Recent European Birthdays

Almaty, the former capital and still a major city of Kazakhstan. Birthplace of the apple, and turned 1,000 years old recently. Coming in at a not even close second is KLM airlines, the Royal Dutch Airline at 97 years old!.

One of the most beautiful Kazakh landmarks is the Ascension Russian Orthodox Cathedral, sometimes called the Zenkov Cathedral after the esteemed architect who designed it, was completed in 1907. The Soviets turned the building into a museum and the regions radio station transmitters were housed in the bell towers.


Although it is the second tallest wooden Cathedral in the world, not a single nail was used in the construction. Today, many experts believe that the technique of interlocking joints, instead of nails, made it possible for the Cathedral to withstand the great Central Asian earthquake of 1911.


KLM is one of our favourite airlines. Why? Certainly not because they wimp out by taking the first 3 rows of coach, place a “not available” sign in the middle seat, and declare the section to be first class. No, it is because they are Dutch, and “if it isn’t Dutch–it isn’t much!”

Who remembers their daughter airline, ALM, that for years served the Antilles and the Caribbean?

New Duma Open for Business

Less than 16 hours ago President Vladimir Putin opened the seventh convocation of the State Duma (parliament). During his address he welcomed the newly elected Members of Parliament from Russia’s 85 regions, including those from the annexed regions comprising Crimea and Sevastopol.


Mr. Putin stressed the need to curb corruption as an impediment to development of private business interests and he called on the country to continue development of Russia’s Far East regions.

As for key initiatives, he singled out a key issue for Parliament to address: What is this issue? Of course, special attention should be paid to reaching objectives in education, healthcare, housing policy and the environment. That is, in areas that directly influence people’s well-being and social and demographic development.

Putin named Vyacheslav Volodin, formerly the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff to the position of State Duma Speaker. Putin thanked former speaker Sergei Naryshkin who has been appointed as the new chief of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.

Few opposition candidates were allowed to run in the recent elections and so this is expected by many to be a “rubber stamp” body for the Kremlin.


Uber and Bla Bla Car Battle Russian Taxis

Just the mention of Uber brings out detractors who quickly point out how much money the service continues to lose. However, given the big-name investors and the fact that Uber opens a new city every five days, one simply cannot discount this company that loves to disrupt the status quo.

In the spring Uber introduced a flat rate of 700 rubles (currently $10.96) for travel from any of the three major Moscow airports to the centre of the city. That is easily a third of what most official Taxi drivers charge.


Facing stiff competition from Yandex (Russia’s “Google”) Taxi service, Uber came close to being driven out of Russia earlier this year. Uber steered clear of the regulatory off-ramp by agreeing to use officially registered taxi drivers and to share travel data with transportation authorities.

The Israeli-based ( is another popular app that allows Russian riders to arrange ride sharing with drivers.

Get.Taxi app

Another ride sharing company that is growing rapidly is the Paris based Bla Bla Car, in which riders not only pay for the ride, but as it is primarily a city to city or region to region service, riders must promise to talk with the driver to help them stay awake on the longer distances. Thus, the “Bla Bla” in the name.

When logging in to, riders can see who is traveling to the same city, and then select the driver based on the price and times of travel. For identity purposes a photo of the driver is shown.


As Russian cities have banned the practice of “gypsy taxis” over the years in which ordinary drivers would stop on city streets and haggle with hitch-hikes for the fee, these transportation alternatives have begun to gain footholds in Russian cities.

So far, officials have done little to shield local taxi companies from competition, proving yet again the power of the Internet to disrupt and innovate.



Russian Duma Elections 2016


This building, home to Russia’s lower house of parliament, is known as the Duma. The term is tied to the idea of thinking, and those who thought that the United Russia party would increase their hold on power were thinking correctly.

Reaction from Russian president Vladimir Putin was predictable as he greeted news of his party’s continued control with the expression “pretty good.” Mr. Putin arrived at 12:50 pm to cast his ballot at polling station No. 2151, the Russian Academy of Sciences.


