Small Children Tortured at a Russian Government Orphanage
Warning: graphic, unedited video
If Vladimir Putin and the Russian Parliament believe that their own-operated orphanages are a better option than the American adoption, they better have answers to video showcased in this post. A friend of a friend of a family friend of someone who works at an orphanage in Amur Oblast sent this video to a local newspaper to draw the attention to the activities at the orphanage. The way the video was "discovered" means multiple adults were aware of the events at the orphanage. Children's screams in the video (now complimented by investigators' reports of heavy injuries on seven-year-olds' bodies) suggest that orphanage "supervisors" (Russian government employees) were in the loop as well. If Vladimir is truly concerned about the well-being of children, he has something to worry about much closer to home than in the far-away America.
Russian news outlets report that a "criminal investigation has been launched and police is conducting interviews with the orphanage staff."
My yesterday's interview with the Voice of Russia on the Berezovsky's death:
Voice of Russia's Kim Brown talks with Yuri Mamchur, Director of the Real Russia Project at the Discovery Institute:
Mamchur talks about the "strange relationship" between Russia and England during the last portion of Berezovsky's life, when the former Russian Oligarch was self-exiled to England in order to avoid tax evasion charges. Mamchur says that he believed that Berezovsky, renowned for his calculating approach to life, "ran out of countries to go to" and "ran out of money" and committed suicide after realizing he'd run out of options.
In Nicosia, Cypriots wave signs written in Russian and asking Russia for help
The gas reserves of Cyprus apparently do not sufficiently tantalize the Russian government, at least not enough to persuade Mr. Putin to lend the Mediterranean island some six billion Euros. The government of Cyprus has a new plan to give the big investors a haircut, but it still won't be enough (only about two billion Euros), and the EU is unlikely to approve it.
The Wall Street Journal today editorializes in favor of bankruptcy as the best option for the Cypriot banks, which is what probably should have happened to some US companies in 2008. After a 40 percent loss for large investors (accounts with $100,000 or more Euros), the bankrupt banks would be reorganized. Oddly, some Russian investors in Cyprus would have a big position in the new banks, not that that would be a huge consolation to them.
My Discovery colleague Yuri Mamchur thinks that the political/military temptation for the Kremlin is insufficient to justify the risk of a big loan to the insolvent Cypriots. I guess the gas reserves are in the future and the payout for a loan would be today, so no deal (at least not yet). Also, Yuri points out, the Russian oligarchs who will get the haircut are not the reason Mr. Putin is in power, so why save their tax avoidance schemes?
The crisis in Cyprus still has not focused the world's attention as it should. Russia is poised to make a huge political/economic gain, almost unprecedented in a country that never before was under its sway.
Openeurope.org reports from varied sources,
"The Cypriot government announced yesterday that banks and the Cypriot stock market will remain closed until next Tuesday, as it rushed to find a new deal to raise the €5.8bn needed to unlock a €10bn loan from the EU/IMF. Cyprus reportedly submitted a plan which involved creating a fund made up of: revenue from a solidarity tax (not a deposit levy), nationalised pension assets, revenue from restructuring and selling off the two largest Cypriot banks and property of the Church of Cyprus. This was rejected by the EU/IMF/ECB Troika since it would increase Cypriot debt to unsustainable levels. Cypriot political leaders are meeting this morning to adjust the plan with the hope that they can get it approved and then vote on it in the Cypriot parliament this evening.
At the same time, Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris was in Moscow looking to secure further aid from Russia. Sarris reportedly offered Russia the chance to purchase the largest Cypriot banks in exchange for incentives linked to Cypriot gas reserves, although Russia remained cool on the prospect. In an interview with the FT, Russian Prime Minister
Russia's Mediterranean warm water ports in Syria (mainly Tartus and Latakia) are in danger of disappearing as the Assad regime falters. Luckily for the Kremlin there is desperately needy Cyprus. (Syria some years ago allowed a huge expansion of the Russians' Cold War naval sites in Syria in return for Russian forgiveness of most of Syria's Russian debt.)
Cyprus is in financial trouble and unable to pay its debts. Understandably, the Cypriot Parliament was unhappy with the solution of taxing bank depositors for their savings as a way to satisfy the Eurozone. Russia also was unhappy, since wealthy Russians use Cyprus for banking purposes.
Russian presidential elections are over, but the hype around them is not. To figure out what really happened in Russia, I've talked to several friends in Moscow and St. Petersburg; some of them served as the elections observers on behalf of the opposition, others were just common voters. Here's what they said:
Observer 1 (Moscow): "I was an election observer yesterday - we finished counting @5am and at my particular school [elections are hosted at public schools] Prokhorov won with 37% while Putin came in 2nd with 35%..... Putin "eighn't" that popular if one actually counts the votes..."
Observer 2 (Moscow suburbs): "Putin did in fact get way more than 60%. The drop-boxes were transparent; there was no way to cheat at our location. I couldn't believe my eyes - just how many people were voting for Putin..."
Voter 1: Yes, maybe we [the opposition] are just one percent, but it starts with a small intellectual group in the city, and spreads into the villages. That's how governments are changed. Putin's got 1.5 to 5 years left at the most!
Voter 2: I haven't voted in 20 years, because have always believed that my vote doesn't matter. This time, I felt obligated to get out and vote, for Putin! I couldn't let those big-mouth crazies have a real shot at leading our 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.
Mikhail Prokhorov, age 44, occupies 39th position in the Forbes list of world billionaires; his net worth is $13.4 billion (read his Forbes profile).
In an unexpected turn of events, Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire and owner of the American basketball team, the New Jersey Nets, was elected the leader of the liberal opposition party "The Right Cause" (Pravoye Delo). Immediately after the confirmation of his leadership, he announced that "there are no reasons to keep Khodorkovsky in prison," and that he is going to fight for the Russia's prime-minister's position in the upcoming post-elections leadership shuffle. Prokhorov made his wealth similarly to Khodorkovsky in the chaos of the post-Soviet Nineties, but has been smart--unlike Khodorkovsky--to stay away from the politics and to obtain the ownership of several foreign entities, which buys him the "escape route" in case something goes "wrong." Similarly, another Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has been the owner of the English premier soccer club Chelsea.
Almost simultaneously, President Medvedev announced the introduction of the bill that will lower the needed minimum votes quota for entering the Russian Duma from 7% to 5%, and potentially even 3%; but only in 2016. (Russian liberals have been failing to gain even 1% in prior elections, which has kept them away from the country's leadership altogether.)
All the developments come in the light of the unsuccessful bid for governmental registration of another opposition party--the People's Freedom Party "PARNAS"--lead by the old-timers Mikhail Kasyanov, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov and Vladimir Milov, who had government positions in Yeltsin's and Putin's offices. According to the government, the registration papers of PARNAS contained signatures from under-aged and deceased citizens. The government claims were valid, which makes it unclear why the "new" opposition party with the weathered leadership didn't invest time and effort into a proper due-diligence, and why it is not trying to recollect the signatures if its members are truly passionate about standing up to Putin's United Russia. Just as with the monthly protests in Moscow, seems like the main purpose of the registration exercise was to fail it and attract the West's attention. It is important to remember that the so-called liberal leaders made their wealth and names in the Putin's system and not outside of it. On the brighter side, Mikhail Prokhorov's new political leadership, goals, and personal wealth might have significantly changed Russia's political spectrum overnight.
UPDATE (June 26, 2011, 6PM EST): Hours ago, Mikhail Prokhorov announced that he will spend at least $100 million of personal money for "The Right Cause" opposition party's election campaign. After all, the world may witness more suspense during the upcoming Russian elections than expected!
Death of Yuri Budanov - Russia's Political Murder that Got No Coverage in the West
Colonel Yuri Budanov was one of the most spoken-about participants of the war in Chechnya. He was arrested in 2000, tried in court for rape and murder of a Chechen girl in 2001, convicted of kidnapping, abuse of office, and murder in 2003 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Budanov admitted going into a rage and killing an 18-year-old Chechen Elza Kungaeva, a suspected sniper who attacked Budanov's unit and killed his soldiers. The rape charges were never proven. However soldiers were believed to have abused girl's dead body.
Budanov was pardoned in 2009, 15 months before completing his term. Right away, he said he was being followed by the Chechens. He repeatedly talked about black cars with tinted windows parked by his house, and asked for the government's protection. The government refused security services, Budanov went into hiding, came out in the open several months ago, and was shot in downtown Moscow in broad daylight on June 10, 2011 (last Friday)-- four bullets to his head. He was buried as an army hero on June 13. Officers and soldiers who spoke at his funeral said that he was an "officer from God," and an "honorable man and a leader who saved hundreds of lives." Zhirinovsky was one of the controversial political and social leaders who attended the funeral. He said that "Budanov paid for Russian government's failed policies."
The real moral of this story goes far beyond a daylight murder, revenge, judicial and policy failures, or Islamic intolerance. Russians took Budanov's death as a clear message that 1) it is OK to take matters in your hands, 2) no one is safe from lawlessness and the government will not protect you, 3) the legal system does not work, as it cannot satisfy either of the sides - the accusers are not content and the accused are not safe, 4) and that Russia would be much better off if it were "for Russians" only (a nationalistic statement that recently has been rising in its popularity).
The murder should have been better covered in the West, not just because killing people is wrong, but because it was another splash of oil into Russian society's fire of fascism, racism, and radicalism. Many people see in that fire an alternative to either liberal democrats or Putin's stagnation. If the majority of Russians get what they want, a new leader will make Putin look like a plush bunny and an angel.
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.
Ignorance Is Not a Virtue. Terrorist Attack in Belarus May Have Serious Consequences for the Region and the World
I get it. Belarus is far away, has no oil, nuclear missiles, or world-famous tourist destinations. However, this barely should be a reason why the news agencies in Northern America completely missed the April 11th attack in Minsk subway that claimed 12 lives and left 149 people injured. The same day, top news on CNN and other agencies were budget discussion in Washington, D.C., and a controversy about the book about gay penguins raising a baby-penguin. Politics aside, putting the news about the gay penguins at least 20 lines above an attack that killed people is just wrong.
Now, emotions aside, why the explosion in Belarus matters. First of all, it could have been (it is not, but on April 11 it absolutely could have been) an Islamic terrorist attack. Something for Western intelligence agencies to think about. What it really is--as phrased by the Belarusian officials--"an act of extremism." Lukashenko blames the opposition parties for staging the attack. Common people in Belarus and media analysts in Russia call the attack an "inside job." In the climate of sliding currency, produce shipment shortages, and shrinking economy, the only person to benefit from tightening the grip on the regime is president Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for nearly two decades. (Two more decades, and think "Gaddafi"). One way or the other--terrorists going wild in Eastern Europe or a man who's been in power forever and is tightening his grip on it--is a bad news, and more newsworthy than readers' complaints about homosexual penguins.
View the photo essay of the tragedy in the extended post.
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
Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak (right) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russell (left) at the World Russia Forum 2011 in Washington D.C. on March 29, 2011 (photo by Yuri Mamchur, Executive Director of the World Russia Forum)
It is never boring at the World Russia Forum (WRF), a two-day conference of politicians, business people, and scholars from Russia and the U.S. who have been meeting annually since 1981 with the intent of improving U.S.-Russia relations. WRF was created by Edward Lozansky, a former Soviet nuclear physicist and dissident who emigrated to the U.S. during the Cold War and is now a U. S. citizen. Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., he has been running the American University in Moscow (AUM) which co-sponsors the Forum. Discovery Institute of Seattle and the Eurasia Center of Washington joined Lozansky's effort in people's diplomacy.
Having attended several such forums, I can say that this one, the 30th was as remarkable as any. As usual, the first day's proceedings, on March 29, took place in Hart Senate Office Building and ended with a reception at the Russian Embassy dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first manned flight. On the second day, the Forum moved to George Washington University Business School and the Russian Cultural Center.
The Forum featured a number of high-caliber speakers: Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russell, U.S. Congressmen Tom Price and Dana Rohrabacher, as well as Sergei Markov, Deputy of the Russian Duma. Business was represented by such people as Edward Verona, President, U.S.-Russia Business Council, and Dmitry Akhanov, President, Rusnano. Among prominent scholars were Andrew Kuchins, Director of the Russia and Eurasia Programs, CSIS, Robert Legvold, Columbia University, and Sergey Rogov, Director, Institute of the USA and Canada.
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.
Obama, What Would You Do to Osama? Time to Practice, Terrorist Gaddafi Is Here!
For the first time in decades, the world's superpowers have been handed the opportunity to defend freedom and punish a terrorist. Iraq does not count, as no one found any weapons of mass destruction out there. Afghanistan does not count either for the Russians or for Americans, as socialism did not settle in after a decade-long war, and it seems like democracy isn't taking off either. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea and others - well, it's their peoples' problems, as the leaders, in fact, are not terrorists. They have not attacked the West, they have not been caught ordering terrorist attacks against civilians, and they comply with their domestic laws and constitutions.
Libya's Muammar Gaddafi is a whole different story. Today, it became clear that in addition to being a flamboyant fashionista, "King of Kings," a dictator, and a pervert, Gaddafi is also a "certified" terrorist. Let me explain myself:
Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 that killed 270 people, the country's recently resigned justice minister said yesterday. Terrorism - checked. Even though his woman is Ukrainian nurse Galyna, all Gaddafi's bodyguards are... certified virgin females (watch the video). Pervert - checked. In 42 years of ruling a country, he failed in creating any (actually, succeeded in destroying all) governmental institutions, and without his "rule" the country belongs in chaos. Dictator - checked. Gaddafi's fashion is a separate issue altogether and is just lightly touched in this post. Fashionista - checked. He did declare himself "King of Kings" (you know, like Jesus) - hmm... checked? In addition to the list of accomplishments described above, Gaddafi ordered to bomb peaceful protesters and the country's oil fields with military aviation. Thank God, pilots knew better and disobeyed the orders.
Russia's Shamil Basaev was a terrorist. He killed hundreds of Russian civilians in terrorist attacks, and crucified and beheaded scores of Russian soldiers. He is dead now (his wife, though, is a TV host of an anti-Russian program in Georgia, compliments of U.S. tax payers - but we'll cover that one in later posts). What would Obama do if he catches Osama? Presidents Medvedev and Obama, c'mon guys - do what superpowers must do - execute the crazy terrorist!
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!
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."
Now, follow Russia Blog on Twitter to be among the first readers to learn new exciting updates on the state of affairs in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Russia Blog--launched in 2005--today has nearly 1,500 posts and is the oldest and the largest Russia blog on the web. Start following us today: @RussiaBlog
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's Point of View on Arizona Shooting: FBI, Secret Service, Sheriff - not Politicians - Are Responsible for the Tragedy
With each day after the shooting, there is less and less doubt that Jared Lee Loughner, the attacker, will not be responsible for the tragedy due to his mental health problems. The question remains: then who is responsible? Russia Blog has written a lot about attacks on mayors and members of parliament in Russia, and about the negative effects of too many cars with blue lights and individuals with bodyguards in major cities. However, two clarifications should be made: first, all attacks on officials happened in non-public places and have been related to their personal business and criminal activities; and second, any significant government official in Russia is protected. Furthermore, the general public attending an event with such official is well-protected as well.
It is mind-blowing to see Prima County's Sheriff Clarence Dupnik give interviews, share opinions, and walk as a free man. If nothing else, he should be fired for a complete, disastrous failure to do his job - provide community's safety. Furthermore, he should be tried in court for "malpractice" on the job that led to one of the greatest tragedies in recent American history.
Why is he still a sheriff if his team can't spot a man who pulls out a gun in broad daylight and targets a judge and a congresswoman near a Safeway?
On another note: Secret Service and FBI should take a note: no matter how perfect the system of checks and balances is, there is always room for an error that eventually allows a crazy person obtain a weapon and ammo and shoot a judge, a congresswoman, and innocent bystanders. The only way to avoid such a tragedy is to control the situation itself and provide the necessary security at public events that involve government officials. It is appalling to see a political debate around this tragedy - this isn't about Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, the Liberals, or the Republicans. First of all, this is about the victims, and there is nothing we can do about it now but pray for their recovery or souls. And second - this is a lesson for American security and law enforcement services how to properly provide the public safety. I hope this lesson has been learned, even if--unfortunately-- the hard way.
Russia Blog's condolences go to the friends and families of Arizona victims.
Russia Finishes Investigation of Polish President's Plane Crash
Today, Russian flight experts finished the unprecedented investigation of the tragic flight and its crash. Polish prosecution and 24 Polish flight experts were present for the presentation of the 200-page summary of the investigation. Sixty volumes of multi-hundred page books were given to the press and published online, and the entire investigation was made public to the Polish government and the media, which is unprecedented in the aviation history.
Experts came to three conclusions: First, the Russian-made plane Tu-154 was in excellent mechanical condition before its departure and during the entire flight. Second, Russian airport's dispatchers professionally communicated and the Polish pilots understood the information warning against the plane's landing in unacceptable meteorological conditions. And third, Polish government officials, after leaving Warsaw later than schedule, ran out of time to explore other transportation options and pressured the pilots against their will and judgment to land "no matter what." There was a third person in the pilots' cabin during the moment of crash. His DNA, muscle injuries, and even the color of his underwear are mentioned in the report.
While flight experts praised the investigation committee's efforts, some Polish politicians said that the investigation results are "a joke" without mentioning which part exactly is so funny. Jokes aside, Polish prosecutors and Russian commission will name the parties guilty in the crash in the nearest future.
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.
"Boris and Natasha" Shake Up U.S.-Soviet (er, Russian) Relations
Stories continue to pour forth about the Russian spy scandal. Everyone seems a bit embarrassed. The Russians pretend to be indignant, but they don't deny that the eleven folks caught with lots of spy equipment, fake identification and other espionage giveaways, were, in fact,....well,....spies.
What really should embarrass the Kremlin is the apparently farcical quality of the spy craft. References have been made to John LeCarre and James Bond. A much more appropriate comparison is to the cartoon characters of Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale in the Rocky and Bullwinkle TV show that was popular from the 60s to the 80s. See, for example, an excerpt from "Boris and Natasha Take Washington."
Some think that all the Kremlin really wanted was what they got, impressions of life in the USA and what people close to government think. If so, it is another example of wasteful government spending. The Russian public need something comparable to the Tea Parties to demand better value for their tax monies. This pitiful excuse for spying is what about we would expect of the American government under Obama. It is the exact sort of soft power intelligence the Left here seems to think is important. Only it is hidden.
The Kremlin would be better off following the Internet, including our own Russia Blog! Given what they appear to be after, the Russian government should sponsor more conferences and exchanges right out in the open where people of different views and experiences from the US and Russia can learn from one another.
That would prove more productive, cost less and lead to fewer arrests.
Russian Business Leader Saves Historic Landmark from Closure
Viktor Vekselberg and Arnold Shwarzenneger signed a historic document in front of Dmitry Medvedev to maintain and protect the U.S. Fort Ross national park
(San Francisco, CA, 22 June 2010) -- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and corporate leader Victor Vekselberg, Chairman of Renova Group -- alongside Russian President Dmitry Medvedev -- sign a historic agreement to support and preserve California's Fort Ross State Park. The site was on the verge of closure given California's ongoing budgetary crisis. The Renova Group of Companies and State of California view their cooperation as fostering deeper cross-cultural relations between Russia and the United States and promoting enhanced understanding and connection between the peoples of the United States and Russia.
An early agricultural supplier to Alaska, Fort Ross was a thriving Russian settlement from 1812 to 1841. The Fort's Russian settlers were the first to introduce to the area shipbuilding and windmills, as well as advances in science, natural studies, agriculture, and conservation. At the forefront of multicultural sharing, Fort Ross was a place where Russians and local Native Americans shared peaceful relations and where innovation and respect for the land were valued highly.
Hearing of the impending closure, the Renova Group, headed by Victor Vekselberg, has committed substantial financial support to the park and will promote long-term solutions to budgetary and other issues through establishment of a public charitable foundation, the Renova Fort Ross Foundation.
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.
Russian Special Forces Attack Pirates, Free Sailors; Russians Ready to Declare War against Somalia
Russian vessel "Moscow University" was hijacked by pirates and 24 hours later freed by Russian navy.
