Jul 31, 2007

Tossing the Treaty

What happens when you start tossing treaties?

"The Kremlin’s decision to suspend compliance with a key arms treaty bodes of a new era in Russia’s foreign and domestic politics." From ToL: Tossing the Treaty

Putin Downgrades Relations with Hamas for Palestine

Putin, you continue to confuse and amaze me.

CNN: Russia said on Tuesday it had downgraded its ties with the Hamas Islamist group, in a show of support for visiting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Russia established high-level contacts with Hamas after it won Palestinian elections last year, even though Western powers shunned the militant group because of its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

"Recently, we have somewhat downgraded the level of contacts with Hamas. Now we are pursuing a pragmatic goal of trying to influence them directly and indirectly to resume national unity," First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov told reporters after Putin and Abbas met in the Kremlin.

Propaganda War

As the US and Russia descend into an unproductive, and ultimately, harmful tête-à-tête, sometimes its fun just to stop and saver the glory of our newly minted propaganda war.

This little gem comes from the Moscow Weekly News: "10 Reasons Why Russia Can’t Trust Uncle Sam." But there's a twist.

While the usual talkers are on display: Mutually Assured Destruction is a good thing, Bush is evil, the Pentagon has lots of money, NATO is too big, the Council on Foreign Relations is a war-mongering think tank...the author is an American living in Moscow.

The marriage of Kremlin publicity and the Cindy Sheehan crowd was certainly a matter of time. But now, the first buds of spring are sprouting.

It's Time for Everyone's Favorite Game...

...Who is to blame? Terrorists or the Russian Government?

VOA: A group of family members of those killed in the 2004 Beslan school massacre says a newly released videotape contradicts the official explanation of how the hostages died. The Beslan Mothers Committee says the tape supports their theory that many of the 331 deaths were caused by Russian security forces firing on the buildings where terrorists held students and teachers.

The government's account says the hostages died when the terrorists set off explosives inside the building. But an investigator can be heard on a film of the aftermath saying the explosions came from the outside.

Gunmen seized the Beslan school in September of 2004 demanding a pullout of Russian forces from Chechnya. They held more than 1000 hostages for more than 2 days until a series of explosions and gunfire ended the standoff.

Jul 30, 2007

Bulgarian Cops: What Babies for Sale?

In a follow-up to the BBC report on child smuggling in Bulgaria, the local Five-O apparently has no idea what the journalists are talking about....

"Shortly after the news piece aired last Thursday, a high-ranking Bulgarian police official disputed such allegations. Commissioner Veselin Petrov, the top police official for the city of Varna, said there was no evidence to support the BBC's allegations of a child-trafficking ring."

We guess the BBC must have just fabricated the story. If Commissioner Petrov says its false, then we are forced to believe the local cops. They would never have let this happen under their noses, and they sure as heck-fire aren't going to let the BBC make it look like they aren't doing their jobs... Commissioner Petrov says so.

Jul 27, 2007

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Fashion Icon?

So Mikhail Gorbachev, Annie Leibovitz, Louis Vuitton walk into a bar...Wait. Strike that. Wrong post. But you'll never guess who's the new face of Vuitton.

NYT: "Mr. Gorbachev’s appearance in a Pizza Hut commercial was generally greeted as a low point in his career. The Vuitton ad, however, is part of a campaign to emphasize the company’s heritage in luggage and travel accessories. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, the ads include other celebrities using Vuitton bags..." Oh, and Gorbachev would never be caught dead driving through the neighborhood pictured in the background. His face is classic. "Where the fuck are we?" At least we'll know what to take on our next vacation to Abkhazia. (Thanks Igor)

" Vacation in a Non-Existent Country"

What do you do as a photographer who’s been kicked out of Russia? Travel to the fringes of the post-Soviet Empire and take vacations to places that, technically, do not exist.

Few photographers have ever been able to truly conceptualize or capture Russia after The Fall. Jonas Bendiksen is unique.

Abkhazia. 2005. A Vacation in a Non-Existent Country
Transdniester. 2004. The European Ghost Republic
Kazakhstan & Russia. 2000. The Spaceship Junkyard

Nothing against the European Court of Human Rights

but $200,000? People have won much more just for spilling scalding coffee on themselves (www.lectlaw.com/files/cur78.htm). In any case, it will be interesting to see if Russia pays up.

