Lazy Caturday Reads
Posted: March 12, 2022 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: cats, caturday, Russia, Russian oligarchs, Stephen Kotkin, Ukraine, Ukrainian artists, Vladimir Putin
Ivan Kolisnyk, A Drowsy Cat
The war in Ukraine continues, and although the Ukrainian military is fighting valiantly and the Russians are struggling, the bad guys are likely to win in the end. IMHO, the U.S. and NATO need to do more to help Ukraine. I’ll offer some serious reads on the situation, but first a little furry break from the madness.
From March 2 at My Modern Met: Devoted Ukrainian Cat Cafe Is Staying Open to Care For 20 Kitties During the War.
Cat cafes are a purrfect way to enjoy the company of felines while you sip a tasty drink. The beloved Cat Cafe Lviv is no exception. It’s been open for six years and the small team in Lviv, Ukraine, is devoted to its 20 furry residents. So devoted, in fact, that owner Serhii Oliinyk is choosing to stay at the cafe despite the Russian invasion in his country.
“Our cats have been living in [the] cat cafe since the age of 4 months,” Oliinyk explained. “They are like family. We realized that we would never leave our country, that this was the only place where we could see ourselves in the future.”
Cat Cafe Lviv is open (according to its Facebook page) and is dedicated to providing a safe space for people to stop by and see the kitties who reside there. Hopefully, the cats’ presence and purrs offer a momentary reprieve to the stark realities of what’s going on just beyond the walls.
“We currently have fewer regular visitors, but there are people who have come from other cities and need hot food and positive emotions,” Oliinyk said. “There are three large rooms in our cafe, two of which are located in the basement, so in case of an air raid warning, there is a safe shelter for our guests and cats.”
If you would like to support Cat Cafe Lviv during this time, it has detailed how you can donate money, 50% of which goes to the Ukrainian army.
Click the link to view charming photos of the cats.
From March 2 at Slate: Why the Internet Is Obsessed With the Cats and Dogs of Ukraine.
Alongside images of destruction and resistance, the visual story of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has included a fair bit of cats and dogs. The Albanian Times shared a story of Ukrainian soldiers taking in a puppy left in the cold. Facebook posts tout soldiers cuddling cats and show families refusing to leave their pets behind as they flee. Famed Twitter Maine coon Lorenzo the Cat shared the story of Aleksandra Polischuk, a breeder of sphinx cats who was killed when her home was destroyed. And of course, Twitter couldn’t help but go aww at the photos of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his dogs.
Kateryna Zavadska, Cool cat
It would be easy to position cat and dog content in a warzone as contradictory to conflict. But pet and animal content aren’t the opposite of war—they’re a part of it. Every pet image coming out of Ukraine right now shows a human impacted by the war in some way. In the above-listed examples, every story of a rescued dog or a cuddling cat was bookended by the actions of people.
Animals remind us of our own humanity, and they can be stark reminders of the human face of geopolitical strife. These cat and dog images coming out of Ukraine remind us, paradoxically, that there are real, individual people on the frontlines. There are real, individual people whose lives are forever changed by this aggression. These aren’t just images of animals in conflict, but reminders of the humans who take care of them and fight on the ground.
It is no accident that we flock to cat content online. It is also not a coincidence that these stories of pets and animal in war circulate widely on the internet. The internet is an ideal space for this type of sharing, as pet and animal images help keep digital spaces lighthearted and fun. Pet and animal images are often the opposite to “doomscrolling,” or the endless scrolling through negative, serious, and depressing news online. Right now, as we doomscroll through a war, cute pet and animal content provides relief, but in conjunction with the war photos themselves, reminds us of the human cost of conflict.
There’s also another side to this phenomenon. Read about it at Slate.
Now back to the news of the day.
