Jan 30, 2007

Let's Talk About Public Relations

Public Relations Rule #1: When planning to quietly kill a political enemy, don't print up targets with his face on them and use it for a special forces gunnery competition. Who on earth thought this was a good idea.

Read it here.

And So It Begins (Part II)

Amid can of Putin worms, which our dear friend Igor has opened, we offer only this bit from Julius Caesar. It seems the script has already been written.

Act 3. Scene II
"He hath brought many captives home to Rome whose ransoms did the general coffers fill: Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

"You all did see that on the Lupercal I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse: Was this ambition?"

When a Deputy from the Justice Ministry thrice presented him a kingly crown, which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

And So It Begins (Igor)

Ladies and gents, esteemed Kremlinogists, consider Russia's 2008 "presidential campaign" hereby open. Here are the candidates... Well, THE CANDIDATE: (cue drum roll), it's Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin!

Deputy head of the Justice Ministry Vladimir Kolesnikov explained yesterday: "The constitution of the "transitional period" has fulfilled its historic duty, now it's time to adopt a new constitution". Mr. Kolesnikov further wondered: "Is it normal to have only four-year terms for the president of a country as large as ours? That's not even enough time to go around the whole country".

Well, having thus eloquently explained the (rather obvious) link between timezones and democratic procedures, Mr. Kolesniknov has me convinced...NOT :)

Read it all here: http://vz.ru/news/2007/1/29/66334.html

On the other hand, Mr. Kolesnikov does not take into account the genius solution already proposed by a body infinitely more competent in judicial and political affairs then he'll ever be: The Onion newspaper. That's right, in 1998, the Onion already solved Russia's "succession paradigm" in a brilliant article titled "Control of Russia Given to Random Flock of Geese". http://www.theonion.com/content/node/38944

So, why re-invent the wheel, Mr. Kolesnikov? Why not geese?

(Igor, my friend, you sir are brilliant. I would offer that the idea is being floated by a Deputy from the Justice Ministry, for sole purpose of gauging reaction. See Part II above.) PBD
Russia's Tunnel of Love

The tunnel in question runs under a river. It leaks something aweful . Guess what happens when all that water freezes…

Why We Fought The Cold War...(Chalmers)

Renowned lace makers in the Polish village of Koniakow have found a new way of boosting sales - sexy underwear. God bless you Poland. (SFW, it's the BBC)

I'll show some solidarity for this! JCE

Aleksy II Throws Down Over Gay Darwinians

Fundamentalist Christianity...it's not just for the American South anymore (Ern).

From RFE/RL:
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy II said on January 29 that it is unacceptable for schools to "impose" the theory of evolution on pupils, RIA Novosti reported. He argued that "teaching the biblical theory of the world's creation will not harm students. Also, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, was quoted by Interfax as saying that the church supports the position of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov in opposing a Gay Pride parade in the capital in May, just as the mayor and church did in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 29, 2007).

He also suggested that the concept of gay rights is a "perversion opposing the family" and foreign to Russian culture.

Jan 29, 2007

India to "Bhai" Russian Reactors (Thanks Igor)

Igor writes: Gotta love the title (word play on "bhai bhai" - friendship in Hindi), but after that massive nuclear deal India and Russia inked yesterday, the Indians are excited.

"It's only to be expected that two of the world's fastest-growing nations, India and Russia, should cosy up," opined the Times of India.

(Eternal Remont hates to be a stickler for the facts here, but when did Russia become one of the "worlds fastest-growing nations?" That's like saying, Kevin Federline is one of the world's fastest growing pop stars.)

Meanwhile, Russia cares little for the facts, as it counts all the money it's making from this “friendship.”

"India is the second-biggest buyer of Russian weapons after China. Up to 80 percent of weapons and hardware now in use by New Delhi has been supplied by Moscow, say experts."

Karimov, President for Life?

Ever look at the calander and just know you were supposed to do something that day, but for the life of you, couldn't remember what it was? Karimov does....

"January 22 should have been a big day in Uzbekistan. It's the day that President Islam Karimov's term expired. But instead it passed virtually unnoticed..." Eurasia Net.

Whoops. Looks like someone forgot to hold an election. Not that an election would have mattered much. The picture above is the last time anyone can remember voting in Uzbekistan.

Turkmenbashy lives? (Thanks Ern)

The papers were wrong. Turkmenbashy is not dead...that is not yet. Go to this Web site and have the honor of killing one of the craziest Central Asian leaders to walk the planet. Be careful. He's quick and uses his gold statue as a shield.

Try it here

(Warning, do not attempt this while you are durnk.)

A Nokia in Every Pot

(Ern: This just seems weird to me...)

"Acting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov pledged on January 25 to provide every family in Turkmenistan with a "mobile phone and access to the Internet," according to ITAR-TASS. Berdymukhammedov, a candidate in the presidential election set for February 11, added that "the installation of telephones in every part of Turkmenistan will be completed by 2015" and said the country will have its first electric train in the coming year, in line with a plan by lateTurkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

"Berdymukhammedov, who worked as a dentist before becoming a deputy prime minister and health minister, was appointed interim president on December 21 and has emerged as the front-runner in the race to succeed Niyazov (RFE/RL, December 22, 2006)."

