In August 1980, a new film was released in the Soviet Union, shattering any blockbuster records in the USSR and becoming an iconic feat of Soviet cinematography - "Pirati 20 VekaÂ» (ÐŸÐ¸Ñ€Ð°Ñ‚Ñ‹ XX Ð’ÐµÐºÐ°) -- (20th Century Pirates). This was the first domestically produced "boyevik" - an action thriller - and it became an instant and long-lasting success.
The film, almost three-decades old, has the feel of being "ripped off the headlines." Today's Russia is taking an active role in combat international piracy off the coast of Somalia. Its Navy is participating in protection, search and destroy missions, and along with its American and British counterparts, and has already enjoyed limited success.
Continue reading "USSR Blockbuster: 20th Century Pirates" »
U.S. companies can't drill there - but foreign firms may be drilling in the Straits of Florida very soon
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republicans urged the Democrat majority in the U.S. Congress to allow American oil companies to "drill here, drill now, pay less" amidst record gasoline prices. One of the claims Republicans made was that the federal ban on offshore oil drilling, particularly off the coast of Florida, was ridiculous because Cuba had already leased drilling rights to Chinese companies. Thus, Chinese firms would be drilling nearly 90 miles off the coast of the U.S., while American laws would prevent American oil majors from doing the same.
At that time, Democrats dismissed these GOP claims about Chinese drilling as apocryphal, and said that China hadn't drilled for any oil in or around Cuba and that more domestic drilling wouldn't reduce gasoline prices for consumers at the pump. Later on during the campaign, as gasoline prices peaked in July 2008 and U.S. public opinion polls shifted decisively in favor of drilling, the Democrat majority in Congress allowed the long-time drilling ban to slip. Nonetheless, Florida and other states retained their bans on offshore oil and gas development.
One wonders if the news Sunday that Russian oil majors are also considering development in the Gulf of Mexico will affect the debate over drilling in the Florida legislature and on Capitol Hill. The announcement by a Russian diplomat came ahead of President Dimitry Medvedev's state visit to Havana, part of a presidential tour planned through Latin America.
President-elect Barack Obama's spokesman John Podesta has already announced that Obama will review several Bush-era executive orders, including the President's recent decision to abrogate the previous President Bush's 1990 executive order that banned offshore oil drilling. Lower gasoline prices due to the global economic slowdown (and some analysts claim, the bursting of a speculative bubble in commodities) has reduced the pressure on Democrats to allow drilling -- for now. But one wonders whether China, Russia, India and other rising economic powers will have much interest in joining a U.S. and Western European-led carbon "cap and trade" scheme, the favorite policy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats, to reduce worldwide CO2 emissions that may contribute to global warming.
Click on the extended post to read excerpts from the Associated Press story.
Continue reading "Russians to Drill for Oil Off Cuba?" »
Pirates based in lawless regions of Somalia have become increasingly brazen in their attacks on merchant ships in the Indian Ocean.
The Russian Navy announced yesterday that it is sending another warship to the Indian Ocean to protect surface shipping from pirates. The Russian frigate is being dispatched after pirate gangs based in Somalia seized a supertanker near the Horn of Africa. The Sirius Star, a Saudi-flagged supertanker carrying two million barrels of crude, was seized this week by pirates operating nearly 500 miles off the coast of eastern Africa.
The Star is one of the largest vessels of its kind in the world, roughly the size of a U.S. aircraft carrier, and is manned by a 25-man multinational crew. Somali pirates are demanding millions in ransom money to release the ship and its crew. Unless their demands are met within ten days, the pirates have threatened to harm the crewmembers and hinted at causing a catastrophic oil spill. The Somali pirates are employing not only the traditional cigarette speedboats to attack merchantmen close to the coast, but also "mother ships", GPS devices and satellite phones that can extend their reach hundreds of miles offshore.
Click on the extended post to read more.
