Don Evans, the former Secretary of Commerce and close friend of President George W. Bush, this past week reportedly turned down an offer from President Putin of Russia to become Chairman of the Russian state oil company OAO Rosneft. The company is currently headed up by Igor Sechin, deputy chief of staff to Mr. Putin and is expected to go public next year. Evans is an experienced oilman who headed energy companies in Texas and Colorado before joining the Bush Administration as Secretary of Commerce in the first G.W. Bush term.
Read more at the Dallas Blog.
Have you ever bought or sold a house or a condo in America? If yes, then how many 5 inch stacks of $100 dollar bills were involved, and how many years were you required to wait between the purchase and moving in? If you can't answer these very simple questions, you are not ready for the Russian real estate market.
The hottest market is, of course, Moscow and its suburbs. The prices for a condo range anywhere between $60,000 for 400 square feet on the outskirts (a few hours from downtown) to tens of millions of dollars. Houses start at about $200,000 even 30 miles out of the city (which can be a three hour commute one-way), they become closer to 3-5 million dollars towards the city, and having a house in the city, or in a nice setting right outside of the city limits can cost as many zeros as you can imagine.
The rent for the apartments within the city limits in downtown area will amaze even New Yorkers. Just follow this link and see how much you have to pay for a 400-600 square feet studio or one bedroom apartment ($1,000-3,000). The prices you see on the websites are in American dollars.
Continue reading "Russian Real Estate" »
Mahachkala, Russia -- a car of the vice deputy for the regional police department was attacked. The targeted official Magomed Gazimogamedov was not in the vehicle, however his son and driver were killed. Two Kalashnikov assault rifles were found at the crime scene.
Christmas Eve, 7:50 pm, St Petersburg - a group of youths ages 16-20 attacked three African students. Mvangi Eddi Mayna from Kenya was stabbed twice in the back with a knife, but he managed to run away, and made it to the safety of the nearby campus. Nekongo Fedelis from Namibia, 25 years of age, ran away without getting hurt at all. However, his 25 year old friend Kanhem Leon from Cameroon was stabbed in the neck, and after severe artery bleeding he died before the ambulance showed up.
Not a single foreign student went to church that Christmas night, so that foreign students from the entire city could gather for a large spontaneous demonstration. Nearly all police departments and city officials met at the crime scene and talked to the students. However, many students are not satisfied with the work that Russian police are not doing. This murder follows many other attacks based on racial hatred, which have become very popular among uneducated Russian youth in the past few years.
The graffiti above the post reads "Death to Negroes".
80 Russians were recently poisoned as the result of a gas attack at a home-supply chain.
Officials with the Maksidom home-supply chain, which sells furnishings, home-repair materiasl and other domestic articles, said they had received recent threats that their sales would be disrupted around New Years, when Russians traditionally give holiday gifts.
Most efforts to undermine competitors' sales in Russia's sharp-elbowed free market take the form of negative advertising or libelous rumors. Business-related violence nonetheless remains a feature of the cutthroat capitalism that dominated Russia following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Read more on Fox News.com.
Even during Soviet years, there was a difference between Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas. In my latest conversations with Russian friends, I'm having trouble explaining why The White House doesn't say Merry Christmas any more, if even the officially atheist Soviet Union did. My office building has posters downstairs saying "Peace on Earth", and "Happy Holidays". What's the reason for peace though? Is it a V-Day, or Veteran's Day, or anti-war demonstration day? The political correctness of the United States makes ex-Soviets laugh. The "appropriateness" of "anti-Christmas' is so overwhelming, that it looks almost made up. Why bother having a day off and even celebrating the "Peace on Earth Day", if you are not allowed to talk about the reason for the holiday?
in Russia and Ukraine, the few hour Christmas services are aired on all major TV channels, and are always attended by all major government officials, including the presidents and the mayors of the cities.
Eastern Orthodox Christmas is celebrated 13 days later than the rest of the world, which is resulted by the change of the calendar at the turn of the 16th,18th and 20th centuries. Happy Holidays happen on the 1st and 2nd of January, and Merry Christmas follows up on the 7th of January. However Russians love the federal holidays, and holidays in general, so they start out celebrating the so-called "Catholic" Christmas (the 25th of December), then they move on to the New Year's Eve, then sober up, do Christmas again (7th of January), and then the real fans of the holidays do the "Old New Year" which is also 13 days later, and comes on the 13th of January accordingly.
Continue reading "America More Soviet Than USSR?" »
By Michael Averko
Yuri Mamchur's December 12 Russia Blog commentary "Russia Today Goes On, Then Off the Air" confirms my reservations about Russia Today (the just launched 24/7 Russian government funded English language television news network) which were stated this past June 10 in the Comments section of http://english.intelligent.ru. After hearing about RT's formation, my immediate responses were in this order: 1. It's about time. 2. It better not get screwed up. 3. It's something right up my alley.
