Learning by Proxy | Russia

Russia is in a strange situation with all its former soviet countries going through pain; Indians can't even stand a 30-second story; When you lack resources you don't care what agreements you have!

The countries that were a part of former USSR may be independent today but their relationship with Russia is complex. These states act like buffer around Russia from any land invasion. Whenever any of these countries experience stress, Russia feels the pain.

One one of my visits to Estonia, a young boy who was driving the taxi was talking about the Crimea issue at the time. He said, "if Russia wished, they could walk into Estonia tomorrow and take over the country. Not a shot would be fired. Their issue with Crimea and Ukraine is because the US wants to put an airforce base in the region. The western media likes to portray it as Russian aggression."

Either way, the truth is somewhere in the middle.


Russia is more than twice the size of the USA and has a little less than half the population of the USA. Makes it a little more convenient to run a dictatorship. The land is so vast and so sparsely populated that most people probably don’t even know what is going on in Moscow.

Russia is what can be called a managed dictatorship. A country that has a veneer of democracy but in reality is bring run by an authoritarian regime. Vladimir Putin has been ruling the country since 1999. He was briefly the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2012, only to return to the position of President in 2012. He just got that term extended till 2036!

Russia used to be USSR and used to extend from Poland to China. From time to time, Putin acts like he would like to have it back that way!

Also, from time to time, a rebel arises within the country who wants to talk about the atrocities that Putin is committing. And then usually (s)he is put down. The latest to be at the receiving end was Alexei Navalny. He was poisoned and went into a seizure in a plane in Siberia. Fortunately, he was flown out to Germany and survived. Unfortunately for Russia, his survival meant that they were able to find proof that Russia poisoned him.

Berlin and Paris made their proposal at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. They say they have not had a credible explanation from Moscow for what the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said was the presence of the banned Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in Navalny’s body.

The speed with which the EU’s two main powers have agreed to push ahead with sanctions suggests a hardening of the bloc’s stance towards Moscow. It took almost a year for the EU to agree to sanctions against Russians after a nerve agent attack in 2018 on a former Russian spy in Britain.

Source: Reuters

The EU is looking to slap sanctions on Russia at a time which is not fortuitous. Russia's biggest export is Oil constituting 52% of all exports. As you may know, 2020 has not been kind to Oil. The price of oil crashed at the beginning of the year with the spread of the virus. Russia never mastered the art of exporting weapons, unlike the USA. The trouble for Europe is that they are heavily dependant on gas supply from Russia during the winters to heat their homes. It is going to be tough keeping those sanctions up.

Ukraine has been in crisis for years now. It began as a protest against the government which got out of hand. Russia offered to walk into the country with its army. 

Protests have been on-going across Belarus for the past few months over elections that were most certainly rigged. Russia offered to march its army in as usual. 

The long stalemate between the government and the opposition concluded, however, as the long-standing autocrat Aleksandr Lukashenko shifted tactics over the weekend. After arranging a secret inauguration for his sixth term as president, Lukashenko appeared in person at a KGB prison to engage in roundtable negotiations along with a group of political prisoners who included his rival, the banker Viktar Babaryka. It’s a scene that’s familiar from 1989 when wrong-footed communist leaders found themselves at the negotiating table with people they’d arrested in the past. It may be the start of a transition process that allows a new start for the country—or it may be merely a case of divide and rule.

Lukashenko has found himself boxed into a particularly difficult situation. The longer the stalemate with the opposition continues the more likely he is to lose control of his security forces, to face a possible collapse of the economy, or to be forced into taking further unpalatable positions by the Kremlin. Responding with overwhelming, deadly force against protesters could culminate in a full-scale revolution as the very patient Belarusian people run out of patience.

Source: Foreign Policy

Meanwhile, to the south of the country, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting at Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia does not need this. Both countries share a border with Iran and it is not something Russia is very comfortable with because…

Since the early years of its formation, Russia, which is mainly based on a synthesis of Slavism and Orthodox Christianity, has always seen itself as the protector state of Slavic nations and Orthodox Christians.

“Russia has traditionally supported Armenia very much. Traditionally, it will. Historically, Armenia has looked at Russia as its protector. That goes back to the fact that those are primarily Orthodox Christian countries. It also goes back to all the 1915 events and also Nagorno-Karabakh [dispute],” said Matthew Bryza, the former US ambassador to Azerbaijan and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Source: TRTWorld

Also, Iran is worried;

Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli has made it clear that should the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh spread to Iranian soil, his country would react. Fazli remarked a missile from the combat zone hit a village in the border region in the northwest of Iran last week. The governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia had been told to keep closer control over the fighting, Fazli said, adding that if the situation did not improve, “we will take appropriate measures if necessary.”

Source: Indian Express

The two countries agreed to a ceasefire last week only to engage again and blame each other for engaging first.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu appealed by telephone to the Azeri and Armenian defence ministers, urging the countries to “fully meet the commitments” made under the fraying humanitarian ceasefire brokered by Moscow on Saturday.

Source: Reuters

Ultimately this is also about oil. There are gas pipelines that run across these countries and any damage to that infrastructure can be catastrophic to the economy. 

