Jul 31, 2009

Look Mom, No Canopy

What is to be done with Russia’s once-formidable air force? If you’re a Hollywood film team, you use your CGI budget to hire a real Russian flight crew for a stunt. The aircraft pictured is one of the most advanced Sukhoi variants ever built, and they flew without a canopy.

Also, we learned that if you stick your fingers out going Mach 2.0, the air friction will super-heat your skin.

...and knowing is half the battle.

Tajikistan Suffering from Horrible NIMBY

NIMBY, my friends, is a disease that originated in America. It stands for "Not in my back yard." Essentially, NIMBY sufferers can handle anything, as long as it doesn't end up in their back yard.

Well, our poor Central Asian friends, especially Tajikistan, have found Afghan and Pakistani conflicts spilling into their yards. NOT COOL, Afghanistan and Pakistan!

According to the Christian Science Monitor, a rise in violence in Tajikistan comes as Pakistan wraps up an assault on militants in the north and Western forces intensify a campaign against insurgents in Afghanistan ahead of an Aug. 20 election. The offensives may be pushing foreigners fighting in either country to flee the conflict and return home.

Hey jerks, when you flee a conflict, try not to bring the conflict with you, otherwise what the hell is the point of fleeing the conflict. You leave Tajikistan alone!

The Delightful Pleasures of British Libel Laws

Looks like British citizens can still call the Russian government "corrupt" in public, they just have to ride out the lawsuit.

The Economist Magazine’s Central and Eastern Europe correspondent Edward Lucas hasn't commented on the case. However, other peopel's reporting shows that reclusive oil billionaire Gennady Timchenko (pictured) has settled his claim against The Economist for a November 2008 article titled, “Grease my palm.” (You can read the libelous insult here.)

Some other reporting on the case:

“Speaking in March, [Timchenko] aides said the oil tycoon was determined to go ahead with the case and had 'nothing to hide'...Timchenko's decision to sue in Britain could have forced him to reveal potentially embarrassing details of his private bank accounts and the ownership and asset structure of his Swiss-based oil trading company, Gunvor.”

It was sometime around this point that Timchenko figured he’d better keep the issue out of court. "He thought he was suing some tabloid. He didn't realize he was suing the British establishment," said a source.

Putin: Loves Animals, Probably Hates Skype

It’s that time of year again. No, it’s not time for another Russia-Georgia war (that’s next week), but time for Putin to visit some far corner of the Russian Federation and tag an animal with a tracking device.

The Prime Minister is an outdoorsman, you see. But he can’t be a true outdoorsman, unless he has regularly scheduled photo ops with animals.

This year's adventure took Putin to the Pacific island of Chkalov, where upon he slipped into a wetsuit a green raincoat (?) and got cozy with a beluga whale named "Dasha."

Putin: "It won't eat us, will it?"
Scientist: "It won't eat anyone, but it could spray you."
Putin: "Probably if it gets angry."

No word yet, if Putin's satellite transmitter will also allow the FSB to monitor Dasha’s underwater skype conversations. These days, everyone is abuzz about a draft proposal to ban skype users in Russia, since the FSB is having too hard of a time monitoring voice over internet and other new forms of communication.

"Without government restrictions, IP telephony causes certain concerns about security," said a pro-government lobby group.
And by “security,” they mean “democracy.”

(Bonus to anyone who can find a picture of Putin in the wetsuit. Ern would kill to put that one over her bed.)
(Edit: Major bonus to ER reader LIVLIVS MAXIMVS for the photo. Awesome job mate!)

Jul 30, 2009

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Soviet Propagandist?

Hell hath no furry, like Solzhenitsyn's widow. A lesson that Putin just learned the hard way.

Someone on Team Putin thought it would be a great idea for the prime minister to meet with Natalya Solzhenitsyna near the anniversary of the author's death. The Kremlin loves all of the critical things Solzhenitsyn had to say about democracy while he was alive, there's just that little part about the Gulag that makes everyone uneasy.

