A parody propaganda poster from the Modern Humorist website
While the sensational case of Alexander Litvinenko dominates world media headlines about Russia this week, Russia's integration into the global economy quietly moves forward. As part of the agreement to bring Russia into the World Trade Organization, the Russian government has agreed to shut down AllofMP3.com, an online music store that the U.S. government asserts is pirating intellectual property and failing to pay royalties to American media companies. Russia Blog has previously reported on the online music site and the problem of digital piracy in Russia here.
AllofMP3.com executives assert that they are paying royalties to copyright holders through the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society, but the U.S. government has never recognized this organization as legitimate. According to company spokesmen, AllofMP3.com continues to operate and has not been shut down. However, in October Visa announced that it would stop processing credit card orders for the site, dealing a severe blow to its online business.
Read the full article at CNet here.
Alexander Litvinenko at a press conference
By now the whole world has heard about the poisoning of ex-FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who ingested a fatal dose of the radioactive isotope polonium-210 three weeks ago. Most American and British commentators have focused suspicion on the Kremlin, which allegedly wanted to end Litvinenko's investigation into the recent murder of the Russian opposition journalist Anna Politovskaya. One month before he was poisoned, Litvinenko had publicly accused President Putin of ordering Politovskaya's death.
Several British newspapers have suggested that rogue FSB agents may have acted without the Kremlin's knowledge to kill a man they regarded as a traitor and to intimidate future defectors. This theory has been advanced by Oleg Gordievsky, himself the highest level KGB defector to defect during the Cold War, who was a friend of Litvinenko.
For their part, Russian media outlets have quoted government sources blaming Boris Berezovsky or other exiled oligarchs for killing Litvinenko as well as Politovskaya, in order to pin their deaths on the Kremlin. "The excessive number of calculated coincidences between the deaths of people, who defined themselves as the opposition to the Russian authorities, and major international events involving Vladimir Putin is a source of concern," Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a top Kremlin aide, told the ITAR-TASS news agency. "I am far from believing in the conspiracy theory, but, in this case, I think that we are witnessing a well-rehearsed plan of the consistent discrediting of the Russian Federation and its chief."
Continue reading "Alexander Litvinenko - A Made for TV Murder?" »
Suleyman Kerimov is a Member of Parliament for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, headed by Duma's most scandalous leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Mr. Kerimov, with an estimated net worth of $7.1 billion, is also ranked number 72 on the Forbes list of the world's richest individuals. Kerimov is the owner of "Nafta-Moskva", an oil trading company, and he also is involved in many other large Russian businesses. Even though the Russian Parliament (Duma) is in session right now, this did not prevent Mr. Kerimov from retreating to his villa in the south of France. Mr. Kerimov wanted to relax after a stressful week of buying major stakes in Moscow's booming hotel industry.
While speeding through Nice's English Promenade (where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour) in his black Ferrari Enzo, Mr. Kerimov lost control of his vehicle, hit the curb and crashed into a tree. The car was torn apart and the fuel tank exploded upon impact. According to Nice Matin, Mr. Kerimov is currently in coma with burns over 70% of his body.
Continue reading "Russian MP Crashes His Million Dollar Ferrari in France" »
Workers at an Evraz Steel Plant
Moscow - Evraz, the largest steelmaker in Russia, announced yesterday that it will purchase Oregon Steel Mills Inc. for $2.3 billion. Oregon Steel Mills is planning a new pipe mill in Portland, Oregon to supply its customers with more steel pipe. The company currently produces steel products in Canada and Colorado.
Industry analysts in the U.S. and Russia say that Evraz paid a steep premium for the U.S. steel producer, but could reap rich benefits from diversifying assets in the North American market. In particular, the Oregon Steel acquisition gives Evraz access to the North American oil and gas pipeline infrastructure market. In the next twenty years, U.S. and Canadian companies are planning to build two major pipelines to provide natural gas from Alaska and Canada's McKenzie Delta to customers in the lower 48 U.S. states.
Continue reading "Russian Steelmaker Evraz Buying Oregon Steel" »
Former FSB Lt. Colonel Alexander Litvinenko with his controversial book
Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within
London -- Former Federal Security Service (FSB) Colonel Alexander Litvinenko, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, has apparently been poisoned with traces of the toxic metal thallium. Tonight the 41 year-old Russian exile is being treated in the intensive care unit of London's University College Hospital, and the staff has added extra security for Litvinenko's protection. Litvinenko is being fed intravenously, and has lost nearly all of his hair. Doctors treating him say his white blood cell count is down to nearly zero. This high profile poisoning case has drawn comparisons in Western media outlets to the dioxin poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko, shortly before he was elected President of Ukraine in 2004.