Washington Post: The European Court of Human Rights found Russia liable Thurs in the killing of more than 50 civilians in a Chechen village in 2000 and ordered the government to pay $200,000 to 5 relatives of those who died. "In the Court's view, the astonishing ineffectiveness of the prosecuting authorities in this case could only be qualified as acquiescence in the events," said the unanimous decision by the seven-judge panel.

Another decision handed down by the court Thurs. found Russia liable in 2 other deaths stemming from the Chechen conflict and similarly faulted authorities for failing to carry out a thorough investigation.

Russian politicians have criticized the court as anti-Russian and politicized. Yury Sharandin, a leading member of Russia's upper house of parliament, attempted to play down the rulings. "When a court, including the one in Strasbourg, makes a decision in favor of a citizen, it does not mean at all that the decision is made against his state," Sharandin told the Interfax news agency.

Jul 26, 2007

Bulgaria: How Much Is That Baby In The Window?

BBC: "Babies are being illegally offered for sale in Bulgaria with the promise of smuggling them abroad, an undercover BBC News team has discovered. A self-confessed human trafficker in the resort city of Varna showed off toddlers with a selling price of 60,000 euros (£40,000) each...For an extra fee, [the smuggler] said he would personally deliver a child to London."

Follow this link to loose your faith in humanity (via BBC).

Did you hear the new one about the Polock bus driver?

He got fired for approxiamately $34,000 worth of text messaging on a company phone.

AP: A Polish bus driver has been fired for sending 38,000 text messages on his company cell phone in a losing effort to win contest jackpot, a spokesman said Thursday. Leszek Wojcik, a bus driver in the Polish city of Slupsk, ran up a tab of some $34,000 with his text messages while trying to win a $36,000 SMS contest that ended June 30.

Boba said a city bus drivers' monthly company phone bill is supposed to be limited to $5. Wojcik sent an average of 1,200 SMS text messages a day, each costing $0.86, on his work cell phone. Wojcik told TVN24 television he wanted to buy a second car with his possible winnings. "Now I'm without work," he said.


GazPutin: "Lock and Load'

Putin's latest call to strengthen Russia's crippled military forces has raised eyebrows and prompted a flurry of analysis. Yet the typically dry writers at Stratfor win this week's prize for honesty in analysis.

"Stratfor never takes such statements from people who possess nuclear capabilities lightly. But, in this case, the apparent militancy behind the comment is sadly funny...Low birth rates, combined with soaring death rates -- particularly among men between the ages of 30 and 55 -- have saddled the country with the worst demographic picture in centuries...As a country, Russia is -- quite literally -- dying.

"For the Russians, it is about being told in a rather absentminded and oblique way that they and their interests no longer matter. But matter they do, and while the Russians are indeed dying, they are not dead yet. Acting as if they were is tantamount to discussing a grandmother's past marital infidelities before she finalizes her will, and expecting her to be oblivious to it. "

Jingoistic Geology, Part II

VOA reports: "Russia has launched an expedition to the North Pole aimed at proving that a ridge of arctic seabed thought to contain vast oil and natural gas reserves is an extension of continental Russia." This is a follow-up to Russia's claims that it should, by rights, own the North Pole. Nevermind the existance of an international treaty to the contrary.

Then again, Russia has been having a lot of trouble with treaties lately.

Separated at birth?

In light of Lybia's recent release of the Bulgarian nurses, we couldn't help but notice the strong similarities between Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi and Gene Simmons.

These two may have more in common then their rock-and roll attitude, penchant for make-up, and take-no-prisoners fashion sense.

Jul 25, 2007

Yes, I should I write for The Economist...

Lith Jenn sent me this article with the message "I believe you called it first. :)" Why yes, I did indeed call it on July 24 in my entry "What I don't get about Belarus"

The Economist then published this article the following day. Better luck next time, The Economist!

Here's a selection from johnny-come-lately's article "Preparing for Tougher Times":

Belarusian Pres. A. Lukashenka is reshuffling senior officials, at the same time as his energy minister is in Moscow for talks over an unpaid US$500m gas debt. The 2 issues are related, for cheap energy and a strong "power vertical" have been the bedrock of Mr Lukashenka's rule. Belarus says it doesn't have the resources to meet its debt, particularly as Russia has been slow to respond the Belarusian request for a US$1.5bn loan.

