Real Russia Project Director Yuri Mamchur (right) in the studio with Alexander Gurnov
Yuri Mamchur, Director of Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project, is a featured guest this week on the Russia Today TV program Spotlight with Alexander Gurnov. The topic of the interview is the Real Russia Project special report "10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia: How Truthful Are They?". Russia Today TV is Russia's first 24-7 English language news network.
The 26-minute interview will air on Saturday, December 30 from 4:31 a.m. thru 4:58 a.m., at 8:31 thru 8:58 a.m., at 12:31 p.m. thru 12:58 p.m., at 4:31 thru 4:58 p.m., at 8:31 thru 8:58 p.m., and again Sunday December 31 at 12:31 a.m. thru 12:58 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (GMT-08:00).
To watch the show online during scheduled air times, go to www.russiatoday.ru and click on the red link on the left marked "Watch RT Now".
To find a complete schedule of Russia Today TV programming, click here and select your time zone.
Decorated outdoor stage in front of a public school entrance in Moscow
By Bruce Chapman, President of the Discovery Institute
There is no "War on Christmas" in Russia, apparently. That would be so "Communist era"--and Western secular! To get a whiff of old fashioned antagonism toward Christian social customs you have come to the U.S. and visit the offices of the ACLU, Citizens United for Separation of Church and State and various purblind government offices. Our Discovery colleague from Russia, Yuri Mamchur, who heads the Real Russia Project, is in Moscow this week and says that his old public high school now sports a "huge Christmas crÃ¨che" in front of the building. No problem. No complaints.
Since Russia is predominantly and increasingly Orthodox, of course, the celebration of the birth of Jesus isn't emphasized there for another week and a half. Charles Ganske of Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project, meanwhile, has this fascinating look at the reported rise of Christian sentiment in Russia since the fall of Communism. It is interesting on several counts, one being that an Orthodox revival has not generated discernible antagonism toward other faiths, even though the governmental bureaucracy is suspicious of new, proselytizing faiths to the point of harassment in some cases.
Overall, Americans will see the new surveys on religion as hopeful signs of the revival of mediating institutions in Russia. Many also will add Russia to the list of nations--notably China and sub-saharan Africa--where Christianity is gaining active believers in large numbers. Everyone is free to speculate on the possible implications for the world's culture, politics and economy.
Mario Scaramella met Alexander Litvinenko on November 1
Mario Scaramella, a witness in the Alexander Litvinenko case, was arrested in Naples on December 24. Mr. Scaramella met Litvinenko for lunch at London's Itsu sushi restaurant on November 1. Scaramella claimed that the purpose of this meeting was to warn Litvinenko that he and several other Russian exiles in Britain had been marked for death by a cabal of current or former members of Russia's security services. Scaramella claimed to have obtained this "enemies list" from his former KGB contacts. However, after Scotland Yard detectives interviewed the self-proclaimed expert on KGB espionage, they found many reasons to doubt his story, starting with Scaramella's claim that he had received a near-fatal dose of radiation. After extensive medical tests, Scaramella was released from a London hospital and has shown no symptoms of radiation poisoning. Italian police arrested Scaramella at the Naples airport when he arrived from London on Christmas Eve.
Continue reading "Litvinenko's Italian Contact Arrested" »
A Lada car rolling off the AvtoVAZ assembly line
Over the holiday weekend, AvtoVAZ announced a contract with multinational auto parts maker Magna International to build a major new car factory in Russia. The Moscow Times reports that the deal could be worth as much as $1.6 billion and eventually produce 500,000 cars per year. AvtoVAZ is concentrating on the moderately priced car market in Russia with a model that will cost between $10,000-$12,000. AvtoVAZ already manufactures the Viva compact car and Niva small SUV for the Russian market with General Motors. Since Boris Berezovsky sold the company in the 1990s, AvtoVAZ has come under new management as part of a major modernization plan.
