Dec 31, 2008

Happy New Year!


Revolution is coming!

The price of vodka is going up after the New Year. There can be no other outcome.

Gosalkokontrol has been set into motion. The president’s decree on the creation of Gosalkokontrol has been drafted and submitted to the government. The new agency will have new authority, including setting the minimal prices for alcohol and licensing the alcohol transportation.

According to, a bottle of legal vodka will cost no less than 95 rubles in 2009. The segment of premium and low-premium vodka (from 160 rubles to 170 rubles a bottle) is likely to yield a portion of market share to cheaper vodka of illegal make. Meanwhile, the beer industry is apparently the first victim of new policies. The beer output in Russia grew no more than 1% from January through September, which is a record low of the last 18 years.

So have a happy new year, Russia! The cheer today will cost a bit more tomorrow.

Dec 30, 2008

How You Know You're the Scapegoat

Remember a little over a year ago when we were still wondering who, if anyone, was going to succeed Vladimir Vladimirovich? Then things settled down, we had a good four years before 2012. Although not everything was easy sailing, Medvedev got a little overzealous with the anticorruption legislation and a misunderstanding over Mechel. And now Medvedev has begun in many ways to stress his independence of Putin, and become defensive of repeated media questions to him and his subordinates about who truly controls Kremlin policy

Then the financial crisis came along and the honeymoon may be over. There has been a lot of speculation about why Putin/Medvedev chose to amend the Constitution to extend the presidential term to 6 years. Having been in office less than a year and consolidated a good hold over the media and the regional and federal parliaments through United Russia (and now the new left umbrella and the absconding of Mr. Belykh to Kirov). Has Medvedev's new push for independence Putin gone too far? Did the financial crisis mean the second string had to be put back on the bench in case something happened? Everyone wants to know, is Putin going to take over?

The financial crisis has unquestionably caused a lot of unrest in Russia. Protests, the fall of oligarchs, and rumblings within the political elite as United Russia thinned its ranks to deal with shrinking funds. LaRussophobe caught a fascinating article which came out in the Moscow Times by Vladimir Frolov (recognized by many as a Putin mouthpiece), which criticized Medvedev's handling of the financial crisis and even the Russian-Georgian conflict in August. Whoa there! Newspapers have been shutdown for less than that!

Whatever the reasons, growing discontent in the population and to some degree the party, an unknown deviation from the Putin plan, or a grand set-up, it seems clear that Medvedev is quickly becoming the proverbial scapegoat, whether willing or not.

Dude, Where’s My Ruble?

Over the weekend, Russia's central bank instituted yet another devaluation of the ruble, allowing the currency to loose 1.5% of its value against a Euro-Dollar basket. Oddly, the devaluation didn't merit the attention of our friends at RussiaToday, who focused instead on news items like "Gazprom posts 83% Net Profit jump for 1H 2008” (before the collapse in energy prices) and "Russian leaders review economic progress for 2008 and look to future.”


We were hoping for at least a modest attempt to spin the devaluation. Worse yet, we can't seem to find any comment from Russian officials on the status of the ruble as a major international reserve currency. How could we forget the July visit from Chavez, and the part where...

He echoed Russian calls to make the ruble a major reserve currency in opposition to a weakened dollar. “The ruble must become a world currency,” he said. “The dollar must not become a world currency.”

Still nothing?

Too bad, since the Wall Street Journal offers such a woderful obituary for "The Wizards of Oil."

United Kingdom Defenseless Against the Reds... the 1970s

According to the BBC (and a number of other media outlets), documents marked "Top Secret, UK eyes only" were recently de-classified by the National Archives, and said documents show that the Labour government of 30 years ago was engulfed in a furious row over the inadequacy of the nation's defenses.

In the air, the UK would be forced to confront an estimated 200 Soviet bombers with 98 fighters, resulting in destruction to the UK many times worse than that delivered by the German Luftwaffe.

So why didn't the Soviets attack? Well, probably they didn't realize the extent of their military superiority. Also, um...alliances? Pretty sure, the US and few European countries would have gotten involved, although maybe in the wake of the disaster that was Vietnam, who knows what countries would have been willing to do. Missed opportunity or missed debacle? Your call.

Dec 29, 2008

Naughty or Nice?

After surveying it's membership over the past several weeks, Nashi, the Kremlin-backed "anti-fascist" youth group, has drawn up a list. Giving Santa a day off, or perhaps having less faith in his discriminatory capabilities than other small children, Nashi has identified a "Naughty" list of the World's Leaders. However, only one, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has been given coal, because each gift is specially designed to poke fun at that leader.

