Photograph by Gazeta.Ru
Krasnokamensk, Russia -- After an eleven hour flight, fourteen hours on the train and a one hour drive from the rail station, Inna and Marina Khodorkovsky met with their husband and son, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. After the long trip from Moscow, the women stayed at a rented apartment, where they cooked all night long, making "kotleti" (home made meat burgers which Russians like to eat with potatoes and vegetables) and chopping fresh produce, which they brought all the way from Moscow.
A few miles from the Chinese border, in the middle of nowhere, the former richest man in Russia is confined with 2,500 other inmates. Instead of making executive decisions and billions of dollars, today he earns fifty cents a day stitching police uniforms on Soviet-era sewing machines. Khordokovsky was recently punished with solitary confinement, after breaking one of the machines and leaving his workplace to find a mechanic, without first informing his supervisor.
Continue reading "Khodorkovsky's Letters" »
By Michael Averko
Following up on the last Averko's Russia Report of February 19 which commented on the first week of the Turin Olympics - I can't help but make a correllation between subjective sports like figure skating and the soft science of "political science," which in my view should be referred to as political studies. Unlike the history and political studies fields, the hard sciences (like mathematics) are precision based with less room for debate.
NBC's figure skating commentators and ESPN (Lisa Salters) suggested that the American silver medal ice dancing team (Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin) could have been legitimately awarded a gold medal (the day after the competition, the NBC commentators changed their tune in support of the judges' scoring). On the other hand, my sampling of European media hints that the bronze medal Ukrainian duo (Odessa natives Ruslan Goncharov and Yelena Grushina) could have reasonably been awarded the silver medal.
Continue reading "Second Week Olympic Notes" »
Rostov, Russia -- Private Shpinev was found hanged after committing suicide at the Rostov Tank Academy. This news did not receive much coverage in any Russian media outlet, because these kind of incidents happen all too frequently. The reasons for Private Shpinev's suicide, as usual, have been the culture of sadism and abuse that runs rampant at the Tank Academy.
Meanwhile back in Moscow, a huge building in the public market "Bassmanniy Rynok" collapsed today, killing at least 54 and injuring 32 more. (Read the Fox News story). The building was designed by Nodar Kancheli, the same architect who designed the Aqua park that collapsed two years ago. The interesting fact is that only 2 victims were Russian citizens; 31 citizens of Azerbaijan were killed and 31 injured, one Ukrainian died and several Georgians were killed and injured. Traditionally, people from Caucasus are the "traders" and "sellers" in Moscow and the rest of the country. There are many jokes and stories about these people, but they are just trying to make a living.
The accident happened at 5 am, and it is a busy time for a whole sale market. The general area of the market was 130,000 square feet, and almost all of it was affected by the collapse of the roof.
To end today's news on a good note, the Russian Olympic team is firmly in the third place on the all-medals scale.
For decades, Russian and Soviet Union athletes represented a cold, intimidating delegation at the Olympics. But in Turin, there has been a turnabout.
Here, it is hip to be Russian.
The Russians' red-and-white uniforms and gear, with their distinctive paisley-like design that mimics a pattern on Russian coins, are big sellers, to Russians and non-Russians alike. The Russian spectators at the Olympic sites are wildly enthusiastic, with Russian flags waving and chants of "Russia! Russia!" echoing through the crowd, including Wednesday when the Russian hockey team upset the Canadians....
It's just as the American figure skater Johnny Weir preached from the moment these Olympics began: no one is cooler than the Russians. Weir, who finished fifth last week in the men's figure skating competition, showed up at the Russia House after midnight Tuesday, for his second consecutive night of partying with his favorite comrades.
This time, he wore a beaver-and-python jacket and True Religion jeans, blending in with the other men and women in fur and designer duds. In minutes, he had a leggy Russian woman in stilettos on each of his arms. The trio giggled as they skipped past the hors d'oeuvres. "These are friends of the lawyer of the richest man in Moscow," Weir said in passing, as the women tossed their long hair. "These Russians know how to have a good time."
