Nov 26, 2008

Melik Kaylan Dissects Natasha Syndrome

In light of Olga Kurylenko's appearance in the most recent Bond movie, yesterday, Melik Kaylan of Forbes Magazine offered up a "meditation on Russian women" and more specifically a description of "Natasha Syndrome" - the "nubile tide of female adventurers swept out of the former Soviet geosphere to seek their fortune in hard currency around the world by deploying their charms."

Kaylan gives a short history of Natasha Syndrome and offers this ballsy conclusion:

Indeed, it appears that a branch of the Communist Party of Moscow has publicly condemned Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko for sleeping with the enemy in the form of James Bond. But perhaps it's a publicity hoax. Still, as the petrodollars dry up, the wheel may spin another quarter. Who will they turn to for solace next? Georgians?

Thank you for the story, Igor, who offered this comment: "...the very last phrase will cost the author a lifetime Russian visa ban..."

Dear Santa, I've been a very good girl this year...

...I cut back on swearing, took control of my bills, and drastically reduced my carbon footprint.

So, I think that this Christmas you should bring me "Confrontation -- Peace Enforcement" -- a new Russian computer game that simulates a new war between Russia and Georgia. It will be available in all fine shops this December. In the game, NATO member Poland supports an effort by Tbilisi to take back the breakaway South Ossetia region, while Ukraine blockades Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. Russia then launches an attack on Georgia in response.

I promise I'll never get sick of it! And it's educational. And I promise I will cut back on the alcohol next year.



Somali Pirates: Outsourcing the Negotiations

Note to readers: Before anyone asks, we’re covering this pirate business because 1) Our East Euro peeps are being held hostage 2) East Euro tanks are being held hostage 3) We can do just about whatever we want thanks to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

So the Somali pirate story has taken a turn for the more surreal.

Apparently that’s possible.

Back in October, we gave a shout out to our favorite pirate negotiator Sugule Ali (yes they really have a negotiator, yarr).

Mr. Ali is one of the fellows sitting on an ill-gotten stash of thirty odd T-72 main battle tanks and a crew of starving shipmates. Well it turns out that Ali and the new owners of 2 million barrels of oil aboard the Sirius Star don’t want to negotiate anymore.

Get this: they're outsourcing the negotiations.

Enter Ms. Michele Lynn Ballarin, owner of Virginia-based SelectArmor (corporate negotiator pictured). At first, nobody knew what the hell was happening when both the Faina (Ukranian tanks) and Sirius Star (Saudi oil) dropped giant signs over the side of their ships reading “Amira.” Apparently, that was Ballarin’s nickname when she was “helping plan military operations” in Somali during 2006.

And just before you call bullshit, we have a quote from the diva of East Africa tom-foolery herself. Yup, she’s really the negotiator. "I'm in communication with both ships on a regular basis…"My goal is to unwind all 17 ships and all 450 people they've been holding," Ballarin said.

In case you're interested, Ballarin also sells a line of NATO certified chemical skin decontamination lotion (in addition to being an industry leader in pirate negotiations). Stock up now!

Bulgaria is Officially too Corrupt

Did we all know this day would come? Well, Bulgaria is officially too corrupt for the EU.

“The European Union on Tuesday took the unprecedented step of depriving Bulgaria of €220 million in funds, effectively declaring that the Balkan country was too corrupt and prone to fraud to receive the subsidies. For the first time, a member of the 27-union bloc will completely forfeit money that it cannot be trusted to spend properly…”
Um, hurray? Bulgaria you have received a “first” in the EU.


Why Does the US Blindly Love Georgia and Ukraine?

Just as a disclaimer, I love Ukraine. I do. It's a beautiful country, the people are really funny and friendly, and I've always had a great experience there. Georgia, I hear, is beautiful and amazing, and I enjoy their food. However...

What is the US obsession with getting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO?! Today, NY Times reports that the US "has started an unexpected diplomatic initiative in Europe, urging NATO allies to offer Georgia and Ukraine membership in the alliance without going through a lengthy process and fulfilling a long list of requirements."

Georgia may have provoked a war with Russia and is clearly not the most stable of places right now. Saakashvili chews on his ties. The Ukrainian goverment has collapsed! And while they struggle to agree on how to form a government, the country is also divided on whether or not they even want to be in NATO. So why is the US goverment pushing for their membership? Why Condoleezza Rice? Why?

Nov 25, 2008

Real World: Brussels!

Everyone remember this old joke?

Heaven is where the French are the cooks, the English are the cops, and the Germans make the cars. Meanwhile, hell is where the English are the cooks, the Germans are the cops, and the French make the cars.

How about trying the same thing as a solution to the rotating presidency of the EU. Just imagine how much fun you could have when a Portuguese Finance Minister, a French Foreign Minister and a Polish President try and set the EU agenda. What could go wrong?

Better yet, imagine the same set dynamic, but only as a reality show, say Real World: Brussels!

