Tuesday, July 31, 2007


For anyone who doesn't know or read Veronica Khokhlova, she recently suffered a family loss, a tragedy really. All of our best thoughts and wishes for her and her family and remorse for her father's recent passing.

The Thrill of Victory ...

... and the agony of da feet. (ba-dump! Thank you, I'll be here all weekend.)

Moscow had it's own version of the high heel race today, sponsored by Glamour magazine (video on the link). Russia Blog has earlier blogged on the topic of the St. Petersburg race. Naturally, anything that St. Petersburg can do, Moscow can do better. From the Associated Press story:
Russian women proved on Saturday that they can do what no man in the world can: running a 100-metre race in 9 cm (3.5 inches) high heel shoes.

The new sports competition, "The High-Heel Race" was held this year in five Russian cities between July 16-28.

Last year, over 200 women took part in the first sprint race in Moscow, Petersburg, Yekaterinburg (the Urals) and Novosibirsk.

The race was such a success that the Russian edition of Glamour magazine decided to support it and turn it into an annual event.

"Generally our
women are very fond of heels, make-up, hair-dos, minis and whatever in order to present themselves," said Anna Rykova, a fashion expert.

"On one hand it is not good because their attire is not an everyday one. On the other hand, (this style) attracts foreign men because our women are always looking good - from morning until night," she added.

Oksana, one of the high heel racers, said Russian girls were per
manently competing.

"Our girls are dressing better than girls abroad and they are paying more attention to what they wear. Everyday for them is like a beauty contest."

The winners of each race get cash certificates of 100,000 roubles ($4,000) to spend in the city's shopping malls.
More photos of the contest, from Glamour magazine

Monday, July 30, 2007

Anna Chakvetadze Beats Everyone

Kommersant celebrates Anna Chakvetadze's second tournament win in as many weeks, placing her as 6th ranked in the world of women's tennis.
After winning in Cincinnati last week, Russia’s Anna Chakvetadze did the same in Stanford. However, her way to the final was quite difficult. She had to play 3-set matches, and was rather tired by the final. Yet, she defeated India's Sania Mirza 6-3 6-2, winning her first Stanford classic title on Sunday.

Chakvetadze won the sixth title in her career, which is her fourth title this year. The victory in Stanford made Anna WTA’s sixth-ranked, which is the highest rating point in her career.
For some reason, I get a warm, satisfied feeling deep in my heart every time another Russian woman tennis player wins a tournament these days. Actually, should I even point out that her surname is Georgian?

Hats off to young Anna and wishing her many future victories to come.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Moscow Out of Burial Space Within 7 Years

Seems the real estate boom in Moscow has other, unintended consequences. According to a recent article by Svetlana Osadchuk of Moscow Times, The city is running out of burial space in cemeteries.

The April deaths of former President Boris Yeltsin and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich brought a period of national reflection, as well as awareness of a new challenge facing Moscow: where the remains of dignitaries, luminaries and common folk alike should be interred.

While overcrowding is a common complaint among Moscow's living, the situation is hardly better six feet under: At the current rate, burial space within the city limits could run out within seven years.

The city currently has only 100 hectares of available burial space in its 72 cemeteries and is using 10 to 15 hectares per year for burials, according to data from City Hall's consumer market and services department.

Last year alone, Moscow registered 127,000 deaths, and Muscovites, proud of their status as natives of the center of the Russian world, may have to begin seeking their final resting place in the suburbs.

With very few possibilities to expand burial space within the city limits, city authorities have already begun spending some 1.5 billion rubles ($59 million) on land for new cemeteries in the Moscow region, said Svetlana Ozkan, a spokeswoman for Ritual, the monopoly owner of Moscow's cemeteries.

And space is tight no matter how famous you are.

Yeltsin and Rostropovich were buried in the historic Novodevichye Cemetery, the resting place of the country's most famous writers, poets, politicians and public figures and considered the premier cemetery in the capital.

"Rostropovich's grave was probably the last one in Novodevichye Cemetery," said Vladimir Kozhin, the head of the Presidential Property Department.
The article goes on to note the many famous dead that are buried in Moscow's most famous cemeteries, such as Novodevichye or Vostryakovskoye. Prior to 1991, noteworthy people were actually buried in Red Square next to the Kremlin walls.

Part of the problem is that ... by law, the city must provide a burial space to all citizens for free. However, currently such requests are filled by burial in cemeteries outside the Moscow city limits.

People who insist on burying a loved one in Moscow need to contact the administration of the desired cemetery directly to discuss the possibility of obtaining a plot.

"Nobody will offer you a plot for free in Moscow unless you bury a very important or famous person or if you already have a family place in the cemetery," said a woman who answered the telephone at Ritual's information center.

A handpicked spot at a less prestigious cemetery -- such as the Mitinskoye cemetery, northwest of Moscow -- could cost around 50,000 rubles ($2,000), while a spot at the Miusskoye cemetery in northeast Moscow could go for around 560,000 rubles ($22,000), she said.

Such prices have lead to resale of plots, both used and new, in the most famous locations. Supply and demand, after all. The story reports:
One woman who posted her phone number on the Internet under the name Natalya said she was ready to sell a plot at the Vostryakovskoye cemetery for $45,000.

At the same time, there is no information about ownership for 20 percent of all graves in the country, according to a State Duma report released in March. There have been reports that the ambiguous ownership of gravesites has led to abuse from cemetery employees who try to resell the spaces.

A Channel One television documentary broadcast in June 2006 featured a man in the Leningrad region town of Gatchina who said he visited his wife's grave in a local cemetery only to find a new grave with a different headstone embossed with a name that was not his deceased wife's.
Obviously, all of this cost and trouble has led the more pragmatic to select cremation when they shuffle off this mortal coil. Approximately 50% of Muscovichi do just that, even though only 7 to 8 percent of all Russians select cremation. The Russian Orthodox Church generally discourages cremation as a heathen practice. Despite that, due to a limited number of crematoriums in Russia, demand is quite high. The Nikolo-Arkhangelsky crematorium is the largest crematorium in Russia (and all of Europe) claims to cremate 100 to 120 bodies each day. With this demand, even the cost of cremation is scheduled for a price increase from approximately 2,500 rubles ($100 or so) to 3,800 rubles on Wednesday.

