Oct 31, 2008

Problem Solved: Russia's Demographic Crisis

Apparently the soultion is to cut power to the entire country and just let the magic happen. That's what we've learned from the Dutch.

(CNN) -- "A small cluster of villages in eastern Netherlands has found itself in the midst of a mini-baby boom -- nine months after a power outage plunged its residents in darkness for two chilly days. 'It was cold in the houses,' said Anneleas van Eijkeren, spokeswoman for the municipality of Maasdriel. 'They went to bed early to keep warm. And nine months later, we have this -- a little bit more babies.' Forty-four percent more, to be exact."

Given the frosty temperatures over most of the country in winter, we can probably expect most Russians to -- shall we say -- over-fulfill the baby-making plan.

Thirty-Two Weeks...

...That's how long Russia can continue to bleed foreign currency reserves at its current rate.

After that, very, very bad things start to occur.

According to the Economist, Russia's currency reserves "have been falling by a rate of around US$15bn per week recently, but the decline accelerated alarmingly in the week of October 17th-24th , with reserves falling by US$31bn to US$484.7bn...For as long as the dollar continues its tear against [the Euro & Pound] and is pushing to move higher against the rouble, the pressure on currency reserves will remain. Russia still has a huge cushion, but the rate at which it is being depleted currently must be a cause for concern."

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has established a $50 billion bail-out fund to pay the Oligarch's bills through the end of the year. No word yet on how the Kremlin will pay for another $150 billion which is due in 2009.

But we're sure "Plan Putina" includes a solution.

Missing Nukes?

Are Russia and the US just trying to inspire movies these days?

CBCNews: Russia's Foreign Ministry is rejecting U.S. allegations that some Russian nuclear weapons are unaccounted for.

The ministry says in a Friday statement that allegations made by U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates are no more than "insinuations." It insists that no nuclear weapons have disappeared from Russian arsenals.

The ministry says all nuclear weapons in Russia have been under reliable protection since the 1991 Soviet collapse despite the nation's economic turmoil.

Hungary for Spicy Chicken and Fried Rice? So is China...

The Hungarian press is having a field day with reports that China plans to build a $200 billion spicy chicken-fried rice factory in the country. For comparison, Hungary has attracted $101 billion in total FDI since 1990.

Oh yes, and the Hungarians also think its hillarious.

"First we've tried to push back our bulging eyes to their sockets and then got up from the floor where we rolled on laughing. In our minds eye we saw a 10-square-kilometre production hall sprawling adjacent to the Tokaj vineyards, equipped with glimmering, state-of-the-art, fully-automated machinery churning out spicy chickens and fried rice by the tonne."

Reaganomics in Russia

Or should I say Putinomics? Either way, I'm sure the money will eventually trickle down to those who need it...

NY Times: Companies belonging to two of Russia’s richest men are among the first recipients of a $50 billion bailout program. The project, like so much else Moscow, is opaque in its details but has resulted in some of the nation’s oil windfall being funneled to well-connected Kremlin insiders.

Under the plan being put in motion this week, money is channeled through the state development bank Vneshekonombank, known as VEB, whose chairman is Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin. The stated goal is to help Russian industrialists refinance loans to Western banks, with aid flowing quickest to those companies at risk of having assets seized as collateral by foreign owners.

Critics charge that the bailout is another example of the cronyism here and a lack of transparency.

Oct 30, 2008

Buddy Could You Spare $25 billion?

Yesterday, the EU invoked an obscure clause in its governing treaty to save Hungary’s capital markets from collapse.

So how did Hungary go from post-Communist golden child to Argentina of the East? Low interest foreign credit cards, in part. Like freshmen on a college campus, Hungarians signed up for foreign credit like it was going out of style.

FYI: Bulgaria has a similar problem. But the EU is all out of bailout money.

If you're interested, here's a primer on "The rise and fall of Hungary…"

Oct 29, 2008

What's with Georgians and Five Year Plans?

