Meet the faces of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games! After an entertainment show on the major Russian TV network and the country-wide elections conducted via social networks, 8-800 phone calls, and text messages, not just one, but three finalists were chosen! Russia Blog visitors are the first English-language readers to find out who the Sochi 2014 Olympics mascots are.
Meet and congratulate: The Snow Leopard, The White Hare, and The Polar Bear!
The Snow Lepard gained 28% of the votes, The Polar Bear got 18%, and The White Rabbit - 16%. Russian Olympics committee decided to go with all three. The Skiing Dolphin almost made it into the finalists team, but fell short by a narrow margin. Maybe for the better - dolphins don't ski... See all the candidates in the extended post!
Got a Speeding Ticket in Moscow? Swipe Your Credit Card and Keep on Driving!
In six months, all Moscow traffic police will be equipped with the credit card swipe machines. Once a driver is pulled over, he will have a choice of paying the violation fee on the spot or rejecting the violation accusation and receiving the normal paperwork. The pay-on-the-spot will be available only to sober drivers and those who did not cross into a criminal behavior with their driving techniques. According to the law, if you received a traffic fine in Russia, you have 10 days to dispute it in the traffic court located in the neighborhood where you received the fine. If the judge finds you guilty - you have 10 days to pay the fine at Sberbank (Russia's largest quasi-private, semi-government bank). If you failed to pay within the 10 days, you may be disallowed to leave the country for international travel and may be jailed for up to 15 days.
Now, imagine a young Russian professional in his early 30-s, or an old professional for that matter. Regardless of age, a modern working Muscovite driving a nice car and speeding in the city of Moscow, on average, makes $10,000 a month. Wasting a day traveling to and presenting at the traffic court to discuss a $50 or a $100 ticket seems stupid; thus, the traffic police bribery, also known as Russian corruption. The new initiative is viewed positively by everyone across the board - the drivers, human rights organizations, Russia's Duma, the President's office, and others. The system should significantly simplify the compliance with the law, and eliminate most of common corruption on Moscow's roads.
Obama, What Would You Do to Osama? Time to Practice, Terrorist Gaddafi Is Here!
For the first time in decades, the world's superpowers have been handed the opportunity to defend freedom and punish a terrorist. Iraq does not count, as no one found any weapons of mass destruction out there. Afghanistan does not count either for the Russians or for Americans, as socialism did not settle in after a decade-long war, and it seems like democracy isn't taking off either. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea and others - well, it's their peoples' problems, as the leaders, in fact, are not terrorists. They have not attacked the West, they have not been caught ordering terrorist attacks against civilians, and they comply with their domestic laws and constitutions.
Libya's Muammar Gaddafi is a whole different story. Today, it became clear that in addition to being a flamboyant fashionista, "King of Kings," a dictator, and a pervert, Gaddafi is also a "certified" terrorist. Let me explain myself:
Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 that killed 270 people, the country's recently resigned justice minister said yesterday. Terrorism - checked. Even though his woman is Ukrainian nurse Galyna, all Gaddafi's bodyguards are... certified virgin females (watch the video). Pervert - checked. In 42 years of ruling a country, he failed in creating any (actually, succeeded in destroying all) governmental institutions, and without his "rule" the country belongs in chaos. Dictator - checked. Gaddafi's fashion is a separate issue altogether and is just lightly touched in this post. Fashionista - checked. He did declare himself "King of Kings" (you know, like Jesus) - hmm... checked? In addition to the list of accomplishments described above, Gaddafi ordered to bomb peaceful protesters and the country's oil fields with military aviation. Thank God, pilots knew better and disobeyed the orders.
Russia's Shamil Basaev was a terrorist. He killed hundreds of Russian civilians in terrorist attacks, and crucified and beheaded scores of Russian soldiers. He is dead now (his wife, though, is a TV host of an anti-Russian program in Georgia, compliments of U.S. tax payers - but we'll cover that one in later posts). What would Obama do if he catches Osama? Presidents Medvedev and Obama, c'mon guys - do what superpowers must do - execute the crazy terrorist!