Kolchak's Rehabilitation - Coming to Terms with the Russian Civil War

Interesting opinion piece by Mark Teeter for the Moscow Times, regarding Admiral Alexander Kolchak. Teeter draws a comparison between the U.S. and Russian civil wars, and how each country has resolved their post-civil war legacy. In his examination, he draws the conclusion that the time is ripe for setting the record straight regarding heroes who fought for both the Red Army and the White Army. He hopes that Admiral Kolchak would be a worthy candidate for respect, much as General Robert E. Lee is respected by both North and South in the United States.

A new forthcoming film about Kolchak certainly couldn't hurt at swaying the masses.
By accident or design, Americans have allowed a "dual narrative" of their Civil War to develop by tacitly acknowledging certain nonconflicting claims. The North was right: Preservation of the Union was essential and its citizens should not own one another; yet honorable people could and did believe in the principle of states' rights and could serve the Southern cause with real nobility. This two-track heritage may not have been the shortest route toward overcoming the war's divisions: "Birth of a Nation" provoked race riots in 1915, and "Gone with the Wind" encourages stereotypes to this day. That said, the salient fact remains -- Americans have come to terms, at length, with what will always be a divided legacy.

The history of the Russian Civil War was told along lines that could neither intersect nor coexist. Red narrators spent decades omitting, altering or justifying the mass terror applied toward an "inevitable" victory and recasting their side's roster to fit Party rolls later decimated by mass repressions -- sic transit gloria -- when the bad guys win.

The Whites, of course, told a different story -- or rather, many different stories, reflecting the diversity that was the signal weakness of the anti-Bolshevik movement. The White version could only be relayed in discrete sections, and only outside the Russian heartland, whose borders were zealously guarded for 70 years against "bourgeois falsifiers of history."

In the new world of post-Soviet historiography, however, all this can change. If President Vladimir Putin is serious about his recent claims that young Russians should take pride in their country's modern history, he should encourage the study of historical figures worth being proud of -- from all parts of the spectrum. One such figure is Admiral Alexander Kolchak, an accomplished polar researcher, decorated hero of two foreign wars and an outstanding military mind. He was also a martyred supreme commander of the White cause.

Kolchak would seem an excellent fit for Putin's "new approach" to Russian history, with its emphasis on patriotism and strong-willed leadership and its rejection of Soviet-style ideology for something called "sovereign democracy." But there is a catch. To praise Kolchak is to unbury him, and reviving such an implacable foe of Soviet power remains problematic. The Red victory led directly to the establishment of the U.S.S.R. --whose collapse, Putin maintains, was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the century. Someone who worked against the Soviet triumph was, by inference, a bad guy. Except that Kolchak wasn't: Whatever his mistakes as commander in Siberia, he was and remains a Russian national hero. Thus, while his formal rehabilitation has now failed twice, public monuments to him have been erected in St. Petersburg and Irkutsk. Is this schizophrenia, stalemate or both?

Americans can't tell Russians or anyone else how to come to terms with their own history. Still, there is an implied principle worth considering within the imperfect American experience: Civil wars can have parallel stories involving valor and nobility on both sides. When the major new movie "Admiral Kolchak" opens across Russia soon -- with or without screenplay revisions by the Kremlin -- perhaps the admiral will take a step toward the rehabilitation never needed by Robert E. Lee.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Teremok, Redux

Cartoon of the children's tale, Teremok ... with new words. Not to be watched with children in the room.

Katja almost pee'd her pants laughing at this; half-shocked and half-hysterical.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Spiegel Interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, or The Horror of the Nobel Prize Unbound

Spiegel Magazine recently conducted an interview with the 88-year old Alexander Solzhenitsyn on a large number of Russian topics, including Soviet History, the Putin Years, and smaller, less serious topics like life and death. Solzhenitsyn has a new book coming out this fall My American Years. Even at 88, Solzhenitsyn continues to write and provided a sharp interview.

When questioned about Putin's KGB past (Solzhenitsyn having been prosecuted by the KGB):
Vladimir Putin -- yes, he was an officer of the intelligence services, but he was not a KGB investigator, nor was he the head of a camp in the gulag. As for service in foreign intelligence, that is not a negative in any country -- sometimes it even draws praise. George Bush Sr. was not much criticized for being the ex-head of the CIA, for example.
On Soviet history and Russian remorse (or lack there of):
If we could all take a sober look at our history, then we would no longer see this nostalgic attitude to the Soviet past that predominates now among the less affected part of our society. Nor would the Eastern European countries and former USSR republics feel the need to see in historical Russia the source of their misfortunes. One should not ascribe the evil deeds of individual leaders or political regimes to an innate fault of the Russian people and their country. One should not attribute this to the "sick psychology" of the Russians, as is often done in the West. All these regimes in Russia could only survive by imposing a bloody terror. We should clearly understand that only the voluntary and conscientious acceptance by a people of its guilt can ensure the healing of a nation. Unremitting reproaches from outside, on the other hand, are counterproductive.
On the October Revolution:
Only an extraordinary person can turn opportunity into reality. Lenin and Trotsky were exceptionally nimble and vigorous politicians who managed in a short period of time to use the weakness of Kerensky's government. But allow me to correct you: the "October Revolution" is a myth generated by the winners, the Bolsheviks, and swallowed whole by progressive circles in the West. On Oct. 25, 1917, a violent 24-hour coup d'etat took place in Petrograd. It was brilliantly and thoroughly planned by Leon Trotsky -- Lenin was still in hiding then to avoid being brought to justice for treason. What we call "the Russian Revolution of 1917" was actually the February Revolution.
On Russia learning the lessons of two revolutions and their consequences:
It seems they are starting to. A great number of publications and movies on the history of the 20th century -- albeit of uneven quality -- are evidence of a growing demand. Quite recently, the state-owned TV channel "Russia" aired a series based on Varlam Shalamov's works, showing the terrible, cruel truth about Stalin's camps. It was not watered down.
On Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin:
Gorbachev's administration was amazingly politically naïve, inexperienced and irresponsible towards the country. It was not governance but a thoughtless renunciation of power. The admiration of the West in return only strengthened his conviction that his approach was right. But let us be clear that it was Gorbachev, and not Yeltsin, as is now widely being claimed, who first gave freedom of speech and movement to the citizens of our country.

