Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wine Terroirs: Zakuski and Vodka

Bert at Wine Terroirs has another excellent Russocentric topic today - zakuski and vodka!
This story takes place in a small restaurant named рюмка (Riomka), on Trekhprudny pereulok, near mamonovskii and right under Tverskaya Boulevard in the heart of Moscow, south of the Mayakovskaya subway station.
Ah, yes - all the usual suspects are gathered at the scene of the crime. Vodka, zakuski, friends ... and the unsuspecting Frenchman!

I am joking really, it sounds as though Bertrand Celce had a wonderful time (although I notice one of the photos is rather blurry - alcohol or art?) For all those interested in reading about his tasty zakuski experience, I suggest you hope over to Wine Terroirs for the article.

Of course, it isn't as great as lemon-flavored samogon in Tokmok, but what is? Thankfully, Bert also has a nice little story about samogon.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Litvinenko murder suspects to speak to British journalists

Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, Scotland Yard's key suspects in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko will speak to British journalists through a radio program to be aired live Wednesday, August 29, 2007.

The radio news conference is jointly organized by Moscow Radio and RIA Novosti and will be broadcast live on Ekho Moskvy Radio at 3 p.m. Moscow time (11 a.m. GMT, 7 a.m. EDT) according to RIA Novosti. Live streaming for Ekho Moskvy can be found here. The interview will also be played via live streaming from the RIA Novosti website.

Moscow refused in early July to extradite Kremlin bodyguard-turned-businessman Lugovoi, which sparked a diplomatic dispute with London, involving tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats and visa restrictions.

Questions for the interview can be submitted here.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

BLDGBLOG Interview with Michael Cook

This post isn't about Russia at all, but it does connect with a previous posting that I had on Russos and his livejournal of Moscow subsurface photography. (By the way, Russos currently has some nice images from MAKS 2007 on LJ.)

Geoff Manaugh of Bldg Blog has an interview with Michael Cook, "writer, photographer, and urban explorer based in Toronto". Should make for an interesting read for anyone interested in subsurface structures, urban environments and their impact on nature, engineering, architecture, and photography.

I should note that this type of subsurface exploration is much more risky than might appear. Every year during our mandated annual 8-hour OSHA HAZWOPER refresher we hear stories about confined space entry scenarios that went horribly wrong. Often, such areas are not well-ventilated, meaning oxygen levels are not dependable (there is a relatively narrow range of oxygen levels that are considered suitable for breathing and maintaining conciousness). Also, noxious fumes from the urban and industrial environment can build up in such low lying areas. Remember canaries in a coal mine? Generally it is a good idea to have vapor meters and/or oxygen meters with some sort of back-up breathing source if you plan to go exploring the urban environment.

P.S. I'm getting a fair number of hits on my Russos posting due to my comments on BLDG BLOG, so I've updated that article with additional links to Russos images on his blog. I realize that many of the normal BLDG BLOG readers probably don't read Russian, so I tried to simplify their search of his images on his blog.
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10 Arrested in Politkovskaya Murder Case

Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has announced the arrest and pending charges of 10 people in connection with the October 2006 murder of reporter/activist Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya was 48 when she was shot dead in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment on Vladimir Putin's birthday last year. Closed circuit security cameras at her building revealed a lone assassin shooting her as she left for work.
"We have made serious progress in the Politkovskaya murder investigation," Russian television showed Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika telling President Vladimir Putin at a meeting.

"Ten people have been arrested in connection with this case and literally, in the very near future, they will be charged with carrying out this grave crime."

Prosecutors said her killing was probably linked to her reporting. She had been active in exposing abuses by security forces in Russia's turbulent Chechnya and neighboring regions.

Putin said at the time the murder was a "disgusting crime." [AR note: albeit belatedly] But Politkovskaya's supporters said she had paid the price for criticizing the Russian authorities. Foreign governments appealed for a thorough investigation.

Anna Usachyova, a spokeswoman for Moscow City Court, said a judge had approved the detention of two people suspected of involvement in the killing. An earlier court hearing ordered the other eight to be held in detention pending charges.
Politkovskaya's former employer, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was cautiously optimistic regarding the arrests. The newspaper said it believed the 10 arrested people included people from an "ethnic" organized group, and law enforcement officers (both former and active).

It will be most interesting to see who these people are as the case develops.

Update: Some more tidbits on the murder case and the police officers involved:
Investigators probing the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya suspect the involvement of former police officers who served in Chechnya, the Kommersant newspaper said on Wednesday.

Investigators from the interior ministry and prosecutor's office left Moscow "almost en masse" last week for the west Siberian town of Nizhnevartovsk with the aim of questioning former police officers who had served in Chechnya, the paper said.

They suspect that the officers may have taken revenge on the hard-hitting journalist from the Novaya Gazeta newspaper after she named them as being involved in at least one killing of a civilian in Chechnya, Kommersant said.

"It appears a dominant explanation has appeared. Investigators think that former officers from the Nizhnevartovsk police were involved," the paper said.

Investigators particularly want to find a former police major and a former police lieutenant colonel who are already wanted in connection with crimes in Chechnya, the paper said.
This case will certainly do nothing to improve the less than stellar reputation of police officers in Russia.

Update 2: Another Reuters report has Prosecutor Yuri Chaika cutely implying that Boris Berezovsky ordered or paid for Politkovskaya to be murdered.
Russian prosecutors said on Monday they had detained 10 suspects in the murder of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, but that the killing was masterminded from abroad by anti-Kremlin forces trying to discredit Russia.

The contract-style shooting last year of Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, led to a storm of international condemnation, with critics saying the Kremlin was failing to protect freedom of speech.

Prosecutors had said her killing was probably linked to her reporting. She had been active in exposing abuses by security forces in Russia's turbulent Chechnya and neighboring regions.

Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika told reporters an investigation showed Politkovskaya had been killed by an organized crime group led by an ethnic Chechen and including serving and former law enforcement officers.

He said the same group may have been involved in two other high-profile murders: the 2004 killing of U.S. reporter Paul Klebnikov and the shooting last year of central bank deputy chief Andrei Kozlov.

But the chief prosecutor said the trail from the Politkovskaya killing, and other crimes, led to Kremlin opponents living in exile abroad.

Asked if he had in mind Boris Berezovsky, a multi-millionaire critic of the Kremlin who lives in London, he smiled and refused to answer the question.

"The person who ordered the (Politkovskaya) killing is abroad," Chaika told reporters at a news briefing.

"Our investigation has led us to conclude that only people living abroad could be interested in killing Politkovskaya.

"Forces interested in destabilizing the country, changing its constitutional order, in stoking crisis, in a return to the old system where money and oligarchs ruled, in discrediting national leadership, provoking external pressure on the country, could be interested in this crime.

"Our investigations showed that this was not the first such attempt -- a number of previous murders were similar provocations."
The accusation, true or not, certainly ties everything up into a neat package for the Kremlin. Operating under the assumption that it is true, it would make the killing of Litvinenko look more like a tit-for-tat exchange of murders.

