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)