Another bombing in Dagestan took place yesterday. Terrorists bombed the police station in Hasavyurt. After the bombing, the entire city was surrounded by a cordon of police and special forces. The terrorists were found trying to escape the city limits. While being chased by police cars, the terrorists opened fire with automatic rifles. The police returned fire. One terrorist was killed, another injured, while one managed to slip away.
One Colonel in the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs was killed. While most of the Western media focus on terrorist attacks in Iraq, Russia fights its own jihadist/criminal insurgency much closer to home, where retreat isn't an option without ceding its own territory to lawlessness.
Today's Russian newspapers didn't have much to say about another business executive getting killed for the business reasons. In Russia, where the court system doesn’t work, and long terms investments are too risky, people like profit on demand, fast and easy. It’s too complicated to produce a better product or take someone to court; it's much easier and fairly inexpensive to have people killed. Business owners and executives are getting killed almost on daily basis.
The head of the Center of English Conversational Language, Vardan Kushnir, 35, was clubbed to death with a baseball bat. These unsolved "business murders" are so frequent in Russia, that many of them (including this one) don’t make it into the news of the major TV channels and radio programs.
In a recent press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially confirmed Gazprom’s desire to purchase large part of Sibneft.
"Gazprom is negotiating the credit of $12 billion with the Western banks in order to purchase Sibneft" – says an anonymous source in the investment company Interfin Trade. This might become the largest merger and acquisition in Gazprom’s history. "Many banks want to participate, and everybody is working hard on it at the moment."
The source at PRIME-TASS said that negotiations are in their very first stage, Gazprom wants to purchase 72% of Sibneft, and the credit line might be lower than the one mentioned above.
The market price of 75% of the shares of Sibneft is $11.5 billion, and the main share holders have 72%, represented by the Millhouse Capital group. If Gazprom executes the purchase, the other 3% can be purchased off the public market, and eventually the government-owned giant will have a dominating stake in the company. Some sources are also speculating that Shell might join Gazprom in this deal, on the heels of their recent megadeals in Russia's Far East. One of the other foreign firms to benefit from the deal will be Germany's Ruhrgas, which owns 6% of Gazprom).
Millhouse Capital and Sibneft are owned by Roman Abramovich, the Russian governor, confidant to Boris Yeltsin’s favorite daughter Tatyana, now the richest man in Russia, resident of London, owner of several planes (including Boeing 767-300), yachts and castles (the price of each "toy" is over $100 million). Abramovich is best known internationally as the owner of the European champions' league-dominating British soccer club Chelsea.
Abramovich is not any different from Mikhail Khodorkovsky, or Boris Berezovsky; he started his business and made his fortune under the very questionable circumstances in the chaos of the early Russian "privatization".
However Abramovich, now 38, has been much more clever than his fellow oligarchs. He moved to get elected as a governor in a remote Siberian state, which guarantees him legal immunity, and he is constantly surrounded with an army of bodyguards and riding in armored bullet-proof vehicles. Most importantly, Abramovich has maintained tight relations with the Kremlin and made a smooth transition from the "anything goes" Yeltsin era to the "law and order" Putin regime. Abramovich, unlike Khordokovsky or Berezovsky, never threatened the Putin regime with open dissent or the funding of opposition parties.
The purchase of Abramovich’s Sibneft by the Kremlin’s Gazprom should be a profitable bail-out deal for the oligarch, based on a friendly handshake with Putin. Russia's other top oligarchs are trembling at the thought of more seizures of their assets by the Putin regime (Berezovsky has won political asylum Britain, and Khodorkovsky is reading books in jail). Abramovich in contrast, will get full cash value for the property that he managed to appropriate from the Soviet Union in his early twenties, and the shares he acquired during Kremlin's destruction of YUKOS.
The Georgian government has officially accused Russian agents of attempting to assassinate President George W. Bush and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, and executing several terrorist bombings. The Georgians claim that Russia has infiltrated 120 Russian GRU and FSB intelligence agents to cause unrest in Georgia.
Russian political experts see this accusation as the biggest rupture in Russian/Georgian relations since the collapse of the USSR.
If these outlandish accusations are true, it could lead to the exclusion of Russia from the UN and international sanctions against Moscow.
However, as is often the case with Russia and her relations with the former Soviet republics, things are not quite what they seem and many agendas are at work.
