On Nov. 11 1918, the end of World War I, Poland regained its place on the map of Europe, after having been wiped off for 123 years. Now, on Poland's Independence Day, the capital's sky gives off a red glow and its streets are enveloped in smoke. That's not because there's been an elaborate fireworks show. It's from the bright flares held by violent nationalist protesters. This November, young men in balaclavas set fire to two significant elements of the Warsaw landscape: a huge rainbow in the city center, seen by many as a symbol of tolerance and openness -- or gay rights -- and the guard post at the Russian embassy, reflecting age-old tensions between the two countries.
In recent years, the country's capital has regularly spun into complete mayhem on Independence Day. On a supposedly joyous national holiday, in a stable country that has been called Europe's "green island" during the financial crisis, having never descended into red while the rest of Europe was hurting, cars are trashed, Molotov cocktails fly in the air and parents warn their children to stay at home. This year, on the 95th anniversary of Polish statehood, the violence was particularly pronounced.
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With less than a 100 days till the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia is really ramping up its security -- in decidedly creepy ways. Russian officials are taking saliva samples from orthodox Muslim women in Dagestan in an effort to gather DNA data in case they decided to blow themselves up during the Games.This comes after a suicide attack on Oct. 21 on a passenger bus in Volgograd in southern Russia carried out by a Dagestani woman, Naida Asiyalova. The bomb she detonated killed six people and wounded 30. Asiyalova was a representative of a new breed of suicide bombers, the so-called Black Widows, who have enacted close to 50 attacks in the region over the past 13 years.
According to Reuters, Russia is stepping up its push to eliminate leaders and operatives of the Islamic insurgency in the Northern Caucasus, which has been ravaging the region since the conclusion of the Second Chechen War in 2009, before the skiers, bobsledders and speedskaters descend on Sochi. The effort focuses on Salafi Muslims who adhere to a strict version of Islam and are often associated with jihadist movements. Salafi men are arrested, jailed, killed and kidnapped. Young madrassa students are photographed and fingerprinted. And the women are asked to spit.
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The Pope is being targeted by U.S. eavesdroppers. Julian Assange is sending packages with video cameras and GPS trackers. The Russians are using teddy bears to snoop on G-20 officials. Spy chips are popping up in electric irons. Oh, and the NSA, it turns out, has broken into Google and Yahoo's datacenters.
In short, this is the week the torrent of spying allegations went totally over the top.
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While the rest of the world is bubbling with (subdued) rage against the United States over reports that the NSA has been spying on their leaders, Russia is quietly rubbing its hands.
On Thursday, The Guardian reported that the U.S. had been listening in on the phone conversations of 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to information provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The Washington Post reported that Snowden also obtained documents on U.S. allies collecting data about Russia, Iran and China (that happens?!), and that the U.S. government was warning the allied intelligence agencies that this information may come to light.
The Europeans are walking a fine line, or as Der Spiegel puts it "performing a delicate dance," balancing mandatory indignation while maintaining close ties with the United States. And while Angela Merkel says "spying among friends, that cannot be," the Russians seem to be going out of their way to show that they could care less.
Three and a half years later, the debate over what caused a plane carrying top Polish officials to crash near an airport in western Russia, killing 96 people including the president and his wife, is still raging. Today, it's less a back-and-forth between those who think the 2010 crash was an accident and those who believe it was an attack, and more a steady stream of accusations and conspiracy theories from the latter camp. A conference of "independent experts" in Warsaw this week, for instance, put forth evidence involving everything from hot dogs to Red Bull cans to a plane flying backward in fake fog.
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It's been a topsy-turvy several months for Alexey Navalny, the fiery Russian opposition leader who has been compared to everyone from Nelson Mandela to Vaclav Havel. First, in July, Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling nearly $500,000 from a state-owned timber company. Then, a day later, as protests against the verdict swelled, the 37-year-old anti-corruption activist was freed in a surprise move. In September, Navalny managed to compete in Moscow's mayoral race but lost to incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, who nearly doubled Navalny's vote count. A month later, Russia's Constitutional Court ruled that a law banning convicted criminals, including those with suspended sentences, from running for office was unconstitutional ("Good news, my brother criminals," Navalny tweeted at the time). And just last week, a Russian court suspended Navalny's jail sentence, though it appears Russian law would still prevent him from running in Russia's 2018 presidential elections, as he has discussed doing.
"It's clear for me that the authorities are trying by all means to hound me out of politics, coming up with some restrictions and fabricated cases," Navalny observed after receiving his suspended sentence.
But the ups-and-downs Navalny has endured in recent months raise a question: Is Navalny really the "man Vladimir Putin fears most," as the Wall Street Journal has crowned him, or is he the man the Kremlin has decided to manage as a credible -- but ultimately beatable -- opposition figure?