A Russian warship hunted down an oil tanker hijacked by Somali pirates and special forces rappelled on board Thursday, surprising the outlaws, who surrendered after a 22-minute gunbattle. Twenty-three Russian sailors were freed, reports MSNBC. The dramatic Indian Ocean rescue came a day after pirates seized the tanker, which was heading toward China carrying $50 million worth of crude. One pirate was killed and 10 others were arrested, officials said.
The Russian destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov had rushed to the scene following Wednesday's seizure of the Liberian-flagged tanker, Moscow University. Special forces troops rappelled down to the tanker from a helicopter, Rear Adm. Jan Thornqvist, the EU Naval Force commander, told an Associated Press reporter. "The operation's success was due to the surprise factor, said a Russian military officer aboard the warship. "The pirates were taken by surprise. They did not expect such resolute measures from us," Capt. Ildar Akhmerov told RIA Novosti news agency.
The pirates were to be taken to Moscow to face criminal charges. Russia Blog does not envy the pirates fate in Russian prisons, assuming they survive the "relocation." President Medvedev hinted that hard times are awaiting them. "Perhaps we should get back to the idea of establishing an international court and other legal tools" to prosecute pirates, he said. "Until then, we'll have to do what our forefathers did when they met the pirates."
The death of the Polish delegation on its way to Katyn is unthinkable and unbelievable. As the shock slowly settles in, people across the world are asking one question: why was the entire Polish elite on board one jet? Regardless of the findings of the undergoing investigation, one already can conclude that so many leaders of Poland's society should not have flown together.
Small private companies and large corporations have rules for their executives to fly, drive, and even take elevators separately. One Russian senior retired military official--when talking to us--recalled the time when leading Soviet generals from Russia's Far East took one plane on their way to meetings in Moscow. The plane crashed, generals died, and the Soviet defense minister was furious that so much of the military leadership of one region took the same plane. How did the entire Poland's military leadership, the governor of the Central Bank, top parliamentarians, ministers, and the president end up on the same jet?
The Polish government owns only four planes. While all the jets are Soviet-made, they are finely tuned, tastefully designed, undergo extraordinary maintenance, and are flown by the best Polish pilots. Poland does not have resources comparable to those of the United States or Russia. One can understand that it may be hard for a small European country to come up with multiple jets for a brief private ceremony. However, officials in charge of the trip should have overstepped their pride and dialed Vladimir Putin, or whoever else in the Russian leadership. Surely the Russian government, defense ministry, or oligarchs would have been more than happy to provide two, three, 10, 20, you name it! number of planes to accommodate the Polish delegation for this historically important ceremony to honor the Polish martyrs of Katyn. We hope everyone around the world, from small companies to big governments learned a lesson from this tragic event.
We mourn with the people of Poland their tremendous loss.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Thursday..
This is the question that every American critical of Russia's Iranian policies should ask before stating an opinion related to the issue. Today's article in the not-so-friendly-to-Russia New York Times marks an encouraging change of tone. Whether it is Obama's promised policy shift, or Hillary's meetings in Moscow, or the beginning of spring on the East Coast, but the facts known to experts only, are finally made public on the main page of the NYT.
In the article's third paragraph, the Times quotes Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov saying that "[Russia's] Bushehr cooperation played "a special role" in keeping international inspectors inside Iran, and "ensuring that Iran is complying with its nonproliferation obligations. "Citing another sign of better ties between the countries," says NYT quoting another official, "30 percent of supplies for American troops in Afghanistan are now being shipped through Russian territory, either by airplane or train."
Maybe, after all, Russia and Americans can be, should be, and are strategic partners. And maybe the U.S. should trust Russia on its Iranian policies, taking into consideration such facts as that Russia has a five-century-long intelligence presence in Iran, that Iran's every nuclear-related facility is flooded with Russian experts, and that an Islamic nuclear-armed nation on Russia's border is the last thing Russian leadership and people would ever want.
Today, National Public Radio has a piece on President Medvedev's plans to curb Russian consumption of vodka. If NPR's source is to be believed, czar Peter the Great fostered a culture where people were actually encouraged to drink more to raise their alcohol tolerance. Accurate or not, the World Health Organization reports that the average Russian consumes eighteen liters of pure alcohol annually--twice the volume they consider dangerous. The story was covered in a January post by Bruce Chapman.
Nightclub Fire Brings Attention to Russia's Weakness
This weekend's fire at a night club in Perm, 700 miles east of Moscow pointed out the main weakness of Russian government: its inability to enforce the basic rule of law. A night club "The Lame Horse" in the past had received multiple warnings from the local fire department officials. Every club in Russia must receive a permit before hosting an indoor firework show. The fireworks used in such shows are supposed to be "cold" and not dangerous. The permits were never issued, and the fireworks were hot enough to take away 112 lives and leave 120 injured.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev voiced the growing infuriation of media and common people. Russians, weathered by endless wars and recent terrorist attacks, have patience and understanding when it comes to investigating a train explosion. But the nation has no patience whatsoever for the deaths caused by "sheer stupidity and carelessness" (in words of Dmitry Medvedev). Four owners and managers of the Lame Horse have been arrested. During the holiday season, every single public venue across Russia will be checked by local fire departments and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The fire at the Lame Horse painfully reminds the 2003 fire at a night club in Rhode Island. Kremlin and local governments have a lot to learn about going beyond bureaucratic warnings and actually enforcing the laws.
President Medvedev's Follow-up On Disassembling State Companies
The Kremlin may well want to encourage speculation as to whether President Medvedev was truly instructing Prime Minister Putin on making state enterprises "comptetitve", but it is wholly unlikely that the two would do anything that wasn't pre-arranged between them. If it were otherwise, a political rupture would be underway, with wide repercussions, and nothing indicates such a thing now. (Of course, human nature being what it is, no one likes to take direction too long from even the most illustrious former boss.)
The follow-up to the President's speech Friday does make it seem, in any case, that Mr. Medvedev is serious and wants to proceed with economic change. (See also here.)
Government-run enterprises are famously less efficient than private ones. Corruption is more likely, too. So, having taken possession of the "commanding heights" of the economy away from Yeltsin era oligarchs, the Putin/Medvedev team (or the Medvedev/Putin team, as you will) may now be ready to privatize again on a broader basis--and with fresh capital from abroad.
"The problem," he says, "is that most of the people listening to the speech in the Kremlin's St. George Hall on Thursday--especially those who sat in the first row--are the very ones who have gained the most from the raw materials-based economy and imperfect democracy that Medvedev criticized so harshly. How will Medvedev possibly be able to overcome the powerful clan in the government and Kremlin that is most interested in continuing the anti-modernization status quo?"
Two trends of Russian government policy seem to be shifting, as witnessed by President Medvedev's major address today in Moscow. The first is the tendency in recent years for government to punish those individuals and companies deemed guilty of economic misbehavior. Now, it seems, the Kremlin is taking a more free market approach.
In foreign policy--connected to business, as well--the Kremlin seems eager once again to bring foreign capital back into the country, and to protect it. Russian leadership also seems to be warming a bit to the U.S., and cooling to Iran.
At least that is the interpretation many are putting on the fairly general statements in the Medvedev speech. See the following report from Stratfor:
Thursday, November 12, 2009
A Speech, the Russian Economy and U.S. Relations
"AS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DMITRI MEDVEDEV was preparing to make his second State of the State address on Thursday, some major shifts in Russian domestic and foreign policy appeared to be taking place. Those shifts seemed destined to affect not only the speech, but Russia as a whole."
If you're looking for behind-the-scenes insight, one of the better places to find it is through reports and assessments from STRATFOR, a leader in geopolitical intelligence, analysis and research.
Yesterday, in its "Geopolitical Diary," the company's analysts took on the issue of Moscow-Tehran relations. Against a backdrop of the Iranian regime's nuclear program and its unwillingness to cooperate fully with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), STRATFOR suggests that Russia could be "about to shift its international role within the Iran talks."
Russia traditionally has been staunchly against sanctions on Iran. But in the last few weeks, Moscow suddenly grew quiet. During this time, U.S., U.K. and French officials have visited Russia to discuss the Iran issue. Moreover, STRATFOR sources in Moscow have stated that the West has been much more vocal in the possibilities of Western investment and cash going back into Russia, should Moscow want to be partners with the West.
The continuing effort to get a full accounting of Iran's nuclear program will not to end anytime soon. But if STRATFOR's analysis is right and Russia does shift its role, we could very well see a dramatic change in the tone and pace of the negotiations. Iran's leaders might not like finding themselves alone. (For reference, see Edward Lozansky's post of October 26 on this topic.)
Aparent Killers of a Lawyer and a Journalist Arrested in Moscow
The murder of Novaya Gazeta's journalist Anastasiya Baburova and attorney Stanislav Markelov apparently has has been solved. The reputed killers were found and arrested; they are members of the RNU (Russian Nationalistic Union) known in Russia as RNE. While Western media insinuated that the murder that took place on January 19, 2009 was a Russian government attack on the journalists, Muscovites who witnessed the event could tell you exactly the opposite story. The true story less exciting, but and more troubling, than the one about Putin eating liberal journalists for breakfast...
The nationalists assassinated attorney Markelov for his work in defending other victims of nationalistic attacks. When the crime took place in downtown Moscow, Anastasiya Baburova was interviewing the lawyer. She drew attention to the crime scene and started chasing the killers; so they shot her as well. One of the saddest part of this story is the complete misunderstanding of the Russia's most troubling problem: the Western press continues to paint a portrait of a authoritarian Medvedev/Putin tandem and suggesting that there is a liberal alternative. The truth is, whether one likes Medvedev and Putin or not, the only other viable alternative to their rule--and a quite popular one--is nationalistic fascism. We, at Russia Blog, extend our sympathies to the families of Stanislav and Anastasiya.
In his recent article, Bruce Chapman--Discovery Institute's President and former Director of the White House Census Bureau--rightly criticized the Russian government for cancelling the scheduled 2010 Census. (The census was moved to 2013). We want to believe that it was Russia Blog's criticism that forced prime-minister Vladimir Putin to revisit the issue. The original official reason for the census cancellation was the lack of budget funds. While FSB, among many other government agencies, is using taxpayers' money to renew its branches' auto-fleets with brand new bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz's S 350 L 4Matic (yes, with expensive woods, luxurious leather, hi-end stereos, and iPhone connectors; any U.S. FSB agents want to change their employer?), it was extremely hard to believe that Russian economy was doing that bad. Russia's Census Bureau (RosStat) was despaired by the cancellation, as they had spent significant funds and effort preparing for the act.
In Russia, criticism of the census cancellation was very muffled, as most Russians sincerely don't understand its value. Most likely, Medvedev and Putin were not afraid to reveal the information that could be compared to the one of 10 years ago; even with the global financial crisis, it is very hard to beat Russia's humiliating conditions at the end of Yeltsin's era. It still remains a secret what exactly moved the Kremlin to cancel the census in the first place. What Russian government most likely hadn't realized were the potential economic consequences had census been canceled. International corporations use census results for their marketing, expansions, hiring, and other business objectives, and the corporate-oriented Kremlin must have heard that message loud and clear. The census, according to Putin, will take place in 2010, and the Russian government committed the necessary 10.5 billion rubles (360.5 million USD) to finalize the effort.
A developed country does not cancel its regularly scheduled census of population, especially when one is constitutionally required. So it is not a surprise that the decision of Rosstat, the Russian State Statistical Service to "postpone" the 2010 census on budgetary grounds was taken over the objection of Rosstat's highly regarded professional staff and at the behest of politicians in the Kremlin. The political leaders don't realize the seriousness of their mistake.
This may seem like a minor matter, except that it reflects high-level confusion about reality--the kind of reality a census captures. Indirectly, it damages economic prospects because it shows that public statistics cannot be accepted as reliable for planning and marketing purposes. If the Kremlin hopes that a several year delay will help it disguise negative demographic trends, it is deluded. Observers now will imagine far worse than an accurate census would show.
The decision is particularly unfortunate in light of the notorious statistical deceit that characterized the USSR. In that grim era statistics might as well have been another branch of state propaganda. Population and other numbers were so decrepit that the best analysis of the true condition of Russia demography probably came from Dr. Murray Feshbach, a brilliant analyst at the United States Census Bureau and, later, the State Department.
Was There a Deal Behind the Missile Shield Decision?
Russia's Dmitry Medvedev, Poland's Lech Kaczynski, and America's Barack Obama
Russian authorities are happy, Czech and Polish officials feel as if they have been used and abused by the United States, and Republicans are outraged that President Obama has decided to scrap plans to build a missile defense in Eastern Europe. The stated purpose was to guard Europe against intimidation by a nuclear Iran, but Russia professed to feel threatened and encircled. Now, presumably, Russians don't feel threatened and Iranians feel liberated to move ahead with nuclear development.
But here is the real test of this decision: did the U.S. gain anything by it in terms of protection of Europe (and Israel) against Iranian nukes? The next few months will tell.
The USSR and the USA were strangely but truly united in working against nuclear proliferation for a couple of decades--the 70s and 80s. In my time as US ambassador to the UN Organizations in Vienna in the 1980s this was the one field of relations in which mutual cooperation was sincere and real. Indeed, the way in which the United States came closer to the USSR at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine in 1986 may be cited as a key turning point in the relationship that hastened "perestroika" and the thawing of the Cold War. The Soviets realized that we really didn't want to humiliate them, but only to help them deal with a real crisis. It led to a breakthrough that extended beyond the nuclear realm.
It does not seem to excite Russians terribly much, and it is hardly noticed in the U.S. and Europe, but Russia's GDP just dropped 10.9 percent in the second quarter. That comes after a 9.8 percent drop in the first quarter. This is grim.
The go-go economies of Moscow and St. Petersburg also seem to be deteriorating. Restaurants see a 20 percent drop in business. Can the madcap nightclub life of Moscow be far behind?
President Medvedev is calling for investigation of state-owned enterprises, thought to be hubs of inefficiency, waste and corruption. A new restructuring may be in order in the long run. In the short term, should we expect firings?
Regardless, Russia seems to be suffering a recession that may be wider and deeper than that which afflicts America. It also may last longer.
As the first anniversary of the brief war in South Ossetia approaches, it appears what peace does exist continues to be set against a backdrop of tension and accusation.
According to the New York Times, over the weekend South Ossetia authorities "reported two rounds of mortar fire coming from Georgian-controlled territory." Meanwhile, according to the BBC, Georgia is accusing Russia of "moving border posts along the boundary between Georgia and...South Ossetia." The European Union and its monitoring group, the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia isn't confirming either "claim," according to the BBC.
The anniversary of last year's conflict is August 7, so there are a few more days for clarity to develop.
Click here to read the official statement by the presidents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It, clearly, reflects their vision of the last year's conflict.
Russia's Educational Perspective on Religion is Very Different from that of the United States or Europe
In Russian city of Tver a Catholic cathedral and an old Muslim mosque are standing literally across the street from each other. Christians and Muslims have lived side by side in Russia since the 16th century. (Photo by Yuri Mamchur)
A new Kremlin plan to teach students religion or secular ethics is meant to combat the aimlessness of youth. Perhaps it will--to some extent.
The approach is probably unique--teach what is again the dominant state religion (Russian Orthodoxy) as the one acceptable Christian faith, and also teach--according to student desires--Islam (the religion of a sizable minority, particularly in the South), Buddhism or Judaism, and give the students the alternative of a coarse in secular ethics. It will seem fair to many, maybe most, Russians. It is quite different, obviously, from the "scientific atheism" of Soviet days.
The program will get a lot of criticism, however. First, the most eager evangelists in Russia today are probably the various kinds of Christian pentecostals, and there is a sizable Roman Catholic population in certain ethnic centers. So the government apparently is starting a new struggle with these groups in schools, of all places.
Then arises the question of how smart it is to have Islam taught in state schools. Who is going to teach it? What is going to be taught? Might the government find itself trying to deal with hostile Friday mosque sermons because of the kind of Islam it promulgates in the schools? Where does that lead? How will populations in areas where Islam is a majority faith react to state school classes that offer instruction as well in other faiths?
President Obama's Speech to the New Economic School in Moscow
Click on the extended post to read the text of President Barack Obama's speech to New Economic School graduates in Moscow on July 7, 2009. To read more about why President Obama chose the New Economic School for the third major foreign policy speech of his presidency, click here.
Obama in Moscow: True Reset or Just Walking in Circles?
Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow
MOSCOW -- for the past two days the city's downtown language was English. If you were grabbing a coffee or dining with friends, local waiters rarely bothered to switch to Russian, even with Russians. Obama brought an unprecedented 600 advisors, media, and assistants with him. Even as the American President had breakfast with the Russian Prime-Minister at Putin's house in the countryside, literally hundreds of white vans and black SUVs with American embassy license plates and "for hire" signs were lining up Tverskaya Street near the Ritz Carlton that hosted the Obamas. Private businesses and non-profits also chose the occasion of Obama's visit to host their personal meetings.
Now, one has to ask: What are the results of this American invasion of Moscow? Reduction of nukes? Meeting of Obama with Garry Kasparov, the virtual leader of a virtual opposition? Endless argument about the non-existent American missile defense system in Eastern Europe? If these dialogues constitute the promised "reset," then maybe the only real reset that occurred was the exchange of George and Laura for Barack and Michelle walking the plush carpets of the Moscow Ritz Carlton. Such a "reset" isn't worth all the American taxpayers' money spent on such an over-the-top, opulent trip.
But was there a possibility that the behind-the-scenes results were brighter? What did Obama really talk about with Putin during the two hour private breakfast? Maybe about none of the above, but about our countries' economic relations, about the state of human rights in Russia and, maybe, the new Administration's perceptions about the international situation--that is, about Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, and North Korea.
A Volga Dnieper Airways (VDA) Antonov 124 cargo plane on the tarmac Photo by: Boeing
Next week U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow. This week American and Russian negotiators reportedly reached an agreement to expand the transit of U.S. materiel through Russia in support of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Not coincidentally, Russia's military chief of staff announced that the U.S. and Russian militaries had resumed direct talks that had been cancelled last year when relations chilled following the August 2008 Russo-Georgian War.
U.S. Congressional Junkets: Who's Number 1, Russia or Georgia?
Congressional trips abroad paid for by U.S. taxpayers have increased 50% since 2006 and tripled since 2001, according to The Wall Street Journal
Russia and Georgia are in the news again this week before President Obama's first visit to Moscow. But the rumors of war in the Caucasus being promoted by certain U.S. pundits should probably take a backseat to a report published by The Wall Street Journal on American Congressional trips to the two countries. Accordng to the WSJ, last year Russia was the 10th most popular foreign destination for Congressional delegations funded by the American taxpayer. Georgia trailed as the 13th most popular destination, but still didn't do too badly, considering that it is a small country in the Caucasus with barely four million people. Not surprisingly, France, Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom were well ahead, with only Kuwait, China and Israel proving exceptions to the overall Euro-Atlantic (and perhaps taxpayer funded Alpine skiing and wine and cheese tasting) bias.
Fans grieve Jackson's death in downtown St Petersburg (image from NTV news report)
Today, undoubtedly, the biggest world news is the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, the only true King of Pop. It was night time in Moscow when the news reached Russia, and the sad event dominated the news reports around the country all day long since early morning. All Russian news channels, including the state-owned Rossiya and the First Channel, started their news reports with the details of Michael Jackson's passing, his career, his visits to Russia, and tribute of his fans around the world and in Russian cities. Many finished the news with a "no comment" music video tribute to the singer. Gazeta.ru wrote that "only a lazy paralyzed person didn't throw a rock at the idol in the last few years," however they agreed that his death brought out the true feeling about the star in Russia and around the globe: unreserved love and admiration.
Among many Russian leaders, the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov said "I deeply grieve with the musician's relatives, friends, and fans because of the untimely passing of the outstanding man, unmatchable singer Michael Jackson, whose death ends the entire epoch of the world music culture."
Michael Jackson was a household name in the countries of the former Soviet Union. During his visits to Moscow in 1993 and 1996, he was greeted as a head of state. Radio Free Europe writes that "his live concert in Moscow in 1993 sparked near-hysteria among scores of Russians hungry for a taste of Western culture." One of my brightest personal memories from the Nineties is attending Jackson's History Tour concert at the Dynamo stadium in Moscow in 1996. Today, hundreds of fans laid flowers and toys near the American Embassy in Moscow and in downtown St Petersburg to honor the idol. We all deeply grieve the untimely passing of the musician who influenced our lives and cultures.
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 Blog: 1,050 Original Posts, 7,000 Readers' Comments, and Counting!