“This is the true story of seven EU ministers, picked to live in a conference room. Find out what happens when they stop being fake, and start getting real."

Two words: video confessional.

Nov 24, 2008

RIP Yugo

The Yugo is no more, sadly. We take a moment to remember the best car ever to come out of communist Yugoslavia...


Q: So, what do you call the shock absorbers inside a Yugo?

A: Passengers.

Q: How do you double the value of a Yugo?

A: Fill the tank with gas [or] put a gallon of milk in the back seat.

Ok, the death of a beloved car is no joking matter, like the death of a pet fish, but without the need for a shoebox or "burial at sea." Alas, not even the Yugo could make the beancounters at Fiat issue a stay of execution. Since the Italians got hold of Serbia's Zastava car factory (last redoubt of the Yugo), the company announced that it will stop production of the Yugo in favor of a new car, the Punto.

So, it is a sad day for communist-era car lovers.

As Igor writes, I think that "Momcilo Spajic, a proud Serbian owner of a Yugo" captures the essence of what the Yugo was -- and will remain in our memories (For the record: my family never owned, but I have had the privilege to be a passages on several occasions. I made it, barely.)

"This is driving in its most natural form. You feel every bump, squeak and jolt, and one can enjoy the sweet smell of gasoline and exhaust fumes," he said. "No car can replace it."

Alas, if you really can't let go of the Yugo, then we offer the BBC's investigative report from Serbia: Pimp My Yugo.

Nov 22, 2008

EastEuro racism watch - update

Remember that story the ER broke last week about the Polish Foreign Minister's bad joke?  It's finally finding its way into English-language media, UK telegraph and other bloggers.  It now appears that Sikorski actually said it since his aides are now claiming he only said it as an example of jokes in bad taste.  Seriously?

My favorite is Daily Kos's take on it.
It is disappointing that the Polish FM has chosen the company of Al-Zawahiri. The Kozack community must mobilize to condemn in no uncertain terms, this repulsive behavior which is unbecoming of statesman. Please, write, phone, fax, or email the Polish embassy in the United States to express your disappointment and disgust at this repulsive behavior. This man is a disgrace to his country.

Ern, you want to tell them what a Kozak is? PD, would you like to define what constitutes a disgrace to one's country in Eastern Europe?

Nov 20, 2008

Putin's Instructional Judo DVD

Apologies, in advance, since this story first broke in October. But it never gets old. Hell, just the thought of having Putin as your own personal Judo instructor, and autographed DVD box set, well its enough to make the day brighter.

Stalin never had a DVD. Take that Stalin!

Anyway, who else thinks the poor bastard who serves as Putin's ragdoll looks -- just a bit --like Medvedev? It would also explain why he doesn't seem to be putting up too much of a fight. And don't forget to finish your collection with these fine instructional DVDs:

"Cooking with Putin"

"The Complete Putin Yoga Journal"

"Putin's 100 Best Secrets of Real estate"

"Vladimir Putin’s: Awesome Abs in 30 Days"

There Will Be Pain

Speaking to high-end consumers in Moscow, “Supreme Leader” Putin promised that his team "will do everything, everything in our power ... so that the collapses of past years should never be repeated in our country.”

To be fair, Putin has made a rather hasty conversion to this re-form business after a decade of blasé diversification efforts. For example, the energy has sector still comprises roughly 30% of Russia’s economy, just as it did the last time oil prices collapsed and the “Asian Economic Flu” prompted the economic crisis.

No word yet on how Putin will make good on his promise. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has already warned that the government will likely have to hit up the Stability Fund to keep the budget balanced next year. Meanwhile, Russia burned through yet another $21.9 billion last week to prop up the ruble.

And to think, Putin offered just this year that the ruble should be the world’s new reserve currency. Maybe so, but for now, everyday Russians are hording dollars in the mattress.
Good times.

Nov 19, 2008

Everyone Panic, Russia is Dead

According to a new study by the UN, Russia's population will fall from 141.8 million in 2008 to a very lonely 107.8 million by 2050.

Seriously, if Russia is going to look like the "Last Man On Earth" by 2050, why is a Moscow apartment still so expensive? "Can a zombie Russian's hunger for life repopulate the earth?!?" Who knows, but at least there will be fewer traffic jams on the ring road.

Positive thinking, people.

Anyway, in case you're interested, by 2050:
Turkey's population: 98.9 million (+)
Iran's population: 100.2 (+)
Mexico's population: 132.3(+)
Japan's population: 102.5 (-)

Sorry Japan.

(Also, in answer to an earlier question about Bulgaria -- thanks mrta! -- that country will loose over 35% of its population in the next 42 years, leaving a scant 4.9 million Bulgarians to enjoy Varna's subtle pleasures.)

Everyone Relax, Sochi is Safe

Looks like Gazprom has assumed control of the Sochi Winter Games, and the message.