Read the entire article by the New York Times.
Next Russia will play Finland. The reasons for Russia's success this year might seem rather odd to a reader unfamiliar with hockey. The National Hockey League season was cancelled this year, and the most of the Russian Olympic hockey team resides in Florida (no state income tax), and plays for NHL teams. Because the season was canceled, the Russians had more time to train together back in their motherland.
Sadly, the Americans are not doing that well this year, and when the Russian team beat the Americans 5-4, the Russian coach commented that he had advised his team to play half-throttle and not waste energy before the other games. The Cold War is dead, and so is the athletic rivalry between the US and Russia. It almost seems like the Cold War was beneficial for the conditioning of the Olympic players of our countries...Americans today only seem to take the gold in individual winter sports.
February 23rd is a federal day off in Russia, which celebrates the Russian Army, Navy and Air Force. The city of Moscow made preparations at the very last moment, just like how everything else is done in Russia, and hired the design firm Moscow City Advertisement to do the posters. The huge billboards are very popular in Moscow along the highways and streets, and citizens usually read them. They aren't necessarily for advertisements only, sometimes the city delivers news to the citizens, or some social projects are announced through these billboards.
The billboard that you can see in the picture below, reads "Congratulations to the Warriors of Russia!" - so far so good. However, people who understand any military history were very upset and the posters had to be taken down overnight by emergency crews and replaced with the new generic ones. The reasons for their disappointment are quite comic. The ship in the poster glorifying the Russian fleet is the American battle ship USS Missouri. On September 2, 1945, the Japanese signed their capitulation on that ship and she has been parked in Pearl Harbor since then.
The jet fighter glorifying Russian military aviation was actually made in Russia, but this model is not used by the Russian forces, these are export versions sold to India (SU-30MK). And this particular jet crashed in 1999 during a military air show at Le Bourget, France.
Many Russians took the posters as an insult, and even though they were up for only one day before the holiday, it was enough to upset several people. Surely there were no malicious intentions on anyone's part, just a lazy job, an ignorant designer and poor supervision. Enjoy the posters:
The post is based on the Gazeta.Ru article.
By Michael Averko
An open ended issue is prevalent on how America will deal with East Ukrainian political leader Viktor Yanukovych's likely resurgence in the Ukrainian body politic. Keep in mind that American foreign policy elites are preoccupied with other issues like Iraq, Iran and Hamas-Israel. Post Soviet Ukraine under Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko has burned America three times. On Ukraine, there's apprehension among those American elites, whose foreign policy specialties are in other areas. On the other hand, those concerned with Ukraine from a neo-conservative and George Soros funded neo-liberal persuasion will no doubt push for continued support for the more "pro-Western" forces within the Ukrainian political establishment. This advocacy is staunchly backed by the relatively influential and politically active West Ukrainian community in Canada and the U.S.
Yanukovych is so far positioning himself well by not going against his pro-Russian constituency, while expressing an openness to the West minus Ukraine joining NATO. Yanukovych is cool towards NATO like the majority of Ukraine's citizenry. He's interesting in closer EU ties with Ukraine, but is also sympathetic to the proposed Common Economic Sphere with Russia. He no doubt recognizes that Ukrainian membership in the EU isn't probable in the near future. A recent public opinion poll shows most of Ukraine's citizenry sharing Yanukovych's opinion of the CES, EU and NATO.*
Continue reading "American Response to Upcoming Rada Vote" »
Alexandros Peterson of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies has an article at Tech Central Station today about Russia reasserting itself in the former Soviet "near abroad" to resist U.S. pro-democracy initiatives in Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. Peterson writes:
This past January 11, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov published a piece in The Wall Street Journal entitled "Russia Must Be Strong". Ivanov argued that Russia is threatened by "foreign states" meddling in its "internal affairs"...he mentioned that Russia's "top concern is the internal situation in....former Soviet republics, and the regions around them". If Russia's actions in these areas in the past year elaborate Ivanov's statement, it is clear that Russia's main concern is pro-Western sentiment and democratization in areas the Kremlin feels should be under Russian influence.