'Borat' puts Kazakhstan on holiday map

(Thanks Nurzhan!)

Friday, January 26 2007, 01:03 GMT
By Dave West

Kazakhstan is now a top holiday destination thanks to Borat, a poll has shown.Sacha Baron-Cohen's mocking in Borat: Cultural Learnings Of American For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan gave the nation global attention. It has now shot to third place in a list of the European countries that tourists and gap-year students would most like to visit, based on a poll of 2,800 people by http://www.travellersconnected.com/.Alastair Banks, from the website, explained: "It's really quite fantastic what Borat has done to raise the public profile of Kazakhstan.

"For it to get more votes than Spain demonstrates the sheer power of the media. When we compiled the same survey last year, Kazakhstan barely got any votes at all." Top 10 destinations:
1. Italy
2. UK
3. Kazakhstan
4. Spain
5. France
6. Greece
7. Turkey
8. Austria
9. Germany
10. Holland

Jan 24, 2007

Igor and John Elliott in the National Interest

"The double think on Iran and its proxies reflects a wider struggle in elucidating Russia’s Middle East policy—how does a nation balance vulnerability to Islamic extremism in its predominantly Muslim backyard with the continued support for a regime that can potentially—and fatally—endanger global security?"

Read the full article here.

(Excellent job, gents!!)

Poll: Twelve Percent of Russians Are Delusional

From RFE/RL:
A new poll released by the respected All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) indicates that most Russian citizens do not think much of President Putin's assertive foreign policy and do not believe that energy-sector leadership will revive Russia's might. It also implies that an alarming number have lost their connection to reality.

-- 47 percent are content to see Russia in the top 10-15 of the world’s advanced countries
-- 34 percent want Russia to become a world power
-- 12 percent maintain that Russia is still a world power
-- 55 percent say that Russia needs an advanced and modern economy to be a world power
-- 4 percent say Putin’s plan to make Russia an world power in energy is the right path

12 percent!?!?! Were these people just un-frozen in a block of ice? As Ern says, "...that 12%. That's a new level of crazy." Eternal Remont had to double check this one with the Mental Health Dictionary, but confirms:

--"Delusions: bizarre thoughts that have no basis in reality."
--"Delusions of grandeur: fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence, sometimes symptomatic of manic or paranoid disorders."

Yup, that sounds about right.

Jan 23, 2007

Death in Istanbul

Our very own Mehmet Kalyoncu has authored an excellent article on the assassination of Hrant Dink...Another Deadly Incident Destined to Remain Unsolved?

Jan 22, 2007

Protest in Support of Andrei Zatoka

Ern sends along this very important note regarding Andrei Zatoka.

He was arrested on superfulous charges of petty hooliganism a day or two before Bashi's death and has been detained on falsified charges ever since.

There will be a protest this Wed. (Thanks, Erin)


Wednesday, Janurary 24th from 6:00pm to 7:30pm in front of the Turkmenistan Embassy the address for the embassy is: 2207 Massachusetts Ave., NWWashington, DC 20008 .

"Corporal Mutilations" Coming to Kyrgyzstan...Maybe

As 24.kg reports, "Lawmaker Murat Juraev proposed to the Kyrgyz parliament on January 18that civil servants be subject to "corporal mutilations" if found guilty of corruption.

Juraev added that harsh measures are justified by Islamic practice and argued that such punishment should be proportional to the crime; he said that if a civil servant stole 100,000 soms ($2,500), "one finger would be chopped off," while the theft of 1 million soms would lead to "a hand...chopped off." (ERN)

(If a hand runs you poultry $25,000, Eternal Remont shudders to imagine what more -- um-- large scale corruption will fetch.)

More Fears Over 'Orange Revolutions' (Thanks Ern)

As lenta.ru reports, "Several deputies, most of whom belong to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, submitted a bill to the State Duma on January 18 to ban public marches or gatherings for the two weeks preceding and following elections, "The Moscow Times" reported on January 22.

"The bill is apparently the latest attempt to make sure that Russia will not follow in the path of Georgia and Ukraine, which saw regime changes brought on by massive protests over fraudulent elections." The paper added that the bill will enable the authorities to "ban a rally or march if they have 'sufficient and preliminarily confirmed' information about planned illegal actions that might take place during the event....The authorities must first seek court confirmation that any violations of the law are being planned."

(In solidarity with Russia's dwindiling space for public freedom, Eternal Remont hereby invites all friends and nemises to a "planned illegal actions" party this weekend. Bail money required at the door. PBD)

Could This Be an Armend Sighting?

A Macedonian thief, arrested in Switzerland, tried to pass himself off as Bulgarian, but failed misserably. (Eternal Remont has seen this before.)

The man claimed he was a Bulgarian national and presented to the police a forged identity card, which police saw through immediatly. It seems the unmasked Macedonian was residing illegally in the country. Authorities siezed a treasure of loot and booty. (Reported in "The Sofia Weekly")

...the Macedonian they speak of is in fact Armend "Da Home" Reka. (Ern)

It's Official...

…Ern is moving to Bulgaria.