This week, the IHT sent reporter Joshua Yaffa on an investigative junket to Sochi. He assures us that Gazprom has everything under control. Yaffa reports that construction is going smoothly, and the budget for the Games has miraculously returned to the $12 billion mark.

Standing atop the Caucasus Mountains beside his tour guide Vladimir Makarenko, deputy director at Gazprom, Yaffa's view of Krasnaya Polyana is wildly different from the IOC's report in April. Back then, Olympic officials announced that the whole region was one giant goat rodeo, and costs were rapidly spiraling out of control -- well beyond $12 billion. Enter Gazprom:

Sochi feels like a kaleidoscopic version of Coney Island in New York, all juiced up on lukewarm vodka and sunburned potbellies.

Awesome! But sorry for the silly question: why is a gas company planning the Olympic Games...?

Is Russia Running a "Who Loves Putin More?" Contest?

Seriously. I can't think of any other explanation.

So, according to, while working on extending presidential powers, Vice Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky suggested renaming the position of president. What would the president be called? Supreme Leader. Yeah, Supreme Leader. This suggestion was ignored, and I can only assume it was ignored because Putin has not yet reclaimed the presidential position.

In the meantime, Russia, might I suggest creating a Web site devoted to Vladimir Putin to show how much you adore the man, the myth, the legend? Something akin to Chuck Norris Facts.

Nov 18, 2008

RSF Tears Eurasia a New One

On the topic of journalism...Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recently released its annual report and had very few positive things to say about our beloved region of the world. Actually, RSF had NO positive things to say. Some excerpts:

Death threats and harassment are still common in central Europe and the Balkans... The authoritarian regimes in the former USSR countries make every effort to crush press freedom. Elections in Russia and Uzbekistan in 2007 confirmed governments in power and gave no short or medium-term hope of more press freedom. Editorial independence exists but only for media outlets with little public impact. Building civil society to loosen the monolithic grip of the authorities is a hard job.

The country in the region with the worst record,Turkmenistan, has made a wide range of foreign alliances of unclear meaning since the death in December 2006 of President-for-life Saparmurad Niyazov. The direction of his successor, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, is also rather a mystery.

In the former Soviet Caucasus countries, Azerbaijan continued its crackdown on the media... Heavy penalties for those who wrote “undesirable” articles had a dissuasive effect and President Ilham Aliev ignored the many appeals from NGOs and international bodies such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Politkovskaya Murder Trial Will Be Public

So look forward to your murder trials being public, Russian journalists. This may set a precedent.

NY Times: A judge ruled on Monday that the trial of three men accused of involvement in the killing of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya should be open to the public, responding to her family’s concern that secret proceedings would harm the case.

Ms. Politkovskaya was a crusading opposition journalist who covered the war in Chechnya and often criticized the Kremlin. Her killing in October 2006 brought widespread condemnation. She was gunned down as she entered her apartment building. The authorities have acknowledged that her assailant is still at large, but they have charged three men with providing logistical support for the killing.

The judge’s decision came on a day when an attack on another journalist was drawing attention in Russia. The journalist, Mikhail Beketov, editor of a newspaper in a Moscow suburb, suffered severe injuries in a beating last week. He had written about corruption and sought to rally opposition to a local government plan to clear a forest for a road. The identities of his attackers were not known, the authorities said.

Nov 17, 2008

"A Crude Anatomical Reference"

Igor passed along this leak in the Moscow Times, regarding the peace talks between Sarkozy! and Putin over the Georgia Crisis. It may or may not be legit, but it sure sounds like Putin:

"I'm going to have Saakashvili hanged," Putin said, ending the sentence with a crude anatomical reference.

"Hang him?" Sarkozy reportedly said.

"Why not?" Putin reportedly said. "The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein, didn't they?"

"Yes, but do you want to end up like Bush?" Sarkozy said.

"You have a point there," Putin said.

Don't Get Sick in C/E Europe

This is part 1 in my new series: "S&*^ You Already Should Have Known"

The Sofia Weekly:Bulgaria still has one of the worst health care systems in Europe, according the 2008 Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) report prepared by the Health Consumer Power House. The report ranks Bulgaria 28th among the 31 countries where data has been collected.

The EHCI 2008 total ranking of healthcare systems shows an unprecedented landslide victory for The Netherlands, scoring 839 points out of 1000, 19 points ahead of runners-up Denmark at 820 points, with a 36-point gap to the 2007 winner Austria, which is now in 3rd place with 784 points, followed by Luxembourg and Sweden.

From the six sub-disciplines covering 34 indicators, Bulgaria has collected 486 points. The only three countries with worse results than Bulgaria are Croatia, Macedonia, and Latvia.

Gotta say on a personal level, I'm dismayed at Latvia being ranked so low. As someone who severely injured herself at LaRoca in Riga, I would have hoped that the health care was up to par.

