Russian entrepreneur Oleg Teterin is claiming that Russia's federal patent agency has granted him a trademark for ;-) -- the winking-face emoticon:
"I want to highlight that this is only directed at corporations, companies that are trying to make a profit without the permission of the trademark holder," Mr Teterin said in comments on the Russian TV channel, NTV.
"Legal use will be possible after buying an annual licence from us," he was quoted by the newspaper Kommersant as saying.
"It won't cost that much - tens of thousands of dollars," added the businessman, who is president of Superfone, a company that sells advertising on mobile phones.
Thankfully, Teterin's trademark is unlikely to apply internationally, or be enforced in Russia. All I have to say to him is :P
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin named on Thursday a mountain peak in the Caucasus in honor of Russian spies.
The former president's office has said that the one-time KGB agent signed a resolution to name the Sugan Ridge mountain peak the Peak of Russian Counterintelligence Agents.
It's not a catchy name, but the mountain is in North Ossetia near the Georgian border, so it may be an appropriate one.
It would seem an appropriate enough tribute to the late, legendary, anti-communist author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to rename Moscow's Bolshaya Kommunistecheskaya Ulitsa (Big Communist Street) in his honor. But the street's residents aren't happy about the change and keep tearing the new sign down.
When I was there, it was quite a surprise to me how many of Moscow's streets have kept their old Communist names. I used to get a big kick out of going to work on Leninskaya.
My favorite part of this story is that there's a McDonald's on the corner.
A very sad story from the Washington Post's Philip Pan:
[W]hen he heard radio ads two years ago encouraging citizens to invest in the initial public offerings of state-owned companies, Sisoyev lined up to buy shares, first in the oil-and-gas giant Rosneft and a year later in the nation's second-largest bank, VTB.
Sisoyev had suffered in Russia's rocky transition to capitalism, but the "people's IPOs," as they were billed by the Kremlin, seemed different. Then-President Vladimir Putin endorsed the stock offerings, presenting them as a chance for ordinary Russians -- and not just the wealthy -- to own a piece of the booming economy.
Now, as Russia confronts its worst economic crisis in a decade, the value of Sisoyev's shares has plummeted, wiping out most of his life savings. At 65, he is working as a part-time security guard because food prices are climbing faster than his meager pension.[...] "I believed in the state, especially under Putin, so I bought shares," said Sisoyev, a soft-spoken man with white hair and a soldier's posture. "Now I don't believe in anything."
As predicted, Russia's financial crisis is starting to hit main street and it's going to take more than emergency loans to oligarchs to keep the public's trust.
If you were thinking the place Vladimir Putin calls home, you chose wisely, tovarisch. Russia topped the list of countries whose companies are most likely to pay bribes when doing business abroad. China and Mexico took the silver and bronze. India, dropping from first in the 2006 survey, took fourth followed by Brazil and Italy.
Transparency International, a worldwide coalition dedicated to fighting global corruption, based its 2008 Bribe Payers Index (BPI) on interviews with 2,742 senior business executives from companies "selected on the size of their imports and inflows of foreign direct investment."
Among those on the up and up, Belgium ranked the least likely to engage in bribery, followed by Canada, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The United States managed to squeak in with the top ten "good guys," ranking ninth.
Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Usually... when there is a change of power in any country, and even more so in a superpower such as the United States, some changes occur. We very much hope that these changes will be positive. We are now seeing these positive signals."
Putin said he had no plans to make an early return to the presidency but left open the possibility of returning for the 2012 presidential elections. He also ruled out setting up permanent Russian military installations in Venezuela and Cuba.
Check out the
full partial English transcript on Putin's Web site.
Update: Missed this exchange:
Putin was asked: "Is this true you promised to hang Saakashvili by one part?"
Smiling thinly at the question, posed over a crackling phone line by a man in the Russian city of Penza, Putin, who has in the past used coarse language to hammer home a point, waited for the laughter of his studio audience to subside before replying:
"But why only by one part?"
If you missed it, this is what that the questioner was talking about.
Tomorrow, Vladimir Putin will appear on television for his yearly question-and-answer session with the public. The questions are carefully screened in advance, so don't expect much drama. (Though some pretty weird tidbits can sometimes surface after the Western media does some digging into the questioners' identities.) If you'd like to submit a question for him, you can use this online form (sorry, it's in Russian).
