Tag Archives: Vladimir Putin

News That’s Fit To Punt – 27/Jul/2014

An Interesting Take On Putin’s Russia

To my thinking Russia under Putin has been a shit sandwich wrapped in a Crony-Capitalist Kleptocracy wrapped in an Oligarchy of former KGB people with connections. But that’s just me. Others may tell me of their beautiful literature or cinema or poetry or whatever, but in most part Russia since Putin has been a contemporary art project of how awful petty nationalism can be in the 21st century. It’s like a country taken over by a man with an inferiority complex who wants to boast of his secret inner greatness. As such the country displays strange impulses in all its affairs, from its handling of the Chechens in Georgia to the land grab of Crimea to funding extremist nutjobs in Ukraine just to stop Ukraine joining the West to hosting bad looking Olympics and wining unlikely World Cup bids.

So, here’s an interesting article explaining how these impulses play out inside Russia.

Some Western pundits, including foreign policy realists and anti-interventionists who see US support for Ukraine’s pro-Maidan leadership as a textbook example of meddling and dubious alliance-making, contend that the Russian point of view in the Ukraine crisis has been insufficiently considered and unfairly maligned. Russia has legitimate reasons, they say, in not having hostile neighbours, not being surrounded by NATO members, and for feeling general resentment at being kicked around by the West after the end of the Cold War.

There is certainly much to debate about various US and NATO actions in Eastern Europe after 1991, and the extent to which the United States should be involved today in counteracting Russia’s coercion toward its neighbours. That said, it is hard to see by what moral or geopolitical principle an authoritarian crony capitalist regime in Moscow is entitled to bite off chunks of a non-consenting Ukraine.

A few years ago, retired Russian general and former arms negotiator Vladimir Dvorkin wrote in a column for ej.ru that the real cause of the Kremlin’s anxiety about NATO expansion was not fear of invasion – an absurd idea given Russia’s nuclear arsenal – but fear of ‘‘encirclement’’ by more liberal and modernised societies, which would then exert pressure on Russia to follow the same path.

I guess I would be one of those people saying the West ought not to be meddling in Ukraine. But as you know I base that observation of never being able to win the Eastern Front in computer games as Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II or Hitler. I just don’t see much meat on the bone that makes it worthwhile, although I will say that resources in Ukraine are underdeveloped. It’s entirely another debate whether more petrochemical resources development – i.e. mining for gas and oil – is a good way forward for what was once the breadbasket of Eastern Europe. I would contend it wasn’t.

Was Nuts Yesterday, Is Nuts-er Today

It’s an interesting thing that the world leader on a collision course with Vladimir Putin is Tony Abbott, who while he may not have the military might to scare Russia for a moment, has the ample opportunity to dis-invite Putin from the G-20 meeting in Brisbane later this year. Of course, Tony Abbott is jumping at the opportunity to be any kind of international statesman because his own domestic politics aren’t working out well. One would imagine it is similar in nature to Vladimir Putin’s desire to go invading neighbouring states that were once part of the USSR, just not as violent.

The advice he got yesterday from the international community about sending troops to Ukraine to help ‘secure the site’ of the MH17, was that it was nuts. This sentiment has been echoed by the ADF itself, through unofficial channels otherwise known as “figures who” do “not wish to be named”.

The senior defence figure, who did not wish to be named, said it was a poor idea for Australia.
”They can’t secure the site,” he said. ”It’s kilometres long and wide. They could escort Australian officials and provide close protection, but this is a civil task rather than a military task and it’s a terribly volatile area.

”We don’t have the language skills or knowledge of the area.

”For any military deployment, you have to look at a status of forces agreement with the government and, given the area the aircraft is in, I don’t think there is anyone to make that agreement with. What I’ve heard is the rebels don’t want more than 30 investigators there.”

What’s particularly interesting about this is that while Tony Abbot was in opposition, banging on about how he will send the Navy to “stop the boats”, similar leaks came out of the ADF saying the Navy wasn’t exactly equipped to be doing this kind of thing. This was Advice which was promptly ignored – and so we can reasonably expect this bit of advice would be ignored as well.

