Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lessons from history: "Zinoviev Letter" - USSR and Britain in 1924

Looking at Russo-British relations in the past one finds startling examples, often they are very close replicas of the current stand-off between the two sides. Whether or not appropriate conclusions can be drawn from historic lessons is a different question.

After the Conservative party in Britain lost the December 1923 elections, in January of the following year the Labor party for the first time in its history was granted the opportunity to form the cabinet under the new prime-minster Ramsey MacDonald. In February of that year, Britain formally recognized the young republic of USSR, and diplomatic relations were established on February 2, 1924.

In October of 1924, the British parliament was dissolved after the Labor party lost a crucial vote over the need for criminal persecution of the chief editor of "Workers Weekly" newspaper D.R. Campbell for inciting the military to mutiny if they were sent to counter the protesting workers. Shortly thereafter on October 25, just four days before the scheduled elections the British Foreign Office published in the "Daily Mail" a secret letter whose author was the head of the executive committee of the Comintern Grigoriy Zinoviev, the revolutionary-exporting arm of the new Communist republic.

The letter contained instructions to the British communists regarding tactics to increase socially-stirring propaganda within the army as well as plans to attract Labor party members into the revolutionary scheme. The letter had an effect of a media-bomb and made the biggest contribution to the Labor party's defeat in the elections to their Conservative rivals. They ended up being outnumbered in parliament by more than 3:1.

The new conservative government formed in November under Stanley Baldwin (including Winston Churchill in the spot of chancellor of the exchequer) informed the Soviet Union that bilateral agreements signed with the Soviet republic by the Labor government would not be fulfilled. Diplomatic relations were terminated for a long period.

When British archives for that period were being declassified in the late 1990-s, Jill Bennett one of the chief historians of the Foreign Office began an extensive research process into the "Zinoviev Letter". As was concluded the letter had probably been a concoction by elements of the SIS (MI6) based in Riga, Latvia to help the Conservatives defeat Labour in the 1924 election. In 2006, a new biography of Desmond Morton, Churchill's Man of Mystery: Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence by Gill Bennett, confirmed that it was a hoax perpetrated by Morton, then with the Secret Intelligence Service of the British government.

Whether or not this particular fact of history is a good lesson for current observes of the Litvinenko and Lugovoi scandals, one clear lesson is that neither side in the dispute should be given the benefit of the doubt; the "presumption of guilt" concept directed at Russia from the West is at best immature, at worst a big deteriorating factor to the scandal. Both sides have interested parties who reap benefits from the diplomatic stand-off; both have the ability to influence the conflict accelerators - the media, the "independent" branches of the state.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cartoon of the Week

Cartoon of the week; na zlobu dnya as the Russians would say - UK-Russia relations (author unknown)

The Russian government may feel a little more relaxed now that they know who they are dealing with in the diplomatic "war" with Britain. As The Daily Telegraph reported, so far eight British cabinet ministers have confessed to smoking cannabis at various stages in their life and in various amounts. Unfortunately, UK foreign secretary David Miliband and prime-minister Gordon Brown explicitly denied smoking cannabis; had it been the other way round it would explain a lot.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Global private equity re-enters Russia: TPG-Seventh Continent

After approaching some semi-serious hurdles in the US private equity firms are looking for fresh markets; on the top of their to-do list may be Russia. TPG, formerly Texas Pacific Group, was reported to be in early-stage talks to acquire a 50 percent stake in Russia's 7K-investholding, which is in control of one of the country's top supermarket chains Seventh Continent.

The initial purchase price estimated at $1.1-1.2 billion is tiny by Western standards but TPG has expressed the possibility of investing a further $5-7 billion into the supermarket chain over the next nine years if the deal goes through.

Private equity firms generally buy publicly traded companies, taking them private, restructure them and later spin-off as public entities for a handsome profit. TPG with more than $40 billion under management is the only foreign buyout firm operating in Russia, having opened its doors in Moscow this spring. Since then it has expressed an interest in seven or eight projects in Russia. The Seventh Continent deal is the first such project announced.

