Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Easiest Way to Learn to Speak a Language Well

Since summer 2014 I have been working on a book about how to learn languages without classes or teachers. I have 20 years of experience doing just that. I've learned 8 foreign languages, 7 of which I use on a regular basis (daily, weekly, or monthly). Still looking for someone to practice my Slovak with...

The book is now in the final stages of editing, as is the accompanying instruction manual, which is a short booklet containing directives. The manual is for those who don't need convincing and just want to know what to do.

Learn about the method and my soon-to-be-released products at You can sign up to receive notification when the products come out by entering your email here.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Study in Uman

Many universities across Ukraine have significant numbers of foreign students. Here is a note I got recently:

We would like to bring to your attention Uman National University of Horticulture (UNUH) ‒ a leading research and training center. Being founded in 1844 the UNUH is the oldest agrarian university in Ukraine. Beside university preparation courses, bachelor, specialist and master programmes UNUH offers students postgraduate and doctoral studies. The university cooperates with many European universities and programs to improve and enrich study process, according to European Standards of education.

We would be glad to invite the school and university graduates of your country to study at our university. Should you have any questions related to this correspondence, please feel free to contact us at your convenience at phone number:  0474433328

You will find the admission brochure of the university at:

Respectfully yours,
International Relations Department

Monday, November 10, 2014

Simple Proof that Donetsk/Luganks Election Results and Crimea Resolution Results Were Fabricated

It's amazing how the authors and perpetrators of election fraud in the Donbass Region and Crimea failed to do some simple arithmetic that would have covered their tracks.

The following article (Google translations) performs a simple arithmetic analysis of election results and demonstrates that the numbers announced were doctored with an extremely high level of certainty.

The basic argument is this. In the overwhelming majority of cases election results look something like this: 73.2647586% In other words, the percentage is some long, "dirty" number. If, however, the results are short and clean — 73.26% for instance — this is cause for concern.

What we see in the case of the elections and memorandum discussed in the article is clear evidence of doctored results — short, clean percentages with a very small probability of occurring under normal circumstances.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Russian World, its expansion and limits

I've finally dug up three public documents often referred to by analyst Andrey Illarionov. In his words, they reflect the Kremlin's actual policy regarding surrounding countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union or Russian Empire. These documents explain the meaning of the term "compatriots," describe the concept of the "Russian World," and outline the likely military action necessary to bring Ukraine under Russian control (operation "Clockwork Orange").

The links are to Google translations of the documents.

1. The Law on Compatriots

Note the very broad definition of "compatriot" (including descendants of those who lived in the Russian Empire or Soviet Union) and the types of actions that Russia can justify as constituting protection of compatriots' rights.

2. Operation "Clockwork Orange"

This was apparently published back in 2008. Look how closely events in Ukraine in the past 6-10 months mirror the text. The text outlines the scope of Kremlin interest in Ukraine, which includes Kiev if possible, though it might take a demonstrative A-bomb detonation in the stratosphere north of Kiev to force a capitulation.

3. The Boundaries of the Russian World

This recent text outlines the current vision of Russia's role in the world. I'm not sure this is the exact document cited by Illarionov, because it makes no direct mention of Belarus or northern Kazakhstan — territories that elsewhere are considered to belong to the "Russian World." You can read more about this on Wikipedia. There are now fairly clear indications (wish I had more sources to cite) that the Kremlin has plans to unite the Russian World into an actual geopolitical entity.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Russia's Next Steps

The Kremlin has begun the next stage of its operation in Ukraine, introducing large numbers of regular forces onto the scene in southeast Ukraine and basically taking over the "separatist" movement, which it orchestrated to begin with. International discussion continues to use language like "Russia is supporting the separatists," etc., but this has been obsolete for some time. Within a matter of weeks rhetoric will probably catch up to the current reality. By then, however, Russia will have likely moved on to the next phase of escalation.

