Online poster reads: "Gundyayev allows", referring to Russian Orthodox Church patriarch Kirill Gundyayev. The picture shows an Orthodox priest photoshopped next to his car and the accident he caused. Activist's website calls for people to print it out and post in public places
My most recent visit to Russia was overwhelmed by one particular notion - the country has become so materialistic that even Ayn Rand and Daniel Plainview (main character from There Will Be Blood) would've found the obsession with money to be too much. In other words, the core of the Russian society, the so-called ruling elite and middle class, has become spiritless and valueless to the point of increasing physical deaths and criminal activities. The only part of the society that still genuinely puts family values and honesty first is Russia's fast-growing Muslim population. In other words, imagine a version of The Walking Dead where "zombies" literally don't sleep, don't eat, don't drink, don't have compassion, and walk and work with only one goal - to make more money (rather than eat people). That picture describes today's Moscow (complete with FM-radio soundtrack broadcasting the lyrics that "any b..ch is just a matter of price...").
Some libertarians may argue that greed is good. However, while the libertarian "religion" is heavily advocated by Atlas, Reason, CATO, and other U.S.-based foundations, American libertarianism is from a country where people don't hide behind six-foot fences, don't drive 200 miles an hour killing school kids at a bus stop, don't display their wealth by spending 98% of their monthly income on clothes and cars they can't afford, and regularly go to church. The sheer fact that libertarian non-profits exist proves that someone in America spends money on donations and charitable giving. And even that in itself is drastically different from today's Russia, where people would easily spend $15 on a cup of tea and $20 on a tasteless desert on the go, but wouldn't give a dime to a charity that feeds orphans. In fact, Russia today has more orphans than it did during World War II, and people with the means to take the children in prefer to buy expensive dogs and provide them with fancy dog snacks and toys. Two days before I left Moscow, a drunk driver, travelling 130 miles an hour, lost control of his car and wiped out a bus stop with 14 children, killing seven on the spot. Under Russian laws his maximum sentence can be nine years in prison.
How did it happen and who is to blame? the Russian Orthodox Church and its corrupt ex-KGB, tobacco-billionaire leader are the ones to share the responsibility.
Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich (arguing in London about stolen Russians' money)
MOSCOW -- The famous legal battle that just took place in London between the two most famous Russian oligarchs attracted a lot of well-deserved attention. Reading The Economist readers' comments and listening to people in the streets of Moscow, one thing became apparent: both Berezovsky and Abramovich should have gone to prison. Instead, they're paying million-dollar bills to their attorneys, investing into the British court system, and making fools of other two players in the now-told fable of crime and corruption: Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin.
Berezovsky was Yeltsin's darling (or vice-versa, depending on a year). Today, rightfully, Berezovsky is wanted in Russia on charges of multiple murders, bribery, extortion, tax evasion, and other things common to several Russian businesses of the Nineties. However, the only reason Abramovich isn't just as wanted is the fact that he is (or at least was) the darling of Tsar Vladimir. The point is - the wealth discussed in British court was amassed through the theft of then-Soviet public properties from the Russian nation. Through various kickbacks, one thief was more successful than the other in "keeping it real" a.k.a "legal" (why not employ the language appropriate to the situation...).
Russian legal and political systems are no enigma to anyone, especially since the most recent elections. However, the question of morality falls on the Brits: Is investment into a formerly broke soccer club and British banking accounts worth the downsides of letting two foreign criminals make mockeries of business ethics, international laws, and human morality? When I was in London two years ago, I noticed hundreds of not-so-sophisticated (yet loaded) Arabs and Russians, behaving, disrespectfully, as if they own the place and spraying thousands of pounds. Can anyone buy anything with money in perfidious Albion? Seems the answer is "yes." There will be trade-offs, and the Brits better beware of the realities which Russian blood money brings along with the wealth.
"We are investigating the theory that it was industrial sabotage," a GRU military intelligence source said about potential American intelligence operation to bring down the Russian plane.
The recent news of the Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 going down in Indonesia and killing 45 has made it big around the globe. Experts and news agencies sighted bad visibility, unknown terrain, and questionable permissions from the flight tower as the reasons for the tragedy during the jet's inaugural international trade show. The St. Petersburg Times reports that "Russian intelligence agencies are investigating the possibility that the U.S. military may have brought down the Sukhoi Superjet." The guesses are plenty--some laughable, some believable--however, the true reason is one: system failure. And I'm not talking about the aircraft's on-board systems or even the processes at the Sukhoi design and construction facilities (which are plenty and where a brand-new engineer is offered a whooping salary of $500 a month). I'm talking about the Russian government's reliance on the so-called "vertical of power" and sheer luck instead of an organized legal system and business process. The plane's crash may be a foreshadowing of events that are about to follow, pending increase in the volatility of oil prices and Greece's financial collapse, as Russia's "system" simply does not work.
What would an American (or a British or a French) pilot do during the demonstration of a new plane to potential buyers or journalists? Would he allow other people into his cabin? Would he deviate from all protocols to take a closer look at the picturesque 7,200-feet-tall mountains by lowering his aircraft to 6,000 feet in rain and fog? Most likely, no. That is common sense, that is following protocol. And this is not just in aviation. If one tries to act by the book of law in Russia, he would wonder why most of the members of parliament officially live below the poverty line, yet drive Porches and Bentleys. Why it is that knowing someone's uncle in a city's fire department might prove useful in running a street-side café. Or why planes that are solidly built fly straight into the mountains at full speed.
The Russian Orthodox Church's standoff with punk-rock musicians from the Pussy Riot band continues, and becomes more inflammatory by the day, thanks to the Kremlin. In Russia's month-long news vacuum, attention is paid to anything to do with corrupt church leader Father Kirill, fresh Putin's moves, and the political opposition's movements. Today, a private Russian citizen, Andrey Borodin, 36, became an unlikely folk hero by sneaking an axe through the Moscow's court security. The ostensible charge was that he was attempting to murder federal judge Elena Ivanova. On April 29 the judge had extended the jail holding time for Pussy Riot band members who earlier stripped naked at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in protest to Russian Orthodox Church's over-involvement in the Russian politics. Andrey was engaged in a bit of retaliatory street theater.
Had Andrey actually planned to kill the judge he would have had plenty of time (and the axe) on his hands. However, he allowed a surprisingly long amount of time for the court security to rush into the judge's office and detain him. Witnesses described him as "looking happy and accomplished" during the detention. The story itself seems merely "amusing," but the internet comments on the Russian websites are truly prolific. Having browsed through hundreds of comments and talked to a few Russians, I haven't found a single one condemning Andrey's actions. Quite the opposite; the Russian Internet made Andrey an overnight hero and led to fulsome calls for Russians to rise up and "kill them all with axes, forks, and chains" like in the good old times. One commenter says that "Andrey will get 10 years [in prison], had he axed her - he would've gotten 15 - extra five to finish off the corrupt judge who listens to Papa Vladimir would've been a good investment!" A few commenters think that the attack was a United Russia-administered conspiracy to show how violent the opposition can be. Whatever the truth is, the insinuation is obvious - progressive, Internet-using Russians endorse a violent solution to Russia's political stagnation. Those who've read Russian history books know that paranoia from any side is not a good social tendency for the Motherland.
Russian Orthodox Church Abuses Its Power, Engages in Politics, Divides Russians
The elections in Russia are over, but the post-elections tensions are still high (if not higher) than during the February and March demonstrations. Now that Putin is officially the new president, society has clashed over the statements and direction of the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian society has actively split into haves and have-nots, liberals (anything but Putin) and conservatives (better Putin than unknown), and internationalists and nationalists. How did it happen?
Two events have emerged into the spotlight simultaneously. The Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch Kirill have been actively supportive of Putin and made statements during and after the elections that have reached far beyond church's business. As a response, on March 3rd, members of a controversial band, "Pussy Riot," stripped naked in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, making a statement that their behavior was equally inappropriate inside the church as is the church's behavior in public. They were arrested and are still being held in jail awaiting a closed trial. In another situation, there was no jail time for a much more serious offense. A United Russia member of parliament Alexey Zheludkov, while driving drunk in Saratov Oblast last week, hit and killed a 13-year-old boy on a bicycle. The MP is back home, stripped of his rights to international travel, and faces five years in prison as the highest measure of punishment. In addition to the aforementioned controversy and injustice, the public also had a chance to recall that Patriarch Kirill (legal name Vladimir Gundyaev, former KGB code name "Mikhailov") in fact is a billionaire who made his fortune in alcohol and tobacco imports in the Nineties using Orthodox Church's non-profit tax-exemptions status.
All of the above was placed into the internet and media "blender" and created the unforeseen headache recipe for the church and for the ruling party.
20,000 Moscow MMA fans are whistling and booing Putin, yelling "shame!" and "get out!" - the video has gotten 502,000 views in just a few hours
A mixed martial arts fight between a long-time Russian champion Fedor Emelianenko and an American fighter Jeff Monson resulted in the Russian's victory, and became the surreal stage for the unthinkable: 20,000 Moscow fans booed and whistled Putin off the stage. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin got up on the stage to personally congratulate Fedor with the victory. However, most of his speech couldn't be heard. People in the bleachers started whistling, booing and screaming "shame!" and "get out!" Prime minister's voice trembled for a split second, but he continued with his speech, speaking louder. Main government TV channel Rossiya was airing the show live, and was unable to edit the booing out. The other government channels edited the booing and whistles out, however, Russian free media exists, and Internet is unrestricted, thus we get the news.
This small event at an MMA fight may mean a big thing for a whole era. In Russia, Internet is free, so is the media, and so are the Russians. And even though Putin will still win the elections (due to the total lack of a viable competing leader) things have changed forever in Russia, on November 20, 2011.
170,000 Celebrate Muslim Holiday Kurban Bayram in Moscow Streets
Today, more than 170,000 Muslims celebrated the important Muslim holiday Kurban Bayram. Russian nationalists were predicting an ethnic mayhem, terrorist explosions, and racial clashes. However, the celebrations were peaceful and joyful. In one of the Moscow's mosques along the festivities were attended by 80,000 people! Even though the Moscow police was prepared for extraordinary situations, the officers were impressed with the smooth flow of events. The successful and peaceful celebration, amid troubling nationalistic tensions in the Russian society, is an important statement that Russia's peaceful Muslims and Christian can coexist, just like they have for the past 500 years.
Russia "Reset" Should not Be a Political Football in U.S. 2012 Election
We the undersigned--Reagan Republicans, all--think President Obama deserves credit for the broad direction of his "reset" with Russia. Although not without faults in the implementation, we welcome the President's effort to move American policy away from the sterile and gratuitous hostility toward post-communist Russia and its legitimate national interests that characterized the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
Between December 2011 and November 2012, the United States and Russia will be holding legislative and presidential elections. In Russia, it is widely assumed that Vladimir Putin will return to the presidency, a position from which he voluntarily stepped down in 2008. Despite criticism directed against him both at home and abroad, it is indisputable that tens of millions of Russian citizens from all walks of life esteem him as a strong leader who has restored their country to international respect and domestic stability.
Russian People Try to Take Prosecution into Their Hands in the Absence of Law (and God)
Caution: graphic video, a YouTube sign-in is required
While Vladimir Putin in stylish ties talks about liberalization and the need of another 12 years to fix things in Russia (after a 13 year trial?), Russians stopped believing in the rule of law, and the Russian countryside is building up its emotions for another revolution. In the Russian city of Bryansk, Irina Dobrzhanskaya (a 20-year-old inexperienced driver) was speeding about 10 miles above the speed limit on a major street/highway. (Usually, Russians double the allowed speed limit). A mother with a 3-year-old daughter was crossing the road on a crosswalk. Now, a few facts are important for a proper interpretation of the story before the punch line: the city officials didn't bother to put white crosswalk paint on the pavement (either the paint was stolen or the painters were drunk when the job was due); a police unit was present on the scene, but was occupied with collecting cash bribes about 30 yards away from the crosswalk; Irina was driving in the left lane, did not see the mother and the child, did not get the queue from a stopped bus (that blocked the view) that there may be a reason for why it had stopped...
Irina hit the mother and the child. The 3-year-old girl died. The bus drove away. Bystanders did not come to help. Police did not immediately leave its vehicle. Only one person walked slowly to the scene. Three-year-old Sonya was the eighth deadly victim of the crosswalk in three years. And everything was caught on tape!
Now, OMON (special units of Russian police) are guarding Irina's house. After immediately pleading guilty and offering all her savings and more to help the girl's family, Irina has already tried to commit a suicide and is now residing in a mental institution. Then, why does police guard her condo, located in an old five-story Soviet building? Because the town people promise to burn Irina's mother alive and kill Irina once she is out of the hospital.
Town people are remembering the 3-year-old Sonya with tears and pointing at the driver and the Kremlin with fists.
Microsoft Earns Over $1 Billion in Russia in One Year
Microsoft's Moscow office
Do you remember the days when all software in Russia was bootleg and it wasn't worth an effort to try to sell the legal copies? Well, those days are gone. Russian families and businesses finally make enough money to forgo the challenges of viruses and cracking headaches of illegal software, and just pay hard dollars to good old Redmond, WA -based Microsoft.
The piracy is still rampant throughout Russia; but so it is in America, where music artists must hit the road to make income even after their songs reach Top-40 chart positions. Not to compare apples to oranges, but as far as business is concerned, it's all copyright law, respect for the law, and its enforcement. Lady Gaga lost several million dollars on her album release -- mostly due to teenage piracy and lacking sales; 99 cents an album creates a financial loss even on transaction, not counting the fixed costs of production and label's overhead. However, she is the hottest selling show in the world, and that's where the real money is. Even in the Western world where internet is fast and respect for copyrights is low, the money is in "bread and circuses" and not in legal digital downloads.
Given the financial crisis in America and relative financial prosperity in Russia and Brazil, Microsoft is seriously concentrating its efforts on those "developing" markets. Russian market yielded over $1 billion in revenues for Microsoft in just one year, and continues to significantly grow. Microsoft has offices in 70 Russian cities, and its best-selling products in Russia are Microsoft Sharepoint Server and Microsoft Project. Once again, private business proves to be more capable of reset and healthy international relations than our respective governments...
A census worker surveys Medvedevs at the presidential residence. Not every Russian was surveyed like President Dmitry Medvedev...
Businesses need sound demographic data on which to base investment and marketing decisions, especially in foreign countries. Russia, despite its oil wealth, is a country that would like to attract more foreign investors. But the latest Census there is probably unreliable. At the very base of collection it was substantially invented.
The 2010 Russia Census was unfunded until late in the process. The operation was about to be postponed when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intervened and found 10.5 billion rubles to pay for it. Now, as official results trickle out a year later, one would think that a big success was achieved. The national newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports: "Russia's population has declined by 1.6 percent since 2002 - from 145.2 million to 142.9 million people. There are only two regions where the population increased. In the Perm region the population grew by 11,800 people, and in Usolksky - by 800."
Such precision in Usolksky or anywhere in Russia is suspect, however. The U.S. Census Bureau's Center for International Research believes that specific official Russian numbers may be off by as much as 87 percent from site to site. Anecdotally, I've had the chance to witness a census count in both the U.S. and Russia. The two counts couldn't be much different.
President Obama Can and Should Lift the Jackson-Vanik Amendment Against Russia
On April 18, 2011 my partner, a former Reagan administration official Anthony Salvia, and I filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demanding that U.S. president annuls the Jackson-Vanik amendment in relation to Russia. We argue that since Russia is now a free market economy and has no emigration restrictions at all, it automatically has to be excluded from JVA and that its continued application to Russia is illegal. It is our belief that U.S. president has the constitutional authority to state that and declare the JVA null and void with respect to Russia without congressional resolution as previously stated by Clinton, Bush and Obama. Therefore, the main goal of our lawsuit is to help Barack Obama to close this Cold War chapter once and for all and concentrate instead on positive and mutually beneficial cooperation between the United States and Russia.
The historic nature of this case, even at this point is clear. For almost two decades, three successive US administrations (Clinton, Bush, Obama) have said, in effect, "Gee, we'd love to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik but we can't do it without getting legislation through Congress." That excuse ¬ and that's all it is ¬ now has been shown conclusively to be false. The President can permanently lift Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions on Russia any time he wants, without any action by Congress. In fact, the way the law is written, since the finding already was made years ago that Russia permits free emigration, the only finding needed to trigger Russia's permanent removal from J-V trade restrictions has been made ¬ but the White House still refuses. Also, as Richard Perle has indicated, Russia is not a "nonmarket economy country," certainly was not in 1974 (when the Russian Federation was not even an independent state), and J-V does not properly apply to it. In fact, as we argued to the Court, Russia is only on the J-V list because in 1993 Clinton unilaterally (without Congress) deleted the name of the USSR and put on Russia. Obama can take it off just as easily.
Corruption in Russia: the Question Is Not whether it Exists, but How Much and How Often...
An average bribe in Russia today, according to the law enforcement agencies, is $10,000. It grew 500% since a year ago. However, the investigators say that it's not the bribe that grew, but the efficiency of their work. Over the past year, Russian police and FSB caught several multi-million-dollar bribes, and landed some of high-profile officials in jails. The statistics involve everything, from several-dollar drivers bribes to traffic police all the way to 50-60-million-ruble bribes (approx. $2 million) to high-ranking officials.
According to Ernst&Young, Russia is Europe's leader in business corruption. The average amount of a bribe has been consistently at least doubling each year since 2005. Once again, the anti-corruption officials are stressing that the doubling of the bribe's price tag is correlated with the efficiency of their work. We at Russia Blog are wondering though, why is it doubling consistently since 2005, instead of dissappearing? Curbing the corruption has been Medvedev's top priority since day one of his presidency. Instead, his employees are patting each other on the backs for just uncovering the bribes, and in no way reversing the trend. China has a corruption problem as well. The way they deal with corrupt officials is medieval, but it works: they literally shoot them. In Russia, as my friend said the other day, officials -- on par with Putin -- funnel billions to Swiss and Cyprus accounts, go under investigation, share some of the stolen money with the court, get conditional penalties, and wave goodbye before boarding jets to take off for far-away lands.
Of course, undisputed rumors of Putin's $1 billion cottage/castle don't help to set the trend or serve a good example. Russia must harshly prosecute rather than just uncover the corruption. However, the officials are not too inspired to work hard fighting the corruption, when their salaries aren't big enough to go out for 10 dinners with a family. That's where the evil circle comes around. A role-modeling from the top (Putin and Medvedev) would be a good place to start. However, for now, the two enjoy fishing, diving, and driving Mercedeses and Porsches. No wonder, every Russian kid would rather be a Putin than Steve Jobs...
Ukrainian Women Get Naked for Yulia Timoshenko's Freedom
Just recently, Russia Blog shared with you an interesting story about Ukrainian women who get naked in Kiev to protest local and global injustice (their movement is called "Femen"). The organization's last protest was against the driving ban in Saudi Arabia. Today, we bring you the news of the most recent protest where the ladies demanded that the former Ukrainian prime minister and the Orange Revolution hero Yulia Timoshenko be freed from prison.
Funny things aside, the Orange Revolution with its consequences has been a disaster. Ukraine has not modernized, corruption is at historic highs, the new president Yanukovych is a pro-Russian uneducated former-criminal-turn-Communist-party-activist-turn-Ukrainian-president disaster, and the former prime-minister -- once glorified in the West -- today is wanted in Russia and its native Ukraine for corrupt gas deals. James Brooke with the Moscow office of the Voice of America has the extended story that he reports directly from Kiev.
In the meantime, in Seattle, WA, the former Ambassador to the United Nations mission in Vienna, former Director of U.S. Census Bureau, and currently the President of Discovery Institute Bruce Chapman says "this is a show trial, and a shameful one. No officials should be removed from office, let along put on trial for decisions made within the normal practices of their offices. She made a decision about a gas deal, and it can't be a crime, unless it involves corruption. If there is corruption, as many say, then she should be tried for that, not for making an administrative decision."
What Do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck Have in Common?
Coincidentally, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored the Fanagoria archeological expedition, and my friend, just like Putin, retrieved a similar vase; it's now resting at our family's dacha (country home) in the Moscow suburbs. A photo of our vase is coming, after my family back in Russia takes it and sends it over to Seattle where I am currently.... -- YM
What do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck have in common? They are celebrities, and nothing more! Everybody knows them, but no one is too sure what exactly any of them is doing. Karl Rove's article in The Wall Street Journal "Obama's No Good, Very Bad Week" nails all the necessary points in regards to the American president. Obama talks, blames, and smiles in his white unbuttoned shirt. That, apparently, is not enough to curb the worst financial crisis in world's modern history.