The deal could be a good opportunity to develop one of the least active areas of global finance in Russia, private equity. As the Financial Times reports:

Carlyle, the US firm, closed its Moscow office in 2005 and ditched plans for a $300m Russian fund. TPG sold off an investment it made in Russia’s PIT brewery, which was bought by Heineken in 2005.

The Russian investment market is dependent on insiders, such as Baring Vostok Capital Partners, which announced a $1bn fund in March for mid-sized investments. Alfa Capital Partners, Sputnik Group and Sun Group are also active.

Seventh Continent, or Sedmoi Kontinent, was one of Russia’s first supermarket chains, opening three stores in Moscow in 1994. By December it had 123 stores, after expansion into regions outside the capital, generating $288m of revenue in the first quarter of 2007.

The move also highlights the strong opportunities for profit in the Russian food retail industry. Yet plenty of competition still exists; X5 retail group, another Russian food retail conglomerate and owner of the Pyaterochka and Perekrostok supermarket chains, has announced plans to invest more than $10 billion dollars in its stores over the next 5-7 years.

The child sent to murder Berezovsky

On June 28th 2006, Russian president Vladimir Putin caused quite a stir in the press when he unexpectedly kissed a child in the tummy during a tour of the Kremlin. Yesterday The Sun reported that on June 21 2007 (almost exactly a year later) an assassination attempt on Boris Berezovsky was foiled by Mi-5 and British Police in London. The details were the following

Police seized the suspect on suspicion of conspiracy to murder after a plot was uncovered for a hitman to kill an outspoken “enemy of Moscow” at the Hilton Hotel on London’s Park Lane.

The assassin was accompanied by a child in a cold-blooded attempt to avoid raising suspicion.

But MI5 and MI6 intercepted intelligence about the plot — due to have been carried out within the last fortnight.

You connect the dots. Such a pity that the "great" book by the "defenders of Russian liberties" Alexander Goldfarb and Marina Litvinenko "The Death of a Dissident" has already been published. It could have been a great epilogue. Thanks to for this ridiculous idea. By the way the cold-blooded assassin was deported to Russia, not arrested (because he had no weapons with him!); but no information on the whereabouts of the child. Perhaps he is Putin's successor.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Russia's response: Bombers intercepted in British airspace

Russia may be preparing a very unusual response to the British actions to expel Russian diplomats and tighten visa regulations amid the Litvinenko affair and Lugovoi extradition. As The Times reported today, apparently the British airforce was ready to intercept two Russian bombers on Tuesday who were very close to breaching British airspace.

Two Tu95 “Bear” bombers were dispatched from their base on the Kola Peninsula in the Arctic Circle and headed towards British airspace.

Russian military aircraft based near the northern port city of Murmansk fly patrols off the Norwegian coast regularly, but the RAF said that it was highly unusual for them to stray as far south as Scotland.

Two Tornado fighters, part of the RAF’s Quick Reaction Alert, took off from RAF Leeming, in Yorkshire, to confront the Russian aircraft, after they were shadowed by two F16s from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, The Times has learnt.

“The Russians turned back before they reached British airspace,” an RAF spokesman said.

The newspaper was quick to say there was no evidence to suggest the incident was related to the chilling of relations which has accelerated over the past week, but it is a damn big coincidence. The Russian airforce chief colonel-general Zelin denied reports of Russian long-range bombers approaching close to or breaching foreign airspace yet confirmed that bombing divisions were performing the usual exercises to train the crews for long-range operations.

General Zelin also found the RAF statements of Russian planes changing their course after seeing RAF planes as nonsense, as such operations are planned several months in advance and have nothing to do with politics.

According to Russian daily Vzglyad this was the second such incident since the end of the Cold War; the first occurred this spring, which downplays the coincidence aspect of the situation.

