May 31, 2007

Poisoning, Espionage, DoubleCrossing, Mafia Hits...

You couldn't script a hotter scenario. Throw in some infidelity and you've got a summer blockbuster.

Washington Post: The former KGB agent accused by British prosecutors with poisoning another former agent in London last November held a news conference Thursday to finger MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, as a more likely suspect in the killing.

Lugovoy unleashed a blizzard of Byzantine counter-allegations that described -- in very broad strokes -- a netherworld of espionage, criminality and murder in which he was an innocent abroad. Immediately after the British Crown Prosecution Service this month accused Lugovoy of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko with a radioactive isotope, the spy-turned-businessman promised sensational revelations to buttress his consistent claims of innocence.

And if it wasn't MI6 or Berezovsky, Lugovoy posited, there was a third scenario: The Russian mafia could have orchestrated the killing as revenge, because of information Litvinenko passed to the Spanish police about Russian criminals in that country.

May 29, 2007

It's Border Guard Day!

No, it's not a photo from the abortive Gay Pride Parade in Moscow, it's Border Guard Day -- the unoffical start of summer and just in time for a heat wave.

Lock up your daughters and clear the streets. Border Guard Day is here!

Georgians Get Their Visas, Sort Of...

Suddenly the residents of Moscow noticed that all the good restaurants had closed, and the markets were nearly empty...we want our Georgians back!

RFE/RL: Russia says it will start issuing a limited number of visas to Georgian citizens. easing a suspension imposed last year during a dispute between the two countries. "We are partly resuming the issue of visas," said Valery Vasiliyev, consul of the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi. "Visas will be given in those cases where there is a private invitation from a Russian citizen for their family members in Georgia. Russia has made a humanitarian step towards Georgia."Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili welcomed the announcement, calling it "a win-win situation." Russia stopped issuing visas to Georgians at the end of September 2006, after Georgian authorities arrested a group of Russian officers on spy charges.

Gazprom Eats Austria

At this point, stories like these barely count as news. But when stoves in Portugal won't light because nobody paid the Gazprom bill, people will wonder how it got that way.

"Russian President Vladimir Putin’s May 23-24 visit to Austria laid the ground for that country’s integration into Gazprom’s rapidly expanding network of dependencies. By the same token, it dealt a coup de grace to the Nabucco project for alternative gas supplies to Austria and Europe. Under agreements signed during Putin’s visit, Gazprom is enlarging its market share in Austria and gaining direct access to end consumers. Moreover, it plans to use Austria as a transit corridor to capture European Union markets farther afield, defeating the EU’s declared goal of supply diversification (Jamestown)."

Bulgarian Prisoner Wins Prize for Love Poem

Is anyone else curious about who he wrote the love poem for in prison?

The Sofia Weekly: An inmate from the prison in the Bulgarian town of Vratsa won the big prize in the "Emiliya Alexandrova" poetry competition. The winner, and unsuspected poet, Mihail Mihailov, was awarded for his "Alphabet of Love" poem. The interesting thing is that the poetry competition is held in the schools in the Vratsa region, and Mihailov submitted his works, because he is now in the eighth grade in the prison school. He submitted five poems, which turned out to be real masterpieces and were the best ones among the poems of the 62 other contestants. Sadly, Mihailov cannot take his prize personally as he is still behind bars, so he will receive it from his literature teacher.

Poles need condoms to enter Belarus

If only I was making this up...

From Gazeta Wyborcza, Poles crossing the Eastern border are being searched by border guards for condoms. A three year old law states that each traveller must carry a first aid kid, whose contents include condoms. As of recent days this rule has started to be enforced regularly. GW's correspondent wonders if it's just border guards who had too much merriment after the holiday in Belarus this past weekend.,53600,4185828.html?skad=rss

Anyone else think that the condom rule should apply in travel in the opposite direction?

May 28, 2007

Notes from Bulgaria II

For one night, and one night only, George Michael will be the king of Bulgaria.

His posters are everywhere and nearly as ubiquitous as the graffiti which covers every virgin inch of Sofia. The concert is part of a comeback tour, which he's dovetailed with the "You Are Not Alone" campaign -- raising awareness of the six Bulgarian nurses who await death by firing squad in Libya. A Lybian court found them guilty of intentionally infecting 426 children with HIV. Never mind that conditions were harsh, and needles were few, and the nurses had their fingernails pulled to elicit a confession. When Lybia offered to release the women, if only Bulgaria would dismiss millions of dollars sovereign debt, it just pissed off the Bulgarians.