Here are 10 questions that, in an ideal world, we would love to hear the enigmatic Russian prime minister answer.
1. Are you planning a return to the presidency?
2. The current president, Dmitry Medvedev, has been more vocal on matters of foreign policy lately. How much authority does he have to set policy?
3. It's been reported that the Russian government has instructed state-run media outlets to downplay the severity of the economic crisis. Won't this only make the public more angry when the crisis inevitably hits Main Street?
4.You said this week that it's "unfair" that the prices of Russian securities are affected by global economic conditions. How do you intend to attract foreign investment without exposing Russian markets to risk?
5. Russia is planning major investments in military hardware, including six new aircraft carriers, eight nuclear submarines, new missiles to be based in the Kaliningrad enclave, and a new space base in Cuba. Will you be able to complete all of these projects in light of the economic downturn?
6. What steps are you planning to address the increasing violence in the North Caucasus?
7. After sending Russian troops into Georgia, you allegedly told Nicolas Sarkozy that you planned to hang Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili "by the balls." Yet you eventually decided to pull Russian troops back and leave Saakashvili in power. What, or who, changed your mind?
8. If President Obama were to cancel plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, what concessions would you be willing to make in return? Accepting NATO membership for Ukraine? Giving up support for Iran's nuclear enrichment program?
9. Opinion polls show that you are overwhelmingly supported by the Russian public. Why do you still find it necessary jail opposition leaders and restrict the operations of civil society groups? Do you believe that you could be voted out under completely democratic conditions?
Photo: SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty Images
Decisions concerning which securities to buy or sell on Russian markets are, for the most part, made abroad. Moreover, the criteria by which these decisions are made have very little connection to the actual state of our economy or Russian companies... This is some kind of ugly thing, absolutely unfair."
Putin went on to say that Russia is in no way planning to "limit the activities of foreign capital in the Russian stock market" but was working on a "comprehensive plan" to build a Russian investor class and make the country less vulnerable to economic downturns.
Yes, Vladimir Vladimirovich, attracting international investment without any risk from international markets certainly would be nice.
Last time we checked in with the reliably buffoonish Russian ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, he was engaging in fisticuffs with his political rivals on live TV. But despite his surly temperment, corruption, and overt racism, Zhirinovsky's might still mean well after all. Check out the personal finance advice he gave in an interview with RIA-Novosti (via Johnson's Russia List):
"I have been thrifty. I am not having my hair cut. My hair has already grown longer than ever. I only shave every other day. I eat very little. I never go out. I never invite anyone over to my place. I don't buy presents for anyone and I am asking people not to buy anything for me. I am not travelling anywhere," he said.
Zhirinovskiy recommended "saving reasonably" and said that this would result in reduced spending. He made several suggestions: "There is no need to buy new clothes. They can be swapped with others. I am prepared to give a couple of suits to someone, several pairs of shoes, a wristwatch. Why go shopping? Turn to each other to get what you would otherwise have to get from a shop."
Zhirinovskiy also said there was no need to spend money on personal hygiene products because "all these are chemical and hazardous". Fewer newspapers should be bought because the same newspaper can be shared "by all next-door neighbours" or perhaps "the entire block", he continued.
"As for Christmas celebrations, there is no need to travel abroad or to go to a restaurant. Stay in Moscow, stay at home or invite yourself over to someone else's place."
Something tells me Zhirinovsky's friends might not be so welcoming when he shows up uninvited to their Christmas party without having used personal hygiene products for several weeks.
Photo: Epsilon/Getty Images
Yet another international organization is poking holes in the Georgian government's official narrative of last August's war. A new Amnesty International report finds that all participants in the conflict--the Georgian and Russian militaries as well as South Ossetian seperatists--failed to protect civilians. The New York Times reports:
Researchers in Tskhinvali concluded that Georgian forces had aimed Grad rockets at military targets — a Russian peacekeeper base, fuel depots and munitions stockpiles, among others — but that the targets were adjacent to civilian areas. The impact of the rockets had a radius of as much as 500 feet, and in some cases missiles struck a third of a mile away from what appeared to be their targets, the report said.
The researchers also found that several thousand civilians were in Tskhinvali the night of the attack, Aug. 7, and that 182 structures in the city were damaged, mostly in the first hours of the war.
Unlike the Georgian attack — described as “a fixed, localized incident that took place over eight hours” — the Russian bombardment that followed was sporadic and lasted for days, Mr. Dalhuisen said. The Georgian authorities commented on their military strategy to Amnesty International’s researchers, but Russian leaders did not.
