Dec 27, 2006

"...When the world trembled at the sound of our rockets."

Fine. Russia is leading us in Space Launches...too bad the 24 billion rubles they plan to spend on it is only 910 million dollars to us. Nice economy, [redacted]! (ERN)

On December 26, Federal Space Agency head Perminov said Russia was the world's leader in space launches in 2006, RIA Novosti reported the same day. "Russia's current share in the spacecraft launch market is about 40 percent, and counting joint Russian-Ukrainian launches from the Sea Launch platform, it totals about 45 percent of all launches conducted in the world," Perminov said. In 2006, Russia has thus far conducted 24 launches, and plans to launch a Soyuz-2-1B carrier rocket with a Fregat booster and a French Corot satellite on December 27, Perminov said. The United States is in second place with 18 launches in 2006, while Japan and
China shared third place with six launches each. Perminov added that the number of launches for 2007 will be reduced to approximately 20. Russia plans to allocate 24 billion rubles ($910 million) for its space program in 2007, he said.

Dec 20, 2006

Ramzan Kadyrov, Dancing with the Stars?

While the Chechen singer Makka Sagaipova performs a song "Handsome Guy" (Krasivyi Paren') at a concert in Grozny, the omnipresent Prime Minister of the Russian Republic of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov gets the point (he's not the shy kind, what with the lions in his house and "former" warlords in his government) and joins in the fun. Makka seems just a bit afraid, but I would be, too. We get it, Ramzan, you are the Alpha Male... (Igor)

Dec 18, 2006

If the chief judge says it...

...then it must be true. From RFE/RL (Ern)

"Olga Yegorova, who heads the Moscow City Court, told the weekly Itogi" of December 18 that 'there is no [judicial] corruption in Moscow, only judicial mistakes,' reported. She added that the last case of corruption she can recall was in 1997. Yegorova stressed that the city's judicial system monitors its own judges and removes dishonest ones, so that 'no single case has been identified of a judge involvedin bribe-taking' (see 'RFE/RL Newsline,' December 7 and 15, 2006). She added, however, that 'if a judge makes a mistake, that's not corruption.'" PM

Meanwhile, Freedom House's latest Nations in Transit survey reports that Russia's "Judicial Framework and Independence" and "Corruption" ratings have fallen to some of their worst levels since the end of the Soviet Union.

Dec 15, 2006

Hunger Strikes...

...Aren't just for political prisoners anymore....although I guess you might consider him a deposed Tsar. (ERN)


"Abduqayum Yusufov, a lawyer representing former Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoev, told Avesta on December 14 that his client has begun a hunger strike to protest his treatment in prison. Yusufov said that Mirzoev is being denied meetings with his defense team and that prison authorities have reduced the number of packages he can receive from his family. Mirzoev, who is also a former commander of the presidential guard, was sentenced to life in prison in August for planning a coup, murder, and other crimes. He denies the charges (see"RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006)."

Dec 14, 2006

"From Russia" cliche watch... (Thanks Igor)

This week's award for the fabulous use of cliche in a film, article, or song goes to the editors of the Washington Post: "From Russia, With Polonium."

"How did a toxic dose of polonium, a substance reportedly produced and held by only three Russian government entities and one private company, come into the hands of people who could smuggle it into Britain?"

The Washington Post is utterly stumped.

This Week's Cover of The Economist (Thanks Jenn!)

It looks like the crazy kids at The Economist have discovered the wonders of PhotoShop. (PBD)

Dec 13, 2006

700 kg of Spicy Camel Meet (Thanks John!)

Turkish Airlines employees were so proud of their work, a shift manager decided to sacrifice a camel in the middle of Istanbul International Airport. Hilarity ensued.

The Tax Man

Yesterday the Russian Government announced the end to the flow of subsidized oil and gas to Belarus. Not only is this a death blow to the lingering Union of Russia and Belarus (the customs union died a quiet death in 2001), but it will likely signal the begining of the end for Lukashenko.

As of January 1, Belarus will pay now $180 per ton duty on crude imports which had previously been tax free. The price of natural gas will likewise rise from $46 to $200 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters.

At these levels, Komersant reports that the annual price tag for energy alone will exceed Belarus’ national budget by 10 percent. So much for rent-seeking.

Even if Belarus dramatically reduces the Russian oil which it currently imports for resale on the European market, the financial shortfall from both directions (import subsidies and export revenue) will dramatically cripple the government’s ability to support basic services, namely heat. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a scenerio in which Lukashenko will be able to maintain his position as the "last dictator in Europe," while his citizens freeze and the government is without the money for police, hospitals, roads, water, busses, or an army. PBD.

Dec 12, 2006

Independent Azeri TV Gets a Reprieve

Good news this week from Azerbaijan. Word came that independent television broadcaster ANS will return to the airwaves.

It seems that government regulators have changed their minds about the status of the television station. As Azerbaijan's National Radio and Television Council Chairman Nushiravan Maharramli explained, “Taking into account President Ilham Aliyev’s position, and the numerous appeals we have received...we have decided to permit ANS to resume broadcasting."

The important part was President Ilham Aliyev’s position.

Yet this is no time for champagne. ANS is not free and clear. The station will have to compete for a new frequency tender next year – a competition could loose against well-funded entries.

Government officials have long used “regulatory injunctions” and frequency tenders to control independent broadcast media. What's more, journalists and news outlets in Azerbiajan do not enjoy the protection of an independent judiciary, and remain heavily dependent on the caprice the government or oligarchs for sponsorship.

The case of ANS demonstrates that independent broadcasters in Azerbaijan are very much on the defensive.

Such is the state of the press in the country, it certainly isn't Free.


(Pictured above is ANS' own Action News Reporter Sevil Nuriyev. She has my vote to replace Katie Couric. As Elvis Costello says, 'Ggrrrrr.') PBD

We're going to miss you, Volodya...

A touching tribute (if he actually leaves). Igor
I couldn't last more than 45 seconds. PBD

Dec 8, 2006

On the "Lighter" Side

(Thanks ellustrator.)

