrified she must have been to have expected death—for nothing more than her identity as a Ukrainian in the unremittingly hostile environment created by Putin’s deliberate attempt to create havoc in her country.”

I was wrong. G and her family are not safe. Their lives are in danger from pro-Russian terrorists precisely because they are Ukrainian patriots.

I just received two more e-mails from her, translated by me from the Ukrainian and reprinted below in full.

From Saturday, May 10th, 8:42 a.m.:

The Last Communist City

My final dispatch from Cuba is now available online at City Journal. Here's the first part.

Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 science-fiction film Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, takes place in Los Angeles, circa 2154. The wealthy have moved into an orbiting luxury satellite—the Elysium of the title—while the wretched majority of humans remain in squalor on Earth. The film works passably as an allegory for its director’s native South Africa, where racial apartheid was enforced for nearly 50 years, but it’s a rather cartoonish vision of the American future. Some critics panned the film for pushing a socialist message. Elysium’s dystopian world, however, is a near-perfect metaphor for an actually existing socialist nation just 90 miles from Florida.

I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba—not because I’m nostalgic for a botched utopian fantasy but because I wanted to experience Communism firsthand. When I finally got my chance several months ago, I was startled to discover how much the Cuban reality lines up with Blomkamp’s dystopia. In Cuba, as in Elysium, a small group of economic and political elites live in a rarefied world high above the impoverished masses. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of The Communist Manifesto, would be appalled by the misery endured by Cuba’s ordinary citizens and shocked by the relatively luxurious lifestyles of those who keep the poor down by force.

Many tourists return home convinced that the Cuban model succeeds where the Soviet model failed. But that’s because they never left Cuba’s Elysium.

I had to lie to get into the country. Customs and immigration officials at Havana’s tiny, dreary José Martí International Airport would have evicted me had they known I was a journalist. But not even a total-surveillance police state can keep track of everything and everyone all the time, so I slipped through. It felt like a victory. Havana, the capital, is clean and safe, but there’s nothing to buy. It feels less natural and organic than any city I’ve ever visited. Initially, I found Havana pleasant, partly because I wasn’t supposed to be there and partly because I felt as though I had journeyed backward in time. But the city wasn’t pleasant for long, and it certainly isn’t pleasant for the people living there. It hasn’t been so for decades.

Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city—tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins.

Marxists have ruled Cuba for more than a half-century now. Fidel Castro, Argentine guerrilla Che Guevara, and their 26th of July Movement forced Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959 and replaced his standard-issue authoritarian regime with a Communist one. The revolutionaries promised liberal democracy, but Castro secured absolute power and flattened the country with a Marxist-Leninist battering ram. The objectives were total equality and the abolition of money; the methods were total surveillance and political prisons. The state slogan, then and now, is “socialism or death.”

Cuba was one of the world’s richest countries before Castro destroyed it—and the wealth wasn’t just in the hands of a tiny elite. “Contrary to the myth spread by the revolution,” wrote Alfred Cuzan, a professor of political science at the University of West Florida, “Cuba’s wealth before 1959 was not the purview of a privileged few. . . . Cuban society was as much of a middle-class society as Argentina and Chile.” In 1958, Cuba had a higher per-capita income than much of Europe. “More Americans lived in Cuba prior to Castro than Cubans lived in the United States,” Cuban exile Humberto Fontova, author of a series of books about Castro and Guevara, tells me. “This was at a time when Cubans were perfectly free to leave the country with all their property. In the 1940s and 1950s, my parents could get a visa for the United States just by asking. They visited the United States and voluntarily returned to Cuba. More Cubans vacationed in the U.S. in 1955 than Americans vacationed in Cuba. Americans considered Cuba a tourist playground, but even more Cubans considered the U.S. a tourist playground.” Havana was home to a lot of that prosperity, as is evident in the extraordinary classical European architecture that still fills the city. Poor nations do not—cannot—build such grand or elegant cities.

But rather than raise the poor up, Castro and Guevara shoved the rich and the middle class down. The result was collapse. “Between 1960 and 1976,” Cuzan says, “Cuba’s per capita GNP in constant dollars declined at an average annual rate of almost half a percent. The country thus has the tragic distinction of being the only one in Latin America to have experienced a drop in living standards over the period.”

