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 fool...at 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."


The Russian Presidential Race Gets a Second Candidate

No seriously, who else is "running"?

YahooNews:The former world chess champion Garry Kasparov entered Russia's presidential race on Sunday, elected overwhelmingly as the candidate for the country's beleagured opposition coalition.

Kasparov has been a driving force behind the coalition, which has united liberals, leftists and nationalists in opposition to President Vladimir Putin. He received 379 of 498 votes at a national congress held in Moscow by the Other Russia coalition, coalition spokeswoman Lyudmila Mamina told The Associated Press.

Kasparov's place on the March ballot was not assured. His candidacy still needs to be registered and is likely to be blocked.