More interestingly what we’re seeing from Tony Abbott is a pattern where if he can’t solve it through sloganeering, he’s totally happy to send in the men and women in uniform to just sort it out, out of sight with the benefit of official secrets to make the whole thing un-transparent and utterly opaque. One can therefore imagine that should unfortunate things be found in Ukraine, they’ll jump to an immediate “can’t comment, our troops are in operations” mode of communication.

Age of Entitlement Ending? More like Age of Ultron-Perks

I offer this to you without comment.

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Nice To Be Vindicated

“They Must Be Nuts”

I’ve been writing here for some months that the last thing we – as in non-specific people of the West – should do is send any troops to Ukraine. The MH17 incident and the 39 Australians on that downed plane have forced the issue of Ukraine’s situation a lot closer to our shores in Australia. Sometime in the recent days of statesman-like posturing, Tony Abbott has been making noises about putting our boots on the ground in eastern Ukraine to ‘secure the site’ (whatever the hell that means, many days after there’s been looting).

As readers know, I’ve been dead against sending anybody out there for good reason. If the separatists are dumb and ill-informed enough to down a jet liner from a neutral nation outside of he conflict, what’s stop them shooting at our people just for being there? Today we find that some people with professional insight think this is a bad idea too.

“They must be nuts,” Joerg Forbrig, a senior program officer for central and eastern Europe at the Berlin bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the US think tank, said. “It’s a very dangerous proposal and will be seen as a provocation by the separatists and the Russians.”

Ukrainians’ desire for closer links with Europe, the US and their allies has long been a source of tension with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who intervened in Ukraine after the pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych stepped down in February fueling the five-month long insurgency.

The US says a surface-to-air missile fired from territory held by the rebels shot down the plane, while stopping short of alleging direct Russian involvement. Putin’s artillery is firing on Ukrainian military positions from inside Russia, a US State Department spokeswoman said this week.
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A spokesman for the UK Foreign Office said Britain would “offer logistical support and is keeping in close contact with the Australians and Dutch over how it can assist, though it won’t be putting be sending police or technicians to Ukraine”.

“We believe a UK. armed presence in eastern Ukraine would not be appropriate,” the Foreign Office said in a statement. “The UK stands ready to provide constructive support to the mission.”

This isn’t some trip into a place where there’s not much civil authority – it’s a place where Russia is using subterfuge to make it look like there’s not much civil authority so they can wrest some more territory off Ukraine. The polite realpolitik thing to do has been to ignore the subterfuge and instead place mild sanction on Vladimir Putin and his crony-capitalists but sending troops has been and always will be one of those things we would much rather not do. The reality is that it would be sending people with an immensely blinkered perspective right into a war zone – and if seen with a colder objective view, would rightly be a provocation to the Russians.

In other words, “baby don’t you do it“.

I was watching The Drum this week and there was commentary to the effect that Tony Abbott’s been getting some kudos for being the only Western leader to stand up to Vladimir Putin. This might be true, but this is only because Russia isn’t a vital trade partner for us and we’re really far away from Moscow’s considerations. Sending in troops to Ukraine would change that greatly. The outcome of that shift will probably mean more dead Australians. And how the hell will Tony Abbott explain that when it inevitably happens?

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Outrage Over Ukraine

From The Land Of The Pathetic

From the sensibilities of the west, it has to be said the sensibilities of Slav countries are pretty gross. They think the west is a bunch of pussies running scared with effete, gay politics and feminism and political correctness. Judging from the way we behave, they might even have a point, but the flipside is that the sensibilities of say, Russian militarism or Ukrainian separatism are deeply alien to the west. As such, I’ve felt it unlikely for us to muster the energy, finance and logistics to mount a war in Ukraine to help our new friends who want to join NATO and the EU and be effete, gay-accepting, feminist-run and who want to be politically correct like us. It’s too much too soon and too far away and too expensive.

It’s a bit like being asked to drive out from Bondi to Penrith for a one-night stand. Can a one night stand be that good to warrant the drive? Similarly, can having Ukraine as part of NATO and the EU be such a good thing? Think of the differences in culture and cultural attitudes, history and views on history. About the only thing the west has in common with Ukraine might be white people with particularly pale skin and that might even be the grand total sum of it.