The Tu-95 long-range bomber is a very old airplane and has been in service in the Russian air force for over 50 years now, yet it still has a range of 15,000 km. Unlike the Tu-160 which is considered the core of Russian long-range aviation, the Tu-95 is expected to be in service till 2010 and maybe for a few years after.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Patriot Games : the end of the Litvinenko scandal is near

Britain's response to Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi voiced by the new foreign secretary David Miliband was the most direct response out of all for Britain to maintain face and look firm, and unless any unforeseen actions will be taken by a third party, after Russia's response, the Litvinenko affair will finally reach a dead end.

Britain's response was aimed specifically at Russian agencies that are suspected of aiding Andrei Lugovoi. The four Russian diplomats that will be extradited are as is the usual case in such practice officers of Russia's security services working under diplomatic cover. The visa cooperation consultations which will be suspended affect mostly visas for Russian governmental officials, specifically those of the executive branch, again the various ministries, security services and the President's administration. As reported, from now on most of the governmental contacts between Russia and Britain will have to be sanctioned from the very top to get clearance.

The actions of the UK foreign ministry were carefully planned not to hurt regular Russian citizens visiting or working in Britain, and most importantly Russian companies which have established a high degree of mutual dependency in various spheres of involvement from energy cooperation to plain-vanilla IPOs and real estate purchases in London. Mr. Miliband began his report by saying that the situation was paradoxical in that economic ties between Russia and the UK had never been so strong.

Now Britain is waiting to see the actions of its Russian counterpart, it has already heard the Russian foreing ministry calling out Britain's actions as "immoral" and masterminded at the highest levels with the goal of politicizing a criminal investigation. Most analysts expect Russia to extradite four British diplomats and perhaps continue putting pressure on the British Council. But apart from that the options to act rationally for both sides are exhausted.

There can be no talk of cooperation between the criminal investigators of the two sides. Britain claims it has an abundance of evidence to support its claim of Lugovoi's guilt and Russia claims it has received no substantial evidence, referring to it as hearsay. Mr. Lugovoi appearing in an interview with Russia Today television network seated in front of a bookcase with a very visible volume of Sherlock Holmes even complained that he had received no invitation to come to the UK for his trial.

But what happens next? The possible scenarios are in abundance yet all of them seem very unlikely. First, the trial of Mr. Lugovoi may occur in Moscow; second, the trial may occur in a third country; third, Russia will use the issue as a trading tool on the global arena. All of the scenarios stumble on two facts. Both the UK and Russia are in the conflict too deep and it is too late for any of the countries to back off without a major reputation blow (neither the new Brown government wants it nor Putin's administration). The UK also refuses to extradite Russia's most wanted targets - the happy couple of Mr. Berezovsky and Mr. Zakaev. So any potential for mutual concessions on the issue of a possible trial are already slim.

Russia's possible use of the Lugovoi extradition as a bargaining tool in the Iran or the Kosovo debate is ruled out by Russian foreign policy expert Fedor Lukyanov. In an interview with the Financial Times he states that "Russia’s opposition to an international plan to prepare Kosovo for independence is a matter of principle and not a bargaining position designed to extract some sort of concessions from the west."

Thus as of today both the UK and Russia are in a position where they have saved face in front of their own people (yet for Russia a significant blow was made to its reputation on the world stage thanks in part to the foreign press). Financial Times columnists Phillip Stephens has called Britain's actions minimal, but they are enough to put a freeze on the conflict without further consequences for both sides. Is the Lugovoi extradition that important of an issue for British citizens? I do not believe it is even in the top three priorities of the new Labor government. It is definitively lower than the goal of expanding economic cooperation with one of the fastest growing emerging economies, Russia.

Even if the Lugovoi extradition was a priority, Britain in the eyes of its citizens and in the eyes of its Western partners is the victim of a "hostile" Russia and so is painted white; it does not need anything more than that.

Russia fails to bury its dead; Red Army soldiers stored in a garage

It can be tough to fight for a just memory of the Red Army's fallen soldiers in Estonia, Poland and other countries when you cannot assure an appropriate burial for the soldiers in your own country. In Russia's western-most region of Kaliningrad 45 bodies of Red Army soldiers are being stored in a garage of a volunteer digger for two years now, as the regional government continuously puts off their burial.