After a brief break in posting new articles, we're back to offer you unique and exciting commentary on Russia's politics, economy, and culture. Russia Blog proudly notes that since 2005 we have published over 1,000 original posts and 7,000 original reader comments. We sincerely welcome your readership and your financial support. Thank you for reading us all these years!
- The Editors
This week at Russia Blog: world's biggest gay parade... in Moscow; commentary on the opposition in Moldova; a photo essay of the recent World Russia Forum in Washington D.C., coverage of Moscow's 2009 Victory Day Parade, and much more.
Workers protest a crisis-shortened four day work week and pay cuts at a Ford plant in Russia (Photo by: The St. Petersburg Times)
In case you hadn't noticed, Russia's culture, whether the subject is politics or business, doesn't always mesh as nicely with the traditions of the West as one might suppose. The recent arrests of gay rights demonstrators in Moscow--they say they were denied any kind of demonstration permit--illustrate a continuing difference in traditions of free speech on public issues. Regardless of their stance on any given issue, such as gay rights, almost all Americans and Europeans support the right to peaceful protest. In the economic realm, the same is true. However, in the case of a demonstration in Russia against Ford Motor Co., there was no official objection to the protest demonstration, but one does wonder what really was being protested.
In the U.S., it is commonplace for companies under financial pressure to cut back employment or, in certain circumstances, to reduce the work week in order to conform to production reductions. If the company lacks orders for cars, it can't afford to build them, can it? But the work week cut still must seem novel to Russians who are more used to a general social contract that accepts low wages in return for security. In the old days of the U.S.S.R., companies just kept making products, often regardless of market acceptance. It was one reason socialism failed.
U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns Remarks to the 2009 World Russia Forum
William Burns, U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs, addressing the World Russia Forum
William J. Burns
Under Secretary for Political Affairs
April 27, 2009
Remarks As Delivered
I'm delighted to be here today. I want to thank Ed Lozansky for organizing this very timely forum.
The joint declaration issued by President Obama and President Medvedev at their first meeting in London on April 1 reaffirmed that Washington and Moscow share common definitions for many of the threats and opportunities that we see in the world today. The declaration recognized that more unites us than divides us. And it reflected the commitment of both Presidents to move beyond Cold War mentalities and to chart a new course in relations between our countries. The task is now to translate that sentiment into actual achievements as we look ahead to a July summit in Moscow.
Missile Defense Debate Kicks Off World Russia Forum in Washington D.C.
Russia Today TV video of Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, debating Russian General Vladimir Dvorkin, and an interview with Dr. Edward Lozansky, director of Russia House and a frequent contributor to Russia Blog
The 28th Annual World Russia Forum is just around the corner. For two days you'll have the chance to interact with experts, and to hear and discuss specific proposals from top American and Russian political leaders, businessmen, policy makers, and scholars on how to reset the course of the U.S. -- Russia relationship from confrontation to strategic partnership and alliance. The conference will take place at the Hart Senate Office Building, followed by a reception at the Russian Embassy on April 27, 2009, and at the George Washington University and the Russian Cultural Center on April 28, 2009.
This year's Forum will feature welcoming remarks by His Excellency Sergei Kislyak -- Russia's Ambassador to the United States of America; keynote presentation by the Honorable William Burns -- U.S. Under Secretary of State and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia; a discussion between the famous member of the Russian Diplomatic Academy Igor Panarin (who predicted that the United States will cease to exist by the summer 2010) and U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC); a presentation on the issues of the current American and Russian agendas in the former Soviet space by the famous online expert Mike Averko; and much more.
We are excited about the 28th annual World Russia Forum--the premier conference of its kind. Over 300 people have registered to attend; if you are not one of them, take advantage of the late registration, including the discounted registration option for the full-time students. Learn more about the Forum at www.WorldRussiaForum.org, and have a safe trip to Washington D.C. We look forward to new ideas and friendships that will last beyond the two days of the Forum!
Twitter Madness in Chisinau What Happened in Moldova?
Angry youths pelting riot police with stones in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau last week
The former Soviet republic of Moldova is not the kind of place that typically grabs headlines. As many media reports have reminded us in the last two weeks, Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. While plenty of Moldovans have cellular phones, among post-Soviet republics, Moldova is not exactly as wired as say, Estonia.
Given these facts, one would think that the Moldovan capital of Chisinau would be an unlikely place for a revolution fueled by social networking technologies, such as Twitter and Facebook. Yet according to early reports from The New York Times and other Western media outlets, that is supposedly what happened this month, after Moldova's Communist Party won an election that the opposition insists was rigged.
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.
U.S. Firm in Kiev: Ukrainian Banking System Might Collapse
An internal letter at an American company in Kiev, Ukraine, informs the employees that they will receive their two-month salary in advance, because... there might be no way to transfer funds a few days from now. The firm's financial analysts predict that it might become impossible to transfer money within the Ukrainian banking system. The message says:
"The Ukrainian economy is experiencing unprecedented challenges, and one of them is the potential for instability in the banking system. The failure of the Ukrainian banking system is not imminent, however, risks have increased significantly in recent weeks... Should the Ukrainian system not pass these tests, it might significantly affect the ability of businesses to transfer money in the system, including making the salary payments."
Stratfor's Friedman: New U.S.-Russia Cold War Likely
Since its inception ten years ago, the Austin, Texas based "private intelligence agency" Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor) has consistently drawn a great deal of attention from the mainstream media.
Occasionally, as in its coverage of The Hague war crimes tribunal of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in the early 2000s, this "shadow CIA" has been accurate, demonstrating that it can cultivate reliable sources in places like Belgrade and elsewhere. But when it comes to Dr. George Friedman, the President of Stratfor, the predictions and "strategic forecasts" have often taken a turn towards the bizarre (for example, Friedman has predicted that Mexico will become a major rival for America in the late 21st century). Not for nothiing has my alma mater university community of Austin, Texas (whose unofficial motto is "Keep Austin Weird") become the home of both George Friedman and the professional conspiracy theorist and frequent Russia Today TV guest Alex Jones.
It's been said by many observers that a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth. In the case of Friedman, during a recent appearance on the U.S. conservative Dennis Prager's talk radio show, the President of Stratfor revealed what he thinks the purpose of NATO expansion is: "to block the Russians" from reasserting influence in the Russian near abroad of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Today at 8:08 PM Moscow time (12:08 PM EST, 9:08 AM PST) I will participate in a debate on the future of the U.S.-Russia relations on Radio Echo Moskvi (Moscow Echo radio station). Dr. Andrey Afanasievich Kokoshin and I will defend our point of view that Russia will manage to improve its relationships with the U.S. The listeners will challenge our position. As you all know, we at Russia Blog, believe in a positive and productive relationship between the two nations, therefore, I will enjoy my role in this lively discussion. Please, click here to listen to the live broadcast.
Dr. Andrey Afanasievich Kokoshin is a member of the State Duma; deputy chairman of the Duma Committee on Industry, Construction, and High Technologies; chairman of Expert Councils for Biotechnologies and Information Technologies; Director of the Institute for International Security Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences; and Chairman of the Russian National Council for the Development of Education.
Kyrgyzstan to Close Manas Air Base Russia Ready to Negotiate U.S., NATO Supplies for Afghanistan
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meeting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev (right) in Bishkek on October 9, 2008 (Photo by: RIA Novosti)
Russia apparently got the message from the incoming Obama Administration that the new American President had planned a "surge" into Afghanistan to fight a resurgent Taliban. Now that resolve is being tested, in the sense that the Kremlin wants to see what quid pro quo the U.S. is willing to give in return for the use of Russian territory and railroads for shipping materiel from Europe to former Soviet Central Asia. However, unlike the terrible day of September 11, 2001, when then President Vladimir Putin was one of the first world leaders to call President Bush and offer him access to sharing intelligence on the Taliban and his country's airspace for armed U.S. overflights, this time Russia is going to "trust, but verify" American intentions in Eurasia before agreeing to a full-scale supply effort.
Click on the extended post to read an excerpt from the Associated Press story.
Save the Date - World Russia Forum, April 27-28, 2009!
This year, for the first time, Discovery Institute is teaming with the American University in Moscow to jointly sponsor the 28th Annual World Russia Forum in Washington, D.C. The conference, titled "America and Russia: New Leadership, Challenges, Chances" will be held on April 27-28, 2009. For more information, early registration, and a preliminary agenda, please visit Forum's new and improved website: www.WorldRussiaForum.org.
U.S. Gen. Petraeus: Russia Agrees to Transit Supplies for Afghanistan
Gen. David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. Central Command and the man charged with overseeing a new American surge against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan
The continued deterioration of internal security in Pakistan has contributed to a warming of U.S.-Russia ties. General David Petraeus, the American commander who led the "surge" in Iraq widely credited with reducing violence in that country, announced this week that the U.S. and Russia had reached a tentative agreement on bolstering supply lines for Afghanistan through Russian territory. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in a visit to Uzbekistan, another key transit country for supplies to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, told reporters this week that he hoped for an improvement in the Afghan situation with the new Obama Administration focusing more on stabilizing the war-torn country.
Putin warns of 'big expectations' of Obama Jan 17 07:04 AM US/Eastern
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Saturday he had noted "positive signals" about US president-elect Barack Obama but cautioned against "big expectations."
"We have watched an election campaign with great attention and we have heard and seen the positive signals which have been directed at us," Putin told German newspaper editors and journalists in Dresden, Germany.
He singled out Obama's stance on the US missile defence plan in Europe and US apparent readiness to wait on a NATO membership for countries like Georgia and Ukraine, which Russia considers its sphere of influence.
"We have heard and are fully in agreement that we have a lot in common when it comes to the solution of problems related to limiting the arms race," he said.
"We have a lot of common problems that we can really only jointly solve. The same goes for the problems in the Middle East, with Iran, the problems of non-proliferation in general."
But he also warned of the danger of raising expectations too high.
"I am deeply convinced that the biggest disappointments are born out of big expectations," he added.
Click here to read the rest of the story at Breitbart.com.
Click on the extended post to watch a video of and read the text of President Barack Hussein Obama's inaugural speech. You can also watch a Russia Today TV video panel discussion about Obama's new presidency and the possibility for changes in U.S.-Russia relations.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and then Russian President Vladimir Putin Photo by: Xinhua
In a sign that people are getting used to the perennial haggling between Russia and Ukraine over the price of natural gas, the AFP is reporting some of the jokes (anekdoty) making their rounds among the Russian and Ukrainian publics. Interestingly, while many of them mock the Kremlin for taking a tough line on gas prices with Ukraine, many more make fun of the Ukrainian leadership for its constant infighting and inability to keep the gas flowing.
Click on the extended post to read excerpts from the AFP story.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's New Year 2009 Address to the Nation
President Medvedev's speech
Every year on New Year's Eve Russia's President gives a speech to the Russian nation. This year was the first time in eight years that Vladimir V. Putin would not be giving the address. Instead, it was his handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev. As could be expected after a tough year for many Russian families, Medvedev's speech emphasized home, individual dreams and aspirations, and the importance of family in difficult times.
As a tribute to Paul Weyrich, Russia Blog is reposting below this article two of his op-eds published earlier this year on topics related to Russia. We hope our readers enjoy them and remember Weyrich for who he was -- a lifelong advocate of ordered liberty in America and around the world.
- The Editors
Paul Weyrich, the founder and longtime CEO of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, died on December 18, 2008, at the age of 66. Born in 1942, Weyrich began his career as a young newspaper and radio reporter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and as an activist in the groundbreaking 1964 campaign of Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. While working as press secretary for Colorado U.S. Senator Gordon L. Allott, Weyrich formed a friendship with Jack Wilson, an aide to the brewing magnate Joseph Coors. In 1973, with $250,000 in seed money from Joseph Coors, Weyrich, Wilson and Ed Fuelner founded the Heritage Foundation, which would become one of the most influential non-profit public policy institutes in the world and a model for other think tanks, including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.
The funeral for Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, is starting at this hour (1200 PST, 0800 GMT, 1100 MSK) in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Alexy will be buried this afternoon at the Bogoyavlensky Monastery (Church of the Epiphany) in Moscow. Thousands of people are expected to gather outside the monastery and along the route of the funeral motorcade through the city.
Russia Today TV is providing exclusive English-language coverage live from Christ the Savior Cathedral. If you have a fast Internet connection, you can watch the live video feed here.
UPDATE: 0900 PST Click on the extended post to read an excerpted news story from the AFP.
The funeral for Alexey will begin Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 11 a.m., in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. President Dimitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and other Russian dignitaries and national figures will be in attendance. Alexey will be buried Tuesday afternoon at the Bogoyavlensky Monastery (Church of the Epiphany) in Moscow.
Panikhida services praying for the Patriarch are being said in Russian Orthodox Churches all over the world today and tomorrow. In the last forty eight hours, thousands of mourners have filed in to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, while thousands more have lined up outside the church along the Moscow embankment, standing in freezing temperatures to pay their respects. Over 600 churches in and around Moscow rang their bells this weekend to announce the Patriarch's passing, an event unprecedented in the history of post-Soviet Russia.
The cold shoulder President Medvedev gave President-Elect Obama a few days ago seems to be warming all the time. The Washington Timesreports:
Russian leaders are offering an olive branch to the incoming Obama administration in hopes that it will scrap a planned missile-defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Russian President Dimitry Medvedev told French journalists that he had spoken by phone with President-elect Barack Obama and that they hoped to meet as soon as possible.
"I hope ... we'll be able to find a way out of these [difficult] situations, which we haven't been able to do with our current colleagues," Mr. Medvedev said in the interview, which was broadcast Thursday.
Please visit the extended post to read the entire article.
The opposition in Georgia finally found its voice, thanks to the international investigations into Saakashvili's policies and attention from the Western media (Photo by Spiegel)
What really happened to provoke the recent crisis in the Caucusus--a crisis that gravely set back Western relations with Russia--is bound to get more scholarly scrutiny with the passage of time. This latest report, in any event, is not going to help the Georgian picture.
Regardless, isn't it amazing how things have changed since August? The price of oil collapsed, and with it the urgency over pipeline routes and prices in Central Europe. Because of the financial panic, Russia's sense of invulnerability has been set back. Public perceptions of the Kremlin leadership may be deteriorating along with the market--though Russia is not yet in a recession like America is experiencing. And the U.S. has a new president-elect. President Medvedev's challenge to that new president-elect has not gone down as well in Russia as might have been expected. In short, hardly anyone is really thinking about Georgia now. What a shift!
Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression. Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia's inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.
The Akula class submarine has been marketed by Russia to India's Navy
The Russian Navy has witnessed three high profile fatal accidents at sea in the last ten years: the 2000 sinking of the Kursk in the Barents Sea; the 2003 sinking of a retiring sub that went down with 11 sailors on board; and now another mishap on board an attack submarine in the Pacific Fleet this weekend, which suffocated 20 Russian sailors and left 21 others hospitalized.
The incident happened Saturday as the Nerpa, a (NATO designated) Akula II class nuclear-powered attack submarine, was undergoing its first major sea trials after leaving its base near the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok. A freon fire control system unexpectedly activated, suffocating crew members who were caught in the affected compartments. Apparently the crew members did not have access to or were not trained to use their emergency respirator devices to breathe.
Construction on the Akula boat reportedly began in 1991 and funds only became available to complete the submarine in the last few years. Russia's Navy remains a shadow of its Soviet predecessor, with poor crewmember pay and thin to non-existent budgets for training in the past fifteen years taking their toll on a service that the Putin/Medvedev Administration seeks to reconstitute. In October 2008 President Medvedev proposed that Russia build new aircraft carrier battle groups, complete with aircraft, support ships and submarines. But this vision seems to be little more than a fantasy, in light of the global economic crisis and falling oil export revenues undercutting the Russian federal budget.
Click on the extended post to read an excerpt from the Associated Press story about this tragedy.
Medvedev Wants "Fresh Start" in U.S.-Russia Relations, But Doesn't Start Fresh Himself
Dmitry Medvedev delivering the speech (Photo by AP)
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's President, yesterday addressed Russia's Federal Assembly on issues of national security, domestic problems and the global financial crisis. The speech was delivered shortly after it became clear that Barack Obama had been elected as the next President of the United States of America. Surveys showed that Russians favored Obama's candidacy over Senator McCain's, hoping, many said, for a friendlier and more cooperative relationship between the two countries.
Sad to report, Medvedev's words did not live up to these expectations. Either the speech was already prepared and the Russian president did not want to deviate from it, or Medvedev sincerely wished to start the new relationship with his future American counterpart by throwing down a challenge and continuing the old rhetoric. So, instead of extending congratulations to the American President-elect, Medvedev used his address to assure America that if it does not back away from its plan for a missile defense system in Russia's backyard, Russia will put short-range missiles and a radio-jamming installation in Kaliningrad. Western news agencies called Medvedev's statement a "first test" for Obama's presidency.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler: "Let Russia Invade Georgia"
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) travelled to Florida last week to campaign for the national Democratic ticket led by Senator Barack Obama. Nadler gave a speech urging an audience of mostly Jewish retirees at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida to support Obama's bid for the American presidency. Nadler did not expect his off-the-cuff statements about Obama's controversial former pastor from Chicago (the Rev. Jeremiah Wright) and the Russia-Georgia conflict to end up on YouTube. However, Pamela Geller, a pro-McCain conservative blogger who publishes a blog called Atlas Shrugs, recorded Nadler's candid response to skeptical questions from his audience.
Today Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren and the Associated Press picked up the story of the controversy over Nadler's remarks. Given that today is election day in America, Nadler's comment that Obama "didn't have the political courage" to leave his controversial former church in Chicago received far more attention in the media than his comments related to Russia.
U.S. Election Day 2008: The Electoral Map and Math
John McCain and Barack Obama
Today is election day in the United States of America. Most public opinion polls are showing either a statistical dead heat or predicting that Democrat Senator Barack Obama will narrowly defeat Republican Senator John McCain in the race for the White House. National public opinion surveys also suggest that Democrats will enlarge their majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, four years ago, many exit polls inaccurately predicted a win for Democrat Senator John Kerry over incumbent Republican President George W. Bush. As of Tuesday afternoon, the presidential contest appears to be close, not necessarily in the popular vote count but in state by state races.
Russians and other foreigners may not be aware of how the American presidency is decided. The winner is not determined by the margin of popular votes cast for a particular candidate nationwide, but by whichever ticket gathers the most delegates from the electoral outcomes in all 50 U.S. states. This article explains where the American election is most likely to be decided.
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.
Cars carrying members of the Russian delegation leave an isolated manor house in Vantaa, outside Helsinki, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008. (Photo by AP)
The meeting was organized at the request of the Russians and held at the KÃ¶nigstedt Manor along the Vantaa River, just outside Helsinki. The talks were organized without any urgent reason, and were devoted to the discussion of the mutual concerns and interests. American Admiral Mullen said: "Even in our darkest days of the cold war we were talking to each other -- and I think we need to continue."
Obviously, the United States and Russia should be talking about military relations--and many other issues, too. So, good for the Bush Administration and the Medvedev/Putin (or Putin/Medvedev) government in Russia. But just as obviously, this sort of thing should have been going on already. Russia and the United States are not natural adversaries, unlike the old days. But the potential for real misunderstandings and miscalculations is huge. The Russian-American relationship deserves intensive rebuilding efforts.
On Tuesday night Democrat Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona met at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee for the second presidential debate. As expected, the main topic in the town hall style question and answer forum was the global economic crisis, followed by government spending, taxes and energy policy.
At one point, in response to a question about his priorities as president, Senator Obama declared that the U.S. could no longer afford to annually transfer billions in wealth to major oil producers abroad, specifically mentioning Russia, Venezuela and Iran in that category. Obama then touted his ten year plan that he says will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and promote alternative energy technologies.
Sarkozy Supports Medvedev's Proposed Reform of European Security
French and Russian Presidents Nicholas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev delivered key speeches during the World Policy Conference in Evian, France, on October 8. The Russian President publicized his concept of international security. According to Medvedev, a new treaty needs to replace the 1975 accords reached at the Helsinki conference and unite the Euro-Atlantic region under one "game plan."