By now anyone who closely follows news from Ukraine (such as the author) has become aware of the recurring patterns in the Kremlin's behavior and rhetoric:

1. Denial of involvement in the current stage of the operation to Western and domestic audiences. On the international level, this slows international responce because suspicions require time to be confirmed and proven beyond a doubt. By the time incontrovertible facts have been presented and influential players are convinced and discussing what action to take, Moscow has already moved on to the next stage.

2. Admitting to limited benevolent involvement in previous stages of the operation to a domestic audience after the fact and only as necessary. This allows time for society to become accustomed to the new situation, and it is always easier to justify things after the fact, particularly if the operation was successful.

3. Silencing any domestic grassroots protests (through incarceration, intimidation, changing the status of an increasingly activist organization to "foreign agent," which means that the organization is presumed to receive foreign funding, painting troublemakers as "Maidan orchestrators" or worse, etc.). Visible figures such as pop musicians or relatively harmless opposition leaders are permitted to have their opinion as long as there is no popular resonance.

4. Multivector domestic information control consisting of: firm control over TV stations and, to an increasing degree, radio, online news portals, and even social media; blocking of certain websites, YouTube videos, etc. Creation of a kind of virtual reality through all influential media channels that demonizes Ukraine and Western powers and promotes a kind of "benevolent" Russian fascism. Citizens may have a different opinion as long as it is perceived that there are few of them and they have no influence.

5. Multivector international information* campaign directed primarily at perceived potential allies in Western and Central Europe (which the Kremlin hopes to estrange politically from the Anglo-Saxon world) involving: recruitment of foreigners to flood online articles and posts with pro-Russia and anti-West comments to create the appearance of a majority opinion and demoralize those who think otherwise, intimidating journalists, and publishing articles in support of Russia. Close tabs are kept on sentiments in influential circles and on economic, political, and military factors through intelligence gathering, which helps the Kremlin determine which steps it can get away with.

*The information aspect of the war has caught the West largely off guard, particularly techniques of influencing popular perception through social media and disinformation. This will likely be one of the main things the West will have to develop a response to and/or protection against for future conflicts.

6. Use of confusing distractions that contribute to uncertainty and hesitation, such as imposing suspicious humanitarian convoys on Ukraine and allowing various "accidents" to happen such as shooting down a passenger liner.

7. Hints of future stages of the operation are given in public statements by influential political figures and thinkers to a domestic audience. These hints help prepare the Russian audience for likely future events, avoiding any shocks that could rile people up. These statements also apparently serve as signals to the media about what to talk about and cover. But they are also clues for international players.

Now that these patterns are becoming ever more apparent, people are paying more and more attention to hints coming out of Moscow. The Kremlin may be gradually losing its element of surprise as international players clue into their game and learn to read between the lines. The other day hints were given that Kazakhstan may be a future target of Russian operations. After all, it has a large Russian speaking population and is tightly integrated with Russia despite some movement towards China. Putin said that Kazakhstan didn't have its own statehood before the Soviet Union. Similar things were said about Ukraine in the years leading up to its invasion. Putin was also noted to have mentioned Russia's nuclear arsenal twice in a recent statement, which can be perceived as a warning to western military leaders.

If we use our imagination a bit, what kinds of disruptive things might we be able to envision happening next? (Russian leaders often label this sort of thinking "Russophobic sentiments")