Nov 14, 2008

Sarkozy! Gone Wild

French President Nicholas Sarkozy! just met with President Medvedev to talk missile defence and other esoteric mysteries. Since France currently enjoys the EU's rotating presidency, Sarkozy! opted to follow in the footsteps of Louis XIV (L'État, c'est moi) and speak for everyone (I am the EU). "Please, no more talk of anti-missile protection systems," he said in comments directed at the U.S., Poland and Czech Republic.

Too bad. That statement directly contradicts France's position in April 2008 at the Bucharest NATO Summit, and wildly exceeds his mandate under the EU presidency.

Oh yeah, the Czech Republic had kittens.

According Alexandr Vondra, the leading Czech official for European affairs: "It is my understanding that Mr. Sarkozy met Mr. Medvedev on behalf of the French presidency of the EU...There was nothing in the EU mandate to talk about missile defense," he said.

In truth, Mr. Sarkozy may no longer be able to distinguish between the French presidency and the EU presidency. When French Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner visited Russia in October, he invited Medevedev to France so the two countries could hammer out the EU-Russia Partnership Agreement.

The EU had agreed not to discuss the issue with Russia until member states could sort out the Georgia problem. Then again, Sarkozy appears to speak for the EU.

If this is a precedent, we can only imagine what the Czechs do when they assume the rotating presidency in January 2009.

Will Gas Shortage Solve Bulgaria's Demographic Crisis?

You may not know this, but most of Bulgaria is wearing two sets of long underwear at this very moment. Why do we ponder the undergarments of frozen Bulgarians? Well nearly the entire country is without heat, thanks to a suspicious “gas shortage” from Bulgargaz’s upstream supplier: Russia. The problem is made chronic by the fact that most Bulgarians still rely on central heating for homes and public buildings.

Hence the long underwear. Very sexy.

According to Bulgargaz’s CEO Petko Milevski, only kindergartens and hospitals will receive heat until the supply issue is resolved. Everyone else hooked up to Toplofikatsiya (the central heating utility) will have to bundle up and rediscover the magic of survival friction.

We're ready to make a prediction: Expect Bulgaria to see a mini-baby boom nine months from now. This energy business may yet be the solution to the country's demographic crisis.

Alexander Lukashenka, quote machine

Wall Street Journal interview today had some excellent quotes.

Lukashenko, in His Own Words
Below, excerpts from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's interview with The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. The interview was conducted in Russian, and translated by the Journal.

On the release of political opponent Alexander Kozulin earlier this year:
"The West perceived this as some kind of step toward democracy. You are welcome, thank you very much. You know, strictly between us, sometimes I think if they could find five or six more political prisoners here and told us to free them, and that then perhaps we would make a few more steps forward, we would do it readily. We could free even more. But they haven't found any more."

On the possibility of recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia:
"If you [the West] recognized Kosovo, why not recognize Abkhazia? I don't see any problems here. There is a precedent[hellip] Europe and America understand our position and our situation. And I will be honest, they are no longer pushing it as rigidly with us as before. So I don't think there would be negative repercussions for our relations or the like. I think this question is finished. It is no longer as acute as it was two months ago."

On the financial crisis:
"And I warned the Americans and others. No one listened to me[hellip] As it turned out, I was right. Now in America they are talking about an alternative to this ultraliberal market system, where everything is allowed, where you can eat more than what you make, and spend more than what you earn."

On Barack Obama:
"I look at Obama, a young man, a good-looking person. That is my first impression, I feel sorry for him. He looks 100% like Lukashenko, when I came to power after the downfall of the Soviet Union. The store shelves were empty, a severe financial crisis."

Nov 13, 2008

Orthodox Church Stolen Brick by Brick

Yeah, this comes under the heading of ONLY IN RUSSIA! I have heard of people stealing things FROM church buildings but the buildings themselves?! This is a new indicator of the extent of the global financial crisis and the global moral crisis.

YahooNews: Orthodox officials in a central Russian region say an abandoned church building that was to be put back into use has been stolen by local villagers.

Orthodox priest Vitaly of the Ivanovo-Voskresenskaya diocese says officials last saw the two-story Church of Resurrection intact in late July. Sometime in early October, however, people from the nearby village of Komarovo, northeast of Moscow, dismantled the building, he said. Villagers apparently sold it to a local businessman, one ruble (about 4 cents) per brick, Vitaly said.

"Of course, this is blasphemy," he told The Associated Press. "These people have to realize they committed a grave sin."

Racism in Poland: part III

Am I nuts to start to see a connection between Kaczynski's painful stumbling in congratulating Obama and all of these high profile reports of racism in Poland?

Here's the latest:

Ryszard Czarnecki, deputy in European Parliament and member of the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice (PiS) party, wrote in his blog that Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski (of Civic Platform, or PO) has been enjoying telling this joke in the last couple of months:

"Barack Obama has Polish roots: his grandfather supposedly ate a Polish missionary."