Of course, the Kremlin spokespeople had been making sounds about the Politkovskaya murder being done to undermine or discredit Putin's government from the beginning. It does seem rather convenient for that version of events to be the final outcome.

I predict these accused will get pushed through the Russian court system rather quickly. It seems in these sorts of cases the judges simply agree with the prosecutors evidence and ship the accused off to jail.

Update 3: It is being reported by ITAR-TASS that one of the criminals was also an FSB agent.
In the group of those detained in connection with the murder of investigative journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, there is the man who gunned down the victim.

The officer of the federal security service FSB detained in connection with the Politkovskaya case had long been under the surveillance of the FSB’s internal security division, its chief, Lieutenant-General Alexander Kupryazhkin, said on Monday.

Slain investigative reporter Politkovskaya had known and met with the man who is suspected of ordering her murder, Yuri Chaika said.
International Herald Tribune quotes an Associated Press article that says it was a Chechen crime boss who ordered Politkovskaya killed.

Update 4: Another BBC article describes the former FSB officer as Lt. Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov. The article also quotes Novaya Gazeta chief editor Dmitry Muratov, as saying the evidence from the investigations are "very convincing and professional".

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Антошка, Антошка, Пойдем копать картошку! Let's Go Dig Potatoes!

Mansur Mirovalev of the Associated Press has the story of Moscow's Potato Fest 2007. Yes, here you can be reassured that in Russia, the lowly potato remains king! The website for the Potato Fest cheerfully exclaims that the potato is second only to bread in Russia (hmmm ... I would have guessed third).

The fest is being held in a suitable location. You might imagine the U.S. to be king of potato production, with all those french fries and potato chips to be served, but you would be wrong. Russia is the world's second largest producer of potatoes (China passed Russia to become the #1 potato producer in the 1990's). Some 90% of the world's potatoes are produced by Russia and Europe. Russians, in fact, lead the world in per capita potato consumption.

Thousands of scientists, business executives and gastronomes from around the world converged on Moscow this week to lavish praise on a Russian icon: the common potato.

The occasion was Moscow Potato 2007, a chance for leading potato-heads to debate the subtleties of planting, exchange cooking tips and strategize on ways to promote the potato around the world.

Moscow was a fitting venue: While New York is known as the Big Apple, the Russian capital is called the Big Potato (AR note: I've not heard this one). And rightfully so - for the lumpy tuber holds a holds a privileged place in Russian history and hearts.

Among Czar Peter the Great's many reforms was introducing potatoes to Russia 300 years ago. They were initially rejected by the peasantry as 'Devil's Apples,' but potatoes quickly caught on and eventually came to rival cabbages and beets as staples of the Russian diet. During the worst famines of the Soviet era the potato saved millions of lives.

Organizers staged the three-day spud fest at the sprawling All-Russian Exhibition Center in northern Moscow - still decorated with Soviet statues of robust maidens bearing sheaves of grain - and at the All-Russian Research Institute for Potato Growing southeast of Moscow.

Boris Vershinin, who spent four decades breeding varieties that could thrive in Russia's harsh climes, admonishes anybody who dares disparage the potato by using the diminutive Russian term 'kartoshka' for the vegetable.

"It's 'His Highness Potato,'" said the biologist from the southern city of Kislovodsk. "It's Russia's second bread."

Vershinin gave a tour of the institute's potato plots to international colleagues Thursday, squeezing intriguing specimens as he lectured on the varieties he cultivated over the years. All the while, he expounded on the potato's legacy in Russia.

After initially overcoming their suspicions, he explained, Russian peasants learned to plant the hardy crop in fields where agriculture is risky because of unpredictable weather, high humidity and early winters. The potato became a key ingredient in everything from borscht to vodka.

During the early 1920s, as Russian agriculture collapsed, Bolshevik commissars raided villages to confiscate grain and redistribute it. All that some peasants were left with were potatoes, but it was enough to keep many alive.

Potatoes helped ease food shortages during World War II, when there was again widespread hunger. The Soviet Union's 1947 famine could have been much more devastating without spuds, Vershinin said.

For most of the 20th century, Russia produced more potatoes than anywhere else in the world - until the Chinese took the lead in the late 1990s.

Although the Russian diet has drastically improved in the 16 years since the Soviet collapse, the potato still rules many fields here. The Ministry of Agriculture says about 7 million acres of Russian farmland are dedicated to growing potatoes.

Meanwhile, Russians have been learning to eat potatoes in new ways. During the communist era, Russians knew such things as potato chips existed, but only because they saw them in the movies. Last year, according to market research firm Euromonitor International, Russians bought almost 130,000 tons of potato chips.

After McDonald's and other fast food giants invaded post-communist Russia, peddling french fries to the potato-loving masses, local producers responded with chains grounded in national cuisine.

Kroshka-Kartoshka, or 'Baby Potato,' founded by two Muscovites in 1998, hawks potatoes out of brightly colored kiosks scattered throughout Moscow and other Russian cities. Their product is served whole, baked and hot - lathered with cheese and butter and stuffed with delicacies such as marinated mushrooms, salmon or fried eggplant. "The customers vote for us with their rubles," said marketing director Mikhail Kudryavtsev.
Spoken like a true capitalist! Actually, even eXile finds Kroshka-Kartoshka tasty.

Lastly, in the spirit of potato digging everywhere, we offer this little song and cartoon from Весёлая карусель (Cheerful Carousel), about Antoshka, the little freckled red-haired boy who was too lazy to dig for potatoes. Katja liked this one so much, that she was inspired to write a soon-to-be-coming article about Весёлая карусель cartoons.

Lyrics for singing along:
Антошка, Антошка,                Antoshka, Antoshka
Пойдем копать картошку!,                Let's go dig potatoes!
Антошка, Антошка,,                Antoshka, Antoshka
Пойдем копать картошку!,                Let's go dig potatoes!

Дили-дили,,                Dili-dili
Трали-вали,,                Trali-vali
Это мы не проходили,,                We did not study it,
Это нам не задавали!,                It was not required!
Тарам, пам, пам,,                Taram, pam, pam
Тарам, пам, пам,,                Taram, pam, pam

Антошка, Антошка,,                Antoshka, Antoshka
Сыграй нам на гармошке!,                Play for us on the accordion!
Антошка, Антошка,,                Antoshka, Antoshka
Сыграй нам на гармошке!,                Play for us on the accordion!

Дили-дили,,                Dili-dili
Трали-вали,,                Trali-vali
Это мы не проходили,,                We did not study it,
Это нам не задавали!,                It was not our homework!
Тарам, пам, пам,,                Taram, pam, pam
Тарам, пам, пам,,                Taram, pam, pam

Антошка, Антошка,,                Antoshka, Antoshka
Готовь к обеду ложку!,                Prepare your spoon for dinner!
Антошка, Антошка,,                Antoshka, Antoshka
Готовь к обеду ложку!,                Prepare your spoon for dinner!

Дили-дили,,                Dili-dili
Трали-вали,,                Trali-vali
Это, братцы, мне по силе!,                This, brothers, I can handle,
Откажусь теперь едва ли!,                I hardly can refuse!

