70th Anniversary of Victory Day in Russia

•10/05/2015 • Leave a Comment

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It felt different. It looked different. It was different. The Moscow observance of Victory Day has historically been the trendsetter for other regional celebrations. Not this year, however. Sure, there were bands and the parade with tanks, there were speeches and salutes, veterans were given flowers and there was the festive atmosphere in city parks and squares just like all the other years.

Victory parade 2015 air

But, this year was different. Lively but at the same time muted, and perhaps even a little deflated. Russia has isolated herself from most of the Western world and the collegial atmosphere and shows of good will from other nations, even neighboring states, was nothing as in the past.

Victory parade 2015 Red Square

As for size of the parade, it was larger than normal and that was to best expected for the marking of the 70th anniversary. It was the largest military parade in the history of Red Square, with 16,000 servicemen, 194 units of land-based military equipment and 143 aircraft and helicopters employed in the parade.

Victory parade 2015 helos

To make up for the non-shows by many usual world leaders, Moscow invited some 2,000 veterans, more than usual, to sit in the parade stands on Red Square.

Victory parade 2015 Asian vets

This year’s most honoured guest was Xi Jinping, president of China who was accompanied by his wife. Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army of China marched in the parade. Other world leaders who attended included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Raul Castro of Cuba, and President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Victory parade 2015 China pres

After the parade,Russian president Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexander Garden. In some previous years the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers has taken place prior to the parade.

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Victory Day in Russia, Prelude

•09/05/2015 • Leave a Comment

Aside from the growing list of world leaders who will not be attending the annual Victory Day celebration on 9 May, and besides the embarrassing breakdown of one of Russia’s heralded new generation tanks during a practice run on Red Square, the lead-up to the official day of celebration has been fairly routine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moscow, 8 May 2015.

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moscow, 8 May 2015.

Of consequence is the fact that Chinese leader Chinese Xi Jinping is the honoured guest this year, a marked change from previous celebrations. Russia and China are cooperating more closely for two simple reasons: China has money to lend, and Russia needs to borrow.

On 8 May, a meeting of the heads of CIS states was held at the Kremlin, and while billed as just an informal gathering, it was anything but informal. In his remarks to those gathered, Russia president Putin accused the West of rewriting the history of the second world war, although he offered no basis for that assertion.

Meeting of CIS states, Moscow Kremlin, 8 May 2015.

Meeting of CIS states, Moscow Kremlin, 8 May 2015.

This year’s president of the CIS is President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who recently won reelection in Kazakhstan. He garnered some 96% of the votes according to the Kazakh Election Commission, and is in reality Kazakhstan’s president for life.

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.

During the day, leaders of the Eurasian Economic Union agreed on goals and set a common agenda for 2015–2016. The countries pledged to continue the creation of a common electricity market in the Eurasian Economic Union, and changes to standardize motor trucking services across member states. Members announced a free trade agreement with Vietnam and additional financing contracts for funding from China.

At the close of the meeting, Kyrgyzstan became the latest Eastern nation to join the economic bloc.

Meanwhile Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met with several veterans group. He paid a special visit to one veteran, Ilya Kalashnikov Krasnoseltseva. Russia is still fulfilling a decades old promise to provide adequate housing for veterans of the war.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during a visit to veteran of the Great Patriotic War Ilya Kalashnikov Krasnoseltseva.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the home of veteran