Ben Affleck? He is a celebrity and a handsome man. But no one can really remember his most recent hit movie. To help out Russia Blog readers who are his fans -- the movie is called The Company Men, and features another now-irrelevant star, Kevin Costner. With a production budget of $15 million, the movie grossed only $4.9 million worldwide. An "ouch" moment for the film's investors -- a feeling similar to that which the Chinese government is experiencing in relationship to Obama's White House economic program.
However, in our weekend stardom marathon, Vladimir Putin takes first place with his new action movies of diving underwater and retrieving ancient Greek artifacts. By a pure coincidence, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored archeological expedition in Fanagoria--a Russian town that is the location of an ancient Greek city. The Russian government under back-then President Putin didn't want to do anything with the expedition, leaving the sponsorship to Russian private businessmen, some of whom fell out of Putin's favor... But that's a different story. Today, when Putin is prime minister, the government donates about 50 rubles (one dollar and eighty cents) per day to the income of each of the scientists and archeologists working on the site. That is, not much. However, uncomfortable facts and unwritten rules of ethics do not prevent the prime minister from going on a lavish vacation to the site he never supported. Meanwhile, Russia's ruble--backed by piles of gold, diamonds, gas, oil, and zero innovation--is slipping alongside the "evil" dollar (the ruble has lost 10% of its value next to the struggling dollar in the past several weeks).
Norwegian Terrorist Anders Breivik Trained in Belarus Militant Camps
While U.S. news feature information that Breivik purchased ammo from a U.S. supplier, Eastern European feeds are full of details of Breivik's multiple trips to Belarus, changes in his behavior and wealth, and the training he underwent in Belarusian militant camps. In fact, Belarus' tight government regime and active intelligence have served a great purpose this time around. Even though Breivik didn't do anything suspicious at the time, Belarusian KGB kept precise records on Breivik, who was called "Viking" in the intelligence reports.
First time, Anders Breivik visited Minsk on March 4, 2005. He flew Vienna-Minsk-Vienna roundtrip, departing from Belarus on March 11, 2005. At the border, Breivik told customs officials that he came to visit the Vikings' graves. Centuries ago, Vikings went through the region multiple times, and there are indeed multiple ancient graves visited by the Vikings' ancestors. Thus, the first visit didn't trigger any suspicion. It is still unknown whether Breivik visited the graves, but he did investigate Belarus' governance, political structure, and the results of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The tour guides, who chaperoned Breivik in 2005, remember that he was afraid of poisoning with radioactive food products - a normal, they say, tourist behavior for a Western tourist. Now, that the stuff hit the fan, Belarusian KGB looked closer into what Breivik was really doing in their country.
Russian Military Ready to Deploy New Generation Vehicles
The last delivery of conceptually new, "modern" vehicles in the Russian army took place in back-then Soviet Union in 1961!
The information about new Russian "Humvees" became available after the vehicles were shown to the government press, and bloggers hunted down some of the engineers who designed the machines. To kick things off, these are the world's first ground vehicles that can move at 60 miles an hour on cross-country terrain while loaded with people, survive 16 pounds of explosives blowing up directly underneath the carriage, withstand armor-piercing shells and bullets fired from a close-up range, bust through thick walls, and fire ground-air missiles--all at the same time!
The vehicles are protected with ceramic shells and equipped with sophisticated computers and touch-screen monitors that simultaneously control the independent hydro-suspensions, clearance, speed, and weapons. Troops should be able to survive nearly any possible attack on the vehicle.
Just today, Patrick McDonald, First Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves, showed me around the Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, WA. While showing off the American striker vehicles and humvees, he mentioned the fact that American weapons and vehicles have significantly evolved since the beginning of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, "soldiers' feedback and officers' observations were taken into account to improve the safety and the attack capabilities of the equipment. In contrast, when Soviets were in Afghanistan, they failed to learn from the lessons and upgrade their equipment at all." According to First Sergeant McDonald, the Russians may have hurried up with the new weapons after the 2008 Georgia war, that allowed them to capture several American-made Humvees and realize that today's warfare can barely rely on outdated Soviet tanks.
Excerpts from the July 15, 2011 Moscow Times article by by Andrew Squire "Hot Dogs, Baseball Meet Borscht, Hockey." (Read the full article here).
On the first day of his American history class at the Russian State University for the Humanities, Ivan Ivanov and his classmates had a pop quiz: What comes to mind when you think of America? For Ivanov, a 19-year-old Kazan native with an American stepfather, it was Elvis, Washington, democracy. For his friend, it was baseball and hot dogs.
[Yevgeny Savostyanov, senior vice president of Sistema Mass-Media and deputy chairman of the Society for Russian-American Rapprochement], pointed to history and culture to explain the sustained animosity between the United States and Russia. "There is a profound difference in the histories, cultures and mentalities of our two peoples. At the heart of the American tradition are individualism, initiative and personal responsibility. The basis of ours is paternalism and conformity. This is the reason for the irregular and sometimes aggressive treatment of internal events, when you look at them from the other side," he said.
Troy McGrath, director of the Russian-American Center for American Studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities, or RSUH, characterized Russians' feelings as aspiring to "rivalry" rather than expressing animosity, and chalked it up to a relic of the Cold War. "Russians are still adjusting" to a different world order, he said. Most of the truly anti-American sentiment is generated by the Russian media, McGrath added.
Lozansky, a Soviet dissident who moved to the United States in 1976 before returning over a decade later, offered another explanation: ignorance. He noted that Russians and Americans "don't know what's really going on" in each other's countries. A professor and several students of American studies at Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) supported that theory. "I have friends who think America is still full of cowboys and Marines," Ivanov said.
Micromanagement Instead of Leadership: "Manual Control" Goes On as Putin Visits the Site of Cruise Ship Tragedy
Today, Vladimir Putin paid a surprise visit to Kazan - a Russian Volga river town that witnessed the sinking of the river cruise boat that killed nearly 200 and left. Since the tragedy, a few more details on the sinking emerged: the ship was built in 1955, the operator didn't have neither a tourism permit nor a permit to operate the vessel, and the vessel itself was not licensed to even be on the water. All in all, in a normally functioning country (or, as they call it these days, "system") nothing would've happened as the business would've not been operating, tickets would've not been sold, the ship would've not sailed, and no one would've died.
Here is what prime-minister Putin said in Kazan: "Where was the Transportation Agency? Where was the Waterways agency? How could a company without tourist and [ship operating] licenses sell vacation packages and sail? I'm ordering to find the guilty parties and harshly punish them!" For the purposes of clarification - Vladimir Putin is Russia's prime minister and is responsible for the executive branch (which includes Russian Transportation Ministry, Waterways Agency, etc.), so technically, the ultimately responsible party is him. Additionally, according to the Russian constitution, the court is separate from the executive branch (Putin), and technically a judge, not Putin can demand the punishment. Putin also ordered to pay 1 million rubles ($37,000) to the families of each victim, which is a great gesture, but shows that since the insurance system doesn't work, Vladimir is ready for the "manual control" here as well. President Medvedev already offered his two cents on the day of the tragedy, demanding the senior transportation officials to be fired (Ivan the Terrible preferred the beheading...).
How much longer can the country be micromanaged (not lead or governed) by two people? What if both Putin and Medvedev fell asleep at the same time? Would all the ships sink, all the planes fall, and the Russian nation go hungry? True leadership starts with trust and delegation. In fighting the corruption, it was important to consolidate the powers in the early 2000s, however the long-term consolidation (Cuba, North Korea) is not an option for a modern country. Also, the power consolidation in Russia seems to have offered very little in fighting the corruption. If a decade ago Putin's tough talk appealed to Russians and showed promise in the brighter future, today it shows weakness and inability to act, rather than talk. Russia's upcoming elections may be more exciting than many think.
Russia: the Land of Falling Planes, Sinking Ships, and Crumbling Infrastructure
The title of this article is not an over-exaggeration. The YouTube clip--filmed by bystanders yesterday--shows plane AN-24 literally falling out of the sky. Out of 36 people on board, seven people died, others suffered various injuries. The top comment left for the video reads (translated from Russian): "The remains of the Soviet Union are crumbling away, and nothing new is being built. Modernization, innovation, Go Russia! "
When comparing their multi-national country to the United States, Russians tend to pride themselves in a lesser amount of freak accidents and unnecessary deaths, such as shootings in colleges, hostage takings in shopping malls, and armed robberies. However, the sentiment is very different these days. Just in the past month, the world has witnessed two major accidents in Russia - a plane landing half a mile short of the landing strip and killing nearly everyone on board, and a ship sinking--not in the open ocean--but in a river, killing more than half of its passengers. The incidents, overlooked by the Western media, in the last two weeks include more helicopters and planes falling out of the skies, and the debates around Russia's new ballistic missile Bulava, that flies correctly only half of the times--a disturbing success rate if armed with a nuclear warhead. What is happening to Russia?
What if They Gave a Cold War and No One Came? Heritage Foundation Calls for a Stop in U.S.-Russia "Reset" in Light of Russia's Agression
Heritage Foundation's announcement for today's event at the Rayburn House Office Building called for a stop in U.S. - Russia relations reset and read like a "hello" from 1981, a joke, or a political play. It made us wonder - who was the real enemy: Obama or Medvedev? Did the hearing target the White House's new policies towards Russia or actual events in Russia unknown to the common folk? America and Russia have their differences, but come to think of it, United States is currently in three wars (four or five, depending on how you count), and none of those are with Russia! Furthermore, the solid fact generally unknown to the American population might have complicated today's hearings: American military supplies get shipped to Afghanistan via Russian railroads and Russian airspace, and often on Soviet-built Antonov jumbo jets. Drugs harvested in Northern Afghanistan (that is not controlled by the Americans) create catastrophic issues back in Russia and specifically Moscow, where--unlike to Washington D.C.--you can hike to with a backpack from Kabul, Teheran, or Baghdad.
Here at Russia Blog, we will be fascinated to learn the facts and commentary pronounced at the hearings regarding Russia's acts of aggression towards the U.S., and the number of the attendees who came to this fascinating and surreal event.
Time to Pause the Reset? Defending U.S. Interests in the Face of Russian Aggression
You are respectfully requested to attend the following open hearing of the Full Committee to be held in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
DATE: Thursday, July 07, 2011
TIME: 10:00 AM
LOCATION: Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building
WITNESSES: Mrs. Katrina Lantos Swett, Ph.D., President, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights
Mr. Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow, Russian Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy, The Heritage Foundation
Ukrainian Women Drive Naked Outside Saudi Embassy to Protest the Saudi Driving Ban
Since 2008, Ukrainian organization "Femen" has held epatage protests against corrupt government officials, unfair bills, and even Saudi law banning women from driving. Today's protest against Ukrainian members of parliament is too--how can we put it--straightforward and we choose to not show it on Russia Blog (though you can see it here), and below is the photo from the June 16 protest held outside of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to Ukraine. The protests tend to be extremely successful, as they attract general public's and media attention, and frazzle predominantly male law enforcement officials.
VIP Blue Light Driving in Russia - Reason for a Revolution or Further Obedience?
Two weeks ago, a member of parliament from Putin's party United Russia got drunk (as in smashed) and took his Porche Cayanne for a ride, killing a 23-year-old student, an only provider for his disabled parents...
On June 14, 2011, Foreign Policy magazine, in its article "Road Rage in Russia," asked: "Moscow's elite has decided it doesn't need to follow the traffic laws. Will there be a pedestrian revolution?" RussiaBloghas written about the issue for years (here are samples from 2005, 2006, 2007, and more), exposing crimes and murders committed by Russia's ruling elite on the roads; to save the suspense - the answer to the Foreign Policy's question is: "No, there will be no revolution." The reasons behind the answer are complex and rooted into a thousand-year history of the nation, its mentality, geography, and ruling style of the past 500 years (that surprisingly hasn't changed from Ivan the Terrible to Bolsheviks to Yeltsin to Putin).
As mentioned in the RussiaBlog's article "Enough Is Enough. President Medvedev - Stop the Killing of Russia's Innocent Drivers!" - Ivan the Terrible was the first person to make sure that his carriage wheels splashed bystanders with mud. It made him laugh back in mid-1500-s. Tsars, Soviet secretaries, and first presidents of modern Russia (Yeltsin, Putin, Medvedev) have done the same. Here's what many Westerners don't know and probably will have hard times understanding: the majority of common people--on the outside oppressed by the elite's driving techniques--in fact are proud of this old Russian tradition.
"Manual control" has become an established term in Russian media and among common people when referring to the ruling style of Putin and Medvedev. Wait, it's not what you are thinking, even though - yes it sounds like it. Medvedev and Putin rule "hands on" not because of their hunger for power, but because otherwise nothing gets done. In some ways, the managerial structure can be compared to one of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who--in his 40-year rule--ensured that governmental institutions do not exist and do not function without the key man. However, it is still different in Russia - neither Putin nor Medvedev intended for it to be so. CIA's World Factbook wrongly describes Russia as a "centralized semi-authoritarian state." In fact, Putin wished well, that's why he lost both - the centralization and the authority, along with the population's respect. While the non-existent Russian opposition and the West think that Putin is tough, the reality is - he is not. The moment the ruling duo turns away, stuff gets stolen, abandoned, unfinished.
A year ago, President Medvedev shared one interesting number - government bureaucrats annually steal $35 billion from government budgets during routine purchases; Medvedev is yet to give an update on how he succeeded in fighting the trend. Last year, during the severe wild fires, Putin had to personally fly over the woods, and even drop a bucket of water from a plane. Not for show, but because the Ministry of Emergency Situations failed in fighting the fires. After the fires died out, all the destroyed homes were rebuilt, right in time for the winter season. One caveat that Westerners are unfamiliar with - Putin watched live video feed from the construction sites on his office screens; so workers would work and not steal the construction supplies. Apparently, there was nobody aside from the country's prime minister to ensure the proper construction process in a "centralized semi-authoritarian state."
June 12: Russia's Independence Day - No Reason to Celebrate
Russia's Independence Day - a time to catch up on gardening...
Today, June 12 is a federal holiday in Russia. It's the Independence Day. Unlike the U.S., Russia did not fight for its independence; quite the opposite - on that day it lost all of its territories that it had incorporated over 1,000 years. Who and why decided that this day should be a holiday is unclear. A good analogy would be for Great Britain to celebrate the day when U.S. gained its independence.
Regardless of the reasons, Russians like the holiday, as it gives them a three-day weekend. According to a Russian law, if a federal holiday falls on a weekend, the next work day is off. A great chance to catch up on gardening at the dachas!
U.S. and Ukraine Conduct Naval Exercises in Russia's Backyard. Russia Stays Calm.
Now, imagine the following: Russian navy conducting military exercises with Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico, and the U.S. is not invited. How does it sound? Surreal. Well, today U.S. and Ukrainian Navy started joint military exercises "Sea Breeze" in the Black Sea (in Odessa), just a few miles away from Russia's border. A few amateur participants like Georgia have been thrown in to make the exercises look "international" rather than bilateral. Ukrainian news agency reports that "servicemen from Algeria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Georgia, Kenya, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, USA, Ukraine, France and Sweden are taking part in the exercises." The ships and equipment are American and Ukrainian, and Russian news agencies were unable to spot Algerian or German hardware or personal in the area.
The true purpose of the exercises--rather than to annoy Russia--is not clear to a common observer. It is probably to extend American military might in the best British/French/Soviet traditions of imperialism to the furthest corners of the planet. However, the Russia-Georgia conflict in August 2008 proved how insignificant the resistance from a former Soviet republic--even after all the U.S. training--can be when a small neighbor faces Russia. U.S. and NATO wisely would never put themselves in the middle of a local conflict, just the way they didn't in 2008. However, the good news is that (1) Russia is exercising patience and refrains from any moves or negative comments, and (2) maybe this is the time to celebrate the end of the Cold War. Imagine such exercises taking place five, 10, or 30 years ago! Back than it was called the "Cuban Missile Crisis." Today, it's a news item that is missed by all major outlets, and is not a news to the world population.
Eastern European Hackers Steal Millions. Majority of Russian Students Participating in "Work&Travel USA" Have J1 Visas Rejected.
Have you ever met a young server or a busser or a housekeeper or a cook with a heavy accent and lots of energy at a fancy resort or a restaurant somewhere in Florida or Washington or Vermont? Those are the participants of Work&Travel USA program that brings thousands of foreign students into the U.S. every year. College students from all over the world have to pass an English language test, a background check, and get a J1 visa to fill a short seasonal job in the U.S. The benefits are great for everyone involved - American employers get inexpensive, educated and highly motivated labor without the obligation to pay the benefits, guarantee the hours, or prolong the employment. Young students--especially those from Eastern Europe and Central Asia--get a chance to make good income unusual for their home countries and see the U.S. America gets a chance to market itself in person to the world's brightest youth who takes home the stories and the experience. Each participant usually works for three months, and then is allowed a month in the country to travel.
For a young college student such trip is usually a life-changing experience. Many of my friends and I have come to the U.S.; those experiences have changed our lives and careers in more than one way - some of my past fellow servers and bussers today are highly-paid PWC and EY consultants in Moscow and Kiev, Microsoft employees in Seattle, etc. However, this year many Russian and other Eastern European students will not get the same chance to explore the States and the American lifestyle. In October 2010, more than 20 Eastern European students (11 Russians among them) in the early twenties were identified by the FBI as participants in a grand banking scheme.
Russia's War on Corruption Successful! The Result? Nothing Works.
If you bought a car in Russia a year or longer ago, you may remember that getting the "tehosmotr" was nearly impossible. (Tehosmotr is a government certificate verifying that a vehicle is up-to-date in its maintenance, technical, and safety features). Absurdly enough, the brand new cars must receive the certificate as well, which, logically, makes you wonder - what is the job of the federal commission that allows the supposedly unsafe, poorly designed vehicles to the market. Logic aside, the easiest way to get a card was to find online (or by phone via friends) a traffic police officer who could "take care" of the problem for $100-200. The little card saying that your car is just fine would've been delivered to your office.
Medvedev's fight against the corruption changed the playing field. He won; corruption (and people) lost. My relative who recently bought a car, tried to get the government certificate via the old method. Apparently, the corrupt way was not an option anymore, and he had to get his documents the legal way. Sure enough, Medvedev, who raves about modernization and innovation, inspired the traffic inspection to allow drivers register for an appointment on a website. With one caveat - an appointment is allocated to a driver at a random time and day out of any of 30 days in the system. No problem. The relative drove to the inspection's physical office. There were 30 cars waiting to be inspected, the line was two days long.
Russia's Ruling Party "United Russia" Endorsed Vladimir Putin's Presidential Candidacy. Boy, Did He Get Lucky Again!
This news can be interpreted in many ways. Here are some possibilities:
- it is an "I told you!" moment for many older American anti-Russian Russia experts. Putin is back. "I told you so!"
- it is a "crap, is this really happening?" moment for young intellectual Russians and progressively thinking U.S.-Russia experts (like myself).
- it is a "what else did you expect?" moment of irrelevance for the entire Russian population. There is no other leadership option. Period.
WikiLeaks has quoted American dispatches saying that Putin has become progressively lazy, and does not work as hard or passionately anymore as he used too. If there were a strong potential leadership - he might have very well stepped aside. Putin's problem is not Putin, it's the fact that the only viable option to him are Russian fascists. And even they do not have a unified capable leader. Dmitry Medvedev will, most likely, run as well; he will lose to Putin. One may say that Putin does not have opposition because he suppressed all of it, but the reality is that Communists are the viable opposition, and their voters are literally dying out. Liberals are not in the parliament, as they have not been able to gain more than 0.5% of the Russians votes. They lost their trust in the 90-s, when Russia slid to the state of poverty and irrelevance.
As British children, we read grimly embroidered stories of Russia's intolerable cold, starving wolves, and polluted wasteland. Many of us still have yet to discover that, in reality, Russia's wilderness is gloriously untouched, and vast enough to offer many diverse environments.
To many Western visitors, Russia means Moscow, St Petersburg. Some might cruise the Volga, or stay in Black Sea resorts. But it's still rare to meet a non-Russian who's seen much of Russia's vast wilderness, unless perhaps through a Trans-Siberian carriage window.
Yet this uninterrupted expanse offers endless outdoors adventure, from guided mountain hikes to skiing, white-water rafting, & full-on survival training courses. Factor in Russia's patchwork of world class UNESCO sites & you have a top-notch, relatively undiscovered destination.
April 12 - the 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's First Flight in Space, Release of New Film
Today, thousands of news agencies and millions (if not billions) of people around the planet are taking a moment to reflect on the number "50." It has been half a century since Russian-Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin conducted the first-ever manned flight to space in human history. Reports from Fox News, CNN, The Telegraph and thousands of other news agencies do not focus on Yuri's nationality or the Cold War which U.S. and Russia were fighting at the moment. Seems like today, 50 years later, Yuri Gagarin brought the entire planet together in awe of human race's scientific and technological achievement. Gagarin lived a legendary life and died as a hero in 1968 when a MiG 15 training jet he was piloting crashed. Years later, Gagarin continues to mesmerize and inspire.