Of course, Sikorski denies this and denies having talked to Czarnecki in months. Considering the animosity between PiS and PO, and PiS's love of causing scandals based on rumors, it would be surprising if Sikorski really said this. But this many high-profile racist "gaffes" before Obama even takes office - are they just getting the jokes out of their system? Or will Poles (particularly PiS and its supporters) really have trouble working closely with the US without giggling?

Medvedev’s “Zero Option”

The quid pro quo is now explicit.

Yesterday, Medvedev signaled the terms of Moscow’s trade on missile defense: "We are ready to negotiate a 'zero option'. We are ready to reflect on a system of global security with the United States, the countries of the European Union and the Russian Federation."

The explicit use of the term “zero option” is curious, however, since it recall’s Regan's legendary Cold War gambit. At the time, “zero option” meant that the U.S. proposed to give up intermediate missiles in Europe, and not deploy a non-existent weapons system, only if the Soviets withdrew 1,100 missiles from the European theater. The kicker? U.S negotiators originally did not expect the Soviets to accept the deal.

They did.

In the current context, Medvedev has offered not to deploy missiles if the U.S. will not deploy a defensive missile system. There is nothing to remove from the table, since nothing is technically on the ground and beeping at the sky -- yet.

If the next Administration accepts the offer (and there's very little reason to belive the offer is directed at the current White House), then the Kremlin will take the lesson that threats of deployed force can push the U.S. off a weapons system. We will then see the same pattern repeated.

If the next Administration declines the offer, the Kremlin will take the lesson that it must follow through with said threats, else they appear empty, and we’ll see a further increase in tensions.

There is very little up-side to either scenario.

Nov 12, 2008


Ukranie's parliament is fighting again. No seriously, they're really fighting.

Tempers haven't been this high in Ukraine since the great debate over Ukraine's flag, is it blue and yellow, or yellow and blue?

Blood was shed.

"A lamp without oil is dark, as is a man without prayer"

Churches in Poznan, Poland, handed out this children's pamphlet on prayer this Sunday.

The cartoon bubble reads "too bad that prayer does not also lighten the skin."

But is it blatant racism?

Continuing Eternal Remont's chronicle of racism in Eastern Europe...

From Washington Times blogger:

Artur Gorski, who is well-known in Poland for his often controversial comments that have upset members of his own conservative Law and Justice party, called Mr. Obama a "black crypto-communist" and a "naive individual whose election must delight al-Qaeda." In remarks during Thursday's parliamentary session, he also said that Mr. Obama's election was "a disaster" and "the end of the white man's civilization."

Now, ER readership, is that blatant enough?

The Millennium is Coming!

That's right, Eternal Remont is fast approaching it's 1,000th post!

We have survived the Great Spam Blackout of 2007 , recalled pleasant memories of dictators past, offered award-winning* journalism on Romania's zombie crisis, and scooped more than a few respectable news outlets in the process. (Don't you dare call us respectable.)

In honor of our 1,000th post, we invite EM readers to submit their favorite story, or most memorable line, headline, or quip from our brief and sullied history.

Please send replies to:, or post on our message board.

The winner gets a congratulatory email from us, recognition on the website, and a special surprise (which may or may not involve a former Olympic gymnist turned Duma member.)

Hint: bonus credit will be awarded for creativity and sycophantism.


President of Lithuanian Basketball Federation Not Guilty of Criminal Racism...

...too bad Lithuania doesn't have laws against criminal stupidity -- yet.

The president of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation Vladas Garastas [pictured, sorta] was found not guilty of instigating racial hatred by referring to the black players on the Zalgiris basketball team as "negroes" and "blackies."

Jen writes: This is a bizarre story. I'm not defending the guy (there is strong racism in Lithuania) but if you were racist, why would you go into basketball?!?

Why? So that you could say charming things like, "Now about the negro playing in Zalgiris, I would expel him immediately. Zygimantas Janavicius is twice as good as he is...Education, there's no education there, with only the blackies playing."
We sure seem to be on a racism kick these days, but the more attention we can give it, the better – lest it fester.

Nov 10, 2008

State of the Nation

In reading through analysis of Medvedev's "State of the Nation" address, you can almost hear the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson whisper, "strange vibes all around us." More importantly, recent events could auger a new trend, which may or may not involve brutal quantities of mescaline.

1) The run-up in the Kremlin’s power was predicated on a basic quid pro quo, prosperity in exchange for political rights (See: Russia's last election).

2) Russia’s middle-class -- and especially the poor and working class -- have been hit especially hard in the recent downturn. Companies are cutting costs, salaries, and jobs. A devaluation in the ruble, which is increasingly likely if the current trend holds, would hurt these groups just as hard as it did in 1998. In fact, the last devaluation proved catastrophic.