Yushchenko received coal and a log, presumably because it's going to be a hard winter renegotiating gas prices with Russia, yet again. Yushchenko also received a re-conceived Ukrainian flag which is apparently the offspring of the Ukrainian and American flags and a Nazi swastika. (All I can say to that last part is something about a pot and a kettle)

Good old President Saakashvili was given several ties, to replace the one he gnawed upon in an absentminded moment on film

And ever the target of political satire, President George W. Bush received some maps marking with mousetraps NATO expansion. Quite anticlimactic really, they had so much else to choose from..pretzels, the newly popular shoe incident...Come on guys, mousetraps?

I just wonder what Putin got...

Dear Roman Abramovich, Please Buy Our Country?

An anonymous source has posted a letter (available in Russian here and some snippets in English here) petitioning Roman Abramovich to buy Latvia. These "hardworking and pleasant people" are facing bankruptcy and, as of this moment, over 550 Latvians have signed this letter. Apparently this is not the first time Latvians have joined together to petition a foreign individual or state takeover. Also this year, over 2000 Latvians petitioned for Swedish occupation.

Unfortunately, it seems this petitioner has not been reading the news lately. Abramovich has reportedly lost $20 billion already to the financial crisis and canceled an "Aspen New Years Bash."

It seems unlikely that with a reported $7 billion left, Abramovich will chose to purchase Latvia, but here's hoping, because that would be hilarious. And the author made a good point when saying there's plenty of room for Abramovich's new yacht.

Aleksandr Nevsky Voted Most Notable Personality in Russian History

Stalin demands a recount, as Nevsky is already dead.

I don't know how we missed this one, or maybe I just did. Apparently, the Russia TV Channel held a Name of Russia contest to find the most notable personality in Russian history. Individuals voted over the Internet and were given 500 personalities to choose from. The top three:

1. Aleksandr Nevsky
2. Aleksandr Pushkin
3. Fyodr Dostoevsky

Apparently there was some controversy surrounding the vote. Namely, there were complaints that the system was biased against communists including Stalin (#12, although BBC and wikipedia report that he was #3) and Lenin (#5). RECOUNT!

Other notables: Peter the Great was #4; Catherine the Great was #7 (still not sure if the horse rumor hurt or helped); and Ivan the Terrible was #8.

For what it's worth: I would totally have voted for Gogol. "A Terrible Vengeance" changed my life.

Russian Academic Predicts Demise of the US in 2010

Interesting, because I know a "scholar" that predicts Russia will be a failed state in 2010. :)

Wall Street Journal: For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin (above) has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument -- that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. -- very seriously. Now he's found an eager audience: Russian state media.

A polite and cheerful man with a buzz cut, Mr. Panarin insists he does not dislike Americans. But he warns that the outlook for them is dire.

"There's a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur," he says. "One could rejoice in that process," he adds, poker-faced. "But if we're talking reasonably, it's not the best scenario -- for Russia." Though Russia would become more powerful on the global stage, he says, its economy would suffer because it currently depends heavily on the dollar and on trade with the U.S.

Well, if Dr. Panarin is right, I'd say Obama has his work cut out for him and the world is counting on him. No pressure.

Edit: Sorry, forgot to mention. Panarin thinks the US will split in the following way...the West Coast, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona will go to China. Hawaii will either go to Japan or China. The south (including Mississippi and Alabama) will go to Mexico. The East Coast (above S. Carolina), Tennessee, Kentucky, W. Virginia, and Pennsylvania will join the EU, and the mid west will go to Canada. Oh and most importantly....


Bulgarian Police Stage Mineral Water Protest

The Sofia Weekly: About 2,500 Bulgarian police officers gathered at 11 am on Sunday in front of the building of the Interior Ministry in order to demand better working conditions.

After 4,000 policemen staged a "smoking protest" last Saturday, this time the protesters are drinking mineral water while waiting for a meeting with the Interior Minister Mihail Mikov, who is reported to be in his cabinet, and expected to talk to the protesters.

Sunday's protest is not supported by the Policemen's syndicate, and has been organized by the ordinary policemen themselves. The syndicate decided to pull back after Minister Mikov issued an order that each Bulgarian policeman would received a Christmas bonus of BGN 400.

So...I don't get this one. The smoking protest made some sense to me. 4,000 people smoking would make a visual impact. What is the point of 2,500 drinking mineral water? Did they pee on city hall?

Dec 24, 2008

On the Russian Passport Question: Al Jazeera [Accidentally] Scoops Everyone

Hold the #$(@* phone.