The report found that Georgian towns, villages and civilians were hit during Russian bombing raids, sometimes “in the apparent absence of nearby military targets,” which would violate international law.
Russian infantry treated civilians in a disciplined fashion, but the Russians allowed South Ossetian forces to loot and set fires in the ethnic Georgian villages north of the separatist capital, the report determined. Amnesty International’s researchers “documented unlawful killings, beatings, threats, arson and looting” by armed South Ossetian groups, the report said.
On balance, the Russians probably come out looking worse, but the report's evenhanded tone will probably irritate the Georgian government, which has sought to portray itself as the innocent victim of Russian agression.
It also follows reports from OSCE monitors and the Times accusing Georgia of firing the first shot in the conflict, and one from Human Rights Watch condemning Georgia's use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. Facing increasing internal opposition, the Saakashvili government is disputing the reports and calling for a new international investigation.
Whatever the Georgian government's guilt, the Amnesty report makes clear that its people continue to suffer the consequences.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
When it comes to whether President-elect Obama should follow through on plans to base a missile defense shield in Europe, everyone's got an opinion. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says dropping the shield program would pave the way toward improving U.S.-Russia ties. French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the shield isn't worth all the trouble and should be scrapped. The LA Times editorial board says Obama should make up his own mind, before basically telling him to ditch the shield.
What Obama thinks about all of this isn't entirely clear. After a conversation between the president-elect and Polish president Lech Kaczynski last week, Kaczynski seemed to get the impression that Obama and expressed support for the shield, which will be partially based on Poland. Obama's people say he never promised any such thing:
"President Kaczynski raised missile defense, but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it. His position is as it was throughout the campaign: that he supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable," McDonough said.
Bolton characterizes this statement as "weak and ambiguous." He's right, but it's probably the best the Obama team can do at the moment.
In an ideal world, I suspect Obama would scrap Star Wars. It's an expensive and unnecessary program that stands in the way of Obama's goal of engaging Russia on more pressing matters. But as Time's Mark Thompson points out, extravagantly expensive military programs take on a momentum of their own and are often harder to shut down than they are to start.
Then there's the matter of agreements that the Obama's predecessor signed with Poland and the Czech Republic. Mevedev's recent bluster has also put Obama in a position where he would look awfully weak by acquiescing to Russia's wishes.
The fact that the Obama team hasn't come down strongly on either side of this debate yet seems to be driving partisans crazy, but there's little reason for him to dive in headfirst before there's even national security team in place. This issue is a lot more complex than either side usually admits and Obama is right to take his time.
You gotta love it when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin goes uncensored while on official business, as he did during talks with Nicolas Sarkozy when the French president was at the Kremlin trying to forge a cease-fire after Russia invaded Georgia. In an attempt to illustrate just how hard he planned to lay the smack down on Georgia, Putin told Sarkozy, "I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," referring to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Wait, it gets better:
Mr Sarkozy responded: "Hang him?"
"Why not? The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein," said Mr Putin.
Mr Sarkozy replied, using the familiar "tu": "Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?" Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then replied: "Ah, you have scored a point there."
The inside info on the Godfather-esque sitdown is via Sarkozy's chief foreign policy advisor, Jean-David Levitte, who disclosed the details of the French president's August meeting with Putin to Le Nouvel Observateur today. According to Levitte, Sarkozy was aware of Putin's plan to oust Saakashvili and warned against it.
Sarkozy reassured Saakashvili in Paris today that he'd be looking out for Georgia during tomorrow's meeting with EU leaders and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Nice.
On French radio, also today, the Georgian president reacted to Putin's threat by laughing nervously, responding that he'd heard something of the comments but not in such detail. "It's funny, all the same," he told the interviewer.
Photo: FILE; HRVOJE POLAN/AFP/Getty Images
Western media have picked up a story from the Russian business daily Vedemosti speculating that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may be planning a return to the presidency, perhaps as early as 2009. That the whole story is reported second-hand and based on one anonymous source makes me a bit wary (Matt Drudge is less cautious). That said, the scenario doesn't seem completely outlandish and fits with some of the theories that were floating around back when Putin first announced Dmitry Medvedev as his replacement in December 2007.