Тарам, пам, пам,,                Taram, pam, pam
Тарам, пам, пам,,                Taram, pam, pam
Парам, пам, пам.,                Taram, pam, pam

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Dreams of Sharapova

While young American athletes might dream of making it big in the Majors as a star shortstop, or throwing the winning touchdown in the Superbowl, or being a point guard in the NBA, young Russian children have different dreams. And many of their young athletes have dreams of becoming the next Maria Sharapova. How many? The Russian Tennis Tour has 17,400 registered players, of which over 13,000 are under the age of 16.
Thoughts of Maria Sharapova inspire 14-year-old Alina Mikheyeva when she's struggling on the tennis court. After all, Alina's mother sold her car, quit her job and rented out her apartment to try to make her daughter's dream of tennis stardom come true.

The lure of fame and fortune has filled Moscow's tennis courts with girls hoping to play at Grand Slam tournaments such as the U.S. Open, which begins on Monday. Four of the top 10 women's players this year are Russian.

"I'm doing everything for that, we are doing it together with my mom," Alina said after practice at a tennis center in a seedy area in northeast Moscow.

Many of the most driven would-be tennis stars in Russia are from underprivileged families who see tennis as one of the few honest ways to become rich in a country
where millions slid into poverty after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. "Those who endure all the difficulties, they will succeed," said Alina's mother, Margarita, who quit a relatively well-paid job as personal assistant to work in the tennis center's snack bar to be near her daughter.

The Russian inroads on profes
sional tennis, especially the women's game, began several years ago. Sharapova leads the pack at No. 2, followed by Svetlana Kuznetsova (No. 4), Anna Chakvetadze (No. 6) and Nadia Petrova (No. 8). Sharapova, who has lived in the United States since age 7, has won 16 titles and US$9 million in prize money since turning pro in 2001.

"Everyone is driven by money, by the success of (Anna) Kournikova and Sharapova," said Larisa Gavrilenko, the mother of another aspiring young player.

"Prize money in tennis is incomparably higher than in other sports," Gavrilenko said while watching her daughter, Anya Davydova, 11, play in a tournament at the Cherkizovka tennis center.

But to have a shot at making it into the professional ranks requires a major investment. Players pay US$3,000 to US$4,000 per month for an individual coach, and fees for court time and hitting partners can easily run an additional $2,000, said youth
coach Viktor Yanchuk.

Outdoor courts cost $12-$24 per hour, but during Russia's long winter the price of an indoor court goes up to $80. "The demand is much higher than supply, so they charge as much as they can," Yanchuk said.

His top student, 15-year-old Yana Buchina, moved to Moscow with her mother two years ago from Samara. Previously, she would make the 650-mile (1,000-kilometer) trip every three or four months to train with Yanchuk for a week or two, and then go home with videotapes and instructions.

She has no sponsor and practiced all summer on inexpensive concrete
courts, her coach said.

Parents without the money to pay for full-time coaches and other specialists often take on much of the coaching duties themselves. Alina is taught one hour a day by one of Moscow's veteran coaches. But her mother is her fitness instructor - she signed Alina up for sessions with a well-known fitness trainer and now uses the notes taken during the sessions.

Alina said her role model is top-ranked Justine Henin of Belgium. But when she's on the court, she thinks of Sharapova "because she is like a beast when she plays
a match."

Youngsters who enter the top ranks usually do so in their late teens. Sharapova, the defending U.S. Open champion, was 17 when she won Wimbledon in 2004.

Alina, ranked 26th among Russian girls under 14, has won three tournaments this year. But if she is to have any chance once she moves into an older age group, she must have an opportunity to compete in tournaments abroad.

The tennis center, which is run by the State Physical Education Institute, shares a parking lot with the sprawling Cherkizovsky market, where migrants from Russia's North Caucasus and former Soviet republics in Central Asia and traders from China sell cheap clothing, household goods and food.

It is a magnet for pickpockets and other criminals. A year ago, a bomb explosion killed 10 people and injured more than 50.

Mikheyeva, 40, said if she could find the money she would be happy to send her
daughter to a tennis school in the West. She said she was in talks with a potential sponsor. "Here, everything is on my shoulders," she said.
Meanwhile, enjoying the trappings of success and the opportunities it brings, Maria Sharapova and Nike are at it again, this time unveiling her latest fashion for her return to the U.S. Open next week. These photos are from a photo session and press conference unveiling her red Swarovski crystal encrusted tennis dress. Most notably, the dress was manufactured of a high-tech breathable fabric with no-seam technology.

Obviously, it is styled to fit.

Further, it seems the crystal pattern was inspired by the NYC skyline. From the Sports Illustrated article:
When Sharapova defends her U.S. Open title next week, she'll be wearing tennis dresses decorated with graphic interpretations of the cityscape on the chest.

The designs, created in collaboration with Nike senior designer Colleen Sandieson, were unveiled Wednesday evening on a rooftop at Rockefeller Center.

"It's always important to feel comfortable in what you're wearing when you're playing, but in tennis, you can do so many things with your wardrobe," Sharapova said wearing the flame-red dress in a flared shift silhouette
that she'll wear at night.

The color is in honor of the Big Apple. "I've worn a red top
before but never a red dress, but there is no better place to do it than New York," she told the Associated Press.

Performance is always the priority, Sandieson said, but she and Sharapova strive for designs that marry function with fashion.

"She has a fantastic game and I have a lot of respect for that but she has a great eye for detail," Sandieson said. "She's got a style that's very natural to her, and she also knows what she likes and doesn't like."

Sharapova, 20, has become a player in the fashion world and has sponsorship deals
with Parlux Fragrances, handbag company Samantha Thavasa and watchmaker Tag Heuer in addition to Nike. "She wears clothes that a lot of other women would like to own and look good in," said Susan Kaufman, editor of People StyleWatch.

Sharapova noted that the U.S. Open, which runs Aug.
27-Sept. 8, coincides with New York Fashion Week and she tries to make it to at least one show. For the past two years, it's been Marc Jacobs but she also hopes to make it to Michael Kors, Peter Som and Vera Wang this year.

Once her tennis career is over, she said, fashion is something she'd like to further explore.

Of course, the life of a star tennis player isn't all fashion, glamor and fame. And despite having lived in the U.S. for so long, Maria has not forgotten her humble Russian roots. She works as a United Nations goodwill ambassador and was appointed an ambassador for the U.N. Development Program. She has given thousands to the victims of Chernobyl and Beslan. She also plans a return to Chernobyl for July 2008 after Wimbledon. Regarding her trip and role as a UN goodwill ambassador:
"They wanted me to work with them because they felt like people in those areas didn't really feel like they had a chance to survive," Sharapova said. "They wanted me to help raise the awareness that by building schools, hospitals, cleaning the air that there is pride and a side they can head towards instead of thinking all those negative things."

Her trip to Chernobyl will last just a few days.

"Unfortunately, I have about 28 days a year for the work that I do and for the sponsors, for the photo shoots and the visits," she said. "Time is very, very limited."

Sharapova won her first title of the season a week ago near San Diego. During the tournament, she met with a group of Russian children visiting the United States.