Dec 7, 2006

Is it Cute or Cruel?

Highlights from the Moscow Dog Show and Fashion Boutique. Yes that's fur.

Of the Dead or Dying (Thanks Jennifer!)

Britain's Health Protection Agency said seven employees at London’s Millennium Hotel tested positive for “low levels” of the highly radioactive polonium-210. These must be very low levels, considering the maximum permissible amount of ingested polonium equals .0000000000068 g. However, health officials “judged that there was no risk to the staff’s health in the short-term.”

That's comforting.

Also, MSNBC reports the curious fact that Litvinenko converted to Islam before his death. He was buried in the same cemetery as Karl Marx. How's that for company?

(Marx resides under the monstrously large granite slab with a giant head. Modest, even in death Karl.)


Янукович в Америці: "Hola Amigos!"

(Many thanks to Jennifer for this Christmas card worthy gem.)

This week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich finished up a whirl-wind PR meet-and-greet in Washington DC. The mission: shed his negative image left over from the Orange Revolution.

Unfortunately, the big prize, a cozy arm chair photo with the president, was one bridge too far.
--“We want a presidential meeting.”
--“You can't have a presidential meeting.”
--“We must have a presidential meeting.”
--“How about the Vice President?”
--“Ok, but no hunting rifles.”

Along with the VP, Yanukovich played nice with Stephen Hadley, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Frist, Dick Lugar, half of Congress, and the nice folks at CSIS. Eternal Remont was not able to confirm the transcript of his conversation with Condoleezza Rice, but judging by the grit teeth and painful smiles, it looks as if the meeting was a smashing success.

Nevertheless, a win is a win, and Yanukovich is doing this consistently. He just ousted the Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko and Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, looks set to dispatch Defense Minister Anatoly Gritsenko, and as Komersant notes, has President Yushchenko on the ropes, for now.

“Our government will operate for the next five years," Yanukovich said. "Those will be years of predictability and stability. So you can forget about Ukraine's unpredictability.”

We guess so.


Dec 6, 2006

Kyrgyz Man Brings Knife to Gun Fight, Meets Predictable End

Good news! American relations with Kyrgyzstan and Russia just get better and better. While the United States squeaked by our deal at Manas with Bishkek (only paying many, many times more in rent than what the US originally paid), we forgot to work out that tricky section in our negotiations on whether or not we can kill the local nationals.

This might have been the main misunderstanding when a U.S. serviceman shot a Kyrgyz worker several times, finally killing him with a fatal wound to the head. Manas HQ says the Kyrgyz had a knife. While you might think that several bullets does not equal a knife, what you don't know is that this Kyrgyz fellow is a champion knife-thrower, famous at festivals and tuy events throughout the Central Asian country.


Bulgaria as Europe's hydrocarbon hub? (Thanks Sofia)

What can I say: my country does not misprint banknotes or shoot journalists...yea right!
We may, however, turn into a "center for distribution of Iran's gas around the globe." (Sofia)


"Bulgaria in Brief: 6 December 2006, Wednesday. Bulgaria may use nature gas from Iran, country's Deputy Foreign Minister for Europe and America said for Darik News. Bulgaria may also benefit from carrying Iran's gas across its territory, Deputy Minister Said Jalili said. If such a plan is applied, the country could turn itself into a centre for distribution of Iran's gas around the globe. The effect of possible sanctions other states impose on Iran might turn against them, Jalili added."

Litvinenko Investigation Takes Orwellian Turn

The Izvestiya crazy train rolls on, implying yesterday that Litvinenko’s death resulted from the former spy's attempts to make a "dirty" bomb -- an operation financed by none other than Boris Berezovsky. This expose follows on the heals of previous reports in state-run media that Anna Politkovskaya’s friends and family had her assassinated in order to – inexplicably – prompt an Orange Revolution in Russia.

Meanwhile, the state-controlled Cuban press (yes, they too have weighed in on the story) theorizes that “the West” poisoned Litvinenko in order to discredit Russia in advance of Putin’s high-profile trip to Germany, France and Finland.

Yet this week's most interesting, if expected developemnt, was Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika [pictured] and his textbook display of Orwellian double speak. At a news conference, Chaika offered to do "everything in his power to assist British counterparts in their investigation," while simultaneously prohibiting them from conducting their own interviews with suspects, closing the door on all extraditions to England, and denying their request to speak with Mikhail Trepashkin, and former spy who is currently serving time for divulging "state secrets." Trepashkin claims to have information pertinent to the case.

In a sign of Chaika's "any and all" spirit of cooperation with British detectives, the Prosecutor-General likewise denied their request to speak with Litvinenko's associate Andrei Lugovoy. It seems that Lugovoy is currently hospitalized in Moscow after possible exposure to Polonium at London's Millennium Hotel. "If the doctors allow it ... he will be questioned without fail," Chaika said. The Russian doctors have yet to allow it, for health reasons.

If this is “assistance,” Eternal Remont will need to redifine "obstruction."

Dec 4, 2006

Eating the Future

CSMonitor has an excellent article on Russia’s internal debate regarding the country’s direction.

"We are eating our future, and we are being too quiet about it," said one person interviewed for the story.

Also, the article highlights the fact that Russians exist on a pure-carb media diet of sugar puffs, pixi-sticks, and Mountain Dew.

"The glossy media have taken off," says Sergei Strokan, an editor at Kommersant, one of Moscow's few remaining independent daily newspapers. "Entertainment fills the niche that became vacant when serious information retreated from the mass media."

Just what the doctor ordered.


Also this week, Russia sank to 121st place on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, a tie with Guyana and Rwanda. Among the country’s which are less corrupt than Russia (as a measure of perceptions):
--Georgia (that's got to sting)

My god.

Turkey: Why a Coup, Soft or Hard is Unlikely in 2007

Mehmet passed along his recent article on Turkey's tumultuous trepidations for 2007...

