New Russian movie villains won’t look like the old ones

In the 1950s, Russian villains were seen as alien invaders with superior weapons and mind control in science fiction films. The possibility of a Russian invasion of North America and nuclear annihilation generated a lot of anxiety, and those fears were expressed as alien invasions.

In the 1953 movie War of the Worlds, based on a H. G. Wells novel, a spaceship that looks like a meteor falls near a small California community and a famous nuclear physicist guesses that it is a Martian spaceship. Actually, the ship is part of a mass invasion. Meteors fall all over the world, opening up to release flying machines with attached death rays.

image: ArtStation

From a sadistic former KGB operative in The Avengers to the Russian evildoers in A Good Day to Die Hard, there was no shortage of Russian villains on the screen.

The fictional boxer Ivan Drago from Rocky IV (1985) is typical of the old-style Russian villain: huge and seemingly unstoppable. Played by the Swedish actor and real-life martial artist Dolph Lundgren, Drago is an Olympic gold medalist and an amateur boxing champion from the Soviet Union. He is billed at 6 ft 6 in and 261 pounds. In a fight with former champion Apollo Creed, Drago lands a savage punch that kills him.

Drago is remorseless. He coldly states “if he dies, he dies”, claiming he will soon “defeat a real champion”.

Even the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 didn’t bring an end to Russian villains onscreen -Russians remained the studios’ favoured villains.

There’s the evil Yuri Komarov from the totally forgettable A Good Day To Die Hard (2013); and Grigori Rasputin as the fictional supervillain in the comic book series Hellboy (2004).

Lately, I’ve been watching the Netflix series Stranger Things about how small town kids save the world from Russian bad guys. The Russians are so evil that they beat up and drug children on a regular basis and kick women in the stomach. The characters are almost comical: two-dimensional and flat. There’s even an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type whose only job is to look menacing and choke people mid-air.

The new Russian villains have yet to be portrayed in movies but Vladimir Putin is a good start on the stereotype.

Many credit Putin’s persona to an early career as a KGB officer. That’s true to an certain extent says author Douglas Century but he is also a gangster and thug. Putin and Russian organized crime have been inextricably linked almost from his emergence as a public figure in the early 1990s.

“Not very tall,” says Century “Putin developed a technique in street fights: He’d jump on the backs of taller khuligans (hooligans) and start punching them in the face from behind. In other words, he learned the principles of asymmetrical warfare at a very young age (Globe and Mail July 23, 2022).”

The portrayal of Russians as villains as a “safe” enemy is probably because they look so European, yet beneath the blond exterior conceals a sinister side. The use of visible minorities would be disastrous. The association of COVID with China, for example, has led to an increase in violence against Asians.

Russian villains will probably remain a durable stereotype. What the new Russian villain looks like in fiction remains to be seen.


Coming next: Russia’s invasion of space

Russia is expanding its domain. Not satisfied with grinding Ukraine into submission, now Russia is threatening a war in space. President Vladimir Putin has demonstrated that he will use weapons to achieve his expansionary illusions on the ground and in the heavens.

image: iStock

Russia is threatening to take down Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites because they helped the Ukrainian army sink the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, Moskva. The sinking of the key warship has been seen as a humiliating blow to Moscow as the war rages on.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, tweeted: “Russia is starting a space war! Medvedev [an ally of Putin] announced a task is given to destroy @elonmusk Starlink satellites in a document by ‘United Russia [a party document].’ It says that firing on the Moskva was done with the help of Starlinks.”

It’s not an idle threat on the part of the Russians.

To demonstrate that they could take down satellites, Russia stalked an American reconnaissance satellite called USA-245 in January, 2020.  

Then the stalking Russian satellite, Kosmos-2542, split in two. In fact, the larger part spat out another, smaller craft. The smaller one moved even closer to the American satellite. Speaking later, in February, General John W. “Jay” Raymond, chief of the newly established Space Force, would describe it by saying, “The way I picture it, in my mind, is like Russian nesting dolls (Harper’s, November, 2021)”

After the two Russian satellites stalked the U.S. satellite for months, the smaller Russian satellite fired a projectile. While it didn’t hit the U.S. satellite, it was a clear warning shot.

Of course, Russia claimed that the projectile wasn’t a weapon at all but merely part of a “close inspection” and that “most importantly, it did not breach any norms or principles of international law.” The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the American assessment of the events “propaganda,” and responded that the U.S. accusation was hypocrisy: the United States and Britain, it said, “naturally keep silent about their own efforts” and “programs on the possible use of … counter-satellite weapons.”

