In May, FP and our readers enjoyed going through the many, many silly acronyms in use around the world, including PIIGS, STUC, MILF, and MANPADS. But last week's agreement between Nigeria and Russia on a joint gas venture has a name that tops all of those for awkardness:
It probably seemed a good idea at the time. But Russia's attempt to create a joint gas venture with Nigeria is set to become one of the classic branding disasters of all time -- after the new company was named Nigaz.
The venture was agreed last week during a four-day trip by Russia's president Dmitry Medvedev to Africa. The deal between Russia's Gazprom and Nigeria's state oil company was supposed to show off the Kremlin's growing interest in Africa's energy reserves.
Instead, the venture is now likely to be remembered for all the wrong reasons -- as a memorable PR blunder, worse than Chevrolet's Nova, which failed to sell in South America because it translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish[...]
An article in Brand Republic pointed out the obvious: that the name has "rather different connotations" for English-speakers.
Stan Marsh sympathizes.
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
The worldwide recession has hit Russia's economy harder than most. The World Bank expects the economy to contract by almost 8 percent this year, its stock market has the dubious honor of being the first bear market since a worldwide stock rally in March. Now, the number of places to escape the doom and gloom is about to shrink significantly, as Russia plans to effectively shut down the entire casino industry on July 1.
The government is shutting down every last legal casino and slot-machine parlor across the land, under an antivice plan promoted by Vladimir V. Putin that just a few months ago was widely perceived as far-fetched. But the result will be hundreds of thousands of people thrown out of work.
And in a move that at times seems to have taken on almost farcical overtones, the Kremlin has offered the gambling industry only one option for survival: relocate to four regions in remote areas of Russia, as many as 4,000 miles from the capital. The potential marketing slogans — Come to the Las Vegas of Siberia! Have a Ball near the North Korean Border! — may not sound inviting, but that is in part what the government envisions.
All the same, none of the four regions are prepared for the transfer, and no casino is expected to reopen for several years. As of July 1, not even two decades after casinos began proliferating here in the free-for-all post-Soviet era, the industry’s workers will be out on the street.
“This is shaking my life to the core — such a blow for me and my family,” said Irina Mysachka, 32, a single mother who is a supervisor at the Shangri-La Casino in Moscow, which appears as orderly and preened (if your tastes run to fire-breathing neon dragons and other Oriental kitsch) as any similar luxury attraction in the United States.
“The authorities are taking this step without thinking at all,” she said. “They have not considered what this decision means for the workers. With the crisis, it is going to be very difficult for us."
The law behind the restrictions was introduced in late 2006, and there appear to be reasons both honest and not-so-honest behind it.
The gambling industry here does not have the loftiest of reputations, and many Russians will not grieve for it. Still, many of the 40 or so casinos in Moscow sought in recent years to behave more respectably, even as hundreds of slot-machine parlors retained a seedy, enter-at-your-own-risk feel[...]
The industry has been largely unregulated, and especially in recent years, almost anyone could get a license, for as little as $50. Russia is not a strait-laced place - rates of smoking and drinking are high - but an outcry about gambling ensued. "It is not only young people, but also retirees who lose their last kopecks and pensions through gambling," Mr. Putin said in 2006.
His plan was announced during a spy scandal between Russia and its neighbor Georgia, and the timing suggested that Mr. Putin was in part seeking to wound the Georgian diaspora here, which is said to have an influential role in the industry.
Shorter Russia: what happens in Moscow is Georgia's fault.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday, the World Bank concluded that Russia will be one of the countries hardest-hit by the recession, including not returning to precrisis levels until 2012. But Russian communists believe that the cure lies in a blast from the past:
Russian communists have put up giant billboards of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in a southern city, promoting his tough methods as the best remedy for the world economic crisis.
Stalin killed millions of people during his 30 year rule until his death in 1953, but many in recession-hit Russia have grown nostalgic for his strong leadership, and he was voted the third most popular historical figure in a nationwide poll.