"A recent Newsweek article by Zeyno Baran projects a soft coup in Turkey in 2007. Baran suggests that the conditions that paved the way to the end of the Islamist Welfare Party government on February 28, 1997 have once again been materializing, with the current AK Party’s Turkey, so that a similar soft coup by the army generals may bring an end to the Islamist-leaning government.

"However, that some generals think the time has come to topple the AK Party government is a necessary, though insufficient condition for a soft coup in Turkey at this time. The differences between the former Islamist Refah of the 1990’s and the conservative democratic AK Party, the socio-economic and political contexts in which they govern, and the mentality change within the Turkish military since the Refah years all hinder the possibility of a soft coup in 2007."

Read the full article here.

Kudos Mehmet!

“La Tomatina”

As regular and comforting as the annual “La Tomatina” tomato fight in Spain, CIS member countries gathered again this year to ask the annual Summit question, ‘What to do with the CIS?"

Although a tomato fight might be more substantive than the agenda items on this year’s docket, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rakhmonov, used the multi-lateral CIS venue to promote their own agenda for bi-lateral relations. Why? Because no one has any idea what to do at CIS summits anymore.

Meanwhile, Jamestown reports that Kyrgyzstan’s head of the state agency for preventing corruption among tax agents, customs officals, border guards, and police, describes these agencies as “champions” of bribery, and “lamented the inability of his agency to do anything other than monitor the extent of corruption." Alas, such issues are "Too Hot for the CIS" so Presidents Bakiyev and Rakhmonov just smiled for the cameras.

Given the lack of a mission, or any obvious desire to craft a constructive multi-lateral agenda, EternalRemont recommends that next year’s CIS summit forsake the usual rituals and follow the Spanish lead in a battle royale ala “La Tomatina.” Anything is more constructive that the current agenda. Such is the state of the CIS.

Viva La Tomatina!


Looking to Islam? Igor Considers a Modest Proposal

In their latest edition, The Exile editors offer the most convincing answer to Russia's post-Soviet search for a "national idea" to date: namely, a mass conversion to Islam.

According to The Exile: "It's a perfect fit. When one thinks of Islam, one imagines overcrowded slums, angry youths, poverty, corruption, and Third World disorder, and, yes, dusky-hued hordes. Russia, on the other hand, has more white people than any European nation, yet it is shunned by Europeans, which don't really consider Russia to be part of their civilization... But by switching to Islam, Russians would instantly become the White Gods of the Islamic world, the barons of a billion-strong demographic."

This is a brilliant idea, way better than that "sovereign democracy" crap Mr. Surkov has been punting about lately. So brilliant, in fact, the Kremlin has already gotten a head start in the recent years by:

1) Joining the Organization of the Islamic Conference, despite having only 15% Muslim population (the requirement is at least 50%). They got "observer status" as a consolation prize. Of course, once Putin finally heeds the advice of the Exile, a full membership shouldn't be an issue...

2) Shutting down newspapers with headshots of the Prophet Muhammad... just days before that peace-loving organization known as Hamas (in the West, we use a slightly different term, "terrorists") comes to Moscow to talk business.

Last but not least:

3) Continuously supplying their Muslim brethren in Syria and Iran with weapons to fight the "infidel armies."

Interestingly enough, Ayatollah Khomeini has already tried this strategy in 1989, in a letter (the mullahs truly do love epistolary pursuits) to one Mr. Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev. Sensing an opportune moment, with the Soviet Union collapsing and all, the glorious leader of the revolution wrote:

"I wish you to seriously investigate Islam – not because Islam or the Muslims need you, but because Islam can bring comfort and salvation to all people and solve the problems of all nations."

Gorbachev never wrote back (must've been at a summit in Scandinavia somewhere), but Russian people, shockingly, chose democracy and freedom instead.But since Mr. Putin already mentioned in 2005 (in a speech to the Chechen parliament) that Russia is "the staunchest defender and best friend of the Muslim world", EternalRemont assumes the Russian leadership has finally come to their senses and the "Islamization of Russia" process is under way...

I believe this is connected to the debacle, but a good lesson for all...(Igor)

Nov 28, 2006

Polonium for Dummies

Russia’s top nuclear official said today that his country tightly controls all exports of polonium [pictured above], the radioactive isotope that British authorities suspect killed former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. “Allegations that someone stole it during production are absolutely unfounded,” Rosatom director Sergei Kiriyenko told a news conference.

Allegations that it was purposfully directed to the task have yet to be disproved.

Also, the wizards at Los Alamos Laboratories recommend that the maximum permissible amount of ingested polonium equals .0000000000068 g.

When it decays, polonium emits high-speed volleys of subatomic alpha particles that rip apart DNA coils and living cells. Death is slow and painful.

Nov 27, 2006

Lukashenka Steals Votes, From Himself…?

From RFE/RL, which reads more and more like the Onion each day... in any case, poor Lukashenka is trying so hard to be "European" :) Ern...

“While speaking with Ukrainian journalists in Minsk on November 23,President Lukashenka admitted to rigging the March 19 presidential election, in which he officially obtained 83 percent of the vote, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. But Lukashenka claimed that he falsified the election in favor of his rivals. ‘Yes, we falsified the last election. I have already told the Westerners [about this].’

“As many as 93.5 percent of voters voted for President Lukashenka. But they said this was not a 'European' result. So we made it 86 [percent],’ he said. ‘The Europeans told us before the election that if there were 'European' figures in the election, they would recognize our election. And we tried to make European figures,’ Lukashenka explained, noting that the move nevertheless has not resulted in recognition of the ballot. Meanwhile, Mikalay Lazavik, secretary of Belarus's Central Election Commission (TsVK), said on November 24 that the TsVK ‘is not aware of any fraud’ in the March presidential election. According to Lazavik, the official results reflect the ‘genuine will’ of the people.”

86 percent, not European? Says who...Saddam Hussein, Mr 103 percent? (PBD)

Tea with Strangers (Update)

KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko died over the weekend.

Initial reports of radioactive thallium proved wrong. In fact, it seems that a much more rare, and exotic radioactive material, Polonium 210, was used.