Communism destroyed Cuba’s prosperity, but the country experienced unprecedented pain and deprivation when Moscow cut off its subsidies after the fall of the Soviet Union. Journalist and longtime Cuba resident Mark Frank writes vividly about this period in his book Cuban Revelations. “The lights were off more than they were on, and so too was the water. . . . Food was scarce and other consumer goods almost nonexistent. . . . Doctors set broken bones without anesthesia. . . . Worm dung was the only fertilizer.” He quotes a nurse who tells him that Cubans “used to make hamburgers out of grapefruit rinds and banana peels; we cleaned with lime and bitter orange and used the black powder in batteries for hair dye and makeup.” “It was a haunting time,” Frank wrote, “that still sends shivers down Cubans’ collective spines.”

Read the rest at City Journal.

The Rise of Boko Haram

Boko Haram—the Taliban of Nigeria—finally seized the world’s attention this month, first for kidnapping hundreds of little girls and threatening to sell them, and again for indiscriminately massacring 336 people last week in the town of Gamboru Ngala. A ramp-up in attacks actually began back in February when its suicide bombers and gunmen struck 21 times, but we’re not yet numb to the kidnapping of hundreds of children, and last week’s atrocity was the deadliest yet.

Noah Rothman at Mediaite thinks it’s strange that Boko Haram is getting so much coverage all of a sudden. “Why did the press spring to action when young women were kidnapped, but were virtually unmoved when it was young boys who were being slaughtered and burned alive?”

There’s nothing sexist about it, if that’s what he’s implying. The boys are dead and the girls still might be saved. There’s a sense of urgency when victims’ fates are up in the air. The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 sucked all the oxygen out of the media atmosphere for the same reason.

The real reason, though, is the staggering number of victims—both the dead and the missing. All but one of Boko Haram’s previous attacks claimed dozens of victims, but the last three in a row reach into the hundreds.

Any terrorist attack anywhere in the world that claims 200 or more victims will make international news, and any terrorist organization that pulls those kinds of numbers in rapid succession will really find itself under the spotlight.

Whatever the reason, it’s about time. Africa is far too often ignored by the rest of the world.

Nigeria is a large country and Boko Haram is a small organization, but it has everyone rattled. “So vast and mysterious is the carnage,” reports National Geographic, “many otherwise sane Nigerians have come to believe Boko Haram possesses supernatural powers. Its name has taken on an incantatory power. It has become a kind of national synonym for fear.”

Now that it’s in the spotlight, reporters are explaining the basics to a wide audience for the first time, and the meaning of the organization’s name is getting lost a bit in translation. “Boko Haram” is frequently translated as “Western education is sinful,” but that’s off.

“Haram” is an Arabic loan word that means sinful, but “Boko” is not the word for Western education. “Boko,” according to linguist Paul Newman, means inauthenticity or fraud in the Hausa language of central Nigeria. “Boko originally meant ‘Something (an idea or object) that involves a fraud or any form of deception’ and, by extension, the noun denoted ‘Any reading or writing which is not connected with Islam.’” It also refers to the Latin alphabet when used to write Hausa. So the name sort of implies that Western education is sinful, but that’s not what it says.

Let’s get something else clear. Boko Haram is not some popular armed grassroots movement from the Muslim community like Hezbollah is for the Shias of Lebanon, nor is it a sectarian Iraqi-style militia. Boko Haram coordinates and has pledged solidarity with Al Qaeda, and as always for such organizations, everybody, Muslims included, is a potential target.

Somehow this is lost on certain observers. An article last August in the Christian Science Monitor began with a curious headline: Boko Haram attacks Muslims and kids, puzzling everyone.

Really? Is everyone puzzled, or just the Christian Science Monitor? I’m included in “everyone,” and it doesn’t even occur to me to be puzzled.

When Islamists seized power in Northern Mali in January of 2012, everybody they terrorized, murdered, and killed was a Muslim. The overwhelming majority of the Taliban’s victims are Muslims. Islamist insurgents ignited a nearly apocalyptic war in Algeria in 1991 which killed around 150,000 people, and with just a handful of exceptions, everybody they slaughtered was Muslim. Nearly all the civilian victims of Iraqi death squads and terrorist organizations were Muslims.

In the case that baffled the Christian Science Monitor—and, apparently, some unnamed “Africa watchers”—Boko Haram shot 44 men inside a mosque while they were praying. That might baffle someone who has paid little or no attention to violent Islamists over the last decade or so, but the article itself (which the headline writer must not have read) includes a perfectly obvious motive for Boko Haram attacking a mosque. “On a recent trip to Maiduguri, most imams refused to speak of Boko Haram after several of them had been assassinated for criticizing the group. One imam said the militants attacked mosques and Muslims because they were not devoted to Boko Haram’s extremist cause.”

