Tuesday, May 09, 2023

9: Ukraine

Nice Guy Meets Iron Man in the First Novel by Tom Hanks Whimsically chronicling the creation of a Marvel-style movie, “The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece” sags under a deluge of detail. ........... Sidelined by the pandemic, some actors fired up ceramics or sang fragments of “Imagine.” Tom Hanks, one of the most prominent to contract an early case of Covid, bounced back by making a run at the Great American Novel. Alas, it is more Forrest Gump trotting from coast to coast than Sully landing on the Hudson. ......... the vast number of workers required to get stories onscreen: extras, editors, costume and lighting designers, makeup artists, caterers, drivers, gofers, key grips. ....... “Masterpiece” is a loving homage to those workers, a true insiderly ensemble piece in the vein of “The Player” (written by Michael Tolkin in 1988, directed by Robert Altman in 1992), or Quentin Tarantino’s eventually self-novelized “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” .......... Alternate titles: “Hollywood: Busy, Busy Town” or “What Do Movie People Do All Day?” ....... Eve Knight, the alter ego of Knightshade, a heroine who like many modern women has trouble sleeping. ......... “Sure, she wants to make her bed with a decent chap when the time is right, but the time is never right!” Lane tells Johnson’s assistant, Allicia Mac-Teer, anachronistically (Hanksishly). “Nor is the chap.” ......... after years of struggling in the gig economy, a salary that’s “a joke of abundance.” .......... Moviemaking, Hanks would remind us, can be a rising tide, not in the depressing new climate change way, but the old optimistic American lift-all-boats way. ........... The word “coffee” appears, by my count, on 85 pages ........ Highly specific smoothies are fetched; catering tables are lovingly inventoried. ........ Sometimes “Masterpiece” reads like the thank-you speech Hanks, consummate nice guy, would give if granted unlimited time at the Oscars. You might admire its rah-rah spirit, yet still want to press fast-forward. ........... After turning 50 pages more and finding a minor character selling “Royals, Underwoods, Remingtons, Hermes, Olivettis, all in working order,” as if in an Etsy shop, I had to fight a strong urge to close the book, fire up a triple espresso and see if anything was happening in the tiny palace of my iPhone. .

Things in Russia Aren’t as Bad as the Bad Old Soviet Days. ‘They’re Worse.’ In light of what their country is inflicting on Ukraine, it is difficult to speak of Russians as victims. That, in fact, may be one major reason many decent Russians feel that Mr. Putin’s Russia — their Russia — is worse than the Soviet state whose demise he laments. They had thought their nation free of the horrible tyranny of its past, and Mr. Putin is not only reviving that but also bringing shame and alienation to their nation. ......... a Soviet leader probably would not have survived a disastrous decision like the invasion of Ukraine. ......... “We make a distinction between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ societies, but there is also a distinction between ‘openings’ and ‘closings,’” Ivan Krastev, a Bulgarian political scientist and one of the foremost chroniclers of the collapse of the Soviet empire, told me. “The generation of Soviet people in the 1970s and 1980s lived in a closed society that was opening, discovering that things that had been impossible were becoming possible. Putin’s is a period of radical closings. People are losing things they felt had finally been granted them. Openings led to hope; this system leads to hopelessness.” .......... What he has done, at its heart, is create a system in which everything — the government, the political police, the legislature, the military — depends personally on him. ........ If the most common charge used to imprison dissidents in the last decades of Soviet rule was “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda,” an omnibus law that at least made clear that the crime was in opposing Soviet rule, Mr. Putin lashes back at his opponents with random weapons, whether it’s his government’s apparent poisoning of Alexei Navalny or the condemnation of Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison for treason. Accusing Mr. Gershkovich of espionage may well have been motivated at least in part by fury that someone with a Russian background would dare report the truth about Russia. .......... Ten days into the invasion, the police arrested more than 4,600 demonstrators in Russia, and hundreds of thousands of Russian men have fled the country to avoid being shanghaied into the army. .......... Russian restaurants, including ones that reconceived their menus, struggle to stay open. Stolichnaya vodka has now been rebranded as Stoli. ......... Mr. Putin, in the name of an ephemeral Russian greatness, has done great and lasting harm to his people and their culture.