As local web-portal reports, the head of the digger group "Consciousness" Andrei Klimenko is one of many who are voluntarily searching for the millions of Soviet and German soldiers buried in the forests, rivers and lakes of Russia. According to Mr. Klimenko appropriate laws exist and even financing is plenty, but for some strange reason the local bureaucracy does not get its hands to the job.

But even when they do, like on June 22 of this year (the anniversary of Nazi attack on the Soviet Union) they do it carelessly. On June 22, 95 Red Army soldiers were buried with all appropriate honors, yet according to Mr. Klimenko some of them were Italian soldiers found near Strelna; they were in Italian military uniforms who ended up being buried as Red Army soldiers. But complaining was useless.

Recently nine bodies of Red Army soldiers were found by the diggers during a reconstruction of a theater in Kaliningrad; they were exhumed and buried appropriately, but the three bodies lying underneath a nearby statue of German poet Schiller were left alone. The diggers had no opportunity to identify them and feared that those bodies would follow the fate of the 45 bodies lying in Mr. Klimenko's garage, completely unwanted by local authorities. In the relatively small Kaliningrad region alone 150,000 soldiers fell, of those only 120,000 have been found.

If a war is indeed not over until the last victim is buried, the war for Russia will spread out over decades. But time is running out; Russia's newer generation is not far from placing the Great Patriotic War into the history books as just another event with little significance for the future; a truly saddening perspective.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Test yourself in "new" Russian history

There have been many comments about the recent initiative of Russian president Vladimir Putin to "rewrite" Russian history. If you ever were curious of what would be written in the newly adopted (or as they are referred to "recommended") history texts (one of them is pictured), Kommersant's Vlast weekly magazine offers a test to check your knowledge (in Russian). Having taken the test, I am proud to have gotten 2 out of 8 answers correct, which hopefully implies I have some objectivity remaining in my knowledge. Below are some of the questions and the surprising answers:

1) Complete the phrase: the Soviet Union was ______:

Answer: an example and a guide of a just state for millions of people all over the world

(My answer was the SU was a social state, and etc. etc. - I was wrong)

2) Complete the phrase: The result of Stalin's repressions was _______:

Answer: the formation of a new administrative class that was adequate for the goal of modernization at a time of limited resources

(My answer was that the repressions shattered the ability of the SU to defend itself resulting in devastating losses in 1941 - wrong yet again)

Complete the phrase: The YUKOS trial buried all hopes of _______:

Answer: oligarchs to maintain their control over Russia's natural resources

(No surprise here)

4) Multiple choice: A sovereign state requires:

Answer: the ability to independently produce military armament

(My answer: the ability to carry out internal and external foreign policy independently - Wrong again)

In the end this "new" history is probably better than studying the History of Marxism or the History of the Communist party, but it is getting closer every year.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Russian military throws a giant open-air party for draftees

Perhaps the Russian military personnel in charge of the dreaded draft are getting their act together. The military commissioner of Bashkortostan together with the city of Ufa's popular club Pravda for the second time now organized a giant open-air Ibiza-style clubbing event with a slight military touch.

As reported on Russian NTV television channel (video available here in Russian) the event included very cute dancers doing what they do best on Russian tanks and other military vehicles. One of Russia's most popular dj-s DJ Groove was in charge of music. Fireworks and massive foam-making machines were also major attractions of the event.

As the military commissioner Timofey Azarov said in an interview "we must communicate with the younger generation in their language. This is why we are hosting the event for the second time. The area in front of the draft station will be turned into a giant dancefloor for the whole night. Hyped dj-s will be hosting the event and the highlight of the night will be 1500 cubic meters of foam which will cover the guests. Patriotic songs will also be played, and guests will see a demonstration of military skills as well as new military equipment on the big screen."