Their trip was sponsored by The Children of Chernobyl, a nonprofit group that brings healthy children from Belarus between ages 8 and 12 to America for a six-to-eight week visit. They are placed with host families and the children receive free medical, dental and eye care treatment.

Upon meeting Sharapova, some of the families asked what advice she could give the children. "It's tough because most of them don't have any parents, and what's really helped me in my life was having my mom and dad be so supportive and around me," she said.

Despite her Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles and No. 2 world ranking, Sharapova didn't expect the children to know who she was.

"They had all these questions lined up for me. The kids are pretty young and the questions they were asking me were so mature and so beyond their years," she said. "This young kid asked me how I wanted to raise my children. I was like, 'Geez, you're a kid yourself.' It was very strange."

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

мальчики лета (Boys of Summer)

Let's not pretend that baseball (or even it's ancient cousin, lapta) is very popular in Russia. It isn't.

However, the Russian National Baseball team hopes to make it a little less so. Philadelphia Weekly Online has the details of last weekends Russian National Baseball Team 6-0 victory over the Greater Philadelphia Men’s Adult Baseball League All-Star Team. It was one of only a few victories that the RNBT scored while on tour the past month in the United States.
The Russian baseball team has been in the U.S. since mid-July, barnstorming up and down the East Coast, preparing for next month’s European championships, which will also serve as a qualifier for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Russia has never qualified for the Olympics. The official Russian baseball website carries this slogan: “Soviet hockey obtained world-class status in only 20 years. Soviet basketball obtained world-class status in only 20 years. Why not Russian baseball?”

It seems unlikely. The Russians have lost more games than they’ve won on the worldwide trip. They lost to the United States national team 6-0 and the Chinese team 6-1. Though the local boys held their own,the Russians won 6-0.
Not a bad showing versus the local Philly All-Star team. Some of the problems that Russian baseball faces include not just a low level of national interest in baseball within Russia, but the heat of an American summer combined with throwback flannel uniforms:

Heat is a problem. The Russian players aren’t used to August in America. “They were dying last night,” GPMABL commissioner Brett Mandel says of a trip the Russians took to Citizens Bank Park last week. Making matters worse are the jerseys the Russians wear.

According to the Russian baseball website, “These special flannel ‘Throw Back the Clock’ uniforms are patterned after the 1956 USSR Olympic Team outfits from the Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, however of course instead of the CCCP jerseys of the time the Russian National Team will be sporting the Cyrillic spelling of Russia … that includes America’s favorite backward ‘R.’”

America’s love of the backward ‘R’ notwithstanding, the jerseys aren’t quite right for a tour of America. They’re old-time baseball jerseys made out of flannel. While the Philadelphia team wore modern, breathable jerseys to last week’s game, the Russians were sweating in flannel. (The fashion conscious will be happy to know the official Russian national team hat will be available in the popular New Era 5950 model.)
I'm sorry that I missed the RNBT's tour here in the U.S., they played a game in Lowell, Massachusetts on July 17th that is only 40 minutes from home. However, I believe this won't be their last trip here, and next year I hope to do more to promote the teams arrival.

For those interested in participating in any future games or a possible tour in 2008, I would recommend contacting U.S.-Russia Chamber of Commerce of New England, Inc. (USRCCNE) and Bob Protexter or Total Baseball Development. Additional information about Russian International Baseball can be found at their website, here.

I also briefly mentioned baseball's ancient cousin, which still exists in Russia, called lapta (лапта). Lapta originated in the 14th century and is a possible ancestor of all "bat and ball" games, including the 19th century game we came to know as baseball. The theory goes that Russian immigrants in the early 19th century on the west coast of what is now the U.S.A. brought lapta with them, which evolved into baseball. However, it would seem more likely that lapta arrived through Europe, evolving into cricket and rounders and eventually baseball in America. From NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Fall 2000 issue author Robert Elias recounts a story by writer John Leo, which dates lapta’s arrival in the United States as occuring in the 1840s. Leo cites a story from Pravda that claims

lapta and baseball were probably “stolen by a Marine guard at the U.S. embassy in Moscow who scurrilously wheedled crucial lapta information out of an unwary Russian cook during an evening of illicit and probably drug-induced lovemaking.”
The same story by Elias cites Leon Trotsky as an ardent lapta fan, and that the Soviet Union attempted to claim baseball as their own (the horror!):
... the New York Times reported on February 17, 1935, that the 'Soviet Government,' apparently seeking to reclaim its ownership of the game, 'decided today to sponsor a program for introducing baseball throughout the Soviet Union as a national sport.' Zoss and Bowman claim that 'for whatever reasons, nothing seems to have come of it.'

But this vastly underestimates the real story. Indeed, a game resembling baseball had long been played in the Soviet Union. What historians often ignore is that one of those who most excelled at the sport was none other than Leon Trotsky, who first starred on his school team in the small town of Yanovka in the Ukraine and then played semipro lapta in various leagues around the country. Trotsky was also a fierce advocate for lapta as the Soviet national sport. He believed it was the only game with real, revolutionary potential. He was not alone. John Leo reminds us of Vladimir Lenin’s famous admonition about the Russian psyche: 'Anyone who wishes to understand the Russian soul had better learn lapta.'
Actually, this is all part of a joke article, fiction by Robert Elias. I highly recommend the rest of the story by Robert Elias in NINE for anyone interested in Russian and Soviet history and baseball. It's a great and humorous collision of these two topics.

Lapta is essentially a childhood game and isn't played very often these days, even in Russia. However, various groups do hope to change that (such as

One problem is that lapta rules can vary considerably and there are many local forms of the game. There are also no official equipment requirements, other than a ball and lapta ... what we would call a bat. The nature of the ball varies, as these photos show a tennis ball but really any number of different balls can be used. Also the lapta itself varies, from a wooden paddle similar to that used in cricket, to a thick stick or broom-handle as you would use in stick-ball. Various rules exist, with 2 player variants and other forms available for play.

In some ways, lapta is more similar to cricket, in that the batter runs back and forth across the field after the ball is hit, rather than around 4 corners of a square or diamond, with "safe" spots at each corner or "base" ... as in baseball. However, there is no wicket in lapta and bowler (or pitcher in baseball) doesn't throw the ball at the batter.

Instead, they stand before the batter and toss the ball up. There are various methods of swinging the bat or striking the ball, depending upon the player and the strategy at the moment.

More lapta leagues and organizations are forming across Russia these days, with a subsequent solidifying of the rules and training of officials for higher level of play. Increased popularity and participation can only enhance the prospects for baseball in the future in Russia.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Georgia Feeling Violated

Georgia has reported two incidents in the past few weeks involving Russian planes violating their airspace. The original August 6th incident involved a plane or planes crossing several times into Georgian airspace, for increasingly longer periods of time, with ultimately one of the planes reportedly dropping a KH-58 missile. The missile was in the proximity of Georgia's new 36D6-M radar station in Gori ... a radar station that has been somewhat contentious between Georgia and Russia (as almost all things are these days) due to its placement within the conflict zone. Both Russia and South Ossetia have repeatedly complained in the joint control commission about this facility.