I can’t definitively nail down whether the kidnapped girls are Muslims or Christians. They’re occasionally described as Christian girls in the media, perhaps for the same reason some people are baffled that Boko Haram would shoot up a mosque, but here is a picture purportedly of some of the missing girls’ mothers. All are wearing Islamic abayas. If that photo and caption are accurate, at least some of Boko Haram’s so-far most-famous victims are Muslims.

But Boko Haram also murders Christians for no reason other than the fact that they’re Christians. And they’ve kidnapped Christians and forced them to convert to Islam at gunpoint.

Per Rothman at Mediaite, that the group is getting so much attention all of a sudden isn’t what’s strange. What’s strange is how long Boko Haram managed to murder and pillage under the radar. Regional experts have known about Boko Haram for more than a decade, but most Westerners didn’t hear the first thing about them until last week.

Even the State Department blew off Boko Haram until recently. Foggy Bottom under Hillary Clinton—against the advice of the Justice Department, the FBI, and the CIA—resisted branding Boko Haram a terrorist organization. The State Department under John Kerry, at least, plugged that hole last November.

Patrick Meehan, chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, told Josh Rogin at The Daily Beast why State dragged its feet. “At the time, the sentiment that was expressed by the administration was this was a local grievance and therefore not a threat to the United States or its interests. They were saying al Qaeda was on the run.”

Osama bin Laden is dead, but Al Qaeda is global, and it’s on the offensive, not on the run. One of their franchises took over Northern Mali. Another controls large swaths of Syria. Chunks of Libya could degenerate into Al Qaeda statelets if we’re not careful. Another franchise is active in Yemen. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb would like nothing more than to re-ignite the civil war in Algeria.

Some terrorists really are local—the Kurdish PKK in Turkey, for instance, and the Basque ETA in Spain—but Al Qaeda is and always has been global in its reach and ambition. It makes no difference if Boko Haram never intends to attack the United States directly when it’s affiliated with a larger network that already has and surely plans to do so again.

In any case, Nigeria is one of the most pro-American countries in the world and could use a little help from its friends. If wouldn’t matter, though, if Nigerians hated our guts. No people on earth have this sort of scourge coming. 

Kremlin Moves to Silence Last Dissenting Lawmakers

Independent-minded lawmakers have been an endangered species in Russia since 2003, after the heavily manipulated parliamentary elections cleansed the Duma of pro-democracy parties. Few dare to voice and vote their own opinions. Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has been a case in point. The annexation of Crimea was rubber-stamped in the Duma by 445 votes in favor—with only one deputy (Ilya Ponomarev) voting against, and three others (Dmitri Gudkov, Sergei Petrov, and Valery Zubov) refusing to vote.

Instapunditry

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ON BOKO HARAM: "The death toll is usually claimed to be in the thousands, but no one has an accurate tally, in part because the Nigerian government misreports incidents and in part because in its hapless pursuit of Boko Haram, the government has killed so many people itself, many if not most of them civilians. The Nigerian armed forces claim that they kill only terrorists, yet the terrorists' ravages become more frequent and more vicious with every such claim. So vast and mysterious is the carnage, many otherwise sane Nigerians have come to believe Boko Haram possesses supernatural powers. Its name has taken on an incantatory power. It has become a kind of national synonym for fear."

 

LEE SMITH on George Clooney’s future in-laws in the Druze mountains of Lebanon. “Abdul-Latif’s husband, the non-Druze journalist Hussain Abdul-Hussain, also has some advice for Clooney. “The upside” of marrying a Druze, jokes Abdul-Hussain, “is that if he is worried about having to learn a new religion, he won’t. Most of the Druze themselves know nothing about their faith, so he doesn’t have to fear awkward moments at holiday celebrations like Passover or Christmas, because there aren’t any holidays.”

 

ROGER L. SIMON: Will the State Department’s refusal to declare Boko Haram a terrorist organization harm Hillary Clinton?

It certainly isn't going to help.

 

THE CHINESE AND VIETNAMESE NAVIES got into a bit of an altercation yesterday, and Walter Russell Mead says the battle for the South China Sea is officially on.

It is. And it won’t be resolved any time soon as Robert Kaplan makes clear in his worthwhile new book, Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific.

 

HMM: Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu says Turkey has “substantially” overcome its problems with Israel.

 

PROBABLY NOT A BAD IDEA: NATO troops in Eastern Europe could be permanent after Crimea crisis.

 

BOKO HARAM commits another massacre in Nigeria. “The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting “Allahu akbar,” firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire.”

Can we please not call people who do this sort of thing “militants?” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being a militant. It depends on the context. You could say the fighters of the French Resistance were militants. They were not, however, terrorists. They did not just randomly shoot people.

If you don’t want to call Boko Haram terrorists for some nonsensical reason, how about “mass-murderers” and “slave-raiders?”