Yeltsin's period was characterized by a no less irresponsible attitude to people's lives, but in other ways. In his haste to have private rather than state ownership as quickly as possible, Yeltsin started a mass, multi-billion-dollar fire sale of the national patrimony. Wanting to gain the support of regional leaders, Yeltsin called directly for separatism and passed laws that encouraged and empowered the collapse of the Russian state. This, of course, deprived Russia of its historical role for which it had worked so hard, and lowered its standing in the international community. All this met with even more hearty Western applause.

Putin inherited a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor and demoralized people. And he started to do what was possible -- a slow and gradual restoration. These efforts were not noticed, nor appreciated, immediately. In any case, one is hard pressed to find examples in history when steps by one country to restore its strength were met favorably by other governments.
On self-government and democracy in Russia:
I have always insisted on the need for local self-government for Russia, but I never opposed this model to Western democracy. On the contrary, I have tried to convince my fellow citizens by citing the examples of highly effective local self-government systems in Switzerland and New England, both of which I saw first-hand.

In your question you confuse local self-government, which is possible on the most grassroots level only, when people know their elected officials personally, with the dominance of a few dozen regional governors, who during Yeltsin's period were only too happy to join the federal government in suppressing any local self-government initiatives.

Today I continue to be extremely worried by the slow and inefficient development of local self-government. But it has finally started to take place.
On the image of the West in Russia:
When I returned to Russia in 1994, the Western world and its states were practically being worshipped. Admittedly, this was caused not so much by real knowledge or a conscious choice, but by the natural disgust with the Bolshevik regime and its anti-Western propaganda.

This mood started changing with the cruel NATO bombings of Serbia. It's fair to say that all layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings. The situation then became worse when NATO started to spread its influence and draw the ex-Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by literally millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one fell stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc.

So, the perception of the West as mostly a "knight of democracy" has been replaced with the disappointed belief that pragmatism, often cynical and selfish, lies at the core of Western policies. For many Russians it was a grave disillusion, a crushing of ideals.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Colorful Apartments of Ramenskoye, Or The Horror of Colors Unbound

Browsing the zhezhe this weekend, I came upon these photographs posted by Sturman - of an apartment block in Ramenskoye in Moscow Oblast. I couldn't resist posting them, I just wish I had more of the backstory regarding how they came to be painted so brightly. Rather like living in a lollipop, and is definitely a colorful solution to the typical drab Soviet era apartment buildings.

Of course, it is yet another example of the devilish VVP's plot for world domination through monopolization of the world's paint markets. MOooo Hahahaha!

More images of Ramenskoye can be found here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Horror of Darth Vader Unbound

Anywhere else in the world, this would be just silly or amusing. We might also be concerned that the moped rider is a real geek.

But because it is in Russia, it is ominous and scary. Dum dum dum, dum deedum, dum deedum!

Is there nothing that the regime of Vladimir Putin won't attempt in his evil quest for world domination?

Pile-Driving in the White City (Белый город)

A few months ago, construction for a multi-story underground parking garage in the Hohlovskoy Square area (between the Pokrovskoi and Pokrovskim Boulevard) of Moscow uncovered something quite unexpected.

The former foundations for the White Walls (Белой стены) of the White City (Белый город) region of Moscow.

Steel piles had already been driven through parts of the former wall foundations, as seen in these
photos. Construction has since been stopped and reportedly a team of archaeologists are now working on the site.

none of this was discovered prior to construction is a mystery (to me, anyway) - it's very typical to perform deep soil borings and possibly test pits prior to construction as part of the foundation design.

The walls of the White City were part of a ring of defenses on the left bank of the Moskva River protecting the City of Moscow. Besides the inner fortress of the Kremlin, these defenses were comprised of Kitay-gorod (Китай-город), the White City (Белый город) and the outer Earthen City (Земляной город).

The White Walls were constructed from 1585 to 1593 as part of overall defensive improvements to the city, and when completed were approximately 10 kilometers long and up to 4.5 meters thick, with 27 guard towers and 10 gate towers all built from white stone.
The walls and towers were designed by the Russian architect Fyodor Saveli'evich Kon' (Фёдор Савельевич Конь) who later went on to design and build the fortifications at Smolensk.

In addition to the great White Walls, the defensive preparations included a moat, filled with water from the nearby river, and an underground water pipe which passed under the walls for a city
water supply. When completed it was widely considered one of the supreme fortifications in all of Europe.

At the end of the 18th Century the white stone walls were dismantled and replaced by the
linden and poplar tree-lined Bulvarnoe Koltso (Boulevard Ring). All that remains of the great White Walls are the names of some former gate towers which have been given to Moscow squares: Nikitskiye, Sretenskiye, Myasnitskiye, Pokrovskiye and Yauzskiye.

Photographs, paintings, and additional information for this article were obtained from дядя Коля.

A radio interview with archaeologist Aleksander Veksler, chief archaeologist of Moscow,
regarding this site and other archaeological and historic preservation efforts is here.