"Everybody knows that under Stalin our country achieved the highest rate of economic growth and development in other spheres, and the great victory (over Nazi Germany)," Sergei Rudakov, a senior Communist party official in the town of Voronezh, told Reuters by telephone.
Because what the world economy needs right now is a good ol' fashioned purge.
Russia's one-man stimulus machine rolls on:
The prime minister abruptly interrupted a meeting with senior retailers at the Moscow White House, the seat of the Russian government, to drag them on an impromptu visit to a nearby branch of the Perekrestok supermarket chain.
triding angrily through the aisles with a retinue of glum executives in tow, Mr Putin came to a halt in the supermarket's cold meat section and gesticulated towards a packet of sausages priced at just under £5.
Rounding on Yuri Kobaladze, the chain's head of corporate relations, Mr Putin demanded: "Why do your sausages cost 240 roubles? Is that normal?" "But these are high quality sausages," Mr Kobaladze replied, looking crestfallen.
With a look of relief crossing his face, the executive spotted some cheaper sausages.
"Look, these ones are just 49 roubles," he said.
But the prime minister was not to be deterred. "Too expensive," he muttered, before conjuring up a price list from his pocket. "I can show you your mark up. Look at this kind of sausage. You've marked it up by 52 per cent." [...]
Having primed his victim, Mr Putin moved in for the kill. Consulting his crib sheet, he pointed towards a packet of pork fillets.
"This is double the (cost) price," he said to Mr Kobaladze. "Is this normal?"
"Is 120 per cent a high mark up?" Mr Kobaladze responded timidly.
"Very high," the prime minister said.
"It will be lowered tomorrow," the executive replied.
Earlier this month, Putin flew to an industrial town to browbeat factory owners into paying workers back-pay. I see the appeal of Putin's "good czar" strategy, but I wonder in the long term how wise it is to promote the idea that people are struggling just because powerful people are greedy. How long can it be before that anger is turned on the state?
Russia is not happy that the government of Kyrgyzstan changed their mind and decided to allow the U.S. to continue operating at Manas airbase. But then, if I gave someone $2.1 billion for nothing, I'd be pretty upset too:
"The news about the preservation of the base was an extremely unpleasant surprise for us. We did not anticipate such a dirty trick," the foreign ministry source told Kommersant.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the decision to close the base in February during a visit to Moscow -- on the same day that Russia unveiled a generous aid package to his impoverished country.
In the package, Russia agreed to settle an estimated 180-million-dollar debt owed by Bishkek to Moscow, extend Kyrgyzstan a grant worth 150 million dollars, and loan it two billion dollars more, news agencies reported at the time.
Russia has consistently denied playing any role in Kyrgyzstan's decision to close the base. But the base's presence had long irritated Moscow, which sees it as an intrusion into its former Soviet domains in Central Asia.
I understand why keeping Manas open is important to the war effort in Afghanistan, but being played like this by Kyrgyzstan against Russia for the personal enrichment of Kurmanbek Bakiyev (the U.S. is paying three times the original rent in order to keep the base open) can't feel like much of a victory for the Pentagon.
Somewhere in Britain, a mystery philanthropist is listening to a one-of-a-kind CD recorded by Mikhail Gorbachev. At least, we certainly hope they are listening to it – the album cost about £100,000.
An "anonymous British philanthropist" bought what we suppose is Mikhail Gorbachev's "debut album", Songs for Raisa, in London this week, bidding $164,940 (about £100,000) at an auction to benefit the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation. Nearly 350 luminaries were present at the private event[...]
Gorbachev was there too, and he brought his singing voice. The former Soviet leader warbled a song called Old Letters. "The performance ... was greeted with delight and a storm of applause," said Pavel Palazhchenko, chairman of the Foundation's press service.