 

SYRIAN REBELS evacuate the capital of the revolution.

 

ELLIOT ABRAMS: Will the army save Egypt’s economy? The Egyptian military runs much of the economy like a plantation, and that’s not going to change, so the answer is no.

 

THE SULTAN OF BRUNEI imposes harsh Islamic criminal code.

The law applies to those of all religions in the sultanate, where Muslim Malays constitute a 70% majority of the country's 400,000 citizens, the news agency reported. Non-Muslim Chinese account for about 15% of Brunei's population.

A second phase of the law, which will come into force later this year, provides for severing of limbs and flogging for property crimes. A third phase set for late 2015 will allow the justice system to sentence offenders to death by stoning for crimes including adultery and gay sex.

Travel companies are responding by boycotting Brunei-owned hotels, and the Bererly Hills city council voted unanimously to divest. Who wants to be the first to impose sanctions?

 

THIS IS SERIOUSLY GETTING UGLY: Boko Haram commits another mass abduction of girls in Nigeria.

 

YUPPIE, GET YOUR GUN: Harking back to the partisans of World War II, young Ukrainians train for irregular combat against the Russians.

 

WELCOME TO JIHAD CITY, SYRIA: The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (Syria) is so supremely awful that even Al Qaeda condemns it.

 

AFTER A FIFTY YEAR HIATUS, Malaria returns to Venezuela.

 

VLADIMIR PUTIN signs a law that bans swearing in Russian arts and media. (Igniting a civil war next door in a fit on pique is okay, though.)

 

BOKO HARAM DELENDA EST: Al Qaeda’s Nigerian franchise Boko Haram recently kidnapped 200 girls. The leader says he’s going to sell them.

 

GORDON CHANG on China’s campaign against foreign words.

 

ALEXANDER MOTYL on Vladimir Putin’s warlords in Ukraine: “Lacking popular support in Ukraine, Putin’s warlords will do what terrorists do: seize buildings, promote anti-Semitism, imprison and kill opposition leaders, attack Roma and other minorities, take neutral observers and journalists hostage, and abuse the population of whichever cities or towns they terrorize. One especially brutal terrorist, the warlord of the Sloviansk Putinstan, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, recently told a female journalist the following: “We’ll adopt all necessary measures to prevent elections in the southeast from taking place. We’ll take someone prisoner and hang him by his balls. Got it?”

Yeah, we got it.

 

GEE, I WONDER WHO’S GOING TO WIN? Assad to Face 2 Others in Syrian Presidential Poll.

 

NORTH KOREA issues a “human rights report” about the United States. America, it says, is “a living hell as elementary rights to existence are ruthlessly violated.” New York City is reportedly stricken with famine. Pyongyang also issued a “report” about South Korea, which it says has the worst human rights record in the entire world, in part because “60% of university students cannot afford their school fees so must work.”

 

100 ICONIC PHOTOS that define the 21st century so far.

 

UKRAINE FIGHTS BACK and vows to continue its military offensive in the pro-Russian east. Everybody fights back eventually even if they’re likely to lose.

 

LEAVING UKRAINE TO ITS FATE: Leon Weiseltier in The New Republic: “Obama has concluded...that he 'will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin,' and so he has decided that he 'will spend his final two and a half years in office trying to minimize the disruption Mr. Putin can cause, preserve whatever marginal cooperation can be saved and otherwise ignore the master of the Kremlin.'” Ignoring the master, of course, has the consequence of ignoring the master’s victims."

Remembering the Red Army and Rape

As May 9th, Victory Day, approaches and celebrations of the defeat of Nazi Germany take place throughout all the post-Soviet states, it may be worth remembering that many members of the Red Army traded in their heroism and self-sacrifice for criminality and rapine in the last days of the war.

Here’s Cooper Union historian Atina Grossmann:

China Demolishes Megachurch

Local officials in the Chinese city of Wenzhou, in coastal Zhejiang Province, are denying that the demolition of the Sanjiang Church late last month was the result of religious persecution.

They maintain that the building, big enough for 3,000 worshippers, was “illegal,” far exceeding its permitted size of 1,881 square meters. Jin Leibo, a propaganda department spokesperson for the county where the towering structure was located, told CNN that church leaders had built 7,928 square meters without authorization. They then had failed to “self-rectify” by April 22nd, so a convoy of bulldozers and excavators, backed by armed police, destroyed the building by April 28th, leaving an enormous pile of rubble. The red-spired Protestant church, built over 12 years and costing 30 million yuan (about $4.7 million) to construct, took only a few days to tear down.

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