- after much fighting and casualties, Russian troops establish a land corridor to Crimea and resume water and electrical supply to Crimea coming from Ukrainian territory
- as control of Donbass is secured by Russian forces, coal mining and military factors there resume their operations (to Russia's benefit), which is painted as averting a humanitarian disaster, which Russia leverages to try to gain international acceptance of its "peacekeeping" presence in the region.
- Russian troops press far enough into central Ukraine before western powers respond that their later retreat into southeast Ukraine is perceived as an "acceptable compromise."
- some costly disaster overloads Kiev's budget at just the wrong time, such as a dam burst on the Dnipro River or an explosion of the Chernobyl containment facility, neither of which would be unequivocally traceable to Russia
- an atomic bomb "accidentally" detonates in a location that is not unequivocally perceived as being an obvious military target (such as near some medium-sized town in a state bordering Russia or Ukraine), leaving other atomic powers uncertain as to how to respond or who exactly is to blame; meanwhile the Kremlin denies responsibility and promises to find and punish all those involved
- Moscow contributes to a military conflict in another region of the world, tying up the West and drawing attention away from the post-Soviet region
- Moscow pressures or blackmails Kazakhstan into become a Russian protectorate due to "dangers in the region" and begins the process of absorbing it into the Russian state
- chemical weapons cause civilian casualties in a large city in southeast Ukraine, and Moscow blames the incident on Kiev and uses it domestically as justification for a full-scale invasion of the country (which has already occurred) to protect local civilians against Ukrainian atrocities
- Moscow preemptively cuts off its oil and gas pipeline to Europe just as Western Europe is preparing to provide Ukraine with armaments to support it in the war
- Putin could die suddenly, and everyone would be left wondering what happens next

As for poor Ukraine, which has little say in the fate of its own country, we can expect to see increasing military mobilization and low-budget guerrila warfare, which Ukrainians historically have plenty of experience in. The first could be undercut by budget constraints and even bankrupcy or default, while the second will be much harder for Moscow to target and eliminate. The degree of guerrila resistance is also a wild card that Russian military experts will have be unable to predict or control. No matter what the military outcome, Moscow will have become Ukrainians' arch-enemy for years to come. Ukraine's economy also faces a substantial likelihood of collapse, though it seems international financial institutions will display a willingness to shore it up.

Within Russia, the Kremlin will endeavor to quelch any popular protests, focusing on organizers and networks. A weak spot are mothers of Russian soldiers, who will be impossible to demonize in media propaganda. Major shifts in public sentiment are always a possibility, despite the propaganda, but the Kremlin apparently feels it has this under control for now. Given the nature of the Internet, certain videos could potentially escape censorship and be distributed and viewed millions of times in a matter of days. Things like this could lead to an uncontrollable exponential rise in dissent. Russians will experience a decline in their standard of living due to sanctions, but public attention will be focused on the benefits of national unity, supporting domestic production, and military successes near Russia's borders.

Internationally, it seems likely that the West will begin to offer more and more military support for Ukraine and make increasingly menacing NATO maneuvers. NATO has apparently halted Russia at least twice in the past ten years and could do so again, though Russia would continue its covert operations while halting its overt movements. This assistance, however, may come when Russian forces are already deep into Ukraine, and Russia could negotiate for a truce that leaves them with half of Ukraine — the previously envisioned swath of land from Lugansk to Transdnistria along the southern part of Ukraine.

Obviously Russian intelligence is keeping tabs on everything that would influence the success of its operations, and each successive escalation appears to be the right thing to do given the current circumstances and the geopolitical understanding of Kremlin strategists. If Russia has decided to send in large numbers of troops and take back the Donbass region from Ukrainian forces, that means they have calculated that the benefits outweigh the risks. While their calculations could be off, it seems more likely that they would misjudge the likelihood of popular uprisings and grassroots processes than of official sanctions and military response.

It will be interesting to come back to these notes in some weeks and months and see what, if anything, has come true.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Putin Plays With Fire

News is starting to leak into Russian society of the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Some quiet group funerals have taken place where nothing was said about the true cause of the mens' death. But more and more coffins are coming back home, and the truth will soon be impossible to hide.

Until now Putin and the army leadership have denied military involvement in the war in Ukraine. Videos have recently been posted on Youtube of interrogations of Russian soldiers who were captured in the past few days in Ukraine. Most didn't realize they were being sent to Ukraine.

These videos have nearly a million views now. I don't know if they will be blocked by the Russian censors. The fate of these soldiers if they are returned to Russia is also uncertain. One says he doesn't think they will be killed, but they'll be sent to prison for sure.

