Sep 30, 2008

When Pirates Attack! (Part Trois)

Now we know the real victims in this pirate business: Latvian and Lithuanian national identity. Take it away WashPost:

"The crew members [of the hijacked freighter] number 17 Ukranians, three Russians, and one person described as either Latvian or Lithuanian."

To be fair, everyone knows that all Latvians and Lithuanians look the same, speak the same language, share the same football team, and come from basically the same country. Hell, even the Czechs couldn't tell the difference when they played either the Latvians or Lithuanians earlier this year.

This aggression towards Latvian and Lithuanian identity must end.

As a sign of solidarity with our much-abused Balitc friends, Eternal Remont will no longer distinguish between Canadians and Americans, as in Canadian President George Bush, or American country music sensation Shania Twain. (Who is really a Canadian, ha!)

[Thanks Ern, mistress of country music.]

This Just In: Russia is that A-hole from High School

You know the guy who didn't get enough fun out of just beating you up, he had to hang you up on a locker so everyone at school could see that he was better than you. NY Times reports that Russia has put together a new exhibit at Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow commemorating the destruction they wrought on the Caucasus. Artifacts include tattered Georgian flags, NATO-style uniforms, and American assault rifles.

Never mind that Russia has suffered a diplomatic bruising after its overpowering incursion into Georgia — which Moscow defends as an emergency response to Georgia’s assault on South Ossetia, the separatist enclave at the heart of the conflict. Or that Russia’s unilateral recognition of independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian enclave, has been condemned around the world. Never mind all that. After decades of embarrassing military defeats, in Afghanistan in the 1980s and in Chechnya in the 1990s, Russia is once again a winner.


Sep 29, 2008

It was only a matter of time

Text reads: "As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska" -- Sarah Palin (Thanks Igor)

Dude Where's My Freighter? (Part Deux)

Finally, the US and Russia find one issue in which they can cooperate: the fight against pirates, yarr.

Sep 26, 2008

Saakashvili's "Good News"

“We have managed to save 95 percent of our armed forces despite the five-day war,” President Mikheil Saakashvili said at an awards ceremony for Georgian military personnel.

Alas, Saakashvili thinks this is good news. However, most analysts paint a very grim picture of the army's conduct during the first 24 hours of major combat operations. By even the most linear reasoning, Saakashvili's clam means that Georgian armed forces would be annhilated in any conflict with Russia lasting more than 20 days.

The Chechens held out for years without the aid of American Special Forces advisors or $1.7 billion in US assistance.

Also, it seems the Georgian Army never practiced ways in which to block the Roki Tunnel in event of a conflict with Russia. With that kind of military forethought from a prospective NATO ally, I'll be joining Ern for a drink (see below).

Russian-Less Vodka Party

For those of you in the DC crowd who sided with Georgia in the August conflict, there's an event for you. Here's the actual invitation from, Club BV*, The Georgian Wine House, the America-Georgia Council, and The Carlyle Club:

"On August 6, Russia Invades and Bombs the Democratic Republic of Georgia. We don’t like that.

October 1, 6 - 10

$5 Russian-Less Vodka Martinis and Cosmos

$3 Georgian Teliani Wine

$5 Cha Chas

A Party in Support of The Republic of Georgia

The Carlyle Club
411 John Carlyle Street
(up Duke St near Whole Foods)"

I myself will not be in attendance. I don't feel strongly about much of anything to deny myself Russian vodka and to choke down cheap Georgian wine. Sorry, Georgia.

Lukashenko Just Wants Acceptance

It turns out, the man who made himself de facto president for life, just wants to be accepted.

"We want [the West] to accept us, to endorse and recognize our election," Mr. Lukashenko said on a government website.

Belarus holds parliamentary elections on Sunday. Currently, there are no opposition members in parliament. Not that it matters. Kazakhstan doesn’t have any opposition members in parliament either, and they’re assuming the chairmanship of the OSCE next year.

Still, someone should give "Europe's last dictator" a hug. How about it Hugo?

Yarr, Somali Pirates Seize Ukrainian Ship - Hilarity Ensues

Yesterday, pirates seized a Ukrainian freighter off the coast of Somalia. Usually the pirates ransom the cargo for a tidy profit, or fence the goods if nobody pays. Now imagine their surprise when one group of enterprising pirates discovered their latest prize was transporting thirty T-72 main battle tanks.

“If there are tanks on board,” said an unnamed Western diplomat, “I don’t think there’s a chance in hell they can get them unloaded.”

We hope so.

As the NYTimes notes, “The pirates are often former fishermen who have turned to the more lucrative work of plying the seas with binoculars and rocket-propelled grenades.”

Thank God the tanks don’t float, or said pirates would now be plying the seas in forty-one tons of Soviet-armor, with 125 millimeter cannons, and a comprehensive nuclear, biological, and chemical protection system.

Sep 25, 2008

Prague: Nest of Spies

Igor writes: So, this isn't a big shocker: Russia sent spies to the Czech Republic to "influence" the missile defense deal.

But this is truly shocking: The Czech Republic has three separate intelligence services. Why in the world?

Have the Slovaks been getting out hand lately?

Gangland on the Moscow

The Chechens are fighting again, not with the Russians but each other. As hard as it is to believe, people will still kill to control what's left of Chechnya.

Today's victim was Ruslan Yamadayev, the former rebel commander who switched sides in the Second Chechen War. Yamadayev "was shot to death Wednesday night while waiting in his car at a traffic light near the British Embassy." According to reports a gunman "approached his car in the evening rush hour traffic on the Smolenskaya embankment and shot him several times in the chest."

Not that Yamadayev's death reads suspiciously close to the hit on Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, but this business will only invite retribution. More Chechen-related hilarity is sure to follow.

In case you're interested, links to the scene (nothing you haven't seen in an PG-13 movie, but probably a bit too harsh with your morning coffee): here and here.

Sep 24, 2008

Blasphemy, Thy Name is Izvestiya

Igor sends us this gem: In one of their usual anti-American rants, this time against Wall Street and the bailout (actually had a few decent points, if not for the tone), Izvestiya correspondent in DC writes the following:

В американском футболе есть такое выражение "Nail Mary pass" . Это непродуманный пас мячом наобум, на авось, а вдруг что-то получится. План Буша весьма напоминает именно такой пас - Nail Mary!