United Russia increased its majority from 238 to over 300. There are a total of 450 seats, all were up for reelection, and the only “minority” parties to hold seats were those loyal to the Kremlin.

Two highly visible Kremlin opponents lost their bids: Current deputy Dmitry Gudkov, considered to be only remaining opposition liberal, was defeated. Well-known opposition candidate Maria Baronova lost her bid for a seat.

The chart below shows the new alignment of the 450 seats:


United Russia: 343

Communist Party: 42

Liberal Democrats: 39

A Just Russia: 23

The Rodina (Homeland) party and the Civic Platform party each won a single seat. The final seat went to an Independent. Roughly half the seats will be appointed from party lists, the others from single-mandate voting.

Unsurprisingly, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors pointed to plenty of polling violations and ballot-stuffing which are widely considered to be standard fare in Russian elections.


Russians in general were unimpressed, with less than half of registered voters bothering to cast a ballot. It was the lowest turnout of any election since the fall of the Soviet Union with fewer than 40% showing up. The two cities with the highest number of opposition voters were quiet. The Moscow turnout was about 30% and just under 20% for Saint Petersburg.

For our Russian language readers we recommend the Medusa media analysis of the election at this link.

Putin’s Driver Killed in Car Crash


There must have been a full moon over Moscow on 05 September because the next morning brought out the usual band of strange reports with the crash on Kutuzovsky Avenue which killed one of Vladimir Putin’s drivers.

It wasn’t long before press members were being deluged by the same cadre of conspiracy theory spinners with their questions that seem at times to be extreme manifestations of drug overdose, or perhaps mental retardation.  Sadly, most of these clowns have access to internet radio shows, blogs, and YouTube channels and love to masquerade as underground journalists.


Some wanted to know if it was an attempt by the opposition to assassinate the president. Others hatched the idea that the car was being driven as a “decoy” to confuse opposition members in the Kremlin’s inner circle from knowing where Mr. Putin was at the time.

Some loudly proclaimed that it was a plot by American president Obama to kill Putin and wanted clues seeking confirmation that the CIA had been involved. Others were convinced that the Clinton campaign orchestrated the accident as payback for Russian hackers who reaped top secret info from Mrs. Clinton’s unprotected email mail servers.

Oh Lord, the display of ignorance is stunning. So, we’ll review some facts here. As usual, facts have a way of exposing empty conspiracy theories.

Fact: the Kremlin does not use decoys on busy streets. When Mr. Putin travels on city streets, all traffic is shut down and the presidential motorcade takes over the entire roadway. There are police motorcycle or patrol car escorts at the front, then several presidential cars depending on who is traveling with him, at least two or more SUVs with highly trained members of the Presidential Protective Service, and normal protocol has two ambulances following at the rear.

Fact: presidential motorcades are very unpopular in a city with such massive traffic problems, and therefore Mr. Putin’s most common form of transportation between the presidential residence at Novo-Ogaryovo (outside Moscow) and on the rare days when he comes into Moscow to the Kremlin, is a special squad of helicopters which land on the helipad inside the Kremlin territory.

Even in areas away from the centre of Moscow, as seen below, Mr. Putin prefers to travel by helicopter for short distance events.

Theory: Putin hides his schedule because he is afraid of those around him.

Fact: while there have been such incidents, those are very rare. There are times when his schedule is veiled, but not usually. On Sept 6 he was in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) to lay flowers at the grave of recently deceased Uzbek president Islam Karimov. He also met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain at the Kremlin, and conducted a meeting in the Kremlin’s St Catherine Hall with leaders of his United Russia party regarding the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In the days before, he had attended the G20 summit in China. His schedule was widely known and there would have been no need to send out a car as a “decoy” that traveled in normal lanes with a single occupant in daytime traffic. Had someone planned a “hit” as the theory goes, they would have known in advance to come to the Kremlin, not send a car to hit a lone driver traveling in a standard lane on a busy avenue.

