The top news story for all the Russian news agencies for the past few days has been the dramatic situation in New Orleans. Russians are very sympathetic to the citizens of that city, and everyone across the ocean is watching the rescue operations' progress.
Among the people trying to get rescued there are 30 Russian students trapped by floodwaters. The students are in the US on the Work & Travel exchange program. The purpose of the program is to give a better understanding to the foreigners about the way life in America works. College students come and work seasonal jobs in summer camps, resorts, and restaurants. When they are done with the job, they travel around the U.S. for few weeks before heading back home.
Thirty students yesterday called their parents in Russia, saying that they are under seige by the floodwaters. As the water level keeps on rising, the students settled in on the seventh floor of their building.
Russian people are praying for the citizens of Louisiana, and for the City of New Orleans.
The following is an excerpt from the "news article" from the Chechen terrorists' website Kavkaz Center. To appropriately read this material, make sure that you realize that "invaders" and "traitors" are 18 and 20 year old Russian kids drafted into the army, who are probably the sons of single mothers from poor families, doing their duty for their country against their will.
The "police officers from Kadyrov gang" are the Russian police officers. Kadyrov is the elected President of the Republic of Chechnya (the equivalent of the governor of a U.S. state).
17 killed, wounded in Chechnya – AFP
Six Russian invaders were killed and six wounded in a 24 hour period of last Sunday to Monday in Chechnya, an AFP source inside the pro-Moscow puppet administration reported.
During 17 attacks on Russian positions five invaders were killed and five others were wounded.
A sixth soldier was killed in a landmine explosion near the southern town of Shatoi, and a sixth was wounded near Komsomolskoye, south of the capital Jokhar, while taking part in a demining operation.
Additionally, three Chechen so-called "police officers" from Kadyrov gang were wounded in the western town of Achkhoi-Martan during a skirmish with Mujahideen.
Two other traitors were wounded at Gekhi, near Urus-Martan, when Mujahideen attacked during a search operation in the village, Oman newspaper reported referring to AFP agency.
Gateway Pundit has excerpts from the Moscow Times article on the children of Beslan and their testimony against the only surviving member of the terrorist cell caught by Russian forces, Nurpasha Kulayev. If anyone doubts that the Chechen cause of autonomy has been hijacked by bloodthirsty nihilists, let them read these accounts.
(hat tip: Little Green Footballs)
The Siberian Light blog noticed a South Korean article back in March 2005. According to the JoongAng Daily, Seoul recently asked Moscow for the right to conduct military exercises in the region of Khabarovsk, near Russia's narrow border with North Korea. Commenters at the Marmot's Hole blog have suggested that this is expressing a desire to threaten Pyongyang from the north, when in fact it confirms what I've argued previously here.
For all the talk in Washington D.C. about Seoul pursuing a policy of appeasing Pyongyang in the vain hope of forestalling the enormous costs of national reunification, South Korea is beginning to prepare for the worst. Or what it now perceives to be the worst case scenario - checking a mass exodus out of North Korea, rather than beating back an invasion.
The infrastructure for these "exercises" in fact is being built to support a surge of humanitarian forces into the area, just as the Six Party Talks have been about establishing a forum for the surrounding nations to handle Korean reunification, rather than merely ridding North Korea of its nuclear arsenal.
Bashlikent, Dagestan: on Saturday two seven year-old girls left home at 4 pm and never came back. While police started the search operation, the father of the girls started one of his own.
In half an hour he found a fresh grave, 35 inches deep, with the bodies of the girls; they had been raped and killed. The grave was located in the backyard of a local influential mafia thug, Agarza Omarov, 38. He had been sentenced before for rape, burglary and other violent crimes.
Because of the gangster's "position", the father had no hope for a fair investigation and trial, so he killed the man, poured gasoline over his body, and set it on fire. By the time the dead gang member was burning, 200 villagers came over to Agarza's house, to help conduct mob justice. They set Agarza's house and three cars on fire. Police tried to stop the crowd from further destruction, but officials later claimed that it was impossible for them to restrain these people.
Ordinary Russians are left without any chance for justice and support from the legal system. That is why more and more often individuals are taking matters into their own hands to get justice.
Russians, whose lives are shorter and poorer than they were under communism, have more abortions than births to avoid the costs of raising children, Bloomberg.com reported Tuesday quoting the country's highest-ranking obstetrician.
About 1.6 million women had an abortion last year, a fifth of them under the age of 18, and about 1.5 million gave birth, said Vladimir Kulakov, vice president of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. Many more abortions went unreported.
em>The appearance of a first child pushes many families into poverty, Kulakov said today in the government's official newspaper, Rossiskaya Gazeta. Potential parents first try to start a career, stand on their feet and so forth.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the ensuing hyperinflation and depression deprived millions of Russians of their incomes and savings and discouraged couples from having children. By 2000, the number of pensioners in Europe's most populous country outnumbered children and adolescents for the first time.