Al Jazerra just dispatched a reporter to South Ossetia. Her mission: report on the sad life of everyone under new management. But at exactly 2:00, Al Jazerra's camera accidently answers what no one -- and I mean no one -- in Washington has confirmed. The Russian passports are actually "propiska" (internal documents) rather than "mezhdunarodnye" (international).

This means the "Medvedev Doctine" might as well be handing out memberships to the Hair Club for Men, or the Mickey Mouse Club, for all the legitimacy it has before international law. Either way, Russia is not minting new citizens of the Russian Federation.

Score one for Al Jazeera (even if they had no idea what they did).

Merry Christmas Everyone!

When did Father Frost join the MVD special forces?

Dec 23, 2008

You call this "Almost New"?

Feeling the financial pinch? A Belgian couple was apparently feeling it too last July when they sold their dear "Baby J" on the internet and made a tidy sum. Apparently raising two children was too large of a financial burden and the next logical step was to go to the home computer, no doubt next to a large entertainment system, and auction off junior.

Unfortunately for the adoptive parents, Baby J has now been returned to the Belgian authorities
who will decide what to do with him. Listing children for sale online is, shockingly, not in line with international adoption rules and standards. However, the parents (with their changed financial status, probably due to their successful internet sales) want to get Junior back (also probably to re-list him, maybe even "Used" babies can be sold). It seems unclear whether it's love, money, or fear of the five to ten year prison sentence that is influencing biological mommy and daddy's decision-process this time.

Regardless, I hope the Dutch couple who have now spent thousands and lost their adopted child used PayPal or at the very least lowered the rating of these Belgians!

Baku Threatens Radio Silence for Foreign Media

Christian Science Monitor: Recent government threats to stop issuing broadcast licenses to foreign media, including the BBC and Voice of America, is further evidence of crumbling press freedom here and may reflect the country's shift away from Washington in favor of Russia, experts say.

Earlier this fall, government officials threatened to terminate the licenses of several prominent foreign broadcasters. Although these news organizations could continue to work in other mediums – including the Web, cable, and satellite – radio remains king of independent media in this tiny, oil-rich nation.

The decision would effectively silence foreign media, says Kenan Aliyev, director of Radio Liberty in Azerbaijan.

This does not bode well...

Dec 22, 2008

Ceausescu's Very Merry Christmas, Remembered

Today, Romanians mark the anniversary of the revolution to overthrow Ceausescu. On this day, in 1989 Ceausescu and his wife fled the presidential palace by helicopter to escape a mob of angry demonstrators. (Oddly, Ceausescu's destination on that day was the ancestral home of Vlad the Impaler. Go figure.)

Three days later, on Christmas Day, Ceausescu and his wife were executed on live national TV.

Merry Christmas Romania!

The Coldest Town on Earth

Yeah, it's in Russia (near the gulags that never existed).

The Hungarians and Czechs are Sad

A new Nielsen poll found that Hungarians and Czechs are the least happy in all of Europe.

The fact that such a poll exists, means that someone has to be the happiest in Europe. That honor goes to the Finns, who are basking in the warm national glow of all the fee love and casual sex they enjoy. Alas, sex is not the reason why the Hungarians feel so down, as they are “more satisfied with their sexual life than the European average.” In fact, the cause of The Great Hungarian Sadness is decidedly boring: government and personal finance.

For a moment, we had hoped that the entire country was trapped in some deep existential crisis. Then again, that's why God invented the Czechs.

Above: trailer for Unbearable Lightness of Being, Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche might be NSFW, but only if you work in a nunnery... =)

Remember the March protests that went down in Armenia?

Well it's time for someone to pay. NY Time: A former Armenian foreign minister and six other opposition figures went on trial in the capital, Yerevan, on Friday on charges of seeking to overthrow the government during protests in March. Ten people died when protests against the results of presidential elections turned violent. The opposition says that the trial of the former foreign minister, Alexander Arzumanyan, and his co-defendants is politically motivated and that the government has done little to investigate allegations of police culpability.

Unrest in the Russian East

Picture provided by Elustrator.

YahooNews: Riot police clubbed, kicked, and detained dozens in the Pacific port of Vladivostok on Sunday in a harsh crackdown on a protest that was one of dozens across Russia by people outraged over an increase in car import tariffs.

With unemployment spiking, prices rising and the ruble sliding, the protests over a seemingly mundane tariff appear to be broadening into a wide expression of public discontent — and beginning to present a genuine challenge to the Kremlin.