-Putin: "Remembering this, I would like to return today to the issue we have discussed with Alexander Isayevich – the propaganda of his work.."

-Natalya Solzhenitsyna: [Interupting] "I would rather say 'studying' than 'propaganda.'"

-Putin: "...the 'learning' of his literary heritage."

Propaganda, really Vlad? We're going there, now? Some have tried to spin the word, saying that "propaganda" has a positive meaning in the mind of ex-KGB agent Putin, and he didn't mean to offend. But that's pretty weak sauce.

Go get him, Natalya!

Moldova Chooses the EU

According to the New York Times, Moldova’s pro-Western opposition parties have unseated Europe’s last ruling Communist Party in repeat parliamentary elections "that have become a test of whether the impoverished former Soviet republic aligns with the European Union or Moscow." My guess is the woman pictured above had nothing to do with said unseating. Anyway, the elections came almost four months after a victory by the Communist Party in a parliamentary election last April set off riots by young people "desperate for an end to political and economic stagnation"...and for televisions, computers, and furniture that could be looted from government buildings.

Lessons learned:

1. Riots work
2. Apparently, by choosing to not vote for communists, Moldova's choosing not to align with Russia, even though Russia isn't run by communists.

Lessons to be learned:

1. The EU is not going to ride in on a white horse and drag your country out of poverty, Moldova. Go ask Romania and Bulgaria.

Jul 29, 2009

Czechoslovakia 1968: Now a Comedy

Operace Dunaj

Did you hear about the Polish tank that invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968? The crew “got lost” and was never seen again.

Turns out, Czech filmmaker Jacek Glomb has used this classic communist-era joke as the inspiration for a comedy of errors, Operation Danube. But rather than escaping to the west, Glomb imagines that the tank crashed into a village pub on its way to crush the revolution. Eventually, everyone realizes they’re all victims of the same hilarious tragedy.

My God, what would we do without the Czechs?

Medvedev: "We should not be prickly"

We've all heard about putting lipstick on a pig, but how about a bear?

"Our image needs to be comfortable for those who deal with us," President Medvedev said, adding, "We should not be prickly and hard to approach, but at the same time we should be able to give a firm response when circumstances call for it."

Also, Medvedev wants everyone to know that he loves the image of Russia as a bear, "It's an image close to my heart," he said. Come to think of it, maybe Russia should adopt the cuddly panda as its national symbol. If the demographic crisis continues, both will be extinct sooner or later.

Still Not Funny: Dressing up as a Nazi

Last week, the mayor of the Romanian city of Constanta, Radu Mazare, thought it would be hilarious if he and his son dressed as Nazis and goose-stepped down the runway of a fashion show.

These instincts were wrong.

Friendly note to Mazare from ER: Its not funny if your country was responsible for the deportation or death of 420,000 Jews during the Second World War, even less funny if government officials denied Romania’s participating in the Holocaust up until 2004, and it’s down right inappropriate when Romanian newspapers still blame Jews for the financial crisis.

Video here.

Jul 27, 2009

Medvedev's New Speak

It looks like the BBC is finally on to Medvedev's "truth comission" and other efforts to re-write the events of World War II. However, the obligatory quote from Professor of Russian History at Oxford University Robert Service is pure gold:
"...[Medvedev] wants to control history as a means of controlling the present. This is the classic George Orwell scenario."
Apparently, the Kremlin worries that people might start to ask difficult questions about the current government if they can't cherish the "shining, sacred, memory of past victory."

Jul 24, 2009

This Just In: Kyrgyzstan Still Shady

According to the New York Time's office of "if you didn't see this coming, please exit your cave, take the blind fold off your face, and take your fingers out of your ears," Kyrgyzstan's President Bakiyev was reelected today with a supposed 80% of the vote. And the OSCE notes these blatant infractions: ballot stuffing, intimidation, media bias, etc.

Is this where the US rent money for Manas goes? To pay off goons and propagandists? OF COURSE! Where did you think it was going?!