The KH-58 is a missile designed to take out radar installations by tracking the radar signal to the source. As such, it would be extremely effective at destroying an installation like the Gori radar station. But apparently the missile wasn't fired, wasn't armed, and didn't self-destruct (I have some questions as to whether these missiles are intended to self-destruct, but more on that later.) It simply was dropped and broke up upon landing. Recent reports suggest the parts to the missile don't even fit together and that all evidence of the missile have been destroyed by Georgia.

One of the more troubling aspects of the story is the complete and utter difference in the news that is being reported by English language news sources versus Russian language news sources. You can identify this as a result of Kremlin influence over the Russian news media, the willingness of the west to back Georgia (for various political and financial reasons) or simply the history and recent conflicts between Georgia and Russia.

Two examples of the differences in news reporting on both sides of the issue appeared last week in Johnson's Russia List. First, from Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor we have this August 16 report:

On August 12-14 in Georgia, an international group of experts investigated the circumstances of the August 6 Russian air incursion and missile drop on that country. Following the incident, Georgia called for an independent international investigation -- independent meaning that the experts would volunteer their services and that the group would work outside the framework of organizations that are constrained by Russia’s veto, such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The group of experts on military aviation and air space control consisted of three Americans, two Lithuanians, two Swedes, and a Latvian. The Georgian government had requested some other countries -- including Britain, France, Germany, and Finland, as well as European Union authorities -- to participate in the group, but those countries and authorities apparently declined. Indeed French and German diplomats had recommended an investigation by the OSCE, well realizing that the organization is subject to Russia’s veto power. The lack of reception in London, Paris, and Berlin confirms that the erstwhile Group of Georgia’s Friends (the United States, Britain, France, Germany) has lost its meaning since admitting Russia as a full member and renaming itself as the UN Secretary-General’s Friends of Georgia.

The expert group released a short, apparently final report on August 14 after three days of work in Tbilisi, in the area of Gori (where the Russian missile was dropped), and at Georgia’s air force base. Based on radar information and witness testimonies, the report concludes that Georgia’s air space was violated on August 6 when “unidentified aircraft flew from Russian air space into Georgian air space and back again into Russian air space, three times,” totaling 23 minutes in Georgian air space. Each pass was conducted by a single plane, and on the third pass the intruding plane dropped the missile near Gori. Thus the report leaves open the possibility that more than one plane may have been involved in the three intrusions.

The report identifies the projectile as the Russian anti-radar missile Kh-58, but says that the investigative group was “unable to identify the aircraft type or origin.” It merely notes that Georgia’s air force does not operate aircraft able to fly the profile flown by the “unidentified” plane and does not possess aircraft equipped with or able to launch Kh-58 missiles.

The expert group “has not been able to verify statements concerning a man-portable missile [MANPAD] being fired at the unidentified aircraft.” This point alludes to Russian “peacekeeping” commander Major-General Marat Kulakhmetov’s August 7 public statement that South Ossetian forces had fired such a missile at the plane, believing it to be Georgian.

Following the August 6 incident, Georgia had identified the intruding aircraft as Su-24 or Su-25, ultimately concluding that it was a Su-24. Indeed, this type of Russian plane is known to be equipped for launching that type of anti-radar missile. It remains unclear for the moment why the report does not endorse that identification.

On the whole, the report seems to follow a minimalist approach (consistent perhaps with the group’s minimal size and the investigation’s quick completion). It stops short of pulling some important and seemingly obvious threads together.
It could have noted, for example, the coincidence of the anti-radar missile being dropped near Gori, site of Georgia’s newly installed radar. Or, the coincidence of the intruding aircraft flying from North Ossetia, site of Russia’s Mozdok base, where Su-24s and Su-25s are based. It could also have noted that anti-aircraft
missiles were previously spotted in the possession of South Ossetian forces, frustrating OSCE efforts to remove such weapons from circulation.

Thus, the report in its form released on August 14 misses the opportunity to raise those issues for international attention. If the expert group aimed for an immediate, tangible result of its work, a more developed version of the report could add the necessary background and context.

Apparently, Georgia’s radar information was deemed by the expert group as insufficient for identifying the violator aircraft’s “type and origin.” In that case, Georgia is entitled under international law to have the radar capability to identify intruding planes; particularly when these are getting into the habit of launching projectiles (this is the second case this year, after Kodori in March). Absent adequate radars in Georgia, Russia will continue enjoying a large margin of deniability, for further air incursions.

The expert group’s report confirms Georgia’s information that its air space was violated “from Russian air space.” To that extent, this report has a limited degree of usefulness to the goal, shared by Georgia and its allies, of discouraging the recurrence of such incidents. But the “air space” cannot be held accountable for repeated, egregious violations of international law.

For comparison, we have a discussion of 10 unanswered questions in the Georgian government version of events rom an August 16th article by Alexander Iashvili and Yuri Politov of Izvestia (translation by Elena Leonova) :
An international commission made up of experts from the United States, Sweden, Latvia, and Lithuania has started investigating the evidence for an alleged violation of Georgian airspace. Russia has stated repeatedly that it is willing to participate in the independent commission investigating this incident; but no official invitations have been received from Tbilisi or the other countries.

Moscow has no intention of presenting any evidence that it was not involved in the incident. It would be strange to present justifications for something Moscow didn't do - especially since this isn't the first time Tbilisi has been responsible for various acts of provocation. Suffice it to recall the arrest of several
Russian officers in autumn 2006.

Oddly enough, as if by command, the Tbilisi media have stopped writing about the missile strike on the village of Tsitelubani. All their attention has been transferred to the war of words between Russian and Georgian politicians.

Here are a few basic questions for Georgia's official version of events.

1. The number of aircraft involved in the incident still remains unknown. The Georgian government says there were two planes. Witnesses say there was one.

2. Exactly what kind of planes are we talking about here? First they mentioned Su-27 aircraft, then Su-25. Eventually they settled on Su-24M. Nika Rurua, deputy chairman of the Georgian parliament's defense and security committee, actually explained that Georgia's air defense forces had taken no action because they believed that the trespasser was a civilian aircraft. The hint at the South Korean Boeing incident is all too transparent. But then it becomes unclear how the type of plane was identified. Based on the eyewitness accounts of simple villagers?

3. Why didn't the Georgian air defense forces shoot down at least one of the two planes, if they were "tracking the aircraft from the moment they took off from the Mozdok airfield"? Besides, Georgia's civilian air traffic controllers weren't the only ones tracking the flight path; it was also recorded by the Georgian air defense forces at radar station 36D6. Tbilisi claims that this radar was the target of the attack. A mobile surface-to-air system, recently purchased for the Georgian Army, is deployed near the radar.

This point in particular led the leaders of three Georgian opposition parties to accuse Saakashvili's team of "staging a comedy." This statement was made by Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili, former foreign affairs minister Salome Zurabshvili, and Imedi Party leader Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia.

4. Why isn't Tbilisi releasing any official data about Georgian Air Force flights on August 6?

5. Did South Ossetian units fire on the plane, flying at an altitude of 2,000 meters, using a 9K38 Igla portable air defense system or a Strela-1 system?