Fact: such a “hit” would have to be highly coordinated with informants and spotters assisting the driver of a hit car. But again, Mr. Putin does not travel on busy streets in a car without multiple advance and rear escorts.

For what it is worth, the car involved in the crash  is registered to the Federation Council, the upper house (Senate) of parliament. It was not registered to the presidential administration of which there are hundreds, over 700 in number, of official cars. It was not traveling in the centre lane that is reserved for government officials, nor was the car carrying the required flashing blue light had it been on official business.

The CCTV video accounts of the accident show that things happened so fast that it is difficult to tell many of the accident details leading up to the crash. But, attempts to label it as a CIA attempt or some other plot to take out the Russian president are just stunningly ignorant.


A Crime: One Last Hand for Pavel

We reported it here on 05 October 2011. That was the day when clapping hands in public became a crime in Belarus.

Following months of protests after the stolen elections in 2010, the streets of Belarus were filled with peaceful citizen protesters. Pavel Sheremet was there, reporting from the thick of it all as journalists were beaten and dragged off to jail like anyone else who dared to defy the dictatorship’s curfew. Pavel was one of those who was arrested and then suffered at the hands of the KGB thugs who protect president-for-life Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Thousands of brave citizens, longing for freedom, made their stand. It was not a pretty sight as the violence unleashed against a people was like something most in the West have never seen. In a country where ordinary citizens cannot possess weapons, citizens were forced to use their hands. Literally.

Public gatherings were banned, but citizens gathered anyway. They marched while shouting slogans and holding banners. Then, slogans and banners were banned. So, using social media they mobilized in groups by walking up and down streets while clapping hands in unison.

Hand-clapping in public was banned.

That brought on the “silent protests” with groups walking together quietly. It was not long before that too, was declared to be illegal.

On Saturday, the 23rd day of July in 2016, hand-clapping in public was once again heard in Belarus. It began slowly at first, as the body of murdered journalist Pavel Sheremet was carried from his funeral service at All Saints Church to the waiting burial van. As the van proceeded to the Northern Cemetery just outside Minsk, small groups of onlookers stood along the way to clap as Pavel’s body traveled to his final resting place.

It was one last hand for Pavel.

Rest in Peace: Pavel Sheremet

First in Kyiv (Kiev) and then in Minsk, thousands stood in line to say farewell to slain journalist Pavel Sheremet who was murdered when a car bomb exploded under the car he was driving last Wednesday.

Pavel Sheremet kiev rest

Sheremet’s funeral was held at All Saints Orthodox Cathedral in Minsk, the city of his birth. He was buried next to his father in a cemetery outside of Minsk.

In the video below, the hand clapping is a symbol of resistance as the government of Belarus has outlawed the clapping of hands in public. Public hand clapping became a symbol of opposition to the dictatorship after the government ordered that public gatherings of opposition groups were to be non-verbal.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered round the clock bodyguards for Olena Prytula, Pavel’s partner. She is the founding editor of Ukrainska Pravda newspaper. Just a few years ago one of the newspaper’s journalists was murdered while covering corruption stories regarding president Viktor Yanukovich who was ousted in the 2014 revolution.

Pavel Sheremet and Boris Nemtsov
Slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (February 2015) at left with recently murdered opposition journalist Pavel Sheremet (July 2016).

Speaking to reporters while under house arrest in Moscow, Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny said of Sheremet: “Governments always knew that he understood them well and always hated him for that. Sheremet faced jail in Belarus, he was persecuted in Russia, and he was being followed in Ukraine.”

In the video below, Pavel interviewed Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov who was murdered in Moscow in 2015.

pavel sheremet radio 2

“Россия семимильными шагами движется к катастрофе, которую, мне кажется, остановить нельзя…” – Павел Шеремет  (Russia is moving by leaps and bounds to the catastrophe, which, it seems to me, can not be stopped … ” – Pavel Sheremet.

Pavel Sheremet studio a
Pavel hosted a daily news show on Radio Vesti.