Dec 21, 2007

A Hero of Our Time?

Remember this name: Arkady Babchenko, as we haven't seen anything like him since Lermontov. A bold statement, yes. But not since Hero of Our Time has there been such a gripping, haunting tale of a first-person Russian war in the Caucusses -- one told with the devastating honesty of Babchenko's pen.

No soapboxing. No agenda. Just the "confused, fear-ridden, despairing world of a young private and his buddies where the only goal is survival."

After the war, Babchenko drove a gypsy cab around Moscow, one of what he calls the "embittered, aggressive beasts hardened against the whole world and believing in nothing except death."

New Europe Plows Across the Border...sans passport

They were drinking like it was 1989 in Poland last the Schengen Treaty restrictions were lifted for most of Eastern Europe. Late to the party, Bulgaria and Romania are still shivering in the cold...for now.

What's Happening to Putin's Face?

Running an empire can't leave you much time for a rejuvenating dermal scrub. Either way, Medvedev may be the man of the hour, but Time Magazine has tapped Vlad as the Person of the Year. Go get em' tiger.


Pop the Champaign, the "Spam Block" is lifted.

Following several agonizing days of radio silence, Eternal Remont has returned!

Officially, we were flagged by unnamed sources as being a "spam blog." This kicked in a protocol which blocked all access to the site -- effectively shutting us down. But as Ern pointed out, it could have been least they didn't try dioxin poisoning.

The reason for the block? Too much "irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text." I'm not kidding. This actually quite funny, as there are some in the field who would agree with the accusation. But that's a different issue.

Rather than forcing us on a hunger strike during Christmas, calmer heads prevailed and has since removed its draconian censorship.

Lucky we didn't miss anything important.

Dec 13, 2007

Andrew C. Kuchins Considers the "Future," All Hell Breaks Loose

Igor writes on the blow up to Andrew C. Kuchins new report regarding "Alternative Futures for Russia to 2017."

First we start with today's Kommersant:

"Kuchins has an entirely different vision. He predicted that Putin will be assassinated at the exit of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior after midnight mass on January 7, 2008 (Russian Orthodox Christmas). The killer will not be caught and Russia will be thrown into immediate chaos. The stock market will collapse, mass strikes and demonstration will begin and, on January 20, a state of emergency will be declared. The murder of Putin will prevent a peaceful transfer of presidential power to Sergey Naryshkin, with Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister, and the enforcement bloc in the Kremlin will gain power, that is, Igor Sechin, Sergey Ivanov and Nikolay Patrushev."

It gets even better:

"As it continues, Kuchin's scenario starts to sound more and more like a suspense novel. After the imposition of the state of emergency, he posits, Vladimir Yakunin, now head of Russian Railways, becomes president and orders the shooting of striking oil worker in Surgut. St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov are sentenced to death for the embezzlement of billions of dollars. Nationalism will rise significantly along the way. But, after a series political and economic shakeups, there will be a happy ending in 2016, when Boris Nemtsov will become president with the help and funding of the again free Mikhail Khodorkovsky."

WOW. Apparently, all of this nonsense is in the new CSIS report called "Alternative Futures for Russia."

That's one hell of a future.

Obviously, as Lenta has already pointed out , this is clearly a fictional scenario (though one bordering on delusion, but this is Russia after all, so Kuchins just let loose his fevered mind).

Kommersant obviously prints this in all its anti-imperialist glory, of course. But a note to their editors: pssst, the American government does this all the time. Our beloved National Intelligence Council, in their Global Trends 2020 report, for instance, printed a letter from
Bin Laden's grandson to one of his relatives: "Oh, what confusion did we sow with the Crusaders. An almost forgotten word reentered the Western lexicon and histories of early Caliphs suddenly rose to be bestsellers on"

No, really, our tax dollars paid for that. Kommersant really missed out. Then again, Dmitry Sidorov never ceases to amaze me.

If you look at his smart, witty, and sharply critical essays in Ezhednevny Zhurnal, one is bound to be impressed that a Russian journalist (albeit, based in DC) can write so openly and freely. But then, when it comes to his own publication, the man becomes a walking National Inquirer.

Last year, the man did a James Bond on a Carnegie event with Voloshin (strangely enough, Kuchins was Carnegie's director of Russia program then) and outed Fiona Hill as a CIA agent (she was actually at the above-mentioned National Intelligence Council, perhaps penning that letter from Bin Laden's offspring).

"The Kommersant correspondent was able to see through the window of the first-floor hall that there were about 20 people present, including the former ambassadors to Russia and Ukraine Jim Collins and Steven Pifer. Fiona Hill, who was recently named CIA national intelligence officer for Russia, was also at that meeting."

I'm shocked he didn't notice Santa Claus in the corner, plotting Russia's downfall.

We did some checking. Our inside girl at CSIS swears that Kommersant is blowing this out of perspective. Here's the abstract.

Dec 12, 2007

Secret Option 3

AP: - "A man nearly died from alcohol poisoning after quaffing a liter (two pints) of vodka at an airport security check instead of handing it over to comply with new carry-on rules," Berlin police said.

It seems that airport security informed the man he'd either have to surrender the bottle or pay a check-in fee. The man opted for Secret Option 3. "He chugged the bottle down — and was quickly unable to stand or otherwise function," police said.