A real-time recreation of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering first orbit was shot entirely in space from on board the International Space Station. The film combines this new footage with Gagarin's original mission audio, Soviet video archives, and a new musical score by composer Philip Sheppard. Enjoy the show, and for more information about the movie visit http://www.firstorbit.org
Do Putin's All-time Lowest Ratings Have Something to Do with Denouncing the Coalition's Efforts in Libya?
Putin's approval ratings hit all-time low comparable only to 2005
This week Russia's most popular newspaper Moskovsky Komsomoletz featured a front-page article titled "You Got Oil - Then You Got No Democracy. We're Heading Your Way!" Whether Putin did it intentionally or not, but by denouncing the coalition's efforts in Libya he gained the brownie points with the Russians. Not to be confused - the newspaper is very anti-Putin, but it sums up the Russian general public's feelings. According to the independent Levada Center, Putin's approval ratings are all-time lowest - 10% lower than the same time last year. Taking into account that the economy is doing much better than a year ago, such a dramatic drop in ratings is indeed something to worry about. Putin needs to appeal to the public, and now he does.
Russian media has mentioned multiple reasons for Medvedev's and Putin's disagreement on the issue: first and foremost - the lowering rankings. Also, official Russia does support the UN resolution (by abstaining for vetoing it); Medvedev, as Russia's president, brings to the table Russia's official position. Putin, on the other hand, is a prime-minister, and can say whatever he wants. Russia's mainstream media also believes that Vladimir really, sincerely disagrees with what's been done in Libya. Putin has been prominent in his opinion on respecting the affairs of any sovereign nation. However, in light of the presidential elections coming up in a year - the Medvedev-Putin public disagreement on Libya could be just a well-staged play to gain the voters' attention and to diffuse the public anger about Russian government allowing the UN Resolution 1973 to go forward.
Do Americans Miss the Cold War? Gates Visits Russia, Shoots a Cannon, Laments the Good Old Days
During his visit to Russia, Chief of Pentagon Robert Gates fired the noon cannon at the Peter and Paul Fortress over St. Petersburg, a custom started by Peter the Great. CNN reports: "With the city laid out in front of him and the ice-covered river below, Gates practiced a couple of times and then counted down the final five seconds to the traditional midday firing. He was presented with the shell casing as a memento of the day."
While in Russia, Gates did not talk about Libya at all. In fact, he almost silently agreed with Putin's remarks against the coalition's military actions in the Middle East. However, he talked a lot about his past in the CIA, and lamented the Cold War. "In the days of the Cold War, it seemed the world was a lot simpler," Gates told Russian Navy officers. "There was the Soviet Union. There was us. Almost every problem of the world was defined by that relationship. Once the Cold War got over, the world got a lot more complicated."
Coincidentally, just a couple weeks ago I was hosted at a private movie party devoted to the Cold War. The party, which took place in a Nashville's finer neighborhood movie theater, featured liters of Jack Daniels, vodka, and the great old movie with Kirk Douglas "Seven Days in May" (1964). The American guests at the party mirrored Gates' recollections of the past: during the Cold Way the world was safer, the enemies were civilized and predictable, and--in fact--similar to each other (political agendas aside). Today, both Russia and the U.S. are facing the common enemy, the one who has no home, morals, or honor.
Russia - World's Largest, Most Stable Energy Exporter. Moscow - Home to Most Billionaires
A janitor cleaning the street next to an exotic race car in Moscow, Russia
With average salaries of the working class virtually unchanged over the past year, and still no paved road between the west side and the east coast of the country, Russian citizens are not sure if they should be proud by the fact that their nation's capital is home to 79 billionaires, most in the world. On the other hand, Russia's vast spaces and extreme temperatures would make the maintenance of a continental highway nearly impossible, and an average Russian has seen his income surge over the past decade. So, after all, countless Bentleys, Mercedes's, and Rolls Royce's in the streets of Moscow are nowhere near to cause a Soviet-October-style or Egypt-type revolution. People, on average, are happy.
With unrest in Africa and the Middle East, The New York Times (usually unfriendly to Moscow) calls Russia "the most stable energy exporter in the world." European and American investors lined up to strengthen Russia's financial well-being and billionaires' pockets: "BP cited Russia's relative stability compared with OPEC regions, when announced in January a $7.8 billion deal to invest in the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft and jointly search for oil in the Arctic. Later that month, Exxon Mobil, the biggest American oil company, signed a deal with Rosneft to explore offshore in the Black Sea," reported the NYT. French energy giant Total cited Russia's stability two weeks ago when agreeing to buy $4 billion worth (about 12 percent) of a Russian independent natural gas producer Novatek, and join a liquefied natural gas project in the Russian Arctic.
Combined with Russia's status as a number-one world's energy exporter, facts are facts: Russia is home to a stable economy, balanced budget, satisfied population, fastest strengthening currency, and 101 billionaires. After all, Russia's snow and ice are friendlier than Arab sand and sunshine (and safer than the Wall Street's gambling).
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.
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."
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?
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.
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!
Enough Is Enough. President Medvedev - Stop the Killing of Russia's Innocent Drivers!
If you see one of these - run! These cars that belong to Russian public servants are above the law. They may (and do) legally kill your babies, grandmothers, and even police officers.
Russian President's representative in Duma Garry Minkh rides in style, as do thousands of Russian government officials: in a new luxurious German car bought with taxpayers money, in the opposite lane, breaking the speed limit, unbuckled, hiding behind the passenger's seat and a driver. And it's all legal! Because he got the magic migalka (the blue light). The result? Today, another deadly accident. The government vehicle's driver is dead, innocent 23 year-old girl is severely injured (her car totaled), police is"not sure" if they can release the video of the crash. And this is not unique - in the past 12 months, cars with blue lights have killed and injured pregnant women, babushkas, casual pedestrians, innocent and law-abiding drivers, and even police officers! God forbid you don't let them pass you - they'll pause their super-important and secret government mission, get out of their cars, and break your car's windshield and slash your tires (they have done so). Because, that's what voters want their elected officials to do.
Prime Minister Putin, President Medvedev, I heard you're all about raising the birth rates and population of Russia, you're against the corruption, and you support Russian-made cars. May I recommend you stop killing people with your driving techniques. Also, why do you and your employees drive BMWs and Mercedes's? Be consistent - on May 9th do not pretend and do a favor to the veterans - don't celebrate Russia's victory over the Nazi Germany. Be sad! If the Soviet Union hadn't won, maybe your own German-made cars would've been even better, faster, cooler! Also, don't worry - in a head-on collision you'll always win. Russian cars that you support with draconian import regulations do not have airbags, ABS, and their seats break upon an impact. The bydlo (Russian folk who's not blessed to be at a Kremlin dinner table) cannot afford the 110% import tax that you imposed on safe foreign vehicles.
The Last Minutes of the Polish Flight Reenacted by Software and Live Pilot's Conversations
To many, this video will be shocking, as it contains real conversations between the Polish pilots, the warnings of the Russian flight control center, and the TU-154 system alerts "Terrain Ahead, Terrain Ahead," "Pull-Up, Pull-Up..." to the moment of the actual crash. Usually, such video and live tapes would not be available, however, due to the unprecedented open nature of the investigation, the video has become public.
Russian Scientists Warn of 'Iranian Chernobyl' Possibility
Iran's nuclear power plant
Russian nuclear scientists are helping Iran in its attempts to activate the nation's first nuclear power plant at the Gulf port. However, according to Western intelligence reports, they have raised serious concerns about the extensive damage caused to the plant's computer systems by the mysterious Stuxnet virus, which was discovered last year and is speculated to have been the result of a sophisticated joint US-Israeli cyber attack, reports RIA Novosti.
Reports say that Russian scientists warned the Kremlin that they could be facing "another Chernobyl" if they were forced to comply with Iran's tight deadline to activate the complex this summer. While the story sounds like an urban legend, and it is hard to believe that a computer virus might have caused such an extensive damage (which also assumes that the files were not backed up, and that Iranian government cannot buy new computers),The Telegraph has the story.
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called on the Russian people to show unity in his Christmas address. The message was triggered by the nationalistic demonstrations that took place in Moscow three weeks ago.
January 7 is the Christmas Day for the Russian Orthodox. Russians, Serbs, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Coptic Christians and other Eastern Orthodox nations use older Julian Calendar in their church, where December 25 falls on today's world's January 7. Merry Christmas!
Moscow's Mayor Luzhkov and Chicago's Mayor Daley: Similar Accomplishment, Different Departures
On December 29, 2010, the traffic jams just in the city of Moscow were 3,200 km long (2,000 miles) - the traffic jams in the city streets spread over the distance equal to one between Moscow and Barcelona!
As I was driving on the snowed over Leninsky Prospekt (large avenue) in downtown Moscow a couple of weeks ago, I realized: I had never seen that much snow on Moscow roads. Luzhkov had left the office three months ago, the snow just started falling, and the only snow-cleaning vehicle that can be seen is a lonely parked tractor with a small snow plow. For the matter of a reference, Leninsky Prospect has 10 lanes at its widest parts, and used to be cleaned by 10 fast-moving vehicles in each lane immediately as the snowflakes had appeared in the sky. Three months without an old, allegedly corrupt, and heavy-handed leader, and changes are already visible. Bad changes. I predict that the same awaits Chicago, once Mayor Daley leaves his office this spring. The only difference in the two mayors' departures is: Mayor Daley will leave to an ovation of citizens and politicians; Mayor Luzhkov was kicked out by a president (nearly half Luzhkov's age) after a state-wide media smear campaign.
Under Luzhkov, Moscow turned from a grey communist city of the past into the most expensive and trendy city in the world. Moscow's economy improved, large construction projects in the city, including the building of a new financial district, took place, and Moscow's skyline transformed into a crossover of Paris and Dubai. Having visited most of the European and American cities over the past two years I am making a statement: Moscow became the world's cleanest Western capital. At the same time, Luzhkov was accused of corruption, bulldozing historic buildings, and poor handling of traffic, as well as the city's smog crisis during the 2010 Russian wildfires. On September 28, 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev removed Luzhkov from his position for the "loss of trust."
Money can't buy you everything - just ask Oleg Deripaska about his quest for a US visa - but some other wealthy Russians are taking advantage of a scheme that offers a Green Card for a cool $1 million. The US government-backed scheme simply requires the money to be invested in the US economy, creating 10 full-time jobs for at least two years.
The project was started in 1990 but eventually shelved because many of the jobs were not created.
"In the early '90s there were a lot of unscrupulous people who took advantage of the program," said Alexander Aginsky, the managing director of Aginsky Consulting, which specialises in promoting the visa scheme, called EB5.
But the plans were dusted off when the crisis hit and the government looked for fresh capital from abroad as domestic funding dried up.
Funny Chapman Business About to Come to an End. Literally.
Spy Mikhail Vasenkov a.k.a Juan Lazaro
The traitor of the "sleeper agents' has been identified, and the "clean-up" crew has been sent to the States. Colonel Scherbakov--whose daughter moved to America a long time ago, and son just recently obtained a U.S. citizenship--placed himself between the two agencies, and left no choice for himself or others. British Telegraphhas the story, and quotes a Kremlin source, saying that Scherbakov recently denied a promotion as he knew he would've not passed the mandatory lie-detector test.
"The damage committed by the colonel to the state is too enormous," not to have further repercussions, Mr. Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Duma's security committee, told the Interfax news agency.
"This was the result of treason and traitors always end badly," said Putin.
"We know who he is and where he is," the Kremlin source said. "Have no doubt that a Mercader has been sent after him already." (Ramon Mercader was the KGB assassin who murdered exiled Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in 1940; a "Mercader" is a synonym for a hit squad.) "The fate of such an individual is unenviable," the Kremlin source continued. "He will fear revenge every day (of his life). "This is a big mix-up that will see heads roll and people demoted," an intelligence source told Kommersant newspaper. The most valuable of the 10 exposed agents was Mikhail Vasenkov who operated under the name Juan Lazaro. Intelligence sources claimed he had been able to obtain the US President's travel agenda years in advance. Regardless of how valuable such information may be in the modern world, U.S. investigators had broken his leg and three ribs while interrogating him, the source claimed.
Anna Chapman: Russian-Sponsored Russia's Embarrassment
Two weeks ago, CNN reported about the "sexy photos of spy Anna Chapman" published in the Russian yellow-press daily Your Day. Shortly after that, magazine Maxim ran an exclusive of overexposed Anna Chapman in definitely sexy, fake spy attire. While our readers may enjoy the snapshots of the photos in the extended post, the question remains: is Anna Chapman going to share her media profits with the Russian taxpayers? After all, her unfortunate popularity is the result of a mismanaged and flawed operation, where she played an unprofessional role on Russian taxpayers' tab.
Instead of getting Russia any kind of valuable information (which she could've not gotten anyway), or improving Russia's image abroad, Anna knowingly--and arguably with the inspiration from Russian intelligence services--has reduced an image of a young Russian lady to a level slightly above one of a prostitute. While RIA Novosti quotes Your Day saying that "Anna has done more to excite patriotism in Russians than our football team and the Bulava missile put together," the Russians I know find her behavior appalling. The supervisors of the failed and pity spy operation should be held accountable for squandering Russia's resources and image.
Train Moscow, Russia - Nice, France. For the First Time Since 1914
For the first time since the tsars' times, a Russian-operated train made its trip from downtown Moscow to the coast of France on September 23, 2010. The trip takes 52 hours, and connects two historically popular destinations. Just like 200 years ago, the Southern Coast of France is overrun with Russia's wealthy and travelers. The Russian Railroads commented that another reason for this route is the fact that the train makes stops at multiple resort destinations popular among common Russian tourists. The rail connection will become an alternative to air travel for passengers afraid of the planes or just romantics. On another note, year 2010 was celebrated as the Year of France in Russia, and the Year of Russia in France. The new railroad operation is a great outcome of the sentiment.
U2 is visiting Russia as part of its 360 World Tour. Bono, using the opportunity, got to visit with Dmitry Medvedev in the president's private residence in Sochi, where Winter Olympic Games 2014 will take place. As the result of the high-profile meetings, aside from an agreement to fight AIDS, Russian President Medvedev and Irish Singer Bono concluded that they both love Led Zeppelin.
Enjoy the photos of Bono's visit at Medvedev's dacha in Sochi in the extended post.
Putin, Medvedev, Who's Next? Russia Can't Find a Leader
Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin share a friendly moment
On Monday, answering questions from journalists, President Medvedev said "I don't know what's going to happen in 2012, I don't know who'll be running. It can be Medvedev, it can be Putin, it can be someone third... I would prefer to avoid a competition within the friendly forces, it would be bad for the country" said Medvedev making clear that he will not compete with Putin if the latter decides to run. Russian political anaylsts called Medvedev's response a bluff. Sergey Mitrohin, chairman of political party "Yabloko" said that Sergey Ivanov can be that "third" candidate, since he did not get the Putin's endorsement in the last campaign, paving the way for Medvedev's easy victory.
In the meantime, public opinion poll--conducted by Russia's most respected independent agency Levada--showed that if Putin and/or Medvdev were to run today, 27% would give their vote to Putin, 20% to Medvedev, and 4% to Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. Russia's liberal candidates popular in the West (like chess player Kasparov) did not get enough percentage to show even 0.1% (1 out of 1,000) chance of winning Russia's presidency. While 15% agree that Medvedev has been changing Russia's political course, 45% of the population do not know who to vote for and where to go. Russia, just like America's Republican Party, desperately needs new leader, but does not know where to find one.
Heat in Moscow Broken Up by a Storm. Weekend Forecast: 110F
The record-breaking heat across Russia was interrupted by a short storm that hit some cities more than others. Not just the farmers, but common people prayed for the rain. And they got it. Now that the brief and strong rain is over, Moscow suburbs forecast for this weekend: 110F. The temperatures will stay high at least until the end of July. No one (but property) was hurt in eastern Moscow, where wind tore out the trees and a construction crane.
Street thermometer shows 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) in Russia's fourth largest city of Nizhny Novgorod. (Photo by RIA Novosti)
I am not sure if the snowcaps are melting in the North Pole (there are none in Moscow), but one thing is sure: "current Russian temperatures have overtaken those in Turkey and Egypt," reports RIA Novosti, calling Russia "tropical." The situation is verging on apocalyptic, continues the agency, and many people with heart problems and diabetes have been forced to see doctors, while children are suffering from heat stroke and sunburn. Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned "We must stop any attempt to capitalize on this disaster, this drought." Moscow is forecasted to maintain
Moscow, indeed, has been sunny and hot for weeks. An 85-degree day is now considered a cooling. Parts of central Russia are hitting or expecting to hit 115F. Moscow, which is only 3 degrees south of Alaskan Juno's latitude, is not built for the African-style heat. Certain underground subway stations warmed up and reached 90F and pavement on the freeways is softening or melting. Many people do not own air conditioners. Despite the obvious dangers of the extreme heat, my friends and most Muscovites love the weather and are cancelling their plans to travel to warm-climate countries. After all, Moscow suburbs are hotter than Africa!
Visit RIA Novosti's website to see the photos of Russians enjoying the heat.
When Vice President Joe Biden appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" last Friday night, he said it was all right that the United States only got four accused spies from Russia while giving up 10. "We got back four really good ones," said Biden. "And the 10, they've been here a long time, but they hadn't done much." When comedy host Leno showed Biden an alluring photo of accused Russian spy Anna Chapman, a darling of New York tabloids, Biden said "let me make it clear, it wasn't my idea to send her back. I thought they'd take Rush Limbaugh."
Enjoy the full photo version of the spy swap brought to you by the Russian media (in the extended post).
6 Children, 1 Adult Die at a Russian Summer Camp; Medvedev Orders Country-Wide Inspection
Having visited then-Soviet and later Russian summer camps as a kid, and later having volunteered as a camp counselor in America, I have noticed the indescribable differences in attitude towards kids' safety in two countries. While the unregulated environment of Russian summer camps maybe provides for a better, wilder "summer adventure," American camps drill into camp counselors and children "safety first" and eventually provide it - the safety.
Yesterday's events in Yeysk (Krasnodar Krai) speak volumes about the degradation of Russian government and private institutions in their ensuring of children's safety. Seven camp counselors and 63 children (ages 8-16, all from Moscow), traveled by boat to a local island. Despite the signs "Swimming Strictly Prohibited" and absence of lifeguards or medical personnel, camp counselors allowed children to swim. In the meantime, counselors got drunk! While the counselors were drinking, six children disappeared. One counselor attempted to save the kids--who were being dragged into the open sea by strong currents--and died himself.
Government will cover all funeral expenses, and... that's basically it. Unlike the American Camping Association (ACA) there is no independent organization supervising summer camps' safety standards in Russia. Government officials who are supposed to fulfill the ACA's role are easily bribable, and most of them are using their 30-to-48-day vacations during summertime. An American family would see an opportunity to sue such a camp for millions of dollars. However, Russian camps do not have insurance to cover expenses associated with such legal cases, and the legal system itself does not allow for such law suits. I assume the parents of dead children can hope for about $5,000-$10,000 per child in government compensations from Moscow Mayor Luzhkov or Russian Federal government.
A friend in Moscow told me a true story. A couple weeks after the Moscow subway bombing, he was taking a train. A lady, in a traditional Muslim dress (but not in burqa), entered his subway car. All the passengers crammed--pressing each other--into the opposite side of the train car. The Muslim lady set down on the other side of the train car by herself, and started crying very hard. My friend was one of many who felt guilty, yet confused about what was right, and whose freedoms were more important. He still does not know what the right answer is. On the other hand, he told me how much he respects the U.S. for being able to fight for their freedom, yet respect each other's choices, no matter how challenging it is.
For over two centuries, America has been a free country with free people. The freedom of the nation as a whole and individual freedoms have not conflicted throughout the country's history but only complimented each other. Russia Blog's editors hope that today's ever-changing and challenging world will only strengthen America and its people. Happy Fourth of July, America!
Today, the Kremlin launched two separate Twitter accounts. One in English, and one in Russian language. Aside from tweeting about an outing with President Obama to Ray's Hell Burger in Virginia, President Medvedev posted the following today:
The decision of major American companies to come to Russia and invest shows that we can agree on more than just missiles.
While Western media isn't yet abuzz about the Kremlin tapping into Twitter, the comparisons to other leaders jumping on the popular short message system can't be far behind.
