Nettle Soup & Duck Kebabs – inside the Kremlin

The BBC posts a photo-essay, briefly exploring the lives of the ordinary people who work in the Kremlin, day in, day out:

Viktor, a chef, misses his old leaders. “Khrushchev’s favourite dish was stinging nettle soup,” he says. “Brezhnev loved duck kebabs. Under Putin, you could never cook like that.”

That Putin.  No taste. I’m convinced that the man gets by on a cabbage soup diet – otherwise known as Borscht.

Russian Central Banker Assassinated

Andrei Kozlov The Deputy Chief of the Russian Central Bank was assassinated last night.  He was known for taking a tough line on banking violations – Russia’s banking system isn’t exactly the most reputable in the world – and it appears that one of the banks reacted badly to his activities.

Presumably the assassin believes that they will gain some breathing space for their illegal activities.  I think they’ll be unpleasantly surprised. 

This will be seen in part as a direct challenge to the authority President Putin, who has staked a great deal of his reputation on his ability to turn Russia into a country where the rule of law (if not democracy) is respected.  Expect him to react by ordering Russia’s Central Bank to take an even harder line on banking irregularities across the board.

Russian Churches, now and then

Via English-Russia, a series of fascinating pictures of Russian churches, the first taken in 1910, the second just a couple of years ago:

Nilov Hermitage 1906 Nilov Hermitage 21st century

The first picture was taken by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, photographer to the Russian Tsar, who developed a revolutionary technique for taking colour pictures.More of his amazing pictures, documenting life in late Tsarist Russia can be found at the Library of Congress website – The Empire that was Russia.

The etiquette of sex doll rafting

In Russia they hold sex-doll rafting races. No, really, they do.  Anyway, this year’s event, however, has not been without scandal – one of the competitors apparently getting a little over friendly with his raft:

Over 400 “sportsmen” took part in the Bubble Baba Challenge tournament. “It’s fun and difficult to swim 1200 meters in stormy river with an exotic apparatus, as inflatable ladies slip out of hands”, tournament organizer Dmitriy Bulaviniv said.

At a juries’ command participants jumped into the water. Strong wind and flow snatched out resilient dolls from strong men’s hands, and only Osipov,40, resolutely approached to the finish.

“I was shocked, I think it was an expression of his great desire to win,” Osipov’s friend said. The jury then noticed Osipov’s strange position and told him to moor. When he came out of the water, gazers saw signs of recent sexual activity on the swimmer’s doll.

At least they didn’t ask him to dock.

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Russia to send peacekeepers to Lebanon?

It looks like a debate is going on in Russia at the moment about whether to send peacekeepers to Lebanon. A couple of politicians are sounding quite enthusiastic, but Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov is talking the idea down a little:

“We are examining the situation, so far we are not clear on the peacekeepers’ status and rights, what they will do there, what mandate they will have,” Ivanov said as quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency. However, “giving such humanitarian aid would fully answer our country’s interests,” Ivanov added.

Personally, I’d quite like to see Russia become more involved in multi-national UN peacekeeping missions, rather than their usual unilateral missions, which serve only prop up tin-pot dictators on their borders.

I wouldn’t mind seeing China kitting out a few more of its troops with blue helmets, either.

These are two of the world’s major powers, two of the five permanent security council members, and can field two of the world’s best equipped and trained armies. It’s about time they started pulling their weight on the international scene.

And I think the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon might be just the place to do it. It’s high profile mission but one that is, frankly, not really expected to achieve all that much. The involvement of Russia and China would balance out claims that the UN force is too pro-Israel (because, whatever some people think about France, the man on the Arab street still views them as a ‘Western’ country). And their presence would go some way to appeasing Hizbullah, which isn’t going to be thrilled to see a peacekeeping force made up almost entirely of European Union member states.

The death of Russian democracy

The Kremlin backed United Russia Party has begun to open stores across the country, exchanging cheap goods for votes:

“Social” shops selling cheap furniture, clothes and shoes are being opened by United Russia in poor regions across the country. A clothes store opened by the party in Kirov offers pairs of jeans for 100 roubles (£2) to 400 roubles, and T-shirts for 30 roubles. War veterans and the disabled get a discount.

I don’t really think we need argue any further about whether Russian democracy remains alive.  The life support machine has now been officially unplugged.

Bomb blast in Moscow market kills 10

10 Muscovites have been killed by a bomb that exploded today in a crowded market:

According to Moscow’s First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin, a “makeshift explosive device” blew up. Earlier, police blamed a faulty gas cylinder.

Two men have been arrested in connection with the blast, and already the speculation about who was behind the bomb has begun.

Two rather obvious groups fall under immediate suspicion – local gangsters, or Chechen terrorists.  (Although there are probably a few cynics out there who will suggest that the Russian government, needing to rally their people behind an imaginary enemy, were behind it). 

RIA Novosti are reporting that the authorities in Moscow – who have the advantage of having interrogated the two arrested men – are leaning towards the local gangsters, saying that this explosion is a part of a local turf war.  This is my initial reaction, as well.

  • For starters, it fits a pattern – there have been quite a few bombings in crowded markets across Russia that have been linked to local turf wars. 
  • Second, no-one has admitted to the bombing – as I write this, more than 10 hours have passed since the explosion and no-one has claimed responsibility.  Terrorists aim their message at a wide audience – the public  – nd like to spread the news of their successes as far and wide as possible.  Criminal gangs, meanwhile, tend to be sending their message to a relatively small group of people.  Those people won’t need to rely on the news media to know who attacked them.
  • Third, the Russian government hasn’t pinned the blame on terrorists – the Kremlin rarely misses a trick when it comes to talking up the threat of Islamic terrorism.  If they had any kind of evidence linking this to Islamic/Chechen terrorism, you can bet we’d have heard about it by now.

I await further news, but this seems to me to be a worrying escalation in the scale of Russian gang wars, rather than an act of terror directed at Russia as a whole.