The outlined concept consists of five rules (posted below) that follow the Kremlin's desire for a more "multi-polar" world. The bottom line is that there should be no single nation with exclusive rights for providing security in Europe, and that military intervention will be avoided as a tool of solving problems or as a response to a threat to countries linked by a mutual defense agreements. The Medvedev address was followed by Sarkozy's speech, in which the French President supported Medvedev's idea of fundamentally changing the Euro-Atlantic security structure.
Olmert Meets with Medvedev; Israel Presses Russia on Arms Sales to Iran
Israeli Prime-Minister Ehud Olmert and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow (Photo by Itar-Tass)
The sale of S-300 surface to air missiles by Russia to Iran has not been confirmed either by Moscow or Teheran. However, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged Russia against selling weapons to Iran in his meetings with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday and Tuesday. The best version of the S-300 system, known by NATO as the SA-20, can track 100 targets and fire on planes 120 kilometers away. Hours before Olmert's arrival, Rosoboronexport, the Russian arms export agency, said that it had no information on Russian plans to deliver the SAM system to either Iran or Syria, reported Russia's Interfax news agency.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said: "Iran's defensive might is based on our indigenous capabilities, and whatever action that helps with expanding and strengthening our military and defensive might, we'll look into that. We have good defense cooperation with the Russians. One example would be anti-aircraft systems. We have had good cooperation and we continue to cooperate with them."
On Monday, October 6, the Russian market experienced perhaps the worst day in its history. Despite several trading pauses, total market losses equaled to 19 percent. Some Russian blue chip stocks lost nearly 40 percent. Declining oil prices didn't help the markets either. The dollar-denominated RTS index dropped to 867 points, while the ruble-denominated MICEX halted trading when its index dropped by 18.66 percent, closing at 749.66 points.
Russian companies saw their equity value evaporate on both Moscow and London exchanges. In London, shares of Russia's "Norilsky Nickel" lost 44.28%, VTB -- 36.18%, "Tatneft" - 45,23%, Â«UralkalyÂ» -- 47,78%, RosneftÂ» --39,77%, LUKoil -- 36,09%, Â«SurgutneftegazÂ» -- 31,25%, Ð¥5RETAIL -- 26,12%. In Moscow, "Norilsky Nickel" plummeted 37.67%, "Rosneft" -- 27.41%, Gazprom -- 24.42%, LUKoil -- 24.16%, "Surgutneftegaz" -- 22.92%, MTS -- 21.21%, Sberbank -- 16.32%, VTB -- 24.5%.
McCain Slams Russia in First Presidential Debate Both Candidates Support Ukraine, Georgia NATO Membership
Last night in Oxford, Mississippi on the campus of Ole Miss University the Democrat and Republican contenders for the White House clashed in their first presidential debate. The topic of foreign policy had been agreed to in advance, but given the extraordinary financial crisis impacting the U.S. this week, tax and spending policies were also key topics for PBS moderator Jim Lehrer. To Lehrer's credit, as usual, he didn't let either candidate excessively interrupt the other, while highlighting their areas of disagreement.
No surprise, Senator John McCain declared his distaste for the Kremlin. McCain said: "Russia has now become a nation fueled by petro-dollars that has basically become a KGB apparatchik-run government...I looked in Mr. Putin's eyes and I saw three letters -- a K, a G and B."
Russian Travel: Russians and Israelis Will Visit Each Other Without Visas
Russian international travel passport. Russians have two passports, one for internal use and one for international travel.
Starting at 1 a.m. on September 20, 2008, Russian tourists can visit Israel without visas. All they need to have is a foreign travel passport valid for at least six months on the date of entry. (Russians have two passports -- one for domestic use and one for travelling abroad). Russian visitors have to be ready to present booked return flights, hotel reservations or letters of invitation from relatives, and funds availability for the period of their stay. The entry to the country is free, and maximum visa-free stay cannot exceed 90 days at a time.
The agreement between Russia and Israel is mutual and was signed on March 20, however, it took half a year to figure out the legal nuances. The law is the result of close ties between the two nations. Many families have relatives in both countries, the result of the mass immigration from the Soviet Union to Israel in the 1970s and 1990s. Sixteen percent of Israelis are fluent in the Russian language, and Israeli government and businesses often provide information in Russian. The Russian language is semi-official in Israel and featured on roadway signs in some areas of the country.
Last Sunday morning Aeroflot Nord Flight 821 crashed near the city of Perm in the Ural Mountains, killing all 81 passengers and crew members on board. The flight took off from Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport around midnight and crashed into a ravine several miles from the Perm airport at 3:10 a.m. Moscow time. The cause of the crash remains unknown. Russia's Air Accident Investigation Commission of the Interstate Aviation Committee is leading the investigation, with assistance from the American National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority, and Boeing.
The Economist Hosts Oxford-Style Online Debate on Russian-Western Relations
On Tuesday, September 9th, The Economiststarted debating the West's response to renewed Russian assertiveness for two-weeks as part of an ongoing, Oxford-style Online Debate Series. We thought readers of Russia Blog would find this debate relevant and wanted to give our readers an invite to participate and be heard alongside notable experts on the topic. Below is a sneak peek at the Pro and Con opening statements that posted on Tuesday.
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.
Russian Scholars Take Up Suddenly Controversial Topic of U.S.-Russian Relations
Edward Lozansky, President of the American University in Moscow and a frequent contributor to Russia Blog, is a featured speaker this Thursday, September 11, 2008 at "U.S.-Russian Relations: The Way Forward," a conference the university is co-sponsoring with the Institute of Social and Political Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences. (For Moscow area residents, it is from 11 AM to 2 PM at the Academy's headquarters on Leninsky Prospect 32a, Presidential Hall.)
Alexander Bessmertnykh, President, Foreign Policy Association
James Collins, former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, Director of Russian Programs at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Vladimir Dvorkin, Institute of World Economy & International Relations
Rose Gottemoeller, Director, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Moscow Office
Andrei Kokoshin, Committee on Science and Technology, Russian State Duma
Robert Legvold, Professor of Political Science, Columbia University
Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow
Gennady Osipov, Director, Institute of Social and Political Research, RAS
Sergei Rogov, Director, Institute of USA and Canada, Russian Academy of Sciences
According to the promotional announcement we received: "The events in Georgia have brought U.S.-Russian relations to a new low. Escalation of negative and confrontational rhetoric on both sides may result in the drastic reduction of the cooperative agenda. However, considering the grave implications for such policy one must concentrate on searching and preserving safe havens for continuous cooperation. The nuclear agenda, Iran, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and many other crucial security areas should not be made hostage to regional conflicts."
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.
There is a certain game-playing going on in the Caucasus that is not very confidence-inspiring.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Dallas at Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008. The Dallas, had originally been slated to dock at the Black Sea port of Poti, which is still controlled by Russian forces. (Photo and story by AP)
US, Russia Anchor Military Ships in Georgian Ports By Sergei Grits and Jim Heintz
BATUMI, Georgia (AP) -- A U.S. military ship loaded with aid docked at a southern Georgian port Wednesday, and Russia sent three missile boats to another Georgian port as the standoff escalated over a nation devastated by war with Russia.
The dockings came a day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recognized two Georgian rebel territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, prompting harsh criticism from Western nations.
Who would have imagined that barely after the guns stopped in South Ossetia, the principal conductor of the London Symphony, Valery Gergiev, who also is lead guest conductor of the New York Metropolitan Opera, would appear out of the smoke to lead a classical musical requiem for the war dead?
Gergiev, it seems, is a native of Ossetia, and his performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and Shostrakovich's Seventh Symphony was surely one of the few propaganda coups--and the classiest--that Russia has had in the current international crisis. One can note that the numbers of war dead are turning out to have been exaggerated in early reports, and one can hope that people will find a resonance in their hearts for all of them--on both sides. That might cause reasonable men of good will to seek real peace.
Many have wondered whether the conflict in U.S.-Russian relations over Georgia was going to affect business relations between private corporations of the two countries. Tentative indications are "no." Last week, reports Reuters, Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N), the leading U.S. retail electronics chain, expanded into Russia, having registered its Future Shop trademark to operate in the fast-growing market. Victoria's Secret, owned by Limited Brands (LTD.N), and Japanese retailer Muji have also registered trademarks in Russia this month, Kommersant reported, as a decade of economic growth continues to boost wages and demand for high-end goods.
Vedomosti newspaper, citing the government patent agency Rospatent, said Best Buy had entered its license application for Future Shop, a Canadian subsidiary, in 2006, but has never voiced any intentions of opening stores in Russia. Rospatent has registered the Future Shop brand and is still reviewing the application for the Best Buy trademark, Vedomosti reported. Kommersant also reported that Best Buy had this month been granted Russian trademark rights for Future Shop. The move of Victoria's Secret, Bes tBuy, and Rospatent, most likely, has no relationship to the ongoing conflict, but is a great indicator that the American-Russian business has a bright future.
"Russians in Georgia: Behind the harrowing individual tales of destruction and want, analysts see a clash between the US and Russia reminiscent of old Cold War divisions," reports BBC News.
The Washington Post has perhaps the best report so far on how the war in South Ossetia and Georgia got started. It is astonishing how this episode ignited a torrent of abuse and prejudice, second guessing and histrionics on both sides.
Ambassador Bruce Chapman's Radio Interview About the Russian-Georgian Conflict
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, look on during a news conference at the presidential residence in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, on Friday, Aug. 15, 2008.
Listen to my interview about the Russian-Georgian conflict on Seattle 710 KIRO AM's Dave Ross Show from August 14, 2008 by downloading this file. For an easy download, please, click on the link with the right button of your mouse and choose an option "save target as." After the podcast file is uploaded, you can open it with Windows Media Player or any other free media software.
"Ms Rice will present President Mikhail Saakashvili with a European Union-brokered ceasefire deal, but he has said he would need 'a closer look' before signing. The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, has demanded that Georgia sign the deal immediately - but said only Russia could guarantee peace in the region."
But we were told several days ago, and everyone has assumed, that President Sarkozy, when he arrived in Tbilisi with the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, already succeeded in getting President Saakashvili's signature on the document. Now it seems to remain an open option.
If the BBC report is true, there is no ceasefire between the Russian and Georgia forces.
Intelligence Failure on Georgia: Open an Investigation
President George Bush, flanked by Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, and Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, announced that he is sending Rice to Georgia and directed Gates to start humanitarian missions. Later on Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he sees no need to invoke American military force in the war between Russia and Georgia. (EPA/Times Online/AP)
The precipitating event in the war in South Ossetia and Georgia was the Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali. That either provided an "excuse" for the Russians to invade or a justifiable "reason". Either way, without that shelling the outbreak of war was unlikely.
How did it happen? Why were the Georgians so reckless? Some Russians say it was part of a plan to annex South Ossetia by force. Georgians say it was in response to provocations (the Russians supposedly set the Georgians up).
There also are different views of what America's role was at that time. Some Russians suppose that the United States knew and approved of the attack.
Relatives of Oleg Golovanov, a Russian soldier killed during the fighting between Georgia and Russia, mourned during his funeral in Vladikavkaz, Russia. (Photo by The New York Times)
International reporting is definitely improving, but the holes are still major. For example, it is said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the Russians tried to bomb the Georgian oil pipeline, but there is no actual reporting to sustain this claim. Likewise, there is a reporting lacuna on what exactly precipitated the Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali. What exact provocations were they responding to? Their own story on this deserves to be heard. Was it something specific or general, or what? Did the Russians agitate the Ossetian militia; if so, how?
So, when did the "war" begin?
Meanwhile, there is no doubt that we have seen a serious diplomatic and political debacle for Georgia, the U.S. and even Russia, and to an extent, the European Union. Gratefully, the war--once it had been engaged--does not seem to have realized the extent of killing feared early on. It could have been worse. Of course, if you or someone you know is one of the statistics, that is no consolation.
President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, left, with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Tbilisi (photo by The New York Times)
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has two valuable video clips worth noting: the first is the South Ossetia/Georgia chronology of fighting, the second the rally of Eastern European leaders in Tbilisi three days ago.
The chronology is useful because it shows the confusion about whom provoked whom first, though there is no doubt that the Georgians did start the shelling, giving Russia reason to invade. This, along with the US government failure to figure out what was going on in time to stop it, has to constitute the disaster's precipitating blunder.
It is very difficult to understand exactly what is happening in Gori but it is clear that it is bad and getting worse.
The BBC is there and, looking at their reports (also this link) it seems clear that the civil authorities have fled and that people are being murdered and robbed. My suspicion is that, apart from the usual criminal elements who take advantage of power vacuums, it is probably Ossetians seeking revenge.
"Deputy chief of the headquarters of the peacekeeping force Maj. Gen. Borisov today travelled to Gori especially to discuss questions of Georgian troop withdrawal with the local administration and law enforcers. Unfortunately, he did not discover any local leaders in the city".
President Sakozy (left) and President Medvedev (right). "President Nicolas Sarkozy has shown a flair for the high-profile diplomatic intervention," reports BBC. (Photo by AFP). Russia and Georgia declared today, August 13, 2008, a Day of Mourning for the victims of the conflict.
France, which currently holds the Presidency of the EU, in the persons of President Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Kouchner, has induced President Saakashvili to sign the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement.
According to both President Medvedev's office and a French news agency the terms are as follows:
1. Tbilisi must make a commitment not to use force to settle its secessionist problems.
2. Georgian armed forces must cease fire.
3. Georgian armed forces must return to their barracks.
Russian soldiers sit atop military vehicles in South Ossetia
TSKHINVALI, Georgia -- The Kremlin said Tuesday that it was suspending military action in the separatist enclave of South Ossetia inside Georgia, but huge Russian military convoys still snaked toward the scarred capital, Tskhinvali.
After five days of fighting -- Russia's biggest use of force outside its borders since the 1991 Soviet collapse -- a victorious Russian army offered a small group of foreign journalists a carefully controlled glimpse of the territory it went to war over.
War in Georgia: Too Many Arguments, Not Enough Facts
Ossetian civilians, just like the teenagers in Seattle and politicians in Washington, are trying to understand what is going on. It is just as hard to get the facts at the "ground zero" of the conflict as it is thousands of miles away.
True story from Seattle: Two teen-age girls were overheard at lunch yesterday:
"Did you see that the Russians have attacked Georgia?"
"No! Where? Atlanta?"
"I'm not sure!
"Like, why would they DO that?"
Well, those girls are not much far behind the mentality of the political and media--and think tank--classes these past few days. People should be wary about the lack of information, let alone perspective. But that hasn't stopped the opinion classes from offering their dire analyses and even more dire recommendations. We could link to literally hundreds of opinion pieces about the significance of what has happened in the "war in Ossetia and Georgia."
But before we opine further on this here, some questions:
Are the US and Russia Heading for Another Cold War?
Edward Lozansky leaning on piano at the Russian Cultural House in Washington D.C. during the World Russia Forum (May 2008).
Edward Lozansky, senior advisor to Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project and the President and Founder of the American University in Moscow, participated yesterday on the discussion panel "Are the US and Russia Heading for Another Cold War?" on the National Public Radio's program "To the Point." Other program participants were: Paul Rimple (Reporter, Christian Science Monitor), Janusz Bugajski (Director of the New European Democracies Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies), and Steve Clemons (Director, New America Foundation).
We encourage our readers to listen to the podcast of the show.
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.
Georgian soldiers helping an injured comrade. Georgian troops are wearing U.S. Marine camouflage uniforms; the only difference - the Georgian flag badges.
Ethnic separatism once again has further destabilized world geopolitics, with the outbreak of military conflict between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia & Abkhazia; Russia also attacked Georgian targets in Abkhazia--and as of midday Monday has invaded Georgia and occupied Gori (Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's birthplace), just 55 miles from the Georgian capital of Tblisi.
While President Bush, out to lunch in China, watches swimming, basketball & baseball in Beijing, here is what one Georgian farmer told a British reporter: "Why won't America and NATO help us? If they won't help us now, why did we help them in Iraq?"
Four lessons come immediately to mind:
(1) the risk minor powers pose to major-power relations;
(2) the risk of excessive compartmentalization in policy;
(3) the risk from grossly misplaced strategic focus;
(4) the risk of making a fetish of democracy promotion--especially in the form of volatile multi-ethnic states.
Ossetian survivors of Georgian army attacks on Tshinvali are hiding in the basements of destroyed buildings without food and water
This article will ask and attempt to answer three questions:
1. War in Georgia: Russian aggression against an independent country or an indiscriminate Georgian assault against Ossetians overlooked by the U.S. media?
2. What would the United States have done if a bordering country (let's say Mexico) slaughtered 1,400 U.S. citizens and 10 U.S. soldiers overnight, leaving U.S. citizens by the tens of thousands without food and water?
3. If ethnic cleansing on Russian borders is none of Russia's business, and should not result in a Russian military response against the aggressor, how can one explain NATO's bombing and occupation of Serbia in 1999, a country that did not share a common border with the U.S. or other NATO members?
War in Georgia: Misreading Ossetia -- Chronology Matters
Georgian army rocket batteries firing on Ossetian cities and villages Friday, August 8. As the result of this bombardment, 1,400 civilians, including women and children, and 10 Russian peacekeepers died the first night of the Georgian attack. Hours later, Russian troops responded to protect Russian citizens and soldiers in the region.
"In addition to promoting the anti-science hoax of 'intelligent design,' the Discovery Institute runs a pro-Russian site called 'Russia Blog,' and today they come out in favour of Russia's brutal assault on the breakaway republic of South Ossetia".
As a contributor to this blog, I want to answer Mr. Johnson's guilt-by-association allegation. I personally have no use for "intelligent design" or other claims against evolution, but one would search Russia Blog's website in vain for any mention of this topic. And Mr. Johnson's characterization of "Russia's brutal assault on the breakaway republic of South Ossetia" gets it exactly backwards. Chronology is the key: it tells you here, as it so often does (in evolution as well) what is actually happening.
Russian peacekeepers at an anti-aircraft gun in the disputed region of South Ossetia
Yesterday, after Russia sent reinforcements to back up its peacekeepers under seige by the Georgian army in the tiny disputed territory of South Ossetia, Arizona Senator and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain denounced the move as "Russian aggression" against Georgia. Nevermind that it was the Georgian army which launched the offensive that ignited the present round of fighting, and thousands of refugees have been streaming out of South Ossetia into Russia in the last few days.
The reported death toll of over 1,400 is the worst the region has seen since 1992. In that year, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both regions with strong ethnic ties to compatriots in Russia, were ceded to Georgia within their Soviet-drawn borders. After the U.S. and NATO countries recognized the independence of Kosovo in early 2008, the South Ossetians and Abkhazians decided that they could declare their independence from Georgia, which has sparked the recent violence.
UPDATE - August 10, 2008 Welcome, Instapundit and Little Green Footballs readers! Please click here to read Russia Blog contributor Patrick Armstrong's excellent post responding to LGF blogger Charles Johnson. Click on the extended post to read the author's response to some of the questions and comments written elsewhere about this post.
War in Georgia? Caucasus Violence Took Europe by Surprise
Follow news of the Russia-Georgia conflict as its develops with the Newswire headlines on the top left side of this website.
Russian tanks surge into South Ossetia to protect Russia's citizens and peacekeepers after the Georgian Army attacked the breakaway region this week, killing over 1,400 civilians. Georgia has claimed South Ossetia as its territory since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1992, while South Ossetian separatists have sought independence and perhaps union with North Ossetian compatriots in Russia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev: "In accordance with the constitution and federal law, I, as president of Russia, am obliged to protect the lives and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are located. We won't allow the deaths of our compatriots to go unpunished."
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin: "War has started after a well-planned invasion." Putin appealed to world leaders for help.
Spokesman for President George W. Bush: "Russia and Georgia should cease hostilities and hold talks to end the conflict."
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili: "Most decision makers have gone for the holidays. Brilliant moment to attack a small country."
Russia Blog: Our view is that it's not polite to start a war during the Olympic Games - a tradition that has celebrated peaceful athletic competition between nations since ancient times. The Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili decided to send his army into South Ossetia while major world leaders were attending the opening ceremony of 29th Olympiad in Beijing - after reassuring European Union chief envoy Javier Solana on Thursday that he had called for a unilateral ceasefire.
If Saakashvili and his advisors believe that being a strong U.S. ally means that they have a "green light" from Washington for these rash moves, they are sorely mistaken. A few hours after the fighting started, President Bush and Prime Minister Putin were discussing the crisis face to face at the Olympics.
Russian Federation Situation Report August 7, 2008
Five generals have been found guilty on corruption charges, and 757 criminal cases have been opened against legal officials in the government's fight against the corruption.