Attendees at the gathering included many famous Brits, ranging from J.K. Rowling to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's wife, Sarah. Also present was Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev, who is joining Gorbachev in founding a new Russian political party (the pair already own 49% of the Novaya Gazeta). While that process is still being completed, you can judge Gorbachev for yourself by listening to one of his songs here.
AXEL SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Schwirtz of the New York Times reported Tuesday on some, uh, innovative crime fighting techniques of Russian police in St. Petersburg. To catch a man seeking to kill his boss, police faked the murder in public, all the way down to staged blood and media reports, and arrested the culprit when he delivered money to an undercover officer for the completed hit.
As Schwirtz highlights, this could be why so few Russians trust the media or the police.
Such elaborate sting operations are not uncommon in Russia, where the police routinely manipulate the news media in criminal investigations, said Yevgeny Vyshenkov, a former police detective here who is now the deputy director of a St. Petersburg Internet news agency, fontanka.ru. In his previous career, Mr. Vyshenkov said, he once had a journalist agree to publish a fake article to coax a suspect to divulge information about accomplices.
Another question: where was all this creative crimefighting after the broad daylight murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya? On Monday, the Russian Union of Journalists released a report condemning Russian authorities for failing to protect journalists.
I'm way late to the story of the Russian military historian who posted an article on the Defense Ministry's website blaming Poland for starting World War II by objecting to totally reasonable Nazi demands. Here's the key exceprt from Col. Sergei Kovalyov article, “Inventions and Falsifications in the Assessment of the Role of the USSR on the Eve and at the Start of World War II”:
“[The war] was begun as a result of the refusal of Poland to satisfy … extremely moderate demands such as including the free city of Danzig in the Third Reich [and] permission for the construction of extra-territorial highways and railroad, which would connect East Prussia with the rest of Germany.”
Sounds reasonable. Not surprisingly the ministry is now distancing itself from the article.
Vladimir Putin reaches for the oldest trick in the Russian political playbook: the good czar riding in to save the people from the nasty local boyars:
Moving quickly to stamp out growing unrest, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew to the small town of Pikalyovo on Thursday to demand that angry workers receive wage arrears and rebuke their delinquent employers.
Putin told the owners of the town's three factories that the government had transferred 41.24 million rubles ($1.34 million) to their Sberbank accounts on Wednesday and they had until the end of the day to pay their workers.
"All wage arrears must be settled," Putin said at a meeting with owners and government officials. "The deadline is today."
Turning to the owners, including tycoon Oleg Deripaska, owner of one of the plants, Putin offered a stinging rebuke of their business practices.
"You have made thousands of people hostages to your ambitions, your lack of professionalism -- or maybe simply your trivial greed," Putin said in remarks shown on state television. "Why was everyone running around like cockroaches before my arrival? Why was no one capable of making decisions?"
He threw a pen at a contract and told Deripaska to sign it.
The whole affair was televised, including crowds cheering Putin's arrival.
The Kremlin's first response to this crisis was to pretend it wasn't happening. The new tactic seems to be to blame it on other people.
Susan Boyle has charmed millions of viewers on YouTube, and now her fame has captured the hearts of Russian nationalists:
A Russian far-right party posted an open letter to British talent show singer Susan Boyle late on Tuesday, heaping praise on the 48-year-old Scot and wishing her well after she was admitted to a clinic for exhaustion.
"Susan! You have already gained popularity and many admirers and fans," leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said in an open letter on the party's website www.ldpr.ru.
Andrei Lugovoy, Britain's main suspect in the London murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, holds a seat in parliament for the ultra-nationalist party which has called on countries belonging to the former Soviet Union to rejoin.
As reality fans know, Boyle did not even finish first on the show, and subsequent reports suggested she is not taking the loss lightly. Zhirinovsky, though, was eager to console her.
LDPR leader Zhirinovsky compared her near-win to that of his own.
"The people also love our party, but, just like you, we do not always get the deserved result at elections," he said.