Litvinenko death bed statement:

Brezhnev's Nationalism Policy Returns Under New Brand

From RFE/RL (Thanks Ern)

"At a November 22 session of the Federation Council's Commission on Nationality Policy that was also attended by the senators and parliament speakers from individual federation subjects, Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev presented the revised version of the draft State Nationality Concept unveiled last year, reported on November 23.

"That initial version contained a formulation referring to the creation of 'a single multinational society in which the Russian people [russky narod] would play a consolidating role.' That formulation triggered outraged protest from non-Russian minorities, and has been watered down in the revised version, which envisages a 'unifying role' for the Russian people in the process of forming 'a single sense of civic awareness [grazhdanstvennost].' President Putin advocated in 2002 revising the Russian nationality policy concept adopted under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin in 1996. That concept was largely authoredby former Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, an Avar who is currently Russian ambassador to Tajikistan." LF

Says my intern, "the Russians really miss communism." (Ern)
This is just as bad as Berezhnev’s policy of 'what nationalisms problem?' The "New Socialist Man" is now the "Single Civic Awareness." Good grief. (PBD)

Nov 22, 2006

Baisarov Killed While "Resisting Arrest"

This little note in Jamestown raised a few eyebrows:

"On Saturday evening, November 18, machine-gun fire erupted on Leninsky Prospect in downtown Moscow. Special police forces and a bomb squad quickly arrived at the scene and discovered one fatality. They had no problem identifying the victim, despite his multiple head wounds: Movladi Baisarov, the former commander of the 'Gorets' (Highlander) special detachment.

"According to official information immediately released after the attack, Baisarov was ambushed in a joint operation by the Moscow and Chechen police, resisted arrest, and was killed on the spot (, November 19; Rossiiskaya gazeta, November 20). Nobody appeared to be particularly bothered that this 'special operation' had been carried out in a crowded public place, but other details have provided rich fodder for journalists eager to spin a crime story that perfectly illustrates the current stage of 'normalization' in Chechnya.

"Baisarov had organized his detachment during the chaotic 'peace' that followed the end of the first Chechen war in September 1996. At the time it was called the 'oil regiment,' because it controlled a few oil wells and the smuggling business. With the start of the second war in autumn 1999, the 'regiment' shifted allegiance to Moscow and became a part of the 'guard' of Akhmad Kadyrov, the new Chechen leader appointed by Vladimir Putin. Baisarov was wounded in a clash with rebels who targeted collaborators and then sidelined by Kadyrov’s ambitious son, Ramzan, who took charge of protecting his father but failed to prevent the spectacular assassination of his father in the Grozny stadium on May 9, 2004.

"It remains unclear why the FSB decided earlier this year that it no longer needed this detachment for operations too 'special' to put its own forces in harm’s way. Kadyrovtsy surrounded Gorets members in the village of Pobedinskoe, near Grozny, but Baisarov refused to surrender and escaped to Moscow."

Eternal Remont is baffled as to why Moscow would be considered safer. But we judge not.

Disaster at Mažeikių nafta oil refinery

A refinery only a Pole would love...JBD

The best part is that the Polish company, PKN Orlen, went thru with their purchase of the refinery, even after the fire.

God bless you Poland.


Nov 21, 2006

Cultural Learnings of Ukraine

The folks at the purpotedly-prestigious Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP) in Kyiv have a new favorite student - David Duke, the Imperial Wizard of the KKK and former state representative for the glorious state of Louisiana.

With hate-mongering no longer as successful of a venture in the US of A (damn that Martin Luther King, civil rights, and those AIPAC "Zionist pigs"), Duke has moved onto greener pastures - namely, Russia and Ukraine, where this modern-day Gray Wizard Saruman can spew his hatred to a shamefully-enthusiastic audience.

"After receiving an honorary degree from MAUP a few years earlier, Duke obtained a PhD in history from the university in September 2005 for his doctoral thesis entitled "Zionism as a Form of Ethnic Supremacism." Must've been quite a read, just like that antisemitic Walt & Mearsheimer rag on the Jewish lobby, which they dared call "substantiated research". But misery does love company:

David Duke is now a big fan:

Shame on you, MAUP.

The Kyiv Post has the full story here:


Tea with Strangers (Update)

New photos of KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko have been released, along with reports that his poisoners could have employed radioactive thallium, a unique form of the metal used to poison rats.

If true, this news would limit the circle of suspects to those with access to such an exotic variant of the poison. Certainly not SVR spokesman Sergei Ivanov, who dismissed Russia’s role as nonesence. "May God give him health," Ivanov said.

Russian security services have used radioactive thallium in the past. In fact, Soviet agents used radioactive thallium against former-KGB agent Nicolai Khokhlov in the 1950s. As in the Litvinenko case, Khokhlov was also a defector.

The subtlety of the message is not lost on Eternal Remont. Althought doubts over cause of the illness persist.

Something old, something new (Thanks Chalmers)

Flavor Country (Thanks ERN!)


RUSSIANS SMOKE 375 BILLION CIGARETTES PER YEAR. Nikolai Gerasimenko,who heads the Russian State Duma's Health and Sports Committee, saidin Moscow on November 16 that people in the Russian Federation smoke375 billion cigarettes annually, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RLNewsline," February 10 and March 23, 2006). He added that 60 percentof all men and 15 percent of women smoke, including 48 percent of pregnant women. PM

Did I read that correctly, "48 percent of pregnant women?"


The Cold War as a Low Carb Light Beer

This quote from Viktor Kremeniuk, Deputy Director of the Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow, got me thinking. Speaking on developments in Russian-US relations, Kremeniuk notes, "The only thing that has prevented a full slide into a new cold war was the personal relationship between Bush and Putin."