Find the Freudian slip, as they say.

Sep 23, 2008

Eclipse Aviation Will Make Its Small Jets in Russia

Eclipse Aviation, a maker of small twin-engine jets that has been struggling with high costs and tight credit, said Tuesday that it would begin manufacturing in Russia. The company, based in Albuquerque, said it would receive $205 million in financing from the Russian state bank Vnesheconombank. The bank’s supervisory board is headed by the Russian prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin.

Not at all sketchy.

The Corruption Perceptions Index Is Finally In!

Come on, you love these rankings. The Transparency International CPI measures the perceived levels of public-sector corruption in a given country and is a composite index, drawing on different expert and business surveys. The 2008 CPI scores 180 countries (the same number as the 2007 CPI) on a scale from zero (highly corrupt) to ten (highly clean).

No one cares about the top 20, we get it, Denmark is awesome. Where are our friends though? Slovenia and Estonia made the top 30 at 26 and 27. While the Czech Republic sneaks into the top 50 at 45. Good for you!

Latvia and Slovakia just miss the top 50 sharing the 52 spot. Lithuania and Poland share 58. Croatia-62, Georgia-67, Romania-70, Bulgaria and Macedonia-72, Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia-85, BiH-92, Armenia and Moldova-109, Ukraine-134, Kazakhstan-145....

Where is Russia?! 147. Russia is worse than Kazakhstan...really? Gorzhus'!

Who is worse than Russia? Belarus and Tajikistan-151 (also a great new cocktail I invented), and Kyrgystan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan-166.

Sep 22, 2008

Those Aren't Our AK-47s, Part II

As a member of the UN Security Council, its been hard to fathom allegations that Russia’s state-owed arms manufacturers would violate UN arms embargos against Sudan – especially if there are nifty pictures involved.

That's why it's been even more difficult to imagine that stand-up businessmen like Viktor Bout – the real-life inspiration for Nick Cage’s awful accent in Lord of War – would want to expand their client list to include Al Qaeda.

Too bad for Viktor Bout. He was in court today, awaiting extradition to the US for trying to do just that. However, Bout’s extradition hearing was enough to rouse the Duma into denouncing the whole affair and its obvious, "Political motives, attempts to link this issue with the fight against international terrorism and thus damage the interests and reputation of Russia.”

That’s right kids, trying to sell weapons to Al Qaeda has nothing to do with terrorism, it’s just an American plot to damage Russia’s reputation.

Anyway, all you ever wanted to know about Russian arms exports (in 3 min):

Romania and Bulgaria Rank 2nd and 3rd in EU Tax Evasion

The Sofia Weekly: Bulgaria ranks third in the European Union in tax evasion, according to a report prepared by Associazione Contribuenti Italiani and the Klrs Network of Business Ethics. The grand total sum of the tax evasion frauds in Bulgaria amounts to 18% of the country's GDP, according to the research, Pronto Sofia reported.

Italy is ranked first - the sum of the evaded taxes there is believed to amount to 23% of its Gross Domestic Product. Romania is a close second with 18%. The EU members with the lowest levels of tax evasion are the UK (6% of its GDP), Belgium (5%), and Sweden (3%).

A gentle reminder to Italy, Romania, and Bulgaria: Why do we pay these taxes? There are many services offered to citizens that could not be managed effectively
under any other system. The government uses your tax dollars to support health care, national defense, and social services. Pay up!

Economic Freedom Index

The Fraser Institute (Canada): The annual peer-reviewed report uses 42 different measures to create an index ranking 141 countries around the world based on policies that encourage economic freedom. The cornerstones of economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete, and security of private property. Economic freedom is measured in five different areas: (1) size of government; (2) legal structure and security of property rights; (3) access to sound money; (4) freedom to trade internationally; and (5) regulation of credit, labor and business.

In this year’s overall index, Hong Kong retains the highest rating for economic freedom, 8.94 out of 10. The other top scorers are: Singapore (8.57), New Zealand (8.28), Switzerland (8.20), the United Kingdom (8.07), Chile (8.06), Canada (8.05), Australia (8.04), the United States (8.04), and Ireland (7.92).

Where's Russia? 101st place witha a score of 6.12. Better than 28.4% of the other contenders. Kick ass!

Ukrainians Want Yulia with Viktor

Yanukovych that is.

KyivPost: A parliamentary coalition of the BYT and the Regions Party has the greatest support among Ukrainian citizens, Sofia Social Research Centre Expert Oleksandr Levtsun said at a press conference in the Interfax-Ukraine news agency on Sept. 22. He was commenting on the results of the social poll held in all Ukrainian regions from September 9 to September 17. A total of 2,005 respondents aged over 18 were quizzed, and the poll's margin of error is 2.2%.

Sep 19, 2008

Russia Strengthening Ties in Latin America

Uneasy about how chummy Russia and Venezuela have been? Well, guess what! Bolivia has joined the party. According to CNN, Bolivian President Evo Morales says he regrets not deepening Bolivia's ties to Russia years ago. A week after kicking out the U.S. ambassador, Morales says his administration "lost 2 ½ years in not strengthening relations with Russia" and will now "use its time wisely" to build better ties. Morales says Bolivia plans to seek Russian aid in energy, agriculture, and defense.

How does the U.S. feel about that? U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mocked Russia's efforts to make allies in Latin America in a scathing speech that labeled the former Cold War foe as isolated and irrelevant.

Russia's Stock Exchange Joins the Insanity

For the third time this week, officials halted trading on the Russian Stock Exchange. Only this time, it was due to a jaw-dropping 22.4% rally on the RTS. While the ride may not be over, Hank Paulson can bask in the love -- yes, even from Russia.

Georgia: Life's a [War Time] Beach Party

"We have so much stress after this bombing that I'm thinking that I have to make psychological healing," said Kitty Arsenidze, from her green lawn chair by the Black Sea. "I feel better than in Gori."