Upon discovering RT's web site I contacted the network about employment opportunities via e-mail on October 10 (at about that time, its web site had apparently just appeared as it didn't seem to be available prior to September). In addition, I forwarded the below suggestions that were earlier submitted to a Russian consular official who came to my home to discuss RT and other related matters on September 21:
Must Need: Team oriented individuals, who fully understand how Russia is covered in Anglo-American mass media. These people must also understand the general North American psyche in terms of how to best communicate news and commentary to North America and those other areas where English is the dominant language. Such candidates are adept at knowing how to cover a breaking story (excellent research skills in addition to knowing what guests to have on and which questions to ask of them).
Continue reading "An Overview of Russia Today" »
My friends at Discovery Institute like the music that I bring to work sometimes. I listen to it, but without really listening. Russian music is always cheap in the sound quality -- there are no fancy studios in Russia, and no facilities to record a big live performance or a quality pop/rock album. T.A.T.U., and other successful or rich acts always go to LA or London; their producers gave up long ago on recording in Russia. However, it is a supply-demand deal, Russians don't care about the sound quality, they care if a song has a catchy melody and lyrics. As a composer, I can always hear the lack of quality in the recording, though I almost never listen to the words.
One of my co-workers asked me what a particularly sad song was about. And so I paid attention to the words, though I haven't listened to it much since then. The song, Davai za Shi (Let's Drink to Life) by the very popular Russian band Lyube is about a soldier who is terribly wounded, and his comrades are promising him that everything will be ok, that they will all dance at his wedding, that he will hold his kids someday. However, the listener understands that they are just saying these things to comfort an 18 year old soldier who is bleeding to death. The chorus goes: "Let's drink to us, let's drink to the end, to the end of the war, to those who used to be with us." The whole song has melancholy rock instrumentation. So, there's some Russian rock'n'roll for you.
Continue reading "About Russian Popular Music" »
Moscow -- Thursday, 5:10 pm, a businessman from St. Petersburg, Ruslan Shuleshko, was killed after he finished his business meeting. First he was beaten up, and then shot multiple times in the chest and head. This crime is another one of many, reported in the Crime Section of Russia Blog. If you are going into business in Russia -- always make sure you have a Russian you can trust on the ground, or find one. You are welcome to contact me for referrals to excellent American and Russian lawyers and businessmen who are doing business in the country, making profits while staying alive.
In a previous post Russia Blog discussed Gazprom's deal with several German banks and the Schroeder government to build a natural gas pipeline under the Baltic to Germany that would bypass Poland and Ukraine. As one of our readers pointed out in a comment, with Ukraine not paying its gas bill, who could blame Russia for wanting to have an alternate route to ship oil and gas to Europe, just as the Clinton Administration wanted to see multiple pipeline routes for Caspian Sea oil in the 1990s?
Today's piece by Washington Post reporter Anne Applebaum, who is married to the Polish Defense Minister Radek Sikorski (formerly with the American Enterprise Institute), will surely annoy Russophiles in the U.S. I suspect they will particularly take offense at her comparison of Russia's lobbying in D.C. with Saudi Arabia's -- especially since Russia is fighting Chechen jihadists who have been bankrolled in part by Saudi money.
Continue reading "Update on Germany, Poland and Russia Story" »
Moscow downtown -- a car exploded after a bomb detonated under the vehicle, targeting its owner, Sergei Chelyaginov, age 35. Mr. Chelyaginov is a private business owner. Please see the Crime section of RussiaBlog for more news on assassination as a common tool of Russian business.
Russia Today -- the new English language 24 hour channel -- was launched on Saturday. It went off the air on Monday. The Russian government spent $30 million on new digital equipment, and more money on the salaries of young British "professionals" fresh out of college and their Russian peers. The new channel administration blames the failure on a hacker attack; however, there are more likely explanations for what happened.
Russia Today is the first channel in Russia to go 100% digital (without real tapes), and there are just not enough Russian technicians available who have extended experience working with such equipment. The channel is 100% owned and controlled by the Kremlin, and channell executives promised reporting just "as professional as Al Jazeera or BBC". There's a little problem though -- Russian bureaucrats don't really speak English, and therefore, they don't have much control of what is done and said on the channel. Here's the result: a bunch of young kids playing with expensive equipment to create the first in Russian history 24 hour channel ended up losing control of the situation, and literally shutting down their live programming for some period of time. The channel is still off the air, and no one really knows when it will be back.
