Tag Archives: Russia & the Former USSR
November 24, 2008

Russian oil companies to explore off Cuba


Russian oil companies could soon begin searching for oil in deep Gulf of Mexico waters off Cuba, a top diplomat said just days before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits the island.

Russian oil companies have “concrete projects” for drilling in Cuba’s part of the gulf, said Mijail Kamynin, Russia’s ambassador to Cuba, to the state-run business magazine Opciones.

Kamynin also said Russian companies would like to help build storage tanks for crude oil and to modernize Cuban pipelines, as well as play a role in Venezuelan efforts to refurbish a Soviet-era refinery in the port city of Cienfuegos, according the article published this weekend.


Washington’s nearly 50-year-old trade embargo prohibits U.S. companies from investing on the island. But Cuba’s state-run oil concern has signed joint operating agreements with companies from several countries to explore waters that Cuban scientists claim could contain reserves of up to 20 billion barrels of oil.

Remind me again…this trade embargo is useful because? Oh, right…it’s not. We have just allowed our Cuba policy to be hijacked by some bitter old dudes in Miami. Meanwhile, U.S. companies can’t invest in lucrative opportunities there, and I can’t fly down and enjoy a mojito and frita. Dear Obama: Please get rid of this useless embargo.

November 24, 2008

Global recession or whatev forces Russians to cut back on vodka

Uh, wow:

The global financial crisis has grown so bad that Russians are cutting back on vodka.

Stockpiles of Russia’s national drink were six times higher at the start of the month than the same time a year ago because factories are producing vodka faster than they can sell it, an alcohol industry lobby and research group said on Monday.

“People are having to save money, including on drinks, and this is connected to the impact of the financial crisis on people’s disposable incomes,” Pavel Shapkin, president of the National Alcohol Association (NAA), told Reuters.


The alcohol industry body said 8.2 million decalitres of vodka — or more than half a litre for every one of Russia’s 141 million population — was stockpiled in shops and warehouses on November 1, a volume unprecedented in modern Russia.

In further evidence of the impact of the crisis, separate research by TsIFFRA, an industry analytics firm, showed alcohol production dropped 15 percent in October due to poor demand.

Fatalities related to alcohol poisoning had been in steady decline since 2006, when there was an outbreak of deaths from bootleg vodka. But in September they rose again for the first time, going up by 6 percent on the same period last year, according to the NAA’s research.

November 22, 2008

It’s that time of the year

Gazprom and Ukrainians fighting over natural gas contracts again:

Russia’s state-owned energy company, Gazprom, will cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine on January 1 unless a new contract is signed, a company spokesman has said.

“We would like to avoid such a scenario, we would like to agree on everything before New Year, but as you understand, we cannot deliver gas without a contract,” spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Russia’s Vesti-24 television on Saturday.

Zzzz…they’ll settle this eventually.

November 22, 2008

POTD: Apollo-Soyuz “vodka” rations, 1975


American astronauts Tom Stafford and Deke Slayton holding tubes of vodka given to them by Russian cosmonauts during historic rendezvous and linkup of Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft.

Who cares what space food tastes like when your meal comes with a tube of vodka?

(The tubes of vodka didn’t actually contain vodka, as that is probably the last thing you want your crew to drink when piloting spacecraft. As a joke, the Soviet cosmonauts pasted vodka labels onto tubes of borscht and presented them to the Americans for a toast. Yes, tubes of borscht. I think I’d rather have the vodka.)


November 16, 2008

Okhta Center (aka Gazprom City) on hold

Well, something good has to come out of this financial crisis, right?

From the department of silver linings comes this item from Russia: because of the financial crisis, plans for a controversial skyscraper that would have towered over St. Petersburg’s low-slung Baroque skyline have been delayed and — preservationists, architects and many residents fervently hope — may never be carried out.

The mayor of St. Petersburg has submitted an amendment to next year’s budget to cut money for the city’s first skyscraper, which was to have been financed with Gazprom, the Russian oil and gas behemoth that has itself suffered financially with the spectacular decline in energy prices.