No word on where he was headed. But we suspect it was most definitely somewhere in E. Europe.

Getting to Know the "Candidate" Medvedev

Propaganda, anyone?

From JRL: "First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who has every chance of becoming Russia's next president - is a man of honor, a skilled professional and a modern type of person...Medvedev is a very up-to-date personality. He is keen for everything new - technologies, the Internet, high-tech things...The would-be president is fluent in English and is well familiar with youth slang that floods the world web...On the wall at the entrance to the antechamber of Medvedev' s office there is a portrait of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II. If one is to believe the daily Vedomosti, the best way of making Medvedev feel good is to say that he resembles the last Russian monarch."

"...His hobbies and favorite things comprise music - Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, books by Mikhail Bulgakov's that were banned under Joseph Stalin, and football club Zenit from his native St. Petersburg. In sports, its jogging and chess. Medvedev also swims 1,500 meters twice a day."

Dec 11, 2007


Looks like big news comes in buckets.

"Mr. Medvedev went before the nation today and declared that he in turn would name Mr. Putin as his prime minister."

This comes just as the world was digesting the Medvedev story. Prime Minister Putin also means that Eternal Remont will now collect on bets from all the unbelievers.

Anyway, here's yesterday's smart money on Medvedev, all of which looks slightly stale:

FT: "A silovik as president could be a threat to other siloviki. With a non-silovik in office, everyone sleeps easier in their beds."

NYTimes: "While Mr. Medvedev is clearly a Putin loyalist, Russia has never had leaders who have wielded decisive authority from the background."

State: ''I don't think we should blow this out of proportion. We have focused our policy on the policies of Russian reform and the policies of the Russian Government, not the personalities.''

Dec 10, 2007

Man of the Hour

Say it slowly: President Medvedev. Russia's man of the hour.
We still haven't decided if it's an honor to win a promotion because you are the least competitive candidate, and therefore less likely to challenge Putin. "I have known him very closely for more than 17 years and I completely and fully support this proposal," said Putin.
We bet you do.

Dec 6, 2007

Russia, meet YouTube...

Who needs the OSCE when everyone's got a video phone and a YouTube account.

Now, Eternal Remont has never served as an election monitor, but we're pretty sure you're not supposed to pull extra ballots out from you backpack and run them through the scanner, like this. Even the army is doing it's part of overfulfill the election plan, like this.

Dec 5, 2007

GazProfit? Not so much...

Gazprom's profits fell 25% in the Spring of 2007. This comes after the company pumped up prices to downstream customers in E. Europe.

Higher operating costs are the official reason for the $1 billion slide. We suspect Western-trained sabatours could also be to blame. They seem to be the reason for all of Russia's other ills these days.

Dec 4, 2007

God Bless You Bulgaria

It's been a while since we've had a Bulgaira story. Not too worry, the Irish have saved us.

"An Irishman broke into a furniture shop in Bulgaria's resort of Bansko on Sunday night just to have a nap on a sofa inside, Interior Ministry officials reported. The foreigner, who was quite drunk at the time of the accident, confessed he thought the shop was his room."

Our world is right again.

Could Not Resist

Thanks ellustrator!

A Pliable Successor?

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) -- "With Russian opposition politicians planning long-shot presidential campaigns, Vladimir Putin is searching for a pliable successor..."

Nov 30, 2007

Let's Get Stupid!

Russian Youths Join the Ranks of Their American Counterparts

From Организация экономического сотрудничества и развития (ОЭСР) представила рейтинг уровня знаний школьников в возрасте 15 лет из 57 стран мира. Всего в рейтинге учитывались результаты тестов 400 тыс. учащихся. Россия попала в группу стран, где уровень знаний у школьников оценивается как “ниже среднего”. В группе с ней соседствуют США и Азербайджан.

Финские школьники получили в рейтинге 563 балла и заняли в нем первое место. В среднем ученики из Европы набирали примерно по 500 очков. Например британские учащиеся заработали 515 баллов, чешские - 513, швейцарские - 512. Всего рейтинг выше среднестатистической нормы получили ученики из 20 стран мира. Ученики из пяти стран находятся на среднем уровне, а еще из 22-х – на низком. В эту группу вошли США с 489 баллами и Россия с 479. Также в группе оказались Латвия, Литва и Азербайджан. Последнее место в рейтинге заняла Киргизия с набранными 322 баллами.

Kazakhstan-Barbuda: BFFs, Finally!

In a victory for boutique diplomacy, Kazakhstan and Barbuda are now officially Best Friends Forever.

This follows years of sitting at different tables at the UN Cafeteria (a magical wonderland from which Eternal Remont was once politely evicted at the request of the Cuban government).

Neither country would confirm if they exchanged friendship bracelets, or even added each other to their MySpace pages. However, we can all rest easy now that the threat of a war between Kazakhstan and Barbuda has diminished.

"Our two countries can now begin the journey towards greater friendship and cooperation," said Ambassador Byrganym Aitimova at a signing ceremony to commemorate the event.

Nov 29, 2007

It's been a long time, but I'm back with a dick joke

BBC: Croatia rose to the occasion in their crucial Euro 2008 defeat of England - after an apparent X-rated gaffe by an English opera singer at Wembley. Tony Henry belted out a version of the Croat anthem before the 80,000 crowd, but made a blunder at the end. He should have sung 'Mila kuda si planina' (which roughly means 'You know my dear how we love your mountains'). But he instead sang 'Mila kura si planina' which can be interpreted as:

'My dear, my penis is a mountain'.