VOA: Its famous Rose Revolution in November 2003 was to usher in a new era for the former Soviet Republic of Georgia - an era of democracy and a path forward to eventual membership in the West's most prestigious political clubs - the European Union and NATO. Nearly five years later Georgia still faces a difficult course between East and West as the conflict with neighboring Russia in August proved. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from Tbilisi. http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-10-27-voa50.cfm?rss=europe

Oct 28, 2008

Bulgaria Decriminalizes Football Hooliganism, Kinda

After a series of match-fixing scandals and enough football-related violence to scare a skinhead, Bulgaria's top cop responsible for fighing hooliganism has offered his opinion: "football hooliganism is not considered as crime."

That's one way to get out of work.

Azerbaijan's New Monument to Dutch Disease

Even as oil traders push prices lower, Azerbaijan's current account surplus is expected to remain quite healthy, posting gains of $16 billion - $19 billion, or 30% of GDP next year. So how do you spend that kind of money? Why, build the the world's highest flagpole, of course.

While some might dismiss the planned 162m structure as a useless piece of oil state jingoism, there is more at stake than meets the eye: dissing Turkmenistan and Jordan.

According to today.az, Azerbaijan's flagpole will "outrival" the current record-holder. The government is even building a special venue for the pole: National Flag Square near the Baku Bayil naval base. No word yet on Baku's plans to fly the world's smallest flag from the world's tallest flagpole.

Now that feat would truly be impressive.

Oct 27, 2008

Olga Kurylenko: "Wanton Daughter of Unclean Ukraine"

Russian communists must have better connections than Eternal Remont, because they've somehow managed to see the newest James Bond movie before its official release. At least, we’re assuming they've seen the movie, since they fired off a statement denouncing Bond girl Olga Kurylenko as a traitor to all Slavs and -- somehow -- encouraging Marines to rape Ukranians.

No shit?

According to the St. Petersburg-based KPLO:

"In the name of all communists we appeal to you, Olga Kurylenko, wanton daughter of unclean Ukraine and deserter of the Slavic world. The Soviet Union educated you, cared for you, and brought you up for free, but no one suspected that you would commit this act of intellectual and moral betrayal...Do you really want Crimean girls to be raped by cruel and stupid American marines?"

The group also denounced James Bond -- a fictional character -- as "the killer of hundreds of Soviet people and their allies." No word yet, on reports the Soviet people and their allies were also fictional.

Somali Pirates: Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli.

Even more mind-bending than the fact that everyone's favorite pirate stand-off remains unresolved is word that the pirates have a spokesperson. In case you are in the market for a pirate spokesperson, his name is Mr. Sugule Ali.

So what Mr. Ali saying? Take the ship but we'll keep the tanks, thank-you-very-much.

Bad news for the pirates, however. The Kenyan government has declined to pay any ransom. Aparently, there are rules against negotiating with hijackers.

Clearly, someone was sleeping in class when they discussed Warren Buffett's first rule of buisness: you never know how much something is worth, until you buy it and try and sell it yourself.

Or in this case, hijack it.

People Can't Get Enough of Sarah...

...even our friends at ellustrator.
(Thanks Igor)

Russian Thrash Metal, Hot Babes, and Stalin Zombies

That's right, we've managed to find all three in the same spot. If you happen to fancy yourself a connoisseur (Stalin zombie connoisseurs?), then you'll be happy to hear that everyone's favorite Russian progressive thrash metal band AnJ will be opening for Yngwie Malmsteen this evening in DC...if you dare.

So Moskalenko Might Not Have Been Poisoned...

NY Times: French investigators have concluded that toxic mercury found in the car of a prominent Russian human rights lawyer resulted from an accidental spillage from a broken thermometer before the lawyer bought the vehicle, according to the French police.

Earlier this month, the lawyer, Karinna Moskalenko, complained of headaches and vomiting, raising speculation that she had been the target of a poisoning plot. After falling ill, Ms. Moskalenko postponed a trip from Strasbourg, France, to Moscow to attend the trial of defendants in the murder of one of her best-known clients, the writer and journalist Anna Politkovskaya. You may have heard about it from, um, me...

Let me be the first to apologize, but maybe so many other high profile individuals hadn't been poisoned or shot dead in the past, then I and the rest of the world wouldn't have been so ready to jump to any conclusions. Just saying...sorry.

