Daily Archives: April 25, 2006

Kremlin Lies Brazenly About Inflation Data

The New Russian Corporatism blog reports, based on a Vedomosti article, that Russian inflation is grossly under-reported. NRC states:

Although the official inflation figure is 10.9%, according to the specialists, the real figure in Moscow is much higher:

  • The inflation for blue-collar workers (those earning less than 700USD per month) being around 23%.
  • Those that earn 700-1500USD – 20%
  • Those that earn more than 1500USD – 21%

The same Institute that carried out the research has commented that the official figure is only accurate for those that earn the average salary of 8800 Rubles (320USD) and does not reflect those that earn much more than that. Rosstat does not disagree with the above analysis.

It seems that whilst goods in the Average Consumer Basket have risen by 11%, those that are not in it have done so by 20%.

Also in the period from March 2005 to March 2006, property prices in Moscow have risen by 50% and petrol by 20%.Salaries have risen by 12% USD or 15% in national currency.

Condi Socks Putin Right Between the Eyes!

Batton down your hatches, boys and girls. Russia asked for it, so here comes Cold War II, the one Russia won’t surivive. As the Washington Post reports:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Greece and Turkey Tuesday against allowing Russia to obtain a monopoly over Europe’s supply of natural gas, implicitly bolstering a planned pipeline from Azerbaijan that would weaken Russia’s tight grip over European energy supply.

“It’s quite clear that one of the concerns is that there could be a monopoly of supply from one source only, from Russia,” Rice told reporters in Athens after meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Theodora Bakoyannis.

Rice waded into the fierce battle over the increasing dominance of Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom–which recently sought a stake in a Greek-Turkish pipeline — even as she sought to build support in Greece and Turkey for sanctions against Iran. S

The high-stakes battle over European energy has been largely hidden from public view but it has emerged as a significant policy issue for top U.S. and European officials since Russia earlier this year briefly shut off Ukraine’s supply of natural gas in a pricing dispute.

Russia’s gambit — which only seemed to embolden the Russian government after Ukraine acquiesced to higher prices — alarmed European governments and set off a scramble, backed by Washington, to seek new sources of gas. Russian officials, in turn, have privately complained about the aggressive tactics of American diplomats to sell the Azerbaijan route.

“There is going to be a very strong emphasis for all of us on energy security,” Rice said. “It’s quite obvious that when you have the kind of demand growing around the world with big economic powers growing — developing powers in places like China and India, that it is going to be critical to have energy security.”

Russia is the world’s largest gas supplier and dominates many European markets. It supplies 100 percent of the gas to countries such as Finland, Slovakia and other Eastern European countries, 44 percent to Germany and one-quarter of the gas to Italy and France, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Gazprom has sought an interest in the Greek-Turkish pipeline, either as a shareholder or a supplier. While the United States has promoted the Greek-Turkish project as an way to reduce tensions between two long-term antagonists, U.S. officials now want the project to hook up to the Azerbaijan route, which is due to begin supplying gas in 2007.

Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev warned Tuesday that Gazprom may direct future gas supplies to China and emerging Asian economies should European leaders turn to competing suppliers. “There is no real alternative to Russian gas,” he told Bloomberg News. “If there is a political decision made to cut dependence on Russian gas, we won’t sit and wait while the mood changes.”

Russia Joins China to Block Human Rights in Sudan

The New York Times reports that Russia and China are opposing a broad coalition of nations seeking UN action to prevent human rights atrocities in Sudan.

Once again, Russia has chosen to ally itself with the Chinese against Europe and the United States. Is Russia hoping to appease China, the way Stalin tried to appease Hitler in World War II, in the hopes that China will not gobble up Siberia quite so fast as Hitler gobbled up Russia?

Or is it that Russia simply doesn’t care about human rights, and is consumed with jealous hatred of the United States, looking for any chance to express its vitriol?

The vote will go ahead anyway, and Russia and China, the new axis of evil, will lose. But Russia will never be China’s partner, it has nothing to offer China in the long term, China will simply take what it wants from Russia, namely territory.

