Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Putin wants Mariupol, but Mariupol doesn't want Putin

The Battle of Mariupol, almost 2 years ago. Death and destruction, which the world ignored. 
Mariupol at peace. Luba and Starobelsk friends took me to Berdyansk, just down the road from Mariupol, for a great holiday on the Sea of Azov. I argued to PC headquarters that this trip away from my site was for "cultural immersion," and it really was that.
"...Mariupol is a tempting target for the leaderships of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’. . . .seizing Mariupol would be an important step to make a frozen separatist-occupied Donbas economically viable. Mariupol is the port through which much of the steel and other industrial products of the Donbas are exported. Mariupol is also key if the Russians desire a land bridge to Crimea. While taking the land bridge would be doable for the Russian army, holding it would prove costly. It would mean occupying a strip of territory 300 kilometers long, territory that has not shown great sympathy for the separatists or the idea of ‘Novorossiya.’ The Russian army would have to garrison the territory to fend off almost certain partisan attacks." Brookings Institute, March 2015
Loyal to Ukraine, Mariupol continues to protest
 Russian aggression. The war's taken its toll..
Mariupol is back in the news, though the ongoing war in Ukraine, the ongoing killing and destruction, the every day battles and skirmages, the daily death toll, have been on the media back burner for a while now. Putin's war no longer makes the headlines, unless the story has to do with the Trump campaign and traitors like Paul Manafort helping Putin take over Crimea and the Donbas. Ukraine is suffering, mightily, weeping in pain, and the world seems not to care.

Back to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and access to the strategic Black Sea. Back to Russia's unmitigated and unstopped war in Ukraine, a country now encircled by heavily armed Russian troops that can strike anywhere, anytime, and do. The Minsk agreement is a sham and has been a sham from the beginning, with the obscene and brutal destruction of Debaltseve, the strategic link between Lugansk and Donetsk.  The western nations talk a lot, but actions speak louder than words, and no action makes any words meaningless.

Unless there is a will and a way to stop Putin's aggression, there is no end in sight. It's a sad commentary on international uselessness and helplessness in the face of illegal aggression that breaks accepted international treaties and the sanctity of international borders.

Battle of Mariupol. War photos
from Yahoo images,

 and they are disturbing.
The Brookings Institute predicted that if Mariupol came under renewed Russian attack, sanctions would not only continue but increase.  I hope so. A meeting with Putin is taking place now, in Crimea of all places. The image sickens me. So far nothing has halted Putin's sending in more mercenaries, arms, and heavy weapons of destruction.  How does this illegal aggression continue? Why isn't Putin arrested and tried before a Hague tribunal? If Putin was stopped, the war would stop. The destruction, the mass graves, the laying waste to human lives and human habitats, is all Putin's responsibility.  Supplying the BUK that took down MH-17 is his responsibility.  It's his war.

The Battle of Mariupol. Senseless destruction, and a gruesome mass grave. 
That photo shocked me. I don't think the world was paying much attention, 
unaware of how invasive and tragic this battle was (yahoo images).
Mariupol has put up brave resistance, and will continue to do so.  But how can it stop the Russian military giant? It's David and Goliath.  It doesn't matter if the war drums beat loudly or softly, if the Russian forces are in attack mode or about to be in attack mode, if Putin changes his mind or not.  The presence of so many troops and weapons, the threats of violence, are ever-present, ever-unsettling. Imagine living under these threats day in and day out.

The people of Mariupol remain loyal to Ukraine, and they let that be known time and again.  It's hard to think that a crooked referendum could install a Russian- backed regime there, a regime that knows only how to be at war, not how to govern, as demonstrated in the Donbas.  Mariupol does not want and will never welcome the Russian-supported brutal anarchy, the break down of civil society, that now dominate southern Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts.

Olga at Starobelsk war protest
"Every day you hear that a soldier(s) was killed, and if you imagine that that soldier was given just one life and was also somebody's son, father, uncle, husband, friend, it is becoming so hard to bear," wrote my dear friend Marat, who lives in Kiev. "So the war is near even though the fighting is far, and it affects all aspects of our lives."