Continue reading "Russia Sends More Warships to Indian Ocean
Somali Pirates Hold Supertanker Hostage" »
Downtown Moscow near the Kremlin
Photo by: Yuri Mamchur
Newsweek Interactive, the consulting firm A.T. Kearney and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs have published an index of the world's top global cities in the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Foreign Policy magazine. The FP is a publication of the Washington-D.C. based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
According to the A.T. Kearney survey, a global city is defined as an urban center that "excels across multiple dimensions" of human achievement, with different rankings for leading cities in business, finance, education, and governance. Some cities came off better in the rankings due to their historic position as global economic hubs, such as New York, London, and Tokyo, while others offered more lifestyle attractions, such as Toronto and Los Angeles. But all of the established megacities in the developed world have increasing competition from emerging market boomtowns like Beijing, Bangalore, Sao Paulo, and Shenzhen. As the capital of the Russian Federation, Moscow found its spot in the combined rankings at #19 out of 60 global cities, situated in between Vienna and Shanghai.
Click on the extended post to read more.
Continue reading "Global Cities:
Where Moscow Ranks" »
A Russian soldier in Georgia
The International Herald Tribune has done some of the best reporting about Russia in recent months, including C.J. Chivers recently published analysis questioning many initial reports from the August 2008 war in Georgia. The Georgia War revealed that the Russian military still has sharp teeth - at least when fighting an inferior opponent on its own borders.
However, the war also revealed that even the Russian Army's elite formations were fielding 1980s vintage equipment, and did not have night vision goggles or Global Positioning System (GPS) devices like some of their Georgian opponents. The lack of unmanned aerial vehicles also led to a Russian Air Force Tupolev bomber getting shot down on a routine reconaissance mission over Georgia, with the loss of the entire crew. Russian army commanders, like the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, were reduced to issuing battlefield orders over easily intercepted cellphone lines due to a shortage of secure radios.
In late October the IHT reported on large Russian military exercises then taking place across all eleven time zones of Russia, complete with ICBM tests (hat tip: former Sovietologist and blogger Thomas P.M. Barnett). The IHT added that most American officials in the Pentagon and Bush Administration considered these changes in the Russian military's organization to be routine and not a cause for alarm in the West. If anything, President Medvedev's ambitious plans to modernize the armed forces may have to be scaled back due to a weak ruble, falling oil prices, and declining tax revenues into the Russian federal budget.
Click on the extended post to read an excerpt from the IHT article. Click on the Human Rights section of Russia Blog to read more about the problems of brutal hazing (dedovshina) and low morale in the Russian army.
Continue reading "IHT: Russian Military Modernization
May Be Hampered by Economic Crisis" »
Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko starring in the new Bond film Quantum of Solace
The new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, is facing a great opening weekend. The previous Bond film, Casino Royale, gained significant attention of the female audience, compliments of shirtless Daniel Craig coming out of the ocean. The new 007 film is guaranteed major success with the male audience, not only because of the numerous car chases and explosions, but mainly because of the Ukrainian model and actress Olga Kurylenko. Coincidentally, November 14 is Olga's 29th birthday! Even though the Communist Party of the Russian Federation condemned Olga and called her "a traitor," all she's betraying is her real identity. In the movie she is a Bolivian, not Ukrainian, and a fighter, not a model.
Olga Konstantinovna Kurylenko (ÐžÐ»ÑŒÐ³Ð° ÐšÐ¾ÑÑ‚ÑÐ½Ñ‚Ð¸Ð½Ñ–Ð²Ð½Ð° ÐšÑƒÑ€Ð¸Ð»ÐµÐ½ÐºÐ¾) was born on November 14, 1979, in Berdyansk, Ukraine, Soviet Union. Her mother, Marina Alyabysheva, divorced her father, Konstantin Kurylenko, soon after her birth. After the divorce, her mother struggled to survive as an art teacher. Young Olga Kurylenko was brought up by her mother and her grandmother, Raisa. During her youth, Olga had a humbling experience of living in poverty; she had no choice but to wear rags and had to darn the holes on her sweater. During the years in Ukraine she studied art, languages, did 7 years of musical school studying piano and went to a ballet studio until 13.