Patriarch Kirill: Leader of Orthodox Church and Tobacco Imports
Many Westerners know little about the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Father Kirill. Many Russians know him as a great orator and a host of a weekly TV show "Pastor's Word." However, very few know that Kirill (Vladimir Gundyaev by passport), a billionaire and a former KGB operative, made his fortune in tobacco, alcohol, and oil sales. His activities were among the main reasons why not-for-profits in Russia lost tax-deductible status. The new Orthodox leader is fond of playing with stocks, car racing, downhill skiing, and breeding exclusive kinds of dogs. He owns villas in Switzerland and a penthouse with a view of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
After Patriarch Aleksiy II died, the Orthodox Synode, made up of spiritual, business, and social leaders, took up the evening news and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to elect a new leader. After Mitropolits Filaret and Kliment withdrew their candidacies, Kirill won the position. When it became too obvious that Aleksiy was at the end of his life, Mitropolit Mephody, who had been considered the strongest candidate for the Patriarch's post, was sent to lead the Orthodox Church in Kazakhstan. Maybe just a coincidence, but rumors and articles in local newspapers suggested a different scenario. I heard all the stories from friends while witnessing the historic events in Moscow. Later, I took time to research whether or not they were true.
A visitor to Moscow might wonder how streets that are wider than almost any in newer cities in the US happen to be get that way, especially since they are bounded often by buildings that are a hundred or more years old.
US-Russia Bilateral Governmental Commissions: Where Are You?
Those who feel like gloating over the difficulties America is experiencing fail to understand that many of U.S. problems are shared by the rest of the world. Therefore, it is in Russia's interests to take a dignified high road policy and to seek and find ways of helping America in solving them. The present moment is singularly auspicious for implementing real projects in the course of much hyped resetting, which, alas, cannot yet boast any tangible results.
It is well known that in the wake of the Obama-Medvedev meeting, an impressive number of 18 (!) bilateral governmental commissions have been set up to coordinate the resetting process. So far we did not hear too much about their activities or, most importantly, results, except perhaps just one, on cultural cooperation, headed by Mikhail Shvydkoi and US Undersecretary of State Judith McHale. Apparently, the other seventeen are still trying to decide what they are going to do. Don't you think it's about time you set to, gentlemen?
The alcoholism problem is Russia is really the vodka problem--it's too inexpensive. Accordingly, President Medvedev intends to raise the price up to a minimum of three dollars a bottle, still a very low price by American standards.
Why Russians don't Like Money? (or Why Kremlin doesn't Want Good PR?)
Entrance to an IKEA store in Rostov, Russia.
As economy is sliding down, and even the construction of the Moscow City is up in the air, one would think that Russians, and Kremlin especially, would want as much foreign investment as possible. It is well-known that Russians have had highest levels of disposable income comparing to other nations, and retail has made many Western companies wealthy. Among such companies was IKEA that has three stores in Moscow alone. IKEA built factories, streamlined supply chains, employed thousands of Russians, brought its products to the nation, and has helped Kremlin to look Western more than pictures of shirtless Putin did.
Nine years after the opening of the first IKEA store in Russia, and in the midst of the worst global financial crisis, one would think Russian regions, and especially Kremlin, would want more foreign money and positive PR abroad. IKEA had originally planned to open its new 1,400,000 square feet complex in November 2007 in Samara. But a year and a half later, the store remained closed. The Samara's store's opening was reportedly delayed on eight separate occasions, with local officials refusing each time to supply the necessary documents. The latest objection, according to IKEA, has been that the store is insufficiently resistant to hurricanes. That's a highly unusual requirement, in a region not previously noted for its high-power winds, reported the BusinessWeek. While its sales in Russia have been growing beyond expectation, problems seemed to have been piling up even faster; IKEA has publicly raged again against "blackmail, sabotage and pressure for bribes" from Russian officials. If Kremlin's latest slogan have been "fight with corruption" and "attract foreign investment," can someone help me understand if it's really that hard to imprison the gangsters with government titles who are not only killing the foreign investment (which fell by 45% in 2009), but alsoare hurting Russia's employment, economic development, and image abroad.
Moscow River embankment on a summer night (Photo by Yuri Mamchur)
MOSCOW -- German Sterligov is well known here, but unlike Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska, and other publicly flamboyant Russian billionaires, he is little known abroad. Sterligov neither sails the Caribbean nor drinks in London's Mayfair district; most of the time he lives a traditional peasant lifestyle deep in the Russian countryside with his wife and five children. In winter, their farm is accessible only by horse-drawn cart, and the nearest house is seven miles away. Sterligov's way of life makes a strong Russian Orthodox statement and amuses Moscow's public.
Sterligov made his fortune in the 1990s running a large barter business. He founded a mercantile exchange where Russians traded products they were unable to buy or sell for cash. He lived the luxurious life of a billionaire and owned properties in Moscow, London, and Manhattan. In 2004, after an ill-fated bid for Russia's presidency, Sterligov sold everything and moved to the countryside.
If there is no domestic constituency that is offended, a gaffe is not treated as a gaffe. But Vice President Joe Biden's snarky remarks about Russia fall into the gaffe category anyhow. What is the point?
Russian Champ Fedor Emelianenko Still Looking for a Fight
Fedor Emelianenko of Russia puts down Matt Lindland of the U.S. during a mixed-martial-arts match in St. Petersburg Vladimir Rodionov / EPA / Corbis (Photo Source: Time)
You wouldn't expect there to be a lot of people standing in line to fight someone who, as described in American news magazine Time "possesses an assassin's glare and a face-denting right jab." As of Friday, that queue got even shorter when it was announced that a scheduled August 1 fight between American Josh Barnett and Russian Fedor Emelianenko is canceled because of Barnett's positive steroid test early last week.
Fight organizers (M-1 Global and Affliction Entertainment) said there wasn't enough time to find someone else to fight the former Russian army soldier who holds a 30-1 mixed martial arts (MMA) record.
Affliction Entertainment on Friday canceled its Aug. 1 mixed martial arts card in Anaheim because it could not find a suitable replacement opponent to fight Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko.
MMA, which began formally in the 1990s, has become a billion dollar global business, with the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) owning the promotion space. According to the Los Angeles Times, it "has 275 fighters under contract, its own reality television series and impressive revenue from events such as this month's UFC 100 in Las Vegas, which generated a live gate of $5.1 million and more than 1 million pay-per-view buys." As Time reported earlier this month, Dana White, UFC's president and "foul-mouthed ex-aerobics instructor" has said UFC will be "the biggest sport in the world in 10 years." White may end up being correct, but he might have to do it without the top fighter in the world.
Passengers from America Treated as Potential Health Threat in Russia
Russian health official checking passengers' body temperature onboard a flight from Atlanta to Moscow upon its arrival in Russia.
The World Health Organization announced that the pandemic of swine flu (H1N1 influenza) is unstoppable; but so thought Napoleon and Hitler about their offensives against Russia... "The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," said WHO's director-general, Margaret Chan, "further spread [of H1N1] is inevitable." Russian border and health officials think differently. If you are flying from the United States to Russia (as I did just two days ago), be prepared to fill out a form with your basic personal information and list all the geographic locations you visited in 10 days prior to your arrival to Russia.
While in flight, we were informed that no one would be able to leave the plane until Russian health officials checked everyone's body temperature! If a single passenger had high body temperature, all of the passengers would have been put into quarantine until the doctors found out the origin of the disease onboard. A long flight and free servings of wine produced multiple jokes about the way our body temperatures would be checked.
However, upon the landing, we were truly concerned: How long would it take to check the body temperature of over 200 passengers onboard the Boeing 767 airliner? We expected to see people in white uniforms with a lot of little appliances taking an hour to complete the testing. Our suspense expectations were crushed when a young gentleman in casual clothes (in the picture) went around with a Star Trek tricorder-looking device, pointing it at everyone from far away. Upon exiting the plane, there were half a dozen officials to collect our forms. The temperature testing of the entire plane took less than five minutes. Coincidental or not, but only three swine flu cases so far have been confirmed in Russia.
A famous photo of a Red Army soldier in World War II
Today is the 68th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. For a roundup of previous Russia Blog posts on Russia's role in winning World War II, click here and scroll down. To watch a Russia Today video on the solemn commemorations that took place across Russia to mark this day, click on the extended post.
Cantor Compares Obama to Putin Pravda Turns Paleocon Against Bailout USA
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (left) and U.S. President Barack Obama (right)
Last week Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA), the number two Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, compared President Barack Obama to Russian leader Vladimir Putin in an interview with the Associated Press. Cantor did not mean the comparison in a flattering way.
While criticizing the Obama Administration's handling of the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler, Cantor declared:
"They said, 'Set aside the rule of law, let's strip secured creditors, bondholders, of their rights. Take them away outside of the bankruptcy process and give them to the political cronies and the auto workers' unions...it's almost like looking at Putin's Russia...you want to reward your political friends at the expense of the certainty of law?"
Russia Day (June 12, annually) is one of the newest state holidays in the country. It commemorates the 1990 act of endorsement of the Declaration of Russia's State Sovereignty by the first Congress of People's Deputies of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic. The day was originally known as the Independence Day, but many Russians, who no doubt enjoy federal days off, perceived the word "independence" as an offensive joke, as Russia liberated itself from the territories that originally had been part of the country for hundreds of years.
Since early Nineties, the general public has warmed up to the June 12 holiday, welcoming the opportunity to head to the dachas and catch up on sleep and gardening. The ceremony for presenting the 2008 Russian National Awards for outstanding achievements in science and technology, literature and the arts, and humanitarian work took place at the Grand Kremlin Palace (visit the official Kremlin website to learn more). However, Russia Day will never become as important to the Russian people, as, let's say, the Fourth of July is to the American nation. The main patriotic holiday remains Victory Day (May 9). Come back to Russia Blog in the nearest future to learn why this military parade and celebration of Russia's liberation from Nazi Germany and defeat of Fascism are hardly a portrayal of Russia's military might (as it is often described by the Western press), but truly are celebrations of the country's independence and the accomplishments of older generations.
"Those who went to Sparrow Hills this morning to stir up the trouble were simply wasting their energy. The world's biggest gay parade took place right here, at the Olympiysky [stadium in Moscow]" said Andrey Rybak, the 2009 Eurovision's winner, a Norwegian by passport and a Belarusian by birth.
I was in Moscow to witness the Eurovision the first two weeks of May, this year's most exciting European music event. The annual contest continues a tradition launched in 1956. It brought ABBA to light, along with many other talented (and not so talented) performers. The winning country gets to host the event, and last year's winning performance by Russia's Dima Bilan brought the festival to Moscow this month. Russia seemed to treat the occasion as a rehearsal for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, pouring a staggering $150 million into the song contest, and, according to all 42 voting countries, setting the bar so high, that no other European country can rival it for years to come.
Three interesting observations came to my mind after witnessing the glamorous event in person: the sexual orientation of its participants, the event's coverage in the Western media, and the lingual diversity (or lack thereof) among the participating countries.
Russia Today Goes John Galt RT Hosts Tea Partying Blogger
Russia Today, a 24/7 news network and website inspired by Al-Jazeera that was launched in 2005 to tell Russia's story to the world in the English language, has recently remodeled its main web page. In addition to the complete change of website layout, RT added several bloggers to its stable of writers, including an American from Virginia named Doug Wead. This is an interesting development, because Mr. Wead brings a "compassionate conservative" Republican voice to an otherwise apolitical or left-leaning collection of bloggers.
In the past, Russia Today has been criticized in the Western media for allegedly being too pro-Kremlin in its reporting and commentary. Russia Today features a commentary show and blog by Peter Lavelle, an American who has lived in Russia since the early Nineties who also contributes his commentary to Radio Free Europe/Liberty. Mr. Lavelle has been harshly critical of U.S. foreign and economic policies, which he blames for triggering the current global financial meltdown and the Georgia War that left hundreds of civilians dead last August.
Russian Banks Beg for Bailout Money Since They Will Suffer Controls Regardless
A currency exchange kiosk sign shows the exchange rate of one dollar to rubles in February 2009. In summer 2008, half a year earlier, one dollar could be purchased for only 23 rubles.
Americans these days are used to banks trying to avoid federal bailouts because they have learned that bailouts come with onerous government management controls. But in Russia, the government puts strings on banks if they are perceived to be in difficulty, and the Central Bank does this without providing any backup money of its own other than modest protection for individual depositors.
The St. Petersburg Times reports that small banks attending the annual conference of the Association of Russian Banks begged lawmakers and state officials to amend the new law that requires them to increase their net worth to 90 million rubles ($2.6 million) by January 1, 2010, and to 180 ($5.2 million) rubles by 2012. But government officials apparently regard the new law as necessary, even if it seems harsh. Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin said that while there are still "honest" banks in this small-cap category, there are also many banks "engaged in money laundering," banks that exist not to lend but to "protect the owners' or someone else's money." He predicted that by January 1 about 150 banks would not have enough capital to meet the requirements.
Putin Bans Seal-Hunt, Surprises Environmentalists, Pushes Canada into Isolation
A Canadian seal hunter takes a swing at a baby seal. "Our hunt ... is sustainable, it's viable and it's humane" says Thomas Hedderson, the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Newfoundland and Labrador.
This week, animal welfare activists have found themselves the most unlikely ally. Vladimir Putin, Russia's Prime-Minister, a judo master, a book author, and a pet lover, who received a tiger cub for his birthday, banned seal hunting in Russian waters. On March 18, Putin labeled the annual hunt of the animals a "bloody industry" that "should have been banned a long time ago." Putin's words and law put Canada further into isolation on the seal-hunting issue.
Sheryl Fink, a researcher for the International Fund for Animal Welfare based in Guelph, Ont, was positively shocked by Putin's decision. The Russian branch of the organization held rallies in cities across Russia last month, but after years of fruitless campaigning, Mr. Putin's support caught them off guard. "It highlights the fact that Canada is still in the Dark Ages on this issue. It's astounding when even the government of Russia is more willing to listen to its own people than ours is," Ms. Fink said.
Medvedev Videoblogs from Krasnaya Polyana (Site of 2014 Winter Olympics)
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is a regular video blogger at Kremlin.ru Medvedev also enjoys hosting foreign leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at Russia's southern resort city of Sochi
Like the U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is a big fan of using technology to get his message out. During his successful run for the White House, Obama used Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites to raise millions of dollars. Obama was also the first presidential candidate to use Twitter, a website that allows other users to receive short SMS type text messages of fewer than 160 characters from a particular person.
Medvedev, who is of the same fortysomething generation as Obama, is also using technology to reach a large audience -- without the filters of the mainstream news media that often emphasize Medvedev and Putin's occasional harsh warnings to the West rather than the main substance of their remarks. Over at the Russian presidential website kremlin.ru, Medvedev has posted a series of video blog posts about his administration and its goals. But Medvedev, a Leningrad-raised lawyer who is a fan of the British rock band Deep Purple, has also found the time to address some of his personal interests and hobbies.
Click on the extended post to read more and watch the video.
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.
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.
Russians Get News on American Elections that Even Americans Don't Get
Elephant Valery and donkey Sister voted at a Californian zoo. The animals probably have no clue that they betrayed their parties...
The Russian news media covers American elections in almost greater detail than the American media does. Russian readers can find plenty of information about both American presidential candidates, the scandal involving Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, an alleged murder conspiracy against Obama, Sarah Palin's love for fine clothes and hockey, and Barack's infomercial blanketing of American TV channels. However, the Russian mainstream media also gives a fair amount of coverage to minor party American presidential candidates, who, somehow, are largely ignored in their own country.
"Debates in a Margin of Error" by Gazeta.ru (Russia's most popular online news source) describes the debates between independent candidate Ralph Nader and constitutionalist candidate Chuck Baldwin. According to Gazeta.ru, the debates took place at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. and were attended by "journalists and students of the Washington University." The presidential candidate of the Green Party, Cynthia McKinney, and the Libertarian candidate Robert Barr did not attend the debates because of their "conflict of schedules." The correspondent for Gazeta.ru was disappointed with the lack of contention between the two debating candidates. Basically, both Nader and Baldwin agreed that the bi-partisan system is old and ineffective, Americans need "change", and the free market can do a better job than the government.
Crystal chandeliers and golden toilet seats might become part of Moscow's decadent past instead of present thanks to the global financial crisis
Two articles, one from the U.S. Washington Post and another from the UK Telegraph do a fair job describing the severe consequences of the global financial crisis for the elite club going life-style of Russia's extravagant rich.
The Washington Post raises the issue of Russian oligarchs losing their fortunes and the Medvedev-Putin government's dilemma of either bailing out Russia's super rich in an unpopular move to shore up the economy, or seize an opportunity to legally nationalize their businesses. It's no secret that many oligarchs enjoyed a successful "head-start" on building their vast fortunes by stealing state assets in the early Nineties, during the so-called privatization of Yeltsin's reforms.
The Telegraph describes the half-empty rooms in The Most, one of Moscow's most glamorous clubs and shops [the Telegraph story was picked up by an expat blog called Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears, which mocks the ludicrous excess of the Moscow clubbing and fashion world]. The $40,000 private tables, $1,000 shots of liquor, SWAT-team-like feis kontrol bouncers, and toilet seats made of gold in Moscow night clubs seem to be shifting from a nightly routine in the world capital for billionaires into a bizarre but amusing page in Russian history books.
Please visit the extended post to read the articles.
Japanese Pursue Space Elevator Concept Invented in Russia
A space elevator would tether an orbital station to the Earth via a lifting cable
Science fiction fans rejoice! At least one of the concepts from Arthur C. Clarke's novels, first proposed by the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895, is now closer to becoming reality, according to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.
As incredible as it sounds, one of the cheapest ways to get cargo into orbit would be to hoist it on a cable suspended in a stable orbit from space, rather than the traditional launching of expensive chemically-fueled rockets. Japanese engineers now believe that with ultra-strong lightweight carbon nanotube technologies a working space elevator is possible. A reliable space elevator could make lifting satellites into orbit as routine as commercial airline flights are today.
Much like the proposed tunnel under the Barents Strait between Alaska and Chuhotka, the project has not yet been proven feasible from an economic perspective - especially in a difficult period for the global economy. $10 billion though, still seems like small change to achieve the greatest engineering feat in human history.
Click on the extended post to read this interesting article.
Crisis in the Caucasus: A Unified Timeline, August 7-16, 2008
Nicolai N. Petro
Russian tanks crossing the Roki Tunnel (photo by NYT)
First compiled on August 28, 2008, this timeline is continuously being revised as more information becomes available. The latest PDF version can be downloaded from my web site.
This unified timeline of the onset of the crisis in the Caucasus is based on the detailed timelines available on the web sites of the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russia Today news service. These have been supplemented with various Georgian, Russian, and international press reports (references in brackets refer to the list of sources at the end of this document: "G" for Georgian, "R" for Russian, "M" for miscellaneous). For convenience all local times have been converted to GMT (UTC) which, at the time these events unfolded, was GMT (UTC) +4 in both Moscow and Tbilisi. There is surprisingly little disagreement about the actual sequence of events. Those that exceed two hours are noted with italics. My comments, in yellow at the bottom, attempt to highlight some notable findings.
The war in South Ossetia and Georgia, though appalling, resulted in fewer deaths and damage than originally reported. It is still not "over" and probably won't be for some time. Meanwhile, it definitely did serious damage to Russia's relationship with the West. In some ways, relations are worse than at any time since well before the collapse of the USSR--in other words, in roughly a quarter century.
We are going to say a lot more on this, and we are not inclined to be particularly laudatory to any of the players. The war has not made any country look good.
Meanwhile, before the war we wrote a report on Ten Reasons Americans Should Care About Russia. It follows, and, as you will see, it remains valid. Perhaps as tempers cool, people of good will can consider what is at stake; what there is to gain, and what there is to lose.
The Battle of the Dueling Presidents: Take Your Pick or "None of the Above"
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev
Russians and Georgians fight it out--in print. The Financial Times has scored by publishing articles by both Dimitri Medvedev and Mikheil Saakashvili. (P.R. firms representing both sides must be working overtime.) Obviously, both presidents are biased, but their points of view could have not been presented more clearly. Medvedev's "Why I had to Recognise Georgia's Breakaway Regions" and Saakashvili's "Moscow's Plan Is to Redraw the Map of Europe" in the order of their appearance in the FT:
Why I had to Recognise Georgia's Breakaway Regions By Dmitry Medvedev
August 26, 2008
On Tuesday Russia recognised the independence of the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was not a step taken lightly, or without full consideration of the consequences. But all possible outcomes had to be weighed against a sober understanding of the situation -- the histories of the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples, their freely expressed desire for independence, the tragic events of the past weeks and interÂnational precedents for such a move.
Russian Conspicuous Consumption Reaches New Heights
The Villa Leopolda on the French Riviera
When Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, spent $45 million a few years ago to build a mansion on the east side of Lake Washington, near Seattle, it was thought to have been the most expensive house ever. Regardless, it was a carefully thought out space for man who was the richest person in the world -- at least until he gave most of his fortune away. Gates is the individual who did more than anyone to help put a personal computer in every office and home. Then he and his wife turned to helping save lives around the world through their new foundation.