February 23 has been traditionally known in Russia and the former Soviet Union as the "Defender of the Fatherland Day." Since a few years ago, it also became a federal day off. During the Defender of the Fatherland Day Russia officially honors those who are presently serving in the Armed Forces and those who have served in the past. During the era of the Soviet Union, it was called the Red Army Day or the Day of the Soviet Army and Navy (celebrating the day of the first mass draft of the Red Army in Petrograd and Moscow or of the first combat action against the invading German forces).
However, since decades ago, Fatherland's Defender Day has become an analogue of a Western Father's Day. In fact, the holiday is even broader than that, as all women--from kindergarten to retirement homes--congratulate men in their lives and give them gifts. Little boys in grade school usually receive cards and toys from their female classmates, and corporations give gifts and throw parties celebrating the male workforce. Many Russian's simply call the holiday the Men's Day. For those wondering about the sexist implications and equality - March 8 is the Women's Day, also a federal holiday. The United Nations declares March 8 as the International Women's Day to celebrate women and the accomplishments they have made to society. Other than in the former Soviet republics, it is not celebrated much throughout the world.
Russians love both holidays and gift each other with the generosity comparable to that of Christmas and birthdays. Happy Men's Day!
Correspondent Fred Weir's recent report ("Russian Orthodox Church calls for dress code, says miniskirts cause 'madness'," Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 2011) portrays Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, one of the Church's senior prelates, as a silly, reactionary misogynist. Fr. Vsevolod's letter responding to critics is cited as proof, but Weir's quotes from this letter are either egregiously mistranslated, or simply invented. For example, Weir says that Fr. Vsevolod calls for a national dress code that would "force women to dress modestly in public and require businesses to throw out 'indecently' clad customers." In fact, Fr. Vsevolod says nothing whatsoever about "forcing" or "requiring" anything. He appeals for a public discussion of proper public attire, for both men and women. That is all.
According to Weir: "Women, said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, can't be trusted to clothe themselves properly." Again, there is nothing in the letter to suggest this. According to Weir, Fr. Vsevolod says: "It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work." What he actually said was: "Throughout history, and among all peoples, a person's external appearance has never been an entirely private matter. How women conduct themselves in public places, at institutes, at work cannot [therefore] be an exclusively 'private matter.'"
Register Today to Participate in the World Russia Forum 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.
Participants listening to the opening speech by Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak during World Russia Forum 2009 (view 2009 WRF photo report and agenda)
The World Russia Forum's annual conference in Washington, D.C. is the premiere gathering of business leaders, government officials, public policy scholars and experts on the relationship between the United States and Russia. This year, once again, Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project is teaming with the American University in Moscow to jointly sponsor the conference. Our goal is to promote and advance a healthy and productive relationship between the U.S. and Russia. We hope you are able to join us for what promises to be an exciting and informative conference - right on Capitol Hill!
This year's World Russia Forum coincides with the 50th Anniversary of a stunning technological achievement--the successful launch of Russian Cosmonaut Colonel Yuri Gagarin into outer space. Today, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev recognize that innovation and technology--like those that grew out of the 'Space Race'--will be key drivers of economic growth in both countries. President Abraham Lincoln shared a similar view--refusing to believe that America's sole purpose was merely to exist, but rather to add "the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery... of new and useful things." Russians believed the same, launching Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin into space. The Space Race helped both countries lead the world in innovation and technology.
Going forward, Washington and Moscow will need all the help they can get, not only from government officials, but from the expert community, business leaders, and the public. You can help. And you can be involved. Please join us March 29-30, 2011, in Washington, D.C., to discuss the critical relationship between these two important nations. For two days, you'll have the chance to interact with experts, and to hear and discuss specific proposals from leading American and Russian political leaders, businessmen, experts, and scholars on how to develop the course of strategic partnership and alliance.
We hope you'll join us for the 30th annual World Russia Forum--the premier conference of its kind. We look forward to welcoming you and your colleagues to Washington!
Remember Moscow's summer heat? Well, it's time to forget the heat. This weekend's weather hit -30C (-25F). While the temperatures are below normal, the city deals with the anomaly without interruptions in heating. Moscow spends an average of $2.5 million a day on snow cleaning during the winter season, that lasts from November until March. The good news - when temperatures are that low, no snow is falling, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and the air is dry. If you've never visited Russian in February - bring wool sweaters, a down jacket, buy a fur hat upon your arrival from a street vendor near the Red Square, and enjoy Pushkin'sWinter Morning: "Frost and sun - what a glorious day!..." (read the rest of the poem in the extended post).