Polar Bears Dying out in Russian Region of Arctic

I thought that Russia claimed the whole arctic a while back...

Yahoo News: Polar bears are dying out in the remote Arctic region of Chukotka because of melting ice and increased killing by humans, an expert with the International Fund for Animal Welfare warned on Friday. Polar bear furs are also becoming increasingly popular in Russia, where the killing of polar bears is strictly forbidden except for self-defence. IFAW estimates around 100 polar bears are killed illegally in Russia every year.

There are a total of around 22,000 polar bears in the Arctic. Five thousand of them live between Chukotka and the US state of Alaska and are being forced further and further north because of the melting ice, IFAW said.

Holodomor Update

I can't believe I didn't see this one earlier. I'm usually so on top of mulling over the past.

The Sofia Weekly: The Members of the European Parlaiment issued a resolution Thursday describing the artificial famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933 as "an appalling crime against the Ukrainian people, and against humanity".

According to the resolution, the Holodomor famine, which caused the deaths of millions of Ukrainians, "was cynically and cruelly planned by Stalin's regime in order to force through the Soviet Union's policy of collectivisation of agriculture against the will of the rural population in Ukraine".

The text then "strongly condemns these acts, directed against the Ukrainian peasantry, and marked by mass annihilation and violations of human rights and freedoms".

The resolution further states that MEPs believe that "recalling crimes against humanity in European history should help to prevent similar crimes in the future" and they point out that "European integration has been based on a readiness to come to terms with the 20th century's tragic history and that this reconciliation with a difficult history does not denote any sense of collective guilt, but forms a stable basis for the construction of a common European future founded on common values".

The resolution also makes a "declaration to the people of Ukraine and in particular to the remaining survivors of the Holodomor and the families and relatives of the victims" and "expresses its sympathy with the Ukrainian people, which suffered this tragedy, and pays its respects to those who died as a consequence of the artificial famine of 1932-1933".

Lastly, the resolution "calls on the countries which emerged following the break-up of the Soviet Union to open up their archives on the Holodomor in Ukraine of 1932-1933 to comprehensive scrutiny so that all the causes and consequences can be revealed and fully investigated".

The Abkhaz are Grumpy...

...this time its with the EU, and especially European Union monitors.

Apparently, the Europeans aren't doing a proper job keeping Georgians away from Abkhazia's "sovereign" border. Meanwhile, someone, somewhere (yeah, probably not in Abkhazia) launched a salvo of mortars into a Georgian village along the Abkhaz border. The Georgian district governor and a villager were killed.

Oddly, the Abkhaz did not request the EU investigate the origin of that attack.


Oct 25, 2008

'Song for Sarah'

"Mrs. Palin, I want to fly into your airspace

"Mrs. Palin, I want to rear my little head..."

Thanks Adrian.

Oct 23, 2008

West Pledges $4.5 Billion To Georgia

NY Times: Western donors in Belgium promised on Wednesday to spend about $4.5 billion to rebuild Georgia, whose economy and infrastructure were badly damaged by this summer’s war with Russia. The sum was more than $1 billion more than the World Bank’s target, and came as a financial crisis rattled the economies of donor nations. The United States pledged the largest amount, $1 billion over three years. An additional $642.8 million will be allocated by the European Commission over the next two years.

José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said the pledge should send “a strong signal to the world” that its members stand with Georgia.

Personally, Mr. Barroso, it also seems to be a strong signal that if you want money from the West you should make bad decisions. So Ukraine, instead of all the political in-fighting, why don't you start something in the Crimea maybe? And yes, I am still bitter about the Georgian conflict.

How the Georgian-Russian Conflict Affected Azerbaijan

Yeah, Saakashvili, ever think of that? What you were doing to Azerbaijan when you poked the bear? You owe some apologies.

NY Times: Azerbaijan, a small, oil-rich country on the Caspian Sea, has balanced the interests of Russia and the US since it won its independence from the USSR. It accepts NATO training but does not openly state an intention to join. American planes can refuel on its territory, but American soldiers cannot be based here.