We are extremely dependent on satellites. Not only for GPS location but hurricane tracking, search-and rescue locators, financial transactions, and emergency messages -all could go dark.

The military depends on satellites. American military reliance on space has been building since Operation Desert Storm, when U.S. satellites proved a tactical advantage: American troops navigated unmarked stretches of desert using GPS and blindsided the Iraqi Army, which expected them to approach by road.

The war in space is not limited to knocking out satellites. China demonstrated a “spoofing” technology, a type of interference where a satellite’s signal is mimicked by a fake. In July 2019, a U.S. container ship in the port of Shanghai received false GPS locations and notifications of phantom ships fast approaching. The spoofing was likely sent by the China military. The captain of the ship could see with binoculars that the GPS was wrong but without visual confirmation, the spoof could have been disastrous.

The West has avoided direct war with Russia, despite Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine. If Russia’s expands its war into space, we will have no alternative but to respond. In a race to destroy each other, there will be no refuge.

Zelensky is wining the disinformation war with Russia

Wars are fought on the ground but they are won in the heart.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is using his considerable communications skills to counter the disinformation emanating from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s once powerful propaganda machine.

image provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

Putin’s stodgy pseudo-macho style is no match for Zelensky’s emotional tours of the capitals of the West through live video links. Where Putin appears in suits, bloated and a bit crazed, Zelensky favours casual green T-shirts and straight talk. As an actor, Zelensky is natural in front of the camera and knows how to connect with his audience.

To the Canadian parliament he asked them to “imagine if someone is taking siege to Vancouver.”

On the ground, Russian intentions have been obvious. Satellites reveal every Russian move, from the failure to take the capital Kyiv; to the withdrawal and regrouping of troops; to the obvious intent on bombing Mariupol to pieces.

One the misinformation front, the West has been able to “pre-bunk” Russian propaganda.

Intelligence reports warned that that Moscow was planning a “false-flag” operation – staging an attack on Russia and blaming it on Ukraine. Russian intentions were so transparent that when Russia ultimately invaded, we saw the Russian aggression war for what it really was.

Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) shared information on Twitter on Russia’s disinformation campaigns in order to protect Canadians who may fall prey to propaganda. Some, unfortunately, have fallen under their mesmerizing sway.

“Since Russia’s brazen and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine, we have observed numerous Russia-backed disinformation campaigns online designed to support their actions by creating and spreading false information about both Ukrainians or anti-war protesters in Russia,” CSE wrote on Twitter.

CSE said it had found evidence that Russia was promoting horrible and fake stories saying Ukraine was “harvesting organs of fallen soldiers, women and children” and then hiding the evidence through mobile cremating devices.

“Russia has created and amplified fake stories and narratives falsely claiming that only military targets were being attacked, and that civilian causalities in Ukraine were lower,” CSE wrote.

Russian troops didn’t have the benefit of pre-bunking. When the Russian invasion and slaughter of Ukrainians started they assumed it was going to be a cakewalk, both on the ground and in the propaganda front. Russian soldiers were deluded into thinking that they would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberators.

Some gullible social media users in the West have fallen for the improbable claims. One Kamloops social media user regularly reposts the absurd Russian claims. Some of his posts are so blatantly false that Facebook blocks them.

Zelensky’s communications savvy is evident internationally. He honed his skills in his come-from-behind election victory in 2019 when he effectively employed social media.

In Facebook photos, Zelensky’s team showcases Russian bombings of Ukrainian apartment blocks and hospitals. In Telegram videos, he delivers impassioned speeches about the value of democracy. On Twitter, Zelensky lauds the battlefield triumphs of Ukrainian soldiers.

“He rules the war by making his public statements, he rules the country by his public statement,” said Serhiy Lushchenko, a former member of the Ukrainian parliament and now advisor for the Zelensky’s chief of staff on Russian disinformation.

Now’s your chance, Freedom Convoyers, to fight for Ukraine

Supporters of the Freedom Convoy that paralyzed Ottawa for three weeks are passionate about freedom.

Now’s the chance for those supporters to demonstrate their commitment to freedom and join the 20,000 people from 52 counties to stop the indiscriminate Russian shelling of schools, hospitals and ambulances in Ukraine.

Ordinary people like Lola Parsons felt moved by the Freedom Convoy. The 54 year-old began the 31-hour drive to Ottawa from St. John’s, Newfoundland; her journey was filled with “crying and laughing,” she said, as she traveled with her friends and their dog Monty in the East Coast Convoy towards the nation’s capital.

“That will tell you what kind of movement is happening in Eastern Canada right now,” said Parsons, this drive is a “journey to freedom.”

One Freedom Convoy supporter stood in front of the Ambassador Bridge and said in a video that she would she was prepared to die for the cause of freedom.

freedom fighter on Ambassador Bridge. Image:

Other supporters are ready to face physical harm. Truck driver Jacobo Peters, said he planned to lock himself in the cab of his semi and lay on the horn whenever police try to remove him. He said that they’ll have to smash the cab window and pull him out to remove him.

“Who knows, I might go home with some broken bones or go to jail with some broken bones depending on how much force they use,” said Peters. “We just want our freedoms back, and we’ve been peaceful.”

The courageous supporters of the Freedom Convoy who rallied against the tyrant Prime Minister Trudeau will have their now have a chance to go against Vladimir Putin.

Freedom Convoy fighters will have the support of Former U.S. President Donald Trump. He condemned Trudeau during a rally in Texas.  “We are with them all the way,” he said. “They have really shown something.” He said that the protesters are “resisting bravely” vaccine mandates that he called “lawless,” and “are doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders, by far.”

Freedom fighters that supported the convoy will join other courageous Canadians who are answering Ukrainian President Zelensky’s call for fighters around the world to join in the defence of Ukraine.

Freedom fighters like Canadian Yaroslav Hrytsiuk, only 18 years old and a high-school student from Toronto. He hopes to join his father in Ukraine who is preparing to fight Russians invading their home city of Lviv.

“Today, I’m going to Ukraine to stand with my family and fight for my country,” said the teenager. “The hardest thing was to convince my mother that I should go. As any mother, she says: ‘Are you nuts? Why are you going there? It’s war and you’re young,’ ”

In Victoria, Mark Preston-Horin, 43, said he has been writing his will and completing his taxes in anticipation of getting on a flight overseas to volunteer for Ukrainian forces in whatever capacity he can.

When a people’s freedom is at stake, the battle becomes deeply personal. It always surprises tyrants to discover that people can care about other people’s freedom as much as they care about their own.

The brave men and women of the Freedom Convey have demonstrated their commitment to freedom. The world is watching to see the depth of that commitment.

Trump tweets while Afghanistan burns

President Trump seems only dimly aware the turmoil in Afghanistan. Or maybe he has foreign policy related on the country and is simply unable to articulate it in 140 characters. Most likely, and more disquieting, his contradictory and unintentionally humorous tweets truly reflect his confused views.


On July 23, 2016, two suicide bombers struck Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 80 and injuring 250 in the recent conflict’s most deadly attack. An average of 50 Afghan soldiers are killed a day, another 180 are lost to injuries and desertion. More than 10,000 soldiers died as well as thousands of civilians.

Advisor to the President of Afghanistan, Scott Guggenheim, hopes the new administration can achieve what the Democrats couldn’t:

“It breaks my heart to have to say this, but the Republican government is going to be better than the Democrats for Afghanistan,” he told May Jeong in her investigative report for Harper’s magazine (February, 2017).

“The Republicans will say ‘These guys are fighting radicals; we have to stay engaged with them.’”

The Taliban has an opposing view. A spokesman told Jeong:

“He should withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and unlike other U.S. rulers, he should neither seek any more titles of ignominy for himself and American generals nor worsen American prestige, economy, and military by engaging in this futile war.”

The fog created by Trump’s lack of clarity has created an opportunity for Russia.  Vladimir Putin has reason to cheer the selection of Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who is CEO of ExxonMobil and has met with Putin. Russia is investing in housing and factories in Afghanistan and recently sent ten thousand automatic rifles to Kabul in hopes of strengthening ties. An exit by the U.S. would aid Putin’s grasp for regional dominance.

Trump seems unaware of what his own military has to say. A Republican-led investigation determined that troops will remain at 8,400. The top commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, says: “We have adequate resources.”

While the Republican’s views might be clear, Trump’s foreign policy for Afghanistan remains impenetrable. On one hand is his principle of “America first” which suggests isolation. On the other, he speaks aggressively of the Islamic State: “Their days are numbered.”

Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations told Jeong:

“His policies on the campaign trail were so mutually contradictory and changeable that he much harder to predict than an orthodox president would be.” “He talks about Afghanistan only when he’s cornered, and when cornered, he has said he simply wants to get out.”

Trump has more power than either Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama to bring peace to Afghanistan. He has the support of a Republican Congress and expanded executive powers.

But Trump’s war remains at home. He is paralyzed with his war against the media and his decrees by tweet only thicken the fog on foreign policy.

Jeong lives in Kabul and is fatalistic:

“The survivors of the conflict, awaiting the next chapter of diplomacy, have no choice but to be patient.”

Afghans live with hope and patience. That’s all they have with this president in power.