Now Henry could be one of the few Englishmen at the Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland as Croatian fans adopt him as a lucky omen.

Nov 27, 2007

Oil State Excess: The $600 T-Shirt

Tired of the same old, drab news from Russia's parliamentary elections? Why not treat yourself to a little bit of nostalgia: the $600 USSR T-Shirt (available in Putin Hawaiian flavors too)...

NYTimes: “People in their 30s see these kinds of symbols as reminders of happy memories, like going to pioneer camp where they lived together, ate breakfast together and played sports,” said Mr. Simachev, 33, who wears his hair in a Samurai-style ponytail. He insists he is no Communist — for one thing, his overcoats sell for about $2,100 and his T-shirts for about $600. His boutique is sandwiched between Hermès and Burberry stores on a pedestrian lane, Stoleshnikov, that is one of the capital’s most expensive shopping streets."

Nov 19, 2007

Crazy? Or Crazy Like a Fox...

Have we come this far, when a Doomsday Cult actually starts to make sense? Members of the "True Russian Orthodox Church" have sealed themselves in a cave to await the End Of The World -- coming in May 2008 apparently. News reports have made much hay about their many "odd" beliefs, but we're not so sure....

The group won't read Russian newspapers (smart), won't send their children to government-run schools (who wants to read Putin's new textbook anyway), won't handle money (too many germs -- agreed), and believe the internal passport system is a sign of the devil. No shit?

Someone pass the Kool-Aid.

Nov 16, 2007

Featured Article

Our very own Brooke Leonard offers an fantastic look on the current state of US-Russian Relations in the most recent issue of The National Interest.

“…the damage done is not yet irreparable, as there is no major conflict between fundamental U.S. and Russian relations.”

Nov 15, 2007

'Laws can be changed'

At this point, it almost feels like slow motion dentistry. A new group called “For Putin” claims to have 30 million signatures begging the President to stay on as “national leader.”

National Führer? Sweet lord. We could have picked something less tacky. Meanwhile, the BBC just can’t seem to figure this one out, writing: “It is not clear how Mr Putin can stay on as national leader when another man is sitting in the Kremlin as Russia's next president.”

No word if the "30 million signatures" are listed in alphabetical order.

Kyrgyzstan Stops to Smell the Tulips

Kyrgyzstan is set to hit the polls in less than a month, now with a new and improved electoral law. Straight party lists are in, along with a nifty electoral threshold which will snuff out most of the small regional parties.

The good? It'll keep things "stable." The bad and the ugly are just as attractive. So our beloved Kyrgyz Republic stumbles forward.

Tulips anyone?

Nov 13, 2007

Putin's Successor Uncovered!

Jen sends along this confidential information from a trusted source. It's the identity of Putin’s successor… (Can you guess?)

Some Creative Thinking from Ingush Authorities...

Igor sends this gem.

RFE/RL reports: Acting on instructions from President Murat Zyazikov, Ingushetian Interior Minister Musa Medov has issued orders to two Ingushetian Internet providers to block access to the independent website, that website reported on November 13, citing unnamed sources within the ministry. Anyone who seeks to access from within Ingushetia is automatically routed to a site that features pornographic movies.

Eternal Remont is working on an Ingushetiya proxy.

State of Emergency

The Russian press is having a field day with Georgia. ‘See what happens when you have American democracy…’ Izvestia published results of an Internet poll showing:

-- 38% of Russians believe Saakashvili will prevail

-- 37% of Russians believe the opposition will win

-- The remainder are too busy fire-bombing Georgian restaurateurs or yanking Georgian children from classrooms to ponder such merciless trivialities

Meanwhile, Anne Applebaum writes in the WashPost: “That George Bush has made no comment about Georgia at all this week is a disgrace.”

But President Bush has already determined that the Russian’s don’t have the DNA for democracy (below), so we don’t really understand all of the fuss over Georgia.

Nov 12, 2007

What's state protocol between friends?

Turkish op-ed writers, despite the fact that they have plenty of "real" issues to rant about, have gotten their iç çamaşırı all twisted up over President Gul's violation of state protocol in his recent meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. On three occasions, Gul spat in the face of the knit-pickers on the Çankaya protocol staff. (One strange note - apparently the Saudi flag can never be flown at half-mast because it has the Muslim testimony of faith on it.)

Gul's response: "The man has 1.5 trillion dollars. I'll bark like a dog while doing the crab-walk to get a piece of that."

Nov 11, 2007

Saakashvili is Ambitious

NYTimes reports: "Anticipating demands from a senior American diplomat that he immediately lift a state of emergency, President Mikheil Saakashvili said Saturday that the emergency decree would remain in effect as long as the Georgian government deemed it necessary." That's, as long as Saakashvili deems it necessary.

Or as Mark Antony put it, "I thrice presented him a kingly crown, which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?" We kinda think it was Mark Antony.

Nov 8, 2007

"Shaping a Balance of Power"

Before he determined that the Russians don't have the DNA for democracy, President Bush had some pretty good ideas. In his 2001 Inaugural Address he stated, "America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom."