Putin Lies Brazenly About AIDS

As the St. Petersburg Times reports from the AP wire, Vladimir Vladimirovich has been forced to discuss Russia’s burgeoning AIDS disaster, but the trained KGB liar still won’t face the music:

President Vladimir Putin called on the government and society on Friday to work harder to fight the spread of HIV, saying that AIDS was affecting young Russians at a pace that threatened the nation’s well-being.

Putin told federal and regional officials that experts believed the true number of people with HIV might be significantly higher than the official figure of more than 342,000, and that most of those with the virus were under 30.

“This already could have a negative influence on the demographic situation, and that is particularly worrisome,” Putin said. “The situation is alarming and demands not a contemplative but an active attitude from society.”

Check out this whopper:

Putin said a five-year anti-HIV/AIDS program that ends this year had cut the number of new HIV cases from 88,000 in 2001 to 33,000 last year. He said the government planned to spend 3.1 billion rubles ($113 million) on fighting AIDS under the aegis of the health care national project, but the time period for the outlays was unclear.

The facts belie Putin’s claim of genuine interest in solving the problem:

Putin spoke a day after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, criticized Western-funded programs aimed at combating HIV and AIDS in a letter to the president, calling them immoral and inconsistent with Russian culture and saying they promote Western pharmaceutical companies’ contraceptives.

Also last week, the Moscow City Duma urged Putin to restrict the activity of foreign NGOs involved in anti-AIDS programs, accusing them of fueling rather than helping to stem the epidemic.

Putin’s figure for Russians registered as HIV-positive was slightly lower than the statistic of 355,000 given a day earlier by the head of the Federal AIDS Center, Vadim Pokrovsky. Experts believe the true number is more than 1 million.

So Russia is understating its AIDS infection rate by a factor of three, making it rather hard to believe Putin’s claims about success in the reduction of new cases, especially when he’s in the middle of an Orthodox-led pogrom against NGOs who are trying to deal with the problem.

Russians Give Hot Chernobyl the Ice-Cold Shoulder

The Moscow Times reports that Russians show “apathy” towards the plight of the many Chernobyl workers, some pictured, who suffered horrible injuries attempting to close off the reactors during the meltdown. The MT states:

“The liquidators, as the firefighters, engineers, scientists, medics and military personnel who mopped up the disaster were known, shouldn’t be struggling to make ends meet, let alone buy medication — in theory. Last year, the government eliminated 10 of the original 25 benefits for liquidators. The end of free health care, in particular, outraged recipients, prompting protests across the country. Now, liquidators must go to court routinely to get their monthly payments adjusted so that they keep up with inflation. While there are laws dictating that liquidators are entitled to cost-of-living adjustments, the Federal Employment Service does not increase compensation payments until ordered to do so by a court, liquidators said.”

The MT continues with the sad story of Dr. Shashkov, classic example of Russian cruelty:

Nuclear physicist Alexei Shashkov nearly went blind, suffered multiple heart attacks, developed a gastric ulcer and, last year, lost his hearing in one ear.

Still, he considers himself lucky. Unlike most who worked with him at Chernobyl in the late 1980s, he’s still alive.

As the 20th anniversary of the April 26, 1986, explosion at Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 nears, there are about 3,000 seriously disabled workers like Shashkov, 60, living, or slowly dying, in Moscow, city authorities say. They add that there may be as many as 25,000 Chernobyl workers with varying levels of disabilities in the city.

Several advocates for survivors say 30,000 Chernobyltsy — an all-encompassing term that includes cleanup workers, widows, evacuees, orphans and others — live in Moscow.
Many, if not most, have suffered the same indignities Shashkov has suffered, if not worse: delayed government payment, legal wrangling with authorities and the bitterness that comes from, they say, being forgotten for cleaning up the planet’s most contaminated 30 square kilometers, the size of the exclusion zone.

Now, liquidators must go to court routinely to get their monthly payments adjusted so that they keep up with inflation. While there are laws dictating that liquidators are entitled to cost-of-living adjustments, the Federal Employment Service does not increase compensation payments until ordered to do so by a court, liquidators said.