How can we allow such violence to continue, the killing fields of eastern Ukraine? How can we succumb to Putin's manipulation, lies and stealth? I hope the US and EU nations will not allow or sanction further aggression into other parts of Ukraine, and that includes Starobelsk, the village where I served with the Peace Corps and have friends living under the same threats as the brave citizens of Mariupol.  "The stress is unbearable at times," my friend Olga writes, echoing Marat's sadness. "We do all we can to live normally, one day at a time. We are proud Ukrainians, and we are strong. But our hearts are broken; we weep in fear and in silence. Does anyone hear our cries?"

Just looking at a map, with the great Russian bear dominating that part of the world, and the tiny eastern European countries like Ukraine on its western border, makes you wonder how Putin can view Ukraine or any former Soviet republic as a threat. No country wants to attack Russia, no country threatens its borders. NATO is scared to death to start a war with Russia, so is the US and EU nations.  There might be a little saber-rattling, even a lot of noise, but no one wants war with Russia. And no eastern European country has the military might of the Russian giant. The war in Ukraine is all about Putin's aggression and war games, with disatrous consequences for the world.  

It's the little guys vs. the big guys, an underdog against a superpower, David vs. Goliath.  It took a while to get here, to descend to this level of  war and destruction. Donbas destroyed. Crimea occupied. Rule of Law toppled.  This CNN graph tells the story. It's a few years old, but not much has changed. It makes me weep.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

America the Beautiful: Our National Parks, Our Crowning Glory

Awesome Bryce Canyon National Park, one of five
National parks in Utah, visited with my brother
 Loren and friend Bill several years ago. 
The smallest agencies of our national government are, in my mind, some of the very best agencies of all. These include the United States Peace Corps, the National Endowment for the Humanities and, yes, the National Park Service.  Just think how much we could do for our country and our planet if these agencies received the funding they deserved!
Yosemite, one of naturalist John Muir's stunning legacies.
California has 9 National Parks, the most of any state.
This month we celebrate the 100th year of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of the Interior in 1916.  While World War I raged in Europe, the US Congress passed the act creating the NPS, and President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law.  Today, with politics, gun violence, and terrorism as the ongoing backdrop, along with dangerous changes to our global environment, we celebrate America's greatest natural resources.

Our National Parks encompass the glorious natural beauty of our country, from sea to shining sea. They have been called by pioneer naturalists like John Muir "our national cathedrals," counterpoints to the built environment and monuments of old Europe, open and accessible to one and all.
Zion National Park, which I'm so glad I visited with
my brother Loren. Incredible beauty.
I have visited several parks but hardly all of them. They are high on my travel list. They awe and inspire. They open our eyes to the incredible beauty of America and of our planet. They preserve nature's diversity, native fauna and flora, ecological processes, free-flowing waters, geology in its raw eloquence. They are exemplars of Earth's complexity, as well as scenic wonderlands.  (National Geographic, "The Power of Parks, January 2016).
At the Grand Canyon, cold but awestruck
by its vastness, ancient geology, layered beauty.
Love this North Carolina Park.
The National Park Service preserves and maintains 59 National Parks.  It also oversees hundreds of natural history sites such as battefields like Gettysburg, forts, seashores, scenic rivers, historic grave sites and other significant places that are recognized as national historic landmarks.

Jon Jarvis, the current director of the NPS, says that his agency's purpose is to tell America's story as well as protect our natural environment and natural historic places. "If not us, who else? It's our job."

Maybe our next president will jump on the National Parks bandwagon and advocate for huge budget increases, and a new Congress will approve it. This would be the best birthday gift of all! NPS could continue to update and upgrade the parks, support deferred maintenance, including damage being done by climate change, and improve the amenities that draw us into the parks. The lodges themselves are magnificent historic structures, built over the years on some of the most beautiful land in the world. And National Park Service rangers, and we need many more, are among the best teachers and quardians of these natural resources on earth.

Yes, our federal government's smallest agencies give us the biggest bang for the buck.  What's more important than preserving our natural environment (NPS), promoting civic discourse (NEH), and fostering peaceful relations in the world (Peace Corps)?  Let's put our money where our deepest values lie. Let's celebrate our National Parks in a big way!

http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/about/ for Ken Burn's documentary on our National Parks.

National Geographic, "The Power of Parks," January 2016.



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