A map outlining the city of Moscow, circa 1695 is below. The White City is the semi-circular area shown on the northern side of the river.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Behold, the Face of the Russian Liberal

You know how many foreigners say they like Americans, but they just don't like our President? And they can't understand why we keep electing him? I've tried endlessly to explain that Bush represents many policies that Americans agree with, and Bush is pretty moderate compared to many Americans.

Well, ditto that with Putin and Russia.

Oleg Shchedrov of Reuters (linked here via Washington Post) cites a latest opinion poll, conducted by VTsIOM for Renaissance Capital. The poll indicated that:

  • 81% of those polled believed Russia was creating a strong global role;

  • 90% approved increasing government involvement in the Russian economy;

  • 66% of respondents agreed that Russians lived better now than in the Soviet Union in 1991;

  • 72% said Russia was moving in the right direction.

Assuming Putin steps down as pledged next March, 52% said they would "definitely" or "probably" vote for a candidate of his choice.

Renaissance Capital said, regarding the poll results:
"Given the significant popular pressure, it is impressive that the government under President Putin has been as hands-off as it has been with the economy. Similarly, Putin's more aggressive foreign policy stance, while undermining relations in the West, has proved popular at home. The case can be made that Putin is a liberal relative to the median Russian voter."

Polonium 210 Coffee Mugs

I just couldn't resist the hype.

Two versions of a Polonium 210 coffee mug are available for your hot tea, coffee, or cocoa. Heck, I suppose you could even drink milk from it. Yours for the low, low cost of $10.99 (plus shipping and handling).

From '1 Real Russia' (via CafePress):

... And via United Nuclear in the good ole' USA:

Monday, July 16, 2007

Unconventional Forces in Europe - Why Russia Walked Away from the CFE Treaty

The existing Conventional Forces in Europe treaty (CFE) is essentially at an end. Actions by the Bush administration/NATO and the Baltic States refusal (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) to participate with the treaty have forced Russia to consider withdrawal from the Treaty. To restore the treaty will require all parties and all pieces to be brought to the table.

You're going to hear a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing towards Putin and Russia in the coming months about their possible withdrawal from the CFE treaty. What you should know is that the changes in Europe over the last 15 years, and particularly in the last several years, have made it essential that Russia revisit the treaty.

Originally implemented in 1992, the CFE treaty divided Europe into two blocks .. NATO and WTO (Warsaw Pact) within an area reaching from the Atlantic to the Urals. Five categories of treated limited equipment (TLEs) were established, with each side having a maximum limit on numbers of TLEs. Those limits were: 20,000 tanks, 30,000 armored combat vehicles, 20,000 artillery pieces, 6,800 combat aircraft, and 2,000 attack helicopters. There were other restrictions regarding placement of these pieces of equipment within Europe and temporary increasing of numbers due to training exercises and such - but essentially it was a tit for tat arrangement with each side having roughly equal conventional military force capabilities. This arrangement sufficed at the end of the Cold War, along with other agreements in place regarding nuclear missiles as a foundation for limiting military forces in Europe.

The treaty was amended in 1999, and that amendment reflected many of the realities at the end of the Soviet Union. Numbers of TLE in Europe were going to be greatly reduced and no longer would each side be limited to roughly equal pieces of equipment. Instead, areas of Europe would have limited number of TLEs, arranged within roughly concentric circles.

As a result of the 1991 and 1999 CFE agreements, to date Europe has destroyed about 59,000 pieces of TLE from its arsenals, including approximately 14,500 TLEs destroyed by Russia. Russia further removed roughly 57,000 TLEs to east of the Urals. It has been wildly successful at reducing heavy armaments in Europe.

However, the balance of power has still shifted towards the side of NATO as a result of new member states. While the treaty language no longer divides Europe into two sides, the shifting alliances still result in two sides - NATO and Russia. As of January 2002, NATO's 19 members claimed holdings of 60,358 TLE versus a cumulative limit of 88,986 TLE, while Russia reported holdings of 23,516 TLE against limits of 28,216 TLE - giving NATO a hardware advantage of somewhere between 2 to 1 or 3 to 1. This does not include the military forces of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - who are not participants in the CFE treaty. Due to flanking arrangments within the CFE treaty, the exclusion of the Baltic States and the possible inclusion of Ukraine in NATO becomes even more problematic. In essence, Russia would be outflanked to the north and south - even with no further changes in the CFE or other agreements.

We can make all the claims we wish about NATO not being an alliance against Russia, but as long as the Russian Federation is not a member, it sure looks an awful lot like us against them. From a military standpoint, that is how it is going to be evaluated by both sides.

Perhaps Russia could have lived with such a numerical heavy equipment and tactical position advantage on the NATO/Baltic States side. After all, the Russians still had their nuclear deterrent to keep NATO forces at bay. A few tactical nukes or cruise missiles dropped onto an advancing heavy armored column is enough to ruin any one's day.

Then in 2002, the wise Bush Administration, decided to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. As a few words in defense of the Bush Administration - the changing post-Cold War world does make it increasingly likely that nuclear-equipped nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles may be possessed by states hostile to the USA. Our foreign policies ensure there will be states hostile towards us and technology can only be contained for so long. The genie eventually escapes the bottle.

However, as such threats are still not imminent and defense against so-called rogue states is a shared concern, it is possible the Bush Administrations "go it alone" policies were problematic. By unilaterally abandoning the ABM treaty, Russia was faced with the possibility that their own nuclear deterrent could be targeted.

Talks of U.S. Nuclear Hegemony were not far behind, and certainly didn't help.

So, with all of this having happened since 1999, we now come to the proposed Poland/Czech Republic missile shield - a system of interceptors designed to shoot down possible ICBM nuclear missiles from Iran. Except, Iran doesn't have ICBMs and may never be able to develop sufficiently reliable technology to deliver a nuclear payload at such distances. And Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons. They actually don't even have enough weapons grade nuclear materials to build one, even if they knew how.