LDPR came third in the Russian presidential elections in March 2008, behind the Communist party and the winning United Russia party, which saw Dmitry Medvedev replace Vladimir Putin as president.
No doubt Simon Cowell appreciates the comparison, given the reputation for fair elections his shows currently enjoy.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will conduct joint military exercises in August-September in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, the Belarusian defense minister said on Wednesday.
The defense ministers of the post-Soviet security bloc comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan held a regular meeting in Moscow on June 3.
"The joint drills will be held in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus to practice the deployment of CSTO's joint rapid-reaction force," Leonid Maltsev told reporters after the meeting.
He said the exercises in Belarus will also involve the Russia-Belarus joint military grouping created within the framework of the CSTO.
According to media reports, Russia is planning to build a strong military contingent in Central Asia within the CSTO comparable to NATO forces in Europe.
Russia was highly irritated by 19-country NATO war games held in Georgia last month. Interestingly, Kazakhstan, where part the CSTO drills are to take place, was one of the countries invited to participate in the NATO exercises but declined in solidarity with Russia.
The exercises in Belarus, right on NATO's eastern border, are likely to be seen as a response to NATO's actions in Georgia.
Thankfully, no one was hurt, but this is still not exactly the Russian navy's finest moment:
A Russian warship has mistakenly shelled a village near the northern city of St Petersburg, officials say.
They say the small anti-submarine vessel fired up to 15 artillery rounds at Pesochnoye during target practice late on Thursday.
Some terrified villagers said they thought a war had started, Russia's Ria Novosti news agency reports.
How's that "smaller smarter military" thing going?
An International Herald Tribune survey of the popularity of international leaders in five European countries plus the U.S. found that the U.S. president is still overwhelmingly popular. 78 percent of those surveyed have a positive view of Obama, eight points ahead of the Dalai Lama. The nearest politician is Angela Merkel with 54 percent.
Another interesting result of the survey is that Vladimir Putin seems to be somewhat more popular in Europe than Dmitry Medvedev. Some of this can be chalked up to name recognition but its still a bit surprising given how Medvedev often seems to attend international meetings to play the part of the Kremlin's friendlier, pro-Western face.
In contrat to vlogging, live-journaling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimiur Putin has generally preferred to let his actions do the talking. But this Friday, Putin will make his debut as a magazine columnist in the monthly magazine Russian Pioneer. But don't expect an ideological pean to the glories of sovereign democracy.
Putin's topic is management, specifically "why it's hard to fire people." But the released exceprts of the column, as printed by The Independent, do seem to offer a few clues to recent Kremlin infighting though:
Conflicts within a team, especially within a big team, always arise," writes Mr Putin, in extracts leaked to a Russian news agency. "This happens every minute, every second – simply because between people there are always clashes of interest."...
"I can say honestly that while I was president, if I hadn't interfered in certain situations, in Russia there would long ago ceased to have been a government." ...
"In contrast to previous, Soviet rulers, I always do it personally. I usually call the person into my office, look them in the eye, and say: 'There are concrete complaints. If you think this isn't true, then please, you can fight against it; argue your case'."
Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images
Why exactly is the EU-Russia energy conference being held in the far-Eastern city of Khabarovsk, 11 time zones from Brussels and a place that even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev avoids visiting unless absolutely necessary? The FT investigates:
Was it a fiendish plot to disorientate the easily divided Europeans ahead of tricky negotiations on Russian gas? It seems not.
The Kremlin, apparently, had not wanted to choose the location for fear of offending powerful regional governors who were gunning for the honour of hosting it, “so they said ‘let the Europeans choose’”, according to an east European diplomat.
José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, and Václav Klaus, Czech president – the Czechs hold the revolving EU presidency – had a look at the list of prospective sites before Mr Klaus picked Khabarovsk, because “he hadn’t been there before and wanted to see it”, according to a diplomat, who asked not to be named.