But the nurses are not alone. The campaign is hard to miss. Politicians wear the Red, White and Green Ribbon on television, cafe waitresses sport them on aprons, even the Air Bulgaria 737 we passed in the Paris airport had one painted from top to bottom. And now George Michael has joined the cause. This hasn't changed his reputation, even in Bulgaria. Everyone wants to talk about George Michael, and then they want to talk about the men's room.

In a residential neighborhood of eastern Sofia, I waited in a hot car and fought off a nap by listening to the radio. Darik Radio spammed a promo for the concert -- an eighty-ton stage! -- John Lennon's piano! -- oh yeah, and George Michael's "indiscretion" in a Los Angeles men's room. Even Darik won't cut the guy a break. The promo faded into version of Careless Whisper, and I watched an old man scrub fresh graffiti off of his over-sized Winnebago. The graffiti didn't come off, it only smeared black and runny. Poor bastard.

May 27, 2007

Ukraine comes to a decision!

It only took almost 2 months, 4 or 5 people getting fired, the threat of troops fighting each other...but we have a date! Внеочередные выборы Верховной рады Украины состоятся 30 сентября 2007 года. Об этом заявил президент Украины Виктор Ющенко ночью в воскресенье, 27 мая, по итогам многочасовых переговоров с премьер-министром Виктором Януковичем и председателем Верховной рады Александром Морозом.

Переговоры проходили в два этапа, начиная с субботы. Первый начался при участии президента и премьера Украины Виктора Ющенко и Виктора Януковича после двух часов дня и продолжался около двух часов. Во втором этапе, с приблизительно 20:00 уже участвовал председатель Верховой рады Александр Мороз.

Ранее президент дважды издавал указы о досрочном роспуске Верховной Рады и назначении внеочередных выборов. Указом от 2 апреля дата выборов была назначена на 27 мая, указом от 26 апреля - на 24 июня. Оба этих указа были оспорены в Конституционном суде. Указ от 2 апреля признан утратившим силу.

May 26, 2007

Ukraine Asks, "Who's In Charge?"

The BBC has posted a nifty little synopsis on the Ukraine, um, crisis.

"President Yushchenko decided to dismiss the prosecutor general, Svyatoslav Piskun, an ally of the prime minister. That led to a dramatic storming of the prosecutor general's office on 24 May by riot police and Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko, who claimed the president was usurping power.

"President Yushchenko hit back by placing the 40,000 interior ministry troops under his direct command. Prime Minister Yanukovych then condemned his action, saying it violated the constitution. The interior ministry said it would defy the president's order."

This was the best part:

"The constitution lists three situations in which the president has the right to dissolve parliament, and the poaching of deputies is not among them."

Damn poachers.

I don't even know who Russia is anymore...

Yahoo news: MOSCOW - First beer, now smoking.

Russia's lower house of parliament gave preliminary backing to a new wide-ranging restrictions on smoking in public Friday, the latest in series of legislative measures aimed at regulating Russians' health and public behavior. The legislation, passed by the State Duma 406-0, all but bans smoking in workplaces, on airplanes, trains and municipal transport as well as in schools, hospitals and government buildings. It requires specially designated smoking areas to be set up. The bill also requires restaurants and cafes to set up no-smoking areas.

Russia's no-smoking bill must go through two more readings in the Duma before being sent to the Federation Council for approval and to President Vladimir Putin for his signature. On Wednesday, the Duma gave preliminary backing to a measure that would prohibit beer drinking in streets, parks and public squares for both adults and minors.

May 25, 2007

I love it!

Rahmon is TOTALLY the new Bashy

RFE/RL: TAJIK PRESIDENT CONDEMNS LAVISH WEDDINGS. Pres. Rahmon told a public meeting that Tajik citizens should hold less extravagant weddings and funerals. Rahmon charged that "many national traditions and religious rituals, which should be held for family members and relatives, have become lavish and extravagant ceremonies." Rahmon added, "I would like to note that today we have gathered not to fully eliminate or abolish national traditions, ceremonies, and rituals. The main purpose is to give a good start to rescuing people from showing off, religious fanaticism, and superstition, and to determine the procedures [for holding ceremonies]."

Isn't dividing usually followed by conquering?