Jul 23, 2009

Good Cop, Bad Cop

All right, here's an interesting case, which is sure to get more and more complicated down the road. According to the Washington Post, a Russian police officer has been arrested for abuse of office. Already it doesn't make sense right? Since when have the Russians tried to combat corruption within the police force and can I get my money back from that sweaty, hairy, uniformed fellow who made me hand over all the money in my pockets at the Savyolovskaya Metro in Moscow?

Well here's the deal: Col. Alexander Astafyev, a senior anti-corruption investigator affiliated with a George Mason University research center in Vladivostok, had been working on an academic paper about "raiding," or the criminal takeover of businesses with the help of corrupt officials, police or judges, when he was detained last month for supposedly accepting bribes in the form of 3 air conditioners and a computer. His colleagues claim the charges are complete BS, and an honest cop has been arrested for exposing corruption.

Russian Activist Andrei Kulagin Found Dead

I'm really sick of writing posts about dead Russian activists! Dear God, when will this stop happening?

According to the Associated Press, Russian human rights activist Andrei Kulagin was found dead in a sand pit on July 10, weeks after he went missing. His family did not want his death publicized before his funeral.

Kulagin was head the Karelia regional branch of the rights organization Spravedlivost, which means Justice. He had fought for the humane treatment of prisoners and worked closely with prison and jail officials in Karelia.

An Arrest in the Gongadze Case

According to CNN, yesterday, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced that a Ukrainian General Alexei Pukach has been arrested in connection with the murder of a journalist Georhiy Gongadze nearly 9 years ago. Gongadze, the pioneer editor of the critical Internet Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainian Pravda, was abducted in September 2000 and later found decapitated. Pukach had been on the run for years. Organizations are hopeful that Pukach will be able to identify who ordered the murder, or more to the point whether or not former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma did in fact order the murder.

Good work, Ukrainian security service!

Jul 22, 2009

Russia to combat plagiarism?

According to the Moscow Times, there is draft legislation that would make it easier for news agencies to contest plagiarism in Russia. The draft law proposes that media outlets could be fined between $320 to $645 if caught using info without proper attribution. Did I mention this information was from the Moscow Times? ;) (emoticon compliments of Oleg Teterin)

Um...isn't plagiarism every Russian's God given right? Without "borrowing" from "Бедная Лиза" would there have even been a Golden Age of Russian Literature?

Anyway, the draft law has many holes in it. For example, which state body would dole out the fines has not been decided or suggested. And the draft law also does not make clear whether or not a plagiarist would be fined separately for each instance of plagiarism. So some kinks need to be worked out. Maybe they should consider reading other countries' plagiarism laws and borrow some ideas.

OSI Report: Pride and Prejudice in Bulgaria

Seeing that Bulgaria is veering wildly off script, the Open Society Institute has released the results of a poll measuring anti-minority views in Bulgaria. The findings:

"Bulgarian society displays significant prejudice against African, Arab, Vietnamese and Chinese minorities, sees Roma as thieving and dirty but views ethnic Turks as hard-working and entrepreneurial...The Armenian community was seen as 'ingenious'"
While these findings down-play negative views of ethnic Turks (I'd like to see the geographic distribution of the sample) it'd be wrong to write-off the entire country as quiet racists. Moreover, a similar poll by the American Anti-Defamation League reported that 54 percent of Poles felt it was “probably true” that “Jews have too much power in international financial markets.”

Oh, and before we forget, such views are not exclusive to Central Europe. The Dutch just gave Geert Wilders' wildly xenophobic party a second-place finish in the European Parliamentary Elections.

This is probably a good time to rethink the level of pot consumption in The Netherlands. Isn't paranoia a symptom of over-use?

Biden Sent to Ukraine to Ease Fears?

According to the New York Times, US Vice President (the most amusing and embarassing VP since Dan "Potatoe" Quayle) recently met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to to ease fears in Ukraine and Georgia over whether the Obama administration might withdraw support for their pro-Western governments to improve ties with Russia. Biden emphasized that the US does not recognize spheres of influence, supports Ukraine and Georgia, and backs Ukraine in NATO. He then added:

“I don’t have any guarantee that that’s how it’s going to play out.”
Okay, first of all, the US sent Biden to ease fears? Really? Really? And they let him speak? Really?