“Azerbaijan is doing a dance between the West and Russia,” said Isa Gambar, an Azeri opposition figure. “Until now, there was an unspoken consensus. Georgia was with the West, Armenia was an outpost of Russia, and Azerbaijan was in the middle.”

However...Post Coflict: Azerbaijan will be under more pressure from Russia when undertaking energy contracts and pipeline routes that Russia opposes, said one Azeri official. Officials from Russia’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, on a trip here this spring, offered to buy Azerbaijan gas at European prices, rather than at the former reduced rate. That offer, if the Azeris chose to accept it, could sabotage a Western-backed gas pipeline project called Nabucco.

But for the optimists: “One of the positive effects of the Georgian crisis is that the Kremlin will try to show that they are not crazy guys,” an unnamed Azeri official said. “That they can be good neighbors, too.”

I don't know, unnamed Azeri official. Putin and Medvedev seem like two wild and crazy guys :)

Oct 21, 2008

McCain Begging the Russians?

Ellustrator, how have you depicted the maverick!?

I believe this says, "Countrymen, give me money to beat Obama."

Postcards from Moscow

Despite the aura of respectability, there are still glimmers of the glorious Moscow I once knew. (The dog is priceless.)

Oct 20, 2008

"Cold War" Watch

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton puts the smack down on this "Cold War" business by people who should know better.

"Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz argued...that the United States should neither be 'isolating' Russia nor drifting toward 'confrontation.' The Post's Masha Lipman urged us to avoid 'Cold War preconceptions and illusions.' Unfortunately, these distinguished commentators are aiming at straw men: No serious observer thinks we face a new Cold War or that isolating Russia because of its increasing foreign adventurism is a real solution."

Thank you John Bolton. Now if only he mentioned the "From Russia with..." cliche, we'd be complete.

NewsFlash: Ukraine Digs Herself in Deeper

NY TIMES: Aid for Ukraine’s staggering economy may be endangered by the country’s continuing political instability. Like Iceland and Hungary, Ukraine is seeking aid from the International Monetary Fund to counter the global financial crisis. But Ukraine, its economy reeling from falling steel prices, is also struggling with political problems.

The infighting threatens an emergency loan from the monetary fund. The fund is seeking assurances from the cabinet that next year’s budget will be balanced, but President Viktor A. Yushchenko issued a decree this month dissolving Parliament and, with it, the cabinet.

That decree, which would lead to elections on Dec. 7, is being contested by the president’s opponents in Parliament. So until the decree’s validity is decided in the courts, it is unclear whether the current cabinet holds power. The prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, says it does, while the president’s office says it does not.

Bulgaria Creates "In Vitro" Fund

The Sofia Weekly: The Bulgarian "In Vitro" program was officially introduced Sunday along with an open letter to all State institutions involved with the issue of solving the demographic crisis in the country. The public "In Vitro" fund is created with money from the State budget surplus.

I gotta say, I'm very impressed with Bulgaria on this one. Other countries (cough, RUSSIA, cough) have tried ridiculous tricks such as basically legalizing sexual harassment. But Bulgaria made the effort to create a fund. My hat's off to you, Bulgaria. Way to earn that EU spot.

Oct 18, 2008

Russia's Good Times Start to Fade

For some reason, a 73% drop in Russia's stock market, and plumeting oil prices, have some people worried about the economy.

"Six months from now, warn investors, things could look very bleak. 'Things are going to crash. Of the high-end restaurants, you're going to have the vast majority of them closing. If you're stuck in traffic, just refer to it as pre-crisis traffic. In six months, it's going to be a different story,' said James Fenkner, director of Red Star Asset Management."

While it is stunning to discover that managed capitalism works just about as well as managed democracy, we're still waiting to see how the downturn will impact Moscow's booming market for high-end prostitutes.

Oct 17, 2008

Bulgaria's Never-ending Mob Wars

Igor sends along this story from Bulgaria's never-ending mob wars.

"In the past five years, Bulgaria has weathered machine gun assassinations and inventive daylight attacks. Hitmen disguised themselves as drunks and Orthodox priests (not pictured.)"