Solzhenitsyn. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a man of unshakeable integrity and courage, who did more to kill Soviet Communism than anyone else, died on Sunday. His body lay in state at the Academy of Sciences and Putin and Gorbachev paid their respects. He was buried yesterday at the Dmitriy Donskoy Monastery in Moscow and Medvedev attended. Lately he had begun to sound rather out-of-date but I suspect his influence will endure for many years.
Corruption. Medvedev signed his national anti-corruption plan and the Russian text is up on his website. A number of laws and amendments are expected to go to the Duma next month. Some features are restrictions and regulations for disposal of state assets and a provision by which companies can be responsible for the corrupt actions of employees. Speaking of which, the labor in the Augean Stables continues: so far this year, the military prosecution office says that five generals have been found guilty on corruption charges and the Investigative Committee states that 757 criminal cases have been opened against legal officials.
Solzhenitsyn in Vermont near his U.S. home in exile
Yesterday The New York Times and National Review offered contrasting profiles of the great Russian dissident and writer, who passed away at his home outside Moscow on Sunday. Russian Orthodox funeral services will be held tomorrow at the Dimitri Donskoy Monastery in Moscow, where Solzhenitsyn requested to be buried. The Donskoi necropolis houses the tombs of many prominent families and liberal scholars from 19th century Russia, the graves of Red Army soldiers who died defending Moscow from the invading Nazis, and anonymous victims of the NKVD buried by the Church. Solzhenitsyn, who fought his way into East Prussia in 1944-45 as a Red Army artillery officer, wanted to be buried close to his comrades.
Solzhenitsyn: In June 2007, then President Vladimir Putin (r.), who presented Alexander Solzhenitsyn with the State Prize, Russia's highest humanitarian award, visited the writer at his home on the outskirts of Moscow. (Photo by RIA Novosti)
One writer among the Soviet dissidents did the most to force Western awareness of the true nature of the Communist regime during our complacent years of the Sixties and Seventies. He was the same writer who did a huge service to the West in 1978 when, accepting an honorary degree at Harvard, he had the courage to tell the truth about Western materialism and spiritual decay. Solzhenitsyn was sage yet again in his characterization of the Russian Federation in recent years. He was a stern but enormously good prophet.
Thanks to energy prices, Russia has more than half a trillion dollars in reserves and US$44 billion in debts
The Duumvirate. I regard The Economist as a generally worthless commentator on Russia, useful only because it is a reliable guide to the "mean sea level" of conventional opinion. In its 6-12 October 2007 issue, it was confident "It has always been a question of how, not if, Vladimir Putin would retain power". Now it's not so sure: maybe Medvedev is in charge. Its latest piece (Johnson's Russia List/2008/130/6) finally understands that Putin could have amended the Constitution easily and run for a third term.
The point is not that The Economist has become any more thoughtful but that its change of mind is an indication that conventional opinion is coming around to the idea that maybe the whole thing wasn't, as the October 2007 headline read, "Vladimir Putin: The Never-Ending Presidency". Revisiting my five hypotheses, I am coming to think that the choice is now between Numbers 4 and 5: I never thought 1 and 2 very likely and 3 is certainly dead. For what it's worth, but presumably signalling new tactics if not a new strategy, there has been criticism of some of Putin's legacies appearing in the Russian press.
American flags waved in Berlin at the Obama's rally - a display of rediscovered friendship; some 200,000 Berliners turned out for the speech.
"In this century -- in this city of all cities -- we must reject the Cold War mind-set of the past, and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must, and to seek a partnership that extends across this entire continent." -- Barack Obama, Berlin, Germany
Some say that Senator Barack Obama has little international experience and will have problems building bridges with leaders of foreign nations. However, today, Obama hit the bullseye on issues relevant to the world's biggest oil producer, one of its top military powers, and, simply put, the largest country in the world - Russia. Some experts on the Republican side who are familiar with the matter say that Obama might have a strong advantage over his GOP rival, Senator John McCain, as many world leaders would be more open to dialogue with a young charismatic president, rather than an old and experienced "Cold Warrior."
While Russians and Europeans embrace Obama's rhetoric, it is unclear how American voters will react to the international course taken by the presidential candidate.
"John McCain cannot win, but Obama can lose," said Senator Slade Gorton today during his lecture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington.
Can Obama bring back the fondness for America in the world?
Watch the video of Senator Obama's Berlin speech, and visit the extended post to read the text of the American presidential candidate's speech in Berlin.
Bloomberg: Putin to Meet Bush in Beijing After Missile Warning
By Henry Meyer and Sebastian Alison
Soviet-era Tupolev TU-160
July 21 (Bloomberg) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will meet U.S. President George W. Bush next month after Russia warned it would respond militarily to U.S. plans to deploy a missile-defense system in eastern Europe. Putin will hold talks with Bush on the sidelines of the Olympic Games' opening ceremonies in Beijing, the Russian prime minister's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said today by telephone in Moscow. The Olympics will open on Aug. 8.
Russia may send military aircraft back to bases in Cuba in response to the U.S. missile-defense plans, Izvestiya reported today, citing an unidentified ``highly placed source.'' The government said on July 8 that it would react with ``military- technical'' means to the U.S. system, which it said threatens Russia's security. Russian leaders threatened to aim nuclear missiles at the planned bases in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Graft remains a serious problem in the Russian Federation
Corruption et al. Medvedev mused that some provision should be made for transferring assets held by civil servants into trusts and said a first draft of a national plan for combating corruption has appeared. A presidential aide suggested that "independent directors" might replace state officials in some state-owned companies. Of course if that turns out to be a way of letting former members of Putin's administration keep these lucrative positions... I can understand why you would want to place government officials in these important companies (remember Gazprom under Yeltsin?) but the problem then becomes: where do their interests now lie?
Balance in government. A Levada poll shows a probably important change in political reality. For years opinion polls have ranked the president distinctly higher than the PM or government. This was so even in the Yeltsin era (although all at very low levels in the latter years). What this poll shows is that Putin's presence has pulled the government rating up: in the 40s through most of his presidency, it is now in the 60s. At the same time his public approval rating remains in the 80s and Medvedev's is in the 70s. If this trend holds -- and why shouldn't it? -- Russia's political structure will be much better balanced than it has been. Further evidence, to my mind, of my fifth hypothesis.
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
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.
First time in 20 years Russia got into the quarter-finals of Euro soccer championship. Russian team crushed Sweden with 2:0 score. (Photo by Reuters).
A Note on Filling the Page. Today is the 490th Thursday that I have done a Sitrep. I have always been able to fill a page, some days more easily than others. This is the hardest I've worked to do so. For some years, we have been living with the "Russian Question". One day, it, like the "Eastern Question" or the "German Question", will pass and there won't be enough happening to warrant weekly Sitreps. While that day is not here, we are, perhaps, closer to the desired end when Russia ceases to be a "Question" (with, FAR less bloodshed than the other two were settled, by the way, and far less than predicted by anyone). A "normal" Russia: one with which other countries may have trade disputes or strategic disagreements but will be confident that they can be settled "inside the box". It's a mixture of perception and reality: the latter changing much faster than the former.
Russian Tourism. A result of the growing prosperity of the Putin years has been a steady increase in tourism by Russians. 15 years ago the fear was millions of refugees; ten years ago thousands of criminals; the reality has become ordinary Russians on holiday. I have noticed this for some time but last year in the Mediterranean it was interesting to see that there are now enough of them to justify guidebooks in Russian everywhere and we often had a Russian couple beside us in a cafe. This Russia Blog post discusses the phenomenon. To my mind, the relative absence of such pieces in the mainstream media (although see JRL/2008/116/2) is a product of the meme that Russia is locked down by Putin and his Chekist minions. But, as Stalin understood, to really lock a country down, you can't let people out and you can't let people in. Perception and reality again.
Moscow's "fire starter" has claimed 35 cars, and nearly $300,000 worth of damage. Moscow police promised a $5,000 award for the information that would lead to capturing the maniac. Moscow citizens started patrolling their neighborhoods during night hours (more photos at the end of this post).
Medvedev's St Petersburg speech. In his speech opening the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum Medvedev said he wants to turn Moscow into a "powerful global financial center"; well, to do so would require a substantial reduction of corruption, criminality and opacity. He spoke of liberalizing the natural gas market and reducing taxes on the oil sector. He also spoke of helping to overcome the global food crisis (but how? more Russian wheat?). He took some shots at the USA's financial policies and mused about how the UN or some other global entity could do a better job. For the rest of the speech he tried to present a picture of Russia as a prosperous (1st Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov the following day said Russia would become the 6th largest economy by the end of the year), important and responsible participant in the world economy.
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!
Medvedev Blames U.S. for Global Financial Crisis Reuters Reports
Dmitry Medvedev speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 7, 2008 (Photo by Reuters)
ST PETERSBURG, Russia -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev blamed "aggressive" United States policies on Saturday for the global financial crisis and said Moscow's growing economic muscle could be part of the solution.
"Failure by the biggest financial firms in the world to adequately take risk into account, coupled with the aggressive financial policies of the biggest economy in the world, have led not only to corporate losses," Medvedev told Russia's main annual event for international investors in St Petersburg. "Most people on the planet have become poorer."
Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first foreign leader to visit with Dmitry Medvedev in March, when he gave her a bouquet of flowers for International Womens' Day. Germany is the first Western country that Medvedev visited as a president.
Medvedev in Germany. The conversation appears to have been mostly about gas pipelines but Medvedev expressed concern about the "increasing gap between Russia and the West" on security issues and reiterated his intentions to effect a "qualitative transformation" of Russia.
Putin Interview. When he was in France, Putin gave an interview (English summary, Russian) to Le Monde. As usual, it's a straightforward unemotional statement of his views on present and past. It's a "one stop shopping" trip for Putin's view of things. The English summary above leaves out his remarks on Abkhazia where he, once again, attempted to educate a Western audience that the problem has deep roots that cannot be wished away.
Canada vs. Russia: Russia Takes Hockey World Title on May 18, 2008
Fans celebrating Russia's victory in the final of the World Hockey Championship on Manezh Square (Photo by AP)
Russia won World Hockey Championship for the first time since 1993 on May 18, 2008. The victory was overlooked by many in the United States due to local sports activities and also due to the fact that Russia has won too many competitions in May 2008; UEFA (soccer championship) on May 14, 2008, World Hockey Championship on May 18, 2008, and the Eurovision Music Contest on May 25, 2008.
"Ilya Kovalchuk's power-play goal in overtime for the 5-4 win in Quebec City, Canada, came just before midnight, but that didn't stop fans from holding an impromptu parade in the city center, where many had watched the final in bars..."
Please, visit the extended post to read the Moscow Times coverage of the event.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev poses for a group photo with students at Peking University in Beijing, capital of China, on May 24, 2008. Dmitry Medvedev delivered a speech at Peking University on Saturday. (by Xinhua Photo)
Medvedev visits. Medvedev made his first trip as president to Kazakhstan and China. Does this mean anything? Is it a statement of some sort? I don't know. Many countries have a tradition that the new leader visits his neighbours first. Putin, on the other hand, is in France.
Demographics. More signs that the situation is becoming less desperate: RosStat estimates the population as of 1 April to be 141.9 million. This is down 80,900 from the start of the year but this year's decline is rather less than 1st quarter figures from previous years (118,200 in 2007 and 200,800 in 2006). I am amused to note that some , even in the mainstream media, have started to notice the turnaround (although others have not).
Government. Putin has his new government. There are two 1st deputies: Viktor Zubkov and Igor Shuvalov (the latter will act for Putin in his absence); 5 Deputies: Sergey Sobyanin, Aleksandr Zhukov (a 1991 graduate of Harvard Business School who is fluent in English), Sergey Ivanov, Igor Sechin and Aleksey Kudrin. A "presidium" has been created of these plus the foreign, interior, defence, health and social development, agriculture and regional development ministers. In short: deputies, power ministers and national project ministers. Sergey Shoygu remains Emergency Situations Minister: he has held this position since 1991(!), through everything, and is consistently one of the most popular leaders in the country.
Speculation. The new government has sparked off effusions of neo-Kremlinology in which, as usual, commentators find evidence to support their pre-existing theories. I regard neo-Kremlinology as a waste of time for the following reasons. We do not yet know how the diumvirate will operate but their speeches all stress one thing: when Putin came to power I believe he saw his work in four main headings: tighten central control, improve the economy, improve Russia's standing in the world and introduce "rule of law" (more a "rule of rules" I think). He was reasonably successful in the first three but there has been little progress in the fourth. It appears to be the chief emphasis of Medvedev and Putin today, at least in their speeches.
Don't miss the annual World Russian Forum. The 2008 Forum will be held at the US Capitol in Washington D.C. on May 19-20. Please, visit the Russia House website to find out more about the forum and register for the event. Also see the extended post for the event agenda. Yours truly, Yuri Mamchur, will be a speaker on the panel "Russian Diaspora in the U.S and Its Role in Bolstering U.S. - Russian Relations."
"WORLD RUSSIAN FORUM 2008"
RUSSIA - USA
Towards Economic, Political and Military Alliance
May 19-20, 2008 Washington, DC
United States Capitol
Armored personnel carriers and trucks rehearse for Victory Day on Tverskaya near the Kremlin, April 29, 2008
For most international observers, the big story of Victory Day 2008 in Moscow is the revival of the Soviet tradition of parading heavy military equipment through Red Square. For most Russians, however, today is a well deserved day off, and it will be the most beloved holiday on the national calendar before Christmas and New Years.
Today, hundreds of thousands in Russia will be participating in public events across the country to thank surviving World War II veterans for their service, and to remember the millions who died to rid the world of Nazism.
Click on the extended post to read more thoughts and watch more YouTube videos about Victory Day.
Dmitry Medvedev during the inauguration ceremony in Kremlin
President Medvedev. Yesterday Dmitriy Medvedev was sworn in as President (watch the video and the photos). His speech, almost all domestically focused, hit the themes of economic modernization, social security and "legal nihilism". The tacit message was, as it has been, that continuity was assured. He did use the phrase "our great Russia" -- it will be amusing to see how many news outlets focus their attention on that.
Prime Minister Putin. Putin was confirmed today by the Duma (the Communists voted against him) and his speech too focussed on domestic matters: increasing the capital -- in all senses of the word -- of Russia. It is clear that Medvedev's and Putin's program is to concentrate on what might be termed qualitative improvements in Russia's domestic situation. Of course, in this sinful world, external events can arise ex nihilo and dominate the conversation.
Interview with Henry Kissinger on the Future of U.S.-Russia Relations
As U.S. Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977, Henry Kissinger negotiated arms control agreements between the USA and USSR and the establishment of diplomatic relations between America and mainland Communist China. In this video the elderly diplomat sits down for a twenty minute interview with Russia Today TV and describes his vision of U.S.-Russia relations in the 21st century.
Russian Federation Weekly Situation Report May 2, 2008
The transition. What seems to be happening is that governing powers -- formerly almost all of which were concentrated in the Presidential Administration these past several years -- are being reassigned. A draft law has appeared that will delegate some of the central government's responsibilities to lower levels of government and some powers are apparently being shifted from the Presidential Administration to the government.
Meanwhile there are personnel changes that look like some of Putin's people moving over the government side to be ready for his arrival. I reiterate that it is still too early to know what The Plan is, but all this seems to support the hypothesis that Putin (and company) are setting up a certain division of powers between the Presidential Administration and the government. If (and this is a big if) this works in practice, it would be a good step: separation of powers is one of the secrets of successful governments.
Peak Oil? Or High Taxes?. Two weeks ago I quoted a Russian oil executive saying that Russian production had peaked; this week the CEO of Gazprom Neft says that he expects Russian production to continue to increase until the middle of the century (assuming that the industry gets the tax structure he thinks it ought to have).
Russian Federation Weekly Situation Report April 24 2008
DEMOGRAPHICS. The demographic picture in Russia continues to improve: RosStat claims 273,700 births in January and February (up 12.8% over the previous year) and 368,200 deaths (up 4.1%). A bill to restrict abortion advertising has been proposed and a Duma deputy gave some numbers here: in 2006 there were one and a half million abortions (40.3 per 1000 women) in Russia, down from the two million in 2002 (54.2 per 1000 women). So, this statistical evidence suggests that the various pro-natalist programs are having an effect. We don't know yet, of course, whether the programs actually are leading to more children, or just encouraging Russian women to have their babies sooner. New data coming in over the next few years will tell us.
INVESTIGATIVE COMMITTEE. More trouble. The head of the main investigative unit was fired; corruption being given as the reason. The usual rumors abound.
Currently I am in Almaty, Kazakhstan at the Eurasian Media Forum 2008. Today, I participated in the panel addressing the perceptions of the the Western media in its coverage of Russia, and the possibility of the return of the Cold War. The Eurasian Media Forum has gathered 600 distinguished participants, such as, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, his daughter Dr. Dariga Nazarbaeva, Mr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Dr. Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation, Mikhail Leontiev from "Odnako", Margarita Simonyan and Kevin Owen from Russia Today TV, multiple ambassadors, ministers, journalists, reporters and policy makers.
Please, view the extended post for the full agenda of the conference, and come back soon to view the photos of the conference and to read the new RRP report on the Stereotypes that Western media practices in its coverage of Russia. The report was prepared for the Forum and is available in print to those at the venue.
At the moment this post was published, the oil price, according to Bloomberg, was $114.85 per barrel. Russia has profited handsomely from higher world energy prices, but has also experienced inflation as a result of the flood of petrodollars
Putinology Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin is now Chairman of United Russia, the political structure (I'm not sure I would call it a real "party") that dominates Russia. But, oddly enough, he hasn't formally become a member. While we still can't be sure what Putin's Plan is, this would seem to point in the direction of my fifth hypothesis. He also apparently said he would become the Prime Minister of Russia if (!) asked. The next five or eight months will tell us more about what he has in mind.
Peak Oil?. The Financial Times quotes a vice president of LUKoil as saying that Russian oil production has peaked this year. Maybe so, but the End of Oil has been predicted many times and historically, this has been a bad bet. I believe that the first prediction that the world would run out is over a century old and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency famously predicted in the 1980s that Soviet production had peaked. Post Soviet Russia, separated from oil rich republics like Kazahkstan and Azerbaijan, briefly surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer in 2006.
Grigory Yavlinsky, the most prominent liberal in Russian politics (photo by AP)
Bush-Putin Meeting. Contrary to expectations, there appears to have been no breakthrough on the contentious issues of NATO expansion or missile defense at the Russian President's retreat in Sochi.
Hubris and the Limits of Russia's Revival. There is no doubt that Putin's two terms have been remarkably successful: eight years ago, many observers were ready to write Russia off completely (examples here, here, and here) and Putin (with some help from higher world commodity prices) has managed to improve Russia's leading economic and social indicators. But nevertheless Russia is not really very strong: its GDP is still somewhere around the same as Canada's (even with four or five times the population); poverty is widespread; Russian infrastructure is inadequate; corruption is omnipresent; its economic importance is principally as an energy supplier; its armed forces, though large, are not very competitive; it has no real allies; and most of its neighbours would prefer it to be located somewhere else.
NATO Expansion. Ukraine and Georgia were not offered a path to NATO membership - yet. People like to say that "Moscow has no veto on NATO membership". This has always struck me as fatuous: who says that it has one? It also implies that NATO's purpose is to do the opposite of what Moscow wants. Which is a rather foolish modus operandi. If NATO has any purpose, it is surely to ensure the security of its members. That security will not be increased by treating Russia as an enemy.
US-Russia Relations. The atmospherics continue to sound good; Putin's press secretary is hinting that some sort of document will be signed when Bush and Putin (and the next Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, apparently) meet in Sochi on Sunday, other sources say that some over-arching deal is in the works. We'll see: the principals have said nice things before but their bureaucracies don't seem to make things happen.
Russian Professor Predicts USA Will Collapse Like USSR Drudge, US Talk Radio Hosts Stirred
Prof. Igor Panarin is a professor at the prestigious Diplomatic Academy in Moscow which trains future diplomats to serve in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Photo by: Russia House
As if there weren't enough news to report amidst the Obama Administration forming a new cabinet and talk of more bailouts for the troubled global financial system, the eponymous Drudge Report website's lead headline last week was that a prominent Russian political analyst had claimed that the U.S. will collapse in the next few years. Naturally, several conservative talk radio hosts are up in arms about what they see as another provocation by the Evil Empire against America. while others have greeted this would-be Cassandra with a yawn.