We figured this was a good time to measure just how well we’ve done in shaping that balance. If mediocrity is a measure of success, we've done a ban-up job. Freedom House's aggragate ratings 2001 & 2007:

Georgia Improved (cough, cough)
Kyrgyzstan Improved
Tajikistan Improved
Ukraine Improved

Armenia Declined
Azerbaijan Declined
Belarus Declined
Kazakhstan Declined
Russia Declined
Turkmenistan Decline
Uzbekistan Declined

Nov 7, 2007

Bush v Mountain Turks

Prior to meeting with Turkish PM Erdogan, Bush made the statement: "I look forward to visiting with Prime Minister Erdogan on this important subject as to how we can work together to prevent people from coming out of mountain ranges to do harm to Turkish troops." In his usual manner, Bush avoided any flairs of speech and described the situation as best he understood it. However, given the past attempts of the Turkish government to squelch Kurdish nationalism, most notably the "Mountain Turk" idea (in the early days of the Turkish Republic, there were no Kurds, just mountain Turks sometimes called Kurds because the noise made by their feet in the snowy passes of the mountain ranges made the sound "kart, kurt"), referencing mountains and Kurds (even of the terrorist variety) is like describing a NAACP fundraising event as a "fried-chicken and grape soda" soul dinner. Already, several Kurdish national groups are ranting about the "racist" policies that have come from the Bush-Erdogan meeting. However, if the Kurdish nationalists don't want to be described as a wild mountain people who attack and prey upon their more civilized neighbors, perhaps they should stop endorsing their co-nationals who do indeed live in the mountains and attack their more civilized neighbors...

Nov 5, 2007

Another Clear Example for the Necessity of Turkey's 301

Last week the Turkish government (albeit in local form) once again demonstrated why the infamous article 301 of its criminal code must remain in effect. Clearly there is a mortal danger posed to the security of the state when a small dog expresses its national pride. Thank Allah for the vigilance of Abdullah Kalkan, an administrator in Bodrum, who promptly arrested the owner of the insulting animal. The Turkish nation can sleep easier knowing that article 301 is protecting them.

Nov 2, 2007

Now It's Just Getting Wierd

So Plan Putin is now an official part of United Russia's platform. Only, nobody still seems to know what said plan might be...

Moscow Times reports: "There actually are at least three separate documents titled 'Putin's Plan.'

--The thickest is a book that includes Putin's seven annual state-of-the-nation addresses and three other speeches, including the sharply anti-U.S. presentation delivered at a Munich security conference in February.

--The second is a United Russia booklet that contains a collection of patriotic appeals about Russia's sovereignty, economic revival and military might.

--The third is the campaign program that United Russia passed at its convention on Oct. 1. Putin agreed at the convention to head the party's list of candidates for the State Duma elections Dec. 2.

Nov 1, 2007

United Russia Has Cold Balls

Since the Kremlin has already informed governors that it expects them to provide United Russia with no less than 70% of the vote, all of this ballot fixing is a little much. But then again, it has produced the Eternal Remont Quote Of The Year:

"I began touching them, and Volodin started to shout, 'Bakov is touching the balls!' Then other people tried to stop me." -- Anton Bakov from the Union of Right Forces (Thanks Chalmers!)

Meanwhile, Igor notes this recent survey by the Levada Center.

--55% want presidential term limits increased to 7 years

--53% want the constitution changed to let Putin stay for "three or four terms"

--BUT, only 17% want him to be "president for life," down (incredibly) from 35% in April

"I'm trying to straighten this out. If you increase the terms to 7 years, and give Putin two more of those (plus the three years that would be "left" in this term), the man will rule Russia for a total of 25 years. How is that not a "President for Life"?

Obviously, respondents weren't asked all those thing in combinations. But it still boggles the mind. P.S. The respondents also didn't like the "Putin as PM" ploy, only 23% in support, so I think Surkov and Co. missed on that one."

Oct 31, 2007

Xenophobic Moscow Schools Ban Halloween

Quick, think of 10 things that are "destructive destructive for the minds and spiritual moral" of Russian students.... did you pick Halloween? Neither did we.

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow schools have been ordered to ban students from celebrating the cult of the dead, better known as Halloween, despite the widespread popularity of the imported festival to Russia. "This is destructive for the minds and the spiritual and moral health of pupils," said Gavrilov, saying the ban had been recommended by psychiatrists.

Plan Putin Gets a Theme Song

Well it had to happen, someone has gone and made a song about our beloved "Plan Putin." (Thanks Amy!)


"План" Путина - это не блеф, не подставаО нем поют песни и слагают былиныЗатянись… передавай направо"План" путина родом из Чуйской долины.

Listen to it here...

Oct 30, 2007

A friend in need . . . . is a friend indeed?

A surprising oped piece was published recently in Turkish Daily News, one of the leading English-language news sources on Turkey. It was written by the acting president of TUSAM, a new addition to the Turkish think-tank scene, which serves as a policy recommendation center on issues of Turkish national security. The author of this article either displays a Russian-esque genius (in his ability to completely ignore facts and still claim to present "the truth") or a complete ignorance of Central Asian politics. Although a tragic combination of these qualities is also quite likely.

Apparently, "the state in every circumstance is leading the way in economic and social reform. Today, the state is regulating legal reforms to stay in step with the rules of global competition in the transition period." Oh, where to begin criticizing this nonsense? If by "rules of global competition" they mean state-sanctioned torture and terror, then yes, by it is indeed "staying in step."