Continue reading "AvtoVAZ and Magna Building Car Factory; Nokia Extends Contract with Megafon" »
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
NEW YORK -- On December 23 Russia voted with a unanimous UN Security Council to punish Iran for its violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The new resolution prohibits UN member states from providing Iran with technologies or components that could be used to make long range missiles or nuclear weapons. Russia Blog reported three weeks ago that Russia would vote to sanction Iran for non-compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear non-proliferation regime.
After months of negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed the resolution as a compromise that would send a message to the Islamic Republic while protecting Moscow's commercial interests in Iran. Russia is helping Iran build the Bushehr nuclear reactor on the Persian Gulf and has also sold surface to air missile systems to the Islamic Republic. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesmen insist that the SAMs can only be used for short-range air defense purposes and that the Busehr reactor will be subject to vigorous inspections.
Continue reading "Russia Votes for UN Sanctions Against Iran" »
Gazprom's corporate headquarters in Moscow
Gazprom has announced plans to quadruple the price it charges Belarus for gas this winter, raising rates from $46 per thousand cubic meter (tcm) to $200/tcm. The move comes as a surprise to some Western analysts who view Gazprom's actions solely through the prism of politics, since Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is still viewed as a loyal ally of the Kremlin. But the move does not surprise energy analysts who have been closely following Gazprom's frequent statements about the need to modernize its pricing structure.
As Russia Blog reported this time last year, the very brief interruption of natural gas deliveries to Ukraine on New Year's 2006 was exacerbated by politics, but the decision was fundamentally driven by economics. Gazprom wanted to end the siphoning of natural gas from the pipelines it uses to export gas to Western Europe that cross Ukrainian territory. The fallout from the Orange Revolution gave Gazprom the political cover it needed from the Kremlin to act in a way that it knew would be unpopular in the West. But after all the hype about Russia flexing its muscles as an energy superpower, the end result was a compromise that pushed prices in Ukraine closer to European levels. And while Europeans were reminded of their growing dependency on Russian natural gas, the alternative sources for the Continent - the Greater Middle East and West Africa - aren't likely to be more stable suppliers than Russia anytime soon.
Continue reading "Gazprom Hiking Gas Prices for Belarus" »
Roman Abramovich, age 40, is the richest man in Russia
The Moscow Times is reporting today that Roman Abramovich, the richest man in Russia, has resigned as Governor of the Far Eastern region of Chuhotka. Abramovich reportedly wanted to spend more time developing his holdings in the metals business.
In addition to the English Premier Soccer League team Chelsea FC, Mr. Abramovich owns 41% of the Russian aluminum giant Evraz. Last month, Evraz announced plans to purchase Oregon Steel for $2.3 billion. The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment is reviewing the deal by examining possible ties between Evraz and the Russian government.
Continue reading "Abramovich Resigns as Governor of Chuhotka" »
Russian businessman Dimitry Kovtun has been questioned twice by Russian and British investigators about his relationship with Alexander Litvinenko
Today Izvestia quoted Moscow-based security contractor Dimitry Kovtun as telling police that Alexander Litvinenko was strapped for cash in the months before they met on November 1. According to Kovtun, Litivinenko told him last summer that he was no longer receiving a "stipend" to cover living expenses for his family in London and badly needed to make a business deal. Litvinenko told Kovtun that he could bring in new British clients for Kovtun's private security company in return for commissions. While no one has directly identified the source of this "stipend", Litvinenko had been employed by Boris Berezovsky and lived very close to the exiled oligarch.
Meanwhile, Andrei Lugovoy, the other businessman who met with Litvinenko on November 1, claims that his relationship with Litvinenko was also distant, and that last summer he received a similar phone call from Litvinenko offering to introduce him to potential clients in Britain. The ex-KGB bodyguard told the ITAR TASS news agency, "My security business is developing in Russia fairly successfully. I met that call with a portion of doubt. But when I came to London I called him. He immediately named some companies and brought me to them. A reputation, authority and business interests of these companies allowed me to make a conclusion that this could be very interesting."