Continue reading "Olga Kurylenko -- the James Bond Girl, a Ukrainian, and... a Birthday Girl!" »
President-Elect Barack Obama taking a phone call.
The cold shoulder President Medvedev gave President-Elect Obama a few days ago seems to be warming all the time. The Washington Times reports:
Russian leaders are offering an olive branch to the incoming Obama administration in hopes that it will scrap a planned missile-defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Russian President Dimitry Medvedev told French journalists that he had spoken by phone with President-elect Barack Obama and that they hoped to meet as soon as possible.
"I hope ... we'll be able to find a way out of these [difficult] situations, which we haven't been able to do with our current colleagues," Mr. Medvedev said in the interview, which was broadcast Thursday.
Please visit the extended post to read the entire article.
Continue reading "More Developments on Obama-Russia Relations" »
Medvedev's statement regarding the deployment of Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Region in response to the US intention to station Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic was hardly among the Kremlin's most fortunate moves. Considering that Obama himself was not a great supporter of that project--with its dubious technological efficiency and exorbitant cost--it would probably have been more expedient to let the new US president freeze or even bury this idea of the Bush Administration.
The timing for making such a statement, with Obama only just emerging victorious from a grueling race, also was rather less than perfect. After Obama's election was secured, a phone call to congratulate the new White House resident and wish him success in his difficult mission might have been more fitting. Memorably, Putin's phone call to Bush on 11 September 2001 was instrumental in establishing a personal friendship between the two presidents that exerted some restraint on the zeal of the Cold War Warriors.
Continue reading "Obama Takes the First Step Toward Russia " »
Image by: Expert.ru
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Russian stocks on average are trading at slightly more than four times earnings on the MICEX and RTS stock exchanges. This level is down from thirteen times earnings at the market's peak. Overall, compared to fellow BRIC economies, Russia's stock market is down 72 percent off its 2007 peak, compared to 59 percent for Brazil, and 62 percent for India and China, according to statistics compiled by The Asia Times.
Lower commodities prices and the global credit crisis are hitting the Russian economy hard in the last half of 2008. However, unlike in 1998, when Russia's banking system and the savings of middle class Russians were wiped out, Russia has a huge stockpile of hard currency reserves to leverage as collateral in maintaining financial stability. The ruble has lost ground versus the dollar since hitting its peak in the early summer of 2008. However, the ruble has not collapsed into hyperinflation, as it did 10 years ago, and the Russian government is allowing it to depreciate against other world currencies. There are some signs that Russia can ride out the crisis -- if Western credit markets remain open to lending to Russian firms, and the West remains attractive to Russian and other sovereign wealth fund investments.
Click on the extended post to read more.
Continue reading "Russia and Ukraine:
Facing Up to the Global Credit Crisis" »
Russia Blog Editors extend their warmest wishes to our Veterans. Thank you for defending our countries and freedoms and making this world a safer place!
Shirtless Putin and Obama (Compilation by Publius Pundit)
Reality is catching up fast for the Russian Federation, which begun to slowly orient its expectations towards Barack Obama's win about two weeks prior to November 4. As the Russian government and its policy analysts expected, Obama's nascent presidency will have mixed results for US-Russia relations, though cautious optimism is starting to take hold. One issue that is already grabbing headlines in Russia is the American attitude towards anti-missile shield in Europe.
As reported by the Daily Vzglyad, Obama reiterated his commitment to the Patriot missile batteries in Poland, signed earlier in August by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The paper commented on Western Europe's desire for a "new beginning in relations between Russia and the US," but remained convinced that President-elect's desire not to deviate form the previous administration's plans signaled that major changes in US-Russia relations are not expected to take place anytime soon.