But the best part is the author's "analysis" of the Andijan incident. Apparently, the protesters were not largely peaceful businessmen and their patronage clients, as nearly every major news source has reported, but rather "It is well known that the arrested protestors declared themselves members of Hizb-ut- Tahrir were supported [sic] by Western-based NGOs." Wow. That would be amazing. If it were true, that is. Western NGOs, who are barely able to function in the highly authoritarian state of Uzbekistan, most certainly are not supporting members of an organization on the State Dept's list of terrorist organizations! Either the editors over at Turkish Daily News are on leave and their less-than-competent aides are filtering the oped pieces, or else the Turkish perception of their Central Asian brethren is seen through a stout pair of beer goggles.

Kremlin Shows OSCE the Door

The Kremlin wants to be done with the meddling OSCE and its colonial dictates about "fair" elections, and "freedom," or whatever.

After OSCE reported that Russia 'failed to meet many... commitments for democratic elections' in 2003, Central Election Commission Chief Vladimir Churov has now slashed the number of election monitors for the 2007 pro forma exercise in managed democracy.

Churov also wants to prevent the OSCE from issuing a preliminary report after elections and prevent journalists from learning about the organization’s findings.

Nashi patrols have promised "calm and order" for the election. That should be enough for the OSCE.

Oct 26, 2007

Kids Propaganada Looks Great

Chalmers: What the hell? Now they're jabbing at us in cartoons? "Elka, which opened Thursday, is one of very few Russian full-length cartoons that have enjoyed a wide release in cinemas...Elka is a polar bear with a red-and-white hat who lives in the Arctic; A pig-tailed purple penguin, tells him that a giant robot, Maxi Mouse, has hypnotized her parents with a brown fizzy drink, and all the ice from the Antarctic has been stolen to feed the robot." We also learn that the little brown seal is good with computers and can make weapons better than Maxi Mouse too. Oh sweet Lord. (From the Moscow Times)

Oct 25, 2007

Release the Hounds!

This morning, the WashPost reported that, "President Vladimir has signed a decree appointing a nationalist politician, Dmitry Rogozin, as Russia's permanent representative to NATO, a source close to the situation said. Rogozin is the flamboyant former head of Russia's Motherland party."

Setting a beast like Rogozin loose in Brussles is Putin's idea of payback. But this isn't the first time Rogozin has played his part.

IHT August 2007: "In large part, the Russian government's reluctance to make combating racism and racial violence a serious priority is due to the cynical way in which the country's leadership has used nationalism as a political weapon. The Russian government has long patronized extremist political parties, including Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats and more recently the Rodina (Motherland) party formed before the 2003 parliamentary elections by Dmitry Rogozin, which many observers suspect was created and financed by the Kremlin itself as a way of drawing off votes from the Communists."

Oct 24, 2007


This guy gives a whole new definition to sick & creepy. Rot in hell, bud.

Oct 23, 2007

"Losing Russia"

We spend a lot of time on the follies of Russian commentators. Thankfully, the newest issue of Foreign Affairs has delivered up Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes and his condescending-yet-ridiculous essay on "Losing Russia."

To wit:
1) "In the late 1980's, it was far from inevitable that the Soviet Union or even the Eastern bloc would collapse." Are we back to this? Soviet planners had completely unplugged from reality by the mid 1980s. The Soviet economy was removing value from raw materials. The system was not so much on the verge of collapse, it was in free fall. Simes' assertion defies reality and explanation.

2) "It was Gorbachev, not Reagan who ended the Soviet Emprire." Yes, yes, this again. This statement is correct in form, but incorrect in fact. Gorbachev ended the Empire thru his failure to act (retreating in the face of political/institutional opposition on reform...could anyone have done it?) and his failure to properly address the nationalist centrifuge. Simes betrays his level of understanding of the period.

3) "Yeltsin's radical reformers often welcomed IMF and US pressure as justified for the harsh and hugely unpopular monetary policies they had advocated on their own." Utter nonsense. Yeltsin's reformers were far from radical. They followed the radical reform path for six months. After which, Yeltsin fostered a perfect storm of economic chaos, rapid privatization and continued Soviet subsidies. This created the endemic culture of rents which haunts Russia even today. They wholly ignored the IMF when pressured to stop. How is this welcoming IMF pressure?

4) The thesis (America's "neocolonial approach" is at fault) is unfounded and dangerously incendiary. Yeltisn's failure to properly implement reform perpetuated rents, rather than end them. In the end the West paid market prices for oil, minerals, and timber when the goods were sold to the highest bidder on the global exchange.

Yeltsin lost Russia and the Russians looted themselves into poverty.

Yet, it must be nice to be the President of the Nixon Center.

Oct 22, 2007

Lukashenka Upgraded from Crazy Bastard to Crazy Anti-Semite

What a crazy monster!

RFE/RL: Lukashenka is known for his often unpredictable, and sometimes bizarre, outbursts. But perhaps until now, he hasn't been known internationally as an anti-Semite. Talking to a group of Russian journalists on Oct 12 about the past living conditions of the southeastern town of Babruysk, Lukashenka said, "It was scary to enter, it was a pigsty. That was mainly a Jewish town -- and you know how Jews treat the place where they are living...Look at Israel, I've been [there]. I really don't want to offend anyone -- but they don't care much about, say, grass being cut, like in Moscow," Lukashenka said. Lukashenka also called on Jews "with money" to return to Babruysk, once a thriving Jewish center.