Acccording to the British journalist Peter Pomerantsev, he may be more of the latter. And there's evidence for that theory. In an interview with a Russian newspaper published on Monday, for instance, Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow's newly elected mayor, admitted that he consulted with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides about what Navalny's candidacy in the city's mayoral election before it was held. "I considered that Navalny should take part in the election and [their] attitude to it was positive," Sobyanin, a member of Putin's United Russia party, recalled (the Kremlin has insisted that it has not interfered with the legal twists and turns in Navalny's case).
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Sure, some have spent the past few days lamenting that Pakistani girls' education advocate Malala Yousafzai didn't receive the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. But several Russian news outlets and politicians have been grousing about a separate slight: the Hague-based watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) wresting the prize from their own human rights crusader and international peacekeeper: Vladimir Putin.
"This is absolutely unfair that the OPCW was given this title," State Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon, a member of Putin's United Russia party, told the state-owned news service Itar-Tass, according to Pravda.Ru. "Who forced Syria to destroy chemical weapons, if not Putin? Who made Assad sign all agreements of the UN Security Council for the destruction of chemical weapons? They should have given the prize to two nominees then. This is unfair, because Putin is making every effort."
The Russian federal news agency Regnum, meanwhile, reported on OPCW's win briefly before reminding readers that it is "noteworthy" that the "process of destroying chemical weapons in war-torn Syria" was initiated by Russia and its president. Not noteworthy, apparently, are Putin's aggression in Georgia and campaigns against homosexuals and immigrants in his own country -- recent actions that might, one would speculate, undermine his shot at a Nobel Peace Price.
Technically speaking, Putin is not eligible to receive the prize until next year, as nominations for this year's award had to be in by February 2013, and the Russian advovacy group that nominated him, the International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation of Peoples of the World, only submitted theirs in September. The group's nomination cited Putin's efforts to "maintain peace and tranquility" not only in Russia, but also in "all conflicts arising on the planet" -- a sweeping appraisal encompassing Russia's plan to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control in an effort to avoid U.S. military strikes.
But that technicality hasn't stopped Russian lawmakers from interpreting the Nobel Peace Prize committee's choice as a snub. Alexey Pushkov, the head of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, called it a "politically sophisticated choice" and a "cunning move" designed to withhold the prize from those who "truly prevented" the war in Syria.
Others have characterized the OPCW's prize as, at its core, an award to Putin. An article in Russia's English-language Moscow Times called the OPCW's win a "nod to Putin" since the organization was granted such a crucial role in the conflict as a result of negotiations brokered by Moscow. Federation Council member Valery Ryazansky was especially optimistic, telling Russia's state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti: "I believe that this is a recognition of the fact that the Russian government invited the international community to the decision on the Syrian issue, which was found to be most effective."
Another article at Russia's Mail.ru site reported that Syrian opposition leaders were angry at the Nobel committee for, as they saw it, implicitly praising Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in giving the award to the OPCW, reminding readers that Russia was "the author of the idea of destroying chemical weapons stockpiles in the country."
Assad, it seems, wouldn't mind the recognition. In an interview with the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, the Syrian leader reportedly joked that the Nobel Peace Prize "should have been mine."
Maybe next year, guys.
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You may not have heard of Gennady Onishchenko, but if his own accounts are to be believed, he's the Russian government official who single-handedly averts major public health crises posed by foreign countries' dangerously lax and unsophisticated food safety standards (including those in a certain country where the federal government has ground to a halt). To others, Onishchenko, Russia's chief sanitary inspector, is also Russia's chief manufacturer of elaborate food safety scares to wage geopolitically motivated trade wars with other countries, particularly former Soviet republics.
On Wednesday, Onishchenko, the director of Rospotrebnadzor, Russia's consumer-protection agency, announced a ban on 28 Georgian alcoholic products, a mere seven months after a 2006 ban on Georgian beverages was lifted. Earlier this week, he added Lithuanian dairy products to the long list of (mostly) ex-Soviet state-made products that ostensibly threaten Russian consumers. Further down on that list are Ukrainian chocolates, Moldovan wine, and -- yes -- meat from the United States. Notably, many of these bans came on the heels of warming trade relations between the banned countries and NATO or the European Union -- moves that aren't popular with the Kremlin, which is trying to strong-arm its neighbors into joining a Russian-led customs union.
Onishchenko feels strongly about the value of eating Russian food -- and only Russian food. At a press briefing earlier this year, he implored Russians to suppress their hankering for foreign foods in favor of "food patriotism."
"We put our faith in the high level of consciousness and food patriotism of our citizens, the ones who have long abandoned the use of such food in their diet," he said.
