Fyodor Bonarchuk's romantic comedy Zhara (Heat) was a smash hit at the Russian box office on New Year's Day 2007. On January 1, 2006, the action/horror film Dnevnoi Dozor (Day Watch) shattered all Russian box office records to date. This year, a modern day remake of the Soviet classic "The Irony of Fate" from Day Watch director Timur Bekmambetov is expected to be the big hit at movie theaters across across Russia and the rest of the CIS.
Click on the extended post to read more about this film.
Last week, Russia's President Vladimir Putin was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year. The Time editors explained their decision by pointing out the fact that Putin had succeeded in "putting his country back on the map" after years of turmoil and decline.
Indeed, Putin has a lot to do with Russia's coming back from the cold. As Andrew Kuchins wrote in the Moscow Times op-ed last week, the Putin presidency will be remembered for the country's economic resurgence, political stabilization and increasingly assertive foreign policy.
But the country and its people have also been working hard to make the painful transition from the Soviet state with its command economy marked by food shortages and fiscal distortions to a vibrant economic powerhouse. Since the financial meltdown of 1998, Russia's gross domestic product has grown more than six fold, while incomes have increased by a factor of four in less than 10 years.
Bettman's Bluff: The NHL and the Sochi 2014 Olympics
A few weeks ago there was an article in the Pittsburg Post Gazette about the National Hockey League and the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, was quoted as making some pretty tough statements about whether or not NHL players would be allowed to participate in the games - despite already having played in the past 3 Olympics and being scheduled to play in the next winter olympiad in Vancouver.
Here's my response:
Dear NHL International,
I recently read online (I live in Krasnodar, Russia) in the Pittsburg Post Gazette that Mr. Bettman is potentially questioning whether it's worth it for the NHL to participate in the 2014 Olympics here in Sochi.
On the face of it, Mr. Bettman may think that he is being a good negotiator and is applying leverage to the Russian league owners to sign the International Ice Hockey Federation transfer agreement as it is currently constituted.
However, I would say to Mr. Bettman to be careful. While many of you back in the U.S. and Canada may think that the NHL is the "only game in town" I would caution you to understand that the Russian Super League is not only becoming much better in terms of quality of play, but also in terms of economics for the players... (Click on the extended post to read more)
Golden Telecom, Inc. ("Golden Telecom" or the "Company") (NASDAQ: GLDN), a leading facilities-based provider of integrated telecommunications and Internet services in major population centers throughout Russia and other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States ("CIS"), announces today the closing of the acquisition of a 100% stake in LLC "New Telecom Technologies" ("NTT") in Krasnodar -- an alternative carrier providing communication services to business customers and carriers in the region...
The acquisition of NTT is part of Golden Telecom's successful regional expansion strategy. Golden Telecom already owns and operates sizeable local and intercity networks in Novorossiysk, Gelendzhik, Sochi and other cities in the Krasnodar region. In Sochi, Golden Telecom offers long-distance services, corporate networks and Internet access through Sochi Telecom, a telecom operator established in 1999 and acquired by Golden Telecom in October 2005.
Golden Telecom joins Rostelecom (NYSE: ROS) and Vimpelcom (NYSE: VIP) among the fastest growing publicly-traded companies in the Russian telecommunications sector.
Click on the extended post to read more Krasnodar business news.
Moscow skyscrapers along the Moskva River at night
In case you missed it due to all of the recent political news from Russia, here are several articles about the Russian economy and foreign investments in the country from December 2007:
Ignoring Global Credit Crisis, Economy Grows 7.6% in Q3
Monday, December 10, 2007
The economy expanded an annual 7.6 percent in the third quarter, better than expected, suggesting that problems on global credit markets have not had a major impact on the country.
Gross domestic product growth followed expansion of 7.8 percent in the second quarter and 6.8 percent in the third quarter last year, the Federal Statistics Service said on its web site Friday.
The data are not seasonally adjusted.