Litvinenko became violently ill following a meeting on November 1 with a man who claimed that he had information on the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politovskaya. Litvinenko met his contact, an Italian academic named Mario Scaramella, at the Itsu sushi restaurant near London's Picadilly district. Mr. Scaramella, an expert on the history KGB and FSB spy activities in his native Italy, contacted the British Embassy in Rome when he found out about Litvinenko's illness. He is now in hiding and seeking protective custody as a material witness to the crime.
Mr. Litvinenko told his friend Alex Goldfarb that he had met two Russian men for drinks shortly before his sushi lunch, and had described the suspects to the London police. One of the suspects was unknown to Mr. Litvinenko, and it is still unclear why he agreed to meet with the two men.
Continue reading "Who Poisoned Alexander Litvinenko?" »
The Criterion Collection's DVD version of Andrei Rublev - the Director's Cut
Andrei Rublev opens in the year 1400 with a monk clambering to the top of a church, desperate to fly away before an angry mob can destroy his balloon. Just as his comrades are overtaken by a howling pack of peasants, the monk sails up and away. Suddenly the camera pans over the misty, swampy Russian landscape and the people who wanted to destroy the fiendish innovation look like ants. This theme of the tension between creativity, power and popular will echoes throughout the film.
In the second scene titled, "The Jester", we are introduced to icon painter Andrei Rublev (Anatoli Solonitsyn), the uncompromising monk Kiril (Ivan Lapikov) and their apprentice Danil Chorny (Nikolai Grinko). The three set out in driving rain from the Troista monastery on a journey to Moscow. When they decide to take shelter from the elements in a village hovel with several other peasants, they witness the Jester (Rolan Bykov) entertaining the crowd with acrobatic routines. The most hilarious part of the Jester's act involves mocking the nobles by painting the bare face of a nobleman on his buttocks. The song and dance implies that a shaved boyar can hardly be distinguished from a woman, and will be thrown out by his wife. Shortly after mooning the crowd, we see the Jester step out shirtless into the rain - as if he knows that his punishment is drawing near. A few hours later several men on horseback arrive. The horsemen drag the Jester out of the hut, impale him on a post, and haul his body away. As the three monks depart the village, Kiril mutters that "G-d sent priests, but the devil sent jesters."
Watch the opening scene of Andrei Rublev here.
Click on the extended post to read the full review.
Continue reading "Seeking God in the Land of Magog - Andrei Rublev Reviewed" »
The new Triumph Palace in Moscow is now the tallest residential high rise in Europe
Moscow's frenetic push upward and outward is getting a substantial push from foreign investors, according to today's report from the Bloomberg financial news service. Much of the foreign capital invested in Russian bonds is coming from emerging market funds in the U.S. and UK, and is extending beyond the oil and gas industries into the construction, manufacturing and retail industries. Russia Blog has previously commented on Russian IPOs here and here.
Click on the extended post to read the full Bloomberg article.
Continue reading "Russia's Bond Market is Booming" »
A forensic investigator at the scene of the crime
(Photo by News.ru)
Moscow -- Zalimkhan Magomedov, President of the non-profit National Oil Institute Foundation, was shot dead yesterday, the victim of an apparent contract killing. According to the Associated Press article published in the Houston Chronicle: "The little-known Moscow-based company works with companies and government structures to develop small and medium-sized companies in the oil and gas industry". Mr. Magomedov, a native of the Caucasian Russian republic of Dagestan, is the latest victim of a wave of business-related violence in Russia.
Continue reading "President of Russian National Oil Institute Killed" »
Artist rendering of the Federation Tower (now under construction), part of the Moscow City business district and the tallest building in Europe (93 stories; 448.2 meters or 1,470.5 feet)
Welcome to the Russia Blog! As you can see, our website now has a new design and user-friendly interface; however it is the same resource about Russia produced by Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project. As of November 14, 2006, Russia Blog has logged 356 posts and 1,280 reader comments, covering all aspects of life in Russia, including politics, economics, popular culture, human rights, and crime.
