"The Soviet Union? I thought you guys broke up."
"Yes, that's what we wanted you to think...hahahaha!"
Recent reports about Russia remind me of this old "Simpsons" episode. Is the Evil Empire really coming back? We don't think so. However, some Western politicians, think tank scholars, and even some of our readers seem to believe this. Enjoy the video!
Night Drive through Moscow: Where People Live and Work
Moscow condo buildings
"Where People Live and Work" is the third part of our photo series "Night Drive through Moscow". These photographs are the result of my four hour drive through Moscow on January 6, 2007. The first part, "Where Tourists Go" showed places popular with tourists like the Kremlin and Moscow's cathedrals. The second part, "View from a Car Window" showed the streets of Moscow at night, casinos, and advertisements.
Please click on the extended post link to see photos of Moscow's condominiums and office buildings, places where Muscovites live and work every day. There are many more neighborhoods and business districts in Moscow than are depicted in this photo post, but again, these are the results from a quick spin around the south-western part of the city.
Enjoy the pictures, and please allow some time for the extended post to load due to the large number of photos.
Was Alexander Litvinenko the Victim of a Botched Polonium Smuggling Operation?
Andrei Lugovoy, one of the suspects in the Litvinenko radiation poisoning case
This week Pajamas Media, a kind of aggregation/wire service for bloggers worldwide, has picked up a post by blogger AJ Strata casting more doubt on the claim that Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated in London. AJ Strata joins Edward Jay Epstein and others who doubt that Litvinenko was deliberately poisoned with a polonium-210 by an assassin. Instead, these bloggers believe that Litvinenko may have been the victim of a botched polonium smuggling operation, with the highly toxic radioactive substance leaking out a sealed container or vial into a teacup in Litvinenko's room at the Millenium Hotel.
Travel Russia: Bribes on Red Square: How to Avoid Being a Victim
Tourists in Red Square on Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve -- January 6, 2007
(Photo: Yuri Mamchur)
For tourists, the extended Russian winter holidays can be a wonderful time to visit Russia. From December 31 to January 14, most of the country shuts down and the usually gridlocked streets of Moscow are clear. Air fares for flights into Moscow and St. Petersburg are also substantially cheaper in mid-winter than in the summertime or pre-holiday season. Most Russians are also visibly more relaxed this time of year.
But there is also a dark side to the extended holidays for unsuspecting travelers visiting Russia's cities -- namely, Russian cops shaking down foreigners for bribes because they lack valid stamps on their visas. This corrupt practice targeting foreigners takes place even on Red Square, next to the walls of the Kremlin. Russia Blog has heard from three Americans and one Italian citizen who were stopped by the militsia on or near Red Square during the first week of January. All four foreigners were threatened with detention at the nearby migration processing center on Tverskaya Street unless they paid a "fine" - on the spot and in cash - for not having a properly stamped visa.
Night Drive Through Moscow: View from a Car Window
Is it a Mercedes dealership? No, just a parking lot by a new 5-star hotel in downtown Moscow...
"View from a Car Window" is the second part in the "Night Drive through Moscow" series of posts featuring photos taken during my four hour drive through the city on January 6, 2007. While the first part "Where Tourists Go" portrayed places which are well-known and generally attractive, this part will present you the Moscow you might have not seen yet; the photos were taken literally from a car window. Again, the only reason I could visit this many places in such a short amount of time is because the city was nearly empty due to Russian Orthodox Christmas holiday.
Moscow is a mixture of Paris, Washington D.C., New York and Las Vegas, with over 2,770 gambling establishments, 63,000 slot machines and 330,000 fairly high-stakes gamblers (data accurate as of beginning of 2006). A large latte in a regular Moscow coffee shop goes for $7 U.S. these days, while a shot of espresso with a glass of water will cost you $20 at a nice bar. A small margarita in a bar with a view of the city will cost you $35. Unlike in the 1990s, Russian restaurants only accept plastic or rubles now, not dollars.
You rarely see Russian-made automobiles in the streets of Moscow these days; people pay enormous customs duties to purchase the vehicle of their dreams. A brand new 2007 Acura MDX goes for $80,000, a Hyundai Santa Fe -- $45,000, a Mitsubishi Lancer in the best price range costs you only $16,000. New office buildings, skyscrapers, and endless construction cranes are visible everywhere you go. Moscow's night life is just as busy as the business day; all restaurants, clubs and most coffee shops have a policy of "open until the last customer" and "open with the first customer" which means around the clock. Many Muscovites grab their second dinner at 1 a.m. and roll over to the coffee shop at 3 a.m.
I won't get into the argument here about whether all this new wealth is the result of smart government policies, a healthy economy, or just high oil prices. I want you to enjoy the photos of the views you could expect to see from a car window while driving through the amazing city of Moscow...
Moscow -- Yesterday, January 23, Russian traffic police finally published the new law about "special" number plates and blue lights. The new law is named "On Escorting Motor-Vehicles by Motor-Vehicles of Traffic Police of the Russian Federation." The law was passed to fight chaos in the streets of Moscow and other major cities caused by government officials and well-connected or wealthy private individuals abusing these privileges to get through traffic. Russia Blog has written before about the unique perils of driving in Russia (see the extended post for more information).
Aleksandr Bukharov plays the valiant warrior Volkodav (Wolfhound)
According to the nashfilm.ru (our films) website, Fyodor Bondarchuk's romantic comedy Zhara and the warrior epic Volkodav have combined to earn over $30 million at the box office during the recent Russian winter holidays (December 31 through the Russian Orthodox "Old New Year" on January 14). In comparison to these Russian blockbusters, A Night at the Museum, currently the most popular American film in Russia, only made $9.2 million.