Anyway, the Pro-Russian separatists among the Ukrainians has shot down a Malaysian airliner with a missile; early accounts suggest that it was a mistake – they thought they were shooting at a local military aircraft. Imagine their shock to find raining burnt corpses. Now it’s an unspeakable political mess.

Vladimir Putin is blaming Kiev; The Russians are denying culpability; Americans have verified it was a surface to air missile; Tony Abbott is making a fist of being a statesman. It’s a veritable scene of chaos out there, leading to the question, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, what exactly are these politicians going to do to avert World War III? Putin trying to pin it on the Government in Kiev and Tony Abbott beating his chest, seem like “fightin’ words” to me. If it was a genuine mistake and they fired on the wrong plane, then they should just scapegoat this Igor Girkin and make him wear the blame. It’s not like we’ll be missing this miserable soul on this face of this planet. The refusal to just hand this guy over to The Hague for the Western European hypocrisy show for crimes against humanity would look to the world like Putin was condoning the missile firing.

Then again, Vladimir Putin has a way of doing things in just the right Soviet Russian way to bring disgust and repulsion to the front of our hearts. A despicable practitioner in repugnant artless propaganda, Putin will surely hit all the wrong PR notes as he insist on his insane position that this is all the fault of the people in power in Kiev. Like, hullo!

As Pleiades pointed out to me over the phone this morning, it’s interesting how this event has shoved the Israelis marching their forces in to the Gaza Strip from the headline of most news sites. But that is not the only thing that is disturbing about the timing of this event. two days ago, the BRICS nations launched their own international monetary fund, cutting out the US Dollar as the reserve currency. Not many in the mainstream media talked about it, but it represent nations with over 3 billion people combined, giving the US Dollar the middle finger. A day later, President Obama stepped up sanctions against Russian firms, locking them out of debt markets. Within 24hours, a rocket from the Russian side of the Ukrainian conflict shoots down an airplane.  It’s enough to make you raise questions about just exactly where do Putin and Obama see things going.

As for Tony Abbott, he remains the dickhead he was yesterday and all the days before. No amount of Thatcherish poseur-hood is going to help him look better in the eyes of the electorate.

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Quick Shots -19/Apr/2014

What I Lie Awake Thinking

I was thinking in my half-waking sleep dream mode this morning that the world’s free market could be understood very clearly as this giant chaotic mass of fear and greed. The bears and bulls are exactly that, animal spirits of fear for the market and greed for the market. It then occurred to me that Karl Marx could see the logical ramification of this capitalist system as a giant train wreck and that somehow human beings with our superior rational intellect would want to add rationality in to the mix.

Of course the communist experiment of the Twentieth Century ended up being mostly fear: fear of Stalin, fear of Mao; fear of counter-revolutionaries; fear of freedom and the corrupting influence of capitalism and so on. But you look at something like the post-Soviet economy of Russia and it is clear that the logical outcome of capitalism is the kind of oligarchic Kleptocracy and all that inequality that comes with such structures. China has similarly headed straight to the income inequality and disparity between the oligarchs and the ever-suffering peasants.

The most worrying aspect of free market capitalism isn’t even this disparity in income or the mis-valuing of labour or the reification of money or the degradation of government and public finnances or the emergence of these oligarchs. It’s that the more we commit to it, the more extreme our reliance becomes, upon a system that is essentially held up by our collective fear and greed. Think about the fact that we are 72hours away from starvation and riots. All that fear and greed has taken us to the ledge and here we are thinking this is the best deal going on how to distribute goods and services.

I’m not about to go become a communist but you’ll pardon me if some mornings I think to myself there must be a much better way than what we’ve got.

Is QE Really Working?

This is what makes me ponder each and every day. It seems that the most successful thing Quantitative Easing has done is shore up the prices of equities and risk assets. The second most successful thing it has done is gone out of the first world into emerging markets in the carry trade – which is another way of saying it didn’t really go to the places in the economy for which it was intended. This is disturbing because the ramification of this is that the economies that most propped up asset prices did so by shipping inflation out to the emerging markets.