To judge by the published budgetary figures, Belarus's budget is awash with cash. In reality the position may be less strong. Revenues are sharply higher this year because of the Russian-dictated increase in export duty on oil products. However, 80% of the revenue is supposed eventually to be transferred to Russia, so in practice Belarus is less able to pay.

You Need Money, Belarus! Yout Don't Have Your Own Energy Sources And You Have Nothing To Sell That Europe Or Anyone With Money Wants! Time To Reform!

(Editorial note: Belarus is one of the largest exporter of weapons to African wars, somebody loves them.)

Lunchtime Poll

Is Solzhenitsyn too old to be interviewed or taken seriously anymore? I vote for yes.

RFE/RL: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said in an interview on July 23 that he recently accepted a State Award for lifetime humanitarian achievement from Pres Putin, after declining similar honors in the past, because the State Award was proposed by a group of "leading experts". Solzhenitsyn said of Putin's secret service background that "he was an officer of the intelligence services, but he was not a KGB investigator, nor was he the head of a camp in the Gulag.

As for service in foreign intelligence agencies, that is not a negative in any country -- sometimes it even draws praise. George Bush Sr. was not much criticized for being the ex-head of the CIA, for example." Solzhenitsyn charged that in unnamed former communist countries, "the new generation is only too happy to voice grievances and level accusations, with present-day Moscow a convenient target. They behave as if they heroically liberated themselves and lead a new life now, while Moscow has remained communist. Nevertheless, I dare hope that this unhealthy phase will soon be over." He said Russia will need "time and experience" to develop democracy, but argued that Putin has been a far better president than his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

Solzhenitsyn believes the "worship" of the West that characterized the Yeltsin years began to change in 1999 because of "the cruel NATO bombings of Serbia." He charged Western countries with being cynical and hypocritical in their dealings with Russia. He also suggested that the US rejected Moscow's "helping hand" after September 11, 2001, and that Europe's policy toward Russia is driven by "fears about energy." Solzhenitsyn argued that the West will need Russia as an ally in the future and is unwise to spurn its offers of cooperation now.

The "Bulava" Okudzhava

In June, Russia announced the sucessful test of its new Bulava ICBM. News of the Bulava's previous four failures (exploding after take-off, etc) were quietly swept aside. Only Kommersant's intrepid defense reporter Ivan Safronov, a retired colnel in the Space Rocket Forces, covered the issue. This is, until he decided to 'jump' from his apartment widnow in March.

There are now a flurry of questions as to the sucesss of the latest Bulava test. "The main designer of the Bulava, Yuri Solomonov, has in the past attributed the multiple mishaps of test-launches to the progressive degradation of the Russian defense industry, the inferior quality of Russian-made components and materials, and the 'loss' of key military technology (Jamestown)."

Read it here.

Jul 24, 2007

So much for change...

Apparently Berdymukhammedov suffers from the same delusion that gripped his predecessor, the idea that it is possible to turn a desert into a forest:

IWPR: President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov is on a mission to make Turkmenistan greener through a new tree-planting scheme, but NBCentralAsia experts say the plants will die in the arid climate and salinated soil unless an efficient irrigation system is put in place.

During a cabinet meeting on July 14, Berdymuhammedov announced that everyone in Turkmenistan must take part in a massive scheme to “make the entire country greener”.

Mandatory volunteerism and wasteful spending is alive and well in Turkmenistan!

What I don't get about Belarus...

...well, that could fill the oceans, but what I don't get is that, unlike the Central Asian countries and Russia, they have no gas or oil or natural resources to sell the rest of the world. This reality carries with it at least 2 consequences.

1. You're going to need to bring in money some other way. Tourism could work, if you could convince people Belarus is worth visiting and safe enough to visit.

2. The EU is not going to stand by idly while you trample on basic rights and freedoms, because you have nothing to offer them to invite such brazen hypocrisy.

Think, Belarus!

RFE/RL: Pavel Sevyarynets of the Youth Front (Malady Front) movement, and Aleksey Shein, co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party, were found guilty of distributing illegal literature. The 2 were detained on July 23 after police found them in possession of leaflets containing information about a future opposition meeting. Sevyarynets was freed from an earlier prison term in May after being convicted for organizing an unsanctioned rally. Several other members of the Youth Front have been fined or sentenced to prison in recent months for participating in an unauthorized organization. The group has made several attempts to gain legal authorization.