Please use the search engine on the left to find a specific article on the topic you are interested in. For example, if you are looking for anything to do with Chechnya, simply type in "Chechnya". If you are looking for what Putin might have said about Iran's nuclear program, type in "Putin Iran" and click search. Also feel free to use the categories list on the left to look up articles related to the topic of your choice; sometimes you will be surprised by the information you will find in the "Did You Know" or "Human Rights" categories.
Please click on the extended post to read more about us and how you can support our work.
Continue reading "About The Real Russia Project" »
President Bush and President Putin at the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg
The U.S. and Russia finally seem to have reached an agreement on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization. Next week President Bush and President Putin will meet face to face at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam, where they will make the agreement official.
The last time the U.S. and Russia were this close to a deal was before Russia's July 2006 showcase G-8 Economic Summit in St. Petersburg. Iran spoiled the party by ordering Hezbollah to rain rockets on Israel. At the summit, both Tony Blair and George Bush were visibly distracted by the Mideast conflict, and were unable to address a comprehensive agenda for engaging Russia. On the Russian side, the money the Kremlin spent to hire the Washington-based Ketchum PR firm to promote Russia's image for the summit appeared to be wasted. Both during and after the G-8 summit, the U.S. media was flooded with stories depicting Putin as a tyrant cracking down on economic and civil liberties at home and arming America's enemies abroad. When Israeli newspapers reported that several Israeli Defense Forces tank crews were killed using Russian anti-armor missiles supplied to Hezbollah by Syria, the anti-Russian mood in Washington reached a boil.
Continue reading "Russia Finally to Join the WTO" »
Gazprom's offices in Moscow
Can Gazprom continue to provide subsidized gas at home while meeting its ambitious export commitments abroad? That was the question posed this week by two major news articles about Russia's tightening gas and electricity markets. In their reports, both the UK Independent and UK Financial Times questioned whether Gazprom can provide Russian power plants with enough subsidized natural gas to keep the lights on in Russia while boosting gas exports to Europe and China. The normally restrained Financial Times presented an alarmist headline, "Russia Faces the Chilling Prospect of a Winter Short of Gas" while the Independent's headline read, "Russian Electricity Market: Sell-Off in a Cold Climate".
Much like China, after decades of failed central planning, Russia is happy to be coping with the problems created by rapid growth rather than stagnation. Economists have noticed for years an almost direct correlation between growing demand for energy and increasing GDP. Russia's recent economic success and abundant natural resources, however, do not exempt the country from making difficult choices about its energy future. The energy path that Brazil, Russia, India, and China (what Goldman Sachs analysts have dubbed the BRIC group) choose in the next few years will have major implications for the U.S. economy.
Continue reading "Can Russia Substitute More Coal for Natural Gas?" »
Coal mining in Russia's Kemerovo region
American politicians and energy analysts often refer to the United States as "the Saudi Arabia of coal" since the U.S. has 245 billion metric tons of coal reserves. At the current rate of consumption (1 billion metric tons per year), this means that the U.S. has over 200 years supply.
With 157 billion metric tons, Russia has the second largest coal reserves in the world (China has the third largest with 114 billion metric tons). According to the UK-based World Coal Institute, in 2005 Russia produced 222 million metric tons of coal, or nearly one quarter of the U.S. level.
Russia's Ministry of Industry and Energy reported that Russian mines surpassed last year's total in September 2006. Coal consumption for Russian power generation was up by 4.3% between 2005 and 2006, but coal still lags far behind gas as the preferred fuel for new generating plants.
Russian coal mining is concentrated in regions served by the Trans-Siberian Railway, with the Kemerovo, Krasnoyarsk, and Novosibirsk regions accounting for the bulk of the nation's production.
For more detailed information on this topic, check out the reports issued by:
Argus Media Russian Coal Report
Coal International Russian
EU-Russia Dialogue on Clean Coal Technologies
Finam Investment Company
Russian Mining magazine
Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) with President George W. Bush
Robert Ver Bruggen, an apprentice editor for The National Interest, argues that the newly elected Democratic-led Congress is likely to take an even harsher view of Russia than the previous Congress. Mr. Ver Bruggen's piece focuses on soon-to-be House International Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos relationship with former Russian media oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky.
As the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee, Lantos has frequently teamed with Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) to pass legislation and resolutions on issues ranging from combating human trafficking to stopping genocide in Sudan and granting asylum to North Korean refugees. These bills have been supported by a broad coalition of human rights groups ranging from socially liberal activists to conservative evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews. Congressman Lantos has also been an outspoken critic of the Kremlin's seizure of YUKOS and jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Continue reading "The New Congress and U.S.-Russia Relations" »
Baron Sasha Cohen may have gone too far for Russia's film censors
The BBC and Moscow Times have the story. The Turkish Invasion blog reports that the movie is already being sold as a pirated DVD in Moscow maketplaces.