At the New Yorker, an interview with Russia scholar that is getting a lot of attention: The Weakness of the Despot. An expert on Stalin discusses Putin, Russia, and the West, by David Remnick
Stephen Kotkin is one of our most profound and prodigious scholars of Russian history. His masterwork is a biography of Josef Stalin. So far he has published two volumes––“Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and “Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941.” A third volume will take the story through the Second World War; Stalin’s death, in 1953; and the totalitarian legacy that shaped the remainder of the Soviet experience….
Olena Kamenetska-Ostapchuk, Siesta
Kotkin has a distinguished reputation in academic circles. He is a professor of history at Princeton University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, at Stanford University. He has myriad sources in various realms of contemporary Russia: government, business, culture….
Earlier this week, I spoke with Kotkin about Putin, the invasion of Ukraine, the American and European response, and what comes next, including the possibility of a palace coup in Moscow.
You’ll need to go to The New Yorker to read the whole interview, but here’s an excerpt.
What is Putinism? It’s not the same as Stalinism. It’s certainly not the same as Xi Jinping’s China or the regime in Iran. What are its special characteristics, and why would those special characteristics lead it to want to invade Ukraine, which seems a singularly stupid, let alone brutal, act?
Yes, well, war usually is a miscalculation. It’s based upon assumptions that don’t pan out, things that you believe to be true or want to be true. Of course, this isn’t the same regime as Stalin’s or the tsar’s, either. There’s been tremendous change: urbanization, higher levels of education. The world outside has been transformed. And that’s the shock. The shock is that so much has changed, and yet we’re still seeing this pattern that they can’t escape from.
You have an autocrat in power—or even now a despot—making decisions completely by himself. Does he get input from others? Perhaps. We don’t know what the inside looks like. Does he pay attention? We don’t know. Do they bring him information that he doesn’t want to hear? That seems unlikely. Does he think he knows better than everybody else? That seems highly likely. Does he believe his own propaganda or his own conspiratorial view of the world? That also seems likely. These are surmises. Very few people talk to Putin, either Russians on the inside or foreigners.
Anastasiia Atamanchuk, Fuji Cats
And so we think, but we don’t know, that he is not getting the full gamut of information. He’s getting what he wants to hear. In any case, he believes that he’s superior and smarter. This is the problem of despotism. It’s why despotism, or even just authoritarianism, is all-powerful and brittle at the same time. Despotism creates the circumstances of its own undermining. The information gets worse. The sycophants get greater in number. The corrective mechanisms become fewer. And the mistakes become much more consequential.
Putin believed, it seems, that Ukraine is not a real country, and that the Ukrainian people are not a real people, that they are one people with the Russians. He believed that the Ukrainian government was a pushover. He believed what he was told or wanted to believe about his own military, that it had been modernized to the point where it could organize not a military invasion but a lightning coup, to take Kyiv in a few days and either install a puppet government or force the current government and President to sign some paperwork.
I haven’t read the whole piece yet, but I plan to read the rest–even though some of it is over my head. There’s also a video of the entire interview at the New Yorker link.
Another deep dive on Putin’s Russia from Anatole Lieven at Financial Times: Inside Putin’s circle — the real Russian elite.
In describing Vladimir Putin and his inner circle, I have often thought of a remark by John Maynard Keynes about Georges Clemenceau, French prime minister during the first world war: that he was an utterly disillusioned individual who “had one illusion — France”.
Something similar could be said of Russia’s governing elite, and helps to explain the appallingly risky collective gamble they have taken by invading Ukraine. Ruthless, greedy and cynical they may be — but they are not cynical about the idea of Russian greatness.
The western media employ the term “oligarch” to describe super-wealthy Russians in general, including those now wholly or largely resident in the west. The term gained traction in the 1990s, and has long been seriously misused. In the time of President Boris Yeltsin, a small group of wealthy businessmen did indeed dominate the state, which they plundered in collaboration with senior officials. This group was, however, broken by Putin during his first years in power.