6. Why did the Kh-58U anti-radar missile miss the $3.5 million radar station? And if it missed, why didn't it explode? And if it was released accidentally, why did its self-destruct mechanism fail? Where are the remnants of a second missile that landed near the village of Didi Gromi, controlled by the South Ossetian government?

7. A short-range missile strike on the Georgian radar doesn't really make sense. Judging by the Kh-58U missile's technical specifications, it is capable of hitting a target at a range of 120 kilometers, when launched from an altitude of 10,000 meters. It can hit a target at a range of 70 kilometers when launched from an altitude of 200 meters. It is accurate to within 20 meters.

8. Why was the missile destroyed as soon as it had been shown to President Mikhail Saakashvili and foreign diplomats? Tbilisi maintains that only the payload was destroyed; the missile fragments - with inscriptions, a serial number, date and place of manufacture - still exist. But if that is the case, how can anyone prove that the warhead and the remaining "spare parts" came from the same missile?

9. Only Georgia's civilian politicians are commenting on this incident - not military leaders. Moreover, the Georgian government's accusations against Russia rely on a routine report from the OSCE Monitoring Group. Such reports are written after any incidents in conflict zones. They are based on eyewitness testimony and information from peacekeeper checkpoints; they are not conclusive reports.

10. Although Georgia is absolutely certain that it's right, it's refusing to participate in the investigation organized by the Peacekeeping Forces Monitoring Group. That's strange; especially since the peacekeepers have found some witnesses who claim that the planes flew in from the south.

If these questions remain unanswered, Georgia's official version of events simply collapses. That means Russian Senior Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov was right: what we're dealing with here is a "theatrical performance."
Several of these questions seem a bit scurrilous and others seem to be resorting to a "straw man" tactic of attacking information or evidence that was not reported. But the overall tone is clear - Georgia isn't to be believed in any of this.

And the truth be told, whether these incursions by Russia are factual or not, Georgia is beginning to appear as the boy who cried "wolf" one too many times.

UPDATE: Vilhelm Konnander's Weblog has the story of Georgia reporting to have shot down a Russian jet that intruded into its territory in the Kodori gorge region. Coincidentally, Russia has reportedly grounded its Su-24 planes due to a training mission crash.

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Brokeback Putin?

You ever get the feeling that the press might be attempting to provoke a reaction in a public figure? (Especially the British tabloid press, which can be especially nasty in my experience.)

Several articles in the British press are circulating regarding Russia's continued frenzy over VVP's shirtless fishing photos last week. Russian women want him, Russian men want to be him ... and Russian gays want to claim him as their own? Goluboi Putin? I remain skeptical.

The article from the Daily Mail (ahem ... not the Daily Male) offers details about everyone trying to put a message on Putin's topless images:
The Russian gay community are used to living in fear as their sexuality encourages violent repression, even in the more cosmopolitan cities of Moscow and St.Petersburg. But some among them now believe they have found an unlikely ally - their own President Putin. On Russian gay chat rooms and blogs, some claimed recent photos of the president stripped to his waist was a "plea for more tolerance of homosexuality".

One satirical photo circulating on the Internet jokingly compared Putin's mountain adventure with Prince Albert to the movie "Brokeback Mountain," a love story about gay cowboys.

The 54-year-old Russian leader, who is married with two daughters, has caused a storm with the pictures of him on vacation with Prince Albert II of Monaco in the Siberian mountains last week.

Few could have predicted the scale of speculation following release of the images on the presidential Web site, and in the Russian media there is no sign of the gossip dying away.

The mass market tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda on Wednesday published a huge color photo of the bare-chested president, under the headline: "Be Like Putin." It's excuse? A guide showing exactly what exercises were required to build up a torso like that of the Russian leader.

Meanwhile, besides gay commentary, Kremlin watchers have been busy trying to guess what kind of political message the pictures might send, given that Putin has insisted he plans to step down at the end of his second presidential term next year, as required by the constitution.

One radio talk show host speculated that the pictures were meant to enhance Putin's personal appeal to voters - a strong signal that he doesn't plan to relinquish power.

When the commentator, Yevgeniya Albats, went on to suggest that his half-naked photo shoot was unbecoming a Russian leader, female listeners peppered her with emails expressing admiration for Putin's physique.

Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that women who visited its Web site posted comments on Putin's "vigorous torso" and said they "were screaming with delight and showering (him) with compliments."

The president has long cultivated an image of machismo and manliness. Well-known as a downhill skier and black belt in judo ... In a country that worships its Olympic and other world-class athletes, he has also taken care to stay physically fit.

In interviews, he speaks avidly about judo and athletics. "Sport has helped me form my own personal point of view on the world, on people and my approach to them," he said in an interview posted on the Kremlin Web site. Some say it's all part of the Putin mystique. "He's cool. That's been the image throughout the presidency, cool," said Sergei Markov, Kremlin-connected head of the Moscow-based Institute for Political Research.

Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the National Strategy Institute think tank, said the pictures from Tuva were nothing more than an effort to reassure Russians that Putin knows how to relax - and was preparing for retirement.

Yevgeny Volk, who heads the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office, said the political elite increasingly views Putin as a lame duck leader and that half-naked photos only strengthen the impression that he should no longer be taken seriously.
To compliment their suggestion that Putin was sending a secret, topless message to gay Russians, the Sun had a series of photos with whimsical word balloons added, suggesting what Putin and Company might have been saying to each other. It all starts to seem very high school-ish.
Then again, I'm the one posting these photos and talking about it, so how am I helping?

One thing I can offer in Putin's defense is that Russians are still a very old-school, forget the sun-block-give-me-some-oil, sun-worshipping people. Taking off some clothes to get some time in the sun is a fairly common occurrence among Russians. So the message, if any were intended, was most likely "I'm a real Russian man".

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

European Bloggers (Un)Conference 2007

For those readers who are interested, the European Journalism Centre in cooperation with Crossmediaweek/Picnic is hosting a European Bloggers (Un)Conference in Amsterdam, September 27-28. The theme of the conference is “East meets West".
The aim of this mostly informal meeting is to allow bloggers from the European Union and its neighbors from the East to meet, share ideas and discuss new media developments in their respective countries.

Below are some issues that we think are important and need to be discussed during the unconference. Feel free to add more.

What is the common ground for bloggers and citizen journalists from East and West, what are the vital differences?
What are best case examples that have made a difference to communities?
What are the factors contributing to the success and/or failure of blogs and other new media projects?
How to ensure and improve the safety of commentators from political and commercial interference?
What are the lessons learned from the current malaise of mainstream media?
How will the use of web 2.0 tools enable bloggers to network in a more productive (and more provocative?) way?

Here are the four tracks we plan to have at the unconference. We plan to use this Wiki space to enable participants to indicate which track they would like to join and also contribute the topics they would like to discuss during the event to the event's agenda.

“Citizen Journalism: How and When It works”
“Blogging in Dangerous Places: Security Issues”
“Future of Media: Old vs New”
“Building Successful Web2.0 applications”

Details can be found here. Attendance is limited to 50, of which the first 20 spots appear to be filled.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Russia Resumes International Bomber Flights; U.S. Yawns

Omigod, omigod, this is scary! The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming (insert hysteria here).