During the Cold War, I seem to remember the subtle hint of impending doom, the present threat of the nuclear snuff. What's more, the driving ideological conflict was as central to the conflict as the military component. National Security Doctrines notwithstanding, the old gray mare of Russia’s nuclear forces just ain't what she used to be. And the brutal ideological chasm has since been replaced by differences of opinion over accepted accounting practices, the share of national ownership in vital industries, and the role of international monitoring agencies in domestic affairs. This is hardly an all-or-nothing ideological death match. Yet, why all of the talk about a new Cold War?

Pundits are generally savage fools who lack in imagination what they hold in vanity. Lacking the ability to conceptualize present relations between Russia and the United States in realistic terms, I suspect that many revert to the default setting, which has remained in place since 1991: Cold War.

No, Mr. Kremeniuk, Russia and the United States have been prevented from sliding full scale into a new cold war, not by the personal relationship between Bush and Putin, but by the fundamental and irrevocable changes which have taken place in the last decade and a half.

Things could always get worse. They propably will. But the ships have been burned and I feel very safe.


Nov 20, 2006

Litvinenko Update (Thanks Igor)

Here's a "wild conspiracy theory" on the Litvinenko case - the Kremlin did it.

Man Wins Drinking Contest, Then Dies. Organizers Shocked!

As Reuters reports, “A vodka-drinking competition in a southern Russian town ended in tragedy with the winner dead and several runners-up in intensive care.

"The competition lasted 30, perhaps 40 minutes and the winner downed three half-litre bottles. He was taken home by taxi but died within 20 minutes," said Roman Popov, a prosecutor pursuing the case in the town of Volgodonsk. "Five contestants ended up in intensive care. Those not in hospital turned up the next day, ostensibly for another drink."

Popov said the director of the shop organizing this month's contest had been charged with manslaughter. He had offered 10 liters of vodka to the competitor drinking the most in the shortest time. Russians drink the equivalent of 15 liters of pure alcohol per head annually, one of the highest rates in the world. Some experts estimate one in seven Russians is an alcoholic.”

Eternal Remont doubts the validity of such estimates, as one in three experts are still in denial.

Okruashvili retires to the Dacha Circut

Woo! Looks like Okruashvili could only make it seven days dealing with Georgia's economy. Who wants to crunch numbers all damn day when youcould be calling caterers and ordering in bulk find Georgian wines foryour New Years party in Tskhinvali? (Which, by the way, is getting closer and closer...!)

Did Saakashvili take a cue from the U.S. to clean out the war-mongering hawks from the government? Molodets! It's hard to strike deals with the monstrously big state to the North when you have someone muttering in the background about the fact that Russians, in fact, will eat poop.


Tea with Strangers

Former KGB and Federal Security Service Col. Alexander Litvinenko was moved into the ICU of a London hospital over the weekend, just days after meeting with a “mysterious stranger” who claimed to have information on the death of Anna Politkovskaya.

Doctors found ungodly levels of the toxic poison thallium -- a high class rat poison -- in his system. While not nearly as sexy or 007-ish as the titanium-soaked ricin pellet which the Bulgarians used to eliminate Georgi Markov, London is becoming a rather dangerous place for Eastern European exiles.

The Kremlin was supremely displeased with Litvinenko’s defection in 2000. It has fermented this displeasure, while Litvinenko spent his time as an outspoken critic of Russia’s authoritarian drift. But thallium in a drink? You know its Amature Hour at the Apollo, when even the Bulgarians are more professional.


Nov 14, 2006

Daring Daily Mail reporters go to Borat's village in Romania... find, you guessed it, ignorance and crushing poverty.

In what could be a great agitprop piece during the heyday of the Cold War, Mssrs. BOJAN PANCEVSKI and CARMIOLA IONESCU tackle Western bourgeois imperialism with great gusto and aplomb. There are so many things about this article that are utterly ridiculous, not only did I not feel pity for these people, I actually think another Borat episode is in order.

"Cambridge-educated Baron Cohen filmed the opening scenes of the Borat movie in Glod - a village that is actually in Romania, rather than Kazakhstan, and whose name literally translates as 'mud', last summer....

The comedian insisted on travelling everywhere with bulky bodyguards, because, as one local said: 'He seemed to think there were crooks among us.' While the rest of the crew based themselves in the motel, Baron Cohen stayed in a hotel in Sinaia, a nearby ski resort a world away from Glod's grinding poverty.....

Just four villagers have permanent employment in the nearby towns of Pucioasa or Fieni, while the rest live off what little welfare benefits they get.....

Indeed, when local vice-mayor Petre Buzea was asked whether the people felt offended by Baron Cohen's film, he replied: 'They got paid so I am sure they are happy. These gipsies will even kill their own father for money.'.....

But feelings in Glod are running so high that The Mail on Sunday saw angry villagers brandishing farm implements chase out a local TV crew, shouting that they had enough of being exploited."

Who's the intolerant one now, I ask? Read it here:


It is rather sad, that the real life village is not too distant from the fictional one depicted in the film. Art follows life, follows art... (The real life Villiage of Mud pictured above.)


Nov 10, 2006

How I Won the [Cold] War

In a tribute to East German spymaster Markus Wolf, Russians celebrated their hard-fought victory in the Cold War on Friday.

That's correct, Russia actually won the Cold War -- or so an observer might assume had they attended Wolf's official tribute in Moscow.

As observers note, "Playing up his Russian background and recalling past espionage triumphs over the United States and its allies...Moscow's lavish praise for Wolf reflects a newly-awakened admiration in Russia for Cold War intelligence successes that has been promoted by President Vladimir Putin."

In other news, Eternam Remont is anxiously waiting for an update on the real winner of the Vietnam conflict.

(Kudos ERN!)

Ironing out the Irony

ERN forwarded the logo for Russia's new human rights campaign. (And yes, this blog is hereby illegal in Germany.) The irony, of course, is not lost amid a day of ironic developments.

Three days ago, Russia’s delegation to the UN introduced a resolution condemning xenophobia and racism. UN diplomat Andrei Nikiforov noted that such things were “absolutely incompatible with the obligations assumed” by UN member states. (Jamestown). Nikiforov seems to have missed reports of his country’s shameful treatment of Georgian school children last month, Putin’s acute case of xenophobia, or the unvarnished racism which occurs on a daily basis towards minorities in the Russian Federation.