Second, that's just a brilliant non-commitment, Joe. Here's what he hope will happen, but I'm not here to promise anything. Can I get some icecream?


The Ukrainian economy is coming back! Kinda. I'll take any good news, though.

According to Pani Yulia's blog, Ukraine is gradually recovering from the economic crisis. Industrial production grew by more than 3% from May to June and food production by 1% (June 2008-June 2009), signaling a gradually economic recovery.

Надія є!

Jul 21, 2009

Milli's and Hadji-zadeh's Appeals Rejected

According to the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety, in the Baku Appellate Court, hearings were held to consider the appeals against Sabail District Court’s decision to sentence Azeri youth activisits Emin Milli and Adnan Hadji-zadeh to pre-trial detention. Those appeals were rejected.

In case you haven't been paying attention, Milli and Hadji-zadeh were physically attacked in a restaurant last month and instead of upholding justice, the Azeri authorities decided to arrest the activists for "hooliganism." They remain in pre-trial detention. Apparently, Azerbaijan is not afraid of Milli's and Hadji-zadesh's brand of satire:

Polish public television needs a bail-out

Bail-outs are all the rage, yet I'm still in debt. If only I had attempted to sell a few cars last year.

Anyhoo, according to Broadband TV News, Polish president Lech Kaczynski has vetoed the country’s proposed new media law, which would have scrapped receiver licence fees. President Kaczynski feels the new media law in its current form would create more problems for Polish public broadcasting than it would solve. One of the solutions he may consider to help fund TVP could be the addition of a PLN 5 (€1.56) fee to electricity bills, payable by each household.

For €1.56 a month, I hope some of the programming includes something YouTube worthy so I can link to it on this blog. That's all I ask for, Lech.

Oh yeah, it's Ataka!

They said it wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't happen...

But it looks now like Bulgaria's new prime minister Boyko Borissov ("the flamboyant, populist wrestler-cum-politician with anti-Turkish, anti-Gypsy tendencies") is one step closer to forming a loose governing agreement with the unapologetically racist and xenophobic Far-Right Ataka! party.

What could go wrong?

Jul 20, 2009

A Caucasus Christmas Carol

According to RIA Novosti President Mikhail Saakashvili has had a self-proclaimed "psychological turnaround." After being visited by the ghosts of his past, present, and political future, he's remembered that democracy is what life's about and has resolved to nurse Tiny Tim (aka Georgian democracy) back to health, tossing aside the crutch of dictatorship.

However, unlike Scrooge, the Georgian President's announcement has not been surrounded by whimsical songs and dancing in the streets. In fact, the opposition is decidedly underwhelmed. Even Saakashvili himself seems a bit depressed about it, calling Georgia's NATO bid "almost dead" and telling reporters: "It's tragic. It means the Russians fought for the right reasons." I like Disney's version better...

Jul 18, 2009

Kadyrov to Sue Human Rights Organization "Memorial"

Thus begins the hardest entry I've ever written. It's hard not to lace this one with swears and obscenities. I will try...

According to the New York Times, Chechen leader and the most recent winner of "Chechnya's Next Top Thug," Ramzan Kadyrov plans fight accusations that he was responsible for the grizzly death of Natalia Estemirova by suing her boss Oleg Orlov of Memorial for slander. Said nature's greatest mistake to Orlov:

"You should think about my rights before you proclaim to the whole world that I am guilty of Estemirova’s death!"

Then somewhere along the way, Kadyrov offered this gem.

"If employees of Memorial leave the Chechen Republic, if I and others leave, who will protect the rights of the citizens?"

This from a man who regularly disregards the rights of women as stated in the Russian Constitution. Mr. Kadyrov, how do you stand up straight carrying around those brass ones?

Jul 16, 2009

Et Tu, Turkey?