He writes: I found that strange, because I always thought East Euro mobsters were very religious and wore huge wooden crosses while they put people in wood chippers (all right, that's from Fargo, but i'm sure it happened in Eastern Europe more than we know). Is atheism spreading rapidly in mafia circles?

Also, we note the NYTimes is a bit noobish when it writes, "By almost any measure, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the 27-member European Union." The Bulgarians are corrupt, for sure. However, successive governments have orchestrated a series of high-profile anti-corruption campaigns. This only serves to increase perceptions of corruption. See Romania for how to best go about the problem.

What corruption problem?


Oct 15, 2008

Wait, Palin Isn't Completely Full of It?

She's really been involved in Russian energy matters?

NY Times: A high-level delegation from the Russian energy company Gazprom met in Anchorage with state officials on Monday to talk about investing in Alaskan energy projects. The meeting came nearly three weeks after Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska talked in a television interview about her expertise in energy matters and took a hard line with Russia.

Senior officials of Gazprom said at a shareholder meeting in Moscow in June that the company was seeking to take part in a consortium that is building a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to Canada. The company is also interested in investing in other energy initiatives in the state, according to a statement released by Gazprom on Tuesday about the meeting in Anchorage.

In an interview with Katie Couric of CBS News last month, Ms. Palin, in response to a question about her foreign policy expertise, explained why she thought that Alaska’s proximity to Russia had contributed to her international experience.

Oct 14, 2008

2008 Russian Elections Make FP's Top 5 Ugliest Elections

Foreign Policy recently made a list of five elections that it considers to have been the ugliest. The March 2008 Russian elections shared a top five spot with Nigeria in 2007, Austria in 2008, New Zealand in 2008, and Taiwan in 2008.

Why FP picked the March 2008 Russian presidential elections: Dmitry Medvedev, outgoing President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor, coasted to victory in this race. Still, that didn’t stop the far right from launching bizarre anti-Semitic attacks against him for his alleged Jewish background. (Medvedev is Russian Orthodox.) “Medvedev never hid his sympathy towards Judaism,” complained Nikolai Bondarik of the fringe Russian Party.

Although Medvedev remained above the fray, an assortment of second-tier candidates spent their time squabbling among each other, threatening legal action and occasionally coming to blows. These included the eccentric ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nearly unknown liberal Masonic Grand Master Andrei Bogdanov, and Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov. Zhirinovsky shot a cardboard cutout of Medvedev with a large-caliber rifle at a campaign rally, while Bogdanov stormed out of a televised debate after being unable to get a word in edgewise.

Klitschko Uses Dirty Diapers to Reduce Swelling

ESPN: Vitali Klitschko used his son's wet, used diapers to keep his fists from swelling up after winning his WBC heavyweight title bout against Nigeria's Samuel Peter, the Ukrainian told a German newspaper on Tuesday. Klitschko said he wrapped them around his hands and they helped him recover. Said the 37-year old, hot boxer after he won back the WBC title with a technical knockout on Saturday:

Baby wee is good because it's pure, doesn't contain toxins and doesn't smell. I wrap nappies filled with my 3-year-old son Max's wee around my fists. The nappies hold the liquid and the swelling stays down.


Another "Problem" Gets Poisoned

This time with Mercury...I say start the investigation with the sketchy fellow on the right.

Kasparov.ru: An attempt on the life of Russian human rights lawyer Karinna Moskalenko was made in France. On October 13, the prosecutor in Strasbourg launched an investigation into an attempt to poison Ms. Moskalenko by depositing mercury in her car. Ms. Moskalenko had noticed the deterioration of her health and the health of her husband and children over the past week. She does not know how long she has been driving the car contaminated with mercury.

On October 15, Ms. Moskalenko is scheduled to participate in the preliminary hearings at for the murder case journalist Anna Politkovskaya. She represents the family of the assassinated journalist (you may remember her). Ms. Moskalenko has represented torture victims in Chechnya, relatives of those killed in the 2004 Beslan school siege and survivors of the hostage crisis at Moscow's Nord-Ost theatre in 2002. She has also represented former owner of Russia's YUKOS oil company Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Garry Kasparov, the leader of the anti-Putin opposition in Russia.