3) $100 oil hid the core weaknesses in Plan Putina and the myth of effective autocratic rule. With oil at $60, the Kremlin is shoveling foreign currency into the boilers to keep the ruble afloat. Where is Plan Putina, or the promised investment in non-energy, heath, housing, education, agriculture? (Hint: see boilers.)

Here’s the problem. Russia's citizens no longer enjoy a clear mechanism by which they can register discontent or change their leaders through the ballot box. Plan Putina has deprived Russians of any mainstream alternative to the (increasingly dire) status quo.

As such, we could very well see a spike in the popularity of fringe groups (some violent). Worse yet, the lack of democratic outlets, or a free press, will likely produce a highly acidic social and economic malaise in Russia. This malaise would corrode the pillars of Russia's economic-political system, and leave the government dangerously exposed to continued downside moves in oil, or unexpected political shocks like the Kursk disaster or the Moscow hostage-taking.

Hence, Jamestown’s spot on analysis:

It is clear that the Russian leadership was caught unprepared by the global financial meltdown and cannot comprehend the deepening impact of the spectacular reversal of the upward trend in oil prices. Putin is obviously irritated by the situation in which he is not only losing some formal prerogatives of power but also control over economic processes that respond neither to administrative levers nor financial stimuli. His angry orders to the elites not to exploit the crisis for self-enrichment are being ignored, and his “national leader” balloon is deflating alarmingly fast. “Rallying around the flag” apparently reached its peak during the war in August, and now the panicking oligarchs, the sinking middle class, and the public are discovering that their “great helmsman” is lost at sea. The next thing they might start thinking about is change.

The scope of that “change” could prove telling.

War Crimes Keep You Out of the EU?

They really have much tougher rules than NATO.

YahooNews: Security forces searched Monday for war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic at a factory in Serbia, whose new government must capture the ex-Bosnian Serb general in order to speed up its EU accession. Armed with automatic firearms and dressed in all-black masks and outfits, the police surrounded the factory in the southwestern town of Valjevo at mid-morning, according to officials.

Mladic, 66, is wanted by a UN tribunal for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during his time as commander of the Bosnian Serb military forces during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. He notably faces charges relating to the siege of Sarajevo which claimed more than 10,000 lives and for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys -- Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

Last month, Serbia said it had intensified its hunt for Mladic to an unprecedented level ahead of a confirmed visit in a week's time by the UN tribunal's chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz. Serbia's cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal is a key condition for closer ties with the European Union, which the new pro-Western government in Belgrade hopes to join by 2014.

Diplomacy pop-quiz

From lessons in diplomacy
by L. Kaczynski, president of Poland

When making first diplomatic overtures to the president-elect of a country on whose security guarantee your country relies upon, it is impolitic to do which of the following:

A) Get the name of the country wrong in your press release. 
(e.g. President of the United States of North America vs. United States of America)
B) Ask president-elect about his commitment to proceeding with a controversial military installation in the first 5 minutes of the conversation.
C) Misrepresent the president-elect's views on said political-military installation on your public website.
D) All of the above.

Eternal Remont readers, how would you fare in this important introduction to a new leader?

Привет! Меня зовут Эрн. Я из Пиндостана.*

Hello! My name is Ern. I come from Pindostan.

The Moscow Times, Michele A. Berdy: A few years ago, the only vaguely derogatory slang words I could find for Americans were америкашки (amerikashki) and америкосы (amerikosy), the first rather affectionate (though condescending), the second more contemptuous (but still rather friendly). Ah, what a difference a few years make. Today, my fellow Americans, we are пиндосы (pindosy).

It seems like it was a word in search of a definition. It has richly obscene, vaguely comical and highly derogatory sound associations. Open your dictionary of Russian obscenities to entries under "П" to get a sense of the possibilities.

The search came to an end during the Kosovo war. Some sources maintain that it is the Serbian word for penguin and was used to describe waddling U.S. soldiers, weighed down by equipment. However, a quick check of an English-Serbian online dictionary produces pingvin. In any case, in the 1990s пиндос seems to have been Russian Army slang for U.S. soldiers in Kosovo. Then it began to be applied to Americans in general. And it's not a nice word. The most common usage is something like this: До чего эти пиндосы тупые! (Can you believe how dumb those Amuricans are?)

Where do we пиндосы (pindosy) live? In Пиндостан (Pindostan), aka Пиндосия (Pindosiya), Пиндосея (Pindoseya) or Пендосия (Pendososiya).

So, I gotta say, pretty weird, but I guess creative. And I do prefer being called this p word over the more popular p word.

Perestroika for the US

Picture compliments of elustrator.

RIA Novosti: Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said that the Obama administration in the United States needs far-reaching 'perestroika' reforms to overcome the financial crisis and restore balance in the world.

The term perestroika, meaning restructuring, was used by Gorbachev in the late 1980s to describe a series of reforms that abolished state planning in the Soviet Union.

In an interview with Italy's La Stampa published on Friday, Gorbachev said President-elect Barack Obama needs to fundamentally change the misguided course followed by President George W. Bush over the past eight years.