Oct 20, 2007

The Forgotten Chernobyl

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Russia's first large scale nuclear disaster. Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years.

"Within hours of the distant blast, villagers handling irradiated hay began to fall sick. Even before police arrived wearing futuristic white suits, locals knew something was terribly, Biblically wrong."

Oct 19, 2007

/Sigh, Bulgaria....

Bulgaria's bizarre challenge to the EU over the spelling of the euro just got more, well, bizarre. The Bulgarian government is blocking Montenegro's EU Stabalization and Association Agreement because Brussles won't let Bulgaria spell euro with a "V." You show em, Bulgaria! (AFP)

Bush: Russia Doesn't Have the DNA for Democracy

It is a sad day, when one must, at last, come to grips with the fact that President Bush is a dangerous least on the issue of Russian democracy. Kudos to the WashPost editorial board:

"IT WAS DAMAGING enough when President Bush misread Russian President Vladimir Putin early in his administration and then for years refused to acknowledge Russia's downward spiral toward authoritarianism. Now, rather than admit error, Mr. Bush apparently has decided to blame the Russian people -- and in so doing he is undermining a central tenet of his presidency...

"But at a White House news conference Wednesday, Mr. Bush questioned "whether or not it's possible to reprogram the kind of basic Russian DNA, which is a centralized authority." In so doing, he echoed the laziest thinking of cultural determinists -- those who said that South Korea could never be democratic because of its Confucian culture, and were proved wrong; who said that Indonesia could never be democratic because of its Muslim faith, and were proved wrong; and who say today that Russia will never escape its czar-serf history."

Oct 18, 2007

Colbert Knocks Kasparov's Block Off


"Allo, Mr. President? My name is Ruslan...."

Ah, Fall is in the air. The leaves are turning, the rains have made vast parts of Russia into an ocean of mud, and President Putin sips his tea in front of millions. Fall means its time, once again for the Russian President's highly-scripted, over-produced, yet somehow endearing call in show.

The highlights:

--"Investing in people" is the new hot phrase. Get it? We're investing -- but in people.

--The national priority projects on health and housing have not been an abject failure, but a great success. Just because health statistics, roads, housing, and hospital infrustructure continue to decline we're going to spend $10 billion more on a three year plan for the entire country. (This is same amount that Russia will spend just on the Sochi olympics, in case you were keeping score.)

--Putin will need a "powerful parliament" to keep policies unchanged when he leaves the Kremlin. But this really isn't news.

--And will the US try and take Russia's oil, like they did in Iraq? "Thank God Russia is not Iraq," said Putin. "We [will] increase our defense capability."

Gadgets in Eurasia update

Ukraine beats Russia to launch the BlackBerry, as Russian security services need to monitor all communications services.

From Telegeography Update:
MTS Ukraine serves up first home grown BlackBerry
MTS Ukraine (formerly UMC) has launched BlackBerry mobile secure e-mail devices for its corporate customers, in partnership with Canadian developer Research in Motion (RIM) and Alcatel-Lucent. Service activation for up to 20 users costs around USD8,300 with monthly fees of USD60 per user. Ukrainian businesses already use BlackBerry devices, but only in roaming mode via subscriptions to foreign mobile operators. Russian parent company MTS planned to launch the BlackBerry in Russia in 2005, but the service is still not available there because it failed to reach an agreement with RIM on security issues. According to Russian legislation, state agencies must be able to monitor all communication services.

And proof that iPhone fans are as whiny in Russia as in the US…even if they are using illegally obtained iphones…

Oct 17, 2007

Joseph Stalin: Russia's Answer to Shakespeare?

Russia Today: "Some believe he could have been Russia's answer to Shakespeare....Joseph Stalin."

It's getting harder and harder for the "newscasters" at Russia Today to read the teleprompter with a straight face.

Oct 16, 2007

Cult of Personality

24 Hours of Putin, In Pictures

Good night, Germany.

Good morning Iran.

-- Guys, this way please.

...No seriously, this way. Come on.

"All other nations are run by little girls."

Screw it....

Yushchenko: No More "Bewitched" Crises

IHT: The two pro-Western political parties in Ukraine that united in triumph in the Orange Revolution of 2004, but then quarreled and lost control of Parliament, reached a coalition agreement on Monday to retake power.

"This will give the country an opportunity to get out of the bewitched circle of crises and conflicts in the power structures, and open a path for progress," Viktor Yushchenko said.

This is why Ukrainian elections rock. "Bewitched?" Now if only we could find that meddling genie.

Oct 15, 2007

Hacking and Illegal Downloads Are Not an IT Skill?

Jen: Eastern Europeans not adept at computers? Obviously the survey did not include hackers and piraters.

Oct 15th 2007
The Economist

THE distribution of computing skills across Europe shows a clear pattern according to a recent report from the European Union. The inhabitants of southern and eastern Europe are the least adept at using computers and the internet. Computer whizzes are more likely to be found in a edge running from Germany up to the Nordic countries. Bulgarians seem a little baffled by the online revolution. But IT skills correlate closely with long-standing access to computers, broadband penetration and the like. As these improve, countries that now lag may encourage a new wave of nerds to emerge. The index was compiled looking both at users' abilities and at their use of theinternet to interact with government and business.