Continue reading "Russia Today Goes On, Then Off the Air" »
By Michael Averko
Last week, The Moscow Times and the Carnegie Endowment's Andrew Kuchins combined for a bad joke, when the former uncritically cited the latter's "concern" about whether a Russian government funded think tank could be objective (see the second link in this commentary). Mr. Kuchins hails from an organization that became very partisan upon its receipt of a $500,000.00 valued donation from anti-Putin oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Another example of Moscow Times bias was evident in a December 7 article giving legitimacy to a crackpot claim about Russia's national emblem being "too Christian." In that piece, no mention was made of the very pronounced religious symbols found on the flags of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Israel and a host of other countries in Europe and Asia.
I gather that The Moscow Times is feeling some heat for having curtailed the extreme anti-Russian commentary of Pavel Felgenhauer and Yevgenia Albats. It's apparently asking way too much for that news source to have one Russocentric columnist (an endangered species).
Continue reading "Bad Jokes, A New Think Tank & Some Pointed Comments" »
For the past several days Russia has been in intense negotiations with Ukraine over their trade in natural gas. The Russian state-owned giant Gazprom sells gas to Ukraine for prices much lower than international market rates. Putin said that the Russian Federation budget is losing 4.6 billion U.S. dollars a year by undercharging Ukraine. After stating this financial fact, Putin appeared angry when he said that "Ukraine is absolutely capable of paying the market rates for Russian natural gas."
Ukraine spent one night thinking over Putin's remarks and came up with some surprising announcements during their regular Friday presidential press-conference. Anatoly Matvienko, assistant to the chief of staff of the Ukrainian president, started out by saying abstractly "if we are heading towards market prices, we should think about charging the international market rates for hosting foreign troops".
After some more remarks, Ukrainian officials got to the point and said that Russia is also underpaying, for leasing the Russian Navy base in Sevastopol. Russia pays an annual fee of $93 million, plus other expenses for maintaining the city's infrastructure. The Ukrainian government now insists that Russia's actual payments should be at least $120 million dollars a year. In comparison, Russia is paying Kazakhstan $200 million a year for the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Russian space launch facility based in Kazakhstan).
Continue reading "Ukraine Still Refuses to Pay its Gas Bill" »
Next week new legislation will likely be approved to prohibit any Russian NGO's (non-government organizations) from receiving money from abroad. The law was approved by Parliament's majority in the first reading last month.
Many foreign media outlets see this bill as another example of the Putin regime's oppression. Personally, I don't support the bill, but I would like to offer a different opinion from an educated Russian on the non-profits funded from abroad, and Putin's "regime" in general.
There are 450,000 NGOs in Russia, and these organizations represent all the aspects of Russian life -- religious organizations, charities, think tanks, etc. The idea of prohibiting non-profits receiving funding from abroad seems almost insane to Westerners, but not many foreigners know the following facts about Russian churches and charities...
Continue reading "No Foreign Money for Russian NGOs" »
By Michael Averko
There has been considerable discussion of such terms as Russocentric, Russophobic and Russophilic within the more academic spheres of English language analysis about Russia. This has led me to another comment on the very matter of what being Russian means.
In America, one is permitted to feel a kinship towards the land of his/her ethnic origin. Hence, a wide range of Americana is evident. It's not uncommon for Americans of historically adversarial ethnic groups to express their differences at various news gathering venues.
In the English language mass media, academia and body politic, there's no doubt that the anti-Russian viewpoint receives favoritism over pro-Russian views. The former claims that this is based on a well-founded reality which many Russians have not or cannot come to grips with. So as to not repeat myself on this particular point, I reference my recent commentary Brewing A Russian Backclash.
A main ingredient of the anti-Russian position is the stressing of how Russia is (supposedly) an intolerable place for non-Russians. Isolated instances of extreme Russian nationalism get magnified to enforce the negative image being promoted by the anti-Russians.
Continue reading "On Being Russian" »
This week Russia agreed to sell $1 billion worth of weapons to Iran. Many American policy experts are trying to understand if this is part of some new Russian foreign policy. They are right to ask - why does Russia sell weapons to an Islamic theocracy that has armed Chechen terrorists and other Jihadists around the world?
Abu Omar Mohammed bin Abdullah al-Saif would've answered that it's because Allah wants Russians to help the extremists with their Jihad. But after a life devoted to murdering civilians and children, Mr. Omar, etc. has been killed during a successful operation conducted by Russian forces. I'll try to answer for him.
Russia is well-known for corruption and kick-backs on business contracts. RussiaBlog has reported about President Putin's "gifts" and the bribing of the head of Rosvooruzhenie, among others (Rosvooruzhenie is the government company that deals with weapons sales).
I honestly believe that this is no realpolitik or other strategy on the part of Putin's administration. The truth is that no one is in charge to prevent such exports; no one is actually considering what is going to happen to the missiles Russia is selling to Syria and Iran.
