One year on in the Russia-Ukraine conflict

It was about this time, news was a-buzz with the talk of tanks lining up on Russia’s western border, then crossing over into Ukraine in a conflict that was meant to be over in a little over a fortnight.

Time must move slow for Vladimir Putin — 12 months in real time and they’re still at it! So that’s approximately one “Putin Day” equates to approximately 26 real days for the rest of us. (Some would argue the conflict actually began in 2014 — I guess there’s some merit in that opinion, but things really began heating up 12 months ago.)

I’ve actually learned a lot about the place. Okay, “a lot” is a relative measure, what I actually know could be scribbled onto the back of a postage stamp with a thick permanent marker, however I am picking up tidbits here and there.

12 months ago, I actually had to frequently correct my spelling — I kept missing the “i” (i.e. “Ukrane”). I wasn’t aware Chernobyl was actually on Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus (or that Belarus was even their northern neighbour). I might’ve heard of Moldova, but wasn’t sure where it was, I had not heard of the disputed territory of Transnistria. Nor did I realise they shared their western border with Poland.

Over the last 12 months I’ve slowly become a bit more familiar with where some of their more major cities are: Lviv in the west, the port cities of Odesa, Mykolaiv (and the general Kherson area — watermelon territory) and we heard lots about Mariupol, particularly the steelworks there. Dnipro and Luhansk in the east, Kharkiv and Sumy in the north-east… Kyiv up in the north.

Point me to a blank map 12 months ago and I wouldn’t have had much idea where those places were, but I have a vague idea now.

I could spot Cyrillic writing before this conflict but couldn’t read any of it. Today while I can’t identify the language, I’m starting to be able to pick out individual letters and recognise the odd word. Various news articles have covered various aspects of the Ukrainian culture. Of course, the before-and-after photos that pop up from time to time showing what was, and what’s just been pulverised by Russian shelling reveal a lot of ornate buildings that are now little more than rubble.

Okay, so little things… very basic facts. The depressing thing is it’s taken a bloody war to even gain a modest familiarity with these things. I have a fear of flying and have no passport, so there’s practically zero chance of me visiting that part of the world.

I guess there was no real necessity for me to really understand the geography of the area pre-conflict, it would have been a personal interest thing if I had done so. Whatever happens though, I think the rest of the world will have to be there ready to help pick up the pieces and help Ukraine re-build.

I wouldn’t be doing business with any businesses based in Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka North Korea), Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Russia or Syria… and I’d think twice about “no-limits” Russia supporter China.

If the governments in those places change their tune on this conflict, then we re-evaluate, but it’s a fact that supporting business there helps support that country’s government, which only positively-reinforces their current behaviour.

Sadly, with North Korea firing test missile after test missile into the sea, and China eyeing off Taiwan (and its proximity to the Mariana Trench — it’s just about chip fabrication) with jealous eyes — one can only wonder what the next few decades have in store for us.

The real scary thing, I don’t think we in Australia can really count on our allies. The United Kingdom is an utter basket-case post-Brexit and the United States is actually looking very much less united with every passing day as the society there slowly edges towards a race-fuelled civil war.

Methinks we need to start looking at doing things on our own soil, “global economy” looks like it’ll be taking a back seat for a little while!

Ukraine war: Cold War 2.0 or WW3?

I guess we’ve all been hearing about the “special operation” that Russia blundered into. This was supposed to be a week-long peace-keeping mission… and the locals were meant to be “welcoming” the Russian troops with open arms.

I tell you what, if that’s a “welcome”, I’d hate to see what the Ukrainians would reserve for true enemies… from what I can see the message seems very clear: “Outta here, Vladimir!” Still, Moscow appears to not have gotten the message, even after 44 days, they’re still at it. The banner up the top-right of this page is quite out of date now — not that the message is any less true, additional lives have been lost due to this conflict.

Only because Russia’s troops on the ground have so far failed to take any major cities by conventional means, they’ve resorted to bombing the crap out of these cities. And it appears, nothing is sacred, with places like shelters and hospitals copping it. Then there’s the allegations of rape and torture committed by these troops.

Russia denies being responsible of course.