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President Vladimir Putin's direct appeal to the American people in the pages of the New York Times is just one part of his government's messaging strategy on Syria. Russia's English-language media outlets are busy blasting out the Kremlin line on the conflict as well.
A few articles have focused on the American reaction to Putin's editorial on Thursday (see, for example, "White House Pokes Russia over Putin's Syria Op-Ed"), but many outlets have drawn attention to other criticisms of President Obama's stance on Syria. RT, the flashy Kremlin-financed news channel, is covering a range of critiques -- from former President Jimmy Carter to Madonna. The Russian media has also tried to gauge the American mood through polling: RT notes that a recent survey by the libertarian magazine Reason found that two-thirds of Americans feel that Obama's handling of foreign policy has been as bad or worse than President George W. Bush's. But that doesn't mean Americans are thrilled with the Russian disarmament plan; the state-owned RIA Novosti pointed to a Pew poll showing that the majority of Americans distrust Russia.
The Russian press is most interested in discrediting the story that the Assad regime used chemical weapons -- an allegation that has been supported by evidence collected by the Obama administration, the French government, the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch, among others. These efforts to present a counternarrative -- in which the rebels gassed themselves and civilians -- range from the credible but circumstantial to the just plain silly. On the more intriguing side, there's the account given by two kidnapped Europeans, who traveled to Syria as supporters of the rebels but wound up being held hostage until last week. They claim to have overheard a conversation with a rebel commander suggesting that the rebels were involved in the attack, but have not discussed details of what they heard. Less compelling is the idle speculation of Ray McGovern -- a former CIA analyst, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and RT favorite, that the CIA fabricated evidence implicating the Assad regime in the chemical weapons attacks, and the video analysis of a Syrian nun. Across the Russian media, there's consensus on at least one thing: the rebels are "terrorists."
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Russian President Vladimir Putin made a direct appeal to the American public in an editorial in Thursday morning's New York Times. "The potential strike by the United States against Syria," he writes, "despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism.... It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance."
But Putin seemed notably less concerned about civilian deaths and the second-order effects of military intervention when he took to the same opinion page in 1999 to make the case for intervention -- in Chechnya. In an editorial titled "Why We Must Act," he defended Russian military action, writing that "in the midst of war, even the most carefully planned military operations occasionally cause civilian casualties, and we deeply regret that." Despite international concerns, though, he assured readers that the Russian counterinsurgency operation would not cause widespread harm to civilians. "American officials tell us that ordinary citizens are suffering, that our military tactics may increase that suffering," he wrote then. "The very opposite is true. Our commanders have clear instructions to avoid casualties among the general population. We have nothing to gain by doing otherwise." Because when the Russians stage a military intervention, it's different.
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You haven't seen crazy until you've spent some time following the Moscow mayoral race.
On Friday, Mikhail Degtyarev, the Liberal Democratic Party's candidate, indulged in some apocalyptic thinking and said he believes Russia will lead the world in vanquishing the Antichrist. But when it comes to Degtyarev's political shenanigans, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Meet the man who not only would like to lead Moscow in battle against Satan, but would also like to give women two days leave from work every month during menstruation.
On Thursday, Barack Obama took a break from vacationing in Martha's Vineyard to address the ongoing crisis in Egypt, condemning the military's use of violence against pro-Morsy protesters and announcing the cancelation of joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises. It's a predicament presidents find themselves in more than you might think; as Bloomberg noted earlier this week -- before Egypt's bloody clashes erupted -- the world has a habit of going to pieces while presidents are getting their R&R, with the George W. Bush/Hurricane Katrina debacle being but one particularly memorable example. Here are some of the biggest international crises to hit the fan while U.S. presidents were out of the office.
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And just like that, Edward Snowden's Moscow airport vacation is over.
On Thursday, the NSA leaker's lawyer put him in a taxi and sent him off to a secret location, ending a 39-day stay in Sheremetyevo Airport's so-called "transit zone." Russian migration authorities granted Snowden a one-year temporary asylum, and Anatoly Kucherena, the Russian lawyer who has been assisting his asylum application, proudly displayed a copy of that document for reporters at the airport.[[LATEST]]
According to Kucherena, Snowden's departure from the airport remained as anonymous as his stay there. Kucherena put him in a taxi, and no one seems to have noticed. "I put him in a taxi 15 to 20 minutes ago and gave him his certificate on getting refugee status in the Russian Federation," Kucherena told Reuters. "He can live wherever he wants in Russia. It's his personal choice."
Where he will stay now remains unclear. Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela -- all of which have embassies in Moscow -- have offered to shelter Snowden, but Kucherena says the former NSA contractor won't be taking a cue from Julian Assange and holing up in a diplomatic compound. "He is the most wanted man on planet Earth. What do you think he is going to do? He has to think about his personal security. I cannot tell you where he is going," Kucherena told Reuters.