Oh, coincidentally, the placement of the interceptors and radar allows the US/NATO to get a better peak at Russian forces all the way to the Urals. In fact, that is the predominant area that is monitored by the placement of the radar installation. It may or may not have been the US strategy to get a better peek at western Russia, but the placement of the interceptors makes it a real possibility that Russia must consider.

Anyone who has played any computer-based military strategy games can envision how this is looking from the Russian perspective:

1) We are entered into a treaty that limits our numbers of conventional forces, such that we are outgunned by almost 3 to 1. We are outflanked to the north by non-CFE member states and could become outflanked to the south if Ukraine joins NATO.

2) Our nuclear deterrent against others actually using their conventional forces is now going to be limited by an anti-ballistic missile shield. Perhaps not 100% limited, but we may have to launch multiple missiles to achieve the same effect as before, in the event of military forces moving against us from the west.

So what happens? Russia first tries to test the US commitment to their proposed ABM radar and interceptor locations, by inviting cooperative use of their radar facilities in Azerbaijan. This possibility appears to be rejected.

And now Russia announces it will walk away from the CFE treaty in 150 days. In essence, this should result in all parties coming to the table to resolve the changing military environment within Europe and provide Russia with some future assurances that all these tanks and missiles are not pointed at them.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Russia Boots U.S. from Fed Cup

Ouch. Despite not having their best players available due to injuries, team Russia beat the U.S. in Stowe, Vermont this weekend, removing the U.S. from the Fed Cup semi-finals.
The Russian doubles team of Nadia Petrova and Elena Vesnina topped Venus Williams and Lisa Raymond, 7-5, 7-6 (7-1) to oust the United States in the Fed Cup semifinals.

Russia moved into the finals to host defending champion Italy in September. Italy roared back on its home court to edge France, 3-2, on Sunday.

Williams first beat Anna Chakvetadze, 6-1, 6-4 to give the Americans a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five tie at Stowe's Stadium at Topnotch. Chakvetadze was her own worst enemy with 12 double faults, but then Petrova came back to beat Meilen Tu, 6-1, 6-2.

Williams, the 2007 Wimbledon champion, had to wait out a rain delay before playing her singles match, but then pounded Chakvetadze. Tu, though, couldn't hold up her end and the Americans faced an uphill battle in the doubles and continued their title drought.

The Americans had a service break in the second set, but Williams dropped her serve and then again in the tiebreak.

"They really got some lucky shots." Williams said of the tiebreaker. "I mean, off my serve, I played well off my serve. Normally I'm never going to lose two points in the tiebreaker on my serve. Just lucky. That hurt us some."
Would you like a little cheese with that whine?

From Lenta.ru "Visa in Finals" ... the title is a small jab at the US for initially refusing a Visa for the Russian teams coach.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Seven Wonders of Russia

In an apparent response to the recent "7 Wonders of the World" voting, which left Russia without any of the world's wonders, всемирный следопыт (World Voyager) magazine is taking votes for the 7 Wonders of Russia.

No, not wonders as in "I wonder when this joint is going to have decent public toilets" - wonders as in amazing cultural, historical, or architectural achievement.

The list is as follows:

1) Ансамбль Дворцовой площади и Зимний дворец, Санкт-Петербург

(The ensemble of Palace Square and the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg)

2) Ансамбль Красной площади с храмом Василия Блаженного (Покровский собор) и Московский Кремль, Москва

(Red Square with the Church of St. Basil's Cathedral (Pokrovsky Cathedral) and the Moscow Kremlin, Moscow)

3) Астраханский кремль, Астрахань

(Astrakhan Kremlin, Astrakhan)

4) Башня на горе Ахун, Сочи

(Mount Akhun Tower, Sochi)

5) Выборгский замок, Ленинградская область

(Vyborg castle, Leningrad Oblast)

6) Поселение Аркаим (III-II тыс. до н.э.), Челябинская обл., Брединский р-н

(Arkaim, Chelyabinsk oblast, Bredinsky reg)

7) Иволгинский буддийский дацан, Бурятия

(Ivolgin Buddhist Monastery, Buryatia)

8) Кафедральный собор, Калининград

(Cathedral, Kaliningrad)

9) Кирилло-Белозерский монастырь, г. Кириллов, Вологодская область

(Kirillo monastery, Kirillov, Vologda Oblast)

10) Комплекс «Мамаев курган», Волгоград

(Mamayev Kurgan complex, Volgograd)

11) Кремль и Софийский собор, Великий Новгород

(Sophia Cathedral and the Kremlin, Novgorod Veliky)

12) Казанский кремль с Благовещенским собором и мечетью Кул-Шариф, Казань

(Kazan Kremlin the Annunciation Cathedral and Kul-Sharif mosque, Kazan)

13) Мост через Енисей, Красноярск

(Krasnoyarsk Bridge, Krasnoyarsk)

14) Музей-заповедник «Кижи», Карелия

(Museum "Kizhi", Karelia)

15) Псково-Печорский монастырь, Город Печоры, Псковская область

(Pskovo-Pechorsky monastery, Pechory, Pskovskaya oblast)

16) Соловецкий кремль, Архангельская область

(Solovetskiy Kremlin, Arkhangelsk)

17) Суздальский кремль и собор Рождества Богородицы, Суздаль

(Suzdal Kremlin and the Cathedral of Our Lady, Suzdal)

18) Кремль и острог, Тобольск

(Kremlin and jail, Tobolsk)

19) Троице-Сергиева лавра, Сергиев Посад, Московская область

(The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius or Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Sergiev Posad, Moscow oblast)

20) Церковь Покрова на Нерли, Владимирская область

(Church of Pokrova Nerli, Vladimir region)

21) Цитадель Нарын-Кала Дербент Дагестан

(Citadel Naryn-Kala, Derbent, Dagestan)
    Many of the places really don't seem so grand, but given their history they might be given consideration out of a sort of Russian form of political correctness. Katja was disappointed that the Rostov Veliky Kremlin didn't make the list (photograph at the top of the page).