First it was Bulgaria, now even the Turks are banning public smoking.

No word yet, on how the new law will impact huka bars or the Turkish economy (yes, the economy). But Ankara isn’t taking any chances that the public will disregard the new law. The Turkish government has created a 4,500 man force to hunt down the Jedi smokers and destroy them, or at least issue a fine.

That's a pretty light punishment, considering that Prime Minister Erdoğan has equated smoking with terrorism.

"They have killed our soul"

That’s what Oleg Orlov, the Head of the Russian Human Right’s group Memorial said about the murder of Natalia Estemirova, adding:

"A terror campaign is being conducted in Russia — terror against people who dare say things that are uncomfortable and unpleasant for the authorities, who talk about the crimes of those in power."

Public reaction to her death has even forced President Medevdev onto the record. “I am sure the person who committed it will be punished," he said.

But perhaps Taus Dzhankhotova, a woman whom Estemirova had helped before her death, said it best: "They kill only the good people here. If she was bad, they wouldn't have touched her."

And speaking of bad people, Checehen strong-man Ramzan Kadyrov is taking full advantage of Estemirova’s death. While Kadyrov is widely believed to be involved with the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, his government will launch two investigations into Estemirova’s slaying, “one official and one unofficial, following Chechen traditions.”

Just like OJ Simpson, we’re confident that Kadyrov will find the real killers. We’re even more confident they will happen to live in Ingushetia, and offer Kadyrov an excellent excuse to extend his control over the neighboring republic.

Jul 15, 2009

Natalia Estemirova Murdered

Human rights activist Natalia Estemirova has been murdered.
“She was the leading figure in continuing to document human rights abuses from the government in Chechnya...[Chechen] militias had much to fear from her,” says the BBC.
As with the death of Anna Politkovskaya, it is impossible to be witty at a moment like this. We can only to mourn her loss and take stock of Chechnya's fastest growing export: political violence.

After being abducted in Chechnya, Estemirova's body was found in neighboring Ingushetia. At the time of her death, she was investigating the government's sponsorship of Chechen militias.

Jul 14, 2009

Is Nabucco Sponsoring a NASCAR Team...

…or signing an inter-governmental agreement?
"The completion of the Intergovernmental Agreement represents a significant breakthrough in the realization of this project," said Reinhard Mitschek, Managing Director of the Nabucco Pipeline Int.
The only problem with this picture, of course, is that Nabucco still doesn't have any actual gas to transport. Thanks to all the extra time, what with not having to sign up actual gas supplies, Team Nabucco has put all of its efforts into creating a really awesome brand logo.

For its part, Nabucco consortium member OMV is telling anyone who will listen that the company now expects to pump 31 bcm a year out of Kurdistan. Conveniently, this is exactly enough gas to fill all three phases of the Nabucco project. Too convenient, we suspect, especially since Nabucco's projected cost (now with Iraqi gas) remains unchanged.

But don’t let the details get in the way. If worse comes to worse, the Bulgarians can just burn the Nabucco brand logo to keep warm this January.

"Vodka is worse than NATO"

According to Время Новестей, a recent poll completed in Russia shows that people think vodka is a bigger problem facing Russia than NATO. In fact the ranking goes something like this:

Worst problem facing the country: the economic crisis.
Then: alcoholism, drug addiction, and the degradation of the population.
Then: aggression from countries in NATO and in the west, and finally, US aggression.

If NATO started a "free vodka to Russians" program in conjunction with its missile defense programs, it could be the scariest thing Russia's seen since Stalin (a historically accurate Stalin).

ER readership to go down in Kazakhstan

According to Reuters, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed into law new controls on the Internet. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which Kazakhstan is supposed to chair in 2010, has called the law repressive. The legislation will allow local courts to block websites, including foreign ones, and to class blogs and chatrooms as media.

So the good news is, Kazakhstan considers us journalists. The bad news is, Kazakhstan considers us journalists. Not the safest profession to have in that part of the world.