Continue reading "Russians Cautious on Obama;
No Major Changes Expected" »
The opposition in Georgia finally found its voice, thanks to the international investigations into Saakashvili's policies and attention from the Western media (Photo by Spiegel)
What really happened to provoke the recent crisis in the Caucusus--a crisis that gravely set back Western relations with Russia--is bound to get more scholarly scrutiny with the passage of time. This latest report, in any event, is not going to help the Georgian picture.
Regardless, isn't it amazing how things have changed since August? The price of oil collapsed, and with it the urgency over pipeline routes and prices in Central Europe. Because of the financial panic, Russia's sense of invulnerability has been set back. Public perceptions of the Kremlin leadership may be deteriorating along with the market--though Russia is not yet in a recession like America is experiencing. And the U.S. has a new president-elect. President Medvedev's challenge to that new president-elect has not gone down as well in Russia as might have been expected. In short, hardly anyone is really thinking about Georgia now. What a shift!
International Herald Tribune reports:
Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression. Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia's inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.
Visit the extended post to read the IHT article.
Continue reading "Georgia's Account of War with Russia Questioned " »
The Akula class submarine has been marketed by Russia to India's Navy
The Russian Navy has witnessed three high profile fatal accidents at sea in the last ten years: the 2000 sinking of the Kursk in the Barents Sea; the 2003 sinking of a retiring sub that went down with 11 sailors on board; and now another mishap on board an attack submarine in the Pacific Fleet this weekend, which suffocated 20 Russian sailors and left 21 others hospitalized.
The incident happened Saturday as the Nerpa, a (NATO designated) Akula II class nuclear-powered attack submarine, was undergoing its first major sea trials after leaving its base near the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok. A freon fire control system unexpectedly activated, suffocating crew members who were caught in the affected compartments. Apparently the crew members did not have access to or were not trained to use their emergency respirator devices to breathe.
Construction on the Akula boat reportedly began in 1991 and funds only became available to complete the submarine in the last few years. Russia's Navy remains a shadow of its Soviet predecessor, with poor crewmember pay and thin to non-existent budgets for training in the past fifteen years taking their toll on a service that the Putin/Medvedev Administration seeks to reconstitute. In October 2008 President Medvedev proposed that Russia build new aircraft carrier battle groups, complete with aircraft, support ships and submarines. But this vision seems to be little more than a fantasy, in light of the global economic crisis and falling oil export revenues undercutting the Russian federal budget.
Click on the extended post to read an excerpt from the Associated Press story about this tragedy.
Continue reading "Russian Sub Accident Kills 20, Injures 21" »
The Dimitrov Dairy Farm in Russia
...And now for some good news amidst the general economic malaise gripping Russia and the Western economies. After years of dependency on imports and neglect following the collapse of the Soviet collective farming system, Russia is making great strides in agriculture.
Although it may have been forgotten, prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine were the breadbaskets of Europe. With sufficient credit for farmers and other policies encouraging investment in the regions, the Russians may very well join the U.S., Australia and South America as breadbaskets for a hungry planet.
According to a post by the strategist and author Thomas P.M. Barnett on his blog:
One sector looking up long term for Russia is ag. Lots of arable land not being used, and Russia is already a big global source (one of four) for net grain exports. Plus, yields in Russia stand about 30% of that in the advanced West--hence the investment payoff opportunity...
The UN says Russia has 480,000 square miles of arable land. That's twice the size of France and 8% of the world total...
Amazingly enough, with all that potential, Russian ag land costs about 10% of that in France and 20% of that in Brazil.
Read an excerpt from the original BusinessWeek article in the extended post.
Continue reading "BusinessWeek:
Agribusiness Expanding in Russia" »
Photo by Reuters
VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia - RIA Novosti reports that as many as 11 people were killed and 43 were injured on Thursday in an explosion at a bus stop in the center of the capital of Russia's North Caucasus republic of North Ossetia. The chief doctor at the hospital treating the wounded said most of the casualties were students aged 17 or 18.