This presents a maddening question, ripe with opportunity: can Russia be brought to answer for its own United Nations resolution?

Indeed, Moscow hopes to use the resolution to harass Latvia and Estonia for “anti-Russian” language laws abroad, while insulating the government from accusations that it has promoted xenophobia and racism at home.

‘That’s preposterous. Look, we have a UN resolution!’

Nov 9, 2006

The Weekly Standard is Soused

It is time to think seriously about the question on everyone’s mind: are the editors at The Weekly Standard drinking again?

We ponder the question after they published yet another article by the mad genius, Igor Khrestin. Amid his excellent analysis of Russia’s reaction to the Mid-term elections, Igor notes this little aside, “But with bilateral relations descending to Cold War levels in the recent months, Democrats in control of key House…”

Cold War? Holy Jesus, when did this happen?

My Y2K bunker is not even finished. Now I have to ponder the uncomfortable news that the Cold War has returned and we'll have to adjust to the possibility of a post-apocalyptic world without Dean and Deluca.

Still, the article does answer why I have never been able to understand the new CBS series “Jerico.” I kept asking, "Who the hell would nuke Kansas?"

Now we know Mr. Khrestin. Now we know.

Kyrgystan: Don't Take Your Guns to Town

We would be remiss in neglecting the real crisis which has enveloped Kyrgystan in the last few weeks. Part of the problem, was determining if it was a story at all. Political turmoil in Central Asia is so threadbare, it borders on the cliche.

Nevertheless, it seems as if the non-crisis that could have been a crisis, if it wasn't a crisis in the first place, has diminished.

As IWPR reports, "Just as the stand-off between President Kurmanbek Bakiev and his opponents began to look irreversible, and police moved in to separate crowds of pro-and anti-government supporters, parliament came up with a consensus version of the constitution which lies at the heart of this dispute."

While this solution does not make good on the the institutional, social, and political promises which the "Tulip Revolution" has failed to deliver, the threat of street violence has subsided....for now.

Also in the "is it a story?" file, Gender Discrimination in Kyrgystan, you be the judge...

Knowlege Workers of the World Unite

Noting that Bill Gates is the " the riches man on the planet," Kommersant reports that the multi-billion dollar maven has set his sights on Russia.

Along with schemes to stop software picracy, he also proposed converting Soviet-era ICBM's into plowshares -- in this case, low orbit launch vehicles which will turn the planet into one big Starbuck's WiFi hotspot.

Although Eternal Remont was not able to dispatch a photographer to the meeting, we have aquired an artist's rendition of events as they happened...

Thanks IGOR.
Credit to

BANG! POW! SPLAT! Putin visits GRU headquarters

Get your Cold War pants back on. This could get interesting. (And yes, the GRU is using the "Batman" logo in their emblem.)

From RFE/RL: "President Vladimir Putinvisited the new headquarters of the Main Intelligence Directorate(GRU) of the Armed Forces General Staff in Moscow on November 8, reported. The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted ironicallythe following day that the event was "shrouded thebest traditions of the intelligence department." Putin suggested to GRU staff that the United States poses a threat to Russia, sayingthat "the practice by a number of states of taking unilateralillegitimate action seriously undermines [international] stability."He added that "this also goes for their attempts to push their positions unceremoniously, fully ignoring the lawful interests ofother partners." Lest there be any doubts as to which country he hadin mind, he noted that "a number of states are striving to free their hands so they can deploy weapons in space, including the nuclearweapon." He told GRU department heads that "it is important to definecorrectly the development of the military-political situation, tofollow in detail trends of technological, economic competition." Forhis part, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov praised the new GRUheadquarters as using the most up-to-date equipment in a way that isunique in Russia." Thanks ERN

You know, for a moment there, I thought Putin was speaking about Russia's "attempts to push their positions unceremoniously, fully ignoring the lawful interests of other partners" on Georgia. My mistake. PBD

Nov 6, 2006

Nostalgia for the future

ERN flagged a great article in RFE/RL on Alexander Prokhanov's new look at Russia's future Empire.

“One can see signs of emerging empire almost everywhere. In events such as the building of new types of ships and submarines...launching the new 'Bulova' missile...or the construction of the North European Gas Pipeline,” said Prokhanov.

The timing of the book is important. Prokhanov's nationalist fantasies have long propelled his own political aspirations. And even though his unapologetic anti-Semitism could shame even Borat, it is worrisome that his ideas have found such fertile soil among Russia’s intellectuals and autocrats. Even more worrisome, is the thought that these highly-influential groups are beginning to mistake the influx of petro dollars as signs that “sovereign democracy” is producing a genuine renaissance in the country.


Nov 3, 2006

What’s in a name?

During Communist times, the East Germans would often joke that, “We pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay us.” In Serbia, the joke has been resurrected, of sorts, as the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs no longer exists, yet individuals calling themselves “Ministers” continue to show up for work.

This state of affairs occurred after Montenegro opted out of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro, leaving the left-over’s of Serbia to unite with Serbia and form the new country of, wait for it, Serbia. It was at this point that the real hilarity insued.

Vuk Draskovic was Foreign Minister of Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Yet, said country no longer exists. Unfortunately, the new Serbian parliament has yet to create a new Foreign Ministry or recognize the de facto existence of the hold-over. The same goes for the Minister of Defense, Zoran Stankovic.

"Every week journalists ask me if I am a minister or if I am not a minister, am I allowed to do some things or am I not allowed to do some things," Stankovic complained on Friday. The prospects for righting the situation look bleak. “Both stayed on as ministers of Serbia but have still not been endorsed by parliament. And they are not likely to be now, because a general election is expected to be called any minute and a new parliament may be sitting by January.”

Gazprom grabs Armenia

Over the weekend, Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian signed over control of his country’s gas and electric supply to Gazprom. The deal also places the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline under de facto Russian control.