Continue reading "Witnesses: Litvinenko Needed Money" »
Russian Orthodox icon of Jesus Christ
A New York Times survey of Russian newspapers this week picked up a report from Izvestia revealing changes in religious attitudes inside Russia. Alternatively, the polling data may reveal that Russians are more confident declaring their religious affiliation to pollsters today than they were shortly after the collapse of the officially atheistic Soviet Union.
RELIGIOSITY ON THE RISE IN RUSSIA: In 2006, 15 years after the fall of the atheist Soviet Union, 84 percent of Russian citizens said they believed in God, according to a study conducted by Izvestia and the polling agency, VTsIOM. A similar VTsIOM poll in the early 1990's found that 34 percent believed in God. Among respondents, 63 percent considered themselves Orthodox Christians, 6 percent were Muslims and 1 percent Catholics and Buddhists. Another 16 percent said they were atheist. The percentage of Russians who attend religious services has grown from 4 percent during perestroika to 10-12 percent today.
UPDATE: 12/26/06 - Click on the extended post to read the full Izvestia article.
Continue reading "Are Russians Becoming More Religious?" »
Inside a new apartment in Moscow
According to today's article in the New York Times, $33,000 per square meter (10 square feet) is the going rate for a luxury apartment in the so-called Golden Mile property development in Moscow. Russia Blog has previously covered the overheated real estate market in the Russian capitol in these articles:
Does Real Estate in Russia Really Track the Price of Oil?
Moscow Real Estate Madness
Moscow the Most Expensive City in the World
Click on the extended post to read the full New York Times article.
Continue reading "$33,000 per Square Meter?" »
Soviet T-34 tanks rolling through Moscow on their way to battle
Last week not only marked the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but also the defeat of the Nazi armies at the gates of Moscow. To mark this historic occasion, Russia Blog has posted two episodes produced in 1943 for Frank Capra's famous World War II documentary, Why We Fight, titled "The Battle for Russia".
People who know why World War II began will immediately notice at the start of these episodes that Capra omits any mention of the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which in 1939 divided eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet-occupied spheres of influence. Film critics will also notice that Capra relied extensively on Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein's films and Soviet propaganda footage for much of his material.
In spite of the film's soft peddling of Soviet complicity in the start of World War II, it did serve its purpose of reminding Americans of the tremendous sacrifices the Russian people were making to crush the Nazi regime. The introduction to the "Battle of Russia" also portrays facts about Russia's vast natural resources and strategic importance that still hold true today.
Click on the extended post to watch Part I and II of "The Battle of Russia".
Continue reading "65th Anniversary of the Battle of Moscow" »
Painting depicting Ivan the Terrible after he murdered his own son
Why Mao? Why Hitler? Why Stalin? Each of the last century's greatest mass murderers had a similar origin, and historians have often peered into the darkest history of each country from the Middle Ages to find precedents in an attempt to explain the 20th century descent into barbarism. One of these historians was Henri Troyat, born Lev Aslanovich Tarasov to an Armenian Jewish family in 1911. Like so many others drawn to Paris at the height of France's Third Republic, Henri Troyat was a refugee from the Bolshevik Revolution and the titanic upheaval in Eastern Europe that followed World War I. In Ivan IV, Troyat saw a forerunner to the absolute power that would be wielded in Russia by Stalin.
Troyat writes more as a historical storyteller than as a strict conventional historian. In particular, Troyat felt free to go beyond the written record and speculate about Ivan's internal thought process. Ivan IV (the Russian word, grozny, is better translated as "fearsome" or "dangerous" rather than "terrible") was born to Vasili III, the Grand Prince of Muscovy, at a time when Russia was just starting to emerge from its precarious position between European Christendom and the Islamic world.