That's nice for Klaus, but not so nice for the assembled delegates whose heads, the article notes, "had a pronounced tendency to loll if they were allowed to sit for too long."
This seems too good to be true, but for what it's worth, Canadian defence reporter Dave Pugliese passes along a report that the planned sale of Russian nuclear submarines to Venezuela was scuppered after Hugo Chavez's bodyguards mixed it up with some Russian sailors:
...the KILOs (the subs) destined for Vietnam were originally to be purchased by Venezuela but that deal collapsed after a fistfight on board the Russian cruiser “Peter the Great” when it and other warships were visiting Venezuela.
Venezuela’s leader Chavez was in the process of visiting the Russian flotilla but his bodyguards were prevented from boarding. A fistfight then broke out between the Russian sailors and the bodyguards. The nose of one Russian was broken.
That ended the sub purchase.
Robert Farley notes that the deal is indeed off, and it's certainly not out of the question that the fight took place. But it's likely that the bigger reason Chavez balked at the deal is that his government is low on oil money these days.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
If you're interested in Russian affairs, I highly recommend subscribing to the Johnson's Russia List newsletter, a daily digest of Russian news put together by the Center for Defense Information's David Johnson. Today, I found this progression of news headlines from Russia's official state news agency really amusing:
ITAR-TASS: Russians Become Healthier This Year -Ministry.
ITAR-TASS: Crisis To Cleanse Russian Society, Says Country's Chief Auditor.
ITAR-TASS: Weathermen Forecast Record Harvests Of Grain Crops, Fruit, Vegetables This Year.
ITAR-TASS: Economy Keeps Nosediving Despite Optimistic Forecasts.
Hmm...well thanks for all those optimistic forecasts. This reminds me a bit of Yeltsin-era prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's famous line, "We hoped for the best, but it turned out as always."
Almost exactly a month after the Russian government declared the anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya had ended, a suicide bomber killed three people at a checkpoint in Grozny. He had been attempting to reach the interior ministry building. Another bombing killed three people in a village in Southern Chechnya earlier this week:
The BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow says it is rare for Muslim rebels to be able to carry out an attack in Grozny, and a suicide bombing is even rarer.
It would appear to be a message from the separatists that the conflict is not over and that they remain a force to be reckoned with, our correspondent says.
Despite Russian annoyance, NATO is conducting military exercises in Georgia today. But not all states that are elligible to participate are taking part. As Stratfor notes in its (annoyingly gated but possible to get for free) analysis, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Serbia, Estonia and Latvia are all staying out of the drills. The first four countries all have good relations with Russia and aren't that surprising, but Estonia and Latvia have tradionally relished a good chance to thumb their noses at Moscow. What gives?
Stratfor says it's a sign of the times:
Estonia and Latvia have been severely affected by the ongoing economic crisis, with both countries facing double-digit drops in gross domestic product forecast for 2009 (-10.1 percent and -13.1 percent, respectively) as a result of foreign capital flight and exports that are in free fall. Extreme social tension has set in as a result of the harsh economic realities, with both countries witnessing violent protests in January. In the meantime, the Latvian government collapsed early in 2009, and Riga has had to take out a $2.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Estonia’s government is set to face a vote of no confidence this week, and a similar loan from the IMF is likely later in 2009.
These conditions have caused Estonia and Latvia to temper their aggressive stance toward Russia. While the two countries are typically vocal and eager to take advantage of Russia’s weaknesses for media attention, they are now backing down as they realize their own positions are weak while Russia’s position is growing stronger. This explains Estonia’s and Latvia’s withdrawal from the NATO exercises, as they realize that their participation would be far more damaging to their relationship with Russia and that their financial situations would make joining in on the drills even more difficult. For these two countries, showing solidarity and support for Georgia makes a great deal of sense in theory (i.e., supporting in principal Georgia’s struggle against Russian influence). But it becomes increasingly hard to justify in practice when Russian influence is being felt in a real sense on their home turf.