This situation can't continue for long. Despite a high level of support for Putin, surveys show 5% support in Russian for a military invasion of Ukraine. There are organizations of soldiers' mothers who are very active.

The only way Putin can continue the war is to continue sending regular soldiers to Ukraine in increasing numbers. But this requires a stranglehold on information that is likely to crack with all the coffins coming home.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Uwaga! Polish teachers needed in Poltava and Kremenchug

The TryUkraine Work Study Program has been inactive for quite some time, but I occasionally still get internship offers. Here's one (or two) for a native Polish speaker(s) to teach Polish and communicate with local staff in Russian.

Требуются преподаватели польского языка для подготовки студентов к поступлению в польские вузы. Объём работы — пара часов в день. Преподаватель получит жильё — скорее всего, комнату в принимающей семье, а также небольшую зарплату, которой хватит только на карманные расходы. Это может быть хорошая возможность для тех, кто хочет подтянуть свой русский (или украинский) язык, познакомиться с украинцами и пожить в небольшом городе. От себя добавлю, что Полтава очень приятный, зелёный город. Последний раз там был, кажется, в 2006 году.

Write to me for more information. Można nawet pisać po polsku. I will probably charge a small fee for helping to set this up. I have not decided yet.

Monday, August 18, 2014

War Update

I haven't posted for two months. During this time the so-called ATO, or Anti-Terrorist Operation, has been steadily gaining steam. The Ukrainian Army has been rebuilding itself and taking back territory from separatists. A passenger jet was shot down by a Buk land-to-air missile launcher brought over the border from Russia and operated by Russian technicians.

News from Ukrainian sources seems encouraging, but progress is consistently much slower than predicted. Non-official sources (I follow Semen Semenchenko's Facebook page; he is a volunteer battalion field commander) are not as optimistic and view the current operation as a long-term undertaking, and not something that will be over in a few weeks or months.

Occasional in-depth essays or interviews from analyst Andrey Illarionov (in Russian) are also hardly optimistic. I have mentioned Illarionov several times and want to post a recent presentation of his in English.

Here he talks about hybrid war and the Kremlin agenda. I want to point out that Illarionov is definitely one of the most alarmist voices on the subject of Ukraine, but his projections have consistently come true. I listen carefully to him to try to understand the range of possibilities of what might happen in coming months and years.

War developments

As of early August Russia appears to have been supplying considerably larger numbers of weaponry and manpower to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. I have read estimates that the proportion of Russian forces among separatists has risen from 20% to 50%. A lot of high-tech weaponry has been brought in from Russia. In addition, Ukrainian forces continue to be shelled from across the border.

The fact that Russia has been ramping up direct support for separatists despite the increasing success of the ATO and all the new sanctions is not good news. What is Mr. Putin up to? How far will he go? Does he have a clear plan, or does he simply see no way out of the current situation other than to blindly move forward?

What seems certain is that things will not end well for Putin, if history has anything to teach us.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Update on the Ukrainian-Russian War

So far we see only the "possibility of stabilization" without any actual signs of stabilization. Or maybe it's a perverse kind of stabilization whereby Ukraine sacrifices its sovereignty for the sake of stability between more important geopolitical actors.

Strange things are happening. Poroshenko becomes president and immediately declares that the antiterrorist operation needs to be over in a week (How? Through military victory, capitulation, or a ceasefire?). Three Russian tanks bearing a Russian flag cross the separatist-controlled eastern border of Ukraine and drove to Donetsk. Then Putin calls Poroshenko to talk things over, recognizing Poroshenko as the President of Ukraine, and soon thereafter calls George Bush Senior to congratulate him on his 90th birthday.

The peculiarity of the tanks, Putin's phone calls, and the almost total lack of reaction in Kiev is analyzed by Andrey Illarionov in his blog (Eng. translation here). It will soon become clear what the meaning of the tanks and the phone calls is.