Milan Kundera Accused of Commie Snitchery

NY Times: In a revelation that could tarnish the legacy of one of the best-known Eastern European writers, a Czech research institute published a report on Monday indicating that the young Milan Kundera told the police about a supposed spy.

According to the state-backed Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, in 1950, long before he became famous for darkly comic novels like “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “The Joke,” Mr. Kundera, who was then 21, told the local police about a guest in a student dormitory where he lived.

The police quickly arrested the man, Miroslav Dvoracek, who had defected to Germany in 1948 and was said to have been recruited by United States-backed anti-Communists as a spy against the Czech government. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Mr. Dvoracek narrowly escaped the death penalty, a common punishment for espionage, and eventually served a 14-year sentence, including hard labor in a uranium mine.

The reclusive Mr. Kundera vehemently denied the account.

Oct 13, 2008

Lukashenka Permitted to Travel through Europe

I did NOT okay this!

NY Times: The European Union temporarily suspended a travel ban on President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus on Monday, rewarding the authoritarian leader for recent democratic gains in an effort to encourage further reform.

The move will eliminate travel restrictions for Mr. Lukashenko and select Belarussian officials for a six-month period, conditional on additional improvements in the direction of greater media freedoms, respect for human rights and guarantees of political pluralism, said Christiane Hohmann, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, the union’s executive branch.

Um....what democratic gains? That election was a sham. And what about the closed-door trial held for Emmanuel Zeltser (http://www.saveemanuelzeltser.com/)?

Oct 10, 2008

Putin Gets a Siberian Tiger for His Birthday

Okay, honestly, can we get a ticker going on how many times I ask what decade or century it is again? Honestly, since when did it become okay again for world leaders to accept endangered wild life as a gift? Maybe Putin can go big game hunting next.

Russia Today: On Tuesday an anonymous supporter gave Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a gift with bite - a two-month-old Siberian tiger cub. Two days on Prime Minister showed off his new pet before handing it over to a Zoo. The event, which attracted a lot of media’s attention, was held in Putin’s country house.

Vladimir Putin is not stranger to animals he's often been seen in the company of his beloved labrador Koni. Russia’s Prime Minister was quick to point out that the tiger and dog haven't met.

Update: Ukraine Still F*&%ed

NY Times: Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko signed an order on Thursday to dissolve Parliament and hold snap elections, raising new uncertainties about Ukraine’s tilt toward the West at a moment when the country has become a focal point of rising tensions with Russia.

The move resulted from a worsening rift between Ukraine’s two top leaders, Mr. Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, one-time allies who have become bitter rivals with differing visions of how Ukraine should handle relations with Russia and West.

The vote, scheduled for Dec. 7, will test Mr. Yushchenko’s drive to solidify ties with the United States and Europe and steer Ukraine, part of the former Soviet Union, toward membership in NATO, a step that would be likely to antagonize Russia.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who joined Mr. Yushchenko in leading the so-called Orange Revolution against the country’s pro-Moscow government in 2004, now represents a political faction that favors warmer ties with Russia.

Ukraine, how many times does history have to repeat itself? Why does it always come down to picking sides? Vik, Yulia, get your acts together, fast.

The West's Star Pupil Feels the Crunch

NY Times: For nearly two decades, Estonia embraced capitalism with such gusto that it seemed to be channeling the laissez-faire philosophy of Milton Friedman. From its policies meant to attract foreign investors to its flat tax and freewheeling business culture, it stood out as the former Soviet republic most adept at turning post-Communist chaos into a thriving market economy.

Now Estonians, and some of their Baltic neighbors, are slogging through their first serious economic downturn since liberation from the Soviet grip in the early 1990s.

Whatever happens, government officials say there will be no betrayal of Friedman’s philosophy. “We will stay a laissez-faire economy,” said Juhan Parts, Estonia’s minister of the economy. At the same, though, Estonia will see more state direction in the economy than they are used to, not as a matter of ideology, but as a matter of circumstance.