From the start, the proposed design for the tower by the London firm RMJM drew considerable criticism, the twisting facade alternately being described as evoking a flickering gas flame or a corncob. But the principal complaint from historical preservationists was its height.

The building would soar 1,299 feet, shattering a czarist-era rule that no structure, other than a church spire, should exceed the height of the city’s centerpiece building, the former Winter Palace, now the Hermitage Museum. Before the law was changed specifically for the Gazprom project, the zoning restriction at the proposed site was 138 feet.

So contentious was the proposed height that three of four foreign architects on the selection committee resigned rather than consider any design of that sort in downtown St. Petersburg. Critics took to calling it the “Gazoskryob,” or “gas scraper.”

Critics, including Unesco and a number of prominent architects, pointed out that the site was directly across the Neva River from Smolny Cathedral, a delicate ensemble of spires and onion-dome cupolas. And they roundly panned the design itself.

“It could be a mirage, appearing over the sand,” complained Semyon I. Mikhailovsky, an architectural historian and the vice president of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Art. “It was unclear they needed it before, and now it is clearly unneeded.”


November 9, 2008

In which Gorbachev slays Stalin zombies and gets all the ladies

This music video by Russian metal band ANJ leaves me almost speechless. In it, a buff Mikhail Gorbachev slays Stalin-like zombies and frees the Soviets to party on the beach and consume Coca-Cola and Twinkies. No need to study the fall of the Soviet Union, as this video says it all.


November 9, 2008

Inland Empire teen is off to the Bolshoi

This is a very cool story. Matthew Leonardi, a 14-year old who hails from a tough San Bernardino neighborhood, was the only American male accepted into Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy this year. Shortly after the LATimes ran Matt’s story, readers stepped up and sent in donations to help him pay the $18,000 annual tuition, enabling him to attend the school. Enjoy Moscow, Matt.

November 8, 2008

Nashi protests outside US Embassy



With pumpkins and Johnny Cash music:

Thousands of Russians from the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi gathered in front of the United States Embassy here on Sunday night carrying jack-o’-lanterns inked with the names of war victims and charging that the war in Georgia was part of an American plot to improve Senator John McCain’s electoral prospects.

As music by Johnny Cash and the Allman Brothers played from loudspeakers, a stream of young people climbed off buses that had carried them to Moscow from far-flung provincial capitals. They held the pumpkins aloft for a moment of silence as a deep bass thumped and carnival-style lights played on the embassy’s facade.

In a film projected on several large screens, an actor playing President Bush (though with a heavy Russian accent) delivered a speech in which he gloated over the United States’ control over world affairs. The film asserted that the United States orchestrated World Wars I and II so that the American economy could overtake Europe’s, carried out the Sept. 11 attacks to broaden government powers and planned to brand every person on the planet with the “mark of the beast,” as referred to in the Bible.

“When that will happen, we will totally control all humanity,” said the actor playing Mr. Bush, swigging a beer, as a picture of the globe in chains glowed behind him.

WTF? What a bizarre protest.

October 20, 2008

Life in Zvyozdny Gorodok (Star City)


This is a great article on the lives of American astronauts training at Star City, the Russian equivalent of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Significant cultural differences remain between the Russians and Americans here. For example, working side by side with the Russians, the Americans say, has helped them understand the nations’ approaches to safety.

Dr. Barratt said that when he first walked the grounds of Star City, he was surprised by how uneven the sidewalks were. At NASA, he said, “there’d be big red placards” warning people to watch their step. And if someone did fall, a lawsuit would soon follow. In Russia, he said, people simply watch their step.

The underlying point, said Mark Thiessen, the deputy to Mr. McBrine, is that “Russians accept risk.” Americans try “to eliminate risk instead of minimize it.” The American approach is laudable, he said, but not always possible, and Americans end up more cautious than Russians. “No one is willing to say, ‘I accept this risk,’ ” he said.


October 20, 2008

These two Russian dudes love Sarah Palin

I love it. Vlad and Boris, please make more music videos!