As FP's own Evgeny Morozov wrote in Newsweek recently, Estonia has also toned down its cyberwarfare rhetoric directed at Russia. Real rapprochement between the Baltics and Russia is probably still a ways off, but this is an interesting development to watch.
(Hat tip: Johnson's Russia List)
In this weekend's Washington Post, columnist George Will penned an Op-Ed on Russia's deteriorating demographics. The main target of the article was President Obama's offer to renew nuclear arms cuts -after all, why should the world's only superpower negotiate with a nation that may not even exist in fifty years? Will may or may not be right in this assertion, but he is certainly correct about Russia's population crisis.
It's amazing to consider that despite its gargantuan size, today's Russia is only two thirds the size of the Russian empire in 1866 (which included Alaska, Finland, most of Poland, parts of China, and all of the former Soviet Union). So in reality, Russia has been shrinking for over 100 years. Still, since the destruction of the Golden Horde in the 15th century, the Russian heartland has been predominately Slavic. The immigration of workers from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and the Caucasus will soon change this. Not only do these new immigrants have bigger and more stable families, but while the Slavic population of Russia suffers from drug and alcohol abuse, the predominately Muslim workers manage to largely avoid this scourge. FP covered this trend in 2007 and two years later there are no signs of reversal.
Equally important is what's happening in Russia's remote Far East (RFE). Since 1989 the population of the RFE, an area almost the size of all of China, declined by over 15% and now stands at 6.5 million. Meanwhile, just across the Amur river is China's Heilongjiang province with a population of 108 million. Anatoly Karlin is right in arguing that this disparity doesn't mean that conflict is inevitable, but the recent gang fights in Vladivostok, maritime disputes, and the proliferation of Chinese Triads throughout the RFE, have brought ethnic tensions to a boiling point. Rife corruption and Moscow's disregard of the region doesn't help either.
Moscow and Beijing ostensibly promote their strategic partnership, but both sides are very aware of the geopolitical situation. While Dmitry Medvedev warns of Russia losing the entire Far East, the lebensraum-esque term "Great Northern Virgin Land" has appeared in Chinese Communist Party literature.
The long-term trends are not in Moscow's favor, but it's highly unlikely that Kremlin will go down without a fight. Wouldn't it better for everyone if this fight didn't involve nukes?
Last week, Evgeny Morozov explored President Medvedev's love for gadgets, coming to the conclusion that he is a "geek-in-chief". But judging from his recent interview with Novaya Gazetta, the last remaining Russian publication that is openly critical of the Kremlin, Medvedev is also a huge nerd. (Click here to see the difference between the two).
For instance, here is Medvedev's take on Hume and Rousseau:
The conceptualization of the Social Contract is one of the brightest human ideas in history. It is an idea that has played a significant role in the establishment of democratic institutions throughout the world. It is well known that the sources of this conceptualization stem from Rousseau, but if we are to discuss the modern reading of this social contract, that I would say that this conceptualization is rooted in our (Russian) constitution.
“The entire political system exists solely for the purpose of allowing judges to interpret trials without interference”. David Hume said this on the topic of judicial independence.
Sound unusually intellectual and liberal? Get a load of Medvedev's opinion on internet regulation:
The internet is not just one of few forums, but in my opinion, the best method for public discussions, and not only in our country, but in general, because nothing more significant, nothing more active in allowing for direct communications has ever been invented.
Wow! No wonder Putin chose him as his successor. This guy is the next Gandhi! Well, not so fast. When it comes to those pesky bureaucrats, Medvedev's authoritarian side shines through:
Q) Have you personally felt the negative reaction of bureaucrats? Or did these officials respond with understanding on your decision to disclose their incomes?A) You know, the office of the president absolves me from having to listen to the negative reaction of bureaucrats. I made a decision – they have to obey it.