The increase in poverty and the decline in the quality of health care since the fall of communism have left about six million women and 4 million men infertilet; seven percent of Russia's 145 million people are incapable of having children.
This is a critical level, Kulakov said.
Part of the problem is a lack of job prospects. Careers traditionally favored by Russian women, such as in education and medicine, no longer pay a decent salary, which leads to fewer births and ultimately a smaller population, Kulakov said.
For every 1,000 Russians there are 16 deaths and just 10.6 births, a gap that isn't being filled by immigrants, leading to a population decline of about 750,000 to 800,000 a year.
Out of every 1,000 Russian newborn babies, more than 12 die before they are one year old, an infant mortality rate five times higher than in Iceland and three to four times higher than in Finland, Sweden, Spain and France, Russia's Federal Statistics Service reported last week.
The average Russian man now dies at 58.8, the shortest life expectancy in Europe and five years fewer than 15 years ago, the Statistics Service said. Russian women have the fourth-lowest life expectancy in Europe, 72 years, the service said, citing its own data and figures from the World Health Organization and European Union.
This is a Moscow News article
RIA Novosti reports today that Russian GNP will grow about 6% annually for the next three years, according to government ministry figures. While during the Soviet era such Gosplan statistics would be meaningless (though the CIA often accepted them, overestimating Soviet productivity) we have good reason to believe that Russia's economic forecast is finally improving after more than a decade of decline.
Furthermore, RIA Novosti editor Peter Lavelle thinks that there is a very good reason why Russia's stock market has surged in recent months - the flat tax reforms of 2001-2002, combined with the government's attempts to produce a more liberal climate for business following the Yukos upheaval.
President Vladimir Putin's call for an end to "tax terrorism" against the business community has started to work its way through Russia's bureaucracy.
The lowering of some hefty back-tax claims and defining tax collection methods has been translated into lower political risk affecting Russia's investment case, and contributed to sterling stock market performance.
Continue reading "Ending "tax terrorism" in Russia" »
It's very hard for a non-Russian to understand politics in Russia. The person that is elected to Parliament by a majority of the population in his constituency doesn't really mean anything. Usually it's an unknown person who is not going to be making any decisions. Executive disputes and litigation become parliamentary and executive politics in Russia. One of the biggest recent political moves involves the financial claims of Sibir Energy against Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich's Sibneft.
A good friend of Mikhail Luzhkov, Shalva Chigrinsky used to have half the stock of Sibneft-Yugra, co-owned with Roman's Sibneft. However in the years 2002-2003 he lost almost all of it to the oligarch, and now he barely has 1% of the company's stock. Though the loss happened 2 years ago, it was only few weeks ago, when Gazprom started seriously speaking about purchasing Sibneft, that the Kremlin and its friends started worrying. When Gazprom claims the ownership of an entity, the Russian government (Kremlin) becomes the owner, and there is nothing you can do against the Russian federal government in the courts.
The Russian legal system doesn't work, and the Russian governor Abramovich doesn't live in Russia, so Mr. Chigrinsky sued Abramovich on the Virgin Islands. The first judgement was an injunction on the sale of 49% of stock of Sibneft-Yugra. The court was trying to force Abramovich to uncover his financial statements. However, Abramovich's lawyer waived these small misunderstandings, and everything is going well for the oligarch so far.
The situation is reminiscent of the sale of Yuganskneftegas, when a Houston federal bankruptcy court prohibited auctioning off the company. Gazprom didn't receive credit from Western banks, but as everyone remembers, international laws and courts can’t stop Gazprom and the Russian Government.
Continue reading "Election 2008: Abramovich vs. Sibir Energy" »
Los Angeles based talk radio host Hugh Hewitt says that he will be talking about Russia on his popular show Monday. This is a good thing - Russia seems to have slid to the back burner among foreign policy concerns, and only makes headlines in America when there's a horrific terrorist attack like the Beslan or Moscow hostage takings.
Continue reading "What Russians want : Capital" »
The UK Times finds signs of progress in the vital small business sector in Russia. While Gazprom/Shell and other megadeals dominate the headlines, as in the U.S., the real measure of any capitalist economy's health is small businesses growing, hiring more workers, and having access to capital.
In Russia, the mafia is most notorious deterrent to going into business, but Russian entrepreneurs responding to an OECD survey ranked bureaucracy as the biggest obstacle to success.
On the supply side (lest we be seen here at Russiablog as only trumpeting bad news!) the flat tax legislation from 2001 is already paying major dividends. Russian tax receipts are up dramatically, proving that a radically simplified code works much better than a complicated code, and that lower taxes actually boost revenues. According to Daniel Mitchell at the Heritage Foundation, the former worker's paradise now boasts a more investor-friendly tax code than the United States (though Russia still needs the rule of law, infrastructure, and a healthier, growing population to begin catching up with the U.S.). For a map of European countries that have adopted the flat tax, click here.