Medvedev's proposal to expand the presidential term to six years may have been step one of the plan:
Mr Medvedev announced the reform today [Wednesday] in his first state-of-the-nation address to Russia's legislators. The newspaper quoted an unidentified Kremlin official as saying that the initiative had been drawn up last year, while Mr Putin was still president.
Mr Medvedev, 43, would oversee the constitutional amendment and push through some unpopular social reforms before resigning in 2009 and calling a snap election to make way for his mentor.
Mr Putin, 56, would then govern for two more terms, totaling 12 years. This would take his second presidential era to 2021, the paper noted, one year beyond the completion of the so-called "Putin Plan" for Russia's economic and social development.
Putin might also use the financial crisis to his advantage. Medvedev seems to be taking the lead in talking to the Russian public about the economy while Putin sticks to foreign policy, his strong suit. If the economic situation significantly worsens, Medvedev and his fellow "liberals" can take the blame for the fallout. Putin can then make his return to the presidency on a hardline nationalist platform. How much say Medvedev has in all of this is anyone's guess.
I would treat this story more as a calculated leak designed to test public opinion rather than a set plan of action, but it's certainly appearing more likely that the United States will be dealing with Vladimir Putin throughout the Obama administration, and perhaps into the next one as well.
Photo: Artyom Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images
It's always important to watch what foreign leaders do, not just what they say. The Associated Press notes that Russia is sending mixed messages to the new president-elect of the United States:
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a congratulatory telegram saying there is ''solid positive potential'' for the election to improve strained relations between Washington and Moscow, if Obama engages in constructive dialogue.
Yet he appeared to be deliberately provocative hours after the election with sharp criticism of the U.S. and his announcement that Russia will deploy missiles near NATO member Poland in response to U.S. missile defense plans.
Among other topics, Medvedev intends to address the international financial crisis, which he says began "in the United States of America and which, unfortunately, has spread throughout the world and affected almost all countries."
If his previous comments are any indication, Medvedev can be expected to take a hard anti-American line when discussing the global economic situation. The Russian government's opponents may see the crisis as an opening, but the Kremlin message machine has been working overtime to portray it as a foreign problem and an opportunity for Russia. It should also be interesting to see if Medvedev will mention the newly elected U.S. president in the speech.
Libya's Moammar El-Qaddafi has arrived in Moscow, pitching his tent in a garden on the Kremlin grounds:
Located a few meters from the building where Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has his office, the military-style tent was decorated with North African fabrics and a metal barbecue grill has been set up in front, a Reuters reporter said.
A large, flat-screen television was switched on inside the tent.
The weekend wasn't all just TV and burgers, though; Qaddafi apparently signed a nuclear cooperation deal with Russia during his visit.
Photo: DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
It makes sense that the British government would want to smooth over relations with Russia by sending a cabinet minister to visit Moscow, the first such visit in over a year. But couldn't the Brits have sent someone -- anyone -- other than Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who is currently at the center of a scandal over his relationship with a Russian oligarch?
Mandelson's friendly overtures to the Kremlin have been entirely overshadowed by questions from the British press. At issue is whether favors from metals magnate Oleg Deripaska played a role in Mandelson's decision to reduce aluminum tariffs while he was EU trade commissioner, a decision that greatly benefited Russia's richest man. Months after the change, Deripaska entertained Mandelson and other VIPs on his yacht in the Mediterranean.
Mandelson angrily brushed aside a question about the scandal during a press conference Wednesday, telling the reporter, "You have wasted your question." Mandelson has been cleared by the British government of any wrongdoing, but during a BBC interview, also yesterday, he noticeably failed to deny that he and Deripaska had discussed lowering the tariffs prior to the decision being made.
The tabloids have been having a field day with the $9,000-a-night hotel suite where Lord Mandelson is staying during his Moscow visit, a questionable PR move during an economic crisis. The Daily Mail proclaimed the room, "Fit for an Oligarch." It also can't help Mandelson that Deripaska is back in the headlines for the $4.5 billion bailout he received from the Russian government this week.
The Brits might want a do-over on this one.