The Moscow Times has a great story about how a pro-Kremlin think tank was contracted by a state-controlled hydroelectric company to create a fake indigenous rights group to overcome local opposition to a new dam.
It's not surprising that the Kremlin is creating fake civil society groups to front for its policies, but what's impressive is that none of the parties involved are even trying to hide what's going on. The think tank even put the project in its own PR:
The think tank, the National Institute for Development of Modern Ideology, trumpets the social organization, which is called Evenkia for Our Descendants, as a "successful PR project" in its recently released annual bulletin.
Institute deputy director Yury Barklyansky confirmed by telephone that the institute had been involved in the social organization, which he said it "worked on with RusHydro." ... Two pages of the institute's annual bulletin are devoted to the Evenkia social organization, and the section is titled, "Forming Positive Public Opinion About Large Investment Projects Among the Inhabitants of Evenkia."
Here's how the group operates:
Evenk residents confirmed that Evenkia for Our Descendants is active in the region, distributing flyers, but they said it lacks public support. "They have talked to everyone in Tura, and only a couple people have joined them," Vladimir Lvov, an opponent of the dam, said by telephone from Tura.
He said he knows of three people working for the organization: Viktoria Merkulyeva, a local schoolteacher who heads the organization, and two people who have been living in a Tura hotel for months. "They take pictures and interview locals and then change our quotes and mix up information," he said.
While the organization may not have the support of the locals, it has been recognized by RusHydro and was the first indigenous organization to meet with company management in January.
"Our Descendents" website, featuring letters to the president from residents supporting the dam and children's drawings of the region's hydro-powered future, is here.
Thanks to improvements in law enforcement, Georgia's criminals are all heading north to Russia, according to President Mikheil Saakashvili. And he's just fine with that:
Our main export to Russia is not wine, but 'thieves in law" and other criminal elements," Saakashvili said at the opening ceremony of the new building of the Georgian Interior Ministry in Tbilisi on Tuesday.
Today, Georgia has almost gotten rid of organized crime and criminal ringleaders thanks to the police, who are not corrupt like they used to be, he said.
Last week, I blogged that Andrei Lugovoi, prime suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko murder, is running for mayor of Sochi, the Black Sea resort town that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. [Update: Looks like Lugovoi's out.] But Lugovoi's only one of the 25 fascinating characters (including some Passport favorites) running in what's shaping up to be one of the world's more interesting political contests.
Liberal opposition leader and political sex symbol Boris Nemtsov is running, and got ammonia thrown at him by pro-Kremlin hooligans a few days ago. Ex-KGB oligarch Alexander Lebedev is in the running, as is freemason lodge leader Andrei Bogdanov, who we last met when he was waging a high-profile beef with far-right leader (and Lugovoi's boss) Vladimir Zhirinovsky during his highly suspicious presidential run.
But there's more! Former Bolshoi ballerina Anastasia Volochkova is running, as is porn star Yelena Berkova, and local wrestling promoter Stanislav Koretsky. Then, of course, there's the guy who will most likely win, Anatoly Pakhomov from Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party.
A lot of these candidates have fairly minimal connections to Sochi, which doesn't seem to be a huge problem in Russian politics. Though the Communist Party's candidate did gripe about Lugovoi, "Maybe he vacationed here once.”
So why does every egomaniac in Russia want to be mayor of Sochi all of a sudden? First, the upcoming Olympics makes the race a perfect opportunity for self-promotion. Second, for the slightly more serious candidates, a recent upset in Murmansk, where a United Russia incumbent was defeated in a mayor's race by an independent candidate, has the Russian opposition sensing blood in the water.
Has the financial crisis broken United Russia's seemingly invincible grip on Russia's regional politics? Let the games begin.
Photos: Getty Images
Today's Johnson's Russia List e-mail featured an Interfax account of the only-in-Russia story of a state-directed activist group (Nashi) picketing a state-controlled bank (Sberbank) over (what else) excessive executive bonuses:
Nashi spokesperson Kristina Potupchik said that the demonstrators demanded that Sberbank managers voluntarily refuse to accept
the bonus payment for last year. "We believe that such a lavish remuneration at a time of crisis is an open challenge to the state and society," she said.