While this ER blogger agrees that it is time for some change in America, I am opposed to the word perstroika. I just am. Sorry.

Georgians Rally Against Saakashvili

While I admire the efforts, I did hope for something more organized with a clear set agenda. But hey, it's a start.

BBC: About 10,000 opposition activists demonstrated in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi - their first major protest since the conflict with Russia. Critics have accused President Mikhail Saakashvili of starting a war with Russia that Georgia could not win. At least five opposition groups were involved in Friday's protests, though one of the leading parties, the Christian Democrats, did not join in.

Analysts say some Georgians are reluctant to stoke unrest, fearing that will be exploited by Russia.

Illegal Donations to Obama

The Sofia Weekly: A Bulgarian is among the 118 people, who made illegal donations for the campaign of the US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, an investigation, conducted by Newsmax website and a private investigative firm headed by a former CIA operations officer showed.

Under federal law, only U.S. citizens or permanent residents may donate to federal political campaigns. It is illegal for the campaigns to accept money knowingly from foreign donors.

The Bulgarian has signed himself as Stamen S. and wrote his address in Sofia. He donated USD 170.

Some of the "red flag" donors work for foreign governments and others have made public statements declaring that they are citizens of Cameroon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Canada, and other countries.

A Newsmax sampling of about 3,400 donors also found hundreds more who showed "yellow flags" such as not having used a Social Security number or a known US address.

Nov 9, 2008

Wait, Russia Still Has Nuclear Submarines?

According to VoA: "Russian Navy officials say at least 20 shipbuilders and servicemen were killed Saturday when the fire-extinguishing system aboard the vessel was activated in error."

First our hearts go out to the sailors and family of the victims. But the political context, and response, will be telling.

Eight years ago, Putin badly botched the official reaction to the Kursk incident. While this recent event demonstrates that serious challenges lay ahead for Russia's nuclear submarine forces, the Kremlin has become much better at controlling the message since 2000.

If the Kremlin has learned anything, then look for Putin-Medvedev to pledge more money on the navy, and act as mourners in chief for the heroic mariners.

Nov 7, 2008

More Views from the East

While some ER readers may have felt that Berlusconi's remark over Obama's "tan" was only racist if you thought it was insulting to have a really dark tan, other Russian websites have not been as open-minded.

To wit. Igor sends the photo above. "Is this racist? A question we might have to ask many a time in the Obama administration...The Obama White (well, almost) House."

GazPlop: South Stream Now Delayed

In the spring 2008, Gazprom ranked as the world's third highest valued company, at $360 billion in market cap. Fast-forward to November 1, the company's star, and rank, have fallen to 37th place. Gazprom is now valued at $121 billion.

Credit markets have dried up as well, forcing the Russian government to pay the bills for most of its largest comapnies and once high-flying oligarchs. (Don't forget to donate to our Feed Deripaska Fund.)

It should therefore be no surprise that Gazprom has delayed construction of the South Stream gas pipeline from 2013 to 2015. Times are tough -- it seems -- even for energy states.

Berlusconi Meets Medvedev, Racism Ensues

But that's ok, however, because Berlusconi insists it was all in good fun. Like slavery. What, some people didn't think that was funny?

You Americans are so uptight.

Nov 6, 2008

Putin in '09...and Forever!

God damn it, Russia. What now? I'm not going to say this is the zaniest thing you've done in recent history. I think everyone is pretty aware of my issues with that stunt where you laid claim to the Arctic, but really? Really?

YahooNews: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev could resign from his post in 2009 to pave the way for Vladimir Putin to return to the Kremlin, Vedomosti newspaper reported on Thursday, citing an unidentified source close to the Kremlin.

Medvedev Wednesday proposed increasing the presidential term to six years from four years, a step the newspaper said was part of a plan drawn up by Vladislav Surkov, who serves as Medvedev's first deputy chief of staff.

Under the plan, Medvedev could implement changes to the constitution and unpopular social reforms "so that Putin could return to the Kremlin for a longer period," the newspaper said.

"Under this scenario Medvedev could resign early citing changes to the constitution and then presidential elections could take place in 2009," the newspaper said, citing the unidentified source close to the Kremlinl.

The paper said Putin, who is currently prime minister, could then rule for two six year terms, so from 2009 to 2021.

Are these the International Crises Biden* predicted for Obama?

*Are you satisfied now, jaybird?

From Elustrator:

Kaczynski = Obama?

Former Polish prime minister and twin of Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw Kaczynski claims that the Polish president is the Polish politician that most resembles Obama.

Are the similarities not striking?

Why did twin extraordinaire claim that Kaczynski = Obama? He is the politician of change. If you count destroying good will in foreign affairs and ignoring domestic policy issues in order to lustrate everyone and their brother, I suppose that counts as change. However, the Kaczynskis seem to have missed the "hope" memo...