Continue reading "The Stalin of the 16th Century" »
German police have told the Berliner Zeitung this week that they are looking into the possibility that radiation poisoning victim Alexander Litvinenko and his associate Dimitry Kovtun were involved in smuggling polonium out of Russia. According to RIA Novosti, one German police source told the Berliner Zeitung that the polonium 210 shipment that killed Litvinenko could have been valued at $25 million. German detectives have found traces of polonium in Dimitry Kovtun's apartment in Hamburg, and Russian investigators are treating him as a potential witness in the murder case.
Mr. Kovtun, a former member of the FSB who now works as a businessman, has denied any involvement in the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko. Andrei Lugovoy, who worked as a bodyguard for Boris Berezovsky in the late 1990s, has also proclaimed his innocence. Both men met with Alexander Litvinenko on November 1, a few hours before the ex-FSB agent became violently ill with radiation poisoning. Both have now undergone medical examinations to determine if they were irradiated, with the results likely to be returned by Friday. For investigators, determining Lugovoy and Kovtun's radiation exposure levels could prove to be very important in assembling their case.
Continue reading "German Police Suspect Polonium Smuggling Ring" »
Russian businessman Dimitri Kovtun met with Litvinenko on November 1
German police announced this weekend that they have found traces of polonium 210 at a Hamburg apartment formerly occupied by Russian businessman Dimity Kovtun. Along with the ex-KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi, Kovtun was one of two Russian men Alexander Litvinenko met in London on November 1, the day before he fell violently ill from radiation poisoning.
Mr. Kotvun allegedly left a long trail of polonium 210 traces behind while traveling from Moscow to London via Hamburg. The ultimate source of the nuclear material remains unknown, but British media reports have cited anonymous sources claiming that the isotopes have been traced to a Russian reactor. However, as veteran investigator and blogger Edward Jay Epstein points out, the quantity of polonium 210 required to create a fatal dose is quite small, and could conceivably be smuggled out of a nuclear facility by a single bribed technician. Russian government spokesmen have strongly denied that any nuclear material has ever been lost or could possibly be stolen from their facilities. Last week Russian nuclear agency officials told RIA Novosti that Russia's only polonium producing reactor was shut down two years ago and that the whole country produces only eight grams a month from leftover stocks, primarily for customers in the U.S. and Great Britain. Once isolated from polonium, the half life of the 210 isotope is just 132 days.
Both Mr. Kotvun and Mr. Lugovoi have denied any involvement in the crime, and point to the fact that they are undergoing treatment for radiation poisoning to demonstrate their innocence. After several UK newspapers cited Scotland Yard complaints of delays in interviewing key witnesses, British detectives interviewed both men in the presence of Russian officials on Monday. Mr. Lugovoi told RIA Novosti that he is fully cooperating with the criminal investigation and is happy to be interviewed again if necessary. Meanwhile, this weekend the Russian Prosecutor General's office announced that it may send its own team of investigators to London.
For the benefit of Russia Blog readers, in today's extended post we have reproduced excerpts from New York University Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen's appearance on the Dec. 7 edition of The Charlie Rose Show. In the segment, Prof. Cohen is highly critical of how the Anglo-American media has covered the Litvinenko affair, and shares his own opinion on the likely geopolitical fallout from the case.
Prof. Cohen received his doctorate from Columbia University in 1969 and has taught Russian history for over thirty years. Prof. Cohen also happens to be married to Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation, a left-wing American magazine that has been highly critical of both Bush and Putin.
To watch the whole thing, click on the embedded Google video link in the extended post.
Continue reading "NYU Russia Scholar Stephen F. Cohen Speaks Out About Litvinenko Case on PBS Charlie Rose Show" »
Crime scene (photo by News.Ru)
Samara, Russia -- on December 4, Alexander Samoylenko, chief of the Itera-Samara oil company and a former executive for Russian carmaker AvtoVAZ was murdered in an apparent contract killing. Mr. Samoylenko was shot dead Monday evening while leaving work in his Lexus. The vehicle was riddled with bullets from a Kalashnikov assault rifle, and seven bullets struck the businessman, killing him instantly. A friend who was in the car with him suffered multiple gunshot wounds.