According to Drudge:
Professor Igor Panarin said in an interview with the respected daily Izvestia published on Monday: "The dollar is not secured by anything. The country's foreign debt has grown like an avalanche, even though in the early 1980s there was no debt. By 1998, when I first made my prediction, it had exceeded $2 trillion. Now it is more than $11 trillion. This is a pyramid that can only collapse."
Prof. Panarin can hardly be described as a fringe figure in Russian academia. Panarin lectures at the Moscow State University, as well as the prestigious Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a highly selective institution for future members of Russia's diplomatic and business elite. However, Prof. Panarin has been saying the same things since 1998, as have plenty of American gold bugs denouncing the dangers of government-created fiat money, survivalists, militia members, Y2K conspiracy theorists, and a host of religious sects confidently waiting for the world to end. A broken clock can be right, at least about something, twice a day.
U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS The atmosphere seems to have improved in recent weeks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Washington offered "confidence-building measures" which will apparently allow the Russians to inspect, in some manner not specified, American missile defense installations in Europe to assure Moscow that the system will not be directed against Russia. Bush and Putin are to meet next week in the Russian resort of Sochi after the NATO meeting and we will no doubt learn more then.
Telegraph: Ronald Reagan allegedly told his close aides on a number of occasions that he felt his opponent during the Cold War was a "closet believer." Mr Gorbachev, 77, was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church and his parents were Christians.
US-Russian talks. The US foreign and defence ministers were in Moscow this week for talks mostly about the missiles and radars the US wants to put into Eastern Europe. There is much speculation about what happened but the atmosphere seems to have been good.
Yavlinskiy and Yabloko. Lots of rumours. First the arrest of Maksim Reznik in St Petersburg and other pressures against the party. Rumours I have heard:
1) the authorities are pushing the opposition around;
2) an attempt to lever Yabloko out of desirable real estate; and a distant third, a Yavlinskiy-authored attempt to crack down on dissidents in Yabloko. Yavlinskiy confirmed that he did meet with Putin and Medvedev but has said nothing about what was said other than that Putin promised to "look into" the Reznik case. Rumours are going around that Putin offered him a Deputy PM post in the next government. Meanwhile some in the Yabloko structure, already irritated at Yavlinskiy's leadership, are calling on him to resign as leader. Stay tuned.
Eduard Limonov, Garry Kasparov's opposition partner
The plan unfolds. My current take on the possibilities for the future division of power in Russia is here but it's still too early to place bets. But a few tiny indications of my fifth hypothesis are floating around at the moment. The political problem with Russia is that it is still a one-man band; a band which all true lovers of power earnestly seek to join. Putin himself has spoken about how United Russia "needs rejuvenation and reorganisation" and of its other deficiencies.
There has been some speculation lately that he and Medvedev are trying to create a "loyal opposition" (a phrase, by the way, that is perfectly meaningful in Westminster-system countries). He and Medvedev met with Duma leaders (including Yavlinskiy interestingly, who, while not in the Duma, is the leader of the oldest liberal party) and apparently spoke about this. There is a story that Putin tried to get Yavlinskiy to unite with the other liberals two elections ago but he wouldn't. The opposition in Russia today is stunt groupings like Other Russia (and its NatBolfriends), the geriatric communist party or Zhirinovskiy's personal vehicle.
I haven't been able to find English-language coverage of this, so all I've got is this Le Monde article. But it's worth mentioning because it looks to me like a potential sea change waiting to happen.
Two days ago, Russia's Foreign and Defense Ministers came to Paris for annual bi-lateral talks. The meeting resulted in a solid agreement from Russia to contribute 6-8 helicopters to the EUFOR Chad mission, as well as a potential accord with NATO to lift restrictions on logistical shipments bound for Afghanistan through Russian territory, which had been limited to non-military supplies.
Russia: Weekly News from Patrick Armstrong March 6, 2008
By Patrick Armstrong
Election. As everyone expected, Medvedev won handily receiving in the seventies on a turnout in the high sixties. There are the usual reports of ballot-stuffing and some improbable results from the North Caucasus (but nothing quite as bad as in the Duma elections). But, there can be no doubt that Medvedev represents the popular choice. And no surprise: after the ups and downs of the last couple of decades, Russians want peace and quiet and more money in their pockets. That is what Medvedev/Putin promise.
Continuity and stability. If there has been one theme of Putin's and Medvedev's recent speeches, it is "stay calm, nothing will change, the same team will be in place carrying out the same program". There was a good deal of speculation about interest groups fighting "under the rug" over the succession but, thus far, it has been very smooth, thanks one assumes to Putin's actions. We will see what the next steps in The Plan are.
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...
Russia: Weekly News from Patrick Armstrong February 28, 2008
By Patrick Armstrong
Presidential hopeful Dmitry Medvedev talking with Russian students about Internet freedom
ELECTION: I confidently predict that Medvedev will win big and that the OSCE & Co will condemn the election for unbalanced media coverage (something that apparently makes a vital difference in Russia but not in Georgia) and the CIS observers will OK it. Each group has already written its assessment.
MIDDLE CLASS: The big Russian insurance company RosGosStrakh has a report out saying that the Russian middle class has grown greatly. This entity it defines as a monthly income per family member between US$500 and US$3000. Rather a large spread and not particularly big numbers but a huge improvement on the pre-Putin state of affairs. It is quite simply facts like this, and not TV coverage or any of the things that so exercise Western commentators, that will lead Russians on Sunday to vote for more of the same.
Maybe it would help to know the name of the next president of the largest country in the world...
By Blake Hounshell
During Tuesday evening's debate, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama seemed especially comfortable discussing Russia's heir apparent, Dmitry Medvedev. You could tell from the impish delight with which moderator Tim Russert sprang his surprise question -- "What can you tell me about the man who's going to be Mr. Putin's successor?" -- that a revealing exchange would follow.
First, Sen. Clinton correctly noted that "he's a hand-picked successor... who is obviously being installed by Putin." Then, she weighed in on the side of Russia analysts who view Medvedev as little more than Vladimir Putin's puppet, characterizing the former as having "very little independence" (some experts say the jury's still out on this). She concluded, "I have no doubt, as president, even though technically the meetings may be with the man who is labeled as president, the decisions will be made by Putin." (Again, an open question.)
Putin's Iron Grip on Russia Suffocates Opponents NYT Article Brings Sharp Responses From Russians
Last weekend, The New York Times published another piece of amazing anti-Russian propaganda. "...the city's children, too, were pressed into service. At schools, teachers gave them pamphlets promoting "Putin's Plan"..." Those who have been to Russia in the last decade drop the newspaper either with laughter or with anger. One of the Real Russia Project's advisors explained his bewilderment upon reading the article:
"If you know where I am coming from, you know I see little merit in the article. I do wonder who paid Levy to write such a fanciful piece. It doesn't explain Putin's 85% approval rating in the polls - not the marks of a despot, nor of a person whose followers need to go to the lengths described in the article to shore up support. I have been to Nizhny Novgorod; it is one of the most dynamic regions of Russia. I am going to forward the article to two friends working in Nizhny that I spent time with in the past several months - one Russian, and one an expat who has lived there since 1994. I expect that their comments would be consistent with hundreds of Russians I talked with on four trips this past year - it is silly to think that people need to be cajoled into supporting Putin, or Medvedev, for that matter."
Unlike most Chinese citizens, Russians enjoy unfettered access to free media online, and their response to the NYT was overwhelming in the first hours after the publication appeared on the Russian internet (or .ru-net). Many Russians took advantage of their access to uncensored Internet, free media, and uncontrolled blogging platforms to express their personal opinions and to prove the NYT wrong. A few Russian commenters agreed with the article's viewpoint - but if anything, this should only prove the NYT to be even more wrong, as according to the slant of most Western reporting in the last several years, Russians are not supposed to have access to free media, nor be able to express their personal opinions under the "iron grip" of President Putin...
Yuri Mamchur discussed the upcoming Russian and American presidential elections on Russia Today TV today, February 25, at 12:55 pm PST (3:55 pm EST, 11:55 pm Moscow time). Visit the Russia Today website or follow the link below the picture to watch the interview.
Russian Federation and CIS Weekly News February 23, 2008
By Patrick Armstrong
Yevgeny Adamov was sentenced to 5Â½ years in prison
CORRUPTION AND STATE CORPORATIONS. Yevgeny Adamov, the atomic energy minister from 1998 to 2001, was convicted by a Moscow court of embezzlement during his term and sentenced to 5Â½ years. This raises the issue of corruption at the highest levels. In his final press conference Putin was asked which of Russia's problems had he found the most wearying and difficult to resolve; "corruption", he immediately answered. Very true: corruption, all the way from the oligarch acquisitions to rapacious traffic police, gums up everything in Russia. And some things have been done about it, although one can suspect that they are rather selective.
But I'm not sure that blurring the distinction between say, a 1st Deputy PM and the Chairman of the Board of one of the world's largest companies is the right way to fight it, although I can see why such a thing might have been thought the only way to get a grip on the company. But, to me, the problem is: from where do these government officials on state boards receive the larger remuneration? In his press conference, Putin explained that he believed state corporations to be necessary "when there is a need for major long-term investments that private business is not yet ready to incur" but that the time would come when this was no longer the case and "we will gradually list these companies on the stock market and make them part of a market economy". Something to watch in the transition is whether these state company positions remain with the individual or the office. The only indication so far is that Medvedev has said he will give up the Gazprom position.
The American presidential elections receive excellent coverage in the Russian media. While Russian journalists rarely offer commentary about the U.S. candidates, straight news reporting of the American presidential campaign is done in exhaustive, overwhelming detail. Not to be outdone, Russia Blog just completed its own humble, non-scientific poll. The goal? Determine which U.S. presidential candidate Russians prefer as the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
After presenting the question to nearly 50 Russians, the answer is clear: one hundred percent of our not-so-random sampling said Senator Barack Obama is their first choice. Huh? Up is down and down is up, at least if you believe conventional wisdom. Why would the Russians, stereotypically considered to be a racist and conservative nation, pick Senator Obama--the first viable black U.S. presidential candidate, and the one who many Americans agree breaks the traditional U.S. presidential mold on many levels?
Putin Slams Clinton, McCain Says that Hillary Clinton Has No Head
Vladimir Putin: Hillary Clinton Has No Head
"At a minimum, a head of state should have a head," - Vladimir Putin
During impromptu remarks in New Hampshire on January 6, 2008, former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton joked that Russian President Vladimir Putin, as a former KGB agent, "by definition doesn't have a soul." Also using Mr. Putin as a punchline on the campaign trail, the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, Senator John McCain, has frequently said, "I looked into his eyes and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B."
Both Senators' jokes are references to a famous statement delivered by President Bush in 2001, after his first summit with President Putin in Slovenia, that "I looked the man in the eye...I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul."
Yesterday President Putin decided to hit back at his critics on the U.S. presidential campaign trail. During a four hour-long press conference at the Kremlin, Putin observed sarcastically that, "a state official must at least have brains."
Click on the extended post to read more news from the press conference.
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.
Russia Sees Baby Boom in 2007 The First One in 15 Years
Something must be going right in Russia's economy and society. A significant increase in the birth rate of a country is only possible when more people have faith in their incomes and hope for the future. Some demographic experts attribute the recent growth in births to President Putin's policy of making payments to Russian mothers, while others think that it's just a coincidence.
On Friday the Kansas Times newspaper quoted the Russian Health and Social Development minister's happy announcement. According to new government statistics, last year the Russian Federation witnessed the highest number of children born since the collapse of the Soviet Union fifteen years ago.
Russia's Glamorous Female Bodyguard Killed As Her Porsche Is Carjacked in Moscow
Anna Loginova with the Porsche Cheyenne she died trying to prevent being stolen
Russia's most famous female bodyguard Anna Loginova has been killed after failing to prevent her own Porsche from being carjacked. The glamorous 29-year-old died from head injuries after clinging to the door handle of the Cheyenne and being dragged along the street at high speed as the car screeched away.
"She suffered serious injuries and died at the scene," said a police spokesman. Police believe that she was killed in a random carjacking and was not the victim of an attack based on her work for wealthy high-profile Russian clients.
Russia? Think Beyond Moscow! Discovery Institute Event in Seattle
Featuring Bill Robinson
Tuesday, January 15, 4:30 - 6:00 PM
Many Americans hold a Moscow-centric view of Russia, but the country is widely diverse—economically, ethnically, politically, and geographically. Much as American attitudes differ from one part of the country to another, economic development and politics in Russia paint a unique picture—especially when examined by region. So what is going on outside of Moscow, and what does it say about the 'average' Russian citizen? More importantly, what do recent events signify—if anything—about the future of U.S./Russia relations?
Join Bill Robinson, a distinguished international attorney and advisor to Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project, as he discusses these important issues. Since 1990, Mr. Robinson has worked with over 150 clients and projects in eight republics of the former Soviet Union and many regions of Russia. His firm advises clients on how to structure Russian business operations, and how to manage legal issues relating to trade and investment in Russia. The firm's practice is equally divided between representing Russian-owned companies, and Western or Asian companies doing business in Russia. He has visited Russia four times in the past year, and is currently working on projects in the Russian Far East, the Urals and Moscow. You won't want to miss the opportunity to hear a first-person perspective on life in modern day Russia and what the recent election results say about Russian attitudes towards their government.
As 2007 drew to a close, U.S.-Russian relations remained troubled on a number of fronts, especially policy toward Iran, the expansion of NATO, and Kosovo's status.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has firmly opposed President Bush's plan to build a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland and has signaled changes to an important post-Soviet arms pact. Russia has also been critical of U.S. attempts to ratchet up pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program; in October 2007 Putin likened the Bush administration's posture toward Iran to "a madman with a razor blade" (al-Jazeera). Putin's increasingly anti-democratic moves have also raised alarm among both Republican and Democratic policymakers in Washington. At the same time, top officials and candidates from both parties have stressed the importance of engaging Russia on matters of strategic importance, in particular securing Russia's vast stocks of nuclear materials, to avoid proliferation to rogue states or other groups.
Click here to read the rest of the article at www.washingtonpost.com. Click on the extended post to read excerpts of select candidates views on U.S.-Russia relations.
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!
"...if Russia succeeds as a nation-state in the family of nations, it will owe much of that success to one man, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin."
Today Vladimir Putin was named the Person of the Year by Time magazine. Our readers can find multiple articles about the Russian President by using the search engine of Russia Blog (to your left) or by simply scrolling through the archives and categories of this website. Please visit the extended post to read Time's transcript of an interview with President Putin and to access links to the related video interview with President Putin at his private residence (highly recommended!), Time's photo essay of modern Moscow, Time's video of the Russian country-side and more. Russia Blog congratulates Mr. Putin for the nomination and encourages our readers to get acquainted with Time magazine's materials on the topic.
Speech by Dmitri A. Medvedev after His Endorsement by President Putin
"We are not being lectured like schoolchildren, we are respected and we are deferred to. Russia has reclaimed its proper place in the world community. Russia has become a different country, stronger and more prosperous."
First of all, I would like to give my thanks for the offer to participate in the elections for the president of Russia. This offer was given by United Russia, Just Russia, the Agrarian Party and the Civil Force party. I tie this to the necessity of continuing the implementation of the course our country has been moving along for eight years, the course chosen by the people during these years, the course which prevented the collapse of our economy and of the social sphere in our country, the course which prevented civil war, the course which is being conducted by President Putin.
What is so dear for us today? Stability, improvement of the quality of life and the hope for durable and steady development. Education, health care, housing construction -- we have managed to overcome the stagnation of the 1990s in these most important spheres of our life.
First and yet incomplete results have appeared, our economy has strengthened considerably. We do not live in debt any more, but according to our means. The economy is growing at a pace higher than that of many developed countries.
Putin Names Medvedev as successor; "A Wall of Money" to Hit Russia
On Monday, December 10, Vladimir Putin announced that he is supporting Dmitry Medvedev for the Russian presidency by saying, "I have known him for more than 17 years, I have worked with him very closely all these years, and I fully and completely support this candidacy." Dmitry Medvedev is chairman of the board for the state-owned natural gas monopoly OAO Gazprom and serves as Russia's first First Deputy Prime Minister, where his duties have included directing key domestic social programs, including efforts to improve housing and health care. The UK Times Online writes that, "Vladimir Putin rejects hardliners to anoint Dmitri Medvedev [who] would be the youngest Kremlin leader since Tsar Nicholas II. Russia's stock market reached a record high after the announcement."
Dmitry Medvedev, born on September 14, 1965, is perhaps the most liberal and business-oriented official in President Putin's administration. The International Herald Tribune is reporting that President Putin's decision is expected to give a major boost to the economy. "As if to underline the point, today Russia's main stock index soared on the political news." Unlike the American presidential candidates, the Russian candidates will have only a short time frame for their election campaigns, with Russia's presidential elections taking place on March 2, 2008.
According to the Yuri Levada Center, as of January 2007, 33% of Russian voters were willing to support Medvedev's candidacy in the first round of the elections, and, assuming that there were a second round, 54% would vote for him again. With Russian approval ratingsfor Putin hovering at close to 80%, just 41% of Russian voters are willing to support Putin's handpicked candidate, while 12% of Russian voters are explicitly going to vote against the United Russia Party nominee. Among Western corporate executives active in Russia, Dmitry Medvedev is widely seen as the preferred presidential candidate, as Medvedev is known for his executive acumen, his liberalization of Russia's gas market, and an outstanding career in law and business.
Please click the extended post to learn more about Dmitry Medvedev's biography and read about the possible financial outlook for Russia related to the new endorsement.
Russia Blog will report later on the way the party vote totals in the parliamentary elections last weekend varied greatly from province to province. Suffice for now that they did, and that the Western media didn't bother to notice it. Apparently, for example, United Russia did much less well in St. Petersburg and Moscow (under 50 percent) than in the Caucuses and elsewhere. Might someone inquire why?
My own biggest criticism of coverage, so far, however, is the way the Western media treat Garry Kasparov as if he were some sort of oracle -- almost the only valid touchstone on Russian political news.
Former Bush 41 aide Nicolai Petro in the previous post points out the strangeness of this Western fixation (and it applies to conservatives as well as liberals). I am not opposed to the man, I just don't understand why he is regarded as sincere and everyone else as phony.
Russians Are Saddened, Not Angered by U.S. Missile Defense System
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on the placement of a US Missile Defense system in Eastern Europe: "This is a system that is being created against Russia"
The Bush Administration has been pushing for the installation of a missile defense system close to Russia's borders with radars in the Czech Republic and ten ground based interceptor missiles in Poland. President Putin has offered President Bush the use of bases in Azerbaijan and southern Russia that could host a joint missile defense system to counter the threat of Iranian missiles targeted at Europe. Yet the Bush Administration continues to insist on placing ground based interceptors 2,000 miles away from Iran. The system is said to target the potential threat from the Islamic Republic regime in Iran, however, the actions of the White House don't seem to match these words. Mikhail Gorbachev, 76, who is admired in the West for hastening the end Communism in the Soviet Union and its satellites said: "Milos Zeman, the former Czech prime minister, said, 'What kind of Iran threat do you see? This is a system that is being created against Russia,' I don't think Zeman is alone in seeing this. We see this as well as he sees it."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently said that Washington continues to insist that its missile shield plans in Europe were linked to the potential missile threat from Iran. "They still say that," he said according to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency. "But there must be some lack of coordination here because the Czech premier has repeatedly said that they need components of the U.S. missile defense on their territory to protect themselves from Russia." Lavrov added that Polish leaders had previously made identical statements. He said that the written U.S. proposal on missile defense constituted a material rollback from verbal agreements that had been reached in Moscow in October. "We have top class experts, military planners, who can see how it will affect our security and who will have to take retaliatory measures," the Russian Foreign Minister declared upon his return from a U.S.-hosted Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
First of all Putin paid an official visit to Iran. The trip seemed to be more beneficial for the West than for President Ahmadinejad.
Second, a maniac in Moscow, charged with 41 murders, not only confessed to all of them, but also informed the court and the jury about 11 other killings which had previously not been linked to him. The trial left the families of the victims and the jury speechless, as each morning the murderer took his seat, opened a new can of Coke, and then delivered detailed presentations of each murder with seemingly pure enjoyment.