The draftsmen claim the event has had a very positive effect on the attitude of young men toward military service. Last year in the city of Ufa eight thousand men were drafted and only 300 were avoiding service (for various reasons); this is the opposite of what usually happens. Even avoiding statistics this is probably the smartest idea to date coming from the Russian military draft unit, which is in dire shape (Sean's Russia Blog goes deeper on this topic); at least some of them appear to be doing their job effectively. More pics are below.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Berezovsky's lawyer says he "does not give a damn" about client

The lawyer appointed to Russian business tycoon Boris Berezovsky (pictured), after the latter decided to boycott his trial, has said in an interview with Russian daily Izvestia that he "does not give a damn" about the trial.

Boris Berezovsky is being charged in absentia with embezzling 214 million rubles from Russian air carrier Aeroflot at some point in the 1990-s and could face up to 10 years in prison. Mr. Berezovsky told his personal lawyers not to defend him and not to have anything to do with the trial which he terms as politicized.

The Russian government thus appointed Mr. Dudkov, 62 years of age, as a free lawyer for Mr. Berezovsky, who was granted political asylum in London a few years back. In his interview, Mr. Dudkov stated that the court appoints a lawyer closest to the proceedings, and Mr. Dudkov just happened to be nearby. He was surprised that a free lawyer was appointed for economic proceedings, as usually such an appointment is made for poor people and even "bums".

When asked about the likelihood of winning the trial, Mr. Dudkov referring to it as a Soviet-style proceeding laughed and said it "was impossible", although he quickly said he had not even read the trial material.

So yet another comical page is added to the history book of the Russian rule of law. It is strange then when Russian officials complain about Britain's recent remarks of a flawed Russian legal system.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Britain and Russia drift further apart over Lugovoi

The row over the Litvinenko poisoning between Russia and the UK seems to be escalating very rapidly this week. Such haste is rather strange since no real developments have happened in the case since Andrei Lugovoi's (pictures) notorious press-conference (the main suspect in the case according to UK authorities) in Moscow more than a month ago. The Guardian reports:

The Foreign Office and Downing Street are preparing to send a strong signal to the Kremlin following its refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the former KGB agent suspected of murdering Alexander Litvinenko last November.

The government was last night considering counter-measures to show Britain's extreme displeasure at the Kremlin's decision, and the seriousness with which it takes the "terrible" murder of Mr Litvinenko - a British citizen and fierce critic of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The options include the possible expulsion of Russian diplomats from the London embassy, and the withdrawal of cooperation in several areas, including education, trade, social affairs and counter-terrorism.

Although the Russian government officially announced the refusal to extradite Mr. Lugovoi last Monday, Moscow's stance was not new, and no real doubts existed about it since Britain asked for the extradition a few months ago. The Russian side has three motivations behind its actions.

First, extradition of its citizens is barred by its constitution. Second, it has so far seen no evidence in British documents that make Mr. Lugovoi a suspect in the case; if it does, it promises to try him at home. But third, and most important, is Russia's counter-action to Britain's refusal to extradite Boris Berezovsky (the notorious Russian tycoon, who is plotting to set up a coup in the Kremlin) and Ahmed Zakaev (a spokesman for the Chechen terrorists); both were friends of Alexander Litvinenko, and Russia has deep suspicion of their involvement in the affair.

Many analysts have pointed out to Russia's obligation to extradite Mr. Lugovoi, thus overriding the Russian constitutional ban, based on its signing of the 1957 European convention on extraditions, which according to some overrides domestic laws. Yet Kommersant has interviewed a number of experts in the field with differing opinion. One of these experts, a law professor at Russian RUDN university claims that the suspect must be deemed guilty in both countries for the extradition to occur. Another expert, senator Mikhail Margelov says that Russia has already faced criticism for ignoring its constitution from the European Human Rights court for extraditing its citizen to Turkmenistan several years ago.

Britain is fully aware that Russia will never extradite Mr. Lugovoi, just like Russia has come to terms with the fact that Mr. Berezovsky and Mr. Zakaev will never leave the UK. British authorities are in a difficult position. The new government is forced to take action to prove its tough stance with Russia and its commitment to solving the Hollywood-like riddle in which many Londoners were affected.