Some Great News

VOA: 6 medics held in Libya on charges of infecting 100s of children with the AIDS virus have been released. They have received a warm welcome in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. The 5 Bulgarian nurses and 1 Palestinian doctor boarded a French presidential plane bound for Bulgaria. They were accompanied by EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and French First Lady Cecilia Sarkozy.

Bulgarian EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva says the case was another reason for her country to join the EU, this year. "This is not only about cohesion funds. This is not only about agriculture," she said. "This is this overwhelming feeling of solidarity when you are really in a desperate situation, as we have been for all these years, trying to release our medics.

Libya lifted death sentences against the medics, last week, commuting the terms to life imprisonment, after families of the more-than-400 infected children received about $1 million, each, in compensation.

Jul 23, 2007

What happens in Bulgaria...usually leads to death

The Sofia Weekly: A night of shameless boozing has claimed the life of an 18-yr-old Dane in Bulgaria's Sunny Beach resort, on the southern Black Sea coast. Peter Alink, together with a group of friends of his, toured 5 pubs in the resort with the intention to just have a taste of the famously delicious Bulgarian wine. The innocent plan, however, turned into a booze orgy laced with industrial quantities of the lethal combination of vodka, beer and tequila.

Cheap drink, bargain flights and cut-price hotels are giving foreigners licence to save their money and lose their inhibitions in Bulgaria. Doctors in Sunny Beach say they find it hard to handle the emergency cases involving foreigners as it is not only teenagers, but also elderly people, who spend the night drinking heavily in the numerous pubs of what was once an up-market resort. It has become a common site to see a dozen of unconscious bodies sprawling on the streets of the resort in the early morning hours, they add.

Sochi 2014 Baby!

Thanks ellustrator!

"Energy Security" Gets Less Secure

Some excellent analysis in Jamestown's EDM today on the real meaning of "Energy security" in the CIS. Seems the transit bill is about to go up again, while Chevron and ExxonMobil are looking at a rather large bill for 'back taxes.'

"[Western] companies are permanently exposed to shakedown tactics on the Russian section of the pipeline in the absence of alternative options. "

Read it here...

Jul 20, 2007

The Cult of Putin-ality

This is a much longer article, PLEASE read the whole thing.

Washington Post: With 2 new manuals for high school history and social studies teachers, written in part by Kremlin political consultants, Russian authorities are attempting to imbue classroom debate with a nationalist outlook.

The history guide contains a laudatory review of Putin's years in power. "We see that practically every significant deed is connected with the name and activity of President V.V. Putin," declares its last chapter. The social studies guide is marked by intense hostility to the US.

Both books reflect the themes dominating official political discourse here: that Putin restored Russian strength and built what the Kremlin calls a "sovereign democracy" despite American efforts to isolate the country.

I love this part. As if we could have successfully pulled off a color revolution! We couldn't even kill Castro!

Other events, such as the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, in which hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians overturned the official results of a presidential election they believed to be fraudulent, are explained as largely American-inspired plots.

And my favorite part...You always got to bring it back to Uncle Joe.

According to the new history manual, Stalin was brutal but also "the most successful leader of the U.S.S.R."

Jul 19, 2007

In case you've been living in a cave with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears...

Diplomatic relations between Russia and Britain have officially collapsed.

Washington Post: Russia expelled 4 British diplomats on Thursday, retaliating in-kind just days after officials in London kicked 4 Russians out of the country in protest over the progress of a murder investigation.

The tit-for-tat expulsions stem from Moscow's refusal to extradite the Russian man accused of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian domestic intelligence officer, in London last November. The incident unnerved Londoners because it involved the use of a radioactive element later found in other parts of the city, and now has become a full-fledged diplomatic row.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that Russia should extradite Andrei Lugovoy, the man accused by Britain of murdering Litvinenko. The EU has expressed its "disappointment" at Russia's lack of cooperation.

Lugovoy is accused of using polonium-210 to kill Litvinenko, a fierce critic of Putin. Litvinenko, a former officer in the FSB, a KGB successor agency, fled to Britain in 2000, where he became a citizen. The case is particularly charged because Litvinenko suffered a slow and gruesome death. In addition, 100s of Londoners feared they were exposed to the radioactive substance and underwent tests amid panic in the city last November.