The Bush administration has asserted that political liberalization in Central Asia and the Caucasus, just north of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, is essential in order to deny Islamist terrorists influence in the region. However, US and NATO efforts to this effect have frequently found themselves in competition with Russian activity in the area.
Peterson's claim is that Russia's sullen bouts of Cold War nostalgia may be hurting U.S. efforts to fight terrorism and Islamic extremism in Central Asia. The problem with Peterson's logic is that it is every bit as outdated as Ivanov's.
Continue reading "Ignoring the Sources of Russian Conduct" »
Today there were two articles in the media which support my piece from several months ago about the injustice ordinary Russians endure on the nation's chaotic roads.
The first article is by the UK Telegraph and it is about the protests in Moscow that took place yesterday. The protesters were rallying against cars with "blue lights", special permits and "migalkas". These medieval priviledges (akin to peasants being required bow before noblemen) offend common Russian drivers, normal citizens and create unbelievable traffic jams.
The second article is about Oleg Shcherbinsky, the driver who was accused of killing one of the most popular Russian politicians in a car accident. Mikhail Yevdokimov, the very famous humorist who became a governor, was known as the "Schwarzenegger of Siberia". He was one of the few officials who actually managed to crack down on corruption in his state. It is believed that he was murdered by those who weren't that fond of his work. The accusations fell on a random driver, who happened to be at the scene of the crash.
Please read the Washington Post article here. Please also read the Russia Blog article on this topic.
February 10, 2006, In Stavropolsky Kray - 100 miles away from Georgia, 200 miles away from Grozny, 16 "Chechen" (probably foreign) terrorists have fought a gun battle for the last 24 hours against Russian police and soldiers. Russian forces have used attack helicopters, tanks, and 300 troops to destroy several buildings in the village and kill 11 of the enemy fighters. Five jihadists, however, escaped from security forces.
One should ask: what about the human rights of ordinary Russian citizens? Well, the Russian army's first mission is to provide security and stability inside Russia (Chechnya is one of the Russia's 89 administrative regions, the equivalent of a U.S. state or territory). It was the inhabitants of Tukui-Mekteb, a town of 3,000 people near the city of Stavropal, who called local police to report huge stockpiles of ammunition and explosives hidden in a nearby house.
Four police officers responded to the citizen's tip. When they showed up to check out the house, they were shot dead by the terrorists with machine guns. Several minutes after this shooting, Russian Spetznaz commandos arrived, only to find that the jihadists had fled with their weapons. The 16 foreign fighters were reportedly part of a terrorist cell recruited by Shamil Basayev and the veteran Arab jihadist Hattab (who was recently killed by FSB forces).
Continue reading "Why Putin Invites Hamas to Moscow and the U.S. Media Ignores Russia's War" »
Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel "The First Circle", now adapted for the screen, was the most highly watched TV drama in Russia last week. At the age of 87, Solzhenitsyn helped to write the screenplay and recorded commentary for the 7 1/2 hour long mini-series (see the BBC story here and the International Herald Tribune's story here).
Continue reading ""The First Circle" a hit on Russian Television" »
The Washington Times has a story today on how Gazprom is buying gas from Central Asian suppliers - principally, Turkmenistan - then selling the gas to Europe for a five-fold profit, with most of the money being siphoned off by mysterious middlemen. "Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly, buys gas from Central Asia for less than $50 per 1,000 cubic meters and then sells it to European countries at prices as high as $260."
The larger geopolitical argument being made in Washington now is that the Kremlin is exploiting an empire of pipelines as leverage to control former Soviet republics.