Britain's actions are limited; Russian energy companies toward which economic sanctions may be applied will always find alternative markets in Europe or Asia. BP and Royal Dutch Shell on the other hand are having trouble holding on to their assets in Russia, and are grateful for anything that is left to them by the Russian regulatory agencies. The only real threat is a full blockade for Russian companies into the UK financial market, which will also impact London as a financial center, where Russian IPOs account for a quarter of new equity raised.

The situation will only get worse. Talk of a break in diplomatic relations is too unrealistic and even excessive. But it is obvious that any future cooperation will be chilly. If the affair over Litvinenko was a provocation of some sort (it is hard to explain any other scenario) it has worked perfectly. Both sides now have little area for maneuver, and Russia's reputation on the international arena has been dealt a very powerful blow.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Finding holes in the US Missile Defense Shield

In an interesting commentary in Le Monde, French historian Alexandre Adler calls out some obvious inconsistencies in the US plans to deploy its missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. The bottom line in his article is something that has been discussed and concluded numerous times and claims that Russia's position is justified as it sees no basis for the system, it sees no threats, it sees no justification for such rapid action.

But Mr. Adler brings into point the fact that although NATO countries have agreed with the US regarding the need for the system, the missile defense system will be under US management.

The envisaged system will form part of the US strategic forces, not those of NATO, taking all right of inspection or discussion from the European allies, as well as from the Russians, represented in Brussels by a liaison mission whose importance was once deemed to be considerable.

Despite US promises to give the right of inspection to Russian military officials of the planned missile defense sites, the fact that the system will be out of NATO jurisdiction means Russia will have little say in what happens next to the system as it will not be able to use its position in the Russia-NATO council (Russia fears most the future expansion of the missile defense sites). The military aspects of the system are also briefly analyzed in the Le Monde commentary:

Thanks to the radar system set up on Czech territory, the two main Russian intercontinental missile bases would at last be covered by permanent means of observation; currently, only satellites, whose field of vision remains random, enable the United States to monitor the silos. That means quite simply that the United States would acquire an antiforce first strike capability whose nightmarish threat had, however, disappeared at the end of the eighties.

Mr. Adler suggests the US use the proposal by Vladimir Putin regarding the Gabala station in Azerbaijan; yet we are all aware of the slim chances for that scenario. The military aspect of the US defense shield is still not clear. Some military observers say it will not work in Poland and Azerbaijan or Turkey is a good location, others have a diametrically different position. This concerns both Russian and European observers. The last aspect continues to make the US missile shield issue balancing predominantly in the political sphere of observations.

Can the US take Gabala alone?

With the 10th Annual US-Azerbaijan Security Dialog recently ending in Washington signs are emerging of a troubling position for Russia amid its Gabala radar base proposal. Russia offered the base as a replacement for the planned US radar in the Czech Republic a few months ago and Russia's president confirmed the proposal at a meeting with his US colleague in Kennebunkport in early July.

Although US Secretary of State Rice turned down the offer last week, the Gabala radar base still dominated the discussion between Azeri and US officials. Despite a very neutral statement from the Deputy Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan about the Gabala base being a US-Russia issue that must be discussed with Azerbaijan once the two sides reach a consensus, the US has all reasons to take the Gabala base issue into its own hands.

The Gabala radar, built in 1986 in the USSR to monitor missile launches in the Middle East and the Indian ocean, by chance, ended up in Azeri territory and is now being leased by Russia with the lease term expiring in 2012. Russia's plans to build a similar base in its southern region of Krasnodar underlines its awareness of someone else using the radar after 2012. Azerbaijan and Georgia have for a long time been thinking of closer cooperation with NATO or the United States by itself. Why shouldn't the US then wave goodbye to Russia's offer and wait till 2012 to takeover the radar, finally establishing a solid presence in the Caucasus area and getting the opportunity to monitor its "official" foe Iran?