RFE/RL: PUTIN SEEKS TO SPLIT EUROPE. Pres. Putin said in Luxembourg on May 24 that "there are fewer and fewer ways to influence and pressure Russia," whose economic position is becoming ever stronger, news agencies reported. Seeking to play up differences between Western and Eastern Europe, he told his hosts that "unfortunately, some countries have transposed their bilateral problems with Russia on to the European level. Those in Central and Eastern Europe...should play according to common rules." He also attempted to drive a wedge between the US and its European allies. Putin also participated in the signing of a power-generation joint venture between Russian gas giant Gazprom and Soteg, Luxembourg's main gas and electricity supplier, and a Russian-Luxembourg banking cooperation pact. Luxembourg's banking and financial-service sector is becoming increasingly attractive to Russian business interests. Luxembourg's PM Jean-Claude Juncker said that "we owe it to Europeans to conduct our relations [with Russia] rationally instead of indulging in the pleasure that some take in dramatizing them." On the subject of missile defense, Juncker said that "you haveto take Russia seriously and not play with fire." The Russian daily "Kommersant" wrote on May 25 that Juncker is "practically the last European politician for whom Putin remains close."

Notes from Bulgaria

Eternal Remont is on the road, offering a few thoughts on Cultural Learnings of Bulgaria...

The city of Sofia is draped in European Union flags. Even taxi drivers have affixed the little blue and yellow flags to their dash boards. In the morning, we drank freeze-dried coffee and watched the BBC on satellite television. It seems over 8,000 Bulgarians have registered to work in the UK since January 1. Yet, the bureaucratic wheels have yet to fully turn, and so they stand on street corners in North London, along side veteran Poles and Slovaks. "They're taking our jobs!" complained a Polish day-worker with a law degree. "Thee don't even speak English." Welcome to the future, pal.

In Bulgaria, prom is a national event. And this is the height of prom season. Even desperately poor families will bankrupt themselves to pay for a fantastic dress and a classic car. Entire convoys of these vehicles roll the streets of Sofia, honking horns and otherwise making a wild racket. When you come of age in Bulgaria, it requires that you make lots of noise. A family friend was celebrating her own prom, and we gathered for usual feast of cooked meats, fluffy breads, peanuts, and the ubiquitous "moonshine" which the Bulgarians drink by the gallon. Ten years ago, the girl's father was fingered for assassinating the country's first post-communist prime minister. The father lingered in the Bulgarian judicial system until, wonder of wonders, he was not guilty of the charge. It turns out, the real killers were a team of Russian specialists -- imported for the job. And while the papers indulged in the ghastly details of the crime, they made little mention when the father was cleared and charges were dropped. Ten years had vanished. His daughter had grown up. She will go to university in Scottland, free of charge, now that Bulgaria is part of the EU.

May 24, 2007

Polonium Dynamite

I agree with Kazakhs... was bound to happen one of these days.

The leaders of some Kazakh opposition parties criticized the US after Washington described recent amendments to Kazakhstan's Constitution a step in the right direction. The leaders were upset that the US criticism was so mild. Social Democratic Party leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbai said that "anyone who is more or less educated" could see that most of the amendments were aimed at strengthening the regime of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Naghyz AK Zhol leader Bolat Abilov alleged that the amendments gave the president powers that even a monarch does not have.

May 23, 2007

Russians are getting FLABULOUS

RFE/RL: A senior health expert says the average Russian is getting shorter. Aleksandr Baranov, a senior specialist with the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, says the average Russian is 1.5 centimeters shorter today than a decade ago. At a May 22 press conference in Moscow, Baranov also said Russian teenagers are becoming weaker. He said boys have 18 percent less muscle mass than 10 years ago, while girls have 21 percent less muscle mass.

May 22, 2007

Another Danish Cartoon Controversy

Can't the Danes make international news some other way?

RFE/RL: An international media watchdog group says a Danish cartoonist has been arrested in Vienna over a poster portraying the image of Russian President Vladimir Putin within a shooting target. The International Press Institute says cartoonist Jan Egesborg was arrested while putting up the poster in a metro station. Text on the poster asks whether Putin is involved in the shooting of journalists. Putin is due to visit the Austrian capital on May 23 for talks with President Heinz Fischer, Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, and Austrian businessmen. Ahead of his visit, Putin cancelled a planned interview with Austrian State Television station ORF, and the newspaper "Kurier." ORF says the Kremlin pressured it to not run images from the war in Chechnya in a promotional trailer for the interview.