Comment: Maybe if these people weren't repressed all the damn time, there would be less problematic protests and less protests in general. Let's do the check list: rising unemployment, devaluation of currency, randomly occurring fees that make a hard life even harder....check check check. We have all of those things in America. And while we bitch about it, we don't have so many protests and certainly very few that end with breaking out the riot gear. Just a thought, not a sermon.

Dec 19, 2008

Did Someone Say Turkmenistan?

While we're on the subject, Turkmenistan this week has reminded us of an important truth in today's world. An election can be considered free and fair if only you can somehow control every name that gets on the ballot and probably manufacture a high turnout. Although only state-approved candidates, 90% belonging to the only legally registered political party in Turkmenistan, were allowed to stand, apparently getting to rubber stamp this foregone conclusion is a reason to cheer.

Incidentally, this comes at the same time as the Belarus elections, which Russia pronounced as "free and open." If this subject interests you, I'd encourage you to read this really interesting New York Times article.

Moldovan Cops Arrest a Christmas Tree

Well it took almost three years, but I think we can stop now. There is no way we are ever going to top this story:

"Police have 'arrested' a Christmas tree in Chisinau...[after they] demanded that the driver of a vehicle carrying the city government’s Christmas tree to the main square, produce a license to purchase fir trees as well as a permit from the State Environmental Inspectorate. Representatives of the country’s Forest Management Association, however, say there is no need for such a permit in this case. But police detained the vehicle nonetheless and then said the fir tree is ‘under arrest.'"

This is the very definition of Eternal Remont.

Turkmenistan & Bulgaria talk gas, gas, gas...

Turkmenistan has signed a deal with Bulgaria to supply that country with 2 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually. Now we're talking, right? Things are good. Everyone is getting off the Russian juice.

Not so much.

The Turkmens don't have any way to transport the stuff. So, rather than pay Tibetan Sherpas to carry each cubic meter of gas in a balloon shaped like Berdimuhamedov's head, they're just going to pay the Russians to do it for them. Thus, increasing Russian control of European supply gas deliveries and reminding everyone that the Iran Sanctions Act wants to eat their children.

So much for the balloon idea.

Dec 18, 2008

On the topic of genocide...

...and crazy people, the Canadian Press reports that UN judges have ruled that an immunity deal Radovan Karadzic claims he made with a US peace envoy would not prevent the former Bosnian Serb leader's trial on charges including genocide.

Karadzic claims he cut a deal with Richard Holbrooke in 1996 to relinquish power in return for immunity from prosecution at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. But in a resounding legal setback, tribunal judges say in a ruling published Thursday such a deal "would be invalid under international law."

Holbrooke denies he ever made such a deal with Karadzic and prosecutors say that even if the pact existed it would have no legal weight at the court.

Russian Contributions to Stabilizing the Middle East

So earlier this week, NY Times and several other news sources reported that Russians were looking to buy drones from the Israelis. Today, the Canadian Press reports that the Russians plan to donate 10 MiGs to Lebanon. Moscow says it also might sell tanks and artillery to Lebanon and that its goal is to help stabilize the nation.

Yes, these are the moves a government trying to stabilize another. Clearly. Sigh. What is this game, Russia?

More -- sigh -- Genocide

I don't know how much more genocide we can take. But we mark the political birth of a new genocide: Azeri Genocide.

Apparently, Azeri Genocide was done at the hands of Armenians, who were themselves [French law requires that we say the following phrase or face prison time as a holocaust denier] "the victims of genocide by the Turks.”

Will everyone please stop genociding each other. This is getting out of hand.

Anyway, we can’t wait until the Azeri Genocide gets its own bill introduced into Congress. The Co-Sponsors of the Armenian Genocide bill are going to be so very confused.

Link to the photo exhibition in Baku.

"Putin, I Banged Your Wife" and other song titles that will get you on the no visa list

Apparently, Guns N' Roses had a tough time deciding what culture/political dictators it wanted to offend with its new album "Chinese Democracy." Many of them would still have gotten the rockers banned in China: You Know What? Chairman Mao Sucked or Yao Ming Totally Blows at the Foul Line.

However, Axl Rose didn't leave Eurasia unscathed in his long list of alternatives. Perhaps the album would have sold better with our readers and yours truly if it hadn't had such a subtle insult, although admittedly it made me chuckle.

Miss World Incites Anarchy...Again...

...well, again, not really. But, yes, she held the flag up-side-down yet again. She's not paid to think, I guess, but maybe her assistants could do a better job?

Dec 17, 2008

Global Warming: Bad for Polar Bears, Great for Wild Boars (Sorry Polar Bears)

I just discovered my dream job: Urban Boar Hunter.