From the Russian perspective, Armenia’s energy demand represents only a pittance. Yet, the deal is important because it may close the door on competing pipelines from Iran to more lucrative markets in the EU.

Nov 2, 2006

Borat Movie getting high marks

This was my favorite review: "It's outlandish and outrageous, like Swift's A Modest Proposal as rewritten by South Park's Eric Cartman for the YouTube generation."

Don't forget to join us tomorrow night (7:30 pm, Friday, Nov. 3) at the Georgetown Loews for the Unofficial CERES screening.

Here me now and believe me later...

The Russian Foreign Ministry went into spin control yesterday, attempting to calm nervous German consumers over their country’s over-reliance on Russian gas supplies.

The solution? Blame the United States.

According to the wizards at the Foreign Ministry, the US was using "artificial geopolitical schemes" to scare Europeans. The Foreign Ministry promised that Russia would never use gas supplies as a political tool, as it did in Ukraine, or arbitrarily raise the cost of energy to leverage its foreign policy.

That very same day, Gazprom doubled the price of natural gas going to Georgia.

Nov 1, 2006

Holy God

(This is a story ERN has been following with shock and awe.)

It seems that Reuters is the latest to run a story on the impact of Russia’s new vodka regulations. As the story notes, “Counterfeit vodka laced with toxic household agents has turned Russia's national tipple into a deadly cocktail and is killing Russians by the dozen.”

Short on cash, Russia's desperatly poor have taken to drinking aftershave and brake fluid after new government regulations priced them out of the market. Yet, even as Russian lawmakers try to bring the Hammer of Thor down on illegal moonshiners, they can’t seem to make the connection between the recent spike in expensive alcohol regulations (passed on to the consumer), and the rise of deadly alcohol substitutes.

"From July 1 they (officials) introduced licenses for wholesale deliveries of liquids containing alcohol. In August poisoning from antiseptics began."

'Bartender! I'll have two fingers of Bactine, and whatever the lady is drinking.'

Oct 31, 2006

Кто мог бы быть президентом?

(Thanks Igor)

Happy Halloween (Thanks Igor)

"We appologize ladies and gentlemen, but the captain will keep the seatbelt sign on as we are still experiencing a little democracy."

Oct 30, 2006

Bottoms up

Following last week’s uplifting news that 140 Russians die every day from alcohol-related deaths, it is appropriate to note Russia and Moldova are now in talks to end the boycott of Moldovan wine. It seems the previous ban was dished out to punish Moldova’s “pro-Western” orientation.

And yes, in the time it took to write this post, 2 more Russians died from alcohol.

To health!

(Thanks ERN)

"Hello, Nakhodka, I'm listening."

Last week brought Russians their annual call-in show with Vladimir Putin. This is the highly scripted exercise whenby "average” Russians call-in to talk with Putin about important issues etc. The President always looks calm and in-charge, with a bevy of facts and statistics he seemingly knows off the top of his head.

Yet, so often in contemporary Russian politics, it is not so much what is said as what is left unsaid. As Jamestown noted, some issues were deemed so unimportant, they did not even merit a question. A few of the unimportant issues the Kremlin chose to ignore:

Russia’s chairmanship of the G-8
Declining relations with the United States and NATO
The situation in the Middle East
Iran’s nuclear program
Chechnya and terrorism
Russia’s delayed entry into the WTO

'It's Springtime for Russia and Vladimir....'

Oct 23, 2006


The sign reads, Georgian children are barred from attending the Russain school.

Oct 20, 2006

Poland Deports Freedom-seeking Belarusian Cows

Not even Belarussian cows can breathe free air!

On October 19, Poland began deporting 242 luckless Belarusian cows, which broke an electric fence on October 15 and swam across the Zakhodni Buh River to Poland. The illegal border-crossers then joined a herd of Polish cows. News reports say that Polish border guards and veterinary officials tried, but failed, to persuade the animals to swim back home. Now the Belarusian cows are being trucked across the border into their home country ruled by an authoritarian president.

The state farm, which owns the herd of border transgressors, will reportedly have to bear the cost of maintaining the heifers in Poland and delivering them back to Belarus. The manager of the farm insists that the herdsmen, aged 50 and 29, should be required to compensate the enterprise for the losses incurred in the incident.

No report on how the cows feel after their short taste of freedom.


Spelling in Ukraine

Washington Changes Spelling of Ukrainian Capital

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on October 19 that the U.S.government has changed the official spelling of the name of theUkrainian capital from "Kiev" to "Kyiv." Casey added that the new spelling is "in keeping with how the Ukrainians themselves pronounce the name of their capital."


I suspect this is just an attempt to confuse lost Russian tourists.
--“Which road takes me to Kiev?”
--“No, Kiev.”
--“Never heard of it...”


Oct 18, 2006

Spelling in Kazakhstan

Poor Kazakhstan. It seems as if they’ve mispelled the word "bank" on new 2,000 and 5,000 tenge notes. Rather than correct the error, the Kazaks have decided to circulate the notes anyway.

God bless you, Kazakhstan.

Oct 17, 2006

What is a Russian?

Following the spy-row with Georgia, President Putin came down with an acute case of xenophobia. As the CSMonitor writes, “Mr. Putin authorized a crackdown on Georgian-owned businesses, called for tougher curbs on immigration, and said non-ethnic Russians should be prevented from operating in the marketplaces.”

Yet, this raises a curious question: What exactly is a Russian?

Alas, the answer is decidedly difficult to answer. If Putin & Co. are going to ban them from the marketplace, shouldn’t we at least know who is, and is not allowed?

As any Mexican-American university student at MGU can attest, hair and skin tone are the most direct means by which the police profile prospective “document inspections.” Yet, a citizen from Rostov-on-Don is far more likely to be profiled than an illegal Latvian lap dancer living inside the garden ring without a Moscovskaya propiska.

The Russian language is one possible solution. But the Russian language is used widely throughout the former Soviet Republics and is the default language for intercultural communication. If Russian-speaking Georgians in the CD markets are still not Russian, how else do we tell the "Good" Russians from the unscrupulous foreign "imposters?"