And keeping with the poisoning theme...

From RFE/RL: Kyrgyz PM Almazbek Atambaev says he's the victim of a poisoning attempt. Atambaev said he was unconscious for 2 days after being given a glass of water. He has not said who he believes tried to poison him or why. "They tried to poison me on May 11th," he said. "They gave me water, and I drank the water in my office. I was unconscious for 2 days. I know that it was a case of poisoning. For 2 weeks, they have been cleaning my blood, and now, as you can see, I can walk and talk." Atambaev said he had recently received death threats after a government decision to nationalize a semiconductor plant in southern Jalal-Abad Province. Parliament speaker Marat Sultanov said an investigation would be conducted if tests confirmed Atambaev's claim.

1. Poisoning is so Orange Revolution. What are post Tulip Revolution types doing poisoning leaders?

2. Given the environmental disaster that is Central Asia, could it be he just got a bad glass of water?

Update in the Litvinenko Case

Washington Post: British officials say there is "sufficient evidence" to charge a former KGB agent with murder and seek his extradition from Moscow in the sensational poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Litvinenko was poisoned by the radioactive isotope polonium-210 and died November 23. On the day he fell ill, Nov. 1, he met with former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy at a London hotel. "I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoy with the murder of Mr. Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning," Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald said, immediately setting off a diplomatic confrontation between London and Moscow.

Article 61 of the Russian constitution bans the extradition of the country's citizens. But British authorities point out that Russia is a party to the European Convention on Extradition, which also has force under Russian law.

I'm sure the extradition will go smoothly...assuming the story doesn't hit the Russian news...and the Nashi stay out of probably won't go smoothly.

May 21, 2007

Drunken Russian Soldiers Make the Russian News

So you know that they had to do have done something a bit out of the ordinary drunken revelry.

From Pravda: About 170 drunk Russian soldiers started a huge fight in the train travelling from Chita to Chelyabinsk (Russian cities). As a result all windows in two cars have been smashed. The amount of injured people has not been reported, officials said. The fight involving 170 drunk soldiers reportedly began on Tuesday at 12:57 p.m. The Internal Affairs Ministry of the Buratia republic sent 250 policemen to the city of Ulan-Ude, the nearest railway station, to calm down the crowd of drunk hooligans. During the police operation 21 drunk soldiers were arrested. Other participants of the massive fight were allowed to continue their trip to Chelyabinsk.

Breaking News: Russia is a mean 14 year old girl

Seriously, who else uses the Internet to harass or pick on someone? Next thing you know Russia is going to put shaving cream in Estonia's hand while she sleeps.

RFE/RL: ESTONIA REPORTEDLY TARGET OF 'MASSIVE CYBER-ATTACKS.' Estonia has been hit by a "three-week wave of massive cyber-attacks" that began on April 27. One of the masterminds of the cyber-campaign, identified from his online name, is connected to the Russian security service. A 19-yr-old has been arrested in Tallinn for his alleged involvement. About a million computers around the world were used over more than two weeks to attack government and corporate websites in Estonia. On May 1, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet alleged that several cyber-attacks "against the Internet pages of Estonian government agencies and the office of the president...originated from specific computers and persons in Russian govt agencies, including the administration of the president of the Russian Federation." Russian deputy presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov as categorically denies any Russian involvement in the cyber-attacks. He said the Russian president's official website is the target of hundreds of attacks every day and IP addresses of the computers from which they come implicate many countries in all parts of the world. "This is an operational security issue, something we're taking very seriously," an official at NATO headquarters in Brussels told the newspaper. "It goes to the heart of the alliance's modus operandi." As for who carried out the attacks, the NATO official said: "I won't point fingers. But these were not things done by a few individuals."

May 18, 2007

Кучма: Верховная рада сегодня как раздетая девка

From Oh thank you, for interviewing Kuchma. Oh Ukraine and her terrible traditions...

Экс-президент Украины Л. Кучма не планирует баллотироваться на досрочных парламентских выборах. В интервью Кучма подчеркнул, что ни при каких условиях он не вернется в большую политику. "Ну что мне там делать, в этом зале? Я лучше буду смотреть на них сбоку", - сказал он. По словам Кучмы, в ситуации, которая сложилась в Украине, "когда выборы, по большому счету, не изменят расположения сил в парламенте, идут на выборы - это неблагодарное дело".