Photo: Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images
"Christ, I miss the cold war," grumbled the exasperated M, played by Judi Dench, in the last James Bond film Casino Royale. She's apparently not the only one. Russian Communists are attacking Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, co-star of the new film, Quantum of Solace, for palling around with 007, a known "enemy of the Soviet people":
"In the name of all communists we appeal to you, Olga Kurylenko, wanton daughter of unclean Ukraine and deserter of the Slavic world. The Soviet Union educated you, cared for you, and brought you up for free, but no one suspected that you would commit this act of intellectual and moral betrayal," the St. Petersburg-based KPLO group's statement read, going on to call James Bond "the killer of hundreds of Soviet people and their allies [...] Your peers are engaged in struggles against NATO and you lounge around on the Cote d'Azur. How could you desert your homeland in its moment of need? Do you really want Crimean girls to be raped by cruel and stupid American marines?"
I'm sure proletarians everywhere are glad they took this principled stand against a fictional character.
Photo: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images
Georgia may be returning to a fragile state of normalcy, but U.S. bloggers are just getting warmed up. Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald recently blasted the presidential candidates and the media for perpetuating the false claim that Russia attacked Georgia "unprovoked." That provoked this response from Russian-born Cathy Young of Reason who rightly points out that the coverage in the U.S. media has been a bit more nuanced than Greenwald's neocon caricature, but perhaps goes too far in comparing him (and fellow liberals) to the "Cold War-era leftists [who] pleaded for a more understanding view of the Soviet Union."
Greenwald fired right back, comparing conservative Russia hawks to those who equated opposition to the Iraq war with support for Saddam Hussein. The American Conservative's Daniel Larison also weighed in on Greenwald's side and made this point:
On those rare occasions when [criticism of Georgia] is ever spoken, it has to be hedged about with so many caveats about Moscow’s general perfidy that it loses all of its rhetorical and political force, and if it does not have all those caveats it is denounced as nothing more than an apology for Putin. This obviously undermines the quality of foreign policy debate in this country, as even those who know better avoid speaking out against the absurd establishment policies (in this case, reflexive support for Georgia and its entry into NATO) so that they avoid being ostracized as defenders of foreign authoritarian governments.
Larison doth protest a bit too much here. If he and Greenwald are going to mock the Bill Kristols and Charles Krauthammers of the world for their reflexive Putin-bashing, it behooves them to acknowledge that Georgia is more than the "new, little neocon project," as Greenwald describes it. Is it tedious to repeatedly acknowledge Putin's crimes while criticizing U.S. policy or repeatedly note Russia's role in goading Georgia into overreaction? Sure. But you set a high standard for yourself when your primary criticism of the other side is their tendency to oversimplify.
Some commentators will focus primarily on critiquing U.S. foreign policy, while others will focus primarily on Russia's expansionism and authoritarianism. There's no reason why one should preclude the other and these endless recriminations aren't exactly conducive to developing a realistic Russia policy.
Tonight, the organization Human Rights First will give out its annual Human Rights Awards in New York. One of the honorees is 24-year-old Russian activist Oleg Kozlovsky. In 2005, Kozlovsky helped found Oborona (Defense), a youth democracy movement modeled on Serbia's Otpor and Ukraine's Pora, the student groups that played a critical role in those countries' democratic revolutions.
For his troubles, Kozlovsky has been arrested more than a dozen times, served three prison sentences, and spent the 2007 Russian presidential elections at a remote military base after being illegally conscripted into the Army. (As a university student, he should have been exempt from the draft.)
Kozlovsky was in Washington yesterday and kindly agreed to stop by FP's offices to talk about the future of the Russian opposition movement and how the financial crisis will affect the Putin regime:
So far, the impact of the crisis on Russian politics hasn't been that huge because it hasn't really affected a lot of Russians. However, it's clear that the crisis is going to affect more people in the coming months so what we can expect is that people will understand that the economic stability that was, in their minds, connected to Putin's rule, is over.
This is a very bad signal for Putin because his support was mainly based on the economic growth that we experienced for 10 years. This is a chance for the democratic opposition to explain to people how this crisis is connected to the policies that have been conducted for eight years and the political system that we have now, particularly the corruption, lack of rule of law, and lack of property rights... However cynical it may sound, we need a crisis in Russia to wake people up.
Unfortunately, this is hardly what ordinary Russians hear from their mass media, which in recent weeks has been reassuring viewers that Russia can weather the storm and that any problems are the fault of the United States. How can groups like Oborona cut through the filter?
It's hard to get the message out. We mostly have to communicate with people directly through street actions ranging from graffiti paintings to big protest rallies like the dissenters march. We are also quite active on the Internet, where the majority of our potential audience resides because we mostly work with well-educated youth.