Continue reading "Why Does Russia Arm Iran?" »
Moscow is a city-state. There are two cities in Russia, whose mayors hold the rank of governor -- Moscow and St. Petersburg. Moskovskaya Oblast (Moscow Suburbs Region) is another separate state. The reasons for the special status of these regions are their enormous size, population (almost one third of the country's population), and economic significance (almost all Russia's businesses that "matter" are registered and managed in Moscow).
Moscow just had parliamentary elections and - surprise - Putin's United Russia Party won the elections with 47.25% of the votes. Somehow United Russia forgot to take down the agitation posters around the city on the day of the elections, which is illegal, but who cares, if the ones who are supposed to enforce the law are all party members.
The new improved Communist Party, without such tricks, received 16.75%, and surprisingly (not sarcastic, but sincerely) Yabloko, the liberal democratic party came out with 11.11%, which is a lot for a truly liberal party. The reasons for the liberals' success might be different: 1) city people prefer "educated" and "intellectual" liberals, 2) Russians are getting tired of voting for whomever they are told to vote.
Continue reading "Moscow Parliament Election Results" »
The rise of the oligarchs was one of many grotesque results of Russia's transformation to capitalism - a shift managed so ineptly that many Russians ended up nostalgic for communism. The oligarchs, idiotically rich in a country that was largely poor, and given to parading their wealth in a manner that makes American hip-hoppers look like an especially reticent community of Amish farmers, could certainly have given any former Soviet citizen pause to wonder, as he queued for beetroot, what the proletarian revolution had been for. The oligarchs, not content with buying companies, villas, yachts, planes and the most beautiful of Russia's beautiful women, also bought power.
Please read the rest of this excellent piece by The Guardian here.
Russian Supreme Court has upheld the decision of a Moscow City court banning the Rodina party from the city elections. Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR requested that the elections committee prohibit Rodina from running in the elections based on two reasons:
1) Rodina published a phone number that belongs to their member of parliament; it is illegal to do so, because taxpayers pay for these phone calls; and
2) this video.
Continue reading "Rodina is in Trouble" »
By Nick Slepko
Ukraine is the new Taiwan. Recently, Yuschenko made good on his promise to abolish visa requirements for most Western nations--on my birthday no less. And yet, Russia has continued to increase the requirements for Westerners whether they come for business or a simple three-day holiday.
First, let us set aside that barriers to association such as visas (be they the typical external or the even more irritating internal propiskas from the Soviet-era) are immoral and should be abolished. Even if one is to support the idea of a visa regime (and they shouldn't), keeping out citizens of countries richer than yours is a bad idea. These people are not going to take away jobs, overwhelm your social safety net, nor will they create slums on your municipal peripheries. Ignoring the Baltic States (because they're just cheap knock offs of Scandinavia anyway), the Ukraine is the first of the former Soviet republics to recognize that barriers to foreigners are barriers to foreign investment. Moreover, by taking away the discretionary powers of the visa agents, they eliminate one more area of corruption in their bureaucracy. Plus, whereas tariffs on goods can be lucrative for the state (though still not recommended), visas are not and never have been. They have always been about power. Just ask the fascists as they were the ones who invented the modern visa system.
Russia is now in a position to import modern ideas from Ukraine--as it has been doing for centuries. Still, Putin is not as bad a guy as most Westerners want to believe. In fact, in America's much shorter history, we have only had maybe four good presidents and over half of the remaining ones have been as corrupt as any Russian oligarch, but our institutions have kept them in check. Clearly, Putin is superior to the mis-named Liberal Democrats and is better organized to enact reforms than the horribly mismanaged and public relations-retarded Yabloko and SPS parties.
Continue reading "Ukraine Visa-a-Visa Russia" »
Radek Sikorski (who I met at the American Enterprise Institute briefly after he moderated a a 2003 debate between Niall Ferguson and Robert Kagan) is in the news again. Sikorski, who is married to the Washington Post reporter Anne Applebaum, is back in government as Defense Minister for the newly elected Law and Justice conservative coalition. Mr. Sikorski's "neocon" credentials from AEI have drawn considerable comment in European political journals, and contributed to speculation that he is Warsaw's go-to-guy for dealing with Washington.
Today's International Herald Tribune covered a press conference at which Mr. Sikorski described declassified Warsaw Pact archives from 1979 - a time when Poland was growing restless under Soviet domination and a Polish Pope was being elected in the Vatican. The IHT implies that the conservative government is sincere about wanting to tell the whole truth about the Communist past, but that the timing might be a slap at Russia for freezing Poland and the the rest of the European Union out of recent negotiations between Moscow and Berlin over a new gas pipeline under the Baltic.
Continue reading "Poland's Unfinished Business with Russia" »