From "The Sofia Weekly": Bulgarians Drink Top Quality, Low Price Beer

The quality of beer produced in Bulgaria meets the highest European standards, while being traded at double lower prices than in the EU, local brewers said. The country's Union of Brewers announced Wednesday the 2006 beer output reached 5.220 million hectolitres. The warm weather in the autumn and winter months has added to the sustainable growth in consumption figures, the brewers said, ranking Bulgarians next to Italians, Frenchmen, Swedes and Norwegians in beer booze. Meanwhile, the price of beer in the newest EU member keeps at double cheaper rates than in the rest of the union due to the local economic affordability.The EU accession of Bulgaria, when customs barriers were scrapped, did not influence the local beer market because only 1% of beer consumed in Bulgaria in 2006 was imported, Vladimir Ivanov from the Brewers' Union told Darik News.

(I’ll join you Ern. You reminded me of that sweet, sweet, Bulgarian beer. Nice and hoppsy and best when consumed along with juvenile macrel which you caught yourself from the Black Sea -- served with these feta-stuffed green pepers cooked in sun-flower seed oil. Ok, now I miss Bulgaria, even if the country tried to kill me. PBD)

Jan 19, 2007

"В Огайо решили стереть любое упоминание о South Park"

No joke, that was the headline on Lenta.ru. (Thanks Ern!)

It seems the city fathers in Columbus Ohio weren't too keen on the association between their own South Park, and the Comedy Central varriety.

This is news in Russia, folks.

Read it here.

Eternal Remont exclusive (Igor & Chalmers)

The CERES dynamic duo strikes at the heart of Russian duplicitous policy in the Middle East.

Where does Moscow stand in the fight against Islamism and the global war against terror? Facing the Chechen threat at home, the Russian government might be sympathetic to U.S. and even Israeli concerns. Not so.

Despite U.S. declarations that Washington and Moscow were "increasingly united by common values" and that Russia was "a partner in the war on terror,"[1] examination of Russian president Vladimir Putin's policy toward the Middle East suggests that Moscow has become an impediment both to the fight against Islamist terror and Washington's desire to promote democracy in the Middle East.

The 2006 U.S. National Security Strategy reinforces that U.S. policymakers should not only "encourage Russia to respect the values of freedom and democracy at home" but also cease "imped[ing] the cause of freedom and democracy" in regions vital to the war on terror.[2] While Russian officials denounce U.S. criticism, the Kremlin's coddling of Iranian hard-liners, its reaction to the "cartoon jihad," its invitation to Hamas to Moscow, and its flawed Chechen policy all cast doubt on Moscow's motivations.

Read it all here: http://www.meforum.org/article/1632

Maugli-Girl is Found!

It's as fun as the Jungle Book... (JCE)

A girl dissapeared in the jungles of Cambodia as a child, has been found nineteen years later living hakuna matata. She was discovered, when a local viliager "decided to check the vicinity and noticed a naked woman leaving jungle after trying to steal his rice."

(Posted on the BBC Russian Service, so it counts.)

I Am Speechless


From RFE/RL: Belarusian Prosecutor-General Pyotr Miklashevich said that mass hunger strikes staged in 2006 were evidence of the protestors' low "legal awareness," Belapan reported on January 18. Miklashevich said that Belarus has a judicial and law-enforcement system that ensures "the accurate and rigorous enforcement of laws, edicts, decrees, and other law-enforcement regulations by all government officials and people." Miklashevich also said that public awareness should be raised on how to solve problems. "It [a hungerstrike] brings nothing but health problems," he added.


Jan 18, 2007

"The Curious Death of Turkmenbashi"

Jamestown has published a facinating examination of The Turkmenbashi (a.k.a. Blonde and Fablous) and the still-unanswered questions surrounding his death.

"With rumors of foul play rife, millions of dollars missing in natural gas contracts and the geopolitics of Caspian energy at stake, there are a number of unanswered questions surrounding Niyazov's death that deserve closer analytical scrutiny in the West."

Read it here.

At Eternal Remont, we've come to miss the Turkmenbashi, if only because his name was easier to say than Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

Bringing Home the Bacon...Redux

If Southwest Airlines can offer a Kosher meal, why can't a Serbian kindergarten? (Ern)

Fromn RFE/RL:

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia has criticized the policy of serving pork at a kindergarten that includes Muslim children, B92 and UPI reported on January 15.

Parents of Muslim children attending the Nova Varos kindergarten have protestedthe practice, but the school's principal said religious customs couldnot be observed at such an institution. In a statement, the committee called the practice "yet another example of discriminatory behaviorin Serbia, whose citizens are well aware that Muslim religious code prohibits the use of pork." The committee also called on all institutions to show "respect [for] cultural and religious identity," as opposed to "the...discrimination displayed so far." Muslims account for approximately 8.5 percent of Nova Varos's population. BW

(Eternal Remont is taking the long view on this one...we've come a long way, from mass graves and ethnic cleansing, to quibbles over pork at a kindergarten. A little perspective never hurt anyone.)

Anybody up for seeing Nomad latter this month?