The asylum decision for Snowden comes on the heels of Bradley Manning's conviction on five counts of espionage -- a chain of events that has probably produced mixed emotions at WikiLeaks headquarters today. On the one hand, the whistleblower whose disclosures made WikiLeaks a household name now faces a stiff jail sentence; on the other, Snowden's asylum victory gives WikiLeaks, which claims to have been intimately involved in his legal strategy, a much-needed win. WikiLeaks, whose major disclosures have dried up in recent years, has now hitched its star to offering Snowden legal advice. Throughout the Snowden saga, the organization has eagerly thrust itself into the center of the action, and that trend continued on Thursday with a series of tweets from the group's official account:
Edward Snowden, continuing his confounding dance around the expectations of the international media, won't be leaving the Moscow airport after all. In a confusing series of developments, Wednesday began with the news that Snowden had been issued the preliminary document that would allow him to leave Sheremetyevo airport. Then, his lawyer denied that he would be imminently departing. For now, he appears to be staying put. The Russian media, meanwhile, is having a field day with the spectacle, gleefully blaming the United States for the entire debacle.
With the United States insisting that Russia extradite Snowden to the United States, officials in Moscow blanketed the Russian press with allegations that they would be willing to play along -- if only the United States lived up to its own obligations. "I would not want to put our American partners in an uncomfortable position, but if they say such things, and we are forced to publicly say that it is Washington in the past categorically rejected numerous Russian proposals to conclude an extradition treaty," a source in the Russian foreign ministry told the Interfax news agency.
The new line, then, from Moscow is that it is in fact the United States' fault that Russia is unable to extradite Snowden. If only the United States had been more willing to entertain Russian extradition requests, they lament, Russia would not find itself in the regrettable position of having to shelter Snowden. "Law agencies asked the US on many occasions to extradite wanted criminals through Interpol channels, but those requests were neither met nor even responded to," a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry said Monday.
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With the conviction this morning of anti-corruption crusader Alexey Navalny on charges of embezzling $500,000 from a state-owned timber company, the Kremlin sent a strong message that it has little tolerance for dissent. Navalny's five-year prison sentence was far harsher than expected and will likely scuttle his bid to run for mayor of Moscow this fall.
While Navalny will undoubtedly appeal Thursday's ruling, his jailing smacks of a dangerous throwback to Soviet times. In short, Vladimir Putin's government has eliminated its most significant political opponent by throwing him in jail on what appear to be trumped-up charges.
In the courtroom on Thursday, journalists covering the trial for Western news outlets were shocked and dismayed at the forceful ruling, and remarkably outspoken about its consequences. The entire episode played out live on Twitter:
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No one seems to be paying much attention, but in the seas off the coast of Japan, the wilderness of Siberia, and little towns north of Moscow, the Russian military is currently engaged in a massive training blitz.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a snap military exercise in the country's Far East, deploying 160,000 troops, 1,000 tanks, 130 aircraft, and 70 ships. If those sound like big numbers, that's because they are -- the exercise has been described as Russia's largest since the fall of the Soviet Union.
But that's not the whole story. Last week, Russia engaged in an unprecedented naval exercise with China that included live-fire drills and the crown jewel of the Russian Navy's Pacific fleet -- the guided-missile cruiser Varyag. And last Tuesday, Russia convened 500 soldiers from the Collective Security Treaty Organization -- the body that emerged out of the Commonwealth of Independent States -- for a theatrical counterterror exercise at a training center north of Moscow. Taken together, the three training operations represent a remarkable flurry of military activity -- one that has put nearly every component of Russia's armed forces under the spotlight.
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Looks like the Luddites at Russia's Federal Guard Service are headed back to the pre-digital age. The agency, which guards Russian officials -- the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service -- is placing an order for typewriters, according to Russian newspapers Izvestia and the Moscow Times. The reason? Information security.
"After the scandal with the circulation of classified documents by Wikileaks, the revelations made by Edward Snowden and reports that [Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev's phone was tapped during his visit to the G-20 summit in London, it has been decided to expand the use of paper documents," a Russian official reportedly told Izvestia.
Edward Snowden has finally found countries that will take him in -- if he can just figure out a way to get there first.
After rejections from more than a dozen countries, word came late Friday that three Latin American countries -- Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua -- were prepared to offer Snowden asylum. Good news for the NSA leaker, but as this ABC News article points out, there's one glaring problem: How can Snowden get from Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, where he's been holed up for nearly two weeks, to the open arms of his new home?
Courtesy Allen Thomson
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China, Russia, and Uzbekistan are simply not committed to addressing human trafficking. That's the takeaway from the State Department's new 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, out Wednesday afternoon. After nine years each for China and Russia, and six years for Uzbekistan, on the State Department's watch list, the status of the three countries was downgraded this year to "Tier 3," the lowest rank, which includes "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to address human trafficking] and are not making significant efforts to do so." Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania were also downgraded to Tier 3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.