In any case, the honors for Big-Spender in the home category just keep going up and up. And wouldn't you know that the folks who sold off Russia's assets in the 1990s would be the leading contenders what has become a spectacular new conspicuous consumption sweepstakes?
When the $750 million house on the Riviera went on the market recently, many just assumed that the buyer--if any--would turn out to be a Russian. And so it is, according to Fox News.
Just who is the happy new home owner? Is he someone who, like Gates, made his money improving life for others while making a fortune for himself? Did he, too, set up a prestigious foundation to help the sick and unfortunate? Or is he one of the notorious kleptocrats?
Discovery Institute and the War in Ossetia and Georgia
Russian troops crossing the Russian-Georgian border.
"Truth is the first casualty of war," as is always said about now, because that statement is almost always right. And the second casualty is surely civilized restraint. Wars are easy to start, hard to contain, let alone end.
Right now, the surprising events in South Ossetia and Georgia represent a clash of information and interpretations. This is getting sorted out, but slowly. However, the events themselves are moving with agonizing speed.
For a couple of years now Discovery Institute's Russia Blog has been almost unique in representing otherwise ignored news about Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Often we provide access to news about business, culture and social developments that are occurring in a region that the West--including the USA--has tended to neglect since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now we are faced with a war in Georgia that is as big a surprise to most people (diplomats, too, it appears) as it is an obvious catastrophe for the peoples involved and a historic setback for Russian/Western relations. The complications for other regions will soon develop.
Forbes is reporting for the third straight year that Moscow is the most expensive city in the world according to a cost of living survey of expatriate professionals conducted by Mercer, a UK-based global human resources firm. Expats who have lived like native Muscovites for a long time may argue that prices in London and Tokyo are worse (and indeed, when it comes to rent for a luxury apartment, Tokyo still takes the cake) but Forbes leaves Moscow at the top of this dubious category. A cup of black coffee costs $10.83 in Moscow, but a latte with an hour of Internet access at Kafe Haus or Chocolatnitsa will could cost you considerably more.
NEW YORK - If you like bilingualism, you will love septalingualism.
Big Apple Mayor Michael Bloomberg's latest brainstorm outstrips his notorious war on trans-fats, both for its audacity and sheer senselessness. America's largest municipality soon will conduct official business in English and Spanish - which would be bad enough - plus five other foreign languages: Russian, Chinese, Korean, French Creole and Italian.
Russia Becomes Europe's Largest Car Market; American Cars Lead Sales
The New Ford Focus...
...and the Chevrolet Lacetti are the most popular cars in Russia.
Russia has become Europe's largest automotive market after year on year sales grew 41 percent in the first six months of 2008, according to a survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), reported Moscow News. In this period, 1.65 million cars were bought in Russia compared to 1.63 million in Germany, which was previously Europe's largest market. The most popular cars in Russia are American Ford Focus and Chevrolet Lacetti. Gazeta.ru reports that according to the Association of European Businesses, in the first six months of 2008, Russians purchased 1,058,037 new foreign cars. General Motors had no explanation for such success with their Lacetti. "Probably, this model is what a Russian consumer needs at the moment," said a GM representative.
The demand for American vehicles inspired General Motors to open a new factory in Saint Petersburg. The factory will produce 45,000 Lacettis a year. However, even having a factory in Russia is not going to be enough to satisfy Russian demand for automobiles. Russian drivers bought 45,000 Lacettis in just six months. Ford Focus has been an all-time favorite for middle-class Russian drivers, and the new redesigned model added popularity and stronger sales for this model. 47,500 Focuses were sold in the first six months of 2008. Korean and Japanese cars are also very popular with Russian families. The newest version of the Mitsubishi Lancer takes 5th place on the "hit parade" of the bestselling cars in Russia. However, the Japanese also cannot catch up with Russian demand; 34,000 Lancers were sold in the first half of the year, but there remains a long waiting list for more Lancers.
In February, Mr. Abramovich bought a five bedroom, 5,600-square-foot house in Snowmass Village, Colorado for $11.8 million. Two months later he spent $36.4 million on another property only a few miles away: a 14,300-square-foot, 11 bedroom ranch on 200 acres.
Russian oligarchs, pop stars, and rich people have bought properties all over Europe, pushing real estate prices in Prague and London to new heights. After a visit to Southern France in 2005, a friend of mine commented that, "Russian was the major language of the French Riviera." With wealthy Muscovites finding it easier to obtain visas these days, perhaps now the time has come for America to become a popular destination for Russian elites. Wealthy Russians have figured out that the U.S. has spectacular mountain and ocean views, fresh air, wide open spaces, which can be enjoyed for home prices far below those of comparable properties in the playgrounds of Europe or the Russian Riviera.
"Sergey Skaterschikov, a Moscow-based private-equity investor, is shopping for a house in Palo Alto, California, because his son will attend school in the area. With a budget of $3.5 million to $5 million, the five- and six-bedroom houses the 36-year-old Mr. Skaterschikov has looked at struck him as cheap compared with Moscow real estate, which he called "insane..." reports The Wall Street Journal.
Please visit the extended post to read the newspaper's report and see the photos.
The Spanish team showed admirable professionalism and fully deserved to go on to the final against Germany. Nearly twenty unscheduled flights with fans left Moscow for Vienna this morning. Russia lost, but there are no bad feelings towards the squad or its Dutch coach. A young Russian team looked tired and overmatched, but it achieved something that no one could have dreamed of just two weeks ago, and the country is proud of its players for reaching the semi-finals of the European championship. Tonight fireworks can be heard in major Russian cities, but there were no riots by upset fans. Many Russian families went to bed around 2 a.m. Moscow time with the full understanding that today their team faced highly experienced professionals - and it will compete at the highest levels again very soon.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms made the game hard on both teams, but it did not interrupt the satellite broadcast (as it happened yesterday during the game between Germany and Turkey).
Congratulations to Spain - we can't wait to see the final between German and Spanish teams this coming Sunday. The game, as usual, will be broadcast at 2:30 PM EST, 11:30 AM PST.
A Russian band and fans marching through the streets of Vienna before the game. Russian fans preferred taking photos with local statues dressed in Spanish jerseys, while Spanish fans enjoyed taking photos with Russian girls. The spirit was high and interactions were warm and friendly.More photos in extended post.
Semi-Finals Euro 2008: Russia vs. Spain 2:30 PM EST, 11:30 AM PST
Russian Soccer team training in Vienna on Tuesday We stongly recommend this video from CNN about Russia's victories this year.
Don't miss this historic game! This is the first time that a Russian (not Soviet) team has made it to the European quarter-finals and then semi-finals. Previously, no Russian team made it past the qualifying round of the Euro soccer tournament. Now, after conquering the previously undefeated Dutch team, the Russian squad, led by a Dutch coach, will play Spain in Vienna. The Russian parliament may advise Russian vendors to avoid sales of alcohol the day of the game. Even though such suggestion is not a law, many businesses will most likely listen to it, because the profits to be made from alcohol sales cannot compare with the losses suffered from damage caused by rowdy fans. Last Saturday to Sunday night (June 21-22, 2008), Moscow became the scene of the largest Russian public demonstration since victory day in World War II. The spontaneous celebrations in the city streets were peaceful and continued until 8 a.m.
Dutchman Guus Hiddink, Russia's coach, celebrates victory over the Dutch team
This past Saturday, another example of Russia's global resurgence was exhibited on the soccer pitch in Basel, Switzerland, in a thrilling quarter-final match between Russia and a highly thought of Dutch squad, at the European 2008 men's soccer tournament ("Euro '08").
Open container? Yes. To the Russian soccer team!
Playing inspired soccer from the start, Russia had several scoring opportunities. After a scoreless first half, Roman Pavlyuchenko connected for Russia's first goal (so far, Pavlyuchernko is Russia's leading scorer in the tournament). Later on in the second half, the Dutch answered with a well executed header from Ruud Van Nistelrooy. After a 1-1 tie in regulation time, the two sides played to a scoreless first half of extra time. In the second half of extra time, Dmitri Torbinsky and Andrei Arshavin scored to ice the game for Russia.
Fans in Red Square, Moscow, celebrate Russia's victory
On June 22, 1941 Nazi Germany launched the largest invasion in history
Today is the 67th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. While Russians this year celebrated Victory Day and unprecedented peace and prosperity in Russia, the country remains deeply scarred by World War II. Some Western demographers believe that Russia's difficulty in maintaining its population is partially the result of the loss of nearly 20 million people in the Great Patriotic War. And a few older Russian military analysts fret that Russia may not have the manpower to maintain its borders in the 21st century.
The proposed installation of U.S. missile defense systems in Poland and Lithuania, combined with the possibility of NATO membership for Georgia, is rubbing salt in old Russian wounds. These "expand NATO eastward on autopilot" policies stand in stark contrast to the deliberate peacemaking President Reagan accomplished in the late 1980s, when he acknowledged the tremendous insecurities the Soviets felt as a result of their trauma from World War II. By offering to share missile defense technology, Reagan helped to convince Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders that the USSR could feel safe enough to end the Cold War. By promising no NATO military installations east of the Oder (a promise his successors did not keep), the George H.W. Bush Administration gave Boris Yeltsin even more confidence to break up the Soviet Empire. Interestingly enough, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in his recent public speeches has revived the use of Gorbachev's phrase "from Vancouver to Vladivostok" to describe East-West relations after the Cold War.
Today the main threats to Russia come from within, rather than from without. Instead of Stalin's purges leaving the Red Army leaderless, the main problem today is cynical officers and NCOs all-too-often turning a blind eye to abuse and exploitation of the hapless conscripts under their command. Russia can and must do better. Russia should create an all-volunteer corps backed by reservists that can secure its borders against the main threats of the 21st century - terrorism, trafficking in people, narcotics and weapons, and natural disasters.
Click on the extended post to watch the PBS miniseries "Battlefield: The Battle for Russia" and for links to other Russia Blog posts about Russia's role in World War II.
Holland-Russia Soccer Game to be Nationally Televised in the U.S.
Dutchman Guus Hiddink is the head coach of Russian men's national soccer team (photos by ESPN)
Throughout history, Russia has shown a willingness to utilize non-Russian know-how for greater advancement. As a case in point, Peter the Great studied shipbuilding in Holland and England, to enhance Russia's maritime status. In 2006, Dutchman Guus Hiddink was hired to coach the Russian men's national soccer team.
Prior to Hiddink's hiring, Russia's soccer program was in disarray. The quality level of a soccer coach has been known to greatly influence the level of a given program. Money was shelled out to Hiddink with that in mind. Hiddink has a good track record for improving the stature of the national soccer teams he has coached.
After a sluggish start in their first game of the men's European 2008 soccer tournament (a 4-1 loss to Spain), the Russian team won its games against Greece and Sweden. Russia now faces the daunting task of playing the highly regarded Dutch team in a quarter-final match.
This week, two articles once again bring Western readers' attention to the growing wealth of many Russians. While Sean Guillory of Sean's Russia Blogwrites about the bottom 15.3% of the Russian population that survives on less than $95 a month, The New York Times delivers some amusing reporting on the growing flocks of Russian tourists abroad. Salon.com has photos of a $25,000 set of vodka bottles and descriptions of other extravagant luxury items that many of the 200,000 wealthy Russians residing in London like to buy.
Russian Travel (Made Easy) Finally! Sheremetyevo Gets Connected to Downtown Moscow via High-Speed Rail
Russian travel made easy. Sheremetyevo express train will travel at 75-100 miles an hour, will take 25-35 minutes, and will cost only $10. The service begins... tomorrow! (Photo by Itar-Tass)
Sheremetyevo (Terminals 1, 2 and C) is Moscow's major international airport. The one to five hour drive that could be never predicted or estimated by Moscow drivers is finally unnecessary, once and for all. The airport welcomed the first high-speed express-train that departed from Savyolovskaya subway station and train station today (June 10, 2008). The opening ceremonial trip was just a trial and took longer than promised on the way from the airport for multiple safety checks. The railroad opens tomorrow (June 11, 2008) for regular operation. Dear foreigners and Moscow visitors, please, do not be fooled anymore by taxi drivers offering 100-200 euro cab rides to downtown, and read on.
The trains travel at 75 miles-an-hour with the capacity to go much faster. The Russian Railroads promises the 100 miles-an-hour travel to begin soon. Now it takes only 35 minutes and 250 rubles ($10) to get to the Sheremetyevo airport; 300 rubles ($12) for a business class car. While Sheremetyevo's Terminal 2 is connected to train station by a walkway, the shuttle-buses for Terminals 1 and C are available for 40 rubles ($1.60).
Sheremetyevo was the last airport, after Domodedovo and Vnukovo, to receive its own railroad. It costs $6 to get to downtown Moscow from Domodedovo airport (train stops at Paveletskaya subway station and train station), and $4 to get to Moscow from Vnukovo airport (train stops at Kievskaya subway station and train station). Furthermore, you can register for your flight and check in your luggage at the train station just an hour and a half prior to your flight departure, take the thirty-minute train ride, and step on a plane. Enjoy the express-trains and welcome to Moscow!
When the Western Allies successfully landed in Normandy 64 years ago, they overcame tossing seas, heavily fortified defenses, and murderous fire from determined defenders on the beaches. What they did not have to face on June 6, 1944 were the Luftwaffe or over 80% of the German armies. Today Time magazine's Jordan Bonfante reminds his Western readers of the main reasons why:
By measure of manpower, duration, territorial reach and casualties, [the Eastern Front] was as much as four times the scale of the conflict on the Western Front that opened with the Normandy invasion of June 1944. The Nazis' initial invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa, involved 3.2 million German troops and 3,000 aircraft, and even after the U.S.-led invasion of Western Europe, the vast majority of German military resources remained deployed against the Soviets. By war's end, according to historian Norman Davies, the U.S.S.R. had lost 11 million troops.
St. Petersburg Economic Forum: Productive Discussion or Bling of Russia's Beau Monde?
The annual St. Petersburg Economic Forum took an interesting turn this year, when participants were allowed to arrive at the forum by sea. Pink Floyd 's Roger Waters opened the forum with a concert, and President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to participate in the Forum's discussions.
The Forum's organizers had wanted to build a special dock for the participants' lavish yachts. President Medvedev's remarks will likely draw major media attention, the concert is going to be great, but as usual, the docks happened to be too small for...Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich's Pelorus, a 377 feet and 3 inch-long (115 meters) "boat."
The 42 year-old Abramovich may be the richest man in Russia, so wherever he goes, from Moscow to London, he is sure to draw the paparazzi, especially now that he has a 26 year-old girlfriend, Dharia Zhukova, who is a model and interior designer. Today his yacht moored on the Neva river in downtown St. Petersburg attracting more tourists than the city's centuries-old cathedrals and palaces. Mooring in downtown St. Pete is normal for cruise ships, and costs $15 a day per one meter (3 feet) of space. Mooring the Pelorus would have cost Abramovich $1,725 a day, but the city granted the oil and metals tycoon free "parking,". Abramovich is used to the high expenses associated with maintaining his prize vessel. Maintenance of the $300,000,000 dollar ship serviced by 46 full-time employees costs $12 million dollars a year. The ship, powered by two 5,500-hp engines, is equipped with 22 luxurious rooms, entertainment centers, swimming pools, helicopter pads... a missile-defense system and a mini-submarine. The vessel was purchased from a Saudi sheik, is registered in New Zealand, flies the flag of the Cayman Islands, and spends a lot of time in the Caribbean.
Russia Blog wishes much success to the participants of the Economic Forum, and hopes that the results of the discussions will allow every Russian family to buy a boat like this.
Please, visit the extended post to view the photos (photos by Gazeta.ru).
UCLA's Professor Launches a Website on Russian Pop Music
David MacFadyen, Professor and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, has created the only English-language site dedicated to new music from Russia. The portal is called "Far from Moscow" (the name of a famous Soviet novel and film) and covers all kinds of genres -- all the way from Dima Bilan's soothing melodies to vile noise. The website covers not only Russian music, but also gives snapshots of the Russian recording industry, providing information about Russian record labels and music portals.
This project is unique for several reasons. First, a Brit, not a Russian, is writing about Russian music, thus he brings attention to nuances that might be overlooked by a common Russian reviewer. Second, the website is frequently updated; every day it adds video, audio, and quick sketches of the artists. And, third... the UCLA Department's Chair himself brings his life-long expertise in Russian language and the arts to this unique outlet. UCLA Professor David MacFadyen is an author of multiple books and dozens of reviews and publications on Russian culture.
One of the Real Russia Project fellows has discovered the existence of a hidden community in the depths of Siberia. His film was aired by English Al Jazeera. Please, take a look at this extraordinary video. The film is about people who have chosen to live in the kind of place most would be desperate to escape from. The town is called Yeniseysk 15 and used to be a secret Soviet military base, but was closed down by Mikhail Gorbachev when the Soviet Union began to collapse. Now, Yeniseysk 15 is being repopulated...
NYT: Metropolitan Laurus, Who Healed Rift in Russian Orthodox Church, Is Dead at 80
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Metropolitan Laurus, who led the overseas branch of the Russian Orthodox Church to a historic rapprochement with the Moscow mother church, from which it split after the Communist revolution in 1917, died Sunday at a monastery in Jordanville, N.Y. He was 80. Nicholas Ohotin, a church spokesman, said no cause had been determined. News reports from Russia made much of the day of his death: it was the Feast of Orthodoxy, when those who have given greatly to the church are venerated.
Metropolitan Laurus's most historic moment occurred last May in the great rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which Stalin had once destroyed to build a swimming pool. As leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, he exchanged kisses on the cheek with the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksei II.
To The Point News reports on something that would have made Khrushchev take both shoes off and bang along with the Red Army Choir to "Sweet Home Alabama." Prepare yourself for this one - maybe with a Stoli martini or two.
Back in the days of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Red Army had an official choir composed of male soldiers and musicians. It still exists. The Red Army Choir performs throughout Russia to this day. Now consider the Finnish rock band called The Leningrad Cowboys. A little while ago, they held a concert in Russia, in which - to the screaming applause of Russkie teenagers - they got the Red Army Choir to join them on stage for a performance of "Sweet Home Alabama." In English. You couldn't make this stuff up.
We're talking seriously off the wall here. Better have that Stoli ready when you watch it:
Oleg Deripaska is the richest Russian with a fortune of over 28 billion dollars
Forbes reports: Moscow has overtaken New York City as home to the most billionaires, according to Forbes magazine, with 74 of the super-rich elite now counting the Russian capital as their home. By contrast, 71 billionaires live in New York, according to the magazine's annual list, which placed London in third place with 36.
"Russia is again the dominant story in (Europe) this year. Its billionaires are just fast and fearsome. What's fascinating is that every single one of them is self made," said Forbes senior editor Luisa Kroll. "We're not going to get into exactly how they got it but none of them inherited it and their average age is 46," she added.
Russia now counts a total of 87 billionaires, ousting Germany in second place but still trailing the first-placed United States, which has 469. Russian oligarchs have made seen their fortunes rise in recent years thanks to booming commodity prices. Among the top-placed Russian figures were aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, valued at 28 billion dollars and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, said to be worth 23.5 billion dollars.
Presidential Debates Russian-Style: Get the Hell Out of the Studio! Scoundrel. I'll Rip Your Head Off!
"Take him out, and shoot the scoundrel!"Better than Saturday NIght Live, and real...
Presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky about presidential candidate Andrey Bogdanov: "He's a scoundrel. Look at his face! The guy's sick! A typical schizoid! Any psychiatrist will tell you, the guy is a wacko..."
Vladimir Zhirinovsky to Andrey Bogdanov's representative: "Get the hell out of the studio! Scoundrel. I'll rip your head off. A professor, my foot! Idiot!"
Vladimir Zhirinovsky to his bodyguard: "What are you looking at? Take him out, and shoot the scoundrel in the hallway!"
Election debates are a new Russian tradition. Even though Dmitry Medvedev refused to participate in the debates, 47% of Russians still watched them with plenty of interest. One third of Russians find the debates to be a useless, but entertaining show. Russia Blog believes that debates are a necessary component of modern elections, and condemns the United Russia presidential hopeful Medvedev for rejecting the invitations to the debates.
Russian viewers were left with three debaters: Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, famous leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the independent liberal candidate Andrey Bogdanov. Last weekend was definitely the high point of the debates. The most interesting episode took place when the debaters thought the cameras were off...
The most exclusive club in Moscow, Dyagilev, burned down on February 7, 2008. No one died, but three people were hospitalized with serious injuries. One of the injured sustained serious burns, while two others suffered from smoke inhalation. Overall, the rescue effort lead by Moscow firefighters was impressive, as a facility filled with 1,500 drunk people was promptly evacuated at the break of dawn. The roof of the Diagilev club collapsed during the blaze. A rescue helicopter was scrambled to fight the fire with multiple ambulances and fire trucks also arriving on the scene. The fire, which spread over 15,000 square feet, was put out. Neighboring buildings were also evacuated.