One reason is the growing role of Azerbaijan in the Caucasus region thanks to the rich oil resources. Unlike Georgia, with its frail economy and little hope for being a completely sovereign state, Azerbaijan has been careful in throwing itself to the mercy of either Russia or NATO/US. The Azeri government is also fearful of threats from Iran, with which it has a number of bilateral peace-aimed security agreements. For Azerbaijan, US-Russian cooperation would be the ideal scenario guaranteeing warm relations with both sides. However, the scenario of the US leasing the radar base does not seem unattractive for the Azeris either given Russia's preparation to copy the radar on its own territory.

The Gabala radar base idea was not that innovative for the Pentagon's plans for a global missile defense system. Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency at the U.S. Department of Defense, made a proposal this spring to deploy elements of a missile system in Europe and the Caucasus. The Bush administration and the Pentagon did not initially rule out locating military facilities in Azerbaijan or Georgia. In the opinion of American military experts, Azerbaijan has a major advantage over Georgia: It has the Gabala radar.

In the end, Russia's position may seem like an utter disaster if the US does establish presence in Azerbaijan and takes over the Gabala radar base, which despite being Azeri property is considered by the Russians as their own. Western presence in the Caucasus without Russian consent is one of the most feared security questions for the Kremlin. Up until now it was assumed that Georgia was on the quickest path toward NATO or US presence on its territory. Now Russia has created a similar scenario for Azerbaijan. As the topic develops talks of Putin's Gabala proposal as being aimed to prolong Russia's presence in Azerbaijan look more and more correct.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sochi secures the 2014 Winter Games

Such an event I could not miss. Russia securing the 2014 Olympics in Sochi startled me. The entire proposal which two years ago seemed like a ridiculous government initiative (just think: Russia's warmest city hosting the Winter games!) turned into the most polished, hard-lobbied project not only to promote the candidate city but to promote Russia in the world. The 2014 olympics should, if all goes as planned, do just that.

Despite previous comments about Korea's advantages as another route to the booming economies of Asia, Russia's figuring in Ernst & Young's report as the #5 most attractive destination for investment if not beat out Korea's advantage, at least tied it.
The Russians put an impressive show of strength in Guatemala, by flying in their huge jumbo cargo airplane carrying the equipment needed to sustain an artifical ice rink. Not to mention the multitude of past Russian olympic champions and the "captain" of the team flying on the presidential jet Vladimir Putin himself (the Austrian chancellor took a regional flight to Guatemala). At least the Guatemelis were impressed by Russia's bidding.

Sochi 2014 means first of all a good image for Russia and a solid base for cultural expansion beyond its borders (again if all goes as planned). It also means a promotion of sports in Russia, and a healthy lifestyle, something needed for a population that is dying out fast. Of course, one can imagine the problems that will be associated with government funding, aka property wars, and plain vanilla looting; but I do not think China is much more efficient in its organizing of the summer games in 2008 (the difference is the harsher punishments).

Congratualtions to Sochi. Condolences to Pyongchang and Salzburg; but Korea and Austria have hosted the Winter Olympics before, Russia has not.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Blog Break - Russian Media Blog Carnival Wrapup

I bring my apologies for the lacking of posts in recent days. The exciting process of moving has captured my entire schedule. As a substitute I would like to summarize the Russian Media Blog-Carnival that took place in June, and from what I have read was a success. I bring the links from all the authors (not all in English) below. A big thanks to Jurg Vollmer of the Krusenstern blog for coordinating the event. I will hopefully be back next week, and will miss out on the guessing about what the Bush-Putin summit really meant after all.






Frankfurter Rundschau, Monika Porrmann



"Russische Blogger schreiben wie die Saporoger Kosaken"


Russia's true tales of terra, Nikolay I.