It’s been hard to watch this unfold from the opposite hemisphere. I don’t know anyone in Eastern Europe personally, so there’s no “personal attachment”, but this doesn’t mean I don’t feel sorry for the everyday citizens in this region. This is a war ordered by the Russian Government under the pretence of “peace keeping”.

I’m reminded of the pilot episode of Yes Minister, “Open Government” — Sir Humphrey Appleby when asked about the title of a policy document drily replies “Always dispose of the difficult bit in the title, [it] does less harm there than in the text” (17:03 if you’ve got the DVD handy). Governments the world over are notorious for using euphemistic terms to label things, and this just another (albeit, extreme) example. Very few countries are going along with that, the rest are seeing right through this thin veil and seeing the conflict for what it is. Even China Radio International describe the two countries as “warring”.

In any case, whether the people of these places agree with what’s happening or not, they get no choice in the situation. If they’re members of the military, they’re forced into this conflict and carrying out the orders as given, or face insubordination charges.

So on it goes, including the shelling from over the eastern border. Even Lviv in the west of Ukraine has not been spared — it too has been hit from long-distance missiles. I fear it’s only going to take a slight miscalculation on the part of the Russian unit firing it, maybe they aim a little too high, and instead of landing in Lviv, it sails clean across the border and hits something in Poland: a NATO member — then WW3 would be on for real.

Russia was initially using violence in the Donbas region as the justification for their “special operation”, in which case a question needs to be asked: why bomb Lviv in the west? If the military is the target, why did the Kramatorsk railway station get hit when it was clearly brimming with civilians? Are they that inept at their aim that they missed their real target and hit this place instead?

Valid questions that deserve investigation I think. The males of this species are known to have two heads: one above our shoulders and the other between our legs — personally I think Putin has been doing his “thinking” with the latter. No wonder we keep hearing chants of “Пу́тін — хуйло́” (roughly, “Putin is a dickhead” — assuming the Wikipedia translation is accurate).

The violence in the Donbas region should be investigated too — while it’s in no way a justification for the invasion, there seems to be enough reports to suggest there were problems here, and it’s correct that a (perhaps independent) body investigates. However, this will have to wait until the fighting stops.

Presently, the world is attempting to strong-arm Russia into dropping its fight by issuing sanctions. This is made difficult because much of Europe is dependent on Russian fossil fuel, but even those imports will fall under direct bans with sufficient time. Germany has already banned coal imports. The UK says it will ban Russian oil & gas by the end of the year. Some countries have already cut themselves off completely.

Russia’s Government is in a no-win situation now I think. Had they stopped after the first fortnight, realising that this wasn’t going to work, many of the atrocities we’re hearing about now likely would not have taken place and I think things would calm-down relatively quickly. Moscow might’ve been able to “save face” to a limited extent. Too late for that now: domestically they’ll look like a failure, and internationally they’re already being treated like a leper.

I’ve for a long time been blocking China, ever since they started relentless port-scanning activity on my IPv6 subnets. (Looking at you 240e:f7:4f01:c::3!) I’ve since added Hong Kong (because China says HK is “part of China” and the HK Government seems to agree with that… so I’ll treat them the way I treat China), along with North Korea (allied with China).

While Russia is officially fighting the Ukraine, the truth is their cybersecurity attack teams have had a bad reputation for a long time, and this war is being fought with IP datagrams as much as it’s being fought with bullets. They would think nothing of “conscripting” some home router or IoT device into their “digital army”. So into the blacklist they go, along with Belarus, Syria and Turkey who so far are helping support Russia or are otherwise maintaining diplomatic relationships with them.

I’m tempted to throw India into that list too as the Indian Government seems intent on fence-sitting. (They’ll get splinters in their bum doing that!)

Of course none of this stops an indirect attack on my infrastructure via some compromised router or VPN endpoint somewhere else in the world acting as a proxy, but at least it restricts direct attack.

The ugly bit will come though when it comes to the war crimes investigation. The atrocities have been severe, and I don’t think there’s much question at all that they’ve taken place. The true question though is the classic “who dunnit”. We’ll need to use our heads with this: the one above our shoulders, confirmation bias is going to be our biggest enemy. The vehicle of justice must be driven by objective evidence, emotions must take a back seat! I think this is going to be our greatest challenge this century.