By the way, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs has approved Saakashvili’s $1 billion check with zero strings attached. He can use that money to throw a $1 billion birthday party for himself (legally), or put it to more important uses, like importing sand from Bermuda to cover up all of those rocks.

Since Congress does not care how he spends the money, we think the Georgians at least deserve a sandy beach -- courtesy of the taxpayers.

Sep 17, 2008

Condoleezza is Not Impressed

"A pat on the back from [Nicaraguan President] Daniel Ortega and Hamas is hardly a diplomatic triumph." -- Condoleezza Rice on international recognition of Russia's micro-states.

Meanwhile, talks on sending more OSCE monitors to Georgia are deadlocked after Russia refused to allow any into South Ossetia. France's Foreign Minister may have to send another letter.

77 Words

That's how much space the latest dissolution of government in Ukraine merited in the NYT today (in the ever-prestigious page A12). At least it made the World Briefing, because next time, it'll probably make the Gardening section. (Igor)

[Editor's note: we gave it 91 words. But Eternal Remont does not have a Home & Garden section...yet.]

Update: Polish Weeklies Are Awesome

Amy sends along this cover from the Polish weekly Wprost. Unfortunately, the subtlety of the image is too vague to offer any clear meaning or political opinion.

US Senate Condemns Baltic the Soviets?

That's right, the Senate has condemned the actions of a country which no longer exists. Jen adds, "Georgia, don’t worry. In 68 years we’ll support you!"

While we're at it, we might as well give notice to the Habsburg occupation of the Duchy of Parma in 1735, or Ruthenian despotism over Moldova.

The time for inaction is over. We cannot delay.

UN Claims Georgia Violated UN Charter

FINALLY! Thank you!

RussiaToday: Georgia commited an act of aggression and violated the UN charter by invading South Ossetia, the incoming President of the UN General Assembly said at the opening of its 63rd session.

Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a former foreign minister of Nicaragua, pledged in his opening address to the session to dedicate his year as president to representing the interests of “the dispossessed of the world” and fostering solidarity between peoples and member states. Said Brockmann:

"Georgia was the one who invaded Ossetia. Look at the situation, look at how the whole thing began. I think that Georgia did commit agression against South Ossetia."

Sep 16, 2008

What is a Quadrillion? Russia Knows.

According to the Energy Information Agency, Russia's proven reserves of natural gas total more than 1.8 quadrillion cubic feet. That's quadrillion.

For the more mathematically inclined, we're talking: 1,800,000,000,000,000 cubic feet. So how big is a quadrillion anyway? Apparently, one quadrillion seconds equals 31,709,792 years.

That's a lot of gas.

Bootlegging Is Not Just for the American 1920s

Russia Today: The ingenuity of some smugglers knows no bounds (if you call using an idea from The Simpsons ingenous; the beer baron episode, whatever). In Estonia, 11 people have been arrested and charged with pumping vodka from Russia into the Baltic state through an underwater pipeline. From August to November 2004, the gang are claimed to have used an unusual 2km long homemade pipe to squirt at least 6.2 thousand litres of vodka from Russia to the Baltics.

The ‘enterprise’ was uncovered after a truck with a thousand litres of illegal vodka was found in Tallinn.

The lucky bastard who found that truck...

Oh, and there's a drought in Central Asia... there's most likely going to be a grain shortage. Thanks for nothing, Turkmenistan!

US Dept of Agriculture: Central Asia is currently in the grip of 1 of the worst droughts in recent history. Widespread failure of rain-fed grain crops occurred in 2008/09, as well as sizable declines in irrigated crop area and yield. Food grain production dropped to some of the lowest levels in decades, spurring governments to enact grain export bans and resulting in abnormally large region-wide grain imports. Should drought continue into the 2009/10 growing season which begins in October, even greater declines in grain production will occur.

Continued Stock Market Woes in Russia

Financial Times: Russia authorities halted trading on the country’s stock exchange after it plunged 17 per cent in a broad-based sell-off. At 1700 local time, the rouble-denominated Micex index had fallen 17.5 per cent to 881.17 and the RTS index dropped 12 per cent to 1,131.120 as the falling oil price, margin calls on local investors and a broader sell-off in emerging markets stocks drove shares down. Said Steven Dashevsky, head of research at Unicredit in Moscow:

“This is a good old-fashioned panic.”

Well thank God's it's old-fashioned and hopefully in line with Putin's family policy.

Activists call for Russian autonomy in Estonia

Geez, it's a busy day. Russia Today: Leaflets have been distributed in Estonia calling on the Russian ethnic minority to hold a referendum and create a territorial autonomy in the Baltic state. That’s according to ‘Vesti Dnya’ newspaper.

Authors of the leaflets, an organisation called “The Union of South Westerners of New Generation” suggest Russians who live in Estonia should be registered and given IDs. Then a referendum on creating a Russian autonomy should be held. They believe these actions should be combined with European parliamentary election campaign.

The organisation has already found a place for the autonomy and published it on the leaflet with the Estonian map. The South Westerners marked the borders of the suggested autonomy at the North of the country which includes several districts and a large part of Lake Chudskoye.

For those of you wondering, the territory of Estonia covers 45,227 square kilometers. Looking for a frame of reference? The state of Virginia is more than twice the size of Estonia. Is everyone going to be autonomous now? Thanks, Russia, for recognizing South Ossetia. The flood gates are open!

Gen. Clark and his Blackberry

Eternal Remont ran into Gen. Wes Clark at the T-Mobile store on K Street. The man looks very well preserved, a portrait of Dorian Gray. However, just like other mortals, he had blackberry problems and was waiting for a fix.

To fill the time, he chatted with the T-Mobile security guard about his first high school job (manually drawing stock charts with a #2 pencil). After fifteen minutes, the guard stops him and asks, "Your voice sounds familiar, I know you from somewhere..." Clark pauses for a beat and says in resignation, "Well, I ran for President."

Gen. Wesley K. Clark: Supreme Allied Commander of the European Theater, liberator of Kosovo, bane of the Serbs, and just another guy in the line at T-Mobile who "ran for president."