Third, while the trial in Moscow was taking place two innocent army privates were shot dead by their supervisors in Yekaterinburg and Sverdlovsk. The seniors were either drunk, or playing with pistols. In another tragedy, a drunken 25-year old police officer literally beheaded an old lady, driving into her at 150-miles per hour in a local judge's Audi A8.
Visit Russia Blog in the next few days to learn more details about each story, and to find out who might be the new Russian president after the elections in March 2008!
Watch the video to learn why you should make tax-deductible contributions
to the Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project today!
Due to a large and necessary fundraising effort, Russia Blog is taking a break from posting articles. We apologize for the interruption in posting publications. In the meantime, we would gladly accept your support. You can make tax-deductible contributions to the Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project by clicking the "Donate" button on the right.
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.
RIP - Dainton Connell Manager of Pet Shop Boys Dies in a Car Crash in Moscow
MOSCOW - Friday, October 5, 2007, early morning -- Dainton Connell, manager of the famous British band the Pet Shop Boys, died in a car crash on the Moscow River Embankment (Embankment of Taras Shevchenko). Mr. Connell was in a car with Anton Antonov, owner of a famous elite "invitation-only" Moscow club "Roof of the World". Thursday night, Chris Lowe, member of the famous duo, was celebrating his birthday at the Sky Lounge Restaurant. Mr. Antonov and Mr. Lowe met several years ago in St. Petersburg and became very good friends.
After the birthday party, Mr. Antonov wanted to show his night club to Dainton Connell. Mr. Antonov's BMW 525 was going 100 miles an hour when he lost control of the car on a wet road, and the vehicle crashed into a tree. The impact was of such force that after the car took out the tree, the vehicle demolished a cast-iron railing and plunged into the river. Moscow Transportation officials were working near the site of the accident, and together with police, ambulance crew and a team of divers, they retrieved the car from the river relatively fast. However, it was too late -- the driver and the passenger were dead. The police records mention two victims: "a 20 y.o. Russian citizen from St. Petersburg and an Afro-American, approximately 40 y.o." update: According to the medical records, the deaths were instant and were caused by the first impact of the vehicle with the tree.
The Pet Shop Boys have sold more than 50 million records worldwide and are best known for their remake of the Soviet anthem "Go West" and other hits such as "West End Girls", "Always on My Mind", "It's a Sin", etc.
Russia Blog expresses deepest sympathy to the band's relatives, friends and fans.
"Thank you to everybody who has posted comment about my dad. It is with great regret and sadness that I Tiffany Connell the Bear's first born, thats what he called me. My family and I are devastated by the loss of such a terrific man. Daddy, I miss you so much, we all do love you see you in heaven." Tiffany.
Please, visit the extended post to watch band's music videos and read the band's reaction to the tragedy.
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."
Small News, Big Surprise: Russian Government Resigns - But Who Will Be the Next President?
The practice of the Russian government resigning a few months prior to the parliamentary and presidential elections has become a new Russian tradition. Such moves help reorganize the top bureaucrats faster and more smoothly. A stable presidential cabinet saves time and energy for the future president and parliament, who will hopefully not get dragged into months of shifting ministers around - one of the major pitfalls of a parliamentary government.
Sergey Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev, both former Deputy Prime Ministers, were widely viewed as the top candidates for the job of Prime Minister. However, President Vladimir Putin pulled a major surprise from his sleeve and granted no favors to either potential successor. The new interim Prime Minister, Viktor Zubkov, whose appointment still needs to be approved by the Duma, has no real chance of becoming the next President of the Russian Federation. Therefore, the race for the presidency has become more challenging and less predictable.
Yesterday, September 10th, a Russian police Mercedes--speeding over 100 miles per hour in a lane used by oncoming traffic--collided with a Russian Lada, injuring (or possibly killing) its driver and a passenger. The accident was documented by witnesses with cellphone cameras and covered by the Russian news site Gazeta.Ru.
According to witnesses, the accident occurred after traffic police failed to provide adequate warning about a lane closure on the Kaluzhskoe highway for the motorcade of, presumably, the Head of the Russia's Supreme Court. Early news reports said that the collision involved a common police vehicle. However, eyewitness photographs show a vehicle (a brand new Mercedes E-Klasse) far beyond the means of a "common policeman."
From left: President Bush, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, Singapore Prime Minister Lee, President Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the APEC Summit in Santiago, Chile in 2004 (Photo by: Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
Yesterday Presidents Bush and Putin met at the Asia Pacific Economic Council (APEC) summit in Sydney, Australia. Before the 2007 APEC summit, Putin and Australian President John Howard announced a deal for Russia to purchase Australian uranium to supply Russia's nuclear power industry.
"During the Soviet era, we built about 30 major reactors in nuclear power stations in Russia," Putin said. "In the coming 15-20 years we are planning to build about the same amount, and of course for these purposes we need this Australian uranium. As regards supplies to other countries, if such a need arises, our own resources will suffice." The deal with Australia institutes safeguards to insure that Australian yellowcake will not be exported to a third country without Sydney's consent, and that the uranium will be used solely for civilian purposes.
Meanwhile, Russian Economic Minister German Gref told the Russian press that Russia has the full backing of the U.S. to join the World Trade Organization. Gref added that negotiations would continue throughout September to resolve any lingering issues.
Click on the extended post to read the transcript of Bush and Putin's remarks.
On Monday RosBusinessConsulting reported that Russia is experiencing the highest recorded birth rate since the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to the Russian government statistics presented by First Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, two million women with children under the age of 18 months are now receiving child support allowances in Russia. In the first six months of 2007, the nation recorded 142,000 live births, with the birth rate increasing by 6.5% over the same period last year. Russia's mortality rate, one of the highest in the industrialized world, also declined by the same amount.
During the Nineties, Zhukovsky (Ramenskoye Airport) became known around the world for offering rides in MiGs and Sukhoi fighter jets to foreigners at $10-$25,000 a pop. Now the base is once again a showcase for Russian civil and military aviation and is drawing representatives from major aerospace firms around the world.
Bear Crossing (ÐžÑÑ‚Ð¾Ñ€Ð¾Ð¶Ð½Ð¾ ÐœÐµÐ´Ð²ÐµÐ´Ð¸): Russia Resumes Long Range Bomber Patrols
Click on the extended post to watch a video clip about Russia's Tu-95 Bear bomber
"Our pilots have been grounded too long, they are happy to start a new life."
- Russian President Vladimir V. Putin
"We certainly are not in the kind of posture we were with what used to be the Soviet Union. It's a different era...if Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision."
- U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack
Click here to read an article in the International Herald Tribune about Putin's decision to resume long range Russian bomber flights over the Atlantic and Pacific.
For more on this topic, check out Real Russia Project director Yuri Mamchur's commentary on the question, "How Serious is All This Talk of A New Cold War?" at the International Affairs Forum website. On the topic of missile defense, you can read more in these Russia Blog articles:
According to new data released by seismologists, the earthquake, which hit Sakhalin Island on Thursday, August 2, 2007 had a magnitude of 6.8, followed by the second quake of 5.9. 1,200 families were immediately left without housing. Sakhalin Island is the sister-city to Gig Harbor, Washington -- a beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest located just 50 miles south of Seattle.
On Friday, one day after the earthquake, transport planes loaded with emergency supplies did not make it to the area affected by the disaster, due to harsh weather conditions. While there are no emergency or life-threatening conditions at this point, some parts of the island have experienced shortages of food and water, as well as overnight tents and blankets.
President Putin demanded a complete report from Russia's Minister of the Emergency Situations Sergei Shoygu by August 7. The report will include a complete plan of action regarding rebuilding housing for families affected by the disaster, recovery of the region's infrastructure and reconstruction of damaged schools before the beginning of the new school year. Please click on the extended post to view photos of the area affected by the earthquake.
Families left without homes collect blankets for the night at a shelter
A strong earthquake near Sakhalin Island in Russia's Far East on Thursday killed two people and injured up to 10 others, generating small tsunami waves (1 to 3 feet) which struck northern Japan. The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.4, struck at 11:38 a.m. on the southern tip of Sakhalin, just north of Japan, according to Japan's Meteorological Agency. It was followed by a second quake of magnitude 5.9 at 2:22 p.m. One woman died when a building roof collapsed in the small port town of Nevelsk. Another man there died of a heart attack. Six hundred families lost their private homes, while the bigger condominium buildings survived the quakes.
A Reuters reporter on Sakhalin said he felt three tremors over a two-hour period. The third, at about 4:00 p.m., was the most intense. Local office workers ran on to the street fearing the third tremor was a major quake they had been anticipating. "Just about everybody in the building dashed to the street," said Anastasia Lekhnova, an employee of the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk security firm Troop Service. "We've been hearing so much about earthquakes in the news recently, and after knowing about the two quakes today, we thought that this was 'the one.'"
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.
I have been waiting for someone to write the truth about what is happening in the supposedly angry exchanges between Russia and Britain. You don't see anyone reacting too excitedly, do you?
In fact, the only people who should be really upset are the four Russian diplomats and their families that were kicked out of England because the Kremlin would not order the extradition of Andre Luguvoi--who is wanted for possible trial in England--and the four English diplomats and their families in Moscow who were uprooted by the Russians in retaliation.
It is a real pain to have to move out of your house suddenly, yank the children out of school, fire the maid and go back to your home country when you are only part way through your overseas posting. I feel at least a little bit sorry for them all, but nobody else.
Britain Expels Russian Diplomats Russia Expels British Diplomats
A Russia Today TV news clip about the Alexander Litvinenko case
Last month the UK Crown Prosecution service charged Russian businessman and former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy in the polonium poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko (you can watch Lugovoy's press conference responding to these charges here). London is demanding that Lugovoy be extradited to face a murder charge in Great Britain. However, the Russian government argues that Russia's constitution prohibits sending Russian citizens to face trial abroad.
50% of Russians expect President Vladimir V. Putin to run for a third consecutive term, according to a poll released last week by Renaissance Capital. Just one in three voters believe the President's promise that he will step down after the March 2008 elections.
The Russian constitution currently forbids three consecutive Presidential terms, although it would not prohibit Putin from running for President again in 2012. Putin's youth (he will only be 56 next year) and recent statements that he would like to continue serving in public life has fueled speculation that "VVP" might return to politics after four years in a corporate position, perhaps as chairman of Gazprom.
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.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmitt
"The next globalization battle lurks over the horizon, but you can already guess its contours. It will be shaped by two revolutions in finance and business: the growth of vast government-controlled investment funds abroad and the muddled progress toward shareholder democracy in this country." This quote is from an article ("The Next Globalization Backlash. Wait Till the Kremlin Starts Buying Our Stocks" by Sebastian Mallaby) published on June 25, 2007 in The Washington Post.
On this topic of state-owned institutional investors, it is worth noting the recent trip to Moscow by U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmitt. The visit was not well- reported in the Western media, and even less is known about the results of Mr. Kimmitt's discussions with his Russian counterparts. Only a brief interview with Deputy Secretary Kimmitt was published by Russia's RBC-Daily on June 25.
According to the RBC Daily article, these high level discussions centered on the U.S. Treasury Department's desire to see more of the Stabilization Fund of the Russian Federation invested in America. In his statements, Mr. Kimmitt expressed the idea that the U.S. economy is a good target for Russian investments.
George Bush and Vladimir Putin in Kennebunkport, Maine
(Photos by the White House; full transcript of the press-conference below the post)
Most coverage of the substance of President Putin's visit to the Bush compound in Maine was non-existent to lame. Commentators tended either to rehash the irrelevant past or dwell on the atmospherics of the meeting--the fishing and boating, Vladimir kissing the ladies on both cheeks, European style, the hospitality role played by former President George H.W. Bush. There was nothing wrong with that except that it downplayed the main news story: Mr. Putin made a new offer to Mr. Bush to include Russia itself in the nuclear shield against Iran that the U. S. wants to build in Eastern Europe. The subject was broached in news stories, but was not really explored.
The United States should take up Mr. Putin's offer. Maybe the Azerbaijan site--proposed earlier-- is not high priority if you are trying to chart Iranian missiles. Putin now offers southern Russia in addition. He suggests also that the Czech Republic and Poland not be included in the "shield".
Russia's Bid for 2014 Winter Olympics Is Down to the Wire
Tennis superstar Maria Sharapova and the Governor of Krasnodar Krai promoting Russia's Olympic bid in London on June 22, 2007 (Video by: Russia Today TV)
On July 5, 2007 at 3 a.m. Moscow time Russians will hear the International Olympic Committee's decision about who will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Tomorrow the IOC will meet in Guatemala City to decide between bids from Sochi and the Pyeongchang region of South Korea. You can watch a live feed on the IOC website here.
Click on the extended post to find more links and watch a Russia Today TV report about Sochi's preparations to host the games.
President Putin and President Bush at a previous meeting
Six weeks ago, during an interview with Bloomberg's Moscow bureau, Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman predicted that the U.S. and Russia would cool down the rhetoric and that Presidents Bush and Putin would meet in the near future. One week later, the White House announced that Bush would host Putin at the Bush family residence in Kennebunkport, Maine. Today Bush and Putin will be discussing American missile defense systems in Europe, as well as the challenge posed by Iran's nuclear program.
For President Bush, this could be the last opportunity to return to the closer relationship the U.S. and Russia enjoyed after 9/11. While others in the President's Republican Party have called for a more confrontational policy towards Moscow, the Bush Administration has patiently worked behind the scenes to persuade Russia to vote for UN sanctions against Iran.
For Putin, this meeting represents America's recognition that Russia is back as a great power on the world stage. The Kremlin is looking for the U.S. to respect its interests, particularly in Russia's near abroad, and for the abolition of the Cold War-legacy Jackson Vanik laws still restricting trade between our two countries.
Former U.S. Secretary of Colin Powell delivering his keynote speech (All photos by: Renaissance Capital)
Renaissance Capital, the leading global emerging markets investment bank headquartered in Russia, Is hosting its eleventh annual meeting this week with the theme "Russia: Investing in Prosperity". This event is by far the largest annual finance conference in the country -- with more than 1,000 leading investors, corporate executives and government officials attending.
Renaissance Capital is well known in Russia for meticulously planning high-quality events. This time it is being held in the famous Gostiny Dvor -- just a few steps from the Kremlin and Red Square. Everything at the conference was catered to investors' tastes - right down to the abundance of Internet workstations and Bloomberg terminals.
This year's speakers were also top notch:
- Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (keynote)
- BP PLC's Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward
- Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin
- Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin
- Minister of Telecommunications and IT Leonid Reiman
- Minister of Energy Victor Khristenko
- Head of the Audit Chamber Sergei Stepashin
- Head of the Federal Financial Markets Service Vladimir Milovidov
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.
Ballistic Insults: The War of Words Over Missile Defense
Congressman Lantos (D-CA) and President Bush on Capitol Hill
Last week President Bush joined many distinguished members of Congress to dedicate the U.S. Memorial to the Victims of Communism. After the U.S. Holocaust Museum was opened in Washington D.C. near the National Mall in 1993, several members of Congress and non-profit organizations began calling for the creation of a similar memorial to the victims of Communism in the nation's capitol.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new museum was held on Tuesday, June 12, 2007. While the ceremony was intended to honor the victims who suffered under Communist dictatorships in the 20th century, Congressman Lantos's remarks at the event veered into current events related to post-Soviet Russia. Specifically, the Congressman insulted former German Chancellor Gerhard SchrÃ¶der for taking a job with Nordstream, a subsidiary of Russia's state-owned natural gas monopoly, Gazprom.
"I referred to him as a political prostitute...now that he's taking big checks from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. But the sex workers in my district objected, so I will no longer use that phrase." Lantos reportedly said to "scattered applause" from the thousand people in attendance.
My short answer is: no one. Living in America and travelling back and forth from Russia, it's hard not to notice that both nations consist of normal people, whose interests are not wrapped up in complicated politics or disputes over missile shields, but in enduring values like family, faith and earning a living. My recent business trips to St Petersburg, Moscow, New York, Philadelphia and Washington have reminded me of these fundamental truths. Here in the Pacific Northwest, many Seattleites are getting ready for a wonderful summer, and the city is buzzing with activity. Friends are hiking, waterskiing, and golfing--and not exactly worried about the headlines screaming that there is a "New Cold War" underway.
Let me offer a very uncommon point of view on the recent Cold-War-style rhetoric between America and Russia: it proves that our respective nations are fundamentally friendly towards each other and have a lot in common. Any conflict between the two can be settled quickly and easily, just like between two kids who yell at each other and then are laughing at the next moment. To do this, you just have to put them together in a quiet room with "adult supervision." It would seem that this is the role the G8 summit plays between our two countries--that of an adult to mediate between our heads of state. And it appears to be working.
Bruce Chapman in Bloomberg's Moscow studio on May 15, 2007
MOSCOW - Two weeks ago, during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's meetings at the Kremlin, Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman was interviewed by Bloomberg's television news bureau in Russia for his reactions to the talks.
Chapman said that there are no substantive reasons for the two nations to be so negative towards each other and therefore Russia and the U.S. should "lower the temperature" of their rhetoric. Alone among commentators, Chapman also predicted that presidents Putin and Bush would meet face to face in the near future.
ABC, CBS, and NBC apparently have closed their bureaus in Moscow, or greatly reduced them. CNN has shrunk to one reporter, and Western print media also have reduced staff lately. The big exception among the international media is Bloomberg News. Speaking recently to fellow expats on Bloomberg's elegant terrace overlooking the Kremlin two blocks away, James Brooke, Enterprise Reporter, said that the Moscow bureau has doubled in the past year to 22 reporters and editors. There is a new Bloomberg bureau in St. Petersburg and another coming in Kazakhstan. There is even a stringer now for Georgia-Armenia and there may be another soon for Azerbaijan. Bloomberg also boasts Russian speakers and writers, a small but up-to-date TV studio in Moscow and excellent connections in London.
The Moscow bureau alone is Bloomberg's fourth largest overseas unit (among 50)--after London, Frankfurt, and Paris. "We are investing in the personnel to make Bloomberg the premier source of business news for Russia," Brooke states.
American and Russian veterans join representatives from each military to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Elbe linkup on April 25, 2005 (Photo by: China People's Daily)
Today the United States of America observes it's own version of Victory Day, called Memorial Day.
Here at Russia Blog, we pause to remember the sacrifices of America's Greatest Generation, which fought alongside the Russian people to end Nazism. We wish all American veterans and their families a wonderful holiday!
April 25, 1945 - The U.S. 69th Infantry Division meets the Soviet 5th Guards Army at Torgau
Thursday marked a historic occasion in Moscow - the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) . For Patriarch Alexei II, this marks another triumph by the church over the materialist legacy of atheistic Soviet Communism. For Russian President Vladimir Putin this event is another example of Russia's spiritual and national revival in recent years. According to an Atlantic Monthlyarticle by Paul Starobin, Putin was secretly baptized as a child by his mother in the final years of Stalin's reign, and continues to meet regularly with his personal confessor Father Tikhon.
Russia Blog has written previously about this topic and other topics related to Russian Orthodoxy:
Today in Washington DC: Russia: Friend, Foe, or What?
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.
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.
Fire broke out in a Moscow striptease club [named "911"] early Sunday, killing 10 people, an Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman said.
The cause of the blaze had not been determined, but some witnesses said it broke out during a "fire show" that was part of the club's nightly entertainment, said Yevgeny Bobylev, a spokesman for the Moscow division of the Ministry.
The preliminary accounts indicated that a performer in the show inadvertently set his clothing on fire and that in turn ignited a nearby one-gallon container of flammable liquid, Bobylev said.
The club blaze draws new attention to Russia's severe problem with fire deaths. Some 17,000 people died in fires last year, according the Emergency Ministry -- a rate several times higher than seen in Western countries. Officials say poor enforcement of fire regulations, improper construction and lax attention all contribute to the high rate.
Fires caused by lax attention? According to media reports, it was suspected that this factory fire was caused by a drunk person. Preposterous.
A victory for quiet diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia? Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice receives a diplomatic kiss from
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (Photo by: MosNews)
Yesterday The New York Times reported that Russia is threatening to suspend all work on the Bushehr civilian reactor unless Iran stops enriching uranium. If this is true, then it marks a significant victory for quiet diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia. It may also be true, as the article points out, that Russia is simply tired of Iran failing to pay its bills on time for the Bushehr project.