Lukashenko on Fatherhood

In case there was any doubt, he's gone completely insane.

Financial Times: What makes a good father?

Lukashenko: "It is very important for a father to teach his son a real man's life. And when [my youngest son] Kolya turned one year old, I took him by the hand and brought him to a steam room. Of course he complained and ran out. But now, he is four years old, he can endure temperature differences from 100f to 28f in the swimming pool. Plus, he endures ice baths."

In Belarus, this is called fatherhood. Everywhere else, it's called child abuse.

Happy International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers!

It truly is a busy day. BBC Ukraine service reports that this is the 6th marking of the international day, and in Ukraine the question on everyone's mind is: should prostitution be legal in Ukraine in order to protect these sex workers? For those Ukrainian speakers, check the story out here. For those who aren't, you miss out, but please appreciate that I found a reasonably non-offensive picture for this story by googling "ukraine prostitution."

Happy Strategic Missile Force Day

In the theme of Tis the Season, how could we overlook that old favorite "Strategic Missile Force Day"! Many good times, pictured here, had by all in celebration of our favorite deterrents.

Unfortunately, this cheery scene is a bit overshadowed by the approaching expiration of START I in December 2009, which SORT (aka the Moscow Treaty) conveniently depends on for all of its verification and enforcement mechanisms because our fearless leaders wanted to simplify things. As a result, unless U.S.-Russian discussions become more productive there will be no more limitations on numbers of deployed operational nuclear warheads. This renegotiation could on the one hand be a starting off point for renewed cooperation between the U.S. and Russian governments under the new Obama administration. However, on the other hand, the down spiral of U.S.-Russian relations particularly since 2005, but also well before that, may not bode well.

In other words, let's hope there are no fireworks in this celebration in the future.

'Tis the Season for Russian-Ukranian Gas Disputes

Are we going to have to do this every year?

Um, guess so...

The FT writes: "Every year, Russia and Ukraine pledge to end their high-stakes annual gas negotiations well before winter. And for the fourth year running, the January 1 contract deadline is looming with no agreement in sight."

'Tis the Season for Treason Bills in Russia

According to YahooNews, a new law drafted by Putin's Cabinet would allow authorities to label any government critic a traitor — a move that leading rights activists condemned Wednesday as a chilling reminder of the times under Soviet dictator Stalin.

The draft extends the definition of treason from breaching Russia's external security to damaging the nation's constitutional order, sovereignty, or territorial integrity. That would essentially let authorities interpret any act against the interests of the state as treason — a crime prosecutable by up to 20 years in prison.

One question: Is this really happening?

The Swinging Baltics?

According to a study in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the Baltic States are a hedonist’s paradise, a magical land of one night stands, adultery and devil-may-care casual encounters.

But don't get too excited, it’s because all the men are dead of suicides and accidents. Apparently, societies with a low ratio of men to women have the lowest rates of monogamy. While Romania and Ukraine ranked as relative bastions of monogamy, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Croatia scored among the highest in the world for casual sex.

Unfortunately, the study did not include a sample from Russia. However, given that most Russian men now have the life expectancy of a fruit fly, we can only assume what it means for “the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship."

Science is awesome.

New Zealand

Soul Mates:

Transparency International Releases Bribe Payers Index...

...and guess who's been naughty this year. I'll give you a hint. The country begins with an R and ends with a sia. Give up? It's Russia. I love this time of year if only for fun ranking systems that make for easy posts. Yes, Transparency International examined 22 countries to see to what extent these countries used bribery in overseas business this year. Yes, our beloved Russia ranked #22 -- dead last. Russia is perceived to routinely engage in bribery when doing business abroad.

Congratulations on beating out China this year, Russia!

Dec 16, 2008

Radek is Pissed

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski "is warning he may fire" drunk driving diplomats abroad. The stern message comes after Poland's consul general in Canada rear-ended a fire truck.

Somehow alchohol was involved.

"We will eliminate from public service" people who "do not know how to behave abroad," Sikorski said.

Unfortunetly, the Polish Foreign Service has not announced how this ruling will impact their annual Christmas party. But we're gonna assume it'll be a royal buzzkill.

Sparkling cider, anyone?

Russian Beauty Queen Incites Anarchy

Well, not really. The poor thing was, however, handed an up-side-down flag to wave. My guess is her home will be searched later today.