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This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin made waves in the United States by offering NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum and ragging on the Obama administration for its out-of-control surveillance programs. But today he's gotten our attention for an entirely different reason: speaking English.
In a video posted on the Kremlin's website on Wednesday, Putin makes an English-language appeal to the General Assembly of the International Exhibitions Bureau to let Russia host the 2020 World Expo, which he characterizes as a high-priority national project. He makes it very clear that Russia will fulfill all the requirements for hosting the event.
You can watch the clip in full below:
While the Russian leader doesn't speak English often, this admittedly isn't the first time he's shown off his language skills. In 2010, for instance, he spoke at the Judo Championships in Vienna. To be honest, I think he did a lot better then (perhaps his love of judo scared off stage fright).
He also spoke to CNN in 2008:
And who could forget his classic performance of "Blueberry Hill":
In comparison, Putin's appeal this week doesn't seem all that dramatic. Where was the piano?
(h/t: Miriam Elder)
She's been one of the world's most elusive first ladies -- let's just say no one ever called her the "Russian Michelle Obama" -- and after today, she'll be a public figure no longer.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila Putina, announced that they are divorcing after almost 30 years of marriage during an interview with Russia 24. Putina accompanied Putin to the ballet to see Esmeralda at the Grand Kremlin Palace. Afterwards, the couple first praised the performance, only discussing their relationship after a reporter noted that the Putins rarely appear in public together.
"It was our joint decision," Putin said, according to an AP translation. "We practically never saw each other. To each his own life."
"We will eternally be very close people," Putina added, "I'm thankful to Vladimir Vladimirovich that he supports me." She added, "I don't like publicity and flying is difficult for me." (Granted, Putina did once work as a flight attendant, but it was for Russia's Aeroflot, which may explain the fear of flying.)
We don't know much about Putina: A notoriously private person, she surfaces so rarely in public with her husband that it was news when she showed up at the Kremlin for Putin's inauguration last year (there was once speculation that the reason she appeared so infrequently was that she'd retreated to a monastery). She appears to have taken a public stance on just one issue: the reform of the Russian language (she's firmly against).
Rumors have swirled for years about the couple divorcing, accompanied by speculation about the various other women Putin may be having affairs with, including a former gymnast more than three decades his junior. Even a simple photo shoot in 2010 -- seemingly designed to convey an image of a happy first family -- stoked divorce rumors because the pair appeared so uncomfortable together.
The official website for Russia's president includes a description of how Putin and Lyudmila Shkrebneva met "through a mutual friend":
"I was already working in the First Main Directorate in St Petersburg, when a friend of mine called and invited me to the Arkady Raikin theatre. He said he already had the tickets, and mentioned there would be two young ladies joining us. So we went to the performance and the young ladies did join us. The next day, we went to the theatre again, but it was now my turn to buy the tickets. And the same thing happened on the third day. I then began dating one of the girls. I became friends with Lyudmila, my future wife."
In the official biography, Putina recalls, "There was something about Vladimir that attracted me. Three or four months later, I already knew this was the man I needed." The couple married on July 28, 1983 and have two daughters together.
Despite Putina's reputation for privacy, the first lady did share details about her personal life from time to time. In a 2002 biography of Putin, for instance, Putina dished on the couple's bizarre relationship. She explained how she gave birth to their first child alone, hailing a taxi in order to get to the hospital, because he was away on a business trip. When Putin returned, he declared that the baby girl would be named Masha after his mother, despite his wife's preference for Natascha.
"I was in tears," Putina recalled. "But then I realized there was no choice in the matter and my daughter was going to be Masha."
Putina described her husband's habitual lateness -- "after an hour, I would nearly cry out of humiliation" -- and claimed he would use KGB tactics on her to ensure she was trustworthy.
Putina also allegedly confided to a West German spy who befriended her while her husband worked for the KGB in Dresden, telling the agent that her husband was violent toward her and had extramarital affairs.
And every now and then, Putina made fashion statements as well (see left). "One of Moscow's top fashion designers, Vladislav Zaitsev, is famous for dressing Putina in an oversize hat, reportedly twice as big as the British queen's, when she and Putin visited Buckingham Palace," Anna Nemtsova wrote back in January. "'I love her very much,' Zaitsev said on Dozhd TV last October. 'She is wonderfully natural without any snobbishness or ambitions.'"
Sounds like a catch. But hey, Russia's divorce rate is notoriously high. The Putins, it seems, are just one more Russian couple that didn't make it.
Russia's Green Alliance - People's Party, which registered as a political party just one year ago, has turned to art to take a stab at the country's ruling United Russia party.