Jul 17, 2007

Ford Celebrates Its Growth and Success in Russia

NYTimes: Moscow - A troupe of majorettes marched past a lineup of new Ford Focus and Fiesta sedans here on Monday. Dignitaries toured a new automotive service center, where nary a grease-stained rag could be seen. Then, with the snip of a red ribbon, Ford Motor opened its largest dealership in Europe, beside a highway outside Moscow.

Ford’s fortunes may be less than glittering elsewhere, but in Russia — Europe’s fastest-growing car market — there is reason to celebrate. Ford sales here, in contrast to slumping performance in the US, were up 122% in the first 6 months of 2007, compared with the same period last year. In fact, the Focus was Russia’s No. 1 selling foreign sedan in 2006, easily surpassing competitors like Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi, according to the Association of European Businesses, a group that tracks automotive sales.


Bad Religion

6 miles from the nearest road, in the vast Siberian wilderness, a bearded man in flowing white linen robes sat at his kitchen table and talked about his crucifixion at the hands of Pontius Pilate 2,000 years ago.

In a voice barely louder than the rain falling on the mountaintop home his followers have built for him, Sergei Torop said it was painful to remember the end of his last life, in which he says he walked the Earth as Jesus Christ.

Torop, 46, is a former Siberian traffic cop who is now spiritual leader of at least 5,000 devoted followers. They have abandoned lives as artists, engineers and professionals in other fields to move to this remote corner of Siberia, 2,000 miles from Moscow. In empty woodlands, they are building from scratch an entire new town, where they pass their lives near the man they call Vissarion, "he who gives new life."

Russian government officials and religion analysts call his Church of the Last Testament one of the largest new religious groups in Russia, which has become an incubator of novel faiths since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.


Yellow Phosphorus

"July 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A freight train carrying toxic yellow phosphorus derailed on the evening of July 16 in western Ukraine, sparking a fire and a poisonous cloud that has contaminated over a dozen nearby villages....Yellow phosphorus is highly flammable and can catch fire spontaneously upon contact with air, creating a distinctive garlic smell."

The accident did have a positive spin, as it forced the mass evacuation of local vampires. Romania's minister for displaced persons was unavaliable to comment.

Jul 16, 2007

Being a journalist in Russia...

...has to be the most dangerous job in the country. Siberian miners have a better shot at this point.

RFE/RL: An executive with German publishing house Bertelsmann has been found stabbed to death at her home near Moscow. Prosecutors said Marina Pisareva, the deputy head of Bertelsmann's Russian branch, was apparently killed with a collector's dagger that belonged to her. Media giant Bertelsmann operates in 63 countries. In Russia, the company is a stakeholder in television and production company REN TV. Prosecutors have not ruled out the possibility that Pisareva's murder is connected to her professional work.

Turkmenistan joins the 20th century.

RFE/RL: Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov has signed a decree abolishing internal travel permits for the country's citizens, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. The presidential office said the decision was aimed at improving the welfare of the population and ensuring their free movement. Turkmen citizens previously had to apply for special permission to travel within the country. It's not yet clear when the move will come into effect.

Does this mean they've abolished serfdom as well?

The lesson is...Never trust Ukrainians.

From The Sofia Weekly: Ukrainians Arrested in Czech Republic for Trafficking of Bulgarians. The Czech police arrested on Tuesday three Ukrainians for the human trafficking of Ukranian and Bulgarian nationals, the iDnes news site reported.

The Ukrainians lured their countrymen and Bulgarian workers in the Czech Republic, promising them employment, but when the workers arrived to the country their passports were seized and they were forced to work under heavy conditions and for minimal payment.

The Czech police has already identified more than 50 victims of the mock employers. The arrestees now face up to 15 years in prison. The group of three has been operating in Central and Western Bohemia from the end of 2004.

Jul 13, 2007

President Tkachev?

With the Sochi Olympics under his belt, there's a whisper campaign afoot to cast Krasnodar Gov. Alexander Tkachev as the "dark horse" candidate for president. Never say never in Russian politics, but with a PR machine pumping out pictures like this...it's hard to ignore.

"Gypsies are like a nation of criminals."