"Вы знаете, есть старая притча. Когда-то отец сына женил. Пришел к девушке с сыном, и говорит ей - раздевайся. Та в плач - и к родителям. А родители говорят, ну что, дочка, это же на всю жизнь парень выбирает себе жену. Она разделась. Отец посмотрел и сказал - не подходит. Она снова в плач. Спрашивает, почему? Глаза не того цвета, ответил отец. Так вот, я не хочу, чтобы по такому принципу и в дальнейшем относились к новому парламенту, если кому-то не понравится лица многих депутатов", - подчеркнул Кучма.

Make Glorious the Great President for Life of Kazakhstan

Voice of America: Lawmakers in Kazakhstan have voted to allow President Nursultan Nazarbayev to stay in office for an unlimited number of terms. Both the upper and lower houses of parliament Friday voted overwhelmingly in favor of amending the constitution to let Mr. Nazarbayev remain president as long as he chooses. The proposed amendment is an exception only for Mr. Nazarbayev. Future leaders will be limited to no more than two consecutive terms.

May 17, 2007

Mass Hyponosis Banned in Ukraine

That really ruins my plans for world domination. If we have learned anything from the "Game of Risk" episode of Seinfeld it's that having a small infantry in Ukraine can stand up to anyone trying to take over the world.

RFE/RL: Ukraine's parliament has passed a bill banning mass hypnotism. The legislation, which still must be signed into law by President Viktor Yushchenko, would punish attempts at mass hypnosis with a four-year prison term and a fine. The bill, which was sponsored by the Health Ministry, allows only "qualified medical professionals" to perform hypnosis in hospitals or other legally approved facilities, one patient at a time

More Trouble for Manas Airbase

"The December 6, 2006, killing of Kyrgyz truck driver Alexander Ivanov by U.S. soldier Zachary Hatfield continues to fuel Kyrgyz public anger toward the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan. Hatfield left Kyrgyzstan on March 22 despite the Kyrgyz government’s appeal to keep the soldier on Kyrgyz territory until the legal investigation into the shooting is completed. Although the Kyrgyz prosecutor-general closed Ivanov’s case on May 7, local civil society groups continue to loudly call for evaluating the incident within the broader framework of Kyrgyz-U.S. military cooperation (Jamestown)."

Eternal Remont readers will remember the 'victim' here was a world champion knife thrower, who unwisly, took a knife to a gun fight....Still, the Manas base keeps bringing famlies together.

Estonia Opens First Synagogue Since WWII

For the first time since World War II, Estonian Jews have a place to worship and celebrate their culture. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres dedicated the Baltic country's only synagogue in the capital of Tallinn Wednesday. Members of Estonian's 3,000 strong Jewish community danced when the Torah, the prayer scrolls, were carried into the building. The $2 million synagogue was built with funds donated by a U.S. charitable foundation and contributions by Estonian citizens. Until Wednesday, Estonia was the only European country without a synagogue. Its Jewish houses of worship were destroyed during air raids in 1944 as Estonia's Nazi occupiers fled advancing Soviet forces.

Things Getting Back to Normal in Turkmenistan

Clanism, consolidation of power, arbitrary arrests... It's good to know that they never left.

RFE/RL: Arkady Dubnov, a long-time observer of Turkmen politics, wrote on May 16 that the recent dismissal of Akmurat Rejepov as head of the presidential guard is only part of broader moves by Pres. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to consolidate power. Dubnov noted that Murad Agaev, a business owner and an associate of Rejepov, was recently arrested in Ashgabat, and that references to Turkmenbashy in the country's state-controlled media are becoming less frequent. Dubnov quoted sources in Turkmenistan as saying that Berdymukhammedov is appointing residents of his native village, Goektepe, to posts in the security services and other agencies. Also on May 16, the online opposition newspaper "Turkmenskaya iskra" published an unconfirmed report that Geldimuhammed Ashirmuhammedov has been relieved of his post as head of the National Security Service.

May 16, 2007

Nashi is Scary

Amy sent along a link to some Nashi propaganda. This is Putin's personal youth organization, complete with it's own summer camp, uniforms, rallies, and avowed allegiance to 'the leader.' And while the whole "everyone who disagrees is a fascist" line is old-hat, there's a lot of new material which should raise some very serious concerns. If this is where we're headed, it's going to be one wild ride.

Read it here (Russian and English).

Thanks Amy!

I'm glad the Belarus opposition is allowed to meet,

but what happened to the disabled children?!?!