Also, not just Navalny, there is more trouble fomenting within;

Police in a far eastern Russian city detained several dozen protesters on Saturday, the first such crackdown since rallies against the arrest of the provincial governor started three months ago.

Khabarovsk Gov. Sergei Furgal was arrested on July 9 on suspicion of involvement in murders and taken to jail in Moscow. Furgal, a former businessman, denied the charges, which his supporters say are a vendetta by his rivals.

Source: Global News

Autocracies of a feather, flock together

China and Russia have been increasingly aligning with one another. When it comes to their military. They have been carrying out exercises since 2016. They have also been engaged in the violation of human rights together. To reward this, they were admitted into the UNHRC.

China, Russia and Cuba won seats on the U.N.’s premier human rights body on October 13 despite opposition from activist groups over their abysmal human rights records, but another target, Saudi Arabia, lost.

Russia and Cuba were running unopposed, but China and Saudi Arabia were in a five-way race in the only contested race for seats on the Human Rights Council.

Source: The Hindu

Also, Trump is working to get a nuclear deal in place with Russia before the elections. This is about Russian arms control. I find it hard to believe that Russia wants to sign a deal of that nature with the US in such a rushed manner.

The Trump administration is pushing to get a nuclear arms control agreement with Russia ready for President Trump and Vladimir Putin to apply their signatures before Election Day.

Where things stand: The U.S. believes the prospective deal has buy-in from Putin — who has discussed arms control on a series of phone calls with Trump — and could be negotiated in as little as a week, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

Source: Axios


Tanishq, an Indian jewellery brand released an ad last week, which was about an inter-religion couple. The ad portrays a girl getting ready for her baby shower (Hindu style) at her Muslim in-law's place. The right-wing twitter just went crazy calling it ‘love-jihad’. They went to the extent of finding the brand managers on Twitter and trolling the hell out of them. In Gujarat, the Tanishq showroom was attacked. The brand saw its shares fall 2.2% on the stock exchange. 

All this for an ad series titled ‘Ekatvam’ touting unity!

Here is the ad, since Tanishq pulled it down due to this insane behaviour. Once they took down the ad, the next day - “Ratan Tata - Grow a Spine’ was trending on Twitter. This was the best analysis I saw of the whole episode.


About 15 years ago in Bangalore, I remember having a conversation with one of the VPs at my company about Kaveri. She was also Tamil. Kaveri has been famously the source of contention between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Farmers on both sides need the water and the resource is limited. As two residents of Bangalore, we did not want to end up having to struggle for water. We agreed that it was about needing the resource, not the language we spoke or the affiliation we had.

In Mexico, farmers said - "Trump be damned and his sanctions be damned."

The farmers armed themselves with sticks, rocks and homemade shields, ambushed hundreds of soldiers guarding a dam and seized control of one of the border region’s most important bodies of water.

The Mexican government was sending water — their water — to Texas, leaving them next to nothing for their thirsty crops, the farmers said. So they took over the dam and have refused to allow any of the water to flow to the United States for more than a month.

Source: New York Times

When you need the resource, you need it. Even if you have to take it away from the USA.

Circular Economy

The concept of the circular economy hinges on being able to use the waste in such a manner that it closes the loop! 

Raw Material — Product — Raw Material. 

But as we all know capitalism dictates that we keep buying shit we do not need. If you are a furniture maker, would you make furniture that is so durable that it would last 3 decades or encourage people to throw away their furniture and allow them to feel better about it? The PR spin is that this is a stand against excessive consumption.

Moving up in the world or at least moving homes, customers have for generations faced an awkward question: What do you do with old Ikea furniture, so carefully assembled but so ready to be replaced?

Ikea, the Swedish retailer with a reputation for bargain furniture, if not durable furniture, offered a solution this week. It announced that next month it will begin a global buyback program of unwanted Ikea furniture to encourage customers to take a stand against excessive consumption.

Source: New York Times

If someone was willing to buy your old furniture, would you sell it start sleeping on the floor? What would you do next? Consume more!

Or as Upton Sinclair famously said; "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Some good for the environment

While companies continue to provide lip service and engage in ridiculous practices under the garb of saving the environment, the governments are doing far better work. One of the thing that is forcing oil companies to consider their sourcing is emission standards. They have been consistently rising and the legislators have been constantly tightening the screws on it.

California is just one case study in the impact of such a plan; most of the world remains without stringent carbon intensity standards. But the program is now inspiring followers (pdf) despite the cost. Canada, the European Union, Oregon, and others are now adopting low-carbon standards of their won. Nearly a dozen US states are considering them.

As global carbon standards tighten, carbon-intensive fuel sources will likely see their markets shrink first and prices fall below historical benchmarks. Then, it will be time for a new class of energy suppliers to supply low—and even negative—transportation fuels.

Source: Quartz


On Amy Coney Barrett’s interviewing skills

The Nobel Prize Committee could not reach Paul Milgrom so fellow winner Robert Wilson, woke him up at 2 in the nigh

Have you seen a giraffe eat?

Also, have you ever wondered how they get those pillars in the middle of the river when they build a bridge?

If you have been missing airline food, Finnair is selling it in the supermarket

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What we think, we become ~ Buddha