During the Georgian government press conference, the Georgian Minister of the Interior (Georgia's Department of Homeland Security), Vano Merabishvili, said that the February 1st explosions in the Georgian city of Gori were carried out by a terrorist cell directed by the Russian GRU (military intelligence) Colonel Anatoliy Sysoev. The insurgents allegedly received training in Russia and were responsible for several terrorist bombings in recent months.
In the wake of Merabishvili's shocking accusations, the Georgian Parliament's National Security Committee chairman Givi Targamadze (the equivalent of the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee) said:
"According to our information, there is a large group of infilitrated Russian intelligence agents. We hope that Russia recalls its agents from Georgia. Russia is directly meddling in the internal Georgian conflict"
Continue reading "Georgia Proclaims the New Evil Empire" »
Everybody knows now about the recent terrorist blasts in London, Baghdad, and now in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. However, few Western media outlets bother to report about the relentless campaign of almost daily terrorist bombings in Russia.
July 24, 2005 at 5:45 am, another train was blown up with 24 pounds of explosives in Dagestan, a southern Russian state bordering the secessionist province of Chechnya. One person died, four more were injured. This bombing didn’t cause as many victims as the others usually do, because it was executed on an early Sunday morning.
Maybe the little village of Bayramaul is not as big as London, and one dead Russian is not 88 dead Egyptians and 52 dead Londoners, but I do not think that these facts should make any difference for a true humanitarian, a civilized person, or simply a caring reporter.
Seven campers between the ages of 13 and 15 have reportedly disappeared from a summer camp near Krasnoyarsk, on July 17, 2005. Camp administrators notified police about the disappearance within 24 hours. Local police have admitted that they didn't even look around that much.
"Why bother" – says Oleg Goldov, chief of the criminal department of the local police, - "They run away every year, every week. At camp they don't have vodka and cigarettes, so they hitchhike to Krasnoyarsk, where they can buy some".
48 hours after he went missing, one of the missing campers, age 13, was found purchasing liquor at a Krasnoyarsk supermarket.
Kids in Russian summer camps are not given proper adult supervision. There are many orphans, and many kids come from broken families.
The moral and physical abuse of Russian children creates unbelievable opportunities for child pornographers, who are doing a booming business these days in Russia.
Lest we only be accused of posting bad news about Russia here, this piece of good news comes from Colonel Austin Bay's Strategy Page site:
July 7, 2005: Despite losing troops to accidents and suicide at the annual rate of some 700 a year, Russia is actually improving their peacetime attrition situation. For the first six months of the year, the non-combat death rate in the Russian armed forces was 77 per 100,000 troops. That’s about fifty percent higher than the rate in the American armed forces, but over a third lower than what the Russians suffered only a few years ago.
As Russia Blog has previously argued, the most important factor in Russia surviving with her present borders intact (a vital U.S. interest) is to restore the morale and health of the nation. Save for elderly pensioners, no segment of Russian society has degraded as much in both categories since the collapse of the USSR as the military.
Much of this collapse was arguably predictable as early as the perestroika era of the 1980s, when Soviet officers were using their tank kazernes in East Germany as depots for sending German cars and appliances back to Russia for the black market. One of the biggest challenges faced by the post-USSR military was accounting for all of the soldiers turned entrepreneurs who did not wish to leave a reunited Germany in 1991-94.
Continue reading "Russian military reduces accident/suicide rates" »
A tiny Russian village near Novgorod was taken hostage for 2 days by 8 armed men. One of the villagers was beaten to death; two more have been hospitalized in a critical condition. You would say, "So what?". Well, the whole fight started over a scratched car - an Audi A8 sedan.
Insurance in Russia doesn't work the same way as in America. After you get into an accident, you call up a police officer. Until he arrives, you can't move the cars. So usually by the time the officer arrives (in about an housr), there are many more wrecked vehicles on the road. After the officer shows up, the interesting negotiations begin.
The officer splits the victims of the accident, listens to their stories, then says "$200 cash now; and you're not guilty". You can say "Yes", you can say "No" - but then the officer goes to another participant. If you said "No", he makes the same offer. If you said "Yes" , the officer says "$300 cash now; you're not guilty". And so the bidding begins.