Shashkov, for one, was forced to sue in 2002 for higher monthly payments, which had not increased since 2000. A district court in Moscow ruled in his favor, and his monthly payments went up from about 9,000 rubles; he declined to say by how much, fearing that people would think liquidators get too much.

Shashkov, who was let go from his job at the Kurchatov Institute, Russia’s leading nuclear research center, in 1999 after he became too sick to work, spends every day thinking about the disaster and fighting governmental apathy to it.

He also has to worry about his own health. In 1990, Shashkov suffered his first heart attack, although at the time doctors misdiagnosed it. In 1991, on the fifth anniversary of the disaster, he had his second heart attack; he spent the next six months in the hospital. Five months after being released, he had his third heart attack.

Reminiscing about his health before Chernobyl, Shashkov said: “I never knew I even had a heart.”

Today, the physicist spends 8,000 to 10,000 rubles every month on prescription drugs. He said he had buried most of the people he worked with at Chernobyl. When he goes to doctors, he tells them to save time and write down all the ailments he does not have.

Liquidators tend not to criticize the Soviets who built Chernobyl and ultimately mismanaged it. They reserve their bile for former President Boris Yeltsin, whose government initiated the compensation cutbacks, and for the current administration. Liquidators often say they are confused about why the government’s stabilization fund, swollen with oil revenues, cannot be tapped to take care of Chernobyl survivors.

Shashkov, a usually genial man, bristled when the conversation turned to politics, calling President Vladimir Putin, Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin greedy and myopic. “They have no concept of motherland,” he said. “They’ve taken this great country and turned it into a mess. They’ve killed science. They’ve killed health care. They’ve killed education.”

When America invaded Serbia, Russians rushed to the street to protest. But when Russia invades the Chernobyl heroes? Russians stand mute, just as they do in the face of rabid racist violence directed at foreign students, as repeatedly documented in this blog. Russiablog has published four stories on race violence in the past year, and not one has been commented upon with sympathy, concern or activism by a Russian.

So goes Russia.

Charlie and the Great Glass Jaw

Sometimes, La Russophobe likes to venture out into the blogosphere and check out what is happening there. Here is the story of one such trip.

A while ago, I posted a comment about an article on Russian cakes on Russiablog. I said the cake pictured in the article was topped with powdered sugar and I found that ironic, since many times I’d tried to buy powdered sugar in Russia and couldn’t do it, and when I could get it was rather brittle and unpleasant to eat in the raw form. Most Russian cakes of this kind, I wrote, were topped with liquified sugar rather than raw powdered sugar. I wrote a comment to the editors of Russiablog and told them about my observations. One of them responded by saying he stopped reading my post as soon as he saw my comment about powdered sugar since he knew this to be inaccurate, saying it was easy to buy powdered sugar in Russian which was plentiful. So I wrote back and asked them where they’d been able to do it.

Suddenly, Yuri Mamchur and Charles Ganske, editors of Russsiablog, got quiet. No answers. Neither one would name a single Russian city outside Moscow where they’d been able to buy powdered sugar (La Russophobe has lived in many such cities and visited dozens more). I followed up like the pit bull La Russophobe is known to be.

Finally, Ganske told me that he’d just been blindly relying on what Mamchur had told him, since he (Ganske) had never been to Russia (La Russophobe has spent years living in Russia). Unfortunately, Ganske didn’t say that in his statement, he just said I was wrong. I asked him why Yuri hadn’t responded and he said didn’t know and he didn’t feel like questioning him about a “mundane” matter like powdered sugar because he was “away.” Not “away” enough to stop posting on Russiablog, mind you, but “away” enough to ignore this issue. Ironically, a photograph in the Russiablog article shows a whole table of these cakes, and none are topped with powdered sugar.