"The effect of the global credit crunch was less significant than some feared," said Yaroslav Lissovolik, chief economist at Deutsche Bank in Moscow. Capital investment and consumption were "strong and remained the main drivers of growth."
You can read the rest of this Bloomberg news story at the Moscow Times website. Click on the extended post to read more Russian business news.
South Federal District // Commercial Real Estate, #20 (80)
15.10.2007 Krasnodar: Holiday making and Entertainments
South Federal District
The commercial real estate market of Krasnodar is notable for two main characteristics. First of all, local developers of retail properties are better at building entertainment centers than their colleagues in other regions. And, secondly, because of the upcoming Winter Olympics of 2014 hotel construction is switching into high gear.
Even though Russians will not be celebrating Christmas until January 7, for Russia Blog's readers in the non-Orthodox world, here is a Christmas song from the early 20th century Russian film and music star Alexander Nikolayevich Vertinsky ( 21 March 1889 - 21 May 1957).
"...if Russia succeeds as a nation-state in the family of nations, it will owe much of that success to one man, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin."
Today Vladimir Putin was named the Person of the Year by Time magazine. Our readers can find multiple articles about the Russian President by using the search engine of Russia Blog (to your left) or by simply scrolling through the archives and categories of this website. Please visit the extended post to read Time's transcript of an interview with President Putin and to access links to the related video interview with President Putin at his private residence (highly recommended!), Time's photo essay of modern Moscow, Time's video of the Russian country-side and more. Russia Blog congratulates Mr. Putin for the nomination and encourages our readers to get acquainted with Time magazine's materials on the topic.
After Putin endorsed Medvedev's presidential bid last week, the 42-year-old St. Petersburg-educated lawyer urged Putin to serve as his prime minister if he is elected. Putin waited a week before responding. "If the citizens of Russia show trust in Dmitry Medvedev and elect him the new president, I would be ready to continue our joint work as prime minister, without changing the distribution of authority," Putin said. Later, the party voted overwhelmingly to nominate Medvedev. The Week Daily gave its kind permission to Russia Blog to republish the article naming the reasons why Russians love Putin. Some of our readers may find the opinions expressed by the The Week Daily different from our own; however, the article does a good job of looking beyond the regular assumptions about the Russian President:
Russian President Vladimir Putin's party just won a crushing electoral victory, and Russia is again throwing its weight around like a superpower. Is Putin building a new 'evil empire'?
Just how popular is Putin?
Hugely so, judging from Russia's Dec. 2 parliamentary elections. Putin's United Russia party and its allies captured 400 of 450 seats in the Duma, making it highly likely that Putin will remain in power when his term ends next year. With widespread reports of voting irregularities, the election was not exactly a pure measure of Putin's popularity. Many voters were forced to mark ballots in full view of soldiers, for instance, and United Russia reportedly bought votes with cash and vodka. Still, such tactics were probably not necessary. Pre-election surveys put Putin's approval rating above 70 percent, and by all accounts, most Russians revere him.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) web site has interesting information about a popular winter sport. Below is a breakdown of the number of male ice hockey players in each of the leading ice hockey playing countries (the women's numbers are listed as well at the site).
Male Players Age 20 & Over
The USSR always lagged behind Canada in the number of people playing ice hockey. For connoisseurs of the sport, this makes perfect sense.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of a new washing machine
On Saturday December 8, 2007 we did some serious power shopping.
In the morning we drove over to the Komsomolski district and checked-out a new store, Energiya for your Home, which was having its grand opening. Komsomolski district is quickly becoming the retail center for the city of Krasnodar.
Remember the usual Soviet propaganda line: "Cold War winds blow from the Potomac. The same wind goes through the hearts and minds of American imperialists who are planning the next campaign against peace-loving Politburo and CPSU Central Committee policies".