Gorbachev Wrongly Warns of Egypt-Style Uprising in Russia, Rightly Hopes for Another Pizza Hut Gig
Gorbachev, highly despised in Russia, gained only half of one percent in 1996 presidential elections. Advertisement campaigns became his main source of income.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said he is "ashamed" with the way Russia is run today and warned the Kremlin could face an Egypt-style uprising, reportsThe Wall Street Journal. The report sounds sensationalistic and plausible, if all you read about Russia are Washington Post and WSJ. However, the reality is quite different. According to the recent poll conducted by the independent and highly-respected Levada-Center, 69% of Russians approve Medvedev's work and 73% approve Putin's work; 72% of the nation "trust" the Russian government; 49% of the Russians approve the work of the government as a whole, and--equally--49% disapprove the government's activity. As you can tell, stats are much better than in Egypt or in the U.S., for that matter.
While Gorbachev is romanticized in the West and is credited with bringing the reign of the "Evil Empire" to an end, he remains one of the most hated figures in his home country, Russia. In 1996, only four years after he dissolved the Soviet Union, Gorbachev ran in Russia's presidential elections. He gained 0.51% (half of one percent) of the country's vote. Many Russians still blame Gorbachev for losing the control over the transition (that never happened), and leaving the country up for grabs by corrupt apparatchiks and oligarchs. Russians' quality of life and savings collapsed and disappeared after Gorbachev dismantled the Soviet Union. The Caucuses (Georgia and Chechnya specifically) went up in flames of violence and terrorism unknown in the Soviet Union or other "transitioning nations" like China, and the entire country found itself robbed of its resources and pride. One of my Moscow friends calls Gorbachev names and says "He [Gorbachev] will die without ever realizing what he's done and the tragedy he's inflicted upon the Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Chechen, and other peoples of the Soviet Union."
Medvedev Meets with Pope Benedict XVI and Silvio Berlusconi, Opens the Year of Russia in Italy and Year of Italy in Russia
Russia's Dmitry Medvedev and Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican
Last year was the year of Russian Culture and Language in France and Year of French Culture and Language in Russia. While such country-wide exchanges may seem cheesy on the other side of the Atlantic, the years of culture--in fact--offer great educational, cultural, and promotional vehicles for the countries involved. Aside from many artistic, musical, cinematographic, and theatrical events (some of which I was able to catch while in Moscow in 2010), greater endeavors take place. For example, for the first time since 1914, a Russian-operated train made its trip from downtown Moscow to the coast of France on September 23, 2010. Now this is a regular route, just like in the tsars' times.
Russians actively travel to Italy. In 2009, when walking the streets of Rome, I stumbled upon a Russian Embassy to Vatican, which is an entirely separate entity from the Russian Embassy to Italy. During his conversation with the Russian President, Pope Benedict XVI said he had wished he spoke Russian. When Medvedev gave the Pope an artistic enamel with the paintings of Kremlin as a gift and told the Pope about all the Orthodox cathedrals in the Kremlin proper, Pope Bededict XVI asked the Russian president "do you live there?" Medvedev responded, "no, just work." This is a good start for the cultural exchange: Russians can learn that they are represented in the Vatican, and Italians can learn that the Russian president lives in a private house and only travels to the Kremlin for work.
Does Fulbright Scholarship Miss the Boat? Did U.S. Immigration Fall Behind Today's Global Economy?
Pepperdine University's Fulbright scholars
As recently as two years ago my close friend got a Fulbright scholarship. This was the first time I became personally exposed to the program founded in 1946 by United States Senator J. William Fulbright: free travel and education in a foreign land, new network of friends and alums, and a high-end line on your resume. The perfect recipe for great opportunities. Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. The recipe may be still intact for American citizens going abroad, but it has certainly soured for hundreds of international students who conquered the Fulbright application process. "I am so happy I declined the Fulbright scholarship with its all-paid tuition," says Natasha (name was changed), a Vanderbilt University's graduate student from Moscow, Russia. "Now, even though I'm paying the tuition and expenses, I can seek employment in the States and in Moscow, and can visit my new American friends once I move back to Russia." Those who accepted the honorable scholarship cannot follow Natasha's footsteps.