From RFE/RL: The Minsk City Executive Committee has given permission to the opposition to hold its second Congress of Pro-Democratic Forces at the Culture Palace of the Minsk Automotive Factory (MAZ) on May 26 and 27, Belapan reported on May 15. The MAZ administration earlier refused to provide its premises for the congress, explaining that the building would be hosting a festival of art by disabled children and youth on May 26 and 27. "I guess the MAZ Palace of Culture will now be vacant, because the Presidential Administration appears to have given its consent [to the congress]," Ihar Shynkaryk, deputy head of the opposition United Civic Party, told the agency.

May 15, 2007

British Bachelor Parties Move to Eastern Europe

From NY Times: PRAGUE — By midnight, wearing nothing but his socks, Paul Roe had crawled the length of a strip club catwalk here, led on a leash by one barechested blonde woman while another whipped him with a belt. As one might imagine, Mr. Roe, 27, was inebriated, celebrating his final days of bachelordom in that timeworn rite of passage known as the stag party.

Since then the proliferation of budget airlines serving Eastern Europe has helped take the pressure off British cities and opened up an inexpensive alternative to Amsterdam or Barcelona. About 30 established companies now operate stag party tours to Eastern Europe. Dozens of smaller operations also vie for a slice of the pie. The stag party tours have buoyed some local businesses but have also helped sustain seedier ones. The manager of one strip club, who gave his name as Mr. Cash, said the stag parties provided about half of his business.

There's a place for gay activity in Russia...

...and apparently, from the looks of previous items and this one, that place is only in the armed services, not ever in a harmless parade. And how many times are they going to use the "it violates the rights and liberties of other citizens" excuse? Come on, Russia, get creative!

From RFE/RL: The Moscow city government has banned a proposed gay-pride parade that gay rights activists hoped to hold on May 27. Nikolai Kulikov, who is in charge of security issues for the Moscow city government, explained the ban by saying that the proposed parade violates the "rights and liberties" of non-gay citizens. Moscow authorities also banned the parade last year, and police broke it up when activists tried to hold a parade in spite of the ban.

May 14, 2007

Visa Hos and Visa Pimps Caught in South Carolina

I am coining "Visa Pimps". Trademark pending...

From The Sofia Weekly: 13 Bulgarian and 15 US citizens have been arrested and indicted in South Carolina on charges they arranged or participated in fake marriages. The marriage scheme, which is believed to have stretched back nearly 10 years, involved Bulgarians in SC and Georgia and aimed to evade US immigration laws. The court in SC have let 19 out on bail, the other 9 either are being sought, were unable to appear or failed to appear. All 28 face charges that include conspiracy to defraud the US. According to the indictment, 2 Bulgarians and 3 US citizens recruited and paid US citizens to marry Bulgarians so they could gain "permanent resident status and/or" US citizenship, allowing them to work and stay in the country. The US brides and grooms were recruited in and around Bennettsville, Darlington, Dillon, Marion, Mullins and Myrtle Beach for the scheme, the indictment says. A person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States faces a maximum of five years in prison.

May 12, 2007

One Word: Bypass

Not that Russia's browbeating of Estonia, or Ukraine, or Georgia, have anything to do with this story -- but why pay for your neighbor's sour milk when you can have your own cow?

"KIEV, May 12 (Itar-Tass) - Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland and Kazakhstan have decided to begin work on an intergovernmental agreement on supplies of Caspian crude oil to Europe, the press service of the Polish president said upon the results of the energy summit in Krakow.

"The agreement will regulate participation of governments and companies of these countries in the project of a corridor for transportation of Caspian oil to the European and global markets via Odessa-Brody-Plock-Gransk pipeline, the press release said. All the participating countries except Kazakhstan were represented by their presidents. However, the communique of the Krakow summit does not contain any specific details on construction of the Plock-Gransk section of pipe that exists only on paper at the moment."

May 11, 2007

"Don't go to demonstrations"

Russia's Special Purpose Police Unit puts on the charm, and offers a quiet warning.

AP: "After the violent dispersal of several opposition rallies, Russia's riot police are in need of an image makeover. Ajax, a large police dog that enjoys licking cats, is ready to oblige. The hefty Alsatian astonished more than 100 journalists gathered Thursday at a police base outside Moscow by following orders to lick and nuzzle a fluffy, apparently happy cat. 'You see,' exclaimed proud commander, Major General Alexander Ivanin, 'our service dogs wouldn't threaten a thing!' The cuddly attack dog was part of a charm offensive laid on to repair the image of Russia's OMON, or Special Purpose Police Unit, which violently broke up peaceful anti-Kremlin protests last month."