By Michael Averko
Map of Kosovo and the former Republic of Yugoslavia
This past Friday (Nov. 3), I attended a panel discussion on Kosovo at Columbia University's Harriman Institute in New York City. The event was sponsored by the Njegos Endowment for Serbian Studies. The featured speakers were James Jatras of the American Council for Kosovo and Nebojsa Malic, a columnist for the website AntiWar.com. Mila Lazarevich moderated the discussion. Jatras is a seasoned attorney for the D.C. law firm Venable LLP, and has served in the American government. He has been a frequent participant in Russia Profile's weekly Experts' Panel. Along with Srdja Trifkovic of Chronicles Magazine, Malic is the best of the mainstream Serb analysts who regularly communicate in the English language.
The general foreign policy views of Jatras, Malic and Trifkovic often fall under the political category of paleoconservatism. This socially conservative movement frequently cautions against foreign military intervention. The culturally traditionalist attributes of paleoconservatism make it attractive for people of Orthodox Christian background.
The Nov. 5-6 edition of my subscription e-mailed Quick Takes has a brief review of that event. Please feel free to refer to the non-Russian Kosovo matter via the referenced QT. For the benefit of Russia Blog readers, I will focus on the Russian connection to the panel discussion on the future of Kosovo.
Continue reading "How Kosovo Factors Into Russo-American Relations" »
President Bush and Georgian President Saakashvili in Tblisi in 2005
On Saturday, November 4, the Doha, Qatar-based Gulf Times newspaper reported that Georgian officials are considering importing natural gas from Iran via Azerbaijan in the event Russia cuts them off this winter. While Georgia might have no other choice but to freeze or accept the prices Gazprom will dictate, maybe it's time for Americans to ask what U.S. vital interest will be served by Georgia sending more money to Teheran instead of Moscow.
Click on the extended post to read the full article.
Continue reading "Georgia: More Unintended Consequences?" »
A natural gas-fired power plant in Russia
"Russia is second only to the United States in total natural gas consumption, and it is the only country in the world where natural gas accounts for more than one-half of total primary energy consumption. In 2003, Russia consumed 15.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas." (Source: U.S. Energy Information Agency)
Sitting on 27.5% of the world's natural gas, it isn't surprising that so much of the Russian power grid and heating depends on this formerly cheap fossil fuel. For decades the Soviet Union sought to maximize oil exports to acquire precious hard currency; natural gas was cheap and abundant, and there was no way to export it without building costly pipelines.
Today Russian energy companies want to fetch world market prices for their gas, starting with the former Soviet republics and working their way back home; natural gas is no longer cheap, and there are ways to export it through LNG (liquefied natural gas) tankers to the entire world.
Besides gradually introducing market prices to encourage conservation, what else can major NG producers and distributors do to use less gas at home and make more of the stuff available for export?
As we have reported here at Russia Blog, the short answer is: switch to coal and nuclear power, and exploit new energy efficiency technologies. This trend presents a huge opportunity for Western environmental and energy technology companies to demonstrate how much money their products and construction techniques can save Russian energy producers and consumers. And it just so happens that the Pacific Northwest is home to some of the leading energy technology entrepreneurs and research labs in America.
Tractor on an organic farm near Kaliningrad
This week the Russia Profile magazine published two articles on the state of Russian agriculture. While most economists do not tend to think of agriculture as occupying the commanding heights of the economy, for most of the former Communist Bloc countries, this is where the path of liberalization usually started. The reforms Deng Xiaoping promoted in the early 1980s finally allowed millions of Chinese peasants to fetch market prices for their produce, with entrepreneurial ripples spreading throughout China that continues to this day. Gorbachev's contemporary reforms of collectivized agriculture had barely started when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
During the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin was not able to overcome fierce Communist opposition in the Duma to land reform, and there was a lot of confusion about who actually owned plots, as with so many other sectors of the economy. Yeltsin left the task of forming a parliamentary coalition in support of land privatization to his appointed successor, Vladimir Putin. As University of Washington Professor Herbert Ellison observed at the recent Real Russia Project roundtable, the results since the year 2000 have been quite impressive.
Continue reading "The State of Russian Agriculture" »