God bless you Gen. Clark.

A Fourth of GDP Annually Laundered in Russia

Kommersant: Up to 27 percent of Gross Domestic Product is laundered in Russia each year. The laundering extends to legalization of illegally acquired wealth, to income concealment and embezzlement.

Russia’s nominal GDP totaled 942 billion euro (roughly 35 trillion ruble) in 2007. The amount was around 19.1 trillion ruble in the first half of this year, while the GDP growth reached 8 percent.

Not sure how to make this one funny...I guess I could make a laundering pun? A fourth of GDP annually laundered in Russia; the remaining 3/4 still dirty.

Ukraine’s Ruling Coalition Collapses

Yeah, it's been going down in Ukraine...or hitting the fan...depends on how you look at it. NY Times gives us a nice sum up:

The Ukrainian president is accusing Russia of trying to destabilize his country by encouraging separatists on the volatile Crimean peninsula. Viktor Yushchenko told The Associated Press that Russia would not get away with another invasion [referencing the Russian-Georgian conflict, obviously]. Yushchenko also said the collapse of his pro-Western coalition was not a threat to the country's democracy [keep plugging away for NATO membership, Vik, keep plugging away].

Pamela Anderson Takes Moscow

Okay, I thought this article might have actually been too weird for Remont especially since it doesn't really make sense. I think maybe Russia Today got distracted by...something or somethings...and didn't really focus on the text. But here it is, in its entirety. Pam breaking hearts, riding bikes, and saving seals....

RT: Tommy Lee, Kid Rock - you'll never guess who's next. How about an old, short Russian oligarch bearing a Faberge egg as a wedding present? But it didn't last. The Hollywood star's wild nature prevailed and the bride ran away, ending her Moscow love affair.

Or, to be precise, she rode away after exchanging knowing glances with a Russian biker, who turned up in the right place, at the right time. It seems Pam's keeping up with her my-boyfriend-is-a-rocker phase. Then, in a surprise move, she left the biker too, to freeze alone under Moscow's dark skies, and rode off, shaking her locks...

But those who know the plot of the 'Engine roar' video clip that Pamela Anderson took part in with the Russian rock group Pilgrim, will not have been surprised. Pilgrim leader Andrey Kovalyov - a rocker and a Moscow City Duma Deputy - says he didn't mind sharing his bike with Pam one little bit.

"Only Pamela Anderson is good for a woman biker role. She is the world's most rock-n-roll girl! People will be gobsmacked, she's pretty and curvaceous - an absolute sex-symbol."

Kovalyov wrote the plot himself - he says it was his teenage dream to kiss Pamela Anderson.

As for the 'biker lady', she has been very enthusiastic about being in Moscow - despite the cold she caught during the filming. They say she's been trying to cure it with the traditional Russian remedy - vodka - and that she even wrote to President Medvedev, asking him to help save seal cubs from poachers.

Krasny Oktyabr Factory Now Luxury Lofts

I'd pay double if it still smells like chocolate...

NY Times: The Krasny Oktyabr chocolate factory — named Red October in honor of the 1917 revolution — sits on an island in the Moscow River, across from the Kremlin’s turreted walls and gold-domed churches. In this oil-rich boomtown, where a square yard of downtown residential space sells routinely for $20,000 and sometimes for as much as $50,000, city planners and shareholders have decided that assembly lines next to the Kremlin no longer make sense. Now, Krasny Oktyabr, still rolling with the times, has become what every Russian company seems to want to be: a real estate developer.

Guta-Development, a real estate company that has acquired 75 percent of United Confectioners, is planning to make the Krasny Oktyabr lofts the centerpiece of a luxury construction project on Bolotny Island, the crescent of land that divides the river just south of the Kremlin. The developers are betting that Russians who are now at home in New York and London — the tiny group that, in Mr. Sarkisyan’s words, is “starting to have some taste” — have learned to value architecture that fits into its historical context and physical surroundings. They believe such buyers will pay millions of dollars to live in an urban, post-industrial streetscape with shops and sidewalks open to the public.

Way to sell out, Moscow.

Sep 15, 2008

Sec. Rice for War with Russia

In the interest of good ol' bi-partisanship, it is fair to note that Palin's declarations of a 'War with Russia' copied verse for verse current US Policy on NATO expansion. In fact, the "moose hunting rube" satirized on SNL sure did sound a lot like US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (not a moose hunter) at the NATO Summit in April:

"We agreed today that these countries [Georgia and Ukraine] will become members of NATO," said Rice. "There have long been questions about whether NATO would be prepared to . . . countenance membership for a country in the Caucasus like Georgia. And this is an unequivocal statement, yes."

Few have accused Sec. Rice of wanting to start a war with Russia, or for that matter, lacking expertise in foreign affairs. And if you look really hard, you can almost see Russia from the windows of Foggy Bottom.

Palin for War with Russia

RussiaToday: Sarah Palin - Tina Fey look-a-like and mother-of-the-year nominee - caused fresh outrage by announcing that war with Russia is a possibility for the US.
During an interview with ABC news she was asked whether war with Russia was likely.

"Perhaps so," Palin replied, "I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help."

The Alaskan governor expressed awareness of the fact that Georgia is not a member of NATO, but insisted that, like Ukraine, it should be. Palin also pointed out that she is well-equipped to talk about Russia since "they're our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia here from Alaska.''

Okay, time out! I'm not saying she not qualified to discuss Russian issues, but I am saying "they're our next-door neighbors" is not a qualification to discuss Russian issues. If that's all it takes, then lets caucus China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Finland, etc. before we make any decision. Or hey maybe we should get another Texas politician and they can make all the decisions on Mexico. Awesome ideas.

Putin to Free Media: "I know who you are"

Today, we note an unusual meeting in Sochi between Putin and the heads of Russia's media outlets. Not that it is remotly unusual for a Prime Minister to issue talking points and editorial guidance to news outlets, but for the first time in five years, Putin invited the editor-in-chief of Echo Moskvy, Alexei Venediktov, to join in the fun.