I don’t know about you, but I imagine this is having an effect on commodity prices because frankly, you can’t print that much money and not have inflation showing up somewhere.  It sure hasn’t been appearing in America or Australia or the UK, but lately the price of food staples have gone up steadily. The last time this happened it prompted the Arab Spring so we may be headed for even more instability around the globe.

Just to make things a little tricky, Bernanke’s successor Yellen has announced the taper will progress at a constant rate and this is sending investment money back to America, but you have to wonder if the emerging markets are going to be able to handle the drop in liquidity and the rise in commodity prices for food staples.

Then there is the little issue of moral hazards associated with the bail outs. It seems the people who benefited the most from QE and TARP and all the socialised losses governments have taken on around the world as debt (and bad debt at that), were not the people on ‘main street’ as they are called but the top echelon of the wealthy. Not the 1%, but in fact the top 0.1% have made the most wealth out of this exercise. If you lost your house and job in the GFC, I think you’d be entitled to feel quite duped by all of this stuff. The data coming out of the USA saying there’s a recovery going on seems to betray the fact that a lot o the jobs created since the GFC are lower in value than the jobs lost. If the Fed and the US Government worked so hard for this outcome, then surely there’s a problem in reflexively thinking that the bail outs were a success. Thus,  seven years on from when the GFC started to happen, we should be asking just who is benefiting from all this Quantitative Easing?

Ukraine, The Ugly

It’s one of those situations that won’t go away. Russia has essentially taken the opportunity of the instability to annex Crimea back into Russia. While there has been much tub thumping condemnation of Russia by the first world, it seems the other nations in the BRICS have tacitly moved behind Russia. NATO i making noises about moving troops in to Ukraine while the interim government in Kiev has declared the Russia-sympathisers as terrorists. You can see that this is not going to go in any direction of pretty.

Putin and his government have been saying this week that Ukraine is on the brink of a civil war. They may well be heading in that direction right now. All the while I’m a little curious as to what exactly the Obama Administration thinks it is going to accomplish in Ukraine. There is a growing bit of incredulity every time the White House announces it’s going to send a ship through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea. This lone vessel encountered (or rather, got buzzed by) a Russian jet that came within 1000yeards.

It’s enough to make you wonder if Obama and Putin want to repreise the Cuban missile crisis. Unlike Kennedy ad Khrushchev who had to work through elaborate diplomatic channels. Obama and Putin have been on the phone 6 times with very little to show for it. Putin being an ex-KGB man makes it immensely difficult to read, let alone game for advantage, while Obama has a record of drawing lines in the sand and letting people walk all over them.  If all of this ends up as a hot war in Ukraine with NATO troops on the ground, I think that would be the day things have gone incredibly wrong.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 17/Mar/2014

Why So Quiet?

Oh boy. I’ve just spent a week in snot hell and cough purgatory. This series of ‘flus I’ve been hit with one after another has just flayed me and slain me. it sucks to be laid out like this. The number of days one loses to this sort of thing makes one a little more than cranky.

Anyway, I’m slowly on the mend and I am merely in cough purgatory right now.

I Crane, You Crane, We All Crane Our Necks For Ukraine

All that rubber necking and neck-craning is about Ukraine and Crimea this week. It’s a weird story in that none of the participants are attractive and all of them could be accused of having ugly agendas. Underneath all of the rhetorical flourishes is a country that’s basically going backward with neglect and I do have a few things to say about this because like the Baltic states, Ukraine is probably owed something a bit more from the West than mere lip service. I won’t go into the horrible history of collectivisation in Ukraine under Stalin, which preceded the horrors of the German invasion, followed by the USSR sitting on the country like so much exploitative deadweight, and this was followed by the post-Soviet disintegration of what little economy existed in the place. Oh, and let’s not forget Chernobyl which also sits somewhere in that time line. For a nation of 50-odd million folks, it’s hardly had the sort of self-determination that other nations have had. It has arguably had much less than Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary – and we know how those states fared under the Soviets.

And so this nation is cleft into two. The Ukrainians desperately want to join the West. The ethnic Russians want to stay close to Mother Russia. But the economy of Ukraine is a basket case. It is going to run out of its foreign reserves at some point this year and when it does it’s going to default. So the West would prefer not to have to let Ukraine into its club at the EU, having struggled through the issues of staving off Greece and the rest of the PIIGS defaulting on their bonds. Germany has been particularly conciliatory towards Russia because it buys gas from Russia as well as a fairly obvious desire not to have to bail out an impending financial crisis in Ukraine. After all, why adopt a stray dog with rabies?