But while Oborona and similar groups have successfully built a dynamic online community, translating this into real-world activism is more difficult:
It is really two different things to be politically active online and do something offline. For example, a blogger and activist from Oborona was persecuted in the city of Kemerovo in Siberia for posting some entries on his blog that were actually reports on the activities of the police and FSB [Federal Security Service]. For that he was charged with distributing extremist information and may face up to two years imprisonment. We started a campaign in his defense and in a matter of a couple of days we gathered about 500 signatures. However when we organized an offline street action in Moscow for him we only managed to gather about 15 people and half of them were organizers.
All the same, some recent victories have given Kozlovsky hope. One recent campaign was inspired by an unlikely event, the cancellation of a certain foul-mouthed American cartoon:
The government tried to take the license from a TV channel called 2X2 for broadcasting South Park. The series was considered extremist by a court ruling in Russia, but the channel is very popular with Russian youth. Some of this channel's fans organized a protest rally against its closing and the government decided not to pull the license. It only took several days for the civil activists to solve this problem and many of them were participating in such a campaign for the first time in their lives. Many of them didn't believe they could change anything. Such small campaigns are very important for building Russian civil society.
The South Park revolution? Has a nice ring to it.
Speaking Tuesday at a rally in a Reno, Nevada, Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin had a little fun with her counterpart on the Democratic ticket, thanking Joe Biden for warning Barack Obama's supporters to "gird your loins" for an international crisis if the Illinois senator wins.
Palin helpfully offered four scenarios for such a crisis, one of which was this strange one:
After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama's reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia's Putin to invade Ukraine next.
Watch the video here:
As we've said before, this is an extremely far-fetched scenario. And given how Russia has been able to unsettle Ukraine's pro-Western government without firing a shot, I don't see why violence would be necessary to bring Kiev to heel. Watch the upcoming parliamentary elections in December to see if Moscow gets the pliable new government it wants.
There are two stories today about Western politicans soliciting donations from Russian citizens. One is just funny, the other, a potentially bigger deal.
The BBC reports that Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin has been receiving mailers from McCain's campaign asking for help to "stop the Democrats from seizing control of Washington and implementing their radically liberal policy for our nation."
It's obviously just a mistake so there's no foul here, but Russia's U.N. mission seems to be relishing the opportunity to embarrass Mr. "We are all Georgians." As McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said, "it sounds like they're having a little fun at our expense."
If the British media seems to be overselling the Churkin story, it's probably an attempt to tie it to a British scandal with potentially far more serious implications. In a letter to the Times of London today, hedge fund manager Nathaniel Rothschild accused shadow chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne (above) of soliciting a donation to the Conservative Party from Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska while all three were vacationing on the Greek Island of Corfu over the Summer.
Rothschild suggests that Osborne asked for £50,000 on board Deripaska's private yacht and discussed with a Tory fund raiser how the Russian citizen's donation could be channeled through one of the British companies he owns. Osborne has denied soliciting the donation, though he admits spending time on the yacht. The Osborne allegations are actually just the latest twist in a scandal that until now focused on European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, a Labour Party member, who also availed himself of Deripaska's hospitality at the same gathering.
Memo to politicians everywhere: Even if you're not doing anything explicitly illegal, avoid spending time on yachts with wealthy foreign nationals. It never looks good.
Europe's last dictator™ Aleksandr Lukashenko has recently irritated his Moscow benefactors by declining to recognize the new pseudo-states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Looking to capitalize on this friction, the EU has lifted a travel ban on the fourteen-year dictator in the hopes of luring him away from Russian influence:
Officially, the move Monday was in response to the recent release of political prisoners by the Belarussian government. But diplomats in Brussels said they thought that the brief war between Georgia and Russia in August might have prompted alarm among Russia’s other neighbors, including Belarus, about their own independence.
I wouldn't hold my breath. Angry as Lukashenko may be at the Kremlin, he knows where the gas is coming from this winter.
The Russian SOYUZ TMA-13 rocket is moved to the launch pad of the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, on Oct. 10, 2008. U.S. space tourist Richard Garriott is set to blast off for the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz TMA-13 rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome with Michael Fink of the United States and Russia's Iouri Lonchakov on Oct. 12.