Nowadays you can find such language only in North Korean editorials but, unfortunately, though, both the Russian and Western media are still engaged in a similar war of words. The fact that the language they use is more sophisticated is little consolation.
Nevertheless, one should admit that in the West, apart from Russia bashing, one can still find many articles critical of U.S. foreign policy and occasionally even some positive materials on Putin's Russia. But the Russian media does not reciprocate: it is practically impossible to find anything positive about U.S. at all.
Speech by Dmitri A. Medvedev after His Endorsement by President Putin
"We are not being lectured like schoolchildren, we are respected and we are deferred to. Russia has reclaimed its proper place in the world community. Russia has become a different country, stronger and more prosperous."
First of all, I would like to give my thanks for the offer to participate in the elections for the president of Russia. This offer was given by United Russia, Just Russia, the Agrarian Party and the Civil Force party. I tie this to the necessity of continuing the implementation of the course our country has been moving along for eight years, the course chosen by the people during these years, the course which prevented the collapse of our economy and of the social sphere in our country, the course which prevented civil war, the course which is being conducted by President Putin.
What is so dear for us today? Stability, improvement of the quality of life and the hope for durable and steady development. Education, health care, housing construction -- we have managed to overcome the stagnation of the 1990s in these most important spheres of our life.
First and yet incomplete results have appeared, our economy has strengthened considerably. We do not live in debt any more, but according to our means. The economy is growing at a pace higher than that of many developed countries.
Putin Names Medvedev as successor; "A Wall of Money" to Hit Russia
On Monday, December 10, Vladimir Putin announced that he is supporting Dmitry Medvedev for the Russian presidency by saying, "I have known him for more than 17 years, I have worked with him very closely all these years, and I fully and completely support this candidacy." Dmitry Medvedev is chairman of the board for the state-owned natural gas monopoly OAO Gazprom and serves as Russia's first First Deputy Prime Minister, where his duties have included directing key domestic social programs, including efforts to improve housing and health care. The UK Times Online writes that, "Vladimir Putin rejects hardliners to anoint Dmitri Medvedev [who] would be the youngest Kremlin leader since Tsar Nicholas II. Russia's stock market reached a record high after the announcement."
Dmitry Medvedev, born on September 14, 1965, is perhaps the most liberal and business-oriented official in President Putin's administration. The International Herald Tribune is reporting that President Putin's decision is expected to give a major boost to the economy. "As if to underline the point, today Russia's main stock index soared on the political news." Unlike the American presidential candidates, the Russian candidates will have only a short time frame for their election campaigns, with Russia's presidential elections taking place on March 2, 2008.
According to the Yuri Levada Center, as of January 2007, 33% of Russian voters were willing to support Medvedev's candidacy in the first round of the elections, and, assuming that there were a second round, 54% would vote for him again. With Russian approval ratingsfor Putin hovering at close to 80%, just 41% of Russian voters are willing to support Putin's handpicked candidate, while 12% of Russian voters are explicitly going to vote against the United Russia Party nominee. Among Western corporate executives active in Russia, Dmitry Medvedev is widely seen as the preferred presidential candidate, as Medvedev is known for his executive acumen, his liberalization of Russia's gas market, and an outstanding career in law and business.
Please click the extended post to learn more about Dmitry Medvedev's biography and read about the possible financial outlook for Russia related to the new endorsement.
"Russia is a country that in the 20th century was subjected to hard trials. ..revolutions, civil war, world wars, and economic collapse. Today we are building new institutions based on the fundamental principals of full-fledged democracy...a democracy without unnecessary additional definitions. These are institutions based on market economy, on supremacy of law, and that those in power must be accountable to the rest of society. Not a single non-democratic state has ever become a prosperous state for one very simple reason -- freedom is better than non-freedom."
"Yet, we still have much work ahead of us, and we most certainly realize what problems we are facing: excessive dependence on markets of minerals and raw materials, corruption, and the still very high level of differentiation in the incomes of the population, as well as the declining numbers of our population."