Taking advantage of a contest to design an emblem for the greater Moscow region, the Green Alliance has submitted an entry to the local ministry of culture that takes multiple swipes at United Russia -- highlighting problems with the country's leaders and many of the social issues that the ruling party has failed to address.
The Green Alliance has made no secret about the meaning of the design. On Tuesday, the party even tweeted a key to all the symbols packed into the image:
???? ??????? ?????????? ? ???????????? ???????? ?????????? ??????? ?????? ?? ??????? "?????? ???????????" twitter.com/RussianGreens/...— ?????? ??????? (@RussianGreens) May 21, 2013
Here's our own (English-language) guide:
The bear is a nod to the symbol of United Russia, but in this image the animal looks sinister and thuggish.
The gold chain the bear is wearing represents United Russia's alleged ties to the mob.
The saw and tree stumps symbolize United Russia's disregard for nature. As the Moscow Times points out, it was the previous United Russia governor who launched construction of the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway through the Khimki forest.
The cracked road draws attention to the Moscow region's poor infrastructure, which, the Green Alliance claims, is typically only "repaired by kickbacks."
The blue flashing light, which many Moscow drivers use to abuse traffic laws, is a symbol of "the power of contemporary feudalists," according to the party.
The high-rises in the background are meant to be "new buildings, without social infrastructure, built next to dumps."
The two men holding up the central shield are illegal migrant workers from central Asia. The Green Alliance points out that there are an estimated three million illegal migrants living in the Moscow region.
The "garlands" of paper money surrounding the shield represent the "harvest collected by [corrupt] bureaucrats."
"At a time when an alternative point of view doesn't appear in regional mass media, we consider it our duty to use this emblem as a way of drawing attention to problems," the Green Alliance's leader told the Moscow Times. It's a noble objective. But don't expect local officials to stamp the image on Moscow's promotional materials anytime soon.
Christian Caryl contributed to this post.
Vladimir Putin has finally decided to make a concession to his critics. But he isn't exactly bending over backwards. Instead, he's having a helipad installed at the Kremlin.
Sure, it may not be the most meaningful reform. But it does cater to widespread anger at the Russian leader. Muscovites have in recent months grown furious about the delays caused by the president's motorcades, which often stop traffic and clear the streets for hours on end. Now, according to spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin may commute to work more often by Mi8 helicopter.
According to a report by the GPS manufacturer TomTom, the traffic in Moscow is the world's worst. And drivers in the Russian capital deeply resent that Putin and a cadre of senior officials have taken to closing roads to get around congestion. In an act of protest, drivers in Moscow have begun honking at the presidential motorcade while they sit at a stand-still and watch Putin speed by. Thanks to Russia's ubiquitous dashboard cameras, the phenomenon is well-documented:
But Putin isn't the only one trying to circumvent Moscow's gridlock. Lower-level officials are allowed to place blue lights on the roofs of their cars and use them to skirt traffic laws, including driving on the opposite side of the road. That system has been widely abused, and self-important Muscovites have taken to placing blue lights on their vehicles regardless of whether they possess a permit to do so (the abuse inspired drivers in the capital to place blue buckets on the roofs of their cars to object to the practice). Last year, Putin vowed to drastically reduced the number of officials granted the right to use the blue lights.
When Putin was asked about these very issues in an interview back in October, he was apologetic but didn't exactly seem overly concerned. "I truly feel bad about it," he said. But when asked about French President François Hollande's decision to stop at all the red lights en route to his inauguration in Paris, Putin bristled at the suggestion he could do more to alleviate the problem. "He’s a good guy, but I don’t engage in populism," Putin said. "There’s work to be done."
For kicks (and contrasts), here's RIA Novosti's unbelievably patriotic video of Putin's motorcade arriving for his inauguration ceremony last year. Note the utter lack of either red lights or human beings of any kind along the parade route:
On Sunday, the Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate, a separatist group in Russia that has been tied to al Qaeda by the United Nations, issued a statement denying responsibility for the attacks in Boston. Here's a translation by the jihadist media clearinghouse blog Jihadology:
[T]here are speculative assumptions that [Tamerlan Tsarnaev] may have been associated with the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate, in particular with the Mujahideen of Dagestan.
The Command of the Province of Dagestan indicates in this regard that the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims.
The statement also stressed that the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, has discouraged targeting civilians and blamed speculation about the Tsarnaevs' connection to Chechen separatists on Russian propaganda.
The Caucasus Emirate has been under particular scrutiny for the attacks, given the Tsarnaevs' Chechen heritage and older brother Tamerlan's trip to Chechnya and Dagestan last year, which some reports have tied to his radicalization.