Jul 13, 2009

BP Presses Hadji-zadeh's Case

According to Reuters, BP has taken an interest in Hadji-Zadeh's hooliganism case. Yeah, apparently getting beaten by other people makes you a hooligan in Azerbaijan. Well, BP is having none of it. Hadjiazde, 26, has worked for BP's public relations team in Baku for several years, and BP intends to keep him out of prison.

Are you happy, Azerbaijan? You have me rooting for BP.

Failed State Index Released!

I seriously love rankings! Foreign Policy recently released the 2009 Failed State Index. How'd are beloved nations do? Here we go. Remember the lower your number, the more in danger you are:

In the in danger category: Uzbekistan (31), Georgia (33), Tajikistan (37), Kyrgyzstan (42), Moldova (54), Azerbaijan (56), Turkmenistan (59), Bosnia (63), Belarus (66), Russia (71), and Serbia (78).

Borderline: Macedonia (100), [sorry, I overlooked Armenia on the interactive map before, Armenia (101)], Kazakhstan (105), Albania (109), Ukraine (110), Bulgaria (128), Romania (129), Croatia (131), Montenegro (134), Latvia (136), and Estonia (140).

And finally, congrats to our stable countries: Hungary (141), Poland (142), Slovakia (144), Lithuania (145), Czech Republic (152), and Slovenia (156).

Jul 10, 2009

Neelie Kroes: Superhero

Fresh off her victory over the paraffin wax cartel -- which held its meetings in posh Hungarian resorts rather than a secret volcano fortress -- EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes has scored a big win over gas collusion; a $1.54 billion win to be exact.
European Union antitrust regulators imposed a combined fine of more than 1.1 billion euros ($1.54 billion) on German utility E.ON and GDF Suez for secretly carving up gas markets.
Meanwhile, Gazprom has once again escaped Kroes’ long arm of justice. We suspect this is because Gazprom holds its meetings in an Arctic ice fortress, and Neelie hates the cold.

(And before anyone says it, Gazprom can be regulated as a monopoly under EU law. No-one really knows why Kroes won't bring the pain.)

Jul 9, 2009

New Poll: Half of East Germans Miss Communsim

How can you miss Communism? That is like saying you miss having terminal cancer.

According Spiegel Online, a new poll shows that half of former East Germans now pine for the good old days of Communism. Apparently, this view is especially strong among individuals who grew up after Communism, were heavily subsidized by West German largesse and get to enjoy luxurious sailing holidays along the Mediterranean.

Oh, that half.
"East German citizens had a nice life," says Birger [who was ten when the wall fell.] There is no fundamental difference between dictatorship and freedom."
Now that we are asking, I wonder how many Germans would admit to missing that other social experiment, the one with brutally efficient highways, well-ordered Olympic Games and freshly starched uniforms.

After all, dictatorship and freedom are the same thing.

Jul 8, 2009

Sometimes Obama Says Silly Things

After yesterday's breakfast with Putin, President Obama spoke with President Medvedev about his meeting:

"I had a good conversation with the prime minister and I think his approach to the issues is very similar to yours," Obama said.
And just so that we're all on the same page for the next summit meeting, Prime Minister Putin is President Medvedev.

To be fair to Obama, however, Putin has never really had to deal with Vice President Biden as an underling. Come to think of it, that would be one episode of WifeSwap I'd pay good money to watch.

Afghanistan's Only Pig: Free At Last

During the heady days of Pig Flu mania, we reported on the plight of Khanzir, Afghanistan’s only pig. Fearing for their lives, local residents had demanded that the Kabul Zoo quarantine poor Khanzir to protect the country from Swine Flu. After more than two months in lock-down, we can happily report that Khanzir has been released back into, well, the zoo.
"Other zoos abroad told us not to worry ... when people began to realize the disease doesn't come from the pig itself we decided to release the pig," said zoo manager Aziz
Gul Saqib
According to reports, “Zoo workers used sticks to gently prod [Khanzir] out of his temporary concrete home into his usual enclosure of lush green shrubs and a mud puddle.” Despite winning back his freedom, Khanzir must still contend with long-standing religious and cultural prohibitions against pork. "[Khanzir] is very haram (forbidden) and should not even been looked at. I don't think it should even be in the zoo," said one visitor.