This could be World War III!

Or not.

Russia has been for some time now conducting flights over international waters and recently Vladimir Putin announced that long-range bomber flights would continue for the foreseeable fut
"We proceed from the assumption that our partners will view the resumption of flights of Russia's strategic aviation with understanding.

"In 1992, the Russian Federation unilaterally ended the flights of its strategic aviation in faraway areas patrolled by the military," Putin said. "Unfortunately, not everyone followed our example, and strategic aviation flights by other states continue. This causes certain problems for guaranteeing the safety of the Russian Federation."
Blah, blah blah. But what does it all mean, Basil?

Not a heck of a lot, Austin.
From the AFP article on the topic, the U.S. just shrugs it off as Russia dusting off some old bombers.
"If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again that's their decision," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"That is a decision for them to take; it's interesting," McCormack added.

"We certainly are not in the
kind of posture we were with what used to be the Soviet Union. It's a different era," McCormack said.
And the truth is, Russia has been doing this for a while and is only now making announcements and headlines with it.
"Over the last few months the Russian air force has been flying a little bit more than we've seen in the past; certainly they're ranging farther than they have in the more recent past," Renuart said in a statement.

"NORAD has intercepted them out over international waters, near Alaska, and the command continues to monitor all of their long range bomber flight activity, even today," he added.
The sorts of missions that Russia has been undertaking with these bomber runs are practice missions including navigation exercises and mid-air refueling. You know - the sort of stuff that the U.S. Air Force does every single day of the week.
(I live under the flight path of the former Pease Air Base where refueling tankers are stationed. Trust me. They are flying and filling military planes that fly over international waters in the North Atlantic. Every. Single. Day.

You can expect more Russian shows of their military capability in the months ahead, as they are obviously seeking to portray themselves as being in a position of strength for any renegotiation of arms deals, such as the CFE Treaty.

Update: A Washington Times article, actually a reprint of a UK Telegraph article) on this topic has a few quotes of interest:

Unnamed former White House Staffer:
"They were slow to see that these people are still players. My great fear is that I wake up one day soon to discover that we lost the Cold War, or rather that, like everything else, we won the war and then lost the peace."
Unnamed source, close to Condoleeza Rice:
"She wants to spend more time on Russia, but that hasn't always been possible. She said to me that she regrets the fact that she has not done enough on what is, after all, her major area of expertise."
From Alex Pravda, a Russia specialist at London's Chatham House:
"(Putin) believes in fighting for your place in the sun, and he is on record as saying that nobody appreciates weakness," he said. "They are not looking for the imperial reach of the Soviet era. What they want is an international presence."
I love how the premise of such pieces falls apart when you examine the actually facts and quotes. The Washington Times article tries to make the case that Russia has been largely ignored by the U.S. and has taken offense at that. While I think the U.S. citizenry has pretty much ignored Russia, I find that our government has been actually very aggressive towards Russia and Russian interests.

If ignoring Russia means, pushing Russia aside and taking over what used to be their sphere of influence, then sure - the U.S. has been ignoring Russia. But to the Russian side, it sure appears to be a soft war of international politics and foreign policy being waged by the United States.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Surfing Russian-Style

I'll make no claims as to this video's accuracy.

To which, I can only say: "well - that's one way to do it."

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Meetings in Bishkek

This appears to be the year that the Shanghai Cooperative Organization (SCO) is really taking shape and asserting itself in Asia. The news media likes to present the SCO in ominous tones, suggesting it is the yin to NATO's yang, a dark doppelganger that seeks dangerous unknown Asian goals.

Ooooh, spookey. A militarized organization that doesn't include the U.S. or Europe. MSNBC suggests these people are our enemies - I guess it must be so. It does make you wonder why we do so much trade with China and borrow so much money from them.

Basically, this isn't an image that the SCO entirely objects to, as it certainly gives the relatively young organization an air of respectability. Maybe China and Russia didn't really need that, but it isn't as if NATO or anyone else was inviting them to join any gun clubs, so they decided to form their own.

It certainly doesn't help that Iran is an observer nation that is seeking full membership. It remains to be seen if China and Russia really want to take Iran under their wing, essentially offering military cooperation (and possible protection) to a potentially volatile neighbor.

Elena Skochilo, of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, News Briefing Central Asia project, with newly-won press credentials firmly in hand ("only" 508 people were permitted press access to the meetings) has photographs of the events on her blog. I anticipate she'll have more entries as events progress.

The meetings are a rare moment in the sun for little Kyrgyzstan. Resulting talk of various business deals are surfacing in the news. Russia teases with the possibility of $2 billion worth of investments in Kyrgyzstan (something the small nation could surely use). China pledges to increase trade with it's teeny, weeny neighbor (which to me seems like the cat playing with the mouse before eating it). Kyrgyzstan hopes for a part of the Turkmenistan-China natural gas pipeline to pass across it's territory.

And to top it all off, the group as a whole collectively mooned the United States and suggested they get the heck out of Central Asia if they know what is good for them.

Well ... they stopped far short of that but they did offer statements suggesting that Central Asia does not need outside help:

Stability and security in Central Asia are best ensured primarily through efforts taken by the nations of the region on the basis of the existing regional associations
Hint, hint.

Hey, when is the current U.S. lease up on the air base at Manas in Bishkek? I'm guessing we shouldn't be making any long-term arrangements there.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hatred and Ugliness

Sean Guillory has written about this topic brilliantly, but there have been enough new reports and misinformation that I felt compelled to update. According to Yandex statistics, the video is the most discussed topic on Russian-language internet blogs. If someone intended to attract attention, they certainly did that. And, as Sean discusses that is part of the ugliness, that modern society (Russian and elsewhere) is drawn to such acts of violence.

From a well-written Mail and Guardian article on the crime:

More questions were raised on Wednesday about a shocking internet video that shows Russian neo-Nazis beheading one man and shooting another, as police probed its origin and authenticity.

The video, which surfaced on Sunday in online diaries on, appears to show a pair of masked men executing a Tadjik national and an ethnic Dagestani man in a forest with a Nazi flag in the background.

The mystery of its origins deepened as Russian law-enforcement agencies continued to analyse the video and consulted with foreign partners in countries whose computer servers had hosted the file.

A police official in the southern region of Adygea told the RIA Novosti news agency that a student in his early 20's had turned himself into police, claiming that "he is a follower of national socialist ideas and has spent two years spreading material on the internet meant to incite ethnic hatred, including the video".
Reportedly, the student (LJ user antigypsone) is "proud" of having posted the video on August 12, but was not the author. His accompanying text reportedly called for the "expulsion of all Asians and people from Caucasus, saying that armed action against them and their government supporters has been initiated. It also calls for Putin to resign and hand over power to the NSP." He is being held by police in Maikop, the capital of the Adygeya republic in southern Russia. It should be relatively easy to track down the other parties involved. The video was allegedly sent anonymously to antigypsone via email; however, Russian police seized the student's computer and are continuing to investigate.