And for next time, sweetie, your country's flag looks like this:

Oops, I mean like this:

Dec 15, 2008

Holiday Message to Estonia: Stop Smoking in Bed

Smoking in Bed - The best video clips are right here

It's that time of year again, time for us to report on a slew of otherwise-preventable Baltic fires. Last year it was rogue space heaters in Latvia. This year it is careless smoking in Estonia. (Not to be confused with "protest" smoking in Bulgaria, see below.)

Seriously, this would all be funny, except that people keep dying. Maybe Estonia needs a "Risk and Safety Czar." It worked in Latvia.

(Thanks Jaybird.)

";-) trademark claim makes us go :-o and then >:-["

Yeah it's come to this...

Russian businessman Oleg Teterin now claims he owns the tradmark to an emoticon:


That's right people. "Teterin said in an interview with Russian TV channel NTV this week that Russia's patent agency had granted him the trademark to ;-)." He promises to only go after companies, rather than individuals, which use the symbol...for now.

Seeing that the Russian patent agency will grant a trademark for just about anything these days, Eternal Remont is attempting to tradmark "Oleg Teterin," (trademark pending) and will expect payment whenever anyone speaks, writes, prints, or otheriwse uses this phrase in all media known to humanity, existing or future.

In addition, we've also applied for trademarks for the following phrases:

Plan Putina*
Oligarchs Gone Wild*
Gratuitous Abuse of Intellectual Property Rights*

*(trademarks pending)

Thanks Amichka!

And This Would Lose Points with the EU, Bulgaria

Yes, according to my favorite Weekly, this Saturday, 2,000 Bulgarian police officers gathered in front of the Interior Ministry's building in downtown Sofia and polluted their lungs and city with cigarettes. They gathered and smoked cigarettes to show that they were dissatisfied with their low pay. How smoking correlates with being poor I'm not sure. I've always understood the correlation of drinking with poverty, but I guess 2,000 people smoking in one area might create a cloud like the one that usually hovers over Beijing, and that certainly would draw attention to any issue.

Paternity Leave Approved in Bulgaria

This move has GOT to earn Bulgaria some points with the EU.

Sofia Weekly: The Bulgarian parliament member approved on Thursday the final version and changes of the country's Labor Code. One of the changes provides that a father, who wishes to do so, would be able to take a 15-day paid leave from work after the birth of his child. With the mother's consent, a father would also be able to take up to 6 months of paid leave to take care of his baby, if the child is between 6 months and 1 year old.

Employers, who fail to comply with the labor legislature would now face fines 10 times higher than the current ones.

90 Arrested at Opposition Rally in Moscow

What's your next move Kasparov?

CNN: Police detained 90 people Sunday at an unsanctioned political opposition rally organized by former chess champion Garry Kasparov, the Moscow police press service said. Eduard Limonov, a founder of an opposition coalition called The Other Russia, was also among the organizers, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

Kasparov, who is chairman of the United Civil Front party, "said it was impossible to reform" the regime of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, according to the Web site. Kasparov said the country's worsening economic situation was putting Russia "on the edge of catastrophe."

A spokesman for Moscow City Hall told Interfax Kasparov and Limonov had been offered places to hold a rally, "but they again deliberately staged provocations and called on their supporters to attend unauthorized events."

Dec 12, 2008

Poland Ends the Draft

When is the last war Poland was in? Better late than never I guess.

NY Times: As part of the wholesale effort to modernize its military, the Polish government has officially brought a close to conscription, making last week’s class of drafted recruits the final one after 90 years of compulsory military service.

The decision has come at a difficult time. Russia’s incursion into Georgian territory in August awakened real fears, catching policy makers and citizens off guard. Poland’s attempt to transform its military into a smaller, modern integrated force this fall is occurring in a season of turmoil, as its soldiers have left Iraq and are expanding their presence in Afghanistan.

Analysts say there are not enough funds and not enough men without the conscripts, while Poland is trying, in essence, to do it all at the same time. Supporters of the decision called it an overdue step toward matching the quality of the military forces of the country’s chief NATO allies in Western Europe and across the Atlantic. Critics called it a hasty and expensive move during an economic crisis, more a product of politics than of sound planning, and a lower priority than badly needed new equipment.

The Economic Crisis Affects the 2012 European Championship

Is NOTHING sacred?!

NY Times: After less than 2 years plagued with disorganization, corruption & now a global financial disaster, the future is looking far from secure for the 2012 European Championship in Poland & Ukraine. What ideally would be a straightforward process — getting teams together to play soccer in front of fans & TV cameras — has turned into a multinational melodrama that could have sprung from the pages of Gogol.