Russian TV Instructed to Play Down Economic Slump

Foreign Policy: Russian state television channels have been instructed to downplay the severity of the financial meltdown. The main channels have either downgraded or ignored altogether Russia's financial turmoil since it began in mid-September, according to media monitoring companies and research by The Moscow Times. On Monday, for instance, none mentioned the meltdown in Russia or any possible repercussions from the crisis. Only the smaller Ren-TV and Zvezda channels mentioned the stock plunge, according to Medialogia, a private company that tracks the media.

Meanwhile in America, it seems that our journalists have been instructed to do exactly the opposite. I'm pretty sure journalists are now contractually obliged to compare the current US economic disaster to the Great Depression. Although I don't know anyone who's packed up their truck to move to Californi to pick oranges yet. Just saying. Zzzeitgeist has a great piece on this, if you're interested.

Oct 9, 2008

S Dnyom Rozhdenya, Putin! (Happy Birthday, Putin!)

Yes, it seems Vladimir Putin - Prime Minister of the Russian Federation - celebrated his 56th birthday. Foreign Policy writes:

To mark the occasion, Russia's strapping prime minister released an instructional video -- Let's Learn Judo with Vladimir Putin -- on the Japanese art of judo. The video features Putin doing what he likes to do most: kickin' ass. In this latest display of manly vigor, the tiger-whisperer not only shows off his moves but delves in to the martial art's history.


Oct 8, 2008

Joint Defense for Russia and Belarus

I'm back and ready to rumble.

Kommersant.com: Russia and Belarus will sign an agreement creating a joint missile defense system, secretary of the Union State Pavel Borodin told journalists today at a session of the collegium of the Defense Ministries of Russia and Belarus. The signing will take place on November 2 at a session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State in Moscow, Borodin said. “In military terms, it is practically defense against NATO,” he said.

Borodin added that the expansion of military cooperation between Russia and Belarus will make it possible to create a large number of new jobs in the defense complexes of both countries.

Wow, I got a few questions/comments on this one.
1. Um...what?
2. Is there really anything in Belarus worth bombing? Honestly. And it's fine if there is. But based on my somewhat limited knowledge of Belarus, I think maybe joining with Russia could possibly INCREASE its chances of being bombed.
3. Really, Russia? Really? You picked Belarus? And more importantly, you think it was a good idea to make any deal with the president of Belarus? Really? You're as bad as the US trusting the Georgian President. Yeah, I just said that.

Oct 7, 2008

"Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, a Pirate's Life for Me"

Crew of the MV Faina enjoy a little sun on the Lido Deck.

It looks like this pirate business has caught a few people with their pants down, mostly in the Kenyan government.

"The UN has noted that Kenya is importing large quantities of weapons (at least 77 tanks, 15 jet fighters and 40,000 assault rifles and machine-guns in the last year or so) without reporting them. A 1991 international treaty, which Kenya signed, obliges all nations to report weapons exports and imports (the better to control the illegal trade in arms.) Not everyone follows the rules."

The Ukranians, for their part, don't seem too particular about their client list. According to the Center for Army Conversion and Disarmament Studies in Kiev, Ukraine exported weapons to more than 20 countries last year, earning $1.2 billion in the process. Total arms exports in 2006: $200 million.

Oct 6, 2008

Putin Gets a Street....

...in downtown Grozny of all places.

That's right, Ramzan Kadyrov (the fellow who may or may not have just assassinated a political rival outside the British embassy in Moscow) announced the decision to commemorate his own 32nd birthday.

According to Kadyrov, "he was dedicating the street to the prime minister in honour of his role as one of the world's great peacekeepers."

Putin Avenue has such an awesome ring to it.

Down in the street there is violence
And a lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washing
And I can't blame all on the sun, oh no...

We gonna rock down to, Putin Avenue....

Oct 3, 2008

Today's Creepy Cold War Flashback

"This is the wartime broadcasting service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons."

That's the message British citizens were supposed to hear in the event all human civilization came to a halt, according to documents released today.

Other interesting zingers from the British National Archives include vital questions, like who's going to break the bad news:

"During the Second World War we came to recognize the voices of Stuart Hibberd, Alvar Lidell and other main news readers…Indeed, if an unfamiliar voice repeats the same announcement hour after hour for 12 hours listeners may begin to suspect that they are listening to a machine."