In the last two days, at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, I met three graduate students from Eastern Europe and Latin America. Two of them were Fulbright scholars who accepted the scholarship and one of them was Natasha who declined it. The Fulbright-sponsored graduate students came to the immigration-attorney session hosted by the university for international students. That's where they learned that, in brief, their scholarship makes them virtually unemployable in America and very undesirable in their home countries. Natasha--who bother to look up the immigration implications of accepting the scholarship and declined it--left the session in good spirit. What's the catch?
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No Russian Journalists Killed in 2010. For the First Time in Years!
One of Russia's leading journalists, Oleg Kashin of Kommersant was beaten violently on November 6, 2010 near his home in Moscow. After spending months in a hospital in induced coma and recovering in Israel's medical centers, he returned back home and back to work a week ago, on February 6, 2011. Russian president and chief prosecutor personally supervised the investigation, and found... kind of nothing. Regardless of their findings, our sympathies (for the beating) and congratulations (for the successful recovery) go to Oleg, who became the only real journalistic victim of year 2010 in Russia. Usually, Russian nationalists, government officials, Chechen terrorists, and even President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin are blamed for beating, murdering, and threatening journalists. While the murders and beatings inflicted by Putin remain urban legends, the real accomplishment to celebrate is the fact that--for the first time in years--no journalists were killed in Russia!
The year was less "successful" for a large list of other countries where 79 journalists were killed, 70 of them while on duty. The countries are: Thailand, Somali, Nigeria, Angola, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Phillipines, Belarus, India, Yemen, Uganda, Greece, Brasil, Lebanon, and Rwanda. The Committee to Protect Journalists has the report. YouTube has Oleg's beating (captured on security cameras):
Russians Land on Mars, Walk on the Red Planet... in a Simulation
The Moscow Institute of Medical and Biological Problems launched the 520-day experiment on June 3, 2010. The Mars-500 project simulates almost all aspects of a journey to the Red Planet, with a 250-day outward trip, a 30-day "stay" on its surface, and a 240-day return flight, reports RIA Novosti. "Marsonauts" (word is the new Russian invention) will have limited, real-life nutrition, space confinement, and access to food, water and communication. The space suits are weight-adjusted and take into account Mars' gravity - legs are easier to move, and the oxygen tanks weigh less. The project's managers have been throwing emergency situations at the crew both during the moments of contact with the Moscow's space control center, and when Earth was "unavailable." While on Mars, the crew will endure a sand storm and a meteor shower. They will also have to look for water and collect samples.
Yesterday, Russian Alexander Smolevsky and Italian-Colombian Diego Urbina conducted the first research of Mars. Two more walks are schedule for February 18 and 22. Three team members will have to stay in the main module and won't get a chance to "walk" the Red Planet. Russian, Chinese, Italian, Colombian, and French volunteer "marsonauts" are participating in the experiment watched with excitement by the European Space Agency, Chinese, and Russian Space Agency officials in the Moscow suburbs. The simulated exploration of the Red Planet will last until February 23. Then, the "marsonauts" will have to pack up and endure the eight-months "flight" back, after which each participant will receive a gift of $100,000. Originally, more than 6,000 people from across the world applied to participate in the experiment.
Legendary MMA Fighter Fedor Emelianenko Loses to Antonio Silva
"Maybe it's time for me to leave. Maybe it's high time. Thank God for everything," said Fedor Emelianenko who is a strong Russian Orthodox Christian. "I've had a long sport life. Maybe it's God's will."
After the second consecutive defeat yesterday Saturday night in New Jersey, the legendary MMA heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko will not be able to fight for at least 90 days and is talking about the possibility of retirement. The fight with Antonio Silva was stopped by the referees because of Fedor's injuries and inability to see out of one eye. Fedor is suspended from fighting for at least 90 days awaiting the CT scan of his head. Our congratulations go to Antonio Silva for bringing down Fedor, who looked unstoppable only a year ago, in his historic fight against the undefeated-back-then Brett Rogers. Our sympathies go to Fedor and his Russian and international fans.