As you can imagine, hilarity promptly ensued:

"Putin berated the [Echo Moskvy] editor in front of his peers, criticizing Echo's coverage of the war with Georgia and reading from a dossier of transcripts to point out what he considered errors. ‘I'm not interested in who said these things,' [said Putin], 'You are responsible for everything that goes on at the radio station. I don't know who they are, but I know who you are.'"

What we’ve learned:
--State journalists in Russia have the easiest job in the world. [/copy, /paste, /call it a day]
--Real journalists in Russia have one of the most dangerous.
--Putin knows where you live.

Someone should buy Alexei Venediktov a drink.

Russia's Stock Market Slumps

See, the US has more in common with Russia than people think...

NY Times: Rattled by falling oil prices and the war in Georgia, Russia’s stock market has slumped so severely that it now threatens the country’s oil-fueled boom of recent years, economists say.

The benchmark RTS index has lost 46 percent of its value since its peak in May, representing a paper loss of about $700 billion for Russian companies. Much of that decline has come since the war in Georgia and the subsequent war of words with the United States and Europe that unsettled foreign investors, who began withdrawing capital.

While initially seen as a problem confined to the Russian stock market, which is volatile in the best of times, the drop in share prices is now spilling over to the real economy. Companies that had pledged shares as collateral for loans, for example, are now facing margin calls, bankers in Moscow say.

The underlying problem for the Russian stock market is that about 80 percent of the shares are in companies exporting commodities with a history of boom-bust cycles. Additionally, the risk premium for investing in Russia has risen with the war.

Bulgarian Brothel Blasts...Alleged Brothels

Yeah, I couldn't find a non-offensive picture for this one.

From my favorite Weekly, The Sofia Weekly: Two bomb explosions at alleged brothels in downtown Sofia are motivated by a war for the redistribution of the prostitution services market.

Some of the people living on the Urvich St., where the second explosion occurred at the Casablanca, commented the bar had in fact been a brothel for about 10 years. They also said there had been frequent firings in the alleged brothel almost every night.

The police have sealed off the area around the alleged brothels, and are conducting secondary inspections on the explosion sites.

I'm sure the investigation will be thorough.

Sep 11, 2008

Rumor Mill: CNN Kicked Out of Russia???

According to the English Forum of Pravda(the Truth): CNN censored Putin for being just too darn sensible. About two weeks ago, Putin gave the network an exclusive 30-minute interview. However, it was never allowed to air. CNN doesn’t know it yet, but that decision might have cost them their Russian broadcasting rights. But if you'd like, the link will allow you to see and I quote:

Putin the anti-Stalinist
Putin the caring
Putin the peaceful
Putin the conscientious business man

So which one of those Putins is kicking out CNN?

"Who are you to f------ lecture me?"

That's what Russian Foreign Minister (and Eternal Remont favorite) Sergei Lavrov said to UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband during a recent phone conversation.

According to the Telegraph, “One Whitehall insider told me: ‘It was effing this and effing that. It was not what you would call diplomatic language. It was rather shocking.”

Lavrov really needs a f------ vacation.

(Kudos to Igor)

The Arctic Border Dispute Continues

BBC: A senior US Coast Guard commander has warned of the risk of conflict in the Arctic, unless disputes over international borders are resolved.

The admiral's warning comes as the Arctic sea-ice has, for a second year running, retreated far more dramatically than the long-term average. The latest satellite analysis shows this year's melt closely following last year's record thaw. The melting has created vast areas of open ocean and attracted far more maritime traffic, including cruise ships - all more rapidly than forecasts indicated only a few years ago.

Russia is staking the largest claim to the Arctic, after planting a flag at the North Pole last summer, but Denmark, Norway, Canada and the United States are all involved in border disputes as well.

Perhaps the US should invade Canada. It had hilarious results in Canadian Bacon.

James Woolsey's Post-CIA Absurdist Movement

Igor writes us about James Woolsey’s new attempt to advance some kind of post-CIA absurdist movement. “Apparently, its supposed symbolize the Russian ability to twist the facts and engage in disinformation campaigns.”

Apparently...But only if you get the joke.

Only Gods and Norman Mailer should write in the colloqual. This goes double if you are a former director of the CIA.


Eduard Kokoity: Quote Machine

The last 24 hours have been a model of spin management

--'President' Eduard Kokoity: "[South Ossetia] will be part of the Russian Federation...It is not going to be an independent country.”

--Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: "South Ossetia is not intending to link up with anybody.” 

--'President' Eduard Kokoity: "I have probably been misunderstood...We are not going to relinquish our independence."

Poor Lavrov. Sometimes you really have to feel for the guy. Kokoity's cell phone probably started ringing before he'd even finished his first statement.

Sep 10, 2008

Sergei Lavrov: Quote Machine

"We have no interest in the pieces of paper which Mr. Saakashvili takes out of his pocket and shows to journalists." 

That was Sergei Lavrov's take on the new EU-Georgia agreement to "deploy monitors in the whole of Georgian territory."

Apparently, Lavrov has a different piece of paper in his pocket which invites EU-monitors outside of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Since EU personnel are already part of existing OSCE missions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, its hard to say which piece of paper really matters.

What Do Georgians Think? Gallup Knows.

These days, the Gallup daily presidential tracking poll gets a lot of press. But less noticed, is a recent poll on Georgian perceptions of their country and its foreign relations.

So what do Georgians think?

For starters, Georgians like the EU and US far more than Russia. But you don't need a Gallup poll to tell you that.

More interestingly, as of June 2008, “nearly two-thirds of Georgian respondents said they were in favor of maintaining good relations with Russia by all means, up 5% from 2007 and 11% from 2006.” No doubt a new poll would show a decidedly different opinion. Yet, that level of openness towards Russia would have been in marked contrast to Saakashviili’s orientation over the same period.

Sadly, Gallup also notes that of all CIS countries, “Georgia had the highest number of respondents who said they or their family had gone hungry in the past 12 months.”

You Can Limit Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association,...

But don't you DARE try to limit smoking in Russia!