The statement does not definitively indicate that the Tsarnaevs are not connected to the Caucasus Emirate, however. "The Caucasus Emirate is a very decentralized structure organizationally so I wouldn't necessarily say they speak on behalf of other wilayah or jama'at or even the emir Dokku Umarov," writes Aaron Zelin, the Richard Borow fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and founder of Jihadology, whom FP reached by email this morning. "The Caucasus Emirate is the main jihadi umbrella, but there are a bunch of wilayah and jama'at that work under it. I don't think we know enough information to determine if they could have worked with others."
The Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate is not the first jihadist group to deny involvement in the attacks. The Pakistani Taliban issued a statement denying responsibility almost immediately after the bombings last week, with a spokesman for the organization saying, "Certainly, America is our target and we will attack the U.S. and its allies whenever the [Pakistani Taliban] finds the opportunity, but we are not involved in this attack."
If Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin is to be believed, Russia has stopped worrying about U.S. missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. In a speech delivered Tuesday at the Russian embassy in London, Rogozin claimed that the American missile shield no longer poses a threat to his country -- a statement that contradicts years of Russian officials howling about the presence of U.S. missiles near the Russian border.
"We have solved the issue of penetrating the missile shield," Rogozin said, according to RIA Novosti. "We regret that the United States waste their money on missile defense and compel us to do the same. The missile shield is nothing for us, it's a bluff. It poses no military threat, but remains a political and economic problem."
American officials have repeatedly tried to assure the Russians that the missile defense system is intended to counter the missile threat from Iran, but this has done little to assuage the Russians. In his remarks Tuesday, Rogozin called the system "excessive" and "provocative by nature" -- attributes that made Russia feel "compelled to search for a wise and asymmetric response."
Could it be that Russia has found a way to circumvent the missile defense system?
If so, Rogozin would certainly be in a position to know. Prior to his elevation to deputy prime minister, Rogozin served as the Russian envoy to NATO and as President Vladimir Putin's special envoy to the alliance on missile defense issues. In his current role, Rogozin oversees the Russian defense industry, a position that would certainly give him the insight to comment on innovations in Russian missile technology.
While Rogozin's comments may amount to nothing more than bluster, he has previously alluded to Russia's desire to create an effective military counterweight to U.S. missile defense systems. In February, he replied to comments by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen defending the alliance's missile shield by writing on Twitter that "we also feel responsibility for protecting our population from your missile threat and will create a reliable air and space defense." In June, 2011, Rogozin wrote in the International Herald Tribune that for "Russia it is a matter of principle to remove any threat to its strategic capabilities, which guarantee our sovereignty and independence."
But until now, there has been no indication from Russia that it has found a way to counter U.S. missile defense systems through technical means.
Interestingly, when in March the United States chose to bolster its missile defense systems in the Pacific region in response to threats issued by North Korea, it effectively canceled the final phase of the missile system the Russians opposed. That development led to hopes that Russia and the United States might reach a rapprochement on the issue -- one that did not appear.
Perhaps that was because Russia has been waiting to unveil a military breakthrough to render the issue irrelevant.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
On Wednesday we received the bizarre news that Russian President Vladimir Putin's name had mistakenly ended up on a secret criminal blacklist compiled by Finnish police. Those placed on the list face automatic detainment at the Finnish border and up to six months in prison.
Flustered Finnish law enforcement officials have been quick to apologize and remove Putin's name from the register. But what's more interesting is how Putin's name ended up alongside bosses of organized crime in the first place.
Apparently, this debacle is all thanks to Putin's ties to the Nochnye Volki, or Night Wolves -- a biker gang in Moscow that he is known to ride with on occasion (see video above). Though a biker gang and Vladmir Putin might seem like good fit, his relationship with this particular gang is more than a little ironic. Founded in the 1980s to defend rock musicians' right to perform uncensored "anti-Soviet" concerts, the Night Wolves claim to fight for freedom and reject the law. Yet Vladimir Putin, who called Pussy Riot's protest songs a threat to Russia's moral foundation and threw its members in jail, has chosen this biker gang to ride around with? How does either side justify that partnership?
It's unclear whether the Night Wolves are actually dangerous enough to warrant a place on Finland's blacklist. According to the Guardian, a member of the Wolves was involved in a shootout against a rival gang in November, "allegedly as part of a feud over the Wolves' establishment links." As the Guardian points out, it seems the Putin-Night Wolves relationship hasn't worked out too well for either party.
As I noted in an earlier post, Chelyabinsk initially went the tourism route. Local officials set up a design contest for a meteorite-themed logo to slap onto calendars, booklets, magnets, and other souvenirs, hoping to capitalize on the hundreds of people who flocked to the area in the days after the interplanetary incident in search of bits of space stone. Now, officials want the region to be an international landmark. The Moscow Times reports today that Chelyabinsk is petitioning Russia's patent service for rights to the title, "the meteorite capital." The paper has more:
The Chelyabinsk region wants an official trademark for use of the meteorite title in products and advertising, and the governor's administration has already submitted an application to the Federal Service for Intellectual Property, Patents and Trademarks, RIA-Novosti reported Wednesday.