When asked how journalists could avoid being assulted when covering pro-democracy demonstrations in Russia, Ivanin said, "The best thing? Don't go to demonstrations." Read it here.

May 10, 2007

Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Talks...An End in Sight?

Not really. But we're watching.

"On May 4, Aliyev appeared to engage in a bit of negotiating gamesmanship when he....alleged that Armenia had already agreed to withdraw from all seven of the occupied territories surrounding Karabakh. In addition, according to Aliyev, internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Azerbaijan would be permitted to return to their homes in the conflict region as soon as Armenian troops withdrew from the occupied territories." (Eurasianet)

Big news, until Armenia denied everything, triggering an "optimistic" assesment of the process from the OSCE. After so many optimistic OSCE statements, it's hard to know if the OSCE even means what it says anymore. Then again, what else is the OSCE going to say?

Both presidents will now meet with each other in St. Petersburg. "After this meeting it will be clear at which stage we are now," President Robert Kocharian said.

Clear as mud, Robbie.

May 9, 2007

Nick Burns Pours Gasoline on the Missile Defense Row

In an interview with Le Monde, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns offered his opinion of Russia's reaction to the U.S. missile defense plan. As if the row couldn't get any more interesting, Burns poured gasoline on the entire affair and lit a cigarette. "The Russians need to review their information. And understand that they are not part of NATO, so they are not in a position to modify this project," he said.

That's Burns trying to be sublte. He understands that Moscow enjoys it when senior U.S. officials take the sensitive NATO issue and flaunt it publicly. We can't wait to see how the Russians will react.

Putin on "contempt for human life"

"It is all the more important that we remember this today, because these threats are not becoming fewer but are only transforming and changing their appearance. These new threats, just as under the Third Reich, show the same contempt for human life and the same aspiration to establish an exclusive dictate over the world."

Hold up. Is he talking about al-Qaeda or us? That SoB should give a little more detail in his threatening speeches.

Read Putin's full remarks here...


May 8, 2007

Those Aren't Our AK-47s

Sometimes it's hard to lie with a straight face. But you have to try...

Amnesty just released a report on the use of Russian and Chinese weapons in Darfur. It is a rather straightforward report, given that Russia and China are the world's largest producers of the universal AK-47. But instead of saying, "Yeah, that happens when you sell as many guns as we do, what about it?" the Foreign Ministry opted for a different set of talking points, "None of our arms are being supplied to Darfur."

Oh, and Jiang Yu at the Chinese Foreign Ministry quickly joined the Russians, claiming the Amnesty report was "a groundless accusation."

Since neither side would lie about something like this, and since both Russia and China are members of the Security Council, they would never violate a UN resolution banning deliveries of arms to Darfur. Therefore, Eternal Remont is forced to accept that all of those weapons and aircraft were manufactured in Liechtenstein -- a known force of destabilization and a rank enemy of mutual-security. Yup, that's probably what happened. Damn you Liechtenstein!

A whisper campaign in Bishkek...

...could signal the "begining of the end" for Manas.

"On May 3 Marie Yovanovitch, U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, denied reports that the Manas base near Bishkek is being used to store nuclear weapons for a possible attack on Iran. Yovanovitch commented on the 'ridiculous' nature of these allegations, which suggested that the U.S. military could use low-yield nuclear weapons to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, should military action prove necessary. She reiterated that the base is used exclusively for transferring humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan. Interestingly, it seems this speculation originated from within the Kyrgyz intelligence services." (Jamestown)

The whipser campaig is not as important as the perceptions in which it took root. The fact that it reached such a point, requiring an ambassaorial denial, demonstrates how quickly a brushfire can spread. But this theme will likely continue, and the US position in Central Asia is dangerously suseptable to the next rumor, planted by Kyrgyz intelligence -- if true.

While the endgame is still far off, events like this often signal the begining, of the begining, of the end.