As Putin Bides His Time, Ukraine Faces a Ticking Clock Ukraine is feeling short-term pressure from its Western backers for success in a looming counteroffensive. Vladimir Putin seems to be operating on a longer timeline. .......... Ukraine is feeling immense short-term pressures from its Western backers, as the United States and its allies treat the counteroffensive as a critical test of whether the weapons, training and ammunition they have rushed to the country in recent months can translate into significant gains. .......... Putin faces his own challenges but is showing signs of operating on a much longer timeline, encumbered by economic and military limitations but free from the domestic political pressures that make continuing Western support for Ukraine so uncertain. ......... Having already mobilized some 300,000 recruits last September, Mr. Putin is laying the groundwork for a possible new round of conscription, having changed the law so Russian authorities can draft men by serving them with a “digital summons” online. .......... and emphasizing that Russia is capable of conscripting as many as 25 million fighting-age men ........... On Friday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, castigated Russian military leadership over a lack of ammunition and threatened to pull his forces from the fighting in the embattled city of Bakhmut within days. ........“Certainly I think there is a calculation in the Kremlin that Russia is more resilient than the West” ............ If they appear too ambitious, they could stir fears that Russia could respond with a tactical nuclear strike. Appear too modest, in contrast, and criticism arises that billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine has been spent in vain. ........... Ukrainian officials point to the considerable successes they have already achieved: forcing the Russian military to retreat from Kyiv last year; sinking the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva; and recapturing thousands of square miles of territory in two counterattacks last fall. ........... “We have a lot of supporters of Ukraine cheering for us,” he said. “That is why they are waiting for the next match. But for us, it’s not a sports game. For us, it’s a serious challenge. For us, it’s the lives of our soldiers.” .......... Military analysts have pointed to a likely period of probing assaults, feints and long-range strikes in the opening phase of the attack. Degrading the Russian military’s combat abilities will be as important as liberating territory ............... The Ukrainians see their enemy as having expended its offensive ability and as eager for a pause in fighting that could buy time to rearm and attack again. ........... Mr. Trump has criticized Mr. Biden’s support for Ukrainian forces, saying in an interview this year with Fox News that “ultimately,” Mr. Putin “is going to take over all of Ukraine.” ......... “Russia’s hope right now is that the peak of Western military support is going to be around the summer,” and then will dissipate ........... Once wars have gone on for more than a year, they tend to last for more than a decade on average ............. Putin has little incentive to end the war now, unless his hand is forced, because its continuation helps him retain power .......... Any negotiations after a military defeat would look like capitulation and make him more vulnerable at home ........... Only 7 percent of authoritarian leaders with governments like Russia’s have found themselves unseated during a conflict that began on their watch ......... “In polls, the only thing the Russian public was not willing to negotiate over was the status of Crimea” .......... “If Crimea is being bombarded, then it’s a failure. I think that would change things, potentially.” .......... Putin is also likely facing pressures that remain opaque to the outside world. In an authoritarian system, threats to the stability of a government often prove unpredictable. ........ Putin has security, business and political elites he still must keep on his side, noting that “it’s wrong to assume that Putin can just do anything he wants to at this point.” ....... “There are institutions of power and centers of power,” he added, “that you have to manage, control and dominate in some way if you’re going to stay in the game.”

Russian Unease Over Ukraine War Grows Amid Attacks and Leadership Rifts With a Ukrainian offensive looming, explosions in Crimea and inside Russia have rattled Moscow, sparking bureaucratic infighting among military commanders....... With Ukraine stepping up attacks deep inside Russian-controlled territory, there were new signs on Friday of disarray and unease among Russia’s military and political leadership as they brace for a looming Ukrainian offensive, for which their forces may be ill-prepared. ......... Not for the first time, he threatened to pull his fighters out of the long-embattled Ukrainian city of Bakhmut if the Ministry of Defense did not provide more ammunition............. Two explosions rocked the Kremlin in the middle of the night on Wednesday, in what the Russians claimed was a failed drone attack by Ukraine. Denying the accusation, Ukraine said Russia might have done it to try to muster domestic support for a faltering war effort. No matter the culprit, symbolically it seemed to many to signal Kremlin weakness. .......... That came in tandem with attacks on a number of oil storage facilities, igniting huge fires, and train derailments both near the border and well away from the battlefields, all attributed to Ukrainian drones or sabotage. ........ Adding to the building sense of anxiety, the head of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, bizarrely accused the United States in an interview of having started the war to seize territory ahead of a supposed cataclysmic explosion of a volcano at Yellowstone National Park, which he said would wipe out life in North America. ........... Ramzan Kadyrov, the pugnacious leader of the Republic of Chechnya inside Russia, chastised Mr. Prigozhin for displaying the corpses of his men to create a public outcry, and offered to deploy his men in place of the Wagner mercenaries to finish the job in Bakhmut. He also chastised the Defense Ministry for logistical and supply issues.

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