    Readers are welcome to follow the link above and place their vote for the final Seven Wonders of Russia.

    Olympic Gold? Escalating Costs of Hosting the Olympics

    And so it begins:
    President Vladimir Putin met with Prosecutor General Yury Chaika on Wednesday. Putin said he had signed a decree on preparations for the winter Olympic Games in Sochi, which "attaches serious importance to security matters." Putin also asked Chaika "to look at this issue in a wider context, not only from the point of view of personal security."

    "The matter must also be looked at from the point of view of economic security. Control - sufficiently rigorous control - must be organized over the rational spending of the funds," Putin said.
    You can expect to hear much talk over the coming years regarding the budget and money spent on the Sochi Olympics. Olympics are notorious for cost overages. The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada had a (so far) final budget of $1.7 billion Canadian, of which about $550 million were for sports facilities. That represents a cost increase of 23% from original estimates.

    The news is even worse for the 2012 London Olympics, where costs have climbed from an initial estimate of £2.4 billion to £9.3 billion ... and counting!

    The 2004 Athen's Olympics had an original budget of 1.14 billion euro, which climbed to 3 billion euro before construction began. The budget was twice raised, from 6 billion euro and finally to a total of nearly 8.6 billion euro.

    The current projected budgets for the Sochi Olympics is approximately $12 billion, comprised of a current 60/40 split of public and private funding. This will make it, by far, the most expensive Winter Olympics ever. It isn't out of the realm of possibility that costs over-runs could easily see the final bill climb past the $20 billion dollar cost of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics.

    One can hope that Russia might see the trend, and be prepared for the climbing costs. As VVP is rightly pointing out, only days after winning the 2012 games ... hold onto your wallets, Russia! The final bill for hosting an Olympic games is far from certain.

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    A Tale of Two Tales

    CIS peacekeeping forces: Georgian policemen immobilized Russian serviceman and poured liquor in his mouth
    The CIS Collective Peacekeeping Forces (CPF) Command in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone expressed resolute protest regarding provocative actions of Zugdidi Criminal Police officers towards servicemen of the CIS CPF.

    As Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Diordiyev told REGNUM, last night, Georgian policemen detained two Russian servicemen, Andrei Kutsyi and Maksim Korenev, near a mobile check-point #307 and convoyed them to the regional police department. After Andrei Kutsyi refused to fulfill the claim to hand over his arms, the Georgian police officers knocked Kutsyi off his feet and forcefully poured liquor into his mouth. After that, both servicemen were convoyed to police station.

    The CPF insists that actions of the Georgian policemen were pre-planned, as the detention of the Russian soldiers was recorded on video. “The peacekeepers once again showed restraint and patience and did not yield to the blunt provocation. They were at the police station until Commander of the CIS CPF South Security Zone Col. Andrei Belov arrived to the station. The Georgian side tried to present the act of handing over the servicemen as an act of good will,” Diordiyev said.

    At the same time, the commander noted that the CIS CPF were resolute to continue fulfilling their duties in full correspondence with the mandate and not yield to provocations staged by people interested in it.

    And the story of the same incident, from RIA Novosti (via RussiaNews.net)

    Georgia releases two detained Russian peacekeepers
    Tbilisi (Georgia), July 10 (RIA Novosti) Two Russian peacekeepers detained Monday night in Georgia have been released and handed over to their peacekeeping headquarters, media reported Tuesday.

    Georgia's Rustavi-2 television channel reported that on Monday night two Russian peacekeepers blocked a highway connecting the eastern and western parts of the country near the city of Zugdidi, West Georgia, to conduct inspections of drivers' documents.

    A Georgian police patrol force arrived at the scene later to unblock the road and detain the peacekeepers.

    A spokesman for the local administration said the peacekeepers stopped a car carrying Irakli Daraseliya, a member of the Georgian parliament, threatening him with their weapons and demanding his documents.

    'Besides officers of the Georgian patrol police, UN military observers arrived at the scene as well and were witnesses to the illegal actions of the peacekeepers,' he said.

    The spokesman added: 'Both Russian peacekeepers were handed over Monday night to a representative of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces. Georgian police also returned their confiscated weapons. A criminal case on charges of abuse of power has been launched.'

    Russian troops are stationed in the region as part of the trilateral Collective Peacekeeping Forces, which also involve Georgian and Ossetian soldiers. They were deployed in South Ossetia in the early 1990s to ensure the implementation of ceasefire agreements after the conflict, but Georgia's West-leaning authorities have sought their expulsion since coming to power in 2004.

    Ok. Forcefully poured liquor down his mouth?

    Or was Kutsyi questioned by his superior about the smell of alcohol on his breath, and he replied "The dirty Georgian police poured liquor down my throat when I refused to submit my weapon, Colonel!".

    I leave readers to form their own opinion about what exactly happened.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Russian Cheerleaders

    Ok, this is probably not the most intellectual topic I've ever posted. I'm pretty sure about that.

    Ohadr has some photos of the very attractive Russian women of the CSKA Moscow Cheerleaders squad. The basketball team (and girls) were invited to the Israel final four, apparently.

    What's not to like?

    On a ... ahem ... more intellectual note, it is interesting to note the exporting of American culture, including both the game of basketball and the concept of cheerleaders.

    PS ~ Is it getting hot in here?

    PPS ~ I just know Megan Case is going to kill me for this post.

    US Returns 80 Historical Documents Stolen from Russia

    Here is a topic right in Sean's wheel-house.

    The US government today returned 80 historical Tsarist and Soviet documents to Russia. The documents were among some 4,000 stolen from Russian national archives during the chaotic years of the early 90s. The documents were apparently found for sale at two US auction houses.