Nov 5, 2008

Note to Our Swedish Readers...

On October 23, Nord Stream LLC formally submitted its (revised) application to lay pipe on Sweden's marine shelf. Immediately, the Swedes dispatched the application to 12 separate organizations for review.

Among those who will review this application, and could potentially delay or derail Russia's multi-billion gas pipeline are the Swedish National Maritime Museums and the Swedish National Heritage Board.

Note to individuals of Swedish heritage: feel free to start a letter-writing campaign, highlighting all the ways in which your heritage will be besmirched by Russia's energy gambit.

The iBear

(Thanks Jen!)

Is this the International Crisis McCain predicted for Obama?

(insert eye patch and hairless kitten in above pic for full effect)

TimesOnline: President Dmitri Medvedev took advantage of the euphoria in America today to order the deployment of missiles inside Europe as a response to US plans for a missile defence shield.

Speaking within hours of Barack Obama's election as the new US President, Mr Medvedev announced that Russia would base Iskander missiles in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad next to the border with Poland.

He did not say whether the short-range missiles would carry nuclear warheads. Mr Medvedev also cancelled earlier plans to withdraw three intercontinental ballistic missile regiments from western Russia.

(Thanks to Jen for the story. Holy F*^&%*g S%^t! indeed)

Nov 4, 2008

Happy National Unity Day!

Since 2005, Russians everywhere mark this day by dressing up as extras from the Lord of the Rings and wander the streets looking for a Pole to skewer. Even if that last part is a slight exaggeration, the day is a replacement for the old holiday marking the October, err, November Revolution.

According to the Moscow Times, only 23 percent of Russians know the actual name of the new holiday, up from 8 percent in 2005.

Nevertheless, National Unity Day sends a heart-warming message to the world. Russians may be divided by many things, but if there's one thing that unites everyone, it's contempt for Poland and Lithuania.

Nov 3, 2008

Klitschko Brothers Challenge Valuev

I'd pay double for that action.

ESPN: The Klitschko brothers, who hold four of the world's five heavyweight boxing titles, have challenged giant Russian Nikolai Valuev to a showdown for his WBA title.
Vitali, who last month came out of retirement to defeat Samuel Peter for the WBC crown and together with younger brother Wladimir, become the first siblings to simultaneously hold world heavyweight belts, issued the challenge Monday.

"Valuev is the biggest heavyweight champion in history. He's huge and dangerous, this won't be easy and I don't want to underestimate him," the Ukrainian said of the 7-foot champion at the WBC's annual convention.

"It will be a difficult fight, but we have a dream, and we are going to make it come true, by taking the last belt for the Klitschko family."

Oil Watch: Who's Still Making Money?

According to the IMF (and a nifty little CNBC slideshow), the recent decline in oil prices is hurting some countries more than others. Oil traded this morning at $66.04 a barrel.

Azerbaijan's breakeven price

Kazakhstan's breakeven price
2008: $59

Iran's breakeven price
2008: $90
2009: $90

Sorry, Russia was not on the list.

Smashing Pumpkins in Moscow

Um...I don't understand any of this. If the conflict was an American plot to improve McCain's prospects, 1. how? and 2. it failed? Also, wouldn't be an American plot, it would be a Republican plot, and half of Americans would necessarily disagree with said plot. And why jack-o-lanterns?

NY Times: Thousands of Russians from the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi gathered in front of the United States Embassy here on Sunday night carrying jack-o’-lanterns inked with the names of war victims and charging that the war in Georgia was part of an American plot to improve Senator John McCain’s electoral prospects.

Most of the demonstrators, men and women in their teens and early 20s, said they held the United States responsible for the war in Georgia, saying President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia would not have attacked the separatist enclave of South Ossetia without express permission from American officials.

Several demonstrators said they had become disillusioned with the United States during the 1990s, saying the reforms it pushed had led Russia into financial and political chaos.

The Next Greatest Cities of the World

Not the greatest cities...the next greatest cities, according to Forbes.

The Sofia Weekly: The cities are assessed on the basis of eight criteria: economic and commercial environment, economic growth and development, business environment, financial service environment, commercial connectivity to world markets, education levels and IT connectivity, quality of life and risk and security.

The top ten of World's Next Great cities include four Chinese cities - Shanghai (1st), Beijing (2nd), Guangzhou (6th), and Shenzhen (10th); and two Eastern European capitals - Budapest (3rd), and Warsaw (8th); as well as the cities of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (4th); Santiago, Chile (5th); Mexico City, Mexico (7th); and Bangkok, Thailand (9th).

The top thirty spots in the Forbes ranking include fifteen Chinese cities. The other countries with the greatest number of cities in the ranking are India, Russia, and Brazil.

Bulgaria's capital Sofia is two spots ahead of Romania's capital Bucarest, which is ranked 32nd; of Ukraine's capital Kyiv (57th), and the Russian city of St. Petersburg (41st).