Just Like the Movies, Only Better

Chalmers tipped us to this little gem.

(The Moscow Times) "When legendary Soviet actor Vladimir Etush heard thieves had paid a visit to his home for the second time in two months, he likely feared the worst. Instead, when he got home, he found an apology note and that half of the jewelry that was stolen on the first visit had been returned."We will return the rest later," the note concluded. Etush was robbed at the end of July.

Ironically, one of Entush's most popular roles was as adentist whose apartment is robbed in a 1970s Soviet film. When the thieves returned last week to slip a cellophane bag with half of the stolen items under Etush's front door, the actor was at the Amur Autumn film festival in the Far East city of Blagoveshchensk with his wife, Yelena.

"Excuse us, we had to do it," the note began. "We are returning some. We will return the rest later."

"I don't believe that there will be a time when Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians stop drinking."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

President Lukashenka also told Russian journalists that he is skeptical about any official efforts to curb the hard-drinking culture deeply rooted in Belarus, Belapan reported. "I don't believe that there will be a time when Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians stop drinking. This is our national tradition," the Belarusian president asserted. "We say that it's better to drink low-alcohol beverages, but we will drink anyway. It's inevitable," he added. Lukashenka revealed that he is not an alcohol lover. "I don't like beer at all. It has a bitter, nasty taste for me," he said. But Lukashenka also confessed that he has to drink in his role as president. "I'm not saying that I don't drink; how can a president not drink? Just imagine that there are presidents sitting around a table -- they are not just drinking, but drinking well, especially those from ex-Soviet countries." Lukashenka recalled his drinking sessions with former Russian President Yeltsin, recalling that it took him days to recover afterward.

You can add Poles to the list too, considering former President Kwasniewski's performance in Kyiv earlier this fall.

An Assassination Plot?

In case you missed it, Russian Security Services are claiming that Putin faces an assassination plot during his upcoming Iran visit.

Did the Kremlin leak the story? Is it a real story at all? Nobody knows. But we're anticipating all of the priceless pictures and razor sharp insights into our beloved mono-polar world expected at the meeting. [Picture from a previous visit, just to get you in the mood.]

It's So Hard To Say Goodbye

During a visit to Germany, Putin told a civic forum, "Russia will soon hold parliamentary and presidential elections and in Russia there will be a different configuration of power and new people." Meanwhile, no word yet on what exactly "a different configuration of power" will mean, but we can guess. Anyone care for a copy of the Russian Constitution? It'll be a collector's item soon. Mint condition. Never been used.

"Genocide" Gets a Vote

"When asked about criticism that it could harm relations with Turkey -- a key ally in the war in Iraq and a fellow member of NATO -- Pelosi said, 'There's never been a good time," adding that it is important to pass the resolution now "because many of the survivors are very old.'"

Meanwhile, the Administration appears to be pleading with Ankara not to plow across the border into Iraqi Kurdistan . Reuters reports that “Kurdish rebels shot dead 13 Turkish soldiers last Sunday, the worst such incident in years and likely to put more pressure on the government to authorize a cross-border military strike against Kurdish bases in Iraq.” This story has all the fun and potential of a Ziguli stuffed with anxious cobras.

Not a good time indeed.

Oct 10, 2007

Better Dead than Google

It's just not as catchy...lighten up, bloggers.

Foreign Policy: For the past several years, visitors to Google search page have smiled at the scribbles of Dennis Hwang, the graphic designer who makes the creative sketches that are incorporated into the Google logo on special occasions. For the most part, Hwang's doodles have been viewed as a public expression of Google whimsy, a way to have a little fun and inject some levity into what would otherwise be a dull, minimalist home page. But last week, this seemingly harmless logo offended some people. The doodle was intended to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. But some conservative bloggers are angry that Google honored an achievement of the United States' totalitarian archenemy during the Cold War.

Oct 9, 2007

I thought it would be more than a quarter...;)

The Sofia Weekly: A quarter of the Sofia citizens suffer from some kind of mental disease, a research of the Sofia City Hall showed. The mental diseases of the Sofia citizens lead to decrease and even loss of the ability to work, state the results of the research, which is part of the municipal strategy for mental health. Some 6,000 citizens of the capital city suffer from schizophrenia and another 25,000 individuals have learning disabilities.

Oct 5, 2007

Here's the Problem with Turkey's Gas Deal & US Sanctions

Turkey's gas deal with Iran presents some very uncomfortable questions for the current, and any future US administration.

The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act 0f 1996, and Bill Clinton's follow-on Executive Order 13059 (Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to Iran), are very clear. It is illegal for:

"d) any transaction or dealing by a United States person, wherever located, including purchasing, selling, transporting, swapping, brokering, approving, financing, facilitating, or guaranteeing, in or related to...(i) goods or services of Iranian origin or owned or controlled by the Government of Iran."

Soooo....if Turkey ships Iranian gas to OMV's distribution network in Central-East Europe, then every US embassy and every US company, and every US citizen, "subsidiary, or successor" in any Central-East European country, will be in violation of US law for flipping on a light switch, plugging in an ipod, or heating their buildings, because this act requires that they pay their gas or electric bill. By doing so, they are "financing, facilitating...goods of Iranian origin," since Iranian gas generates the electricity they're using.