And what about Jews? As recently as 2002, many internal Russian passports still listed “Jew” as a national identity, one wholly separate from “Russian.” In the eyes of the passport bureau, one could be a Russian, or a Jew, but never both.

It is equally difficult to link Russian identity to one’s birthplace. During the Stalinist period, the Kremlin deported whole communities of Georgians to the wilds of Siberia. Are these individuals Russian? They speak Russian. They were born in Russia. Yet, still, they would not be allowed to sell “ABBA’s Greatest Hits!” in a Moscow market as a result of their non-Russian heritage.

The answer, of course, is obvious. Any group or former republic which is out of favor with Putin is non-Russian, while everyone else is selectivly ignored.

This is an absurd precedent. But one which will have lasting consequences for the region.


Oct 16, 2006

Get Your Red On!

Ever wish you could go back to the "Good Old Days," when soldiers guarded the front, workers toiled bravely in factories, and life was an endless succession of Harvest, Celebrations, Holidays, and Memorials? Now you can, or at least, sing along and pretend...

Nostalgia, anyone??

(Thanks Igor!)

Politkovskaya Vigil (Thanks Teo)

In case you're interested, there will be a vigil for Anna Politkovskaya on Monday, October 16th from 6pm-7pm across the street from the Russian Embassy on Wisconsin Ave.

Oct 11, 2006

Five more years! (Thanks Chalmers)

Here's to 5 more years.

After winning a unanimous vote by the State Assembly of Bashkiria, President Murtaza Rakhimov extended his current 16-year electoral winning streak for another 5-year term.

What does one do after such a resounding victory for democracy? Well, you take Vladimir Putin down to the local brewery and buy him a beer. (I can't believe this isn't satire.)

As we all know, the Bashkirs are a cause near and dear to JCE's heart. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, in the mad scramble to sovereignty following the end of the Soviet Union, Bashkortostan remained the Land That Time Forgot. This psudo-state exists as a living museaum to the Soviet Union.

Elections in Bashkortostan were little changed from the good ol' days of the USSR. In fact, the OSCE was almost at a loss for words when describing Rakhimov's last election, saying only that it had all "the elements of basic fraud."

Cheers Comrade Rakhimov!


Seriously, we're dealing with a region of fake-ass democracies, people. You see that don't you?


Oct 10, 2006

Politkovskaya Update:

With friends like these.......who needs enemies?

The non-independent Russian news media went into high gear over the weekend, busy spinning the Politkovskaya murder with fantastic and bizare explinations.

It would seem, as the government-backed Russsian news explains, Politkovskaya’s assassination was ordered by her friends and supporters. Yes, Politkovskaya's death was simply wily plot to create a democratic martyr and prompt – wait for it -- an Orange Revolution in Russia.

Of course, this line of reasoning completely disregards Politkovskaya pending expose detailing accounts of torture carried out by the Kremlin-backed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, or her scheduled appearance as a witness in a torture case, also involving Kadyrov. Disregard that Kadyrov and his backers in the Kremlin had the most to loose from Politkovskaya’s activities, let alone the fact that, from their perspective, this woman was becoming a really meddlesome threat that wouldn’t go away.

Thank goodness her friends killed her.

As the monotone news casters inform Russian viewers, they should really be concerned with Orange Revolutions and not Putin’s “Dictatorship of the Law,” a dictatorship which is rapidly becoming ill at ease with the facts, and even more discontent with those who ask questions about torture and corruption at it’s highest levels.


God Bless you Don King

Robert tuned us in to this little gem. It seems that US-Russian relations has a new Champion, of sorts. He is the tower of a man, and boxing title holder, Nikolai Valuev.

Better yet, Don King is promoting him as a bridge between our two great peoples. Bid farewell to Rocky V, with all of that passé divisiveness and jingoistic posturing. “I must break you.” Say hello to the new, kinder image of teeth-shattering, face pummeling, US-Russo relations.

From the TimesOnline: “Don King had gone from hello to full rhetoric in about 30 seconds. Now he was quoting Shakespeare, talking of uniting Russia and the United States, and all the while giving praise to a huge man who had just left the room and did not understand a word he said.

“’He defends the honor of women. No one can hurt his wife in the parking lot, he helps the old lady across the street, he grabs the little baby from under the car — he’s a man of the people, with pride, dignity, compassion and understanding,’ King said, hitting full flow. “Nicolay, Nicolay our new champion.’”,,170-2211091,00.html

Even better, Nikolai Valuev bested Monte Barrett in the 11th round of their championship bout on Saturday night. More to come, we are sure.

God Bless you Don King.

Oct 9, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya is dead

Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated on Saturday. While a lone gunman was seen on the apartment surveillance cameras, his capture, or conviction, is as unlikely as it is important. Indeed, the assign's identity is far less important than the identities of those who paid for her death -- one of the last voices in Russia.

Anna Politkovskaya was the bravest women I'd ever met. Fearless and clear-eyed to the realities which beset Russia at the end of it's democratic period. In fact, she seemed to gain little interest or satisfaction from admiring Westerners, who called her "brave" and heaped praise upon her. What did the opinions of Westerners matter? She was a Russian journalist, who wrote for Russians, and believed in the lasting power of the written word.

Now she is dead. The technocrats and administrators who refused to answer her questions have outlasted her life, as has the Chechen conflict which cut short so many others.

Yet, the power of words is often greater than the life and spirit of the author. I hope that Anna Politkovskaya's intrepid spirit will have a lasting impact on the country and the conflict which consumed her. But there are few developments in Russia which lead to hope. Such is the state of things.

Goodbye Anna Politkovskaya. Our loss is great.

Oct 6, 2006

Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Just like the closed door sessions at the Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we can’t get enough of our favorite investigative journalist, Borat Sagdiyev.

But this brilliant mind said it best of all…

The begining of nothing

Some things are never finished, especially the thoughts of nit-wits, diplomats, and scoundrels.