In the meantime, Khanzir will still have to wait for Mr. Gul Saqib to order him a female mate from Europe. However, we can all rest easy knowing that 1) a grave pig injustice has been resolved and 2) Khanzir won’t become breakfast anytime soon.

Jul 7, 2009

Remembering the Unknown Solzhenitsyn

"Some may say that the Gulag is a forgotten part of history and that we do not need to be reminded. But I have witnessed monstrous crimes." -- Nikolai Getman

Many have never heard of Russian artist Nikolai Getman, but next month marks the fifth anniversary of his death. Getman survived seven years of hard-labor in the Kolyma gold fields, taught himself to paint, and spent the remainder of his life secretly documenting his experience on canvas.

Two decades after the end of communism, the Kremlin is moving to slowly erase the memory of Stalin's crimes under the seal of "state secrets" (The Amazing, Vanashing Gulag). However, Getman's visceral archive survives. It is the only surviving first-hand visual evidence of the Gulag and its forgotten children.

See the full archive and Robert Conquest's fond farewell to the artist and his legacy.

Dude, Where's My Squirrel?

In this time of economic turmoil and uncertainty, some have called for a return to the gold standard. But what about, the squirrel standard?

As CNBC notes in this awesome slideshow:
“In medieval Russia, squirrel pelts were a common currency of exchange. So common, in fact, that snouts, claws and ears were also used, presumably as change.”
Turns out, a squirrel-based economy has some unintended benefits. When the Black Death hit, for example, Russia was largely spared the effects thanks to the fact that everyone had previously converted the country's tick-bearing squirrels into hard (or should we say soft and fluffy) currency.

Also , check out Mongolia's 500 Tugrik coin featuring a talking – yes talking – John F. Kennedy, and Hungary’s 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 Pengo note from 1946.

Eat your heart out Zimbabwe.

Jul 6, 2009

You Can't Hug Your Presidents with Nuclear Arms

Financial Times: "US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Monday signed a 'joint understanding' that aims to reduce their nuclear arsenals to their lowest levels since the peak of their arms race in the 1980s."

Awesome! The boys are getting along! Oh, the article continues...

"Mr Obama will on Tuesday have breakfast with Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, whom he irritated before his arrival with comments appearing to favour Mr Medvedev even though the White House knows that Mr Putin, Mr Medvedev’s political mentor, remains the more powerful of the two Russian leaders."

Oh Vlady, open your heart. And Obama, do NOT look into his eyes and do NOT see into his soul!


So, according to the Christian Science Monitor, Kyrgyzstan has not felt the effects of the global economic crisis, because Kyrgyzstan really didn't have anything to lose. (OUCH!) They're not oil rich like some of their other Central Asian counterparts and I guess human trafficking from Uzbekistan doesn't count as an industry. Well, a solution has been proposed:

Presidential candidate Zhenishbek Nazaraliev, the founder and director of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Bishkek, has proposed that the solution to Kyrgyzstan's economic woes lies in the legalization of opium cultivation for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

Opium production is a lucrative industry; global corporations such as Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline depend on opium derivatives to manufacture cosmetics and medicines, including morphine. Nazaraliev says Kyrgyzstan would be foolish not to claim a piece of the pie.

Nazaraliev, if I was a Kyrgyz citizen and didn't fear Bakiyev, you'd have my vote sir!

Jul 5, 2009

China invests in Ukraine and saves soccer?

According to Pani Yulia's blog, the Chinese government will give the Ukrainian government about $3 million in assistance for the development of technical and economic projects. What's the catch? Says Vice-Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Wang Gang:

The Chinese government has approved a decision to provide the Ukrainian government with 25 million yuan in assistance. This money can be used for technical and economic projects that both sides agree on.

Gang also noted future bilateral cooperation may include high technology, military equipment, and infrastructure development as part of preparations for the Euro-2012 Soccer Championship.