NY Times: The average life expectancy of male Russians hovers around 60, and health analysts say the heavy rate of smoking (60% of males) here plays a big role in a looming population drop that has economists quite worried. Yet the Russian government seems reluctant to tackle the high smoking rate. It has barely invested in anti-tobacco ads and education. Moreover, a pack of cigarettes in Russia can cost as little as 25 cents because tobacco is hardly taxed.

While the Kremlin tends to keep a strong grip on Russian politics, it remains sensitive to broad-based protests over issues like inflation, pensions and housing, as well as tobacco and alcohol. Dmitri Yanin, one of Russia’s top specialists on tobacco control, said officials did not want to curb smoking because they remembered the response to cigarette shortages and crackdowns on alcohol in the 1980s...

Oh and don't worry, Russians are not to blame for the smoking problem. Who is?Foreigners: Dr. Gennadi G. Onishchenko, the chief health inspector, has described foreign tobacco as responsible for the “nicotine genocide” of the Russian people.

Seriously, can one day go by without the ridiculous use of the word "genocide"? It's not a catch-all people. It's a word with a definition. Let's stop throwing it around. Thank you.

"But you recognized South Ossetia!!!" whines Tatarstan

The NY Times reports today that separatist movements in Russia, all but repressed in recent years, may find new thrust from Russia’s move to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

An association of nationalist groups, the All-Tatar Civic Center, swiftly published an appeal that “for the first time in recent history, Russia has recognized the state independence of its own citizens” and expressed the devout wish that Tatarstan would be next. The declaration was far-fetched, its authors knew: One of Putin’s signal achievements as Mr. Medvedev’s predecessor was to suppress separatism. The Tatar movement was at its lowest ebb in 20 years.

But Moscow’s decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia made Tatarstan’s cause seem, as Rashit Akhmetov put it, “not hopeless.” Mr. Akhmetov, editor in chief of Zvezda Povolzhya, an opposition newspaper in Kazan, said,

“Russia has lost the moral right not to recognize us.”

That's right Russia, you opened the door on this one. I await your hilarious rhetoric for explaining away not recognizing Tatarstan.

Sep 9, 2008

Zombies and Saakashvili’s War Room (but not "in" Saakashvili’s War Room)

It really shouldn't be a surpirse that zombies are again walking the streets. Real life zombies, like the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Back from the dead, again.

Last week, Russia turned to the CSTO after China vetoed the independence issue at the SCO. Apparently, the Chinese are touchy about efforts to recognize separatist regions like Tibet, er, Abkhazia.

Unfortunately for Moscow, “Convincing [CTSO] allies to condemn Georgian ‘aggression’ and praise Russia’s ‘peace-enforcement’ efforts was easy, but making them recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia proved to be nearly impossible,” says Pavel Baev over at Jamestown.

Maybe the Union of Russia and Belarus will add that spritz of international legitimacy.

Meanwhile, we’re learning more about life in Saakashvili’s War Room. According to the WashPost, “Officials present at some of the prewar discussions said that Saakashvili and a tight group of supporters seemed convinced they had the military power to win back South Ossetia…and were not interested in opposing points of view.”

There seems to be a lot of that going around these days.

Georgian Conflict Goes to International Court

NY Times: Georgia and Russia carried their dispute over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the International Court of Justice on Monday, as three days of hearings began over Georgia’s request for an injunction ordering Russia to stop “terrorizing” ethnic Georgians and to allow refugees to return to their homes.

Georgia’s first deputy minister of justice, Tina Bujaliani, said her country was urgently turning to the court — the United Nations’ highest — “at a time of great distress in its history, a time when hundreds of thousands of its nationals are persecuted and displaced from their homes only because they are Georgians.”

Russia, as expected, challenged the court’s jurisdiction and asked it to dismiss the Georgian application. Roman Kolodkin, the legal department director at Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the judges that Georgia had provoked the current crisis last month when it began an attack to recover control of South Ossetia. He said that Russia had no choice but to become involved to prevent further deaths, and that now that the two regions were independent, Russia could not be held responsible.'s the same rhetoric we've been hearing for weeks. And, now someone has to rule on it....This will go well. No repercussions.

Slovakia Slaughters Bulgarian Women's Hockey Team

Did the Bulgarian team not have sticks? or ice skates? or a goalie?

ESPN: There's the "agony of defeat." And then there's this women's ice hockey score from the European Olympic pre-qualifying tournament: Slovakia 82, Bulgaria 0. That's correct: 82 goals for Slovakia, none for Bulgaria.

The International Ice Hockey Federation said the result set a record score for a women's IIHF-sanctioned event. It was not the all-time record for futility, however; that is still held by Thailand, which lost 92-0 to South Korea in the 1998 Asia-Oceania U18 Championship.

Slovakia, which won all 4 of its games at the tournament, outshot Bulgaria 139-0, scoring on 58.9 percent of their shots on goal. They averaged one goal every 44 seconds.

The drubbing capped a woeful showing for the Bulgarian women, who also lost 30-1 to Croatia and 41-0 to Italy in earlier games.

Sep 8, 2008

Russia to Ban South Park

Oh, this is a fun one. Things to discuss:
1. Why does Russia want to ban South Park?
2. Which episodes offended Russians so much?
3. And why is it legal to ban South Park in Russia?

Answer to #1: Prosecutors in Russia want to ban the award-winning satirical U.S. cartoon "South Park," calling the series "extremist" after receiving viewer complaints. The Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith had asked prosecutors to ban South Park after it said 20 experts had studied the show for its effect on young viewers. The group's leader, Konstantin Bendas, said "South Park is just one of many cartoons that need to be banned from open it insults the feelings of religious believers and incites religious and national hatred."

Answer to #2: Season 3 Episode 15: "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics", which first aired in December 1999. My guess is later seasons have not yet reached Russia? Because otherwise, is an episode from season 3 really the most offensive example they could point to?

Answer to #3: Russia passed a 2006 law widening the definition of extremism to include "the abasement of national dignity" and "inciting religious and national hatred," which backers say was needed to stem a wave of violence aimed at ethnic minorities (not including Georgians, obviously...and several others, I suggest reading information from the SOVA center, which operates in Russia).

Would You Rather Be in a Belarus Prison, or...

be a cucumber picker in Belarus?