Nomad vs. Borat: Showdown in Theaters Near You Jan. 26

Nomad, an epic movie about the struggle of Kazakhs for their survivalas a nation opens in theaters in the United States on January 26. Nomad, Kazakhstan's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film forthe 79th Academy Awards is set in 18th Century Kazakhstan, a vast, pitiless region of austere and terrible beauty. It tells the story of a boy who is destined to one day unite the three warring tribes of the country who have survived and fought for centuries, against invaders, against their formidable enemies and amongst themselves. The plot is loosely based on the life story of the legendary ruler of the Kazakhs, Abylai Khan, who is believed to the founder of Kazakh statehood.

The idea for such a major movie is said to come from Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Said Director Sergei Bodrov, "The viewers will have another chance to learn about the history andculture of Kazakhstan and, to be honest, they will find it a lot different than in Borat."

Long live the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

(Thanks Chalmers!)

Breast Boosting Drink Drives Foreigners to Bulgaria

European men are flocking to Bulgaria to buy "breast-boosting" beverage after EU accession led to customs duties on the drink being abolished.

The drink called Boza, made from fermented wheat flour and yeast, is being snapped up by bar owners, shopkeepers and shoppers from across Europe. They are said to be keen for their wives and girlfriends to benefit from its reported ability to make women's breasts grow. Ananova news agency quoted Austrian landlord Klaus Schmidt from the ski resort of Schladming as saying he was planning a trip soon to the EU newcomer. "I had heard of Boza before but it was always so expensive once the tax was added. But now that's gone I'm going to start offering the drink to my customers," he has said.

(Eternal Remont notes that Boza is not fermented, but does taste like sewage. Thanks Ern.)

2 Bulgarians Arrested in US for Stealing 500 kg of...Quartes, Dimes, and Pennies?

That's correct...."Two Bulgarians were arrested in the US for the theft of USD 18,000 in change, Darik News reported, citing CBS TV.

The two Bulgarian citizens were arrested in San Marcos, Texas with a nearly half a ton of 25-cent coins. According to CBS the two were on a holiday trip but had no money for it. The janitor of a residence building called the police to inform for a burglary in the shared laundry premises. Plamen Ivanov and Ilko Boyadzhiev were caught on the spot but their accomplice managed to escape. Police found USD 18,700 in a nearby parked delivery van.

They also found catalogues of holiday villas in Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina and Louisiana. Police considered the three men, who reside in the US with student visas, wanted to find some money to pay for a holiday trip around the south states. Four policemen and a bank clerk spent more than four hours in counting the stolen money.

(Thanks Ern)

AFF and Igor

Igor sent along this wonderful gem. Last week he spoke on an AFF panel, titled "Russia: The New Enemy?" As he notes, "I was encouraged by the fact that there was a question mark after the title (unlike that WSJ op-ed a few months back).


"Anyway, the audio has been posted here (I speak second, after Nick Gvosdev), should readers of Eternal Remont be interested..."


(It's already on Eternal Remont's iPod...for the metro ride.)

Bringing Home the Bacon...

Early Monday morning, Russian border officials arrested several Ukrainians for smuggling three tons of raw pork fat, Interfax reports.

Russian troops became suspicious when they spotted three GAZ Volgas driving at high speed over empy fields near the Ukranian border. When stopped, the drivers explained that "the vehicle convoy was moving off-road to reduce travel time back to the village of Gorlovka, incidentally avoiding border checkpoints in the process."

The vehicles and fat were impounded. Three tons of "salo," or salted fat, has a street value of nine thousand dollars. Yummie!

(Thanks Jen)

Notes and Asides

"The Baltic gas pipeline - it's the most stupid plan in the history ofRussia. It should be in the Guinness book of records" -Alexander Lukashenko


AlJazeera.net had this little bit on the arrest of 30 people and two candidates during the most recent local elections in Belarus. It was posted on Sunday, January 14, 200723:31 MECCA TIME.

Belarus Local Elections End

District elections in Belarus have ended with reports of high-turnouts. Two hours before voting ending on Sunday night, more than 7 million votes had reportedly been cast in the nation of 10 million people, the electoral commission said.

However opposition activists said police had arrested at least 30 activists ahead of the vote. Ales Belyatsky, head of the Vyasna human rights organisation, said: "We estimate that at least 30 people have been arrested including two candidates."

(Thanks Jen!)

Jan 12, 2007

'Welcome Russian Pilot Men'

Over the Christmas-New Years holiday, Russia and Uzbekistan inked a long-in-the-works deal to provide Russia new basing rights. But, instead of granting Russia use of the Karshi-Khanabad facility, Moscow resigned itself to use the less desirable Navoi airbase. The agreement allows Russia to deploy troops and equipment to Uzbekistan under "force majeure" contingencies.

Given the Kremlin’s generous and liberal interpretation of force majeure in recent weeks, the local 'service providers' around Navoi are no doubt brushing up on their remedial Russian.

"не работаю."
"она работает?"
"возможно, надо ее спрашивать ."

And such...

Those Crazy Estonians

January 10, 2007 marked a pivotal day in Estonian history, when the parliament passed a law allowing for the removal of the “Liberating Soviet Soldier” from central Tallinn. Another bill, yet unpassed, would change September 22 – the day when Red Army troops captured the city – from “Tallinn Liberation Day” to a perpetual day of national mourning.