From the SOVA-Center

12 июля 2007 г. в газете «Новые Известия» опубликована статья Алексея Смирнова «Скандинавский табор» откровенно антицыганского содержания.

В материале рассказывается, что после вступления Румынии в Евросоюз румынские цыгане получили возможность приехать в Данию. «С появлением цыган Данию захлестнула волна самых разнообразных преступлений». В изложении автора все приехавшие цыгане занимаются исключительно криминальной деятельностью – воровством и мошенничеством: ««Цыгане играют на чувстве сострадания людей, пытаясь проникнуть к ним в дом под видом того, что ребенку нужно напиться или сходить в туалет. Они устраивают западню на дороге, поднимая капот машины и прося о помощи. Как только жертва вступила в контакт с преступниками, ее тут же окружает целая толпа, и вы лишитесь всего ценного … предлагают поиграть в наперсток, причем подставной прохожий на глазах у всех выигрывает. В собравшейся толпе работают карманники. … Не покупайте золота у цыган. Это латунные изделия … Не обменивайте у них деньги. Вас запутают и подсунут куклу. … советуют при появлении в городе цыганского кочевья особенно пристально следить за кредитными карточками. Гости … прибыли в Данию с целым арсеналом технических средств для воровства кодов доступа».

Статья не содержит даже и намека на то, что кто-то из цыган может не быть преступником. Большие цыганские семьи именуются «мобильными цыганскими шайками».

Следует отметить, что прежде материалы с такой высокой концентрацией языка вражды нам в «Новых Известиях» не встречались и были для газеты абсолютно не характерны.

Jul 12, 2007

Well, it seems my trip to Ukraine was a failure

Podrobnosti.ua: Большинство украинцев не верит в демократию -

56,3% граждан Украины считают, что практически не имеют средств контроля над властью. Такие данные исследования общественного мнения населения Украины сегодня на пресс-конференции в Киеве обнародовали научный руководитель фонда Демократические инициативы Ирина Бекешкина и руководитель фирмы Юкрейниан социолоджи сервис Александр Вишняк. Согласно результатам исследования, 24,8% опрошенных оценивают свое влияние на нынешнюю власть как "достаточно слабое", "достаточно сильным" считают свое влияние на власть 3,9% респондентов, 0,8% граждан оценивают его как "очень сильное" и 14,2% респондентов было трудно ответить на вопрос.

Iran Get's an Invite?

The time has come...Iran may finally be told the password and allowed to hang out with all the other kids in the SCO treehouse.

We're braced for the hilarity to come.

Watch out, Azerbaijan

"When the [U.S.] Army was firming up plans for its force of the future, it needed to invade and occupy a country in its war games, to model how all the new tanks, robots, and fighting vehicles might perform. That country, oddly enough, was Azerbaijan."

Jul 11, 2007

The Mongols Are Coming…To Build Roads?

Our man in Dushanbe hits the road, only to discover that there isn't one, yet (from James).

The Chinese have seen fit to rebuild virtually every major road in Tajikistan, including the main north-south corridor linking Dushanbe with Khojand, the commercial center in the north.

I was on the road a few weeks ago and it's not good. Picture I-95, but one lane, dirt, prone to rock slides, hugging sheer cliffs, climbing a 12,000 foot pass and closed for three months every year. And the Chinese have decided to work on the entire road at once, rather than piece by piece, so the whole thing is bulldozed and cratered.

The article below points to the unforeseen downside of 400 million dollars in zero interest loans (besides impending economic servitude to the Middle Kingdom, that is). The Chinese have insisted that only Chinese workers build the road, so the country is flooded with thousands of bewildered peasants from Anhui and other cheery provinces living in tents along the road. I didn't believe it until I saw it. I'll try to get you a picture.

Yet, craving some good old home cooking, the Chinese workers are now ravaging the countryside in search of snakes, turtles and god knows what else, threatening to wipe them out. And after having eaten meat on a stick for the past few weeks, I don't blame them.

Jul 10, 2007

This one from the Department of Shameless Self-promotion...

"US-Russia relations: The first casualty"
ISN Security Watch, Peter Doran and John Elliott

“If a cooperative and mutually beneficial deal is not possible to save the treaty, then all sides must be prepared to envision a European security structure without the CFE.”

Read it here...