    The documents range from a declaration signed by Empress Catherine the Great in 1792 to orders signed by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev; none appears to reveal any secrets but some give a glimpse into the lives and styles of the country's leaders.

    James McAndrew, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent, said the investigation that led to the papers' recovery began in 2003 when he was contacted by a scholar who had concerns about the provenance of a document being offered for sale.

    Eventually, agents found 80 suspicious documents at two companies that deal in antiquities and historical material, he said. He declined to identify the companies, but said they are located in Connecticut and Las Vegas.

    After working with Russian archival officials to determine that the documents had been stolen, agents seized the papers, he said.

    "The SWAT team didn't get all ramped up, but there was resistance" from the companies' officials, he said.

    No arrests in the United States have been made in the case.

    It seems to me to be a simple enough thing, to arrest someone who possesses stolen property, so I'm left wondering when charges might be filed for something like this. Then again, the auction houses might be cooperating and leading the police up the food chain, as it were.

    Reportedly, of 4,000 items stolen from the Russian national archives, approximately 3,500 have been returned.

    Raid on Russian Cat Theater

    Just a quick blurb and story link that I found interesting.

    Remember the Russian Cat Theater of Yuri Kuklachev?

    It seems his theater in Moscow was raided/searched by authorities.

    From the Baltimore Sun story, by Erika Niedowski:
    The recent raid - which, according to the family, was carried out by men who identified themselves as officers of the city's Department for Combating Economic Crimes - is not the only sign someone wants to cause trouble for Kuklachev and his cats.

    People who live above the theater recently began lodging complaints about the "smells," which never seemed to exist before or bother anyone if they did.

    "They thought they would find something" incriminating, Kuklachev's son, Dmitry, 31, said in a recent interview, not long before donning his clown costume and pancake makeup for another performance, this one featuring a cat named Boris. "Unfortunately for them, they didn't find anything."

    A spokeswoman for the Department for Combating Economic Crimes, Irina Volk, denied that the agency, which tackles smuggling, fraud and counterfeiting, had anything to do with the raid. But Valentina Titova, spokeswoman at the city prosecutor's office, where Kuklachev has since filed a complaint, contradicted that account; she declined to comment further, saying the matter was under review.

    The pressure on the cats theater is hardly new, if the tactics are. Businessmen and others have long visited the theater, asking Kuklachev to sell or rent his space, even though the building and the cats theater has been acquired by the state (with the blessing of the family). Some have offered the theater a new home, albeit one far from the city center in a neighborhood less desirable than Kutuzovsky Prospekt.

    The family suspects the raid was the work of a commercial interest hoping to take over the coveted first-floor space - and that more pressure, in one form or another, will follow. Since the building is owned by the city government, the theater theoretically could be kicked out at any time if the right person gave the order.

    Nothing unusual in the tactics, as "businesses" in Russia can often resort to strong-armed tactics, involving either police or thuggery. Prime real estate in Moscow is big money, and the market has shown no recent signs of abating.
    According to Dmitry Kuklachev's account, officers from the economic crimes department tried to shut down the 4 p.m. performance, which was already under way. But a shaken Kuklachev persuaded them to let the show go on. The rear offices were sealed, and two men sat backstage, apparently to make sure no one fled.

    "It was funny and not so funny at the same time," said Kuklachev's son.

    The officers implied that Kuklachev had stolen state funds. Their so-called evidence was the discrepancy between the modest amount of cash in the register and a 300-seat theater packed with families and children. Where, they wanted to know, was the rest of the money?

    Kuklachev said only a few dozen tickets had been sold - and that the majority of spectators were children from orphanages who were admitted free, as they are regularly invited to do when there are empty seats.

    Last week, the senior Kuklachev held a news conference at the theater, appealing to the public.

    "I decided to ask you for help," he told the assembled press corps, wearing a tie adorned with cats. He doesn't go to parties, he said, and doesn't have big connections. "My whole job is cats."

    If the theater is ultimately forced out of its present quarters, the family will likely be forced to take the show abroad for good. "He doesn't want it to happen," said Dmitry Kuklachev. "Neither do I. We love the country."

    A Fishing Story

    Katja's family recently had a gathering at her Uncle Viktor's home in Rostov Veliky. I should explain that while Katja's family is Russian, her family had lived in the Almaty region of Kazakhstan for many years. Katja's parents, grandparents, uncle, aunt, cousins and some other family had moved to Rostov Veliky in the early 90s. However, it seems that some various cousins and other family members remained in Kazakhstan. Several of these cousins/uncles had made a trip to visit the family in Rostov V. .. sort of a family reunion, as it were.

    At this time in our story, we must introduce two particular characters. Katja's Uncle Viktor and his cousin from Almaty (I'll get his name later). Viktor has a landscaping business of some success. In truth, he is a personable fellow and had success even under communism while in Almaty, where he ran a banya/resort/spa. He also has a moderately wicked sense of humor (as does most of Katja's family - her father's practical jokes are legendary).

    In any case, Viktor's cousin is a rather loud fellow, capable of making big boasts, particularly after a few drinks. He made a point of saying what a terrific fisherman he is, and how he was going wake up very early each day and catch the most and biggest fish in nearby Lake Nero. The truth is 1) This cousin wasn't about to wake up early, particularly given the alcohol consumed each evening and 2) Lake Nero is practically devoid of fish, having been fished to oblivion by locals during the hard years of the 1990s.

    In any event, Viktor had a plan to humble his boastful cousin. He asked two of the workers from his landscaping business to fish a nearby river on their way to work each morning, and bring the fish to him. They presented their big fish to Viktor very early each morning ... and Viktor would wake his cousin, hanging the big fish in front of his face. "Look what I've caught in the lake already this morning, cousin! Time to go catch yours!"