English Russia Blog: Check out this sweet agricultural technology. This contraption consists of one tractor that carryies up to ten people on both sides of this thing being towed. People lay on it and pick up cucumbers as the tractor goes and put them onto a conveyor belt, which collects cucumbers to the central storage.

This has got to be hard on the body...and the self esteem.

Has Cold War II, Electric Boogaloo Officially Started?

YahooNews: Several Russian ships and 1,000 soldiers will take part in joint naval maneuvers with Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea later this year, exercises likely to increase diplomatic tensions with Washington. Plans for the naval operations come at a time of heightened diplomatic tension and Cold War-style rhetoric between Moscow and the United States over the recent war in Georgia and plans for a US missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

This will be the first time Russia's navy will carry such exercises in Latin America. The Venezuelan air force is likely to participate in the exercises.

Russian Archaeologists Find Lost City

YahooNews: Russian archaeologists have found the long-lost capital of the Khazar kingdom in southern Russia, a breakthrough for research on the ancient Jewish state.

The city was the capital of the Khazars, a semi-nomadic Turkic peoples who adopted Judaism as a state religion, from between the 8th and the 10th centuries, when it was captured and sacked by the rulers of ancient Russia (Sviatoslav I, ruler of Kievan Rus', see controversial statue of him trampling a Khazar, above). At its height, the Khazar state and its tributaries controlled much of what is now southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan and large parts of Russia's North Caucasus region.

Sep 7, 2008

Confirmed: Alcohol Not Performance-Enhancing Drug

Last week, Russian high-jumper Ivan Ukhov was booted from an IAAF-sanctioned track and field event for drinking vodka and Red bull in-between jumps. After failing every attempt, officials asked him to just stop.

While the IAAF has not classified alcohol as a performance-enhancing substance, the orginization has revoked Ukhov's travel stipend for making a mockery of the sport.

This seems harsh.

Ukhov has clearly done the world a service through his steadfast commitment to advancing our knowledge of alcohol’s impact on high-performance athletes under real world conditions.

We salute you, sir.

Sep 5, 2008

US State Department's Newest Weapon in Global Psychological Warfare:

Fran Drescher (no, really)

Thank you, Igor, for the story.

Asst. Secretary of State for Educational & Cultural Affairs Goli Ameri will announce Fran Drescher as the newest Public Diplomacy Envoy on September 8, 2008, at 10:00 a.m. in the Treaty Room of the US Department of State.

Ms. Drescher will join Cal Ripken, Jr. and Michelle Kwan as Public Diplomacy Envoys. “The Nanny” star will support US public diplomacy efforts, including working with health organizations and women’s groups to raise awareness of women’s health issues, cancer awareness and detection, and patient empowerment and advocacy. Ms. Drescher’s first trip in her new role will be in late September and include stops in Romania, Hungary, Kosovo and Poland.

So an all-star baseball legend, an olympic medalist, and an actress best known for her annoying laugh and high pitched, whiny "Queens" accent. Is this like one of these IQ test questions where they show you three objects or words and you have to pick the one that DOES NOT BELONG???

But what about the oligarchs?

Apparently, I'm continuing a series of posts drawing attention to the real victims of the conflict in Georgia. A couple days ago, I wrote about Stalin's memory. Today, I'm writing about Russian billionaires.

NY Times: As Russia’s hot war with Georgia threatens to become a colder, drawn-out conflict with the West, the global ambitions of some of its politically connected, controversial billionaires could suffer a setback.

The oligarchs, as they are widely known, have already paid a price from Russia’s forceful assertion in South Ossetia: the stock market recently hit a two-year low as foreign investors left in droves.

And while the sharpest of stock market swoons would only nick the oligarch’s giant fortunes, of more lasting effect, perhaps, is the notion gaining currency in some financial circles that their close ties to Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and his handpicked president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, may elevate the risk of doing business with them.

Yay capitalism!

BP Caves to Russian Demands

It's days like this I'm ashamed I named a drink after you, British Petroleum (cup of Earl Grey tea mixed with strong coffee).

The Washington Post: BP and its billionaire partners in Russia's 3rd-largest oil company said Thursday that they had resolved an ugly, high-profile battle for corporate control that had become a test of Moscow's openness to foreign investment.

BP gave in to demands by its partners in Russia to replace the joint venture's American chief executive, Robert Dudley, after refusing to do so for months. The company also agreed to sell new shares of a key subsidiary of the partnership.

But BP retained its 50 percent stake in the joint venture, TNK-BP, an outcome that had seemed uncertain given the Kremlin's interest in consolidating control of the nation's energy sector. BP also said it would be allowed to nominate Dudley's successor.

Sep 4, 2008

Someone Answer This Question...

...From where is Nabucco going to get its gas? 

Why the silly question? We note of this little oddity in yesterday's Pipeline & Gas Journal:

"Although still awaiting a construction start, recent activity indicates the long-planned Nabucco Pipeline may soon move forward. The Nabucco Consortium, Nabucco Gaspipeline International (GmbH), awarded a contract to Penspen Limited, a UK-based consultancy, to undertake the role of owner's engineers to assist in setting up and managing local contractors in Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey."

Curiously, Georgia and Azerbaijan are missing from that list. At the moment, the Nabucco Consortium is building a pipeline to nowhere. 

Projected cost: €7.9 billion.

Poland Makes Ironing a Competitive Sport

This week the Polish town of Poznań has proven that even life's most mundane chores can become a highly competitive sporting event. All you need is corporate sponsorship. Case in point: the Strima International Ironing Championships

“Contestants are judged on quality, time and style...In the first round, contestants had twelve minutes to press a shirt and a pair of trousers. In the finals they had to do one additional jacket too.”

Who knew ironing had so many devotees?

"It's an art where you can even express yourself, your ideas, your feelings, and do that really very well,” said organizer Agnieszka Wieczorowska.  

But don’t think the contest is sexist. For the second year, a man took first prize and the title "International Ironing Master of Poland." The highest ranking woman placed third.

Understanding that women are just as deserving of the championship as men, Eternal Remont will gratiously offer any woman the opportunity to regularly "train" on a wide varriety of shirts and slacks -- free of charge.