The killer escaped in a Russian-made Zhiguli, which was found a few minutes later on a residential street. The killer set the getaway car on fire to cover his tracks, and no one has been arrested in connection with this murder. Police suspect that Samoylenko was killed due to his present and past business affiliations. Samara's local government has just changed leadership, and there have been several attacks on regional businessmen. These attacks may be part of an attempt to re-distribute financial power in the city. Itera is a prominent Russian oil company, and there are many potential enemies in Samara who could have wanted Samoylenko dead. Another possible reason for this murder could have been Samoylenko's previous position with AvtoVAZ - the largest car manufacturer in Russia. Over 500 people affiliated with AvtoVAZ have been murdered in contract killings since 1992.
Continue reading "Business Executive Killed in Samara" »
Chinese police at a border crossing with Russia
Many foreign policy analysts in America and around the world perceive a growing alliance between Russia and China to counter U.S. influence. By looking at the diplomatic statements of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the increasing amount of trade and joint military exercises between Russia and China, it is easy for an American to come to this conclusion. But this simplistic analysis overlooks the sentiments of many Russian academics and ordinary citizens who fear the superpower rising on Russia's doorstep.
Today Johnson's Russia List features two stories addressing these fears. The first story reports the results of a survey conducted by the All Russian Public Opinion Poll Center. According to the polling data, 25% of Russians fear some loss of national territory due to ethnic separatism. A significant percentage of those polled also feared national extinction due to demographic collapse. Russian government demographers estimate that Russia is suffering the net loss of 700,000 citizens a year due to plummeting birth rates.
The second story comes from the BBC's world media monitoring service, and records a candid discussion on Echo Moskvy Radio about the shifting balance of power between Russia and China. While one of the panelists declared that China represents an "objective threat" to Russia, others insisted that it is only Russian weakness contrasted with Chinese dynamism that creates this perception, and that Russia should view the rise of China as a golden opportunity.
Click on the extended post to read the full summary.
Continue reading "Fear of a Chinese Planet?" »
Former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar
The Russian government has been widely blamed in the Western media for the recent murders of the Russian journalist Anna Politovskaya and former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko. The day after Litvinenko died from radiation poisoning, Yegor Gaidar, the former Russian Prime Minister who served with President Boris Yeltsin, became violently ill while visiting Ireland.
Mr. Gaidar, along with Anatoly Chubais, was one of the architects of Russia's "privatization" schemes during the 1990s, and as a result is not well-loved by ordinary Russians. I have heard Mr. Gaidar speak at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. twice in the last three years. In the years since he left government service, he has traveled around the world delivering presentations strongly critical of Putin's administration.
If Gaidar had died as a result of poisoning, it would have been very difficult to argue that the Kremlin was not behind this recent wave of political assassinations. However, Mr. Gaidar survived, and the first thing he did when he became conscious enough to make his own decisions was to fly back to Moscow. Mr. Gaidar apparently feels safer receiving medical treatment close to the Kremlin than he does abroad. That fact should give Westerners who assume that the Russian government sanctioned these awful crimes pause.
Continue reading "Gaidar's Return to Moscow Raises Questions" »
Gazprom billboard near the Russian Parliament building in Moscow
In recent months the Western media has taken notice of Russia's tightening domestic market for natural gas and electricity. First the International Herald Tribune, then the UK Independent and Financial Times newspapers published articles questioning whether Russia can continue to expand energy exports while providing enough energy at home. Last week Gazprom executive Alexander Medvedev responded to these claims by reassuring Western investors that his company will invest more than enough to meet rising demand at home and abroad. Gazprom plans on investing $40 billion in the next few years to develop huge Arctic gas fields in the Barents Sea and Yamal region of northwest Siberia.