Jul 8, 2007

Driving Drunk in Uzbekistan

Thinking of driving home drunk? Make sure you do it in Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Slovakia or Uzbekistan -- none of which have laws prohibiting drunk-driving.

But, watch out in Estonia or Poland, where the legal blood alchohol limit is a draconian .02, followed by an equally punishing .03 in Georgia, Moldova and Turkmenistan -- or roughly equal to a shot of mouthwash. (Read it here.)

0.08 BAC - Is the legal limit in most of the United States.
0.35 BAC - Will induce blackouts and stupor.
0.50 BAC - Is the published overdose level leading to death.
0.60 BAC - Is the limit for Aeroflot pilots to fly a passenger jet.
0.74 BAC - Is the highest recorded blood alcohol level by a US hospital.

Jul 6, 2007

EU: Let's 'Come' Together

For the purposes of Eternal Remont, we're going to file this one under "EU integration woes." It was just too good to pass up.

This week, the European Commission's "daily news briefing sprung to life with questions over whether a 44-second clip of 18 couples achieving ecstasy in a variety of positions and venues was the best way to show how Brussels uses taxpayers' money," Reuters reports.

"The raunchy clip is made up of snippets from various general release films that have been funded by the EU...Some reporters also took a swipe at the title of the sequence, asking whether "Let's Come Together" was acceptable innuendo -- and if it was, whether the pun worked in the 27-member Union's other official languages."

NSFW, except in the EU, we guess.

Jul 5, 2007

Kaliningrad is Asymmetrical

After months of speculation, Russia has offered its "asymmetrical response" to the proposed missile shield in Eastern Europe: missiles in Kaliningrad?

That's right. "First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said today the deployment will not be necessary if Washington abandons plans for missile-defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic," reports RFE/RL. Where exactly Russia will target said missiles, or what actual purpose they will serve in Kaliningrad, remain unanswered.

Tajikistan Needs More Landmine Money

IWPR reports that Tajikistan is woefully behind in efforts to clear the country of landmines. Lack of funding is an issue. But worse than that, no-one seems to know exactly where Tajikistan ends and Uzbekistan begins.

"Uzbek border guards laid landmines along the border with Tajikistan in 1999 and 2000, but they have not yet handed over the maps marking their whereabouts," said Jonmahmad Rajabov head of the Centre for Landmine Issues. He adds, "Since the line where the border runs has not been defined, we cannot work there. We have no precise information [on where the mines are]...We don’t know why the Uzbeks haven’t yet started clearing mines on their own territory."

Jul 3, 2007

Jingoistic Geology?

Russian geologists have determined that an oil-and-gas rich region under the North Pole is connected to Russia via an underwater shelf. The North Pole, therefore, should belong to Russia.
Nevermind there's a treaty recognizing the region as an international zone, or that other scientists doubt the validity of the findidng.

"Frankly I think it's a little bit strange," Sergey Priamikov, the international co-operation director of Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg, told the Guardian. "Canada could make exactly the same claim."

That's because the Canadians are sane.

Jul 2, 2007

"I Reserved the Sniper-Proof Suite..."

At last, Russia's nouveau riche have a place to spend their money.

"The Ritz-Carlton hotel near Moscow's Red Square sets a new standard for decadence... The hotel's presidential suite - where the dining room is fitted with bullet-proof glass and windows - costs a little over $US16,000 a night. The hotel's wine list features a 1961 Chateau Petrus at $US68,000 a bottle, and a 1969 vintage Macallan Single Malt Scotch Whiskey priced at $US400 a shot."

At these prices, the in-house prostitutes must be to-die-for.

“Our guests are very discriminating and have high expectations,” said Ritz-Carlton president Simon Cooper. We bet they do.

The Lobster Summit

Rose Gottemoeller, the best looking woman in arms control, summed up the Bush-Putin "Lobster Summit" better than anyone. "What I’m hearing from the White House is that this is going to be another summit that does not emphasize deliverables," she said.

Eternal Remont has permanently afixed this nifty little zinger to the Batman tool belt.

--"Show that you love me."
--"When did this become a relationship that emphasized deliverables...?"

Russia Pulls Out of Georgia and Into Armenia

The good news over the weekend is that Russia has pulled out of the Akhalkalaki base in Georgia. The bad news is that all of the equipment is now parked in Armenia.

With friends like these, who needs an oil field?