Let em' have it ladies.

Russian Rorschach

From ellustrator, of course.

Sep 3, 2008

Postcards from Ukraine

Somehow, we let Ukrainian Independence Day pass without notice. Let's make up for that now.

"A soldier gets caught up in the Ukrainian flag, as it is being raised, during a rehearsal for the Independence Day parade for August 24 in Kiev August 8, 2008. REUTERS/Konstanti Chernichkin"

Georgia: The Mouse That Roared

One billion dollars. That's how much the United States is going to dole out to Georgia after this last tussle. For comparison, the US provided Georgia with a bit more than $1.7 billion over the last seventeen years.

At this point, it is clear that Saakashvili learned all the right lessons from the 1959 Peter Sellers' classic, The Mouse That Roared. In the film, Sellers' impoverished "Duchy of Grand Fenwick" declares a war on the United States of America, hoping to lose the war but reap the profits when Congress pays to rebuild the country.

Crazy, or crazy like a fox?

Protecting the Memory of Stalin, Part Dva

Voice of America reports that the history books in Russia have again been edited. Год назад в России бурно обсуждался учебник по истории второй половины ХХ века. Иосиф Сталин там назывался «эффективным менеджером», а масштаб политических репрессий в СССР был значительно уменьшен. В новом учебника Сталина именуют «рациональным управленцем» (что, по мысли авторов, звучит более патриотично), а самые трагические страницы российской и советской истории трактуются так:

С 1914 по 1917 год в России проходила Великая Российская революция по типу Великой Французской. В Гражданской войне виновны, в основном, большевики, в то же время Белое движение «в ряде случаев выступало альтернативой профашистского толка, из которого вполне могла реализоваться националистическая модель развития». Организованного голода в деревне в СССР не было, а были некоторые трудности с продовольствием, вызванные, главным образом, плохими погодными условиями. Пакт Молотова-Риббентропа явился ответом на Мюнхенское соглашение. О депортации народов в годы войны надо говорить с «особой сдержанностью и осторожностью».

In sum: Stalin was an effective manager and logical leader. Repression under the USSR wasn't as bad as historical evidence indicates. The Revolution was akin to the Great French Revolution. Facism was a passing fad to realize the nationalist model of development. There never was a Holodomor (sorry Ukraine)...and several other lies to explain away the Munich agreement and the depotation of whole nations.


Protecting the Memory of Stalin

You know in these tumultuous times, we often forget that the victims aren't the people dying for no good reason, but the already dead people/monsters, whose museums could possibly get ruined by the bombing. New York Times reports today that the director of the Stalin museum, in Gori, Georgia, says he saved items from the museum by fleeing to Tbilisi during the Russian bombing of his country last month. Said museum director Robert Maglakelidze:

“Thank God, they didn’t bomb the museum, but there was no guarantee...We said, 'Let’s preserve these things for future generations.’ These personal things can’t be replaced.”

Maglakelidze said he loaded his car with some 50 items — including Stalin’s military greatcoat, pen, glasses, sword and pipe — for the trip from Gori, Stalin’s birthplace. In addition to portraits of Stalin, the museum, which opened in 1959, includes the house in which he was born, in 1879, on its grounds. The museum was not significantly damaged in the bombings and is expected to reopen on Monday.

Phew! That was a close call.

Sep 2, 2008

Adventures with Putin: Jungle Cats

So, a Russian TV crew was in the jungle. Suddenly, a giant wild tiger charges at them. They fear for their lives, but are saved when none-other than Vladimir Putin appears to down the beast with a tranquilizer gun. Putin stops to attach a tracking collar and take scientific measurements, then teaches everyone an important lesson about the need to preserve endangered animals.

…This actually happened. Apparently.

[Edit: Ern beat me to it, but here's the video in all its awkward and staged glory.]

What do Putin and John Wilkes Booth have in common?

They're both great shots. Too soon?
From the sweet new blog Just as Putin was arriving with a group of wildlife specialists to see a trapped Amur tiger, it escaped and ran towards a nearby camera crew, the country's main television station said. Putin quickly shot the beast and sedated it with a tranquilizer gun.
Honestly, is there anything Putin can't do?

In a World...Without Don LaFontaine

Don Lafontaine (the "In a World..." guy) has died.

While we may never be enticed to see a summer blockbuster again, we pause to remember his small contribution to our region: “Slovakia, the fairyland.”

God Bless you, Don Lafontaine.

Don't Spit on My Cupcake and Call it Frosting, Russia

The Sofia Weekly: The new Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Sofia Yuriy Isakov said Wednesday in a press conference Russia's recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was a successful attempt to prevent the physical extermination of their peoples.

"This was a humanitarian operation, not a secret plan to change the routes of oil and gas through the Caucasus."

...Isakov said regarding Russia's intervention in South Ossetia. In his words, Russia was ready to cooperate with NATO and the EU, and all moves in their relations with the Russian Federation had to be well thought through.

Also from the new Ambassador, interesting note: Isakov reminded that over the last two years Russia had warned against any arms sales to "Saakashvili's regime" in Georgia, because this meant immunity from punishment. Russia's Ambassador did not explicitly mention Bulgaria, which has also sold arms to Georgia in the recent years.

Magomed Yevloyev Dead "In Police Custody"

On days like these, it is hard to remain witty, or even a bit cheeky. Not on a day when another high-profile Russian journalist, one of the last who were not afraid of the truth, was murdered for it.

From the WSJ:

For months, the owner of a muckraking news Web site had stayed away from his home after receiving warnings to tone down his critique of Kremlin-backed authorities in the Russian province of Ingushetia, friends said.

But Magomed Yevloyev finally boarded a plane to return to Ingushetia this week, and there he encountered a surprise: The local governor was riding on the same plane, a few seats away from him in business class.

When the plane landed in Ingushetia, the governor was met by a Mercedes that whisked him away. And Mr. Yevloyev was arrested at the airport, deposited into a jeep and shot in the head. Local authorities say the killing was an accident.

Every death is an accident in Ingushetia, especially those which occur in police custody.