Some classmates of mine are living in L’viv right now. If you’ve been following the crisis in Ukraine, you might find their photo blog interesting: L’viv of Absence.
L’viv (Prounounced luh-VYU in Ukrainian and ul-VOV in Russian) has taken a staunchly nationalist outlook during this crisis. In general, as a part of Galitsia, it has historically tried to be more western and more independent of Russian influence. It’s also very nice, I hear!
Within DC, the Watergate Hotel, just now slipping from the hands of Monument Realty, goes up for auction tomorrow
. I am placing my bets on the Jumeirah group, who are richer than Croesus and even crazier. One has to be at least bold enough to assume the debt and cost of renovations necessary to bring the building into operations. Although the building is structurally fine, the constant need for interior renovations and building system upgrades led Monument into a period of severe financial hardship when their backers went bankrupt
Outside of DC, Joe Biden is in Ukraine. After the niceties of Obama’s visit to the Kremlin two weeks ago, Biden may be going over to reassure the shaken administration that the US is still an ally. On the other hand, the alleged “reset” of Russo-American relations and the tanking of the pro-wetern Ukrainian coalition would mean that his meeting with Yulia Timoshenko and Viktor Yuschenko could be both tense and unsatisfying. On Wednesday, the Vice President will be in Sakartvelo Georgia to speak to the parliament. Again, this meeting is a cautious attempt to maintain relations between the US and Russia’s prime enemies. Unlike the Baltic States and the Balkans, these countries are unstable and still sucsceptible to major influence. It will be interesting to watch the developments.
N.B. – Please do not refer to Ukraine as “The Ukraine,” as that implies that Kyiv is just some Russian border town. Украина literally means “hinterland” or “borderland,” but generally had its connotation set with a capital letter by the 18th Century. Only under the later Tsars and Soviets did the government take advantage of the lack of articles in Ukrainian to insist to western observers that the “Little Russians” did not deserve independence; it’s right there in the name, “our borderland.” If you’re under 30, you probably don’t make this mistake, but it still creeps into the news every once and a while to irritate sticklers like me.
Russia’s mind-bogglingly bad fiscal policy has finally come to a pitiful and humbling end: it has to borrow money from Europe. FT, the Post and others are reporting that Russia may issue $5B of eurobonds to cover some of its economic interventions as it tries to save its troubled corporations. The increasingly resented government has proudly – and aggressively – exploited high oil and gas prices to grow large exchange and gold reserves as a means of independence, a strategy that worked for some time.
But or the past six months, the Medvedev/Putin administration has not only been propped up the crashing currency with state reserves, but also raised pensions without raising taxes, all for the sake of national pride and presumably out of fear of broader unrest in the country, where a sizable percentage of the graying populace relies on pensions to eat. At the same time, the Central Banks is trying to avoid inflationary spending such as in the United States, Russian media are quick to point out. And it’s a fair point: rainy days are really what the reserve was made for. But Russia has crafted for its people a proud name, one that comes with a fragile ego, and any appearance of dependency causes a nationalist panic.
Like the delirious Russian economy of last year, the political image is mostly froth. There simply isn’t much behind Russia’s strength outside of oil and cash, so the administration will be looking for other ways of throwing its weight around. Just as las summer’s exercises with Venezuela signaled a sudden weakness brought about by crashing oil prices and January’s dispute with Ukraine over transmission was gambit to shake up Europe and get a little cash on the side, I think the international community can expect some bad behavior in spite of any sworn overcharges restarts in foreign policy.
And a note to today’s Tea Party protesters: If you think you’re being “punished for success,” at least you haven’t been sent to a Siberian labor camp for merely looking successful enough to be a political threat.