Skeptics in the U.S. and Europe will insist that Russia's yearly 10% GDP growth rate since 2001 is all due to higher oil and gas prices or unrelated economic reforms. It is true that the vast majority of foreign investment in Russia is still in the oil and gas sector. As one experienced American business consultant in Russia recently told me, "Russia's in the process of creating 'national champion' industrial firms where the country's strongest--natural gas and oil." Nonetheless, at least in the enclaves of Moscow and St. Petersburg, entrepreneurs are finding improving opportunities, especially in service industries.
As documented here, and here, privatization remains a dirty word for most Russians, given their experience with the oligarchs in the early 1990s. However, it appears that Putin's economic advisors are learning that prosperity comes from bottom-up, rather than top-down reforms. Strengthening the rule of law while cutting back on red tape should be the primary goals of the Putin government and Putin's successors. Russia must be prepared for the day when oil prices come back down to earth.
A little noticed but significant news item today - RIA Novosti reports that North Korea has broken off talks with Russian Railways over a planned inter-Korean rail line that would have joined the Trans-Siberian railroad.
"At the end of last year, North Korea said that at a time when the United States is toughening its policy in regard to the DPRK, the Korean side 'sees no sense' in holding a second trilateral expert meeting on the reunification of the Trans-Korean railroad," Yakunin said.
Translation: the North Koreans know independent, faith based organizations with clout in Washington D.C. have openly discussed destabilizing their Stalinist tyranny through a mass refugee exodus. The last thing the DPRK regime wants is to create a potential highway for more refugees, and even influential defectors, to escape.
Continue reading "Why the U.S. and Russia must cooperate on North Korean refugees" »
Taking a break once a week from the current headlines is a tradition I'd like to start here at Russiablog.
Today I'd like to highlight an essay by David Gurevich. Gurevich is a Russian-born film critic and the producer of the Israeli documentary film Empty Rooms, about the largely Russian-Ukrainian born victims of a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv night club. Gurevich has previously published essays in Details magazine, the New York Times Book Review, The Forward, and the conservative cultural journal the New Criterion.
My own experience with late Soviet and post-Soviet cinema is limited: I have watched the excellent World War II partizan drama Come and See (1985), and the indispensable Burnt by the Sun (1994). Fortunately Netflix has made it much easier no matter where you live to view foreign films on DVD, so I'll be catching up in the next few months.
Gurevich laments that Russian cinema has largely fallen victim to the general economic crisis in the country. Vanity projects starring gangsters' girlfriends still get made - a real-life source of dark comedy (Yuri informs me that previously tough guy Russian mobsters are going metrosexual, and were recently tripping in their designer tracksuits to pay thousands of dollars for Elton John tickets). As with Bollywood in the 1970s and 80s, the Mafia muscles in on productions, but unlike Bollywood, doesn't get any return on its investments besides ego.
As Gurevich notes, the total number of releases produced in Russia a year ago was only 24. Outside the wealthy enclaves of Moscow and St. Petersburg, ordinary people living on 300 dollars a month can't afford to go to the movies - even pirated DVDs are luxury items. Gurevich does note that the Russian equivalent of the Oscars are passed out at Planet Hollywood in Moscow, and that a new American-style cinema has recently opened.
UPDATE: Gurevich has another essay here, on the upcoming Night Watch, which has been showing up on movie posters with creepy/wolfish vampire figures haunting a silhoutted dusk Kremlin backdrop. Gurevich also notes the Russian equivalent of the WWII bomber crew in American movies of that era, and a few films focused on intelligentsia Muscovites with no concept of the lives of ordinary Russians in "flyover" country (sounds familiar, but the contrasts between Moscow and rural Russia are even more stark than between Manhattan and rural Mississippi).
The Moscow Times covers the outrage in Russia over a Russian journalist's ABC News interview with Chechen terrorist mastermind Shamil Basayev. Predictably, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists issued a condescending lecture to the Kremlin on freedom of speech, after Russia's Defense Minister declared ABC News persona non grata.
"It reflects the Kremlin's lack of understanding that free speech means tolerating the broadcast of views it finds uncomfortable or even reprehensible," CPJ executive director Ann Cooper said in an e-mailed statement. "It also exposes the Kremlin's failure to comprehend that -- in sharp contrast with Russia -- U.S. television operates independently of government."
Of course, the Kremlin understands that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the Nightline special, as a prominent Russian analyst made clear.
Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, said U.S. President George W. Bush should not be blamed for the broadcast. "I can say with confidence that no one should judge the position of President Bush's administration based on this interview," he told RIA-Novosti. "After the terrorist attack in Beslan, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that the inhuman Basayev was not worthy of existence, and I think this exact position is close to that of the U.S. leadership."
Continue reading "Interview with the Terrorist" »