To Japan. Arriving by boat from Busan; returning by plane from Tokyo. Two weeks. No fixed itinerary. Japan Rail Pass in hand, which means unlimited train travel.. This will be my first time in Japan. More later.
I've met many more Chinese in the past ten months than I have in the rest of my life combined.
I met them studying Korean at a university in South Korea, one of the most prestigious in the country, at which a certain labor dispute occurred between the cleaning staff and the university administration beginning in December 2014. As far as I know, it is still unresolved as the new academic year approaches (beginning March 2nd, 2015).
During the January to February semester, I brought up the subject of these ongoing protests from time to time, either with our Korean teacher or other students.
One such time was around mid-February. I was with a Singaporean and a Chinese, both of whom have the initials Q.X. The one from China (Korean name's initials: ㅊ우ㅅ) was born in 1990 and majored in physics in China. She is planning to study in South Korea for a Master's degree. As we were walking along, for some reason I said something like, "The janitors' protests are still going on". The girl from China said, wistfully, "I wish people in China could protest like that". (She said this in English to us. Using English was a sign that she was trying to make a serious point. Unimportant talk can be in Korean.) As she said this, my mind immediately jumped to images of 1989 Beijing. I decided to cautiously break the taboo.
One government position within the Debaltseve Pocket in the ongoing Ukraine Civil War produced at least sixty prisoners as the pocket collapsed this week. This group was soon paraded before Russian cameras, and a rebel commander gave a speech. This footage was run by Russian TV.
Some interviews were also done with POWs which I found interesting and have transcribed here. Some pro-Ukrainians have commented that parading POWs on film violates the Geneva Convention, but here it is:
Transcripts in English of the rebel commander's speech and POW interviews are here:
See also #280 and #283 and #284.
The term "fog of war" refers to information. War is something dynamic (situation always changing), emotionally charged, and subject to secrecy, disinformation, misinformation, and other forms of perceptional distortion, so nobody really knows what's going on at any given time.
I was surprised to see the Prestige Media in the West (AP, New York Times, CNN, BBC, and so on) on Wednesday run headlines like "Ukrainian Army Retreats from Debaltseve". All the sources I was following (mostly pro-Ukrainian) agreed that there was an encirclement (pocket), a seriously bad situation, and that this pocket finally caved in around Tuesday and early Wednesday of this week, with many government casualties. A major rebel victory within the scope of the war so far. The Western major media was simply copying Kiev press releases, I think.
What is the truth of what happened at the place called Debaltseve (Debaltsevo in Russian)? After weeks of inaction by the Ukraine side, a breakout attempt occurred but how organized it was is unclear. What is clear is the Debaltseve vicinity is now under uncontested rebel control. The Ukraine president claims he ordered a successful withdrawal. Rebel sources say the government lose major casualties including up to a thousand prisoners surrendered. Independent journalists seem to favor the rebels' version of events:
Encircled for almost ten days, thousands of Ukraine government soldiers, I read from the best sources, as I write are in the process of either surrendering to the pro-Russian rebels at Debaltseve, East Ukraine or attempting a breakout.
This closes up the "Debaltseve Pocket" which I wrote about in Post-#283 last week. The total loss was predicted as early as January 27th by a German military intelligence analyst writing under the alias Conflict Reporter, one of the best sources on the war. The end of the fighting at Debaltseve will free up many thousands of pro-Russian rebels for action elsewhere in the present Ukraine war.
Russian media is comparing the loss at Debaltseve to Stalingrad:
The Ukrainian Army is considered to be incompetent (see post-280). It is full of draftees (40% of its personnel were conscripts before the 2014 crisis; draft notices have a 70% ignore rate), and its leadership is considered poor.
It has just allowed 5,000 of its soldiers to be encircled by the pro-Russian rebels at a place called Debaltseve. The Ukraine government denies the encirclement, but informed observers are saying it's true.
Looking at hasty ongoing Ukrainian efforts at this very moment, it seems not impossible that [the Ukraine Army] will be able to breach the de facto pocket [at Debaltseve], which holds since 15 hours [Feb 10], in the coming hours. However if it does so, using all its reserves in the area, it will only be a question of hours or days, before even stronger Russian army reinforcements will push back the Ukrainian army forces and re-close the pocket. [...][Up to] 5,000 [Ukrainian] troops are besieged and the outlook is gloomy. [Source]
The Ukrainian Regular Army has bitter experience with encirclement in this war. Last August, it allowed over 1,000 of its troops to be encircled at a place called Ilovaisk (due east of Donetsk City), with the shocking one-time loss of over 1,000 personnel killed and captured (some of these 1,000 were allegedly killed by rebels while under the white flag), and with only 97 escaping the encirclement alive and uncaptured, according to a government spokesman. This humiliating defeat may be about to be repeated on a larger scale at Debaltseve...
Military Situation map published by the Ukraine government, February 2nd, 2015. [See larger version, 1.0mb, here]
I am following the developments at several places, which include translations from original Russian language sources:
My great aunt (my father's mother's sister), whose name was Beatrice, would've had her 95th birthday this Saturday, but after a brief illness last week she died As far as I know, she was my oldest living relative so few steps removed on either side. But there are a lot of relatives only hazily known to me in Iowa. She was born in Iowa in February of 1920 to parents both born in Norway.
My last strong memory of her is from July 2010 when I paid a visit with my uncle and aunt in Kansas (I was visiting with them briefly after a trip to the Grand Canyon at the time). Her husband requested my uncle and I try to install some new lightbulbs very high off the ground in a particular room. Following much commotion involving a ladder, I think we managed to do it. Beatrice was in the middle of her 90th year at that time. She seemed to me to be more spry and mentally alert than lots of people are at 60, even some at 50. I wondered what her secret to eternal youth might've been. She showed no signs I could see of anything bad either physically or mentally.
This month is the one year anniversary of the dramatic coup in Ukraine in which streetfighters toppled the corrupt government (see post-197; looking back at it, I note that my prediction that the Right Sector video would disappear was correct; so I'm glad I made the "textual transliteration"...)
Later in 2014, Russians in East Ukraine declared their intent to secede from the New Ukraine and form a new nation called Novorossiya, presumably to be a Russian satellite. Militias appeared and a secessionist war drags along which has killed thousands already. This sort of war was predicted by a professor I had in a class about the "Soviet Succession States" in my final semester at university in 2008. He was in no way pro-Russian but he said the obvious solution was to rearrange borders in line with ethnic geographies, and that refusing to consider doing so was deeply foolish. The main example he used at the time was Ukraine, with its Russian-speaking majorities in many eastern areas.
I saw the BBC run a photo today of a position held by the secessionists in East Ukraine. The flag jumps out at me:
The flag bears a strong, striking resemblance to that of the Confederate States of America's battle flag. [...] Gubarev has since stated that the inspiration for the flag came from "banners used by Cossacks who reclaimed the New Russian territories from Tatars and Turks for Russia in the 18th century"; however according to Alexey Eremenko of the Moscow Times, no Cossacks ever used a flag resembling the one chosen.
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