"We are not trying to push anyone to love Russia...but we shall not allow anyone to hurt Russia. We shall strive to win respect both for citizens of Russia, and for the country as a whole. Moreover, this shall be achieved, not by using force, but rather, by our own behavior, and by our achievements. In the given century, we see ourselves as a developed country, with a strong economy, and as a reliable trade and foreign political partner."
In November 2006 the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed titled, "Russia: The Enemy"
It looks like some U.S. media and pundits feel that America's list of enemies and foreign policy problems is boringly short and needs to be expanded. Forget about the second coming of the battle-hardened al- Qaeda and Taliban fighters, the Iraq quagmire where even supposedly loyal Kurds start messing things up, Iran with its nuclear ambitions, or nuclear Pakistan going through the most dangerous upheaval. The list of other U.S. foreign and domestic problems can be largely extended by any serious expert, but for some folks all this is just not enough. Instead of discussing ways to face the enormous challenges confronting the United States and trying to find an ally or two who can help us, they raise their influential voices demanding to expand America's enemy list by adding a now resurgent Russia to it.
There are many critical voices in America about Russia's behavior both at home and abroad, and some of their arguments are hard to dispute. Russia today is certainly not a beacon of democracy, nor is it always supportive of U.S. foreign policy objectives. But is it really so bad that we have to call it the "enemy"? Is it helpful to our security if we place a nuclear superpower on the U.S. enemies list?
President Putin and President Bush in September 2003
One week ago Russians went to the polls to vote in national parliamentary elections. The result was hardly in doubt -- the United Russia Party of Russia's President Vladimir Putin swept to victory. Equally predictable was the reaction of most Western media to this largely foreordained result.
We are told that Putin is reviving the Soviet Union and that he has been busy building a cult of personality while crushing all political opposition. More importantly, we are told that Putin is reigniting the Cold War rivalry between Russia and the United States. This is the message that we constantly read on the editorial pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, even as the business sections of each paper continue to report the tremendous growth of the Russian economy since Putin took office in 2000.
United Russia not only ran its campaign as a referendum on Putin's policies, but it specifically introduced and popularized the concept of the "Putin Plan." This is an important point that is often overlooked. Seeking a broad mandate for Putin's Plan only makes sense if United Russia intends to strengthen the political weight of the parliament. By pledging to continue the multi-year budgetary and policy commitments that have been made under Putin, United Russia has committed itself to fulfilling those obligations regardless of who becomes the next president of Russia. It cannot be confident in its ability to do unless it significantly increases the Duma's role in the shaping of national policy.
Russia Blog will report later on the way the party vote totals in the parliamentary elections last weekend varied greatly from province to province. Suffice for now that they did, and that the Western media didn't bother to notice it. Apparently, for example, United Russia did much less well in St. Petersburg and Moscow (under 50 percent) than in the Caucuses and elsewhere. Might someone inquire why?
My own biggest criticism of coverage, so far, however, is the way the Western media treat Garry Kasparov as if he were some sort of oracle -- almost the only valid touchstone on Russian political news.
Former Bush 41 aide Nicolai Petro in the previous post points out the strangeness of this Western fixation (and it applies to conservatives as well as liberals). I am not opposed to the man, I just don't understand why he is regarded as sincere and everyone else as phony.
Garry Kasparov (the chess champion) and Mikhail Kasyanov (nicknamed Misha 2%)
Several attempts by the alliance known as "Another Russia" to organize protest rallies in Russia's most populous cities, including the recent fiascoes in Moscow and St. Petersburg, have revealed an indisputable truth - those who call themselves the liberal opposition in Russia are neither competent nor popular.
Their most respectable showing last summer garnered at most 5,000 participants. Since then, these numbers have dwindled into the hundreds, with local police officers and foreign journalists usually far outnumbering the actual demonstrators.
Click the etxtended post to read the rest of the article originally published in International Herald Tribune.