Ivan Kolisnyk, A Fly
Three of the top seven “oligarchs” tried to defy Putin politically. Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky were driven abroad, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed and then exiled. The others, and their numerous lesser equivalents, were allowed to keep their businesses within Russia in return for unconditional public subservience to Putin. When Putin met (by video link) leading Russian businessmen after launching the invasion of Ukraine, there was no question of who was giving the orders.
The force that broke the oligarchs was the former KGB, reorganised in its various successor services. Putin himself, of course, came from the KGB, and a large majority of the top elite under Putin are from the KGB or associated state backgrounds (though not the armed forces).
This group have remained remarkably stable and homogenous under Putin, and are (or used to be) close to him personally. Under his leadership, they have plundered their country (though unlike the previous oligarchs, they have kept most of their wealth within Russia) and have participated or acquiesced in his crimes, including the greatest of them all, the invasion of Ukraine. They have echoed both Putin’s vicious propaganda against Ukraine and his denunciations of western decadence.
The Washington Post: U.S. explores sending Ukraine more advanced weapons after scuttling Polish jet deal.
The Biden administration, under pressure to expand the arsenal of weapons that Ukraine has in its conflict with Russia, is working with European allies to expedite more sophisticated air-defense systems and other armaments into the war zone, U.S. officials said Friday.
Discussions were ongoing ahead of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s planned trip next week to meet with NATO allies in Brussels and Slovakia, which along with Poland and Romania has indicated a willingness to transfer military aid to its embattled neighbor. Slovakia also possesses the S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which is used to shoot down enemy aircraft and is familiar to the Ukrainians.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the United States is committed to arming the government in Kyiv with “the kinds of capabilities that we know the Ukrainians need and are using very well.” He declined to specify what types of weapons could be included in the next wave of shipments.
“Some of that material we have and are providing. Some of that material we don’t have but we know others have, and we’re helping coordinate that as well,” Kirby said.
The administration is facing backlash over its decision earlier this week to scuttle Poland’s proposal that would have sent a number of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine via a transfer “free of charge” to the United States. Washington, citing concerns that Russia would view the move as a provocation, said the offer from Warsaw was not “tenable.”
Wine Tasting, Roman Filippov
The New York Times: U.S. Officials Say Superyacht Could be Putin’s.
American officials are examining the ownership of a $700 million superyacht currently in a dry dock at an Italian seacoast town, and believe it could be associated with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, according to multiple people briefed on the information.
United States intelligence agencies have made no final conclusions about the ownership of the superyacht — called the Scheherazade — but American officials said they had found initial indications that it was linked to Mr. Putin. The information from the U.S. officials came after The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Italian authorities were looking into the 459-foot long vessel’s ownership and that a former crew member said it was for the use of Mr. Putin….
American officials said Mr. Putin kept little of his wealth in his own name. Instead he uses homes and boats nominally owned by Russian oligarchs. Still, it is possible that through various shell companies, Mr. Putin could have more direct control of the Scheherazade.
Both the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence are investigating the ownership of superyachts associated with Russian oligarchs. A spokesman for the Navy and a spokeswoman for the Treasury both declined to comment.
The Justice Department has set up a task force to go after the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs. In a discussion with reporters on Friday, a Justice Department official said the task force would be investigating individuals who help sanctioned Russian officials or oligarchs hide their assets. Those individuals could face charges related to sanctions violations or international money laundering charges.
Head over to the NYT to read details about the yacht and how it and other Russian oligarch-owned super yachts could be seized.
There are lots of serious articles on the Ukraine crisis today. Here are a few more to check out:
Holger Roonemaa and Michael Weiss at New Lines Magazine: soldiers: Analysts say the invasion is grinding to a stalemate.
Shannon Vavra at The Daily Beast: Putin’s Desperate Bid for More Troops in Ukraine Is Failing Miserably.
Grid: Is a Russian disinformation campaign a prelude to a Russian bioweapons attack?
I’m getting exhausted emotionally by the war news. I want to read more today, but I guess I need to pace myself. I hope you all are taking good care of yourselves amid all the scary news.