Now, La Russophobe is as liberated as the next feminist, but La Russophobe wasn’t born yesterday. She knows that Russian men like Yuri don’t go around baking much, so it’s highly suspicious that they’d have the slightest real idea about powdered sugar. La Russophobe is a foodie, though, and through bitter personal experience she’s found it quite difficult to get powdered sugar in Russia (as well as many other things – try to find broccoli or peanut butter in Smolensk, I dare you!), and when she finds it its always powdered beet sugar, quite different from (and inferior to) the cane variety. So she’s got a double interest in finding out whether Yuri is just shooting his mouth off.

Which, by the way, Yuri does quite often. For example, Yuri wrote on Russiablog (no kidding!) that “95% of the people” standing in line to file past the tomb of Lenin in Moscow are Americans. He said that I’d written “millions” of comments on Russiablog. Being a composer, Yuri is the emotional type, and being Russian, isn’t overly concerned with small things like facts when a good feeling is there to be had.

Oh, and I might add: Russiablog published not one but two of the posts from this blog (Sharapova and Yanukovich) and La Russophobe was responsible for at least half the comment traffic generated on their site. Here is what Yuri wrote in a post that appeared just after La Russophobe‘s two articles appeared on their site: “We are delighted to see the increased traffic and comments on Russia Blog.” So this little exchange might be considered cutting of your nose to spite your face, since now La Russophobe has lost interest in Russiablog. Eerily like Russia itself, isn’t it? In fact, it’s almost poetic.

Meanwhile, another dialogue was proceeding between me an the editors. Strident Russian nationalist Mike Averko posted something on Russiablog claiming that the average Russian lifespan had increased at a greater rate under President Putin than the American lifespan had increased in the same period. Once again, La Russophobe‘s interest was peaked. Is this really true, she thought? After all, La Russophobe is as familiar with the demographic data on Russia as anybody, and she knows full well that Russia’s population is rapidly declining, in part due to a very short adult lifespan, especially for men, and that by 2050 demographers predict that Russia’s population will be 1/3 less than it is today.

So I asked Mike to document his claim (yes, that’s right, when he posted it he relied purely on his own word, no evidence of any kind). No dice. Nada. Mike got as quiet as Mikhail Khodorkovsky in solitary in Siberia.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I feel for Mike. There he was with his own private little preserve at Russiablog, pretending to be some kind of expert before Russiablog’s tiny little audience, holding forth with all kinds of ridiculous Russophile propaganda. Then I come along and spoil it all for him. It’s annoying, I feel his pain.

But after all, facts are facts. Is what Mike said true, or isn’t it? La Russophobe is as interested as the next person in broadening her horizons and learning from somebody who knows more. So I asked the editors to document the claim, or insist that Mike do so. Their answer: Nothing. Nada. Silence. Again, La Russophobe would not give up. Finally, Ganske told me that it’s “not his job” to fact check the assertions that get put on Russiablog, not even when they are challenged. Not that he agrees with what Mike wrote, mind you, he said. It’s just that facts are not at the top of his list of things to do. In other words, Russiablog isn’t exactly the New York Times. So naturally, it isn’t exactly La Russophobe‘s cup of tea.

For her part, La Russophobe always responds immediately to reports of errors. For example, a Russiablog reader pointed out that she’d got it wrong when she said Sharapova had played Venus Williams at Wimbledon. In fact it was Serena Williams; a correction immediately went up on the Russiblog article, and La Russophobe apologized for the error and thanked the commenter who’d pointed it out. But Mike? Just got quiet.

Mike also wrote a post which accused Johnson’s Russia List, probably the single most well-respected blog source of Russia information in the world today (it is a linked blog on the New York Times Russia page), of “cronyism and political bias” simply because it refuses to publish HIS articles. He also wrote: “JRL regulars aren’t my intellectual superiors.” Indeed.

So La Russophobe had to rethink her participation in Russiablog and has removed her link to the blog from her list of links. She got a little taste of how Solzhenitisn felt when all of Russia ganged up on him and tossed him out of the country, calling him a traitor and a moron and a foreign spy when all he’d said was (in rather sharp language) that the USSR sucked and would soon destroy Russia. In other words, he spoke the truth. Turned out he was kinda (well, totally) right, but people who talk like that in Russia pay a stiff price for their truth.

And so it goes in the blogosphere.