The Diagilev Project was known to be the most lavish and high-profile spot for international celebrities, corporate executives, and the clubbing elite in Russia. Famous U.S. comedic actor Jim Carey, Brazilian soccer superstar Ronaldo, and former world heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson used to stop by the club. The Chinese Embassy was planning to hold a New Year's party (Chinese Year of Rat) at Dyagilev the night after the fire. The club did not serve beer, and many Russian stars were unable to pass through the notorious face-control; reserving a private booth could cost as much as $40,000. Time magazine devoted three full pages to the club in a recent issue that proclaimed Russian President Vladimir Putin as Man of the Year.
Muscovites who live in the city's Strogino neighborhood received a nice gift from the City of Moscow for Orthodox Christmas -- a new subway station. The Strogino station is the 176th station of the Moscow Metro. The station has a modern design, unlike many Soviet-era stations. However, the benches and floors of the stations are decorated with expensive wood and granite. Combining functionality with luxury is a well-known tradition in the Moscow subway. If several million people have to spend a few hours each day underground, why not make their experience more pleasant?
The idea of building the metro was conceived on June 15, 1931 by the Communist Party. The first trains started running between Sokolniki, Park Kulturi, Okhotny Ryad, and Smolenskaya (the "red" line) on May 15, 1935, carrying 177,000 passengers daily. Today, the Moscow Metro is 292.9 km (182.5 miles) long and carries over ten million passengers a day. Statistics show that the metro carried 3.14 billion passengers in 1994. The trains leave every 40 seconds during rush hour, and every 3 minutes during later hours, travelling at 55-60 miles an hour. The stations are open from 5 am until 1:30 am, and it costs just 17 rubles (70 cents U.S.) to go anywhere in the city. Some of the stations are connected by a 4.2 mile monorail. Many foreign employees and executives who live in Moscow don't own cars and swear by using the metro in their daily routine.
Ringing in 2007 in from Spasskaya Tower in Red Square To watch President Vladimir Putin's 2008 New Year's address to the nation, click here. You can also watch the 2007 Russian presidential New Year's speech here
Today is New Year's Day, perhaps the most beloved family holiday on the Russian calendar. Today marks not only the beginning of the new year, but also of the extended holiday vacation season in Russia. Many Russians won't be returning to work until Monday, January 14.
January 1, 2008 also will see the merger of two Russian oblasts, Ust-Orda Buryatia and Irkutsk Oblast, following the results of a 2006 regional referendum in Siberia. The Russian Federation will now go from having 85 federal regions to 84.
From Russia Blog to our readers around the world, best wishes, health and happiness for the new year!
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.
Russian expats wanting to decorate their sumptuous homes and build new art collections gathered in London yesterday for what is expected to be a record-breaking week of Russian art auctions.
Sotheby's kicked off last night with a sale of treasures from private collections across the world, rarely seen in public. The highlight was Natalia Goncharova's Bluebells (see next page), circa 1909, which went for Â£3m. The total take was Â£25.7m making it an historic night, according to Sotheby's head of Russian art, Jo Vickery. "It shows the Russian art market has come of age."
All London's major auction houses have sales this week: on Wednesday, Christie's is due to sell a newly discovered Faberge egg which could fetch as much as Â£9m.
Which is worse: Media suppressed or Media gone wild? As loyal Russia Blog readers know, we are continually amazed by the lack of objective reporting about life in modern day Russia. Every month, Russia Blog pours over hundreds of mainstream media articles in an effort to identify the most biased, stereotypical piece we can find about the country. Recently, one publication's coverage of Russia easily thrust itself into first place to win the coveted Shoe Award. After only limited deliberation, our distinguished panel of judges happily provides the latest award to (drumroll please).... The Economist.
The Chinese Wall between business reporters on the one hand and the soft news writers and other chattering heads on the other is a disturbing trend. While plenty is written about the lack of press freedoms in many parts of the world, we are especially saddened when venerable journals in free countries do such a poor job of covering issues in Russia -- here, however, The Economist has excelled beyond all others.
Russia Blog congratulates all those who are fond of space exploration and science fiction by marking the 50th Anniversary of Sputnik (translates into English as "Satellite") being launched into orbit. Sputnik was the first man-made object in outer space.
"I am convinced that the Sputnik accomplishment by the Russian people was responsible for the creation of the American space program that I head today," NASA administrator Michael Griffin told space veterans at Russia's Academy of Science in Moscow. "Without Sputnik there would have been no Apollo," said Griffin, referring to the Apollo project, which put a man on the moon in 1969.
Even Hillary Clinton managed to tie Sputnik in to her election campaign by contrasting her position on stem cell research with her Republican opponents. "What America achieved after Sputnik is a symbol of what America can do now as we confront a new global economy, new environmental challenges, and the promise of new discoveries in medicine," Mrs. Clinton said. However, Hillary's reference to Sputnik isn't nearly as entertaining as her recent proposal to imitate President Putin's pro-natalist policies on American soil: "I like the idea of giving every baby born in America $5,000."
Sugar free Red Bull in Russia? Yep, they've got it
As those of you who live in a foreign country know, it is the "small victories" which make all the frustrations of a different culture seem irrelevant. Several weeks ago I had three such small victories.
1. I "discovered" that it IS POSSIBLE to buy Sugar-Free Red Bull. Red Bull mixed with vodka and a twist of lemon is a great drink. The problem for me had been "uglivodee" (aka carbs) or way too many calories in a standard can of Red Bull. Problem solved.
Russia/Ukraine to Restart Antonov 124 Production Russian An-124s Flying into Iraq, Afghanistan
A Ukrainian Antonov Airlines An-124 landing in Southern California in 2006
One of the little noted news stories to come out of the MAKS 2007 air show was the announcement by Motor Sich OJSC and Ukraine's Antonov Design Bureau that they would jointly resume production of the Antonov 124 "Ruslan" cargo plane. It has 25% more cargo capacity than the largest plane in the U.S. Air Force inventory, the C-5 Galaxy.
The An-124 and its successor, the An-225, were originally designed in the late 1970s to support Soviet oil and gas development in Siberia. In 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, all new production of Antonovs came to halt. During the Nineties, when transport aircraft were still in high demand but civil and military aviation in the former USSR was in terrible shape, several Antonov jets crashed. However, since the year 2000, Antonov 124s and the -225 have safely logged thousands of flight hours without incident in some of the harshest climates on Earth.
"If you do business in Russia, you will lose all of your money, because your Russian business partner will steal it from you, because he or she is a thief. And you will die, because the Russian mafia will murder you in your hotel bedroom when you visit Moscow or St. Petersburg (I'm happily surprised that so many of you survived the night)."
"This is the Wall Street Journal and CNN view of business in Russia...and it's 98.6% wrong, rubbish, garbage. Business success in Russia is the best kept business secret in the world. More rubbish is written and spoken about Russia than any other country on the planet Earth."
An expedition aimed at strengthening Russia's claim to much of the Arctic Ocean reached the North Pole yesterday afternoon.
An advance party of six researchers flew to the North Pole in a helicopter early Wednesday and spent 11 minutes on the ice scouting the route for the icebreaker Rossiya and the scientific research vesselAkademik Fyodorov.
Nuclear-powered icebreaker Rossiya
Mir-1 and Mir-2, the mini-submarines, each carrying one pilot, reached the seabed at a depth of 1,311 meters (4,301 feet), 47 nautical miles (87 km) north of Russia's northernmost archipelago, Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea during the test dive on July 30.
Mini-sub Mir during the test dive. These mini-subs are best known for doing all the under-water filming for the blockbuster movie Titanic
As you might have noticed, Russia Blog has added several political, business and cultural news
sources at the top of its blogroll, listed in alphabetical order. Also, if you point your cursor at the categories in the far left hand column of Russia Blog, you will see descriptions of each category to facilitate searching for information on different topics.
In addition to linking to the BBC Russia service, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Russian news agencies and English-language newspapers, we have provided links to the websites for Russia's two major stock markets, the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, the Patriarchate of Moscow, and Sochi's preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
If you keep scrolling down, you will find Russian news aggregators, political commentary websites where Real Russia Project content has previously been featured, and much more.
Click here to read a transcript of the most recent RRP event in Washington, D.C.
Rusiya Al-Yaum (Ø±ÙˆØ³ÙŠØ§ Ø§Ù„ÙŠÙˆÙ… ) Russia Today in Arabic
Rusiya al Yaum news presenter Ibrahim Al-Kumat
On May 4, 2007, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency launched an Arabic satellite news channel, Rusiya Al Yaum (Russia Today). The new channel uses the same name, logo and format as the English language Russia Today TV network, which first went on the air in late 2005. Rusiya al Yaum is broadcast every day from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Moscow time (you can watch it live over the web here)
In 2004, America created the Al-Hurra (The Free One) satellite television network to reach Arabs with news and views unfiltered by Arab governments. Now Russia has created its own government-sponsored satellite TV network to engage the Arab world.
Click on the extended post to watch a clip from Rusiya al Yaum.
Every day adds something new and exciting to life here in Moscow. The web has created many new opportunities for my business, and the feedback I get from readers of Equity Financing in Russia and Russia Blog has amost all been positive. In fact, thanks to StatCounter, I have compiled a nice list of visits to my site from servers of numerous government agencies and financial institutions all over the world. Clearly there is a growing demand for real-time and breaking news from Russian financial markets.
Working hard, and apparently playing hard in Moscow too:
"On Saturday night of June 23  residents of Moscow City area were intrigued by a group of young people partying at the Federation Tower. Dance music was heard, and break-dancers performed right in the street, and more and more people were coming."
"That was the beginning of the Street Challenge competition, which became a major event of our corporate life. The organizers -- the Council of Young Specialists and MGSU students -- brought together a hundred of Mirax Group staff, who divided into 29 teams and rushed along the night city streets to display quick wit and resource and win the Cup."
"The tasks were different -- from epatage, for example, to take a picture of a young man in a skirt at the entrance to the army recruitment center, to mathematical problems. During the game they had to communicate with unsmiling guides, faked policemen, and angry vendors and make them render assistance or least stay out of the way. It was not easy to distinguish between ordinary passers-by and masked organizers not to put a foot into it."
Click on the extended post to read more about the developers building the the most visible addition to Moscow's skyline.
Click on the extended post to see the video tour of Sochi 2014, President Putin's speech in English and French, pictures, reason to travel Russia, and more
Sochi, Russia's Black Sea Riviera, has won its bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2014. This will be the first time ever Russia will host the winter games. Moscow hosted the Olympics in 1980, when the U.S. boycotted the games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Sochi has the most expensive real estate in Russia. This statistic should be staggering, considering that Moscow is already 35% more expensive than New York City. The reason is simple -- Sochi is a happy childhood memory for any well-off Russian over the age of twenty. Maria Sharapova, the world famous tennis player, grew up in Sochi and campaigned abroad for the city to host the games. Vladimir Putin loves to ski in Sochi. Russian pop-stars and business executives have vacation homes there, Russian young professionals grew up taking summer trips to Sochi with their parents, and even the author of this post chose to live in Seattle, Washington, because the Pacific Northwest is so much like... Sochi.
During my career here in Moscow, I have come across many American businessmen who were keen to play golf in Russia. In one case, we even cancelled a couple of business meetings in favor of taking our guests to the Moscow City Golf Club.
The question foreigners always ask at first is -- does golf exist in Russia? Does the average Russian know anything about golf? The first answer is yes, it does exist; but the second question is more difficult to answer.
Video clip of the Russian Red Army Choir singing "The Sacred War" (Ð¡Ð²ÑÑ‰ÐµÐ½Ð½Ð°Ñ Ð’Ð¾Ð¹Ð½Ð°) This movie clip shows some typically Russian dark humor...
66 years ago today Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the fascist invasion of the Soviet Union. You can read some thoughts about whether young Russians are forgetting the Great Patriotic War (Belikiya Otechestvennaya Voyna) over at Sean Guillory's Russki Blog. You can also find reviews of new books about Russia's role in the Second World War at Kunikov's Book Reviews.
Click on the extended post for links to other Russia Blog posts on this topic.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- If your boss wants to transfer you to Moscow this year, he'd better offer you a fair sum to do so - or even a downright handsome one depending on where you live now. That's because Moscow has just been designated the world's most expensive city for the second year in a row by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.
Using the cost of living in New York as a base, Mercer determined Moscow is 34.4 percent more expensive after taking into account the cost of housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment.
"The appreciation of the ruble against the U.S. dollar, combined with ever-increasing accommodation charges, has driven up costs for expatriates in Moscow," Mercer research manager Nathalie Constantin-Metral said in a statement.
A luxury two-bedroom in Moscow now rents for $4,000 a month; a CD costs $24.83, and an international newspaper, $6.30, according to Mercer. By comparison, a fast food meal with a burger is a steal at $4.80.
Read more on CNN website. Click on the extended post to watch a Russia Today TV video on this topic.
"White Russians" in ice glasses on an ice table in an ice-bar in St. Petersburg (photo essay at the end of the post)
I was in Russia in 1965 and just returned. "I like to visit every 40 years or so," I told folks in Moscow. The place has changed, I explained deadpan to some young Russians of my acquaintance. Where an Intourist restaurant of yore served bad food with a sour attitude and left you free thereafter to wander vacant streets after dinner, utterly bored, intimidated and depressed, Moscow today fairly shouts its attractions, some of which are embarrassing, and all of which are costly. The formerly deserted, fourteen lane-wide streets are now so full of traffic at midnight that one has to dodge frustrated drivers who decide to pass on the "sidewalk lane." Police in their sad little Ladas are the ones who seem intimidated now.
Everyone seems to stay out late and arrive late to work in the morning. Heavy traffic is both a real excuse for it and just an excuse. These early summer dates, when the night is still light at midnight, remain hot until late, so it takes a long time for the typical apartment to cool down and make sleep possible.
Bruce Chapman frustrated at a traffic jam on the embankment of the Moscow River
I come back to the States with a few tips for tourists and visiting businessmen.
For Russians, the iconic image of Red Army soldiers standing victorious over the Reichstag is the equivalent of the U.S. Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima
Today is Victory Day in Russia, the holiday when the country pauses to remember the Russian victory over Nazi Germany. Historians estimate that between 1941 and 1945 the Soviet Union lost 8.5 million soldiers killed, wounded or missing in action, and more than 12 million Soviet citizens died from starvation, deportation, and mistreatment.
To put Russia's staggering losses between 1941-45 in perspective for Americans, the equivalent would have been for America to lose New York to a three year siege, to have forcibly evacuated millions of people beyond the Rocky Mountains, followed by the loss of nearly every city east of the Mississippi to the enemy, until the American army finally stopped the invaders at the decisive battle of St. Louis.
UPDATE - 05/20/2007: Russians in Bellevue, Washington commemorated Victory Day. You can read more about it here.
See the extended post for photos of a Russian Orthodox priest consecrating Easter cakes and eggs in the small town of Naro-Fominsk 45 miles outside of Moscow. In the extended post, you will also see photos of Russian leaders attending the Easter night service in Moscow, which was aired on national television.
April 18, 2007 Russia: Friend, Foe, or What? Moderated by Ambassador John Miller and featuring University of Washington Professor Herbert Ellison and Bill Robinson, JD
Discovery Institute is pleased to host distinguished Russian Studies scholar Herbert Ellison and international attorney Bill Robinson for an insightful and informative forum and discussion on the state of U.S.-Russia relations. The event will be moderated by Ambassador John Miller and will focus on recent events related to Russia as well as Western stereotypes about Russia and how these stereotypes negatively impact trade and diplomacy.
This will be an opportunity to hear the views of experts who are familiar not only with Moscow, but Russia's regions as well. Their insights into the business and investment climate through out the country will be helpful in discerning the truth behind many of the prevailing stereotypes.
The event is organized by the Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project and will be held in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2007. The event is open to the public and will be held at 4:30 PM at the University Club located at 1135 16th Street, N.W.
You will not want to miss this important and timely forum. To register, please contact Logan Gage at (202) 558-7084. If you have questions about the event, please contact Yuri Mamchur at (206) 292-0401, ext.151.
See the extended post for the speakers' biographies.
Enjoy these photos taken last month by Anton Verstakov on the Sparrow Hills near Moscow State University! The slopes are not nearly as nice as Lake Tahoe in California, Mount Baker in Washington or Vail in Colorado, but they are good enough for being near downtown Moscow, just a 15 minute drive from the Kremlin!
Cobblers by Day, Cabalists by Night Russia Blog Launches the Shoe Award
A recent experience Russia Blog had with a local media outlet over a movie screening we organized highlighted for us how Russia and coverage of Russian news is often overshadowed or outright hijacked by various public personalities and media for their own agenda.
It is for this reason that we have decided it is time to launch the Shoe Award to identify and decorate those who best exemplify either an irrational love of Mother Russia or a fanatical fear of the Bear or just an irrational fanaticism on a Russian scale.
The award is named in honor of the fifth premier of the Soviet Union and Time's 1957 Man of the Year, Nikita Khrushchev. A man who embodied the fickleness, the misplaced righteous indignation, the complete lack of knowledge about basic facts of Russia, and the unfounded, sanctimonious outbursts that have come to characterize media coverage of the Russian Federation. Khrushchev's tirade upon learning that his tour of Los Angeles had been cancelled best captures the tone of much of what passes for news about Russia today:
We have come to this town where lives the cream of American art. And just imagine, I, a Premier, a Soviet representative, when I came here to this city, I was given a plan, a program of what I was to be shown and whom I was to meet here.
But just now, I was told that I could not go to Disneyland. I asked: "Why not? What is it? Do you have rocket-launching pads there? I do not know."
And just listen, just listen to what I was told, to what reason I was told. We, which means the American authorities, cannot guarantee your security if you go there.
What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me? Then what must I do? Commit suicide? That is the situation I am in--your guest. For me the situation is inconceivable. I cannot find words to explain this to my people!
We are looking for pieces from print and broadcast media that are either extremely pro-Russia or exceptionally anti-Russia or are great examples of Russia being used for a completely non-Russia related agenda. Please send submissions (including the article or video clip) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For our first Shoe Award recipient we are proud to recognize Annie Wagner of The Stranger, a Seattle-based weekly newspaper, for her amazing ability to write an entire review on one of the highest grossing blockbusters in contemporary Russian history without actually having seen the film. Her use of 9th Company as a platform to attack the Discovery Institute and bus transit is truly remarkable and only surpassed by the way in which she concocted her crazed ranting. And for that we are honoring her with not only the award, but a replica of Nikita's left shoe and a DVD of the film she described as an "apparently entertaining movie". We salute her egregious appropriation of Russia for her own personal agenda.
For the second recipient of the Shoe Award (after all, they come in pairs), we are awarding the right one to the Real Russia Project for the same self-serving reasons.
Click the extended post to see the award and the methodology
March 8th in Russia is International Women's Day. Besides Russia and a few former Soviet republics, no one really celebrates it anywhere else in the world. In Russia, March 8th is a federal holiday and a reason for men to sometimes spend more money than they do on Christmas gifts. American Valentine's Day doesn't come anywhere close in spending on flowers, diamonds, cars, and other knick-knacks of endearment.
How did Russia end up celebrating the international day which is not celebrated anywhere else? It has its roots in Roman times. Roman matrons (married women who were born free) had their special day, when their husbands would surround them with extra love, care, and gifts. Even female slaves got the day off.
These photos are the result of Russia Blog editor Charles Ganske's visit to St. Petersburg between January 11 and 14, 2007. The city, known as Leningrad in Soviet times, was the capital of Russia from the 1700s until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.Today it is the second largest urban center in the Russian Federation and the northernmost city with a population over one million people. St. Petersburg's northern latitude means that the sun doesn't quite set during the famous White Nights in June, when most tourists like to visit. The city of 4.7 million people also is the second largest in Europe in size, trailing only London in terms of landmass.
Peter the Great created St. Petersburg to be Russia's gateway to Europe and the West. The nearly 7 foot-tall emperor fought a long war with Sweden to secure this bustling port on the Baltic Sea and to build a base for the Russian Navy the Czar ordered built to make Russia a great European power.
In recent years Ford, Nissan and Toyota have all built auto plants near St. Petersburg, and the Chinese are investing billions of dollars into new infrastructure and commercial developments for the region. St. Pete (or "Piter" as it is known to Russians) also remains a center for high culture, the arts, and Russian breweries. Visitors will immediately notice the difference between the fresh air and tourist-friendly atmosphere in St. Petersburg and the more hurried pace of life in Moscow. By design, the old imperial capital has a more European, if not Scandinavian feel to it.
St. Petersburg is also the hometown of Russian President Vladimir Putin and many high government officials. The Governor of the St. Petersburg region, Valentina Matviyenko, is a personal friend of Putin. Matviyenko was a classmate of the future Russian President when they both attended what was then known as Leningrad State University. Russia's state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom plans to relocate its corporate headquarters from Moscow to the northern capital next year. For all of these reasons, some American expats have nicknamed the city "Putingrad".