Russia’s Special Representative for Human Rights decried the law, saying it was “lionizing fascism.” Russian International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov went one step further, saying, “The removal of monuments to liberating Soviet soldiers is akin to the Inquisition’s destruction of texts and monuments from the classical antiquity (Jamestown).”

Wow. Just...wow.

Jan 11, 2007

Masimov the Magnificent?

Eternal Remont would be remis to neglect Presedent Nazarbayev's selection of Karim Masimov as Kazakhstan's new prime minister.

While former Prime Minister Akhmetov goes about the task of printing up new business cards as Defense Minister, analysts note "there is little reason to believe that [Masimov] will introduce radical economic and political changes. First, no matter how hard a new head of the government may try to push forward economic and political reforms, he will never go beyond the boundaries set by the head of state." Second? Well he just isn't that popular.

Welcome to the party Masimov.

There is Life After Gazprom

"The warnings in Ukraine verged on the apocalyptic when Russia sharply raised prices for natural gas a year ago...But Ukraine's economy leaped ahead, its businesses quickly adapting to the higher costs....unlike Belarus, whose economy is mostly state-controlled, Ukraine's economy was open and flexible when the gas increases hit. And unlike Georgia, Ukraine has diversified industry and alternative resources to fall back on."

Ukraine's economy proves it can survive — and flourish — despite gas price hike.

(Thanks Igor)

Azerbaijan and Georgia: Playing Russian Roulette with Moscow

(Yesterday the Central Asia - Caucasus Institute published an excellent article by Alexandros Petersen and our very own Taleh Ziyadov.)

"It is no secret that Russian-Georgian relations have gone from bad to worse since the 2003 Rose Revolution. Yet in December 2006, Moscow for the first time since 2000 attempted to use economic pressure against Azerbaijan, with whom it had been successfully developing bilateral ties in deep contrast to Georgia. Some experts have speculated that Georgia provided the impetus for Moscow to suddenly to increase prices for natural gas and electricity exports to Azerbaijan. Did Russia try to recruit Azerbaijan in its effort to isolate Georgia, and refused? Was this an attempt to spoil Azerbaijani-Georgian relations, and could it potentially threaten the cordial relationship that Baku has maintained with the Kremlin since 2000?"

Read the full article here.

St. Petersburg Floods...again.

Flooding in St. Petersburg is not new. The city is a swamp. But flooding in January? The really terrifying part of this picture is that there is no snow.

Also, the annual chess match between London and Moscow, using huge pieces carved from ice, ended when the pieces melting so quickly they were almost indistinguishable. As the BBC notes, "on the London board Russia's 'king,' which was crafted in the shape of a Kremlin tower, had lost its Soviet star before the game even began."

Ok, Algore. You win.

Jan 10, 2007

Postcards from the Apocalypse: Georgian Hip-Hop

"All I had was a microphone and boom box." In Georgia, that’s all you need to be a hip-hop guru...that and a crew of angst-riddled break dancers. Oh yes, it helps if you can rhyme “ინგლისური იცით.”

Check out the entire Photo Essay...

Has Moscow's Mayor Banned Internet Reporters?

"Mayor Yury Luzhkov has withdrawn accreditation from Internet journalists seeking to cover municipal affairs, lenta.ru and gazeta.ru reported on January 10. The Moscow authorities have not officially confirmed the decision, but a reporter for gazeta.ru said that he was informed of it recently when he was not allowed to attend a meeting of the city government. Lenta.ru noted that 'this is not the first time' that the Luzhkov administration has sought to 'bring order to journalistic circles.'" RFE/RL


"Not Suitable for Human Consumption"

Russia could have feasted on "Democracy Fruit". Shame it wasn't a truck load of oranges from Ukraine. (ERN)

Taymuraz Mamsurov, “president” of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, said on January 8 that the Prosecutor-General's Office should open criminal proceedings against the drivers of some 60 trucks that have blocked the main highway between Russia and Georgia to protest Russia's refusal to allow them to bring their cargos of tangerines into Russia, Russian media reported.

Russian officials claim the fruit has not been inspected and certified suitable for human consumption. Russia banned the import of agricultural produce from Georgia on health grounds in 2006. The Georgian authorities recommended on January 7 that the drivers end the blockade of the highway they began several days earlier and that the producers seek an alternative market for their produce.” From RFERL

"Fatherland or death, we will conquer...!"

Credit: ellustrator, (Thanks Igor)

Jan 9, 2007

Its Official: Lukashenka is an Act of God, Etc.

What the hell is happening in Belarus?

At some point in the last 48 hours, Europe’s oil supplies via pipelines in Belarus stopped flowing, started flowing, then stopped flowing again. The problem: nobody could decide what was going on...

Dueling statements from various governments and ministers only served to muddle the picture. But what is clear, is that on January 5, Belarus introduced a sudden “transit charge” on Russian oil flowing thru pipelines in Belarus -- a retaliation for the sharp increase in the duties which Russia charges Belarus for oil.

In the last decade, Belarus’ inefficient BelNaftakhim refineries had been a model of post-Soviet rent-seeking, by re-exporting subsidized Russia oil to Western Europe. Without these subsidies, BelNaftakhim would promptly go out of business. Hence the draconian "transit fees." If Russia refused to pay, Lukashenka's officials stated they would "impound" Russian oil traveling thru Belarus. Russia cried, ‘Oh no you didn’t!’ and promptly shut off the oil.