Gazeta.ru did an excellent job of summarizing the terrorist attacks in Russia for 2010. Even though the presented image file is in Russian, the translation is simple: red lines and numbers mean "people killed," orange - mean "injured," black - mean "attacks." Click on the image to view the full version:
"Year of Blood and Tears" Will Be Brought to Russia. "The Schedule Is Under the Discretion of Allah."
Doku Umarov, the leader of Chechen "militants" and "freedom-fighters" also known as terrorists and islamist loonies made a video statement. In his address, he said that unless Russia lets the entire Caucasus region break free, he will "act as an agent of Allah and will execute terroristic acts across Russia weekly or monthly; the schedule is under the discretion of Allah." He added that his "fighter Seyfullah" was sent into the depth of Russia.
For the purposes of historic reference: most of the Northern Caucasus were incorporated into the Russian Empire in the late 18th century (before most of American states became... you got it, the United States of America). The history books say that "the Turks and Persians invaded [Georgia] in 1785 and in 1795, completely devastating Tbilisi and massacring its inhabitants. On December 22, 1800, Tsar Paul I of Russia, at the request of the Georgian King George XII, signed the proclamation on the incorporation of Georgia within the Russian Empire." The first Russian posts were established in Chechnya in 1577, even before the majority of the population there decided to convert to Sunni Islam. To make the example even more simple - a few decades after Columbus reached America, Russians were the only civilized nation present on the territory known today as Chechnya.
Now, imagine the great state of Texas, filled with a few (just imagine) radical islamists decided to "break away" from the U.S. and promised the other 49 states terrorist attacks "under the discretion of Allah." What do you do? We hope, the Russian government will tighten up the security in all public places, and common citizens will follow the NY motto "see something, say something." We also hope that all crazy and violent islamists be captured and either killed, imprisoned, or sent to mental institutions where they can learn about and accept a real religion of their choice, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or any other.
In court papers filed Wednesday, his lawyers said the U.S. Attorney General determined that Mr. Muse should be held under so-called "special administrative measures" in January 2010 after a probe into whether he had instructed pirate crew members to kill another boat captain. The government determined two phone calls by Mr. Muse while in custody corroborated the threat, his lawyers said in court papers. "The two prison calls identified by the government do not provide proof of any such threat," his lawyers said. "We believe the government has misinterpreted these calls. We do acknowledge, however, that Abduwali discussed piracy matters over the phone."
As a Russian citizen and as an American taxpayer, I have hard times understanding why I am paying for a pirate's legal defense. Usually, I have to pay for my own travel expenses to come to the States, and have to get a lawyer for speeding violations or immigration matters. Housing and food aren't free either.
Seems like Russia contributes more to the cause of freedom and world security by letting the pirates go... Then blowing up their boats from the distance. Russia was not a sea empire in earlier centuries, and only recently started dealing with pirates on a large scale. Maybe that's why Russian Navy--in absence of clear law--relies on common sense. Godspeed, sailors!
Is Freedom in Egypt Less Important Than One in Belarus? President Obama, Are You a Hypocrite?
While Belarus' freely-elected Lukashenko is one of America's enemies, Mubarak (in the picture with President Bush) has been America's "friend" and "ally"
These are not rhetorical questions. Obama and Clinton were quick to endorse the change in Tunisia, and American government is always on the side of the "people" if they demand democracy. However, the value of freedom actively drops when the position of an American-friendly tyrant is in question. Had Lukashenko ruled Belarus for 30 years straight with an iron fist and millions of Belarusians demanded his resignation for a week - Obama and Clinton surely would have issued a statement demanding his soonest departure on the first day of the protests.
However, when the time came to establish a truly free nation in Egypt, the White House was slow to respond. Clinton made contradicting statements, State Department and the White House sent mixed signals, and--a week later--Obama vaguely said "status quo is not sustainable and a change must take place." Whatever that means, that's not what Egyptian people want (or even understand; Mr. Obama, you're talking to Egyptian people, not Washingtonian think-tank scholars). "Whoever gave him that advice gave him absolutely the wrong advice," commented opposition leader ElBaradei on Obama's remarks. Wow! Mister President, your advisors miscalculated. While this one isn't as funny as your gift of the DVD set with American "regional settings" to the British Queen, the results are all the same: the Queen cannot watch the movies in London, and Egyptians cannot use your advice in Cairo.
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.