Police reports put the death toll at 11, while the republic's Health Ministry said 10 people died. A police source said the blast was probably caused by an explosive device set off outside a public minibus as passengers got off. The North Ossetian president's press service said a suicide bomber could have detonated the device, which was equivalent to 300-500 grams (0.7-1.1 lbs) of TNT and stuffed with shrapnel to increase the killing power.
Continue reading "Southern Caucuses - Russia's Middle East
Terrorist Attack Kills 11, Injures Dozens" »
Dmitry Medvedev delivering the speech (Photo by AP)
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's President, yesterday addressed Russia's Federal Assembly on issues of national security, domestic problems and the global financial crisis. The speech was delivered shortly after it became clear that Barack Obama had been elected as the next President of the United States of America. Surveys showed that Russians favored Obama's candidacy over Senator McCain's, hoping, many said, for a friendlier and more cooperative relationship between the two countries.
Sad to report, Medvedev's words did not live up to these expectations. Either the speech was already prepared and the Russian president did not want to deviate from it, or Medvedev sincerely wished to start the new relationship with his future American counterpart by throwing down a challenge and continuing the old rhetoric. So, instead of extending congratulations to the American President-elect, Medvedev used his address to assure America that if it does not back away from its plan for a missile defense system in Russia's backyard, Russia will put short-range missiles and a radio-jamming installation in Kaliningrad. Western news agencies called Medvedev's statement a "first test" for Obama's presidency.
Continue reading "Medvedev Wants "Fresh Start" in U.S.-Russia Relations, But Doesn't Start Fresh Himself" »
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) travelled to Florida last week to campaign for the national Democratic ticket led by Senator Barack Obama. Nadler gave a speech urging an audience of mostly Jewish retirees at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida to support Obama's bid for the American presidency. Nadler did not expect his off-the-cuff statements about Obama's controversial former pastor from Chicago (the Rev. Jeremiah Wright) and the Russia-Georgia conflict to end up on YouTube. However, Pamela Geller, a pro-McCain conservative blogger who publishes a blog called Atlas Shrugs, recorded Nadler's candid response to skeptical questions from his audience.
Today Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren and the Associated Press picked up the story of the controversy over Nadler's remarks. Given that today is election day in America, Nadler's comment that Obama "didn't have the political courage" to leave his controversial former church in Chicago received far more attention in the media than his comments related to Russia.
Continue reading "Congressman Jerrold Nadler:
"Let Russia Invade Georgia"" »
John McCain and Barack Obama
Today is election day in the United States of America. Most public opinion polls are showing either a statistical dead heat or predicting that Democrat Senator Barack Obama will narrowly defeat Republican Senator John McCain in the race for the White House. National public opinion surveys also suggest that Democrats will enlarge their majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, four years ago, many exit polls inaccurately predicted a win for Democrat Senator John Kerry over incumbent Republican President George W. Bush. As of Tuesday afternoon, the presidential contest appears to be close, not necessarily in the popular vote count but in state by state races.
Russians and other foreigners may not be aware of how the American presidency is decided. The winner is not determined by the margin of popular votes cast for a particular candidate nationwide, but by whichever ticket gathers the most delegates from the electoral outcomes in all 50 U.S. states. This article explains where the American election is most likely to be decided.
Continue reading "U.S. Election Day 2008:
The Electoral Map and Math" »
Russian citizens and news agencies are closely watching the American elections today, and... participating in them. Virtually, of course. As of noon U.S. Eastern Standard Time, nearly 3,000 Russian "voters" had cast their votes in a Gazeta.ru-sponsored poll. Barack Obama was defeating John McCain in a landslide: 68 to 32 percent. Russian voters also learned promptly about the death of Obama's grandmother, Canadian comedians' prank on Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, former actor and current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's support for John McCain, and Obama winning the first vote recorded today in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. The Russian media overall has praised the openness of the American electoral system.