That's when the real hilarity ensued.

It seems that Western Europe was a little miffed that the flow of oil suddenly stopped. 'But, we had a contract!' In response, “Moscow served notice that it will plead force-majeure, citing circumstances beyond Russia’s control, in the event of any shortfalls in oil deliveries to European countries,” notes Jamestown.

That's right, Lukashenka & Co. are officially on par with wars, natural disasters, disease, and other acts of God.

Yet, even with Lukashenka's recent upgrade to an act of God, the context for this fiasco is important, especially given Russia’s mantra of “energy security” at the most recent G-8 summit.

It seems that "energy security" has a completely different meaning when translated into Russian, and results in offering near monopolies to Kremlin-owned subsideraries in exchange for a "constant and reliable" flow of oil and natural gas. Russia's attempts to make Belarus knuckel under have created an unwanted case of blow-back and exposed the many pitfalls of relying upon Russia for this "security."

Jan 8, 2007

Putin: "Not Worse Than Ahmadinejad"

But Putin's gran-gran would say that, without a doubt, he is the BEST president in the WHOLE WORLD! And she knows her Volodya better than some poll, and would at least have put him above Ahmadinejad.


Still Waiting for an Upgrade: Russia's Defense Reform

The most recent issue of Political Science Quarterly (Volume 121 Number 4, 2006) has a fascinating look at the prospects, or lack thereof, for military reform in Russia.

In fact, Univ. of Texas Professor Zoltan Barany pulls no punches in his article, “The Politics of Russia’s Elusive Defense Reform.” His thesis: it’s all bad.

“Since the Gorbachev era, generals have acquired an autonomous political voice that is entirely incompatible with even the most generous definitions of democratic civil-military relations…the top brass has fought meaningful reforms tooth and nail, because such reforms are synonymous with the loss of prestige and privileges.”

But wait, there's more: “…the prospects of real military reform in contemporary Russia discourage hope that the country will soon field a modern and effective army.”

It seems that the country's lack of democratic development has prevented Russia from creating a lean, mean, highly mobile, threat specific military. While some may feel that a weakend Russia is preferable, the grave trans-national threats which beset the post-Soviet region might argue otherwise.

But at least the generals get to keep their dachas.

(While I tried to find an online version to hotlink, the Political Science Quarterly has not yet updated their website. A hard copy is available to those who ask.)


Jan 5, 2007

Гурбангулы Мяликгулыевич Бердымухаммедов

It seems that Eternal Remont was not the only one who's had to dust off their Turkmen pronunciation guide in honor of Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov...

Igor notes: There is a joke in Russian circulating these days about Berdymukhammedov (his full name is Гурбангулы Мяликгулыевич Бердымухаммедов): Мировое сообщество выразило желание видеть на посту президента Туркмении Ишанкули Нурыева - имена остальных пяти претендентов выговорить вообще невозможно...

Also, the US policy contours via the "new Turkmenistan" were eloquently articulated by Richard Boucher on his trip to Ashgabat in Dec. 24:

"But in addition to conveying our condolences to the people of Turkmenistan to the family of President Niyazov, I thought it was important to convey at this time that we are open to the possibility of a new beginning and (inaudible) cooperation."

"Inaudible" cooperation - heck of a policy statement, doncha think?

Read the whole spineless bureaucratic charade here.

El Nuevo Turkmenbashi?

Six presidential candidates hit the campaign triail this month in Turkmenistan. The election is set to fill some rather monstrous shoes. Indeed, how is one to follow the Turkmenbashi himself, Father of the Turkmen people.

Acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (no joke, that’s really his name) looks to stay in the job, never mind the Constitution clearly stated he was ineligible for his current post. Not to worry. The legislative assembly promplty changed the Constitution to allow Berdymukhammedov to assume the position.

Such capricious play with the Rule of Law in Turkmenistan bodes ill for a country which fostered one of the most virulent Cults of Personality in the world. Indeed, the Turkmenbashi’s towering gold plated statue still rotates to face the sun in downtown Ashgabat.

While the candidates talk of “reform” in the run-up to the Feburary election, it remains to be seen just how committed they are to fulfilling the campaign script.

Jan 4, 2007

Beginning of the end for Lukashenka?

So, let's start asking the question: what happens if this gas crisis ruins Belarus and takes Lukashenka with it? Would Moscow be in a position to install a puppet in the president's chair in Minsk - it wouldn't be the first time Russia butted into electoral politics in neighboring states and statelets (Ukraine and Abkhazia being the most obvious examples). How much would the "Russia factor" count? Will Lukashenka go? I'm eager to hear some responses to my questions posed here... JCE

RFE/RL: Belarus: How Hard Could Gas Price Hike Hit Economy?


I'd venture that the Gazprom deal is the clearest signal yet, that Kremlin Inc. has decided to make a change in Belarus.