Continue reading "More Problems with Russian Gas" »
Featuring Discovery's Foreign Policy Senior Fellow Yuri Mamchur
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
World Trade Center in Tacoma
Simpson Room, Third Floor
950 Pacific Avenue, Suite 310
Tacoma, Washington 98402
Discovery Institute's Foreign Policy Senior Fellow Yuri Mamchur will speak tomorrow to the Russia Roundtable and the Port of Tacoma at the World Trade Center in Tacoma, where he will discuss Russian current events, as well as his work and life experience.
Continue reading "Russia Roundtable in Tacoma" »
Ramzan Kadyrov was elected as the head of the United Russia party for the republic of Chechnya. Yesterday Kadyrov pushed the legislature that prohibits any Danish non-profits from entering Chechnya and working on its territory. The bill was approved today.
It is very sarcastic, because it's the Danish non-profits which do real work in Chechnya. Russian government is busy laundering money and European Union is busy talking about the human rights abuse in Chechnya. Danish groups have been helping to the thousands of civilians and refugees. Now they are banned from this Russian Muslim state, as a result of the Mohammed cartoons in the Western European press.
MOSCOW, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- A Moscow museum has announced it will exhibit the entire series of cartoons of Mohammed that have caused riots throughout the Islamic world.
Yury Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Museum and Public Center, said on Russian television that the center was ready to organize a public exhibition of the cartoons satirizing the founder of Islam that originally were published in a Danish newspaper, Pravda.ru reported Monday.
Read more on the United Press International website.
According to RIA Novosti, the Kremlin is not happy with Iranian President Ahmadenijad's position rejecting any peaceful enrichment of uranium outside of Iran's borders. Of course, Iran's foreign minister was later trotted out after Ahmadenijad's belligerent remarks to say that Iran was still open to negotiations, provided that no more sanctions were imposed by the UN Security Council. Without military action, it appears the world is going to have to sleep tight with atomic bombs in the hands of the mullahs who have threatened to kick off nuclear Armageddon with Israel.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ivanov, in an interview with Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, denied that Iran sponsors Chechen terrorists.
Ivanov has done very little to prevent Russian Army officers and NCOs from torturing and murdering the soldiers they are supposed to lead, so telling a few lies to a Western reporter is nothing in comparison.
The widely publicized story about the torture and mutilation of the Russian Army private Sychev has had a huge impact on Russian society. His legs and genitals were amputated after he was gang raped and tortured by 40 officer candidates at Russia's tank academy. As a result of the public outrage over this story, reports of torture, murder and soldiers driven to suicide by sadism have poured into human rights organizations from all over the country. Sychev's lawyer even asked if all of this was part of some planned campaign.
The private is still in critical condition, while the Soldiers' Mothers Committee and human right organizations are visiting military bases all over the country, where everyday soldiers desert by the dozens. In one division, an 18 year old private was beaten and is now in critical condition after refusing to give up his cellphone to two officers. In part due to the public outrage over Private Sychev's fate, the officers are being prosecuted.
Continue reading "Why Does Defense Minister Ivanov Still Have His Job?" »
Here at RussiaBlog it is nice to take a break from the latest headlines and often depressing news coming out of Russia to celebrate the great achievements of Russian arts and culture. We have created a new "Culture" category for posts on contemporary Russian film, music, social scene, and religion. And we invite submissions from our readers with expertise on these topics.
While Russian film making is not what it was during the lavishly subsidized Soviet era, one of the best known films of the post-Soviet era is East-West (1999), starring Oleg Menchikov as Alexei. The film is a joint French-Russian-Bulgarian production, and one of the things I enjoyed about it was recognizing the streets of Sofia and the golden domes of the Alexander Nevsky cathedral from my time there in August 2003.
Menchikov is best known to Western audiences for his role as the villanious NKVD officer Dimitri in Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt by the Sun (1993). While his role in Burnt by the Sun required charm combined with a slow-burning malevolence, in East-West we get to see Menchikov at his best, as flawed hero who ultimately redeems himself by sacrificing his own future for his wife and child's freedom.
Continue reading ""East-West" reviewed" »