If a stock market falls, but no one hears about it, did it really happen? That seems to be part of the Kremlin's strategy for addressing Russia's jittery economy. The Moscow Times' Anna Smolchenko reports that state television channels have been instructed to downplay the severity of the financial meltdown:
The main channels have either downgraded or ignored altogether Russia's financial turmoil since it began in mid-September, according to media monitoring companies and research by The Moscow Times. On Monday, for instance, none mentioned the meltdown in Russia or any possible repercussions from the crisis. Only the smaller Ren-TV and Zvezda channels mentioned the stock plunge, according to Medialogia, a private company that tracks the media. [...]
The Kremlin recently instructed both state and privately owned television channels to avoid using words like "financial crisis" or "collapse" in describing the turmoil in Russia, said Vladimir Varfolomeyev, first deputy editor at Ekho Moskvy radio.
"Specifically, the blacklist includes the words 'collapse' and 'crisis.' It recommends that 'fall' be replaced with the less extreme 'decrease,'" Varfolomeyev said in comments posted on his LiveJournal blog late last week.
The media blackout is similar to those employed during the Beslan school massacre of 2004 and the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000. When TV channels have mentioned the crisis, it has been in the context of American and European financial woes, such as President Dmitry Medvedev's speech yesterday which blamed the crisis on the U.S. "unipolar economic model."
With surprising candor, Kremlin PR reps say they're just trying to prevent public panic and point out that anyone who actually wants to hear about the crisis can read about it online or in more upscale newspapers. But when the fallout from Wall Street inevitably hits Russian main street, a lot of folks are going to be wondering what hit them.
It really is a brave new world. The president of Russia is vlogging:
I must say it's not bad, though hardly surprising from Russia's geek-in-chief, who starts each morning reading international papers online. United Russia deputy Sergei Markov, who we last heard expounding enthusiastically about how sexy Vladimir Putin is, has another choice quote in today's Guardian about the president's cyber-savvy:
For him to use the internet and video is not something extraordinary. It's normal. I would say that Medvedev is very comfortable with the internet in the same way that Putin is comfortable when he's in church."
Following up on the recent military and energy agreements with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Russia has now announced a deal to sell five military helicopters to Bolivia. Ambassador Leonid Golubev called it the "first step" in military cooperation with the country's anti-American government:
We want to show the United States that Latin America is not their backyard," Golubev said Tuesday. "We also have interests in various spheres, including military ones."
I get the basic idea here: "You play around in our backyard, we'll play in yours."
But the Russians are kidding themselves if they actually think Americans will be that rattled by Bolivia buying five helicopters. Yes, Latin America is traditionally the United States' sphere of influence, but Americans understand that concept in a fundamentally different way than Russians understand their "near abroad" in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
When U.S.-supported "color revolutions" overthrew Russian-backed governments in Ukraine and Georgia, many Russians (and high-ranking ones) feared they were next on the American regime change list. NATO expansion in Eastern Europe is seen as a direct military threat.
Chávez and Evo Morales certainly aren't well-liked in Washington, but most foreign-policy mavens here see them more as angry buffoons or strategic obstacles, not serious threats to America's sovereignty.
Venezuela and Bolivia are resource-rich countries with a major aversion to yanqui imperialism, so it makes sense that Russia would want to cultivate ties with them. But the Kremlin shouldn't think that Americans will fret about developments in Bolivia in the same way that Russians worry about Georgia or Ukraine. Honestly, the country has bigger things to worry about right now.
I see that former Soviet leader Mikheil Gorbachev is starting his own political party in Russia. Tentative name: the Independent Democratic Party.
Gorbachev is widely respected abroad, but in case you are wondering whether he will present any sort of real challenge to Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party, imagine Jimmy Carter trying to lead a new political movement and you'll get the general idea. In fact, Carter is probably more popular: When Gorby ran for president in 1996, he got less than 1 percent of the vote. Russia could certainly use a real opposition, but Gorbachev will likely just give democracy and freedom a bad name.
Maybe he should stick to Louis Vuitton ads.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was getting awfully tired of reading about Russia's strongly worded but vague "warnings" to its neighbors. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski agrees, and expressed his displeasure yesterday in the politest way imaginable:
"Of course we don't like it when the Russian president or Russian generals threaten us with nuclear annihilation. It is not a friendly thing to do, and we have asked them to do it no more than once a month."
Who could say no to that?
Via Slate, here's a nifty webcam that shows you live images of Russia taken from across the international dateline in Alaska. (Actually it's the Russian island of Big Diomede from the Alaskan Little Diomede):
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