"He writes about Putin, and it’s interesting! Andrei Kolesnikov’s Real-Life Putin"

01 June

diVERse, Kalle Kniivilä



"Är det spegeln det är fel på eller…"

02 June

Russia Blog, Nicolai N. Petro, Professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island



"Needed: Better Western Coverage of Russia"

03 June

UPLOAD, das PDF-Magazin



"Die russische Blogosphäre ist ein Who’s Who der Intelligenzija"

04 June

Roger Blum, Director of the Institute of mass communication studies IMW at the University of Berne



"Medien in Russland und in der Schweiz - ein Vergleich"

05 June

Krusenstern, Jürg Vollmer



"The Russian newspaper 'Novaya Gazeta' is a paradox!"

06 June

diVERse, Kalle Kniivilä



"Is something wrong with the mirror?"

07 June

Krusenstern, Jürg Vollmer



"Die russische Zeitung 'Nowaja Gaseta' ist ein Paradox!"

08 June

Mark MacKinnon, two-time winner of Canada’s top reporting prize and former Moscow bureau chief for "The Globe and Mail"

Russia and Canada


"The missing ingredient"

08 June

Sean Guillory, historian from Los Angeles



"Old Russian Newspapers"

10 June

Krusenstern, Jürg Vollmer



"Die 5000. Ausgabe von Ogonjok, der ersten Illustrierten Russlands"

11 June

Gedankenjournal, Andreas Solf

Ukraine and Germany


"Erwartungshaltungen russischer Rezipienten gegenüber Medien"

12 June

Ulrich M. Schmid, Professor of Russian Culture and Society at the University of St. Gallen



"Elena Tregubova: Einblicke in die Gängelung der russischen Medien"

13 June

Joachim Dethlefs, Freelance Journalist and Blogger



"Englischsprachige Russland-Blogs"

14 June

Alexander Günther, Historian and "Readers Edition"-Editor



"Der russische Nationalbolschewismus und seine Medien"

15 June

Eduard Steiner, Russian correspondent of Austrian national daily newspaper “Der Standard”

Russia and Austria


"Die Journalistin Jewgenija Albaz: Was soll ich fürchten?"

18 June

Eduard Steiner, Russian correspondent of Austrian national daily newspaper “Der Standard”

Russia and Austria


"Yevgenia Albats: What should I be afraid of?"

19 June

Heribert Prantl, head of the national desk of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" and most cited author of editorial commentaries in German press



"Putin denkt und lenkt"

20 June

Krusenstern, Jürg Vollmer



"Der Kreml droht Journalisten mit Berufsverbot"

21 June

Simon Sturm, Student of Journalism at the University of Dortmund



"Rheinskaja Gazeta - die erste russischsprachige Tageszeitung Deutschlands"

22 June

Gedankenbörsen-Blog, Rafael Wiedenmeier



"Die Medienlandschaft von Kasachstan"

25 June

Krusenstern, Jürg Vollmer



"Ein Jahrhundert Journalismus in Russland an einem Tisch"

25 June

Sarmite Elerte, Editor-in-chief of Latvia’s leading newspaper "Diena"



"The role of the media in new democracies"

26 June

Russia Blog, Nicolai N. Petro, Professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island



"Russia's New Cyberwarriors"

27 June

Nina Schneider, Swiss video-editor and language instructor at the Russian State University for the Humanities RGGU in Moscow

Russia and Swiss


"Ausser den Vorzeichen hat sich seit der Sowjetunion nichts verändert"

27 June

Max Schmid, Russian correspondent of Swiss Public broadcasting Radio SR DRS and winner of Swiss-Russian Journalist Award

Russia and Swiss


"Mückenstiche oder das Hündchen, das den Elefanten anbellt"

28 June

Nurija Fatychowa from Tscheljabinsk for "" - Das Jugendmagazin der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung

Russia and Germany


"Seelen-Striptease oder Netz-Demokratie?"

28 June

Sergej Guk, commentator of "Voice of Russia" * "Голос России"



"Russische Journalisten sind in der Nacht mutiger"

29 June

Krusenstern, Jürg Vollmer



"Russischer TV-Sender NTW gehört nun zu 100 Prozent Gazprom"

29 June

Natalja Lipowa, journalism student at the Saint Petersburg State University



"Existiert die Pressefreiheit in Russland?"

30 June