The language of current US law is so sweeping that, any US company, subsidiary, successor, or individual, anywhere in the world, could technically be forbidden from doing any business. One reading of the law could already apply to US companies like Ford, GE, and Cisco Systems, which are in Turkey, and therefore, using Turkish electricity, which is using Iranian gas.

If a US company, subsidiary, or individual, anywhere in the world, buys electricity made from Iranian gas, or even co-mingled with Iranian gas, then that person or group is effectively "financing and facilitating" Iranian gas exports. And that poor US tourist who rented a car and filled up his tank at an OMV gas station, they too are "aiding terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" by purchasing energy which was co-mingled with energy exports from Iran. And they don't even know it.

If that same tourist did know, then it would make for one wild time at US customs on the return home.
--"What was the purpose of your trip?"
--"Oh, we took a leisure drive through Southeast Europe to aid terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

Now, none of this can possibly be enforced. And that presents all sorts of problems for any current or future US administration that pretends to be "tough on Iran" but then lets everyone openly violate the sanctions regime.

If we really meant what we said about Iran, we'd enforce our laws to the letter, and do more to destroy the global economy than any Iranian nuke ever could.

It's That Time Again...

...Time for another CIS Summit. A time for lots of pretty photos of happy presidents looking happy together -- but not much else.

Putin did get the chance to push for a Russian-owned gas pipeline with Berdymukhammedov. El Pico Presedente Berdymukhammedov likes the attention, and seems to understand that he holds the chips. "For Russia, this is a question of principle. If the European Union and the United States manage to break up Gazprom's monopoly on the Eurasian territory, then everything changes," said Berdymukhammedov.

Oct 4, 2007

Land Reform Gets Personal in Lithuania

Some Lithuanian farmers are bringing out the pitchforks to protest the World Plowing Organization's, well, plowing contest.

Jen: I completely fell out of my chair on this one. The contest looks like a great place for Borat to find a new wife...the funniest part is how the article tries to cover a serious topic (land restitution and property rights) but the contest is so...damn...funny! And 50.000 people is like 2% of the population!


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, and the 1st anniversary of the launch of Eternal Remont.

Happy Birthday. Now blow out your candle.

Oct 3, 2007

A New Arms Race, in Space?

Russia's Space Forces Commander Colonel-General Vladimir Popovkin vowed not to let any other country gain an advantage in the space weapons arms race. 'There's an arms race in space?' you ask. Well, not yet. But Popovkin wants you to know he's ready. "We need to have strong rules about space, to avoid its militarization and if any country will place a weapon in space, then our response will be the same," he said.

Ignoring for a moment the wildly obtuse contradiction in that statement, Eternal Remont suggests that we just skip to the end and get Russia to build its doomsday machine already...

Just remember Ambassador Sadesky: "There are those of us who fought against it, but in the end we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we'd been spending on defense in a single year." Now that's the kind of forward thinking Moscow needs at Space Command.

Another Russia-Ukraine Gas Dispute, with a Twist

Gazprom decided this was the perfect time to squeeze Ukraine for back payments on their gas bill. If not, Gazprom cuts the gas. Lucky for Ukraine's sleep-deprived reporters, all they have to do is 1) copy 2) paste all their old articles from the last dispute with Gazprom and get back to the election coverage.

However, one side-note is telling. Reuters reports, "Amid concerns about a possible re-run of a gas cut-off last year that caused knock-on disruption in EU countries, Gazprom's chairman, Dmitry Medvedev, said there was no need for concern. 'European consumers won't suffer,' he told Russian news agencies. 'For European consumers the situation will be absolutely comfortable.'

Hold the phone. Along with solving Europe's energy needs, it would seem that Gazprom has also untied the Gordian knot of the "What is Europe" question. If Ukraine isn't Europe, that must mean Russia isn't in Europe either, right Dmitry?

Oct 2, 2007

The Fascination with Ghandi Explained...

Oct 1, 2007

Prime Minister Putin?

Along with "Plan Putin" (below) the whole "Putin becomes PM and strips the Presidency of power" scenerio just got a boost.

"I gratefully accept your proposal to head the United Russia list," Putin said at a congress of the party, which is expected to maintain its dominance of parliament in the Dec. 2 election.
Putin called a proposal that he become prime minister "entirely realistic" but added that it was still "too early to think about it." Reports IHT.

Trend Watch: "The Victory of Justice"

Amy tipped us to these signs which are now ubiquitous in Moscow. Don't bother asking exactly what said "plan" might entail, as the list of bullet points is a bit light on details and heavy on Kremlin-speak. (Other signs read "Plan Putin -- The Victory of Russia.)

Also, the jury is still out on what exactly the whole thing means. Is it a vehicle for presidential succession? Is it a vehicle to stay in the spotlight? Its anyone's guess. Either way, the kids at United Russia (the reported backers) don't get any points for their choice in color palette. As long as we're bringing back the good ol' days, why not bring back the propaganda aesthetic. The yellow hurts my eyes.

Ukraine Votes

The magic braids of democacy give her an edge.

RFE/RL: "Tymoshenko's bloc so far holds 33.5 percent of the vote with just over half the votes counted. Yanukovych's pro-Russia party is close behind with 30.5 percent, while the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense party of President Viktor Yushchenko is trailing in third with just 15.7 percent."

Always quoteworthy, Yanukovych opined, "We are the winners of these elections."