Iranian atomic energy officials insist that all debts owed to Moscow are being paid on time, and that Russia is just using the alleged non-payment as a pretext to pressure Iran to abandon its domestic enrichment effort. At a press conference with American journalists held last fall at the Valdai Discussion Group outside of Moscow, President Putin declared that Iran "should abandon plans for nuclear enrichment on its soil".
It is true that Russia stands to profit from becoming the sole supplier of civilian-grade nuclear fuel to Iranian reactors. The Islamic Republic, however, has repeatedly rejected all offers from Moscow to manage a completely civilian nuclear fuel cycle on behalf of Iran, suggesting that the regime has other goals in mind besides peacefully generating electricity. Russia has also previously threatened to halt all work at Bushehr if Iran refused to cooperate with international inspectors from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This past weekend Iranian officials refused to admit IAEA visitors into a major part of the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has boasted that his country has installed over 2,000 centrifuges to produce highly enriched uranium at the Natanz site. Mr. Ahmadinejad has also repeated the late Ayatollah Khomeini's call for Israel to be "wiped off the map", triggering nervousness from Jerusalem to Riyadh about his apocalyptic statements and beliefs.
Click on the extended post to read the full NYT article.
Russian Grad Student Wins Libel Suit Against UK Sunday Times
The UK Sunday Times newspaper has retracted one of their reports about the Alexander Litvininenko case. In their retraction, the Sunday Times admits to repeating baseless allegations against Julia Svetlichnaja, a Russian graduate student who interviewed Alexander Litvinenko a few months before he died from polonium-210 poisoning.
Correction: Our report on the investigation into the death of Alexander Litvinenko ("Kremlin wants to quiz exiles", December 10, 2006) referred to reports that Julia Svetlichnaja, a researcher at the centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University, may have been part of a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign to discredit Mr Litvinenko and said it was believed that she had previously worked for a state-owned Russian company. We are happy to make it clear that Ms Svetlichnaja has never worked for a state-owned Russian company and we accept that she was not part of any Kremlin-inspired campaign to discredit Mr Litvinenko. We apologise for any distress our report caused her.
Click on the extended post to read the press release from Ms. Svetlichinaya's lawyers and more background on the libel suit. (Hat tip: the ZheZhe.us blog)
Wreckage of a Tupolev airliner that crashed in Ukraine last year (Photo by: AFP)
The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry is reporting that a passenger airliner crashed today while attempting to land at the Samara airport. At least seven people are dead and fifty one were injured in the crash. A spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry said that the pilots were trying to land in thick fog and a wing tip of the aircraft clipped the runway. Other officials have mentioned that the plane may have touched down 400 meters short of the runway. The flight was operated by the Russian airline UTAir.
Click on the extended post to read the full story from the CBS News website.
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
Putin in Europe: Meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, Manufacturing Russian Planes with Italy, Building New Pipeline
Yesterday (Monday, March 12, 2007), Vladimir Putin left Russia on his first trip to Europe since his critic-acclaimed speech in Munich. This time, the highlight of the trip will be Putin's meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, which will be conducted in German. Putin will share his conservative social and family values with the Pope. However, many experts believe that Putin will not extend the Pontiff an invitation to Russia. After practicing his fluent German, the Russian President will meet for the first time with the 81-year old Italian President Georgo Napolitano, and have dinner with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. Then Vladimir Putin will pay a short visit to Greece.
Putin does not want to invite the Pope to Russia because according to the Russian President "it's the church's business," not his. It is the Russian Orthodox Church which should be extending an invitation to a spiritual, rather than a political, leader. Nonetheless, for Russian leaders meeting the Pope has become a fairly routine practice -- both Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev met with the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
According to Professor Boris Falikov at the Russian State University of Humanitarian Studies, a positive dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic churches is something we may witness very soon, as both confessions share common values and are concerned about growing secularism in the world.
The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to endorse further enlargement of the NATO alliance which will allow admission of two former Soviet republics -- Ukraine and Georgia, the Reuters news agency reports. A brief debate took place before the voting, in which no one mentioned Moscow's nervousness about such an expansion.
Russian Astronomer Cites Global Warming On Mars, Doubts Man-Made Climate Change on Earth
Mars is heating up at the same time as Earth
A Russian astronomer may have declared his own "inconvenient truth" for advocates of man-made climate change this week. According to Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St. Petersburg, polar ice caps on the planet Mars are melting, and the Red Planet is experiencing a warming trend at the same time as the Earth. Abdussamatov cites this is evidence that solar radiation is the main cause of global warming.
Scientists who support the view that human beings are responsible for global warming have dismissed Abdussamatov's claims. In their view, the Martian heat wave is caused by changes in the Red Planet's rotation on its axis rather than more solar radiation. "His [Abdussamatov's] views are completely at odds with the mainstream scientific opinion," said Colin Wilson, a planetary physicist at England's Oxford University.
Useless Factoid: Daughter of Russian Monarchist Wins Oscar
Dame Helen Mirren, recently awarded an Oscar for her potrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, "was born Ilyena Vasilievna [Lydia] Mironov...in Ilford, Essex, [United Kingdom] the second of three children of a father of Russian origin and an English mother. Mirren's paternal grandfather, a Russian nobleman, tsarist colonel and diplomat, was negotiating an arms deal in Britain and was stranded there, along with his family, during the Russian Revolution. Her father, Vasily Petrovich Mironov, called himself Basil and changed the family name to Mirren in the 1950s. He played the viola with the London Philharmonic before World War II and, after it, drove a cab and was a driving-test examiner...Her great-great-great-great-grandfather was field-marshal Mikhail Kamensky, one of the Russian heroes of the Napoleonic wars."
According to recent coverage, she does intend to visit "recently discovered relatives in Russia." But she probably won't be collecting her $9,200 from the Putin Administration any time soon as she declared in 1997 (after marrying her long-time partner):
I'm very proud of being childless. It's my contribution to world ecology.
"Shoe bangs, shoe bangs..."
Nikita Krushchev at the United Nations, September 29, 1960
From the hysterical coverage given to Putin's remarks at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, the casual observer might think he was pulling a Krushchev. Much of the "Cold War rhetoric" actually comes from politicians in other democratic states making use of Russia as a whipping boy for their inability to deal constructively or timely with a myriad of foreign policy issues. Putin addressed the audience as only an elected official secure at the end of his successful two-term run can - with candor.
Putin used his remarks to clarify Russia's (and Russians') position on several issues. His response to reporters' pointed questions were the most telling and the speech and Putin's answers can be read in full (in English no less) on the Kremlin homepage.
On international double standards, perceptions of unfairness, and why it's not hard to understand why Russia is becoming a leading voice of constructive criticism from developing and transitional economies:
Foreign companies participate in all our major energy projects. According to different estimates, up to 26 percent of the oil extraction in Russia -- and please think about this figure -- up to 26 percent of the oil extraction in Russia is done by foreign capital. Try, try to find me a similar example where Russian business participates extensively in key economic sectors in western countries. Such examples do not exist! There are no such examples.
I would also recall the parity of foreign investments in Russia and those Russia makes abroad. The parity is about fifteen to one. And here you have an obvious example of the openness and stability of the Russian economy.
"I do not rule, I simply do my work" -- Vladimir Putin
February 1, 2007 -- Kremlin, Moscow -- President Vladimir Putin met with 1,200 journalists and gave a speech summing up events of the last year. For the first time ever, video cameras presented a view from above the interview table where the president usually sits, to prove that he doesn't use any notes or listening devices to help him answer questions. As usual, Mr. Putin was relaxed in his language and used slang, producing few amazing interactions with journalists (read the full transcript in the extended post). Russians usually don't learn any new information from such meetings; however, everyone loves to watch the event, because it comes out as fairly entertaining.
Answering a question about the recent murder of Alexander Litvinenko, Putin said that the former security agent "didn't know any secrets, and was wanted in Russia for abusing his powers and beating up citizens during arrests when he was an employee of a security agency." Putin stated further that Litvinenko "was also wanted for stealing explosive devices. He got a three year suspended sentence and didn't need to run anywhere. He didn't know any secrets at all! Anything negative he could've said about his service he had already said, so there could've been nothing new coming out of his actions. What's happened should be answered by the [British] investigation."
"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.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
NEW YORK -- On December 23 Russia voted with a unanimous UN Security Council to punish Iran for its violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The new resolution prohibits UN member states from providing Iran with technologies or components that could be used to make long range missiles or nuclear weapons. Russia Blog reported three weeks ago that Russia would vote to sanction Iran for non-compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear non-proliferation regime.
After months of negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed the resolution as a compromise that would send a message to the Islamic Republic while protecting Moscow's commercial interests in Iran. Russia is helping Iran build the Bushehr nuclear reactor on the Persian Gulf and has also sold surface to air missile systems to the Islamic Republic. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesmen insist that the SAMs can only be used for short-range air defense purposes and that the Busehr reactor will be subject to vigorous inspections.
Is Russia's relationship with Iran changing? Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Jordan on December 1, where he issued a statement: "We are not against sanctions directed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear materials and sensitive technologies."
According to many Russian analysts, Russia has changed its attitude towards Iran and now will support sanctions along with the U.S. Lavrov also said that "referring the Iranian portfolio to the UN Security Council was done so that Iran would cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ... Iran has great potential to contribute to conflict resolution in the Middle East." This diplomatic statement means that Moscow will not cooperate with Iran at the level predicted by many Western journalists.
The feeling of change in the relationships between Moscow and Teheran has been in the air for awhile. On December 15, George Bush made a quick stop in Moscow, where he met in private with President Putin at Vnukovo airport. Few doubt that the topic of their conversation was Iran. Only three days before this short conversation, Putin and Secretary of the Russian Security Council Igor Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with a senior Iranian official, Ali Larijani, but Larijani left Moscow disappointed, because Russia refused to rule out sanctions against his country. Some analysts speculate that Russia has changed its position on Iran as part of a deal with the U.S. to join the WTO.
Russian MP Crashes His Million Dollar Ferrari in France
Suleyman Kerimov is a Member of Parliament for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, headed by Duma's most scandalous leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Mr. Kerimov, with an estimated net worth of $7.1 billion, is also ranked number 72 on the Forbes list of the world's richest individuals. Kerimov is the owner of "Nafta-Moskva", an oil trading company, and he also is involved in many other large Russian businesses. Even though the Russian Parliament (Duma) is in session right now, this did not prevent Mr. Kerimov from retreating to his villa in the south of France. Mr. Kerimov wanted to relax after a stressful week of buying major stakes in Moscow's booming hotel industry.
While speeding through Nice's English Promenade (where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour) in his black Ferrari Enzo, Mr. Kerimov lost control of his vehicle, hit the curb and crashed into a tree. The car was torn apart and the fuel tank exploded upon impact. According to Nice Matin, Mr. Kerimov is currently in coma with burns over 70% of his body.
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.
President Bush and President Putin at the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg
The U.S. and Russia finally seem to have reached an agreement on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization. Next week President Bush and President Putin will meet face to face at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam, where they will make the agreement official.
The last time the U.S. and Russia were this close to a deal was before Russia's July 2006 showcase G-8 Economic Summit in St. Petersburg. Iran spoiled the party by ordering Hezbollah to rain rockets on Israel. At the summit, both Tony Blair and George Bush were visibly distracted by the Mideast conflict, and were unable to address a comprehensive agenda for engaging Russia. On the Russian side, the money the Kremlin spent to hire the Washington-based Ketchum PR firm to promote Russia's image for the summit appeared to be wasted. Both during and after the G-8 summit, the U.S. media was flooded with stories depicting Putin as a tyrant cracking down on economic and civil liberties at home and arming America's enemies abroad. When Israeli newspapers reported that several Israeli Defense Forces tank crews were killed using Russian anti-armor missiles supplied to Hezbollah by Syria, the anti-Russian mood in Washington reached a boil.
Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) with President George W. Bush
Robert Ver Bruggen, an apprentice editor for The National Interest, argues that the newly elected Democratic-led Congress is likely to take an even harsher view of Russia than the previous Congress. Mr. Ver Bruggen's piece focuses on soon-to-be House International Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos relationship with former Russian media oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky.
As the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee, Lantos has frequently teamed with Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) to pass legislation and resolutions on issues ranging from combating human trafficking to stopping genocide in Sudan and granting asylum to North Korean refugees. These bills have been supported by a broad coalition of human rights groups ranging from socially liberal activists to conservative evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews. Congressman Lantos has also been an outspoken critic of the Kremlin's seizure of YUKOS and jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
President Bush and Georgian President Saakashvili in Tblisi in 2005
On Saturday, November 4, the Doha, Qatar-based Gulf Times newspaper reported that Georgian officials are considering importing natural gas from Iran via Azerbaijan in the event Russia cuts them off this winter. While Georgia might have no other choice but to freeze or accept the prices Gazprom will dictate, maybe it's time for Americans to ask what U.S. vital interest will be served by Georgia sending more money to Teheran instead of Moscow.
Click on the extended post to read the full article.
This week President Putin answered questions from Russians across the country for 2 hours and 54 minutes. Citizens submitted their questions via e-mail, radio, television studios, and cell phone text messages. People had a chance to ask questions live from across the country, starting in Russia's Far East and continuing to Western Russia, with Russians also participating in the program from outside the country. Putin addressed different issues - Russia's low birth rate, abuses in the army, North Korea's recent nuclear test, and whether he would run for a third term.
Putin once again insisted that he had no intention of amending the Constitution to permit a third term in office. However, Putin also hinted that he planned to continue playing some role in Russian public life, "Even when I no longer have governing power and the levers of presidential rule, I think that without adjusting the fundamental law to my personal interests, I will be able to keep the most important thing that anyone engaged in politics should cherish: that is, your trust. And using that, together we will be able to influence life in our country so as to guarantee its progress and exert influence on what is happening in Russia."
NGO Registration in Russia: Crackdown or Incompetence?
Thursday, October 19, 2006 marked a new era for foreign NGOs in Russia. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International didn't file their paperwork before the deadline set by Russia's new NGO law, and had to temporarily suspend some of their activities. All of these organizations are still allowed to conduct administrative work -- accounting, planning, answering telephones, but they won't be able to get back to their full operations until they complete their registration.
Meanwhile, the Moscow offices for the Carnegie and Ford Foundations, American Trade Assembly, United Families Foundation, Oxfam and many other foreign NGOs have successfully registered and are continuing their work. Yens Zigert, director of the Moscow branch of the German Heinrich Boell Foundation, said: "This was the fastest case of registration I've ever seen in my practice." He also said that the only German foundation that didn't get registered yet is the Friedrich Naumann Fund. Svetlana Brezhneva, head of the Moscow office for the British foundation CAF, said that they still had not registered, but were continuing their charitable activities. "We were promised to get registration next week," said Brezhneva.
Once again, Russia Blog takes a closer look at what the new NGO law is, how it is different from comparable laws in other countries, including the US, and why some NGOs have more problems registering on time than others.
Russian Regional Elections -- Pensioners Party Gains Seats, Liberals Fail
Regions which participated in the elections are marked in red
Russians across the country went to the polls on Sunday one week ago. The "highlight" of the free regional elections held on October 8, 2006 was the fact that the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (Vladimir Zhirinovsky's faction) failed to make any gains, taking only a few seats across the regions; Russian liberals, on the other hand, did not score enough votes to win even a single seat in any region.
President Putin's party Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia) didn't score as high as expected either, but still took first place. The surprise of the election was the success of the Party of Pensioners, whose entire platform is paying pensions to veterans and the elderly and giving each Russian citizen royalties from Russia's vast natural resources. The election results show three very strong trends in Russian society: 1) a plurality of the people trust the ruling party; 2) Russians have lost any belief in the so-called liberal parties; 3) there is a growing awareness that Russia can improve social services now that real wealth is being created and the oligarchs are no longer running the country.
Please view the extended post for election results in detail from representative Russian regions and brief descriptions of the parties. No further comment from us is needed, as the numbers speak for themselves.
Russia Cracks Down on Georgian Businesses, Illegal Aliens
Moscow - the economic pain from Georgia's conflict with Russia has spread to the biggest cities in Russia. Wealthy Georgian business leaders in Russia have tried to stay out of this conflict, but it has already hurt their businesses. Many casinos and night clubs in Moscow, including the popular "Golden Palace" and "Metelitsa," are owned by Georgian businessmen. In the past, police and sanitary inspectors had an understanding with the owners and overlooked multiple code violations. Last week many night clubs and casinos were closed for running casino tables and playing machines without permits and operating unsanitary kitchens.
Earlier today, 143 illegal immigrants from Georgia were deported by plane to Tbilisi. At the same time, 175 Russian citizens were evacuated from Georgia; another evacuation flight is scheduled to pick up Russians in Georgia on October 9. Georgian artists from the national ballet group Suhishvili-Ramishvili canceled their tour in Russia due to the transportation blockade. Even the famous Georgian artist Tsereteli, a friend of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, is being accused of embezzling funds from government-funded art projects.
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.
Russian officer Alexei Zavgorodny escorted by Georgian police
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement over the weekend, declaring that the Georgian government's arrest of seven Russian officers was provocative, and that "there seem to be some powers which specialize in creating new crisis every day, thinking it will distract attention from the old problems. In the short term it might give some effect, but it absolutely will not help in resolving old and very serious crises around the world". Putin compared the Georgian government's actions to the paranoia of the USSR under Stalin (a Georgian by birth) and Beria. Putin has asked the Russian Parliament to levy economic and travel sanctions against Georgia that would amount to a blockade.
Putin's verbal jab at "you-know-who" prompted a diplomatic phone call from President George W. Bush to President Putin. A few hours after this presidential talk, international observers came to a Georgian prison in Tbilisi to monitor the release of seven jailed Russian officers. The freed Russians were driven first to the Russian Embassy, and then on to the airport for a flight to Moscow.
Russia Recalls Ambassador, Closes Embassy in Georgia
Russian officer arrested by Georgian Secret Service
MOSCOW -- At this hour it appears that the Russian Foreign Ministry is ready to break off all diplomatic relations with Georgia. On Wednesday the Foreign Ministry recalled Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko from Tbilisi. Today the Ministry of Emergency Situations was ordered to prepare transport flights to evacuate Russian citizens from Georgia.
This latest diplomatic crisis was sparked by Georgia's arrest of six Russian peacekeeping officers and five Georgian citizens. All are charged with espionage and sabotage against Georgia. Georgian officials claim that they have a rock solid case. The alleged covert operations were supposedly managed from Russian military bases located in neighboring Armenia. Some of the Russian officers have even been charged with organizing terrorist attacks on Georgia's territory. The Russian Federation embassy and a Russian military base in Tbilisi have been surrounded by Georgian police and special forces since early morning Wednesday.
Moscow, Russia -- today the Federation Assembly of the Russian Federation approved the deployment of military reconstruction teams to Lebanon. The deployment will consist of 307 privates, 19 ensigns and 49 officers. The decision received the unanimous vote of the Russian Senate. The troops are from a construction division of the Russian Army and their task for the next two months will be to rebuild six bridges recently destroyed by Israeli jets. If the reconstruction is not finished in eight weeks, the deployment will be extended.
The troops will bring with them 71 pieces of military and construction equipment and five bridges. Security for the project will be provided by 53 soldiers from the same unit. The Duma made it clear that the Russian army will not join the UN peacekeeping operation and will limit its presence in the region to only reconstruction and humanitarian operations. The troops left their hometowns today for Novosibirsk, where they will start loading transport planes on September 29. On October 11, the troops will begin their construction work in the Middle East, and are scheduled to return to Russia on December 11. The total budgeted for the operation, according to Russian General Bulgakov, is $3,800,000.
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.
Kremlin Extends Olive Branch to Washington on Iran
Putin: "Iran should abandon its plans for nuclear enrichment on its soil"
Several Russian technicians work at Iran's Busehr nuclear reactor
MOSCOW -- Last weekend President Putin sat down to a dinner with dozens of Western journalists at his dacha outside Moscow and made his case for the Kremlin's energy policies and diplomacy. Both policies are widely unpopular in Western capitals, with Washington concerned about Russian technical assistance to Iran's nuclear program and the European Union fearful of being too dependent on Russia for gas.
Putin sought to reassure the reporters and think tank scholars on hand for the dinner party that Russia does not want a nuclear-armed Iran, and will be a reliable supplier of ener