May 5, 2007

Polish Parliamentarian Catfight over Topless Sunbathing

(Since Ern is out on business, someone needs to keep the absurdity report going)

Two female parliamentarians are having a VH1 celebrity-showdown-style row about the propriety of topless tanning. Tabloids got some juicy shots of Samoobrona parliamentarian Sandra Lewandowska topless alongside fellow (male) politician Janusz Maksymiuk on a beach in Egypt. The pale-faced Danuta Hojarska decided to tell her co-parliamentarian to be more discreet. Translation from exchange on

Hojarska: If Lewandowska wants to tan naked, then she should find herself an abandoned island, not someplace where everyone can see and photograph. I told everyone at the parliamentary club of Samoobrona in the presence of all of our parliamentarians. She is a representative and at least for that reason she should respect herself.

Next, Hojarska claims that Lewandowska responded: If you don’t support tanning in the nude, you shouldn’t be in Samoobrona.

Lewandowska disputes this last exchange, claims that Hojarska just didn’t like her pictures. She says that she’s had many anonymous supporters telling her that she should continue her topless sunbathing and not worry her pretty head.

I'm putting my money on Lewandowska in this round. She is, after all from the ever-tan political party of Andrzej Lepper:

May 4, 2007

"Elections in Dagestan," Sort of...

Distracted by the juicy Estonia row, and the apocalyptic "mineshaft gap" with Russia, Eternal Remont failed to note the March Presidential elections in Dagestan. Our mistake. Here's the highlight film:

--Two political opponents from United Russia and the Union of Right Forces drew guns on each other during debates -- the two candidates were cousins.
--There were kiddnappings and murders of political officials.
--The Kremlin opted for a Chicago-style election, ensuring United Russia and Just Russia a win. Jamestown noted, "The elections themselves were totally rigged."
--Opposition seats are now too small to influence any policy.

Managed democracy at its finest. We salute you Dagestan.

May 3, 2007

The laziness stereotype makes more sense now...'d be lazy too if you smoked that much weed.

MONTENEGRO SEIZES NEARLY 1,200 KILOS OF DRUGS IN 2006. Montenegrin law enforcement agencies in 2006 seized over a ton of illegal drugs, according to a May 2 report by the Macedonian news agency Makfax. The ministry said it brought drugs-related charges against 439 people in 2006. A breakdown of the drugs seized was not provided. In the latest large seizure to be reported, in early April, Montenegrin police seized 142 kilograms of marijuana on the shores of Lake Shkoder, which lies on Montenegro's border with Albania. Montenegro is seen as a transit country for opium from Afghanistan and, increasingly, as a route for Latin American cocaine intended for Western Europe.

BOO YAH! I called it!

RFE/RL: Against the backdrop of the ongoing row between Russia and Estonia over the removal of a Soviet war memorial from downtown Tallinn, Russian Railways (RZhD), Russia's state railway monopoly, halted deliveries of oil products to Estonia on May 2, saying it plans to carry out maintenance of the rail link to Estonia. According to Reuters, Russia sends a quarter of its oil-product exports -- including fuel oil, diesel, and gasoline -- by rail to Estonia, from where it is re-exported to Northern Europe. The news agency quoted coal exporters as saying RZhD has also halted exports of steam coal via Estonia for this month, totaling up to 900,000 tons, citing a shortage of railway wagons. The exporters said RZhD told them they must use their own rail wagons, not RZhD's, but that it has not been possible to find alternative wagons on such short notice.

You may recall an earlier blog entry, where I predicted Russia would cut off supplies to Estonia:

May 1, 2007

True Headline: "Alien Vandalism in Estonia's Capital"

Yeah, it's about the Estonia war memorial. But this headline is just too rich with possibility. Why would aliens pick Estonia? What could these aliens be saying to us? All Your Base are Belong to Us?

Russia: Teeming Moscow Looks Underground For Space

It seems the worst has happened. We have allowed a mineshaft gap. Well played, Russia. From RFE/RL:

22 floors beneath street level, near Taganskaya metro, lies a labyrinth of winding alleys and echoing caverns. It used to be a top-secret bunker, built by Stalin in the 1950s as a weapons cache, fuel depot, and shelter for up to 3,000 troops and civilians. Today, ground water is seeping in through the concrete and there is an overbearing smell of rust and mold. But last year, the bunker was auctioned off to a private company. The plan is to turn it into an underground leisure complex and hotel, complete with shops and a spa.

Moscow has seen a building boom in the last decade. But with space above ground running out, city planners are starting to build downwards. The mayor of Moscow, has complained that only 8% of the ground beneath the city is currently being used. Over the next 10 yrs, he wants to develop as much as 1/4 of underground Moscow.