Still, from the Ukrainian point of view, you can understand that they want to join the West, join NATO, rid themselves of Russian influence. The youth protesting in Kiev clearly want to join the EU so they can leave Ukraine and go live in Paris or London with an EU passport. And can one really blame them? And you can just hear them asking, why won’t the Americans come rescue us?

Just why won’t the Americans come and rescue them? The truth, is always historic. The Baltic States hoped beyond hope that the West would come rescue them from the yoke of the Soviets and that never happened during the Cold War for obvious nuclear reasons. The eastern marches beyond Poland are really distant places. It’s no place to be sending armies and every field rests upon the legacies of Napoleon and Hitler’s marches deep into Russia. You wouldn’t try it if you’ve war-gamed it, and if you’ve war-gamed it, you’ll know how hard that distance gets. So the Baltic States and Ukraine sit just outside the embrace of Europe, a sort of grey zone that fades from a civilised, cultured Europe into something more blunt, crude and Rus.

Naturally, the Obama Administration has threatened Putin with harsh language (much like Hans Blix in Team America threatens to do) and it’s had about as much effect as you can imagine. The Americans have no stomach for a war, they certainly have no stomach for a nuclear exchange with Russia and so they keep wagging their index finger on the grand stage. A Lithuanian tells me this is appeasement and the best thing Obama can do is to just nuke Crimea.

“Just nuke it!” he said.

“What about Mutually Assured Destruction?” I asked.

“What you don’t understand is that this isn’t the 1960s any more. All those Russian missiles are rusted in their silos. They can’t fly. The Americans can just blow them up and they won’t come back with anything!”

I share this, just so you know how the people from the Grey zone of the Eastern marches feel about all this. It’s very simple. To them, only a nuked Russian is a good Russian.

Obama might look like he’s losing this diplomatic stoush, but that’s the point. There’s no winning on the Eastern Marches against the Russians and at least this way, American casualties are limited. Shame about all those Ukrainians.

4K TV – Not Enough Content, Too Much Detail

Somewhere along the way I forgot to post this, but while we’re on the subject of Russians I thought of this.The gab this week is that 4k TV is too soon and not likely to reward Australian consumers because there’s simply no 4k content around. they would be correct. Nobody is broadcasting 4k (it’s hard enough getting1080p content regularly) and Blu-Ray isn’t coming out on 4k until later this year. You can’t download 4k content for the sheer size of the files and so 4k TV is just not well-endowed right now.

But there are unlikely things about the 4kTV format that’s quite surprising.

I was watching a 4kTV broadcast a little while ago in a shop. It was during Wimbledon and they were showing women’s tennis. Now, I’ve watched a lot of tennis in my lifetime so I can tell you if I’m seeing more or not. On screen at the Sony store, I was watching Maria Sharapova return serve, crouched, racquet at the ready, bouncing around on the balls of her feet, and white panties peeping from under the short skirt, which is the classic pervy shot you get in women’s tennis.

And here’s the thing. 4k TV is so good I could see her dimpled cellulite on the back of her thighs.

And I thought to myself, do I really need this much detail?

One Of Our Submarines

Without a doubt the weirdest sequence of news this week was the disappearance of flight MH370. It went from a straight up, “plane is missing, must have crashed” narrative to a convoluted narrative of mobile phone calls and engine pings to satellites to radar readings, hours after the plane went off view. they still don’t know what happened or where the plane is, and if it crashed somewhere int he South Indian Ocean, it might never be found because the depths there can go down to 7000m.

It’s all a little creepy because all kinds of scenarios have been tossed around including 2 stolen passports and a possible politically motivated hijacking, but the bottom line is that plane has gone missing with a big load of people, and nobody can explain it well.  In the absence of any kind of solid explanation all kinds of theories have flourished and they have been perversely interesting if only because the Malaysian Authorities have looked totally hapless in their search for this plane.

One thing is for sure. From here on in, this story is only going to get weirder and weirder.