Why are Ukraine's attempts to protect its sovereignty so feeble? Yes, the army's level of equipment and competency is rapidly rising. Yes, the volunteer battalion "Donbass" is growing in strength, directed by pragmatic and charismatic "Semen Semenenko" (read his interview, Eng. translation here).

But the degree of mobilization in Ukraine seems inadequate to the threat. Many Ukrainians believe that behind-the-scenes intrigue is sabotaging the government's ability to establish control over its eastern territories and undertake the large-scale reforms most Ukrainians want to see.

Things have always been like this in Ukraine. Why? Here is one increasingly plausible explanation (Eng. translation here) — the Kremlin has been trying to direct things in Ukraine all along. This could explain some of the strange events that have taken place in Ukraine in the past 20+ years. It also puts some meat onto the bones of Putin's view of Ukraine as a failed state.

Georgian ex-president Saakashvili is notably agitated and perplexed about the military situation in Ukraine in this news interview (in Ukr. and Rus. only). He characterizes the new president as "decisive" and recognizes the Ukrainian people's will to preserve their freedom, but is careful to speak euphemistically about what must be done in the east, though it is plainly clear that he believes the only solution is to destroy the separatists as quickly and decisively as possible while sparing civilians. One gets the clear impression that he is unsure whether this will actually be done (because he is aware of what's happening behind the scenes). Saakashvili says that Putin will not stop unless forced and that Putin believes that defeat in eastern Ukraine will lead to the fall of his own regime. These are plausible viewpoints.

One more broad-scale interview: Illarionov on the chances of a world war around the events in Ukraine (Eng. translation here) from before the presidential elections.

Sorry to keep referring to Illarionov, but if our aim is to obtain an understanding of events that best predicts future events and explains past ones, then we should listen. Illarionov has an incredible track record of predicting developments in Ukraine. His ability to decode diplomatic interactions that mean little to ordinary citizens is also stellar.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Beginning of Stabilization in Ukraine?

There are a number of very positive developments in Ukraine. First, Ukraine has a new president — Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko. He garnered over 50% of the vote in the first round, meaning that a second round was not necessary. He is noticeably more modern, educated, and progressive than previous presidents. He enjoys wide support, putting to rest claims that the temporary government in Kiev following Yanukovych's disappearance was "illegitimate."

Putin chose not to interfere before the election and appears to be slowly withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border. He now has fewer cards to play, but surprise moves can hardly be ruled out. Sanctions from the West appear to be making an impact of some kind.

A small delegation of Ukrainians visited Tbilisi last week. Evgeniya Belorusets — a friend of mine — has a photo exhibit here with photos and texts about Maidan and the events in Eastern Ukraine. There was an interesting discussion at the exhibit with a well-known Ukrainian political analyst, Vladimir Fesenko, present.

Some interesting points from the discussion:

  • No one expected special forces to begin shooting at and killing protesters. No one expected that Yanukovych would to actually leave office. No one expected Crimea to actually be annexed, although analysts had speculated on the subject a number of times over the years. No one expected the events in eastern and southern Ukraine. Everyone was caught by surprise — many times. 
  • Ukrainian press is operating in conditions of "counter-propaganda" against ridiculous and shameful propaganda in the Russian press, which has more influence abroad and even within Ukraine.
  • There is a confluence of crises in Ukraine: political, geopolitical, military, financial, economic, and social. If the government and people fail to handle the crisis, the country will not survive. 
I took away from the discussion a renewed optimism that things in Ukraine would work out. Furthermore, I feel the time is ripe for serious structural changes in government and relations between citizens and government. As soon as things settle down a bit more and I am able to settle my affairs, I would like to return and spend a few months in Ukraine. I don't want to miss the historical moment when new systems are being built and long-term stability returns to the country.

At the same time, the government is conducting a serious anti-terrorist operation in Eastern Ukraine. People are dying nearly every day on both sides. As time passes and the Russians lay low, the Ukrainian army is getting better at its job. Without external support the separatists do not have a chance. Russia is feeling the pressure and seems to be withholding more direct active support of separatists.