On balance, the energy deal puts Lukashenka on the receiving end of a python squeeze. Even the sale of Beltranshaz is disadvantagious, as the 2.5 billion will be paid over 4 years and not fully offset the price crunch. In selling Beltranshaz, Lukashenka surrendered one of his last negotiable assets. Just as the last of the Beltranshaz money is paid, the price of energy is set to rise even higher, pushing inflation to a projected 12-14 percent and severly limiting purchasing power.

It is true that "one of Belarus's only options might be to reform the country's economy [thru] privatization of the major industries and reforming the collective farm system," but that is an exceptionally unlikely outcome, given Lukashenka's track record.

This provides Moscow with a three - four year window in which to select a successor to Lukashenka, if his own citizens don't topple him first. PBD

Jan 3, 2007


(This fantastic article was contributed by Olga Karatch, a deputy of the Vitebsk City Council, Belarus. Thanks ERN.)

"THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS, or about the Belarusian Policy and Politicians?"

'I declare it's marked out just like a large chessboard!" Alice said at last. "There ought to be some men moving about somewhere – and so there are!" she added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. "It's a great game of chess that's being played -- all over the world – if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is!How I WISH I was one of them! I wouldn't mind being a Pawn, if only I might join--though of course I should LIKE to be a Queen, best.' --Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

* * *
1. Everyone in Belarus considers himself to be a professional politician and expert. In Belarus, there exist two deep-rooted stereotypes: everyone can become a teacher and a politician: as they say, a wrong deed — is a simply one. I am doubly unlucky: I am both a teacher and a politician. Therefore, I have experienced all the "charms" of this opinion. In this sphere, the first step of any "infant" politician begins with those around him, who having found out his involvement in such a specific field of activity, start remembering that they have grown up in the country of Soviets — and they immediately start advising what is necessary to be done (none of them is going to follow his own advice at that). When you listen to such a clever man — you begin to wonder: why he is not president of the Republic of Belarus: he knows all answers to all questions, all recipes for happiness for ordinary people. Once a politician confessed to me during a conversation: "It's difficult to live in the country where there are 10 million presidents".

This is the worst thing that Alexander Lukashenko has made, true unintentionally, for the regress of the development of political relations: his victory seems so easy that more than one generation has been breaking a lance trying to repeat his feat. Every new politician in no way agrees at least on the presidential post: if Alexander Lukashenko managed, then I can't fail. Am I worse than he is?

As a matter of fact, I love the sphere of politics: it is the concentrate of the whole life of society, it is his summit. Not everyone can drink 90 percent vodka, but it does not mean that it is worse than that of 40 percent. It is merely stronger, more concentrated, saturated, flavoured. One cannot pretend in politics; politics "x-ray" who is who in reality. That is why it seems sometimes that there are so many bad people there. In fact, there are not more bad people there than, for example, at a factory or school, they just cannot hide from the bright rays of the dazzling public attention — it is impossible to conceal one's inner essence in politics for a long time. It is possible in everyday life to have lived with a person for 20 years side by side and only afterwards find out that he has had another family at the same time or he has been killing other women all that time.

2. If a person has reached heights in some other sphere in Belarus, it will be difficult for him to become a good politician: his high social status will hamper him in accumulating political experience and getting rid of common stereotypes in politics, and society will notice all his mistakes and not forgive him these mistakes, again, because of his status.

What is wrong with Alexander Lukashenko? What is wrong with many other politicians in Belarus? As a rule, they enter politics having reached success in other sphere, they do not realize that they get into a very specific environment — like Alice found herself through the Looking-Glass: everything seemed to be familiar, but still, it was somewhat different. It is the same as to get from business into officials — it is very difficult since there are other people, rules, mechanisms and stereotypes there. In addition, the man believes that his previous life experience will help him in politics. The higher his status was, the higher position he had, the more difficult for him to get used to new conditions, the more difficult for him to say: "Now let's start from the beginning". It does not relate to the fact that he is duller, or he attracts more public attention and he is short of time for an analysis of his mistakes and miscalculations. If the status of a person quite high, he soars on the political Olympus and he is supposed to beat a running record whereas he even cannot walk properly. He has a plenty of evil-wishers, no experience of selecting his team, no strategic reasoning as well, he himself does not realize what he wants to get in the upshot, but his mistakes are striking. He cannot yet tell windbags and demagogues from those who are really able to do something, he is not ready to work out any ideas and strategies, but he is given some papers with complex graphs he knows nothing about. That is why everything proceeds along the well-known scheme: all rush to a news leader, hang on him, but then, after drowning him under the pressure of both his and their mistakes, they exclaim sadly: "It is the wrong one again!"

It is difficult for a person who has gone into politics from the position of, say, director of a plant to start from the beginning: to start spreading leaflets, to gather signatures, ring round people, that is, to do all the rough, technical work. The director of a plant will not be able to go to people, knock at every door and talk to people for the life of him — he got used to people coming to him. He will find it difficult to change himself. But without experiencing it yourself, you will plan no campaign well, and you will not be able to appreciate how well it is planned and carried out by others. And it turns out that having declared himself another "chess King" — a saviour of the nation from an evil tyrant, a politician who has not been a pawn and gained rudiments of political experience is checkmated at once. He quits the game. He starts hissing in the direction of either the "King" of the other chess-colour: "he is insane", or his former adherents because they are "somewhat different", it is high time they were thrown out on the "garbage heap of history". And given a chance, he would do everything in other way. But alas, the King has died, long live the King! — the society launches a feverish search of a new "King".