This is the first part in a series of three photo posts about Russia's second city. To see Yuri Mamchur's photo series "Night Drive Through Moscow", click here. Click on the extended post to begin the St. Petersburg photo tour. Please be patient as photos may take some time to upload.
"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!
"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.
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.
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".
Artist rendering of the Federation Tower (now under construction), part of the Moscow City business district and the tallest building in Europe (93 stories; 448.2 meters or 1,470.5 feet)
Welcome to the Russia Blog! As you can see, our website now has a new design and user-friendly interface; however it is the same resource about Russia produced by Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project. As of November 14, 2006, Russia Blog has logged 356 posts and 1,280 reader comments, covering all aspects of life in Russia, including politics, economics, popular culture, human rights, and crime.
Please use the search engine on the left to find a specific article on the topic you are interested in. For example, if you are looking for anything to do with Chechnya, simply type in "Chechnya". If you are looking for what Putin might have said about Iran's nuclear program, type in "Putin Iran" and click search. Also feel free to use the categories list on the left to look up articles related to the topic of your choice; sometimes you will be surprised by the information you will find in the "Did You Know" or "Human Rights" categories.
Please click on the extended post to read more about us and how you can support our work.
New Zealand's Crackdown on NGOs Ignored by Western Freedom Activists
Will this Kiwi grow up in a free country?
A new bill introduced in New Zealand's parliament threatens to crack down on non-profits. "A new law could strip charities of their tax-free status if they get too involved in politics. The move has led to fears that charities such as Greenpeace and the Sensible Sentencing Trust may be less inclined to speak out," says the One News website. According to the new bill, many tax breaks will be taken away from NGOs, and harsh audits will be authorized to determine the purpose of NGO activities; supporters say that the bill will combat abuses in the non-profit sphere in the country.
The reason Russia Blog pays any attention at all to this Kiwi controversy is the fact that Wellington's legislation seems to be more strict than the law issued by the Russian Duma and signed by Vladimir Putin. There was a huge negative media outburst a year ago in the Western media regarding the Russian NGO bill when it was being discussed. On October 19th the new Russian law came into effect, sparking another wave of outraged articles and reports with scary titles like "Crackdown on Democracy", etc. The question is: Where is the well-deserved outrage in the American and European human rights communities about this new New Zealand bill? Or are human rights activists implying that somehow freedom is less precious for New Zealanders than for Russians?
Chinese Migration into Russia - Fear vs. Opportunity
Location of Khabarovsk Krai on the Manchurian border
The Russia Profile website has two excellent articles this week on the relationship between Russia and China, between the former superpower and the rising superpower. Here at Russia Blog, we have commented on several articles about the ongoing shift in the balance of power between the two nations and what it means for the future of Siberia and the Russian Far East. Now Russia Profle confirms that popular fears of Russia losing territory and resources to Chinese demographic expansion are both widespread and much overblown.
For now, official Chinese migration to Siberia and the Far East regions is small, though these figures are probably dwarfed by the number of illegal migrants crossing the completely open border. Even so, most young Chinese probably see far more opportunities in China's booming coastal cities than in Far Eastern Russia, where business still mostly involves trading Russian raw materials for Chinese manufactured goods.
Event: How Do Western Stereotypes Harm U.S.-Russia Relations?
Discovery Institute is pleased to host distinguished Russian Studies scholar Herbert Ellison and international attorney Bill Robinson for an insightful and informative forum and discussion on the state of U.S.-Russia relations. The event will be facilitated by Yuri Mamchur, Director of Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project, and will focus on Western stereotypes about Russia and how these stereotypes negatively impact trade and diplomacy between our respective countries. Board members and affiliates of the Russia Roundtable of the Tacoma World Trade Center will participate in the forum as well.
This is a rare opportunity to hear the views of these highly knowledgeable Northwest leaders as they examine the business and investment climate in Russia, while at the same time debunking a number of myths about life within the country. The event will be filmed by Russia Today, Russia's English language news channel.
The lecture and reception will be held Wednesday, October 11, 2006 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. at Discovery Institute, located at 1511 Third Avenue, Suite 808 in downtown Seattle (map). Beverages and hors d'oeuvres wil be served. There is no cost to attend, but we do ask that you register soon, as space is limited.
The Real Russia Project's special report"10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia - How Truthful Are They?" has created a big wave of news reports and talk radio discussion in Russia.
Below are links to numerous Russian news websites that cite or discuss the report. The author of the report, Yuri Mamchur, participated in a popular one hour talk show aired on Radio Svoboda (Radio Freedom) in Moscow, hosted by Elena Rykovtseva. Yuri was joined in the discussion by the opinion page editor of The Moscow Times, Thomas Rymer, and the director of the Human Rights organization "Agora", Pavel Chikov. The show was aired on September 26, 2006 at 11 a.m. Moscow time (midnight -- 1 a.m. PST). To listen to a podcast of this discussion or to read a Russian-language transcript, please follow this link.
To read the transcript of the news report by Echo Moscow Radio (Echo Moskvi one of the highest rated Russian FM newstalk stations) please follow this link.
The Real Russia Project's report was also a topic of discussion for Jon McComb of CKNW radio in Vancouver, Canada. The pre-recorded interview will air sometime between 3 pm until 7 pm PST today. Please read the extended post link to find more information on our report from Russian media sources. All articles are in Russian language; we recommend to use this free automatic translator.
Special Report by The Real Russia Project of Discovery Institute
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. media's overarching, if unspoken, perception of Russia and Eastern Europe is that this region doesn't matter much any more. Though some still see Russia as a dangerous enemy, most mainstream media appear to have lost interest in what happens there, except for occasional sensational events. As a result, there is inadequate awareness in America of the fascinating cultural, political and economic developments taking place in today's Russia.
Relying on old Cold War stereotypes ignores centuries of Russia's history and shows a lack of curiosity about its future. Such indifference is not in the interest of America or its citizens, and it threatens to shut down imagination about potential cooperative relations with Russia and her neighbors. The Real Russia Project aims to focus on the emerging new Russia with accurate and fair reporting and analysis--without fear or favor.
Last year, Russia Blog wrote about Moscow's astronomically-priced real estate market. This month, the Discovery/New York Times Channel series Super Homes is showing American TV viewers a glimpse of this bizarre world, where anonymous people buy multimillion-dollar properties with grocery sacks full of cash (one grocery sack can hold about $200,000).
The first character we meet for our education in New Russian excess is Phil Bogdanov - real estate agent to Moscow's super rich. Like many Russians who came of age in the perestroika years, Bogdanov found himself in 1991 with an education but not many connections or opportunities to make money at home, so he emigrated to the United States. In the U.S., Phil worked various low-wage jobs in restaurants and other businesses until he found his true passion: real estate. Phil married an American real estate agent and brought her back to Moscow during the go-go 1990s. This was the era - Phil's wife explains on camera - when fifty Moscow businessmen would pose for pictures toasting their entrepreneurial success. Six months later, she says, half of them would be dead, the victims of business murders.
During this transition, prices for Moscow apartments and office buildings were still officially fixed by the state, but the real value was determined by negotiations and paid in cash. Even today, with the Kremlin trying to return capital to Russia, Moscow's millionaires and billionaires must remain discreet.
Zurab Tsereteli describing his public art work in Moscow
Internationally renowed Russo-Georgian artist Zurab Tsereteli will be in Bayonne, New Jersey on September 11, 2006 for a public ceremony dedicating a monument "To the Struggle Against World Terrorism".
The Associated Press reports that "The monument also has been billed as a gift from 'Russian President Vladimir Putin, the people of Russia and the artist' to the people of the United States, in the spirit of France's gift of the Statue of Liberty. The segments of the monument arrived in New Jersey from Russia last September, shortly before Putin attended a groundbreaking in Bayonne when he traveled to New York for meetings at the United Nations."
Fox News has an earlier version of the story discussing the controversy over whether some names should be removed from the monument. Unlike many other 9/11 memorials, the site includes the names of six people killed in the first terrorist attempt to bring down the World Trade Center, in 1993. New York and New Jersey officials are in talks with the artist's lawyer to decide about the other names not found in the official list of WTC dead.
Click on the extended post to see the monument and read the full AP article.
RussiaBlog has written many times about the conspicuous consumption of wealthy Muscovites and the outrageous excess of Russian nouveau riche spending money left and right. Finally this week a new report has the statistical proof that Moscow is the world's most expensive city. Below you can read quotes from multiple news sources outlining the most interesting facts. Please don't forget that while Moscow is the Russian capital, many Russians and Eastern Europeans say that Moscow isn't the real Russia and vice-versa. While Moscow prices are booming, common Russians aren't doing so well.
June 22nd marked the 65th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Since the opening months of the war found Soviet soldiers completely unprepared for the onslaught, in Russia this date passes with far less notice than the VE Day celebrations in May. All around the world people prefer commemorating victories to defeats, though military strategists have understood since the Spartans that more lessons are learned from failure than success.
During any season of the year, Western tourists are amazed at the number of Russians on the beaches of Turkey, Egypt, Spain and Italy. In Egypt and Turkey you might have trouble communicating complicated thoughts in English, but you will never have a problem finding locals who understand Russian or billboard targeted exclusively at the Russian tourist crowd.
These observations paint a picture of rich Russians traveling abroad and spending tons of money as they go. Stories abound of Russians throwing hundred dollar bills left and right on their Mediterranean vacations. To find out if these rumors of prodigal Russians are representative of the general Russian population, RussiaBlog decided to take a closer look at who is traveling where and how much they are spending. The numbers we found challenged many generalizations about Russian tourists. It appears that only 1.4% of Russians will go abroad for their vacation this summer, and only 13% of Russian kids will be able to afford summer camps. The rest of the nation will stay close to home, working at their "dachas" where many families and elderly raise fruits and vegetables to get them through the rest of the year.
Sochi is the southernmost city in Russia and is located on the Black Sea. The airport is easily accessible from Moscow or St Petersburg via a three hour flight. The seawater is rather dirty, and the environment isn't nearly as clean as you will find in the Pacific Northwest. However, this is the only opportunity to enjoy the "Riviera" for many Russian businessmen and officials who either do not have enough time to go abroad or cannot leave Russia, because they will be arrested for financial crimes. The examples of Pavel Borodin and Yevgeny Adamov proved that sometimes it's better to stay in Russia.
Agence France Press has a great story about Sochi. The town is receiving incredible investments from the state gas monopoly Gazprom, and local officials want to bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. The only thing I would like to correct from Yahoo's story is the fact that Sochi isn't known for being a ski-resort, but it used to be a famous summer resort destination for Soviet elite, and now serves as an extremely overpriced destination for Russians above the law.
Yesterday The American Spectator published my article about illegal immigrants. I'm receiving a lot of letters to the editor related to it. Below is the revised published version of the older RussiaBlog post; the letters to the editor can be found in the extended section of this post. I just got back from an extended trip and apologize for a long time without new posts. Please enjoy the comments and the article and come back soon for more posts about Russia!
My good friend asked me how to make a Russian Easter Cake, the kind that I've been eating my whole life at my grandma's house, the kind that is sold in every grocery store across Russia in the two weeks before Easter. I personally find it extremely complicated and tedious to make, but on the other hand I consider ham and cheese eggs to be a fancy treat...
A Legal Non-Immigrant Worker's View of the Illegal Immigrant Protests
As crowds of illegal immigrants march through the streets of American cities, I look down at the protest from my Seattle office and wonder "Why don't I march with them?" Well, because I'm not illegal. In the last six years while visiting this country and starting my new job with Discovery Institute, I have paid the U.S. government nearly $20,000 in visa and application fees. I have spent 90% of the money I earned in the U.S.A. in this country, and I have volunteered for nearly 2,000 hours with local non-profits. My good friend Franklin Cudjoe, the head of the Ghana think tank Imani, was denied a visa three times, before he finally received one last year. However, Franklin never complained and always paid the non-refundable fees.
If you are a native born American, you probably have no idea what visas are or how difficult they are to get. The brief description of a non-immigrant visitor's visa into the U.S. is as follows: let's say you decide that you want to visit the U.S. for a conference, or to see a relative for a couple weeks (the visa Anton Verstakov, the news editor of Russia Today, obtained to speak here). You should apply for a B visa (B1 = Business visitor, B2 = tourist, B1/2 = business and pleasure). After filling out the forms and paying a $100 non-refundable, cash-only fee to the U.S. government, you get scheduled for a visa interview. A one year visitor's visa will cost $100 cash (in addition to the first hundred), a two-year visa is $200 cash. Don't forget to have your finger prints taken. If you don't pass the interview, you get rejected and go home, leaving the first $100 behind in Uncle Sam's hands. The embassy workers don't have to have a reason to reject you.
United Russia, President Putin's ruling party, is working on a bill to finally bury Lenin. According to United Russia spokesman Andrei Isaev, the bill should be written and passed now, and the burial should take place right after the presidential and parliamentary elections.
KPRF, the Russian Communist Party, have issued their own opinion on this bill. Half of the Russian population, they claim, doesn't like the idea of burying the body of the Communist leader. The reasons of the opposing factions are very different. Orthodox Christians see him as an Antichrist, and don't want his body to be given a Christian burial, while Communists and older people would rather have their leader available on display. According to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, if United Russia and Putin bury Lenin now, they are in danger of losing their vote. If it's done after the elections, when the "desirable" replacements are elected, it won't matter.
Stalin used to lay next to Lenin's, but he was finally buried in 1961. President Boris Yeltsin vowed to bury Lenin in 1999, but it never happened. Lenin's body is a tough call -- it's been there forever, and some people don't want to bury him for sake of a scientific experiment; how long will Lenin's embalmed corpse last? The author of this article has seen the body few times through his life and finds the idea of a crazy Communist dictator mummified and still on display in the 21st century very disturbing.
Seattle, WA -- Aeroflot is the biggest Russian airline, dating back to the days of the Soviet Union when it used to be a state monopoly. Today things are different, and Aeroflot must compete in the Russian market and internationally as well. This is why Americans and foreigners residing in Oregon and Washington recently saw their favorite direct flight between Seattle-Moscow cancelled. This route will not re-open until Summer 2008.
Flights inside Russia are still done using old Russian jets like Ilyushin and Tupolev. The planes are loud, uncomfortable and they aren't allowed in European and American airports because of their noise levels. While noise levels are the official reason, the real one might be the issue of safety. Soviet-era planes simply aren't safe to fly. There are many stories you could hear from old-time American travelers who took flights to Russia on Soviet aircraft.
However, Aeoroflot's Seattle office commented on this article saying that "If you look close into Aeroflot's history, you'll be surprised to find that Aeroflot was and still is one of the safest airlines in the world (there are many other Russian airlines currently operating in Russia, please don't mix them up with Aeroflot)."
Americans are used to the convenience of USPS Express Mail, FedEx or UPS ready to ship anything safely to almost anywhere in the U.S. or around the world. Americans clearly take this amazing service for granted, so they will not understand the news story from a week ago, when a train-car attendant of the St Petersburg, Russia -- Sevastopol, Ukraine rail line was arrested, for smuggling hundreds of rare military medals through the border. The 49 year old woman was hiding the "treasures" under bags of clean sheets.
In Russia, if you decide to send something valuable, let's say a $20 bill to your nephew for Christmas -- it will never make it to the addressee, it will be stolen by the postal workers. If you send regular mail to another city in Russia, don't hope it will be there next day, or the day after. Sending packages with valuable items is an absolutely crazy idea. There are no FedEx and UPS locations even in the major cities like Moscow. This author had to FedEx a document once, and this task required a two hour drive through Moscow traffic to a distant location, where after showing your ID to several guards you arrive at the only FedEx office serving 15 million Muscovites. It's not exactly a convenient way to do business.
Introduction: The Washington Post had an opinion article last week on the conviction of the former Defense Minister of Moldova on corruption charges. E. Wayne Merry, a former assistant to President Clinton's Secretary of Defense William Cohen, argues that the charges against Valeriu Pasat are bogus and that a "friend of America" is being unjustly sentenced to prison and hard labor. Read the story below, and for the education of our readers, we have asked Michael Averko to provide some background on the tiny former Soviet republic of Moldova.
- The Editors
Moldova: The Most Overlooked of the European Former Soviet Republics By Michael Averko
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, the former Soviet republic of Moldova is often overlooked. Its tiny population (of about four and a half million), poverty (the poorest of the European former Soviet republics) and relative lack of natural resources doesn't make it as noteworthy as the much larger Ukraine and the considerably wealthier Baltic republics. Because of its perceived bad boy president (Alexander Lukashenko), Belarus is another European former Soviet republic receiving greater attention than Moldova.
Russians Embarassed by Shoddy Armed Forces Day Posters
February 23rd is a federal day off in Russia, which celebrates the Russian Army, Navy and Air Force. The city of Moscow made preparations at the very last moment, just like how everything else is done in Russia, and hired the design firm Moscow City Advertisement to do the posters. The huge billboards are very popular in Moscow along the highways and streets, and citizens usually read them. They aren't necessarily for advertisements only, sometimes the city delivers news to the citizens, or some social projects are announced through these billboards.
The billboard that you can see in the picture below, reads "Congratulations to the Warriors of Russia!" - so far so good. However, people who understand any military history were very upset and the posters had to be taken down overnight by emergency crews and replaced with the new generic ones. The reasons for their disappointment are quite comic. The ship in the poster glorifying the Russian fleet is the American battle ship USS Missouri. On September 2, 1945, the Japanese signed their capitulation on that ship and she has been parked in Pearl Harbor since then.
The jet fighter glorifying Russian military aviation was actually made in Russia, but this model is not used by the Russian forces, these are export versions sold to India (SU-30MK). And this particular jet crashed in 1999 during a military air show at Le Bourget, France.
Many Russians took the posters as an insult, and even though they were up for only one day before the holiday, it was enough to upset several people. Surely there were no malicious intentions on anyone's part, just a lazy job, an ignorant designer and poor supervision. Enjoy the posters:
Today there were two articles in the media which support my piece from several months ago about the injustice ordinary Russians endure on the nation's chaotic roads.
The first article is by the UK Telegraph and it is about the protests in Moscow that took place yesterday. The protesters were rallying against cars with "blue lights", special permits and "migalkas". These medieval priviledges (akin to peasants being required bow before noblemen) offend common Russian drivers, normal citizens and create unbelievable traffic jams.
The second article is about Oleg Shcherbinsky, the driver who was accused of killing one of the most popular Russian politicians in a car accident. Mikhail Yevdokimov, the very famous humorist who became a governor, was known as the "Schwarzenegger of Siberia". He was one of the few officials who actually managed to crack down on corruption in his state. It is believed that he was murdered by those who weren't that fond of his work. The accusations fell on a random driver, who happened to be at the scene of the crash.
The highlights of today's weather in Russia are the following: the interstate freeway between Moscow and Volgograd is blocked by 50 cars that are stuck in the cold. Some of them are completely covered with snow, and a few still have passengers inside. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations is evacuating the drivers to the nearest towns, and is using heavy equipment to get to the other vehicles.
Temperatures are supposed to rise to minus 5 F by the end of the weekend, though it will become humid and windy. The index with wind chill should stay at negative 35 or colder. It's not only people who are being hurt by the bitter cold. The roofs of the Turkish-manufactured French cars Renault Clio Symbol and the Renault Megane II are shrinking due to plummeting temperatures.
Last year over 16,000 brand new cars of these makes and models were sold in Russia. In the last few days many drivers came back to the dealership to learn why they have new "sunroofs" which had not been there before. Renault isn't commenting on the number of the incidents, but the drivers have been satisfied with the customer service which registers the damage and takes photos for further repairs. On Monday the French company will come up with an official press-release. It seems "General Winter" can do more than just stop Hitler and Napoleon.
Friday was expected to bring slightly warmer temperatures -- but also a bone-chilling east wind -- and the mercury was expected to rise toward minus 20 C (minus 4 F) over the weekend in Moscow...Channel One television, however, warned that Moscow temperatures could drop to minus 42 C (minus 43 F), a low last recorded in 1940...
Electric power use reached a 15-year high of 146,000 megawatts earlier this week, the electricity monopoly RAO Unified Energy Systems said Wednesday. Russian ministries raised their estimate of the death toll across the frozen country to more than 30 people. Temperatures in Siberia stayed at minus 81 F.
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia has more in common with Nigeria these days than oil.
Following up on the politically charged jailing of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a wave of scam e-mails in the style of Nigeria's notorious spammers has appeared in in-boxes from Moscow to Kentucky.
But instead of impassioned pleas by dead African dictators' aides to move millions of dollars overseas, the appeals appear to come from the inner circle of the man who was once Russia's richest.