Protesting Abbott

The March in March thing came and went and lots of people went and marched against the misgovernment of Tony Abbott. Being sick as a dog I missed it entirely, which is a bit of pattern with me. I think the last time there was a big protest thing against APEC, I was sick in bed and watched the whole thing from the couch. Anyway, I’m actually not a good protester type. I’m liable to do something crazy and who knows where that would land me? So it’s good to watch it far away from where the adrenaline could drive me to lunacy. 🙂

Jokes aside, it seems the placards presented at the marches have offended a number of people saying they’re much worse than ‘Ditch the Witch’ levelled at Julia Gillard. There are several thing that need to be said about that.

1. Not a single Federal ALP member was photographed making speeches next to a sign like this. It’s not so much that the sign said ‘Ditch the Witch’, it’s that Tony Abbott was willing to be photographed with such a sign, lending it credibility with his office of Opposition Leader.

2. It’s hard to take serious the offense taken by people who are looking to take offence. I mean, really. Those complainers are being wowsers, and nobody respects a wowser.

3. Yes, Tony is copping worse insults than than did Julia but that’s because he’s doing worse than Julia – That’s why the sobriquets are worse. Live with it. Tony does.

Ian Roberts, Champion Of Causes

Ian Roberts has been a remarkable man. Having competed at the top level in his sport – a very macho sport at that – he came out as gay. He then turned to acting, and he’s gone to NIDA and pushed ahead bravely with that. This month, he’s basically come out and said he is brain damaged, and that this damage was a result of all the concussions he suffered as a Rugby League player.

Even Matty “Bring-back-the-biff” Johns has recanted his denial of the concussion issue. In the face of the frank, unapologetic moral authority of Ian Roberts’ admission, what else can any sensible man do but put down the gauntlets and arms? It’s a landmark moment in a sport that’s been in denial about concussions for the last three years, if not the last 3 decades. Not only has Roberts forced the sport once to confront gender issues, he has now forced it to confront the occupational hazard of playing Rugby League.

He has to be one of the bravest people around. I am in awe.

China, Defaults, 2014

This week a solar company called Chaori defaulted on its bonds in Shanghai. The remarkable bit might have been that the Chinese government let it happen, because up until now, they’ve defended all these dodgy-bond moments by swooping in and making sure the bonds were paid out. This time, they simply let the company default. Ouch.

Get ready, there are going to be a whole bunch of these. The Chinese Communist Party narrative is that they’re going to let some of these companies default so that it sends a bit of realism back to the investors. If you think such a process can be controlled, then good luck. I think we’re beginning to see where China’s over-reach is going to bring down markets. This could get ugly folks.

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Free Pussy Riot

Cast Out Putin

I’m a bit of a stickler for freedom of expression. I just can’t let issues of censorship go without a comment. It’s too easy to let the powers that be go after pornographers or performance artists and say, well, my work is not going to infringe with the authority so I’m okay. Every creative artist, every creative writer, every composer or musician, painter, sculptor or actor, is a canary in the coalmine of culture. If one goes down, we have to look at it as they’ll come for me next.

This is why I have a committed position in support of what the Nazis would term “degenerate art”. My own credo is that if it’s something the Nazis would have hated, then I’m on the right track. Equally, it seems if it’s something Vladimir Putin hates, then we’re on to something good.

Such is the case with Russian Punk Rock band Pussy Riot, who find themselves sentenced to two years in ‘prison camp’ as a result of their political stunt in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. A lot of people are saying they got what they asked for and that they are undeservering of world attention. I beg to differ. We ca only surmise from the sentence that Russia is still a place with medieval sensibility about performance and art – that they should be things sanctioned by the state and church, never questioning authority. It  is ironic that the Soviet republic was once progressive and modern and would not have had a bar of this kind of reactionary thinking until Stalin seized control. Now we seem to have ‘Putinism’ which is just as reactionary in spirit.

There’s no dressing up the verdict. The women from Pussy Riot are political prisoners f conscience, and thus it is the duty of every creative person to stand in solidarity with them. This injustice is intolerable to all of us who work within freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

And so, this is my little contribution in support of Pussy Riot: Free Pussy Riot

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