If China masters investing in Ukraine and saves the Euro-2012, I think it's fair to say they will most certainly rule the world in years to come.

Jul 3, 2009

Russia's "Adequate Response"

According to the New York Times and Yahoo News, Russia has decided to allow the US to ship weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, a long-sought move that bolsters US military operations but potentially gives the Kremlin leverage over critical American supplies.

So...the US now pays Kyrgyzstan more than 3X what they paid last year for the Manas air base to have easier access to Afghanistan, and the US pays that much because the Russians made a huge counter offer to block the deal, and now the Russians are allowing the United States through Russia? And they made this decision during an American Federal Holiday, so there's no response from the US...I feel like I'm missing information critical to making this all make sense. Let's see how Obama's upcoming visit goes...

Jul 2, 2009

Lenin Still Stands

I am posting this on behalf of Mr. Ta.

I find something sadly symbolic about this attempt to take down Lenin in downtown Kyiv. A small group of nationalists painstakingly defy authorities to take down an offensive symbol. But their technology is weak, cars zip by on the streets in ambivalence, and only later does the police bother to show up and shoo away the nationalists. Their attempt at moving out of the shadows of history is a sad fail. And, though now missing a nose and somewhat more battered, Lenin still

Facebook Pokes Nigaz Dispute

You know a controversy has truely arrived, when it gets its own Facebook group. Now, people who feel that Gazprom's Nigaz joint-venture is offensive can network with each other.

"How more derogatory can it be for Our Own NNPC in NEW Joint Venture partnership with Russian GAZPROM to set up a NEW company for the JV and named it NIGAZ....this is derogatory -surely not Nigerian-like."
You can check it out, here.

Also, the BBC called up a "branding expert" to weigh in on the mess. "Such blunders are more common in government-run organisations, he said, "because they simply don't have the marketing experience to check these things out properly."

However, even Google is confused. When entering the name of Gazprom's new joint-venture into the popular search engine, it thinks you want to search for an entirely different word.

Gazprom might not be fluent in hip-hop, or have the "marketing experience" to launch a sucessful global brand, but clearly no-one at the company knows how to use a search engine either.

Ukrainian Village Now Wants to be Called "Michael Jackson"

It was bound to happen somewhere. I'm so proud it happened here.

"KIEV (AFP) - Residents of a Ukrainian village want to rename it after the late pop superstar Michael Jackson, a lawmaker who represents the village told AFP on Wednesday. 'They want to create a house-museum and collect his records there. This is a depressed region, all the factories are closed. They hope this will attract tourists,' he added."
No word yet if the Michael Jackson Museum in Michael Jackson, Ukraine will also include an memorial to his beloved Vicodin pills, but it should.

EU: Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em

What kind of world have we made, where you can't smoke in a maternity ward?

"BRUSSELS (AFP) — The European Union commission on Tuesday called for public places throughout Europe to be smoke-free by 2012 in order to tackle the deadly effects of passive smoking...A similar ban is due to come into force in Bulgaria next June."
The worst part about the new law is that Bulgarian cops will now have to fine themselves if they ever want to orginize another public smoking demonstration for higher wages.

Jul 1, 2009

Emanuel Zelster Pardoned!

Try to remember all the way back to March 2008, when things were still complicated with the world and American citizen Emanuel Zelster was illegally detained and betean by the KGB in Belarus. Well, according to the New York Times, he's FINALLY been pardoned by Lukashenko. Some say Lukashenko's heart grew three times today.

The pardon comes as Belarus, once Moscow’s most loyal post-Soviet ally, tacks sharply to the West. For almost a year, Mr. Lukashenko has been making moves to accommodate Western criticism, like granting amnesty to a series of political prisoners. This spring, Belarus was invited to join the European Union’s Eastern Partnership, and it received an additional International Monetary Fund loan of $1 billion, increasing its total pledge to $3.4 billion.

I don't even have the words. It's so rare to hear good news. Whatever the reasons for his relese, I'm glad he's finally been freed.