Apparently Russian filmgoers were more interested in watching graphic violence than beautiful young people in love this holiday season. Volkodav (which cost $12 million to make, the most expensive Russian film produced yet) earned $17.1 million from 652 movie theaters, while Zhara only made $13.5 million from 590 movie theaters.
Day Watch remains the all-time champion of the Russian box office, since it grossed over $20 million in the first ten days after its January 1, 2006 theatrical release.
The "Night Drive through Moscow" series is the result of my four hour drive through the city of Moscow on January 6, Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve. There will be three picture posts representing what you can see in Moscow in four hours on a winter night: this one named "Where Tourists Go"; on Wednesday - "View from a Car Window"; and on Friday - "Where People Live and Work."
The tourist photos are self-explanatory; actual tourists would go to many more places in the city if they had enough time on their hands. The "Car Window" photos were taken literally from a car window -- they will portray things you might not expect to see in Moscow --freeways, casinos, Rolex banners and nice cars. "Where People Live and Work" will contain photos of condos, hotels and office buildings. Remember that this year winter is extraordinary warm and does not represent a usual Russian winter time; usually the streets and roofs are covered with snow.
I was able to visit this many places because the city was empty of cars and people -- everyone was getting ready for a family dinner or attending service at a church. On a work day or holiday shopping night a four mile drive can take two hours. On the night of December 22, when Russians were consumed with holiday shopping, I got stuck in one of these traffic jams. I had to ditch my car on the side walk and come back for it at midnight, only to get caught in another traffic jam on the way home -- it took me an hour to drive five miles at 1 a.m.!
Enjoy the photos in the extended post. Please expect the extended post page to take some time to upload due to the number of photos.
Wall Street Journal: "Investors Credit Putin As They Pile up Profits"
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Today the Wall Street Journal's Guy Chazan confirmed what we've been saying here at Russia Blog since we released our special report "10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia: How Truthful Are They?" last year - there is a growing gap between how American investors and businessmen perceive Russia and how politicians and pundits in Washington D.C. view the country. The former group sees the rise of the New Russia as an opportunity, the latter as a threat.
Chazan writes that in spite of the recent setbacks for BP and Shell in Russia's energy sector, many of America's largest emerging market funds are betting billions on continued strong economic growth in Russia. While pundits can make all kinds of predictions about where Russia is headed after President Putin leaves office next year, investment fund managers, whose jobs depend on making accurate forecasts, seem optimistic about Russia's future.
Click on the extended post to read the full Wall Street Journal article.
Money, Not Geopolitics, Drives Russian Energy Policy
Gazprom sign near Red Square in Moscow (Photo: Yuri Mamchur)
Ever since Russia briefly interrupted natural gas deliveries to Ukraine on New Year's Day 2006, Moscow has been harshly criticized in the West for allegedly using energy as a tool to blackmail its neighbors. The recent spat between Russia and Belarus over Moscow's price hike on oil and gas deliveries to Minsk once again prompted charges from Western politicians and pundits that Russia is not a reliable source of energy. But where many Westerners perceive Russia as a regional bully, the Kremlin argues that former Soviet republics are not entitled to cheap Russian energy simply because Russia's major export pipelines cross their territory.
Russian commentators have complained in the last several weeks about how Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has sought to transform his country's image in the West from an authoritarian pariah state into yet another victim of Russia's "energy imperialism". Russians ask: why does the West criticize Russia for subsidizing Lukashenko, and then criticize us again for stopping these subsidies? And how exactly does the West expect us to get countries like Belarus or Ukraine off the dole without threatening to shut off gas supplies? Russians scoff at the idea that Lukashenko would ever agree to price increases that could threaten his grip on power because the European Union presented him with a polite request.
UPDATE: Click here to read the Russia Blog review of Timati's new album Black Star.
While in Russia I had the chance to catch two movies in the theater, Zhara (Heat) and Volkodav (Wolfhound). Zhara was directed by Rezo Gigineishvili and produced by Fedor Bondarchuk, who directed Russia's submission to the U.S. Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film 9 Rota (9th Company). Bondarchuk used the same young cast from his 2005 Afghan war drama for a romantic comedy set in Moscow during a blazing hot summer. Coincidentally, this year Moscow has experienced one of the warmest winters on record.
It wouldn't have been a night at the movies in Moscow, of course, without ten cell phones ringing - and being answered - during the show. But there were plenty of cell phones ringing on the screen, so it seemed to blend in with the film's soundtrack of modern Moscow.
Russia Blog editor Charles Ganske near the Kremlin on New Year's Eve
After spending the extended 2007 New Year and Orthodox Christmas holidays in Russia, we're glad to be back in America and to resume our normal posting schedule here at Russia Blog. Watch for more photos from Moscow and St. Petersburg and new articles very soon.
Sometimes cartoons carry more wallop than an article. Obviously the world will be watching in 2007 to see how truly deregulated the Russian economy is, how successful its flat tax is--and whether the country can sustain its high growth rate.
"New Year's Fireworks over Red Square", 1958
Photo from the David Douglas Duncan collection, Harry Ransom Center
University of Texas at Austin
Real Russia Project Director Yuri Mamchur and Russia Blog editor Charles Ganske send you New Year's greetings from Moscow. Posting will be light until January 16. We wish our readers all the best in 2007.
Russia Blog presents up-to-date news, facts and commentary on the state of events in Russia and the former Soviet Union. The blog is managed by Yuri Mamchur, Director of Real Russia Project. The blog is edited by Charles Ganske.