So what do you say to a nation of millions which has just been dispatched to the stone-age? Turn off the gas and don't flush the toilet. Oh yes, and "Remember there is nothing to be gained by running away."

How very British.

Also, it seems that the BBC "stockpiled entertainment programs to boost public morale in the event of a war." Because everyone wants a good laugh as a light dusting of atomic snow falls gently on your English country garden.

Oct 2, 2008

Moscow Makes the Top 5: Murder Capitals of the World

Foreign Policy Magazine has ranked Moscow among the world's five most dangerous cities, with 9.6 murders per 100,000 people a year. Caracas took first prize, with a jaw-dropping 130 murders per 100,000 residents. Still, the report did prompt a bit of outrage from Oleg Yelnikov over at the Russian Interior Ministry's press center. "Just think of it, Moscow and the capital of Venezuela together on that list! Sounds like a political media campaign to me," he said.

If Mr. Yelnikov is correct, and there is a vast conspiracy to sully Russia’s international reputation, then it is hard to say who is behind the plot. The same study ranked New Orleans ahead of Moscow, with 67 murders per 100,000.

Here's the official list of family-friendly destinations:
1) Caracas, Venezuela
2) Cape Town, South Africa
3) New Orleans, United States
4) Moscow, Russia
5) Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Oct 1, 2008

Still Confused About the Financial Crisis....?

...Former Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Poland Krzysztof Rybinski offers quite possibly the best explanation -- ever -- for the current disaster. (Full text, because it's just so good.)

“Imagine that there is a wild party, a long one. Every time the alcohol supply dries up, the central bank shows up and keeps the party going and going, and people get more and more addicted to partying and drinking. At some stage, the drunken crowd demolishes the premises and the party is over.

“Hank and Ben show up and ask who did the most damage. John, people say, broke four windows and smashed the table. Great, says Hank, John will get $300 – who is next on the did-most-damage list? Tim, the crowd cries, he sprayed paint all over the place and burned the sofa. Excellent, says Hank, Tim will get $250. Who is next?

“In a few days, the next party will begin. People are planning to show up in large numbers. Not only can they have a lot of fun (while others – obviously jerks and dorks – will go to work every morning) and drink for free – they will also get free cash handouts when the party is over. How do you like the Paulson plan?”

Someone buy Rybinski a drink.

"Most of all you've got to hide it from the [OSCE]"

This has to be just about the best Belarus story since Gay Pride Day in Minsk.

Last week, we noted a curious statement out of Belarus signaling that El Presidente Lukashenko just wanted to be accepted by the West. Better yet, he wanted international recognition of the country's parliamentary elections.

So how does one go about impressing the OSCE who is monitoring said election? Why you rig the vote in open view of international monitors...of course.

According to the OSCE, "The [vote] count was assessed as bad or very bad in 48 per cent of polling stations visited. Where access was possible, several cases of deliberate falsification of results were observed."

Gorbachev to form new Russian party

I guess he's been really bored since Pizza Hut dropped him as a spokesperson.

YahooNews: Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will join forces with Russian tycoon Alexander Lebedev to launch a new political party independent of the Kremlin, the billionaire businessman said on Tuesday. Gorbachev, 77, won the 1990 Nobel peace prize for allowing the peaceful revolutions the previous year that brought democracy to Eastern Europe after decades of Soviet control.

Though hugely admired in the West, he is deeply unpopular at home for presiding over the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union that led to economic and political chaos. When he last ran for president, in 1996, he won just half a percent of the vote. Gorbachev initiated plans for the new party, said Lebedev on his website http://alex-lebedev.livejournal.com/141495.html

"He gave our people freedom but we just can't learn how to use it," wrote Lebedev, who said the provisional name of the new party is the 'Independent Democratic Party'. The party will press for legal and economic reform and promote the growth of independent media, said Lebedev, who does not plan to bankroll the party himself but said it should be financed only from "non-state sources."

So this is all interesting and great...but what is his stance on Alaska?