Even so, some analysts doubt that Gazprom can overcome the political constraints imposed by Russia's upcoming 2008 elections, and begin encouraging conservation by raising gas rates. The need for more energy conservation is highlighted by the fact that Russia consumes more than 2/3rds as much gas as the U.S. - in spite of only having half the population.
Russia does have immense coal reserves and stockpiles of nuclear fuel leftover from the Cold War to substitute for gas in electric power generation. However, neither conservation nor substitution is likely to take off until natural gas prices rise. Many powerful Russian industries have profited from Gazprom's legal obligation to sell them gas for less than half of the European market price ($250 per million cubic meter), and are not likely to allow rate increases without a fight.
Gazprom does not have to raise rates to Western European prices overnight to meet its export obligations. But it will probably need to accelerate the liberalization of the Russian gas and power market to meet its ambitious goals.
Click on the extended post to read Energy Biz Insider Editor in Chief Ken Silverstein's article on this topic.
Continue reading "Gazprom's Dilemma" »
Dubai World Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem
On Sunday the Dubai-based firm Limitless LLC announced the biggest real estate development in Russian history. The first phase of the Great Domodedovo project outside Moscow is expected to cost $11 billion, and Limitless will partner with Russian developer Coalco to build the new suburb. According to the International Herald Tribune, the project will require 44,000 acres (18,000 hectares) and will eventually include 150,000 residential and commercial units. To put that number in perspective for our U.S. readers, the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Washington (pop. 112,344) has 48,396 housing units.
Limitless LLC is a subsidiary of the Dubai World holding company, which also owns Dubai Ports World. Russia Blog's American readers may recall that last year Congress rejected a DPW bid to operate several U.S. ports, citing national security fears. At that time, DPW spokesmen pointed out that their company had securely operated several ports that serviced U.S. Navy ships for years. However, Dubai World has shrugged off this setback, and Dubai continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Large construction firms based in the Emirates, like their Chinese counterparts, have a lot of experience building whole new cities from scratch. Now the "Singapore of the Middle East" is investing in another rapidly emerging market in Russia.
Continue reading "Dubai, Russian Developers Building New Moscow Suburb" »
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Is Russia's relationship with Iran changing? Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Jordan on December 1, where he issued a statement: "We are not against sanctions directed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear materials and sensitive technologies."
According to many Russian analysts, Russia has changed its attitude towards Iran and now will support sanctions along with the U.S. Lavrov also said that "referring the Iranian portfolio to the UN Security Council was done so that Iran would cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ... Iran has great potential to contribute to conflict resolution in the Middle East." This diplomatic statement means that Moscow will not cooperate with Iran at the level predicted by many Western journalists.
The feeling of change in the relationships between Moscow and Teheran has been in the air for awhile. On December 15, George Bush made a quick stop in Moscow, where he met in private with President Putin at Vnukovo airport. Few doubt that the topic of their conversation was Iran. Only three days before this short conversation, Putin and Secretary of the Russian Security Council Igor Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with a senior Iranian official, Ali Larijani, but Larijani left Moscow disappointed, because Russia refused to rule out sanctions against his country. Some analysts speculate that Russia has changed its position on Iran as part of a deal with the U.S. to join the WTO.
Continue reading "Russia Will Support Sanctions against Iran" »
Gazprom's corporate headquarters in Moscow
Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev wants everyone to relax about the state-owned natural gas giant's growing clout in world energy markets. While visiting the U.S. last week for a public relations tour, he told Business Week, "I can assure you that we have enough reserves to meet both local demand and export obligations, including potential sales in new markets: in China, Korea, and the U.S. and Canada for (liquefied natural gas) sales. This is fully supported by investment programs." Medvedev's remarks came in response to recent media reports claiming that Russia could run short on gas and be forced to cut exports in the near future.
Continue reading "Gazprom Expands U.S. Investment and PR Campaign" »