"Dear friend, I got your reliable contact from my husband's business diary," begins one letter from "Leila Khodorkovsky," claiming to be the billionaire's wife -- whose actual name is Inna. The letter requests assistance investing $45 million of the tycoon's money and promises compensation.
Rodina is amusing the public again. It offered to change the official Russian (Gregorian) calendar back to the Julian's style, so "the Russian Orthodox Christmas would be coming ahead of the New Year's eve". As I wrote before, the Julian calendar is 13 days apart from the Gregorian, which is used today, and the change was made in the last few centuries at different times in the different countries. Russia switched to it after the Communist Revolution in 1918.
Rodina finds no inconvenience and problems in putting the nation 13 days apart from the rest of the world, and in the reasoning of the change being "to preserve the logistics of the Orthodox Christmas". Maybe that's why Russians become more and more aggressive towards those who are not like them -- Russian and Orthodox. For example today three people were injured in a Russian Synagogue in Moscow, after a skinhead jumped into the building with a knife, yelled out that he was there "to kill them all", and started slicing people with a knife. As a result the citizens of America, Israel and Tajikistan were severely injured.
The war in Chechnya is dragging on after twelve years and 18 year old drafted soldiers are still dying on a daily basis; Russian pensioners are saving money by not buying toilet paper, and 80% of the population is barely making the living. But it's not the same in Moscow. The hot new trend of the season is "airbrushing". Blue lights and sirens are getting old, or are not important enough, and all the house-wives and kids of oil and gas executives are rushing into the offices of the new car painting shops.
"Salvador Dali is boring" -- says Konstantin, executive of one of the airbrushing companies -- "everyone wants his painting".
Airbrushing is getting to the point of not just plain showing off but of displaying your social status. In my opinion it goes along with the golden elevators that take cars to your apartment, outrageous and ridiculous. These pictures should speak for themselves. Enjoy!
The rise of the oligarchs was one of many grotesque results of Russia's transformation to capitalism - a shift managed so ineptly that many Russians ended up nostalgic for communism. The oligarchs, idiotically rich in a country that was largely poor, and given to parading their wealth in a manner that makes American hip-hoppers look like an especially reticent community of Amish farmers, could certainly have given any former Soviet citizen pause to wonder, as he queued for beetroot, what the proletarian revolution had been for. The oligarchs, not content with buying companies, villas, yachts, planes and the most beautiful of Russia's beautiful women, also bought power.
Please read the rest of this excellent piece by The Guardian here.
While things are going well for Putin in Japan, Moscow is having horrible weather: in the past 24 hours 5 inches of snow fell on the city, towards the evening it melts, towards the morning the slush freezes up, in the morning public transportation can't make it up the hill (too slippery), the largest traffic jam so far last night was 15 miles long on the freeway from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
By the way, the so-called 'freeway' is 3 to 4 lanes without any separation, just like all the major Russian freeways; that creates thousands of fender benders and hundreds of fatal accidents. Russia's lack of decent highways is also why Napoleon and Hitler failed (well, may be not just because of that, but still), and remember from my previous post on Russian driving -- weather is not a good reason to calm the Russian temper.
Russia's famous "General Winter" has arrived. Now wait for the temperature to drop down to negative 40 -- 60 Celsius in Siberia, and negative 15 -- 30 in Moscow, and any American would be amazed how the cities and the country still function -- schools and offices stay open, shopping malls and casinos keep busy -- life goes on. Moscow is not D.C., we can't afford to shut down the city, there's just too much stuff going on. Plus, think about this weather staying for six months? Are you going to stay home for that long? Now you see why global warming isn't a bad deal for Russians.
If you want to visit Russia for a great White Christmas -- go in January (Russian Orthodox Christmas is January 7th), if you don't want to freeze -- come in May or June, because July and August bring another extreme -- 80-100 Farenheit...
Japan and Russia Still Can't Officially End World War II
Putin visited Japan, and gave Koizumi a beautiful painting of the Moscow River. The two leaders ate sushi, talked about Putin's practice of judoka, and left all the lingering issues between the countries unresolved, as if nothing has changed since 1945. Russia Blog has written before about the ongoing rivalry between Russia and Japan for Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands, if you haven't read the post -- take your time, it's a good read, and you will learn that Russia and Japan are officially still in a state of war.
Everything wasn't that bad though, Putin invited the Japanese Prime-Minister to visit Moscow some time next year to give it another try. At the same time, Russian Far East officials signed 18 agreements on economic cooperation between the two countries; one of them involves Japan participating in the construction of the Skvorodino-Nahodka pipe line, which will deliver Siberian oil to Beijing and Tokyo.
Today Vladimir Putin decided to brief Russian ministers on the dangers of unsafe driving. He presented some terrible statistics: in the past four years the economic losses due to traffic accidents added up to 2% of Russia's national GDP. Since 1997, while Russians have put 9% more cars on the streets, auto accidents increased by 30%; last year there were 200,000 registered traffic accidents; the percentage of fatal accidents is 24.7%; the Russian cars (Volgas and Ladas) most available for the general population do not have air bags or ABS systems; and the only reason that analysts can find accounting for the ghastly number of fatal accidents is the complete disregard of traffic laws by everyone -- drivers, police, and pedestrians.
Living in Russia and driving to the countryside, you would quickly get used to seeing black plastic bags on the side of the road -- dead drivers and passengers. The reason for these preventable deaths is simple: there aren't many freeways outside of the city which have one way lanes, usually oncoming traffic is facing each other; the regular speed limit is 55 miles an hour on the freeway and 40 in the city, however everyone goes at least 90, usually 100 mph or more. The author of this article managed to be driven at 160 miles an hour in the city of Moscow by a friend -- that's a frightening and unique experience, though for many it's just a lifestyle choice.
When there's a traffic jam on the road, people prefer to try to go around by driving on shoulders and in opposite (oncoming) lanes. Eventually, in the city and in the country side, you end up with cars going 100 miles an hour facing each other in the same lane, which leads to 200 mph head-on fatal collisions.
One of the Moscow construction companies is launching a new project, a new apartment building with a helicopter landing pad, high-end restaurants, and golden elevators that can take you directly up to your apartment in your car! The leasing firm also promises the tightest security possible. All the services, even the restaurants, will be unavailable to non-residents.
The rent for one apartment per month is going to be anywhere between $25,000 and $45,000 a month. Future residents are expected to be political leaders, sports and show-business stars. A similar residence, however without the elevator gig, was built in Moscow in 2003. The average rent at that building per month is $12,000.
Russia is truly a country of contradictions; some people can’t wait to be taken upstairs in their armored vehicle in a golden elevator, while others are happy with their $200 a month salary to support their entire family, or a $50 pension, to live a happy elderly life. Philanthropy in Russia is almost non-existent, there are millions of homeless children, the war in Chechnya has no end, but 5% of the country’s population is drowning in luxuries.
In the last ten years, foreign tourism to Russia dropped by 70%, and overall tourism in Russia dropped by 50%. In 2004 the profit from tourism was $24 million, which is barely 1% of country's GDP, said Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, Chief of Federal Tourism Committee in Russian Senate. Russian tourists took $20 billion abroad last year but spent just $1 billion traveling at home. Foreigners spent about $2 billion total in Russia, according to Rosturist.
Russia has a lot to offer, from sunny beaches, to Siberian hunting. What are the reasons for such statistics? First of all it's the prices. The average "cheap" trip to Russia costs $1,500, while Turkey or Egypt can offer 5-star all-inclusive hotel for two weeks for less than $1,000. The second problem is bureaucracy; whenever you visit a new town in Russia you have to register with the local police within 3 days of your visit, which is almost impossible (even for a Russian). And third, it's lack of advertisement; you probably never see online ads about tours to Russia, with pictures and examples of what you might get for your money.
90% of the tourists never go outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, because there is almost no place to stay. And Moscow can offer only 10% of its hotels at affordable price; all other hotels are 5-stars, which most tourists are not going to be able to afford.
Russia is barely presented online, which is demonstrated even by this website. There is no regular daily news on Russia, no professional websites about what tourists would want to see, and no trustworthy financial data.
It’s hard to believe, but true. Roman Abramovich, resident of London, the richest man in Russia, governor of Russia's Far East Chukotka region, has just finished his book about the Chelsea soccer club.
Russian economist Andrei Illarionov said that Russia';s GDP could have been three times higher this year, if not for the Russian government purchasing Roman Abramovich's Sibneft with 13 billion dollars of taxpayer money. Sibneft is the company that the 38 year-old Abramovich appropriated from former Soviet assets in the early 1990s. Now, when Mr. Abramovich is officially out of the Russian market and, as a governor, legally immune to prosecution in Russia, he can afford to be anything he wants to be, including the writer of the new book "Chelsea FC - The Official Biography".
MOSCOW - October 17, Balchug Hotel - Russia's FSB (counterpart to the FBI) arrested one of the top government officials of the Russian Tax Ministry (counterpart to the IRS) while he was collecting a cash bribe of $1 million. He was assisted in collecting bribes by a senior manager from the government-owned Zentrobank.
According to the Indem Analytical Fund, Russian government officials took $316 billion dollars in bribes during the last year, which is a normal year for Russia.The average bribe in Russia today is $135,000. The entire Russian Federal budget for the year 2004 was $95 billion, since state revenues are dependent on oil prices, this year's national budget is estimated to be slightly over $100 billion.
Khabarovsk – Thirty kindergarten kids were poisoned with bad food. Four went to the emergency room, and several remain hospitalized. Russian public schools and pre-schools are known for their low health standards. Anti-biotic resistant TB and other respitory diseases are quite common. You can get higher standards at nicer "public schools" that aren’t that public.
All education in Russia is free, but it doesn't really work that way. The way it works is – you pay a bribe, which you could compare to a private school premium – and the money you pay gets split up between the school administration and the actual school needs. That’s where the logic of the black market kicks in - if you take too much of the bribe into your pocket – you won’t have much left to improve the school, and eventually you’ll lose the ones who are willing to pay. If you put everything into the school, you won’t have much desire to work hard on improving it on a principal’s official government salary of $150-200 a month.
This system of course doesn’t contribute to building a middle class, or improving education. Families that are well of go to nicer schools and their kids are in better conditions than the parents used to be, and kids from poor families go to ordinary schools, which are much worse these days, compared to the Soviet schools. As RussiaBlog mentioned before there are no official statistics on poverty and wealth that would be correct, because many people never declare what they make or don’t make. There’s about a 15% of middle class among the Russian population, about 5% of (very) wealthy people, and the rest, approximately 80%, live below the poverty line.
Russia is planning to increase the number of flights to the International Space Station. After the tragic accident of the American shuttle Columbia, more space launchers are looking to Russia. Now Russia faces a dilemma: make money and sacrifice the professionalism of Russian astronauts, or reject business opportunities and keep relying on a pitiful budget. The answer is simple and doable: build more Soyuz modules to orbit more often, and more Progress vehicles to deliver supplies to the space stations.
Right now the Russian Space Agency sends up only two Russian astronauts a year. Soyuz has three seats - one is always taken by a Russian, one by an American astronaut as a part of Russian commitment after the shuttle crash, and one is the tourist spot, taken by whoever is willing to spend $20,000,000 to orbit the earth.
All this means that only 38 Russian astronauts a year get flight experience, and usually these are long-term trips, so the Russians can’t afford to send up rookies. This leaves few opportunities for young men and women to gain space work experience. The last short term flight was granted to Yuri Shargin in 2004, because the "tourist’s" health condition didn’t qualify him for space travel.
The extra seats on the two Soyuz modules is constantly booked: German Tomas Righter is going on the next flight, Brazilian Marcus Pontes is heading to space in spring 2006, South Korea is preparing a candidate for the spring of 2007, Malaysia for autumn of 2007, and Chile is looking to put a man on the next flight available.
There’s no money in Russian budget to develop new technologies, so even if the exciting news of raising the number of flights comes true, it’s only going to resolve an immediate need. The SpaceShipOne program is developing inexpensive tourists flight options for the near future, and NASA is constantly working on a replacement for the Shuttle and introducing new technologies. Russia is still definitely no. 1 in manned space flight, but the question is: for how much longer?
Saturday September 10, the First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Moscow and his wife were attacked and injured. This information leaked to the Russian media on Monday.
The Japanese diplomat says that he and his wife were waiting for a trolley-bus near one of the stadiums, when three "normal looking" young men approached them and started an "uneasy conversation". Eventually, the young people decided that they just didn’t like the looks of these Japanese people, so they punched the diplomat three times in the face and hit his wife in the head. Just as the Japanese couple came under attack, the trolley stopped and the foreigners were able to escape the young thugs.
The diplomat consulted with his Embassy, and afterwards the Japanese Embassy sent a note to the Russian Ministry of International Affairs, requesting a thorough investigation, in light of the other attacks on Japanese citizens that took place in the past few years. In 2002, after the Russian national soccer team lost to the Japanese team, Russian soccer hooligans rioted in Moscow and severely injured five Japanese musicians, who had come to Russia for the Tchaikovsky Festival. On September 9, 2005 another Japanese citizen, the director of the Japanese Center, was attacked in Novgorod by several young men between 16 and 18 years of age.
Moscow is a megapolis of over ten million people with very diverse ethnicities, nationalities and interests. However, younger uneducated Russians, and people in the suburbs in general, still have a lot of racist attitudes towards people who aren’t "like them". In the Russian country-side, many gay people are getting attacked; and in the past few years there have been multiple attacks on people of many different races and nationalities, especially people who look like Caucasians, which doesn't mean "white-colored skin" in Russia, but describes someone from Chechnya, Azerbaijan or Georgia.
Russians, whose lives are shorter and poorer than they were under communism, have more abortions than births to avoid the costs of raising children, Bloomberg.com reported Tuesday quoting the country's highest-ranking obstetrician.
About 1.6 million women had an abortion last year, a fifth of them under the age of 18, and about 1.5 million gave birth, said Vladimir Kulakov, vice president of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. Many more abortions went unreported.
em>The appearance of a first child pushes many families into poverty, Kulakov said today in the government's official newspaper, Rossiskaya Gazeta. Potential parents first try to start a career, stand on their feet and so forth.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the ensuing hyperinflation and depression deprived millions of Russians of their incomes and savings and discouraged couples from having children. By 2000, the number of pensioners in Europe's most populous country outnumbered children and adolescents for the first time.
The increase in poverty and the decline in the quality of health care since the fall of communism have left about six million women and 4 million men infertilet; seven percent of Russia's 145 million people are incapable of having children.
This is a critical level, Kulakov said.
Part of the problem is a lack of job prospects. Careers traditionally favored by Russian women, such as in education and medicine, no longer pay a decent salary, which leads to fewer births and ultimately a smaller population, Kulakov said.
For every 1,000 Russians there are 16 deaths and just 10.6 births, a gap that isn't being filled by immigrants, leading to a population decline of about 750,000 to 800,000 a year.
Out of every 1,000 Russian newborn babies, more than 12 die before they are one year old, an infant mortality rate five times higher than in Iceland and three to four times higher than in Finland, Sweden, Spain and France, Russia's Federal Statistics Service reported last week.
The average Russian man now dies at 58.8, the shortest life expectancy in Europe and five years fewer than 15 years ago, the Statistics Service said. Russian women have the fourth-lowest life expectancy in Europe, 72 years, the service said, citing its own data and figures from the World Health Organization and European Union.
A tiny Russian village near Novgorod was taken hostage for 2 days by 8 armed men. One of the villagers was beaten to death; two more have been hospitalized in a critical condition. You would say, "So what?". Well, the whole fight started over a scratched car - an Audi A8 sedan.
Insurance in Russia doesn't work the same way as in America. After you get into an accident, you call up a police officer. Until he arrives, you can't move the cars. So usually by the time the officer arrives (in about an housr), there are many more wrecked vehicles on the road. After the officer shows up, the interesting negotiations begin.
The officer splits the victims of the accident, listens to their stories, then says "$200 cash now; and you're not guilty". You can say "Yes", you can say "No" - but then the officer goes to another participant. If you said "No", he makes the same offer. If you said "Yes" , the officer says "$300 cash now; you're not guilty". And so the bidding begins.
To insure a Toyota Camry in Moscow for damage and liability, both with the maximum of up to $10,000 would cost you anywhere between $3,000 – 3,500 a year, even if you have perfect driving record and a dozen years of driving experience. However, after each accident you've "used up" your insured amount. That means you have to put in a payment for the used proportion again. Let's say your yearly insurance bill is $3,000, which covers you for a total of $20,000. If you use up $10,000 due to accidents, that increases your premium, and makes you owe another $1,500 to your insurance company.
The official expenses of the Russian head of state in the federal budget are only 2.4 million dollars. However, according to sources in the Kremlin, most of Putin's expenses were funded by wealthy patrons.
$117 million – refurbishment of Putin’s summer retreat, the Konstantinovsky Palace, outside of St Petersburg.
$50 million – for the royal class yacht Olympia, built in the Netherlands. The yacht is 57 meters (180 feet) long, has five rare wood decks, marble walls and a golden fit-out. According to Russian opposition sponsor and exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a well-known Russian businessman (and governor at the same time) Roman Abramovich bought this yacht as a gift for Putin.
$10 million – to refit the Presidential Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft; it was decked with silks and tapestries, given a sophisticated high-end sound system, a huge flat-screen television, and a bathroom with gold-plated taps.
$7 million – for the 32 meter (100 feet) long, triple-decked yacht Pallada.
$3 million – for the VIP launch Burevestnik, built by state-owned defense factory.
$2.8 million – for the refitting of the state-owned Kavkaz yacht, a 45 meter (150 feet) vessel built for the General Secretary of the Communist Party Brezhnev; it was refurbished two years ago using different types of cherry and Honduran mahogany wood.
The Russian government's conservative projections warn that by 2050, the country's population will shrink by 30 percent from 143.6 million to 101.3 million; its worst case scenario predicts that the population could drop to 77.2 million, a reduction of nearly 50 percent.
Babies in Russia are born smaller and more sickly today than in the past. Key statistics provide an alarming snapshot of Russia's looming infant health crisis:
Nearly two-thirds of all Russian babies are born unhealthy, and at least 75 percent require an extended hospital stay or intensive medical treatment;
Russia's official infant mortality rate remains 4 times higher than in Western Europe and North America, and Russia reports the second highest rate (behind Romania) of under age-5 child mortality in Europe;
The percentage of Russian babies born with a dangerously low body mass (less than 2.5 kg, or 4.4 lbs.) jumped nearly 6 percent from 77,500 in 1996 to 82,000 in 2000, due in large part to rising rates of tobacco and alcohol consumption among Russian women;
Ten percent of pregnant women in Russia lose their unborn children as a result of health problems, and nearly half of Russia's expectant mothers are malnourished.
The latest official public opinion research shows that Russians are still strongly influenced by the legacy of the Cold War in their opinions. Defending "routes of approach to our borders" and "the West is an enemy" are still lingering notions in Russian minds.
Here are some amazing statistics on Russian opinion about U.S. and EU political and economic influence on the former Soviet republics (according to the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (WCIOM)'s latest research):
-52% of Russians see this influence as a "great danger"
-24% think it is a negative process, in the long term
-76% of Russians consider the West to be an enemy
It is very descriptive that WCIOM didn't include a "positive influence" option for poll respondents, only the alternative of "I see no influence".
Other research by WCIOM illustrates Russian feelings about Russia's military bases outside the country’s borders:
-55% of respondents said bases are there to "guard the routes of approach"
-20% think that military is there to "defend Russian national interests"
-12% believe that the Russian military's highest priority should be to "constrain U.S. expansion"
Victory Day is truly the greatest holiday in Russia along with Christmas and Easter. Every Russian family suffered from World War II, and on May 9th all the veterans and the nation are celebrating the victory of 1945.
However, elderly people and veterans stopped being government priorities long ago, and Russian bureaucrats remember about the veterans only when it’s convenient to do so. If you recall huge Soviet military parades, showing off has always been part of Russian government tradition. The country is not the same any more, but mindset still is, so “caring” for elderly comes out in a very disturbing way.
Here are some statistics:
There are 1 million World War II veterans in Russia
Average monthly pension is $200 (5,7 thousand rubles); pension is the only source of income for the most veterans
11% of veterans can afford new clothing and new shoes
1% can afford movies, books, and household appliances
0% can afford traveling
$200,000,000 (6 billion rubles) is going to be spent from federal budget on Victory Day Celebrations.
Three times that number ($600 million dollars) will be spent from local budgets and other sources...
Here's an interesting quote, delivered by Russian minister of Regional Development Vladimir Yakovlev on April 21:
"Today in Russia there are 20 million males who are able to work. Out of these 20 million men: 1 million are imprisoned, 4 million are in the military or law enforcement agencies, 5 million are unemployed, 4 million are chronic alcoholics, and 1 million are drug addicts. So who is going to work?"
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.