3. Alexander Lukashenko, as well as other politicians, is a predictable one . Personally, I do not believe in the insanity of Alexander Lukashenko. If someone does not understand somebody else's actions, it does not mean that this person is a madman. Most likely, he has other life experience, values and patterns of behaviour. Alexander Lukashenko is quite a predictable politician. In 2004, only a lazy one did not make any prognoses about the referendum on the third term of Alexander Lukashenko. Was the referendum held? It was. If we look into all his deeds carefully, we will find out that they are quite logical and predictable.

Quite another matter is that this man is unlucky. I think, only having become president, he realized the extent he had not been prepared for this post. He had to learn for a short period of time what other politicians in other countries had been cultivating in themselves for years — capital gloss, genteel manners and education. But where could he find them in the small village Alexandria in the Shklovsky district? He had to show a deep knowledge of history, politics, culture, and art. Where could the boy brought up on the fables of soviet ideologists and on the basis of a village school find all that knowledge? Whatever expensive suits Alexander Lukashenko wears, whatever perfume he pours himself with, whatever he does — he will not get rid of the smell of a collective farm. This smell will remain with him forever — just as the smell of dark Vitebsk streets with opened hatches will stay with me for keeps.

It is the very reason Alexander Lukashenko will never become a member of the Club of Madrid— a most influential organization uniting "has-beens" — the former presidents and prime ministers, i.e. the former great ones of this world. He will not become a its member because he has been unaware of its existence. I think it seemed once to Alexander Lukashenko that the president of Belarus would be somewhere near the God. It turned out that it is a small step not at the very top of the world. That is why he clings to his presidency — in the same way as the leaders of political parties hold on to their posts: either he or they have nowhere to go.

4. A politician himself has to construct the environment around him in Belarus . In Belarus there is a peculiarity that strikes you immediately: our society is extremely ill-structured. The absence of any structure leads to the following: a person has got a nice position, he has worked on it and gone all out, next — there is a dead end, neither this position will give him anything, nor can he give it anything. Seemingly, somebody else with fresh strength and energy should come. But this person clings to his position because there is a void around him, he has no energy to start from the beginning and to build a newer space around him again.

If somebody dreams of becoming an actor in Europe, he goes to an agency and tests his strength. If somebody wants to become an actor in Belarus, it is not so easy as it looks at first sight. He himself has to organize a surrounding environment around him. He has to find a good scenario writer to write a scenario or he himself has to write his scenario. Then he has to find money for financing his picture. Next, he has to find other actors, organize the whole process of production, he has to be a manager, make-up man, stylist, secretary, and inspector simultaneously. Afterwards, he himself has to organize the demonstration of this picture, that is, its selling. So many duties for a humble man, who merely wants to become an actor.

But if he fails to show his worth only in one duty, for example, that one of a stylist, he will never be able to prove in Belarus that he is a great actor. Things look even worse in politics — people have no idea what politicians should engage themselves in: a politician should be a brilliant ideologist, director, speaker, psychologist, organizer, manager, financier, entrepreneur, bookkeeper, promotional agent, historian, art critic, philosopher, doctor, teacher, stylist, make-up man, designer, writer, secretary, inspector, critic, personnel department head, lawyer and human rights activist with a perfect knowledge of laws, journalist, administrator, translator, linguist, political scientist, sociologist, programmer, intelligence officer, analyst, and God knows what else. And what is more, it is supposed is on default and it is expected from a politician by the society as well that he should fulfil all these functions conscientiously and absolutely gratis. That is, he should be an all-round genius.

Is it surprising that after all these feats, professions this poor fellow has to master to become a Belarusian politician he is not in his right mind? As a matter of fact, if a politician wants to take a further step of his career staircase in Belarus, at first, he has to build this step with his own hands, and only afterwards, he can step on it. Let's not forget that politics is a team game. If a politician takes care of the team he moves forward with he ought to bring cement for the steps of their career staircase, he should occupy himself with developing his team members' abilities and talents, and where they can use these talents. Otherwise, all will trample on one step, make a crush —there are rows, conflicts, misunderstandings in overcrowded places...

5. The foundation of the future Belarusian political system is being laid now . On the other hand, I am glad that it happens to be our responsibility to mould and structure the Belarusian society, lay all those elements we want into it. The durability and cosiness of home begins not with the roof, but with the foundation, doesn't it?..

Olga Karatch is a deputy of Vitebsk City Council


Happy New Year Gazprom

Just as Gazprom poped the bubbly on 2007, the hammer of energy politics fell upon Belarus.

At two minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve, Russia and Belarus inked a last minute deal on energy prices. This agreement signals a fundamental turning point in Russia's relations with the former Soviet state, and leaves open the question of Lukashenka's future.

Belarus will now pay $100 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas -- a price which will rise to $200, by 2011. By comparison, Belarus got off easy. Ukraine is paying Russia $135 for the same quanity. While Georgia now pays $235.

Should old acquaintance be forgot? It would seem so at Gazprom. But when your headquarters is a monolithic fortress of the future, you don't really need friends.