But who may have committed the murders -- if the video proves to be authentic -- only grew cloudier three days after footage first appeared.

A superimposed title refers to "the arrest and execution of two colonists from Dagestan and Tajikistan by the National-Socialist Party of Rus" -- an ancient name for Russia. It then shows a masked man beheading one of the bound and gagged captives with a large knife and shooting the other in the head.

The previously unknown group circulated a statement online late on Tuesday, declaring "the start of our party's armed struggle against coloured colonists and the Russian bureaucrats who support them". It referred to itself as "the military wing" of Russia's National-Socialist Society (NSS), a Moscow-based neo-Nazi organisation.

The NSS denied there was any such wing, but added: "We acknowledge that any autonomous national socialist group could certainly have committed the execution ... shown in the video."

"It would be an entirely predictable reaction to continuing pressure on national socialist movements from the authorities," it said in a statement.

While state-controlled television kept silent about the story, speculation raged in print and internet media about whether the video and statement could be an initiative by secret services or a rival neo-Nazi group meant to bring down the NSS.

"Though there are some odd moments in the video; it seems clear that the two people in it were actually killed," said Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the xenophobia monitoring centre Sova, in an online interview at "It looks less like a secret services operation than an attempt by other neo-Nazis to set up [NSS leader] Dmitry Rumyantsev," he said.

Sova's monitoring indicates that membership in neo-Nazi groups has surged in recent years in Russia, as have attacks on people of Caucasian and Central Asian origin.

According to Sova, 280 people have been the victims of racist attacks in Russia this year, including 34 deaths -- a 21% rise over the same period in 2006.

In July, police arrested a Russian neo-Nazi leader who had created a website with videos of attacks on foreigners that was popular among Russian skinheads.

The video of the purported execution has been removed from, but was still being circulated in Russian-language neo-Nazi forums on wednesday.
Regarding the Sova Center for Information and Analysis hate crime statistics, it should be noted that they are quite incomplete. Other news sources are citing "More than 50 people have been murdered by ultra-nationalist groups this year alone" in Russia. There are no requirements for reporting such crimes as "hate crimes" within Russia, and the police are notoriously slow at investigating violent acts as hate crimes. Even in the U.S., where the FBI has been required since 1990 to track and report hate crimes, roughly only 17% of police jurisdictions supply hate crime statistics. With that level of reporting, 2005 FBI Hate Crime statistics indicate 7,163 hate crimes in the U.S. (16,692 total murders and 862,947 total aggravated assaults that same year). There is no break-down in the FBI data as to how many of the murders and aggravated assaults were the results of hate crime acts.

Many remain skeptical regarding the police response and their willingness to actually catch the criminals involved. From a RFE/RL opinion sidebar by Danila Galperovich:
Still another group, the National Socialist Society, opined: "From the moment Vladimir Putin called supporters of the 'Russia for Russians' slogan idiots and provocateurs, to the moment when the same Vladimir Putin said -- mumbling and with stipulations, but still -- something about the role of Russians in forming the state, not much time had passed."

It seems many of these web-savvy Nazi supporters are confident that many in law enforcement and the special forces already secretly share their point of view -- and that there's no point in provoking their anger now by criticizing them on the web.
It also would appear that Livejournal itself is exhibiting some denial as to whether a crime has even occurred:
Anton Nosik, a representative of Sup, the company that oversees the Russian section of LiveJournal, says the site has taken no action against the blogger who first posted the video.

"Preliminary censorship is, of course, impossible on the Internet," Nosik says. "People post what they feel must be posted, and write what they feel must be written. There is a list of things that LiveJournal users agree not to do, but posting pictures of an execution is not on the list. There is a clause forbidding comments that incite ethnic hatred, but whether it applies to this particular video is an open question."

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin - On Tour

Came across a link to Pitchfork records blurb on the band Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin (SSLYBY). How 5 guys from Missouri come up with such a name isn't explained.

Nearly four months after their namesake's passing, Polyvinyl-signed upstarts Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin made it to Russia late last month.

Seems the Missouri-bred quartet were the talk of the Annual Afisha Picnic, which went down July 28 at Moscow's Kolomenskoye park. There they competed against native heavyweights like Mumiy Troll-- as well as cartoon viewings, fashion shows, backgammon and chess tournaments, sculpture gardens, manicures, an interactive "cardboard kingdom," and a whole lotta food-- to win the hearts and raise the eyebrows of our brothers and sisters of the former Soviet Union.
Hey, isn't that guy on the right Donnie Wahlberg?

I'm sure these guys have a page on MySpace as well, might be worth giving them a listen.

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The Russian Zombie Weapon

This article in Pravda was just too sweet to pass up. It begs the question:

"How can I get one...

and when can I use it on Ana Beatriz Barros?"

Actually, a weapon like this could explain much of George W. Bush's behavior. "Jorgi, u must invade Irak ... u must invade Irak"

Ok, enough with the humor and decadent fantasy. An excerpt from the Pravda article is below:
Major-general of the reserve of the Russian Federal Custodial Service Boris Ratnikov tells that Russia and other countries work on making special devices that turn humans into zombies.

It was already twenty years ago that mass media first mentioned the strange word combination ‘psychotronic weapon’. All information about such weapons arrived from military men transferred to the reserve and from researchers that were not officially recognized by the Russian Academy of Sciences. They usually told about some generators that could make people muddleheaded even when they were distanced at hundreds of kilometers.

Such devices were said to be able to control people’s behavior, seriously impair psyche and even drive people to death. As soon as information of the kind was published some people immediately claimed themselves as victims of impact of such psychotronic weapons. They stormed editorial offices of newspapers and magazines that reported about the psychotronic weapons and complained that some strange voices dictated orders to them. Journalists in their turn recommended such people visiting psychiatrists.

By the year of 2000 the amount of publications about psychotronic weapons reduced to nothing and the impact of psychotronic weapons was no longer mentioned. These days, the issue of psychotronic weapons seems to be reviving.

Boris Ratnikov says that Russia has been working on the psychotronic impact upon humans since the 1920s. Until the mid-1980s secret centers for investigation of psychic impact upon humans were working in large cities of the country under the KGB’s patronage. Thousands of brilliant researchers were working on the problem in the twenty secret centers. After the break-up of the USSR the centers were closed and the researchers either left abroad or currently work in various parts of Russia.

Now that new technologies and the Internet are widely spreading people must realize that the menace of psychic impact upon humans is really immense. At the same time, the official science still insists that psychotronic is mere charlatanry. Boris Ratnikov is sure however that in less than ten years psychotronic weapons will grow more dangerous than nuclear and atomic weapons.

It is known that several researchers are still investigating the problem in Russia. Academician Viktor Kandyba and his son continue the researches in St.Petersburg, academician Vlail Kaznacheyev works on the problem in Novosibirsk. And it is highly likely that the magic of human brain is still the issue of great interest for Academician Natalya Bekhtereva whose father was working on the problem in the past century.

The magic of the human brain! It comes from Pravda, so you know it has to be true ... and with a name like Boris Ratnikov, can a James Bond villain be far behind?

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