According to Natalya Denisova, head of the regional administration's department for special projects, the trademark would most likely be used in tourism services and cultural events, as well as publishing and video products.
"It's unlikely that we'd have a conflict of interest with Chebarkul or with businesspeople. ... We're all after one main goal here: to promote a positive image of the Chelyabinsk region," Denisova said in comments carried by RIA-Novosti.
Chebarkul, a city in Chelyabinsk, was the meteorite's final destination.
If Chebarkul doesn't put up a fight for trademark rights, maybe Antartica will. A Pittsburgh University geologist once called the continent the "meteorite capital of the world," though it appears he did not go so far as to secure a trademark.
The Soviet Union's 10-year occupation of Afghanistan cost the country more than 15,000 lives, and an additional 50,000 were wounded. Before the USSR withdrew its forces in 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev described the Soviet efforts to fight the insurgency there as "a bleeding wound." And yet -- just over two decades after leaving what came to be considered the Soviet version of the Vietnam War -- Russia is now eager to return to Afghanistan.
Russian defense officials are exploring the possibility of establishing military bases on Afghan soil after the U.S. drawdown in 2014, according to Russian press reports. Sergey Koshelev, of the Russian Defense Ministry's Department of Cooperation, told Russia Today that the military "will look into various options of creating repair bases" to maintain the Afghan National Security Forces's Russian-made equipment. Further cooperation is also being considered, according to Russia's NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko.
Russia certainly has an economic stake in post-war Afghanistan. In addition to maintaining Russian gear -- from small arms to armored personnel carriers and helicopters -- Russia is also considering expanding its supply routes into Afghanistan through Central Asian countries. These supply routes, often called the Northern Distribution Network, have been a troublesome logistical lifeline for ISAF troops in Afghanistan, and will likely remain important after the drawdown.
An article in the government-sponsored paper Pravda last November touted Russia's cultural projects in Afghanistan as a prelude to new projects like those being discussed now. "It's obvious that Moscow's interest after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan ...will increase dramatically," Lyuba Lulko wrote then. "The country has always been in the zone of Soviet and Russian interests." The article went on to recast the Soviet occupation: "After what the Americans leave in Afghanistan, the Soviet presence seems to be a blessing. Soviet soldiers are remembered with respect," Lulko added. An Afghan student studying Russian was quoted saying, "Russia is our neighbor, we love its culture. All was well, when the Russians were here."
Nonetheless, as RT's report stressed, "Russian officials have repeatedly denied that Moscow is considering resuming its military presence in Afghanistan."
When a 10-ton meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on Friday, Feb. 15, it injured more than 1,500 people, caused $30 million in damage, and sparked nearly 3,000 financial aid applications from residents. Now, it seems, Russians -- including government officials -- are trying to get that money back, using the very rock that caused the losses in the first place.
This week, authorities in Chelyabinsk announced a design contest for a memorial to mark the "interplanetary visit," and also unveiled plans to develop a logo that entrepreneurs can slap on calendars, magnets, booklets, and other souvenirs. The region's geography and history museum, meanwhile, has already opened an exhibition on the meteorite that will include photos, videos, and meteorite fragments. "The authorities say they will try to make the memory of last Friday's event a great tourist attraction," the Voice of Russia reported.
Then there's the mayor of Chebarkul, who has himself tried to dig up some meteorite fragments by sending divers into the town's lake, where the meteor crashed. And he recently tried to galvanize his constituents by launching a competition for business ideas that would allow Chebarkul to profit from the global attention. The window may be closing fast, though, since Russian scientists say the fragments will soon be covered by snow or blown away by the wind.
Efforts to capitalize on the meteor strike got underway almost as soon as the extraterrestrial stone blew up, spewing tiny fireballs that buried themselves just inches deep in the ground and quickly cooled into little collectibles. Residents rushed to the scene of the explosion and began to dig up bits of meteorite that were often no larger than a centimeter. Apparently enough people were eager to see the meteor that some locals started taxiing them over for a steep price.
Many of the fragments have made their way onto the Russian classified ad website Avito.ru, where prices range from 500 to 300,000 rubles ($16 to $10,000), though the size of the fragments doesn't vary nearly as much. But meteorite aficionados beware: Many of the space particles for sale are raising some eyebrows, and Chelyabinsk police have already looked into a local man who has sold a few chunks for 15,000 rubles ($492) apiece that they believe could be fakes. Given the uncertainty, you might be better off with a good old-fashioned souvenir.
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