Ukraine has played the part of the down-on-his-luck guy, Poland the corrupt official & Germany the ready opportunist, prepared to sweep in & take over part of the tournament if Ukraine stumbles. After a series of harshly critical reports and comments by officials, there has been a flurry of activity as the 2 countries try to prove that they have their acts together so that European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, does not pull the plug...

"I Believed in the State"

This is what happens when you really have no idea what you are doing.

Two years ago, then-President Putin pushed the "people's IPO" of Rosneft as a way to gain political cover for the Yukos hijacking. When oil prices collapsed, Russia's poorest lost their shirts.

"I was hooked by the advertising," said a Volgograd pensioner. She invested her life savings. "I didn't understand anything about the process...To me, it was a safe investment because it was backed by the state."
"I believed in the state, especially under Putin, so I bought shares," said Sisoyev, a soft-spoken man with white hair and a soldier's posture. "Now I don't believe in anything."...The people's IPOs seemed like a safe investment, Sisoyev said, because the government was the majority shareholder and he believed it would never let the stock price fall too far."

But wait, the story gets better. At Rosneft's latest shareholder meeting, angry pensioners crammed the meeting to demand from Deputy Prime Minister (and chairman of the board at Rosneft) Igor Sechin: lower salaries for executives, higher dividends, or a buyback of their shares at the original price.

The outrage has even created an opportunity for Alexei Navalny, who is orginizing disgruntled shareholders to push for something the Kremlin never expected: shareholder rights.

Dec 11, 2008

Russian Counterintelligence Agents Loom Over Georgia

In a nolstagic decision today, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin approved naming a mountain crest near the North Ossetian-Georgian border "the Peak of Russian Counterintelligence Agents." Never again can we dismiss Georgian polemics about Russian spies along their border, not that we necessarily should have before...

[Edit: Found an actual photo of said peak.]

Transnistria Has an Idea

You have to hand it to Transnistria, they’ve got guts. Everyone's favorite country that really isn’t a country but plays one at the OSCE negotiations, just handed Moldova a “Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic and the Republic of Moldova.”

That’s right, a bona fide treaty, complete with all the regalia of sovereignty, but without any messy bits like, well, actual sovereignty.

For their part, the Moldovans aren’t buying it. According Moldovan Deputy Minister of Reintegration Ion Stavila the offer “is not taken seriously by anybody” in Chisinau. Meanwhile, the 5+2 negotiation format, not to be confused with the 5+2+1 talks, or the much-hyped 64+937 = 1001 roundtable, continues without results.

"The [5+2] format can be improved,” Stavila said. “For example, the status of the European Union and the United States could be upgraded from ‘observers’ to ‘mediators.'”


All it took was an economic crisis... bring these two crazy kids back together. Let's hope it lasts this time.

NYT: After months of political discord that threatened Ukraine’s ability to respond to deepening financial problems, the country’s pro-Western leaders announced Wednesday that they had patched up their differences and would not call new elections. Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko announced in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, that she had formed a new parliamentary coalition with allies of the president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, and a small third party. Ms. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yushchenko both favor closer ties to the West, but they have regularly feuded since they came to power in the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004.

The once high-flying Ukrainian economy has been battered by the financial crisis, and the country has sought an emergency $16.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Dec 10, 2008

New Format...

After hearing nothing but crap from Leopolis about our layout, we're updating the skin just a bit. Enjoy

Dec 9, 2008

Miss Constitution Contest

Russia's "anti-fascist" youth group, Nashi, has decided to sponsor a "Miss Constitution" contest. One can only imagine the qualities such a girl must possess. Although the Nashi spokesperson outlined some, it seems as if she missed some key elements:

1. While looking good on paper, in reality Miss Constitution will be poorly balanced;
2. She will speak of international standards, but her smile will reveal no teeth;
3. and, although respected, she will be expected to make extensive changes to both her physical appearance and underlying moral framework to suit political whims.

The Mod Squad in Bulgaria?

Sofia Mayor Boiko Borissov (a.k.a. the best damn thing to ever happen to Eternal Remont) has hatched a new scheme to fight the plague of teen curfew scofflaws in his city. And yes, he's stealing directly from a hit 1960s crime show.

“Boiko Borissov said he will employ minors as undercover agents to enforce the 10pm curfew on their peers, Bulgarian newspaper Gradski said… Borissov did not say when the first working night for the junior inspectors would be. But he did promise that club owners who had been caught committing a violation would be fined the maximum allowed under Bulgarian law; 5000 leva.”

What could possibly go wrong, besides the need to bend child labor laws, place minors in potentially dangerous situations and mess with the mafia?

For some crazy reason, Bulgaria's Agency for Child Protection still has to approve the idea. But it’s this kind of innovative thinking which will one day allow Bulgaria to join the EU.