    On the weekend, Viktor cooked up the biggest of the fish in a dish called "Кок-тал" (Kok-tal). Katja explained this dish to me as a sort of prison food. In work camps or prisons, workers often have to supplement their diet with food that they can catch or grow. The dish consists of a filleted fish, layed flat, with sliced onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cheese on top. The whole thing is baked or roasted.

    We also have some photos from the family gathering, including the large outdoor stove that Viktor constructed in his garden. Has a large central opening for their samovar, as well as an oven and griddle/grill area.

    Katja's cousin Ira on far right, Katja's mother, Natalia has her back towards us. Her aunt is serving the Kok-tal. Her grandfather is seated next to Ira.

    Kicking off the Rust

    I'll be making a few changes around here the next few days, as I attempt to get back into the swing of posting. This unplanned hiatus the past 7 or 8 months makes some updates to my links and formatting of the blog necessary.

    For those of you who wrote, asked, wondered ... I certainly didn't fall off the planet. I was just struck with a multi-pronged attack of work obligations, studies, relationship obligations, procrastination, and blogger burn-out. I'm certainly not the first (or last) blogger to take a hiatus.

    In typical Shedd fashion, you might expect numerous posts from me the next few days ... I've found about a string of interesting things to post.

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    2014 Winter Olympics Selection

    Selection of the 2014 Winter Olympics takes place later today in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Prior to his recent pit-stop in nearby Kennebunkport, Putin visited Guatemala to press the flesh and trumpet Sochi's bid to host the Winter Olympic games. With the Russian government spending billions on top of oligarch's investments in Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana, Russia has been pressing hard to host it's first Winter Olympics and first Olympic games since 1980.

    The remaining three candidate cities are Salzburg, Austria; Pyeongchang, South Korea; and Sochi, Russia. The vote takes place among the 110-member International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC is comprised of many former athletes from multiple nations, with some emphasis placed on smaller member nations.

    Voting takes place in two potential rounds. Ninety-seven can vote in the first round, as president Jacques Rogge and members whose countries are finalists prohibited from first round votes (this incluses three Russians, two Koreans, an Austrian and two Germans (one Salzburg event would be held in Germany). Five members are absent from the vote.

    Each finalist city will make a 45-minute presentation to the IOC, with 15 minutes more for questions and answers. Sochi goes first, followed by Salzburg and Pyeongchang. Starting at 3:30 p.m. EDT (21:30 GMT), IOC members cast secret ballots until one city receives a majority. The city with the fewest votes is eliminated after the first round, and its country's members can vote if there is a second round. In the event of a first round tie, the two finalist cities would have a runoff. In the event of a second round tie, IOC President Rogge would ask for a vote of the 15-member executive board to break a tie.

    The announcement ceremony starts at 5 p.m. EDT (23:00 GMT), where Rogge will open a sealed envelope and announce the winner.

    Hosting Olympic games have always been more about hype and prestige, than any great financial windfall to the host country. Recent games have actually been big financial losers; however, potential host countries still are spending ridiculous sums of money in hopes of hosting the games. Current spending is already at unprecedented levels, both in terms of proposed infrastructure and development, and "marketing". Announced bid campaigns for the 2014 Olympics have been $13 million by Salzburg, $30 million by Sochi, and $32.5 million by Pyeongchang. Informed estimates suggest the Koreans and Russians have spent more than $40 million on the bid alone.

    Gazprom, Interros and other companies are already spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the 62,000-hectare Krasnaya Polyana area. Gazprom is opening a resort with six ski lifts, more than a dozen slopes and several dozen cabins. Vladimir Potanin’s Interros holding is building a $140 million Roza Hutor ski center. The $425 million Karusel resort, owned by Nortgaz co-owner and Krasnodar Senator Farkhat Akhmedov, opened in 2006.

    The Russian government has earmarked a 327 billion ruble ($11.7 billion) plan to turn Sochi into a year-round mountain and Black Sea resort. 60% of the money will come from federal and regional coffers and go toward infrastructure such as electricity, communication and transportation.

    Among the proposed projects are a 50-kilometer mini-metro system, a bobsled track and 14 other sports facilities, new hotels, and a reconstruction of the Alder airport. If Russia wins the Olympics bid, it could collect an additional $1 billion to improve infrastructure from the International Olympic Committee and corporate sponsors of the Games.

    If the bid fails, the program’s $12 billion price tag would be halved.

    At this point, Salzburg is considered the underdog in what is widely regarded as a two city competition. This has led Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbaurer to increase some verbal jabs at Sochi's bid:
    The sarcasm fairly dripped from Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer's voice as he pointed to the ice rink Russia has assembled to promote Sochi's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

    "This is a good symbol of how our friends in Russia understand environment—putting a skating facility in a country with a temperature of almost 30 degrees (86 Fahrenheit)," Gusenbauer told the Tribune as he walked through Guatemala City Tuesday afternoon. "This already indicates how they will handle the environment in Sochi."

    Gusenbauer apparently has decided his country's underdog bidder, Salzburg, no longer has anything to gain by being politic in a competition he believes is far too political. He portrays Wednesday's vote for the 2014 host in almost apocalyptic terms.

    "It's a fight for the future of the Olympic movement," he said.

    That idea could resonate with those International Olympic Committee members who find the campaign styles of the other two finalists, Sochi, Russia, and Pyeongchang, South Korea, to be over the top.

    The IOC calls environmental sensitivity one of the "guiding principles" of the Olympic movement. Gusenbauer thinks other Olympic principles also have been violated in the 2014 contest.

    "Many IOC members are very much concerned about how this campaign is going on," said Gusenbauer, who has spoken with four dozen of the 111 members since arriving Saturday. "Some have the impression this is an auction.

    "Many dislike this economic and political power play. This could be in favor of a Salzburg that simply does not participate in this type of auction."

    UPDATE: As expected, Salzburg received the fewest votes. Round 2 is now ongoing, between Sochi and Pyeongchang.

    Can view this live here:
    The final vote has been announced, and Sochi has won the 2014 Olympics.