Sberbank in the fourth quarter of 2008 paid the board members bonus payments totalling R933m (28m dollars at the current exchange rate), increasing the salary and bonus payment to the managers by 5 per cent from R892m in 2007. The payment rise is linked with the increase of the number of board members, the bonus payment for one top manager in 2008 was reduced over 2007.
Few countries have as enduring a national cliché or tourist tchotchke as pervasive as Russia has with nesting dolls. So it's not exactly shocking that the matrioshka industry has been deemed too big to fail by the Russian state:
The state will place about 1 billion rubles ($28.4 million) in orders for crafts such as nesting dolls and hand-painted dishes and could reduce taxes to support craft makers whose sales have plummeted, the Industry and Trade Ministry said last week Thursday.
It's been a tough couple of months for nesting doll makers:
Polikarpov used to sell 400,000 rubles ($11,300) worth of dolls per month in Russia and had exports of $10,000 to $15,000 — mainly to Britain, Argentina and the United States.
Now, he said, the company’s warehouses have enough stock to cover sales for the next 1 1/2 months without producing anything. Dyuna had no profit in January and February and has just paid its employees for January. The company cut production by 30 percent this year and has started producing wooden toys such as robots.
Better that the government buy matrioshkas than missiles I suppose.
(Hat tip: Johnson's Russia List)
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
Radio Free Europe's Brian Whitmore shares this photo, which many are claiming depicts an encounter between now Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (the blonde man on the left with the cameras) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Moscow's Red Square. In case you're wondering why the then-KGB Colonel would be dressed like a dorky tourist, the official White House photographer recalls the encounter to NPR:
Souza recounts a story from a trip to Russia with Reagan. He shot photos of Reagan as the president toured Moscow's Red Square with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev introduced Reagan to various tourists, who asked the American president pointed questions about subjects such as human rights in the United States. Souza says he remembers turning to one of the Secret Service agents standing nearby. "I can't believe these tourists in the Soviet Union are asking these pointed questions." The agent replied, "Oh, these are all KGB families."
Update: Because this post is getting a lot of attention, I feel I should clarify that I didn't mean to imply that the man in the photo definitely is Putin. I thought that phrasing the title as a question as well as the phrase "many are claiming" would make it clear that I was just sharing some interesting Internet speculation, but I should probably have been more explicit. Sorry if anyone was confused.
With three weeks to go until the G20 Summit, the British government is assiduously preparing to host the world's leaders. It's beefing up security. It's passing out press credentials. And, like any shrewd party host, as shown by a memo obtained by the Financial Times, it's naming the in-crowd.
The document solicits bids from public relations firms, asking them to help create "moments of drama for the media" around the Summit. In a section entitled "Target Audiences," it splits the G20 countries into "tier one" and "tier two," spelling out who's worth some extra attention.
Early indications suggest that the following are our priority countries and will be the focus of intensive diplomatic lobbying and engagement:
- US, Japan, France, Germany (key G8 countries) and Italy (as next G8 President)
- China, India
- South Africa (as the only African nation)
- South Korea (as the Chair of the G20 after the UK)
- Brazil (as the main South American nation)
- Saudi Arabia (as the only Middle East nation)
Tier 2 countries include other G20 members, non G20 countries, regional groups and developing countries.
Who falls into "tier two"? Russia, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, and Canada.
A Tory spokesman immediately responded:
"The downgrading of some participants before they have even set foot in London sends completely the wrong message. In particular it is wrong for Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada to be put into the so-called second tier. So too are some of the world's developing countries whose people will potentially be among those hardest hit by the global crisis."
Looks like its Gordon Brown's turn to be called an ungracious host.
Photo: Carsten Koall/Getty Images
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