Just wait till Borissov watches Knight Rider. It will blow his mind.

Go get em’ Borissov!

Dec 8, 2008

Khodorkovsky Jealous?

A former-Yukos exec, Vasily Aleksanian, has finally figured out the loophole to life imprisonment: cancer, AIDS, and impending blindness. Of course, this short-lived freedom comes with a price tag of $1.8 million, which in today's economy may make even an oligarch blink.

Having participated in a hunger strike in the hopes of seeing his colleague freed, Khodorkovsky can probably expect to spend the next eight years of his term waiting expectantly for more charges to emerge from the Federal Procurator General's office. On the bright side, Russian legislators are about to restrict the application of trial by jury in "important cases," which will undoubtedly make the next round speedier and less...biased.

Georgian Woman Claims to be Putin's Mama

Yes, the Georgian Daily is reporting that Vera Putina, 82, has claimed he is the child she gave away at the age of ten, giving an account of an unhappy childhood which is fiercely disputed by the Kremlin. Supported by other residents in Metekhi, Mrs. Putina claims he lived in the village between the ages of 2.5 and 10 before being sent back to his grandparents in Ochyor, Russia.

Records in the archives of Metekhi's closest town, Caspi, indicate that a Vladmir Putin was registered at Metekhi school, 1959-1960, stated nationality: Georgian.

In Mrs. Putina's account, Mr. Putin's father was a Russian mechanic, Platon Privalov, who got her pregnant while married to another woman. She claims her son, nicknamed "Vova" was born on October 7, 1950, exactly two years before Mr Putin's official birth date.

In 1952, Mrs Putina married a Georgian soldier, Giorgi Osepahvili, and moved to Georgia with her son. In December 1960, under pressure from her husband to disown her child, she delivered "Vova" back to his grandparents in Russia. Mrs. Putina believes that the St. Petersburg-based "parents" referred to in Mr. Putin's biography adopted her son from his grandparents.

Says Putina: "I used to be proud of having a son who became President of Russia. Since the war I am ashamed."

Mr. Putin claims his paternal grandfather, Spiridon Putin, had been Vladimir Lenin's and Joseph Stalin's personal cook and both of his parents died of cancer, his mother in 1998 and his father in 1999.

Read the whole story.

Pop Quiz: Who Loves Russia More?

A new poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center has some bad news for Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Latvia, and Lithuania: nobody likes them, well at least not anyone in the former Soviet Union.

The survey also found that Russia got a big thumbs up from Tajiks (89%), Armenians (82%), Uzbeks (78%) and Belarusians (74%). But hold off on the Soviet nostalgia just yet, since friendly feelings towards Russia are not universal, especially in Georgia (17%) and Azerbaijan (12%).

That last part made us do a double take. It means that Georgia, a country that just went to war with Russia, and where Putin has twice offered to publically hang their president by his genitals (here and here), still views Russia more favorably than almost everyone in Azerbaijan.

Even the Zeebas Are Worried

(To brighten your Monday morning...Pearls Before Swine is brilliant)

Benelux Keeps Bulgarians and Romanians Out of Work

The Sofia Weekly: The Belgium cabinet decided on Friday to extend by 3 yrs. the restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals to freely access the country's labor market by keeping the current regulations allowing Bulgarians and Romanians to be hired only for jobs considered to have a shortage of employees. The decision follows similar ones recently taken by the governments of the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

The reasons cited for the Belgium decision are the global financial crisis and the high rate of unemployment in the country's Southern areas. However, the European Commission recently published a report stating that such restrictions do not contribute to the solution of the unemployment issues in EU countries.

Belgium, however, decided to take advantage of the provision giving them the right to restrict access to labor markets for up to 7 years. The 1st transitional period, in which EU member states could limit the access of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to their labor markets after the 2 states joined the EU on Jan. 1, 2007, expires on Jan. 1, 2009. After that each individual EU member may decide to extend the ban for 3more years - until Jan. 1, 2012, when a 2nd extension of the labor restrictions for a 2 year period is also allowed.

So...I guess look forward to 2014, Bulgaria and Romania. It could be worse. You could be Ukraine.

Dec 5, 2008

Save the Snowboarders, at Poznan

Little known fact: the World Wildlife Foundation has it's own snowboard team.

Lesser known fact: the WWF snowboard team was recently deployed to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland. Thier mission, to teach the UN how to perform a boned out 50/50, oh and about melting snow packs, and stuff.

Bonus question: Does pot smoke increase your carbon footprint?