To insure a Toyota Camry in Moscow for damage and liability, both with the maximum of up to $10,000 would cost you anywhere between $3,000 – 3,500 a year, even if you have perfect driving record and a dozen years of driving experience. However, after each accident you've "used up" your insured amount. That means you have to put in a payment for the used proportion again. Let's say your yearly insurance bill is $3,000, which covers you for a total of $20,000. If you use up $10,000 due to accidents, that increases your premium, and makes you owe another $1,500 to your insurance company.
Continue reading "Russian Car Insurance" »
The BBC has a story today on the Kremlin's announcement of a new program to instill patriotism in Russian youth. As part of the program, the schools will reinstate military-style training for Russian kids.
During my last few weeks in Fort Worth shortly before moving to Seattle, I met an emigrant who left Russia in 1997. I was embarassed to admit then that most of the Russian words I knew had been picked up in Clancy novels, especially The Cardinal of the Kremlin. The two words we spent the most time discussing were tovarisch and rodina. She said that these Russian words captured much more than the weak English translations of "comrade" and "Motherland".
We spoke too, of the mentality of Russia as a frontier or garrison state, always unappreciated by those in the West ignorant of the price Russia paid to defeat Napoleon and Hitler. The Putin regime since 9/11 has sought to draw parallels between the Great Patriotic War against the Nazis and Russia's current struggle with Islamofascist terrorists. But unlike in 1941 and 1942, the regime cannot hide from the world the appalling waste incompetence and corruption have added to the butcher's bill. During WWII readers of the New York or UK Times had only the most vague details of the titanic encirclement battles in which Russia lost hundreds of thousands of men before turning the Nazi tide. Even the U.S. Army that spent decades preparing for a Soviet armored onslaught in Europe did not encourage its leading minds to dust off this forgotten episode, until near the end of the Cold War.
In contrast, anyone who cares to do a Google search on the 1994 Battle of Grozny can read of Defense Minister Grachev's decision to send a whole brigade into the Chechens' fortified urban kill zone. The Forbes writer Paul Klebnikov later claimed in his history of post-Soviet Russia, Godfather of the Kremlin, that Defense Minister Grachev was drunk when he gave the order.
In post-Soviet Russia, such criminal incompetence can only be explained by dark conspiracy theories - that the Putin regime was behind the terrorist bombings of Moscow apartment blocs that sparked the second major Russian Chechnya offensive in 1999; that a Kremlin regime in need of external enemies to centralize power promotes endless war as in Orwell's 1984 (paging Michael Moore); that the regime has made secret deals with Chechen Islamist leaders, and so on. The fact that Chechen jihadists use weapons looted from Russian armories and purchased from Russian-mafia controlled black markets - combined with media reports of leading terrorist commanders constantly slipping away - all fuel the flames of paranoid speculation.
Yet simply because Stalin needed an enemy and found it in fascism in the 1930s did not change the fact that Hitler had made his intentions towards Russia brutally clear in Mein Kampf. Similarly, simply because the Kremlin cites atrocities like Beslan to consolidate more power does not change the stated intentions of Chechen jihadists to carve out lebensraum in the Caucuses. Nor can there be any doubt about how disastrous such a malignant gangster/terrorist state would prove for America's war against terrorism, after we have spent so much to destroy the Taliban and topple Saddam.
Putin is definitely no Stalin, and in fairness to him, the Chechen war was a wreck he inherited from Boris Yeltsin. Russia's historic experience has proven that even paranoids have real enemies. As Russiablog has argued previously, Putin is a tragic figure, to be pitied rather than blamed. It is time the U.S. and the rest of the world's leading nations offered Russia more than criticism or top-down consultants, but genuine friendship and moral capital contributed in the hope of Russia's rebirth in freedom.
Experts say that 25% of the pornography on global Internet websites contains child pornography. Among these, more than 50% of the pedophile websites contain child pornography from Russia. Although the precise number of children involved in the production of Russian pornography is unknown, experts report there are some tens of thousands of such children.
The business is run by criminal networks that manufacture, distribute and export (to Germany, Britain, the United States, Italy, Canada and elsewhere) photographs and video records of a pornographic nature, including violent sexual assaults on children.
Continue reading "Russian "Porn"" »
Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Prime Minister in President Vladimir Putin's government, has been charged with corruption related to the purchase of a piece of land by his wife, shortly before he was dismissed from office. The charges are being introduced by a journalist and pro-Putin member of Russia's parliament, Alexander Khinshtein.
Kasyanov has previously refused to rule out a run for President in 2008, when Putin is term-limited by the Russian constitution. One ironic note from the story
In an article in the newspaper Moskovski Komsomolets last week, Mr Khinshtein claimed Mr Kasyanov acquired a dacha once occupied by Mikhail Suslov, the chief ideologist to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, in a corrupt auction.
The report alleged that the lease on the land where the dacha stood, worth an estimatedï¿½16m, was then acquired for a knockdown price by a front company acting for Mr Kasyanov and his wife, Irina.
The 11.5 hectares of state land in Troitse-Lykovo, western Moscow, is on the banks of the river next to a dacha owned by the reclusive former dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It includes a tennis court and a private beach.
So Russia's greatest dissident in modern times found a dacha next to one formerly owned by the servant of one the worst leaders of the Soviet era. Big country, small world.
Absolutely a win-win situation?
This is the latest major deal for Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom, and marks a new stage of the Kremlin's effort to return total state control lost during the first half of the 1990's - a loss the regime associates with democracy, "privatization" and anarchy.
State-owned Gazprom has purchased 25 percent plus one share in the world's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) project Sakhalin-2, located off Russia's east coast.
The deal was seen by some analysts as driven by a desire to keep valuable natural resources in Russian hands.
RussiaBlog's reply is - not a “desire” but the highest priority, and not just “Russian” hands - but the Kremlin's.
Royal Dutch/Shell Chief Executive Jeroen van der Veer said, "This is an absolutely win-win situation. It helps our resource base and our production."
It should be mentioned that one Russian executive, Mikhail Khordokovsky, did not agree to give the State his 25% chunk. There were many attempts by the Kremlin to take some part of YUKOS (siphoning off its daughter companies, its pipeline project to China etc.). YUKOS executives' refusal to “share" and to “return" (give gratuitously) property “taken" (gained) during the first half of 90's brought about the total demolition of the corporation by the Putin regime.
A CNN analyst comments, "The deal also raised the prospect that when Gazprom comes to choose partners to develop its giant Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea, it will look for assets in return."
Royal Dutch/Shell has shrewdly saved its business in Russia.
What must the other international non-Russian energy giants think now?
Contributed by Russian journalist Anton Verstakov
People fight, don’t sleep, demonstrate, and starve.
In the past few years the Russian people have completely lost any control over the Duma (Russian Parliament), and other branches of government that are supposed to represent the nation.
Russia's elderly survive only because of their government pensions, paid monthly. The average pension in Russia is about $80 dollars a month. At the same time the price of a new Levis pair of jeans varies anywhere between $150-300; an oil change for a little Japanese car (Honda or Toyota) goes for $80-120. So practically the retired elderly in Russia are not supposed to travel or buy new clothes. They aren't even supposed to buy good quality food products (a gallon of orange juice from concentrate in Moscow goes for $5).
Many forget that these people worked dozens of years, 50-100 hours a week, building the industrial might of the Soviet Union. All privately owned corporations were not created until after the fall of the USSR. The nationally owned Soviet properties were re-registered and became "private";. However, the new owners and "CEOs" have nothing to do with the process of creating wealth and corporate development in the first place. (See the upcoming article on Russian privatization).
All the elderly retirees lost their government benefits this January. Some American media outlets wrongly reported that it was healthcare that was taken away. Not really - retirees still theoretically have health benefits - but for an appointment with a doctor you are supposed to take $20-200 in cash for a bribe, a.k.a. present. The major benefit taken away, besides free art shows and museum admissions, was free public transportation.
Continue reading "What Happens If There Are No Public Policy Groups?" »
Tacoma, the second largest city in Washington State, hosted a magnificent event for the Fourth of July celebration with tall ships on parade. The hit of the show was Russian 356 foot sail ship Pallada.
Thursday, June 30, ships came into the bay firing guns, and were welcomed by 3,000 pleasure boats and 200,000 people – quite a crowd for 1 o'clock on a business day! Over the weekend you could run into Russian sailors and students from the Russian Marine Academies at the mall, local restaurants and parks. Please visit The News Tribune newspaper website to read more about this amazing event and see the pictures.
Pallada is one of the two largest sailboats of the Russian fleet; its hometown is Vladivostok, located on the Eastern Coast of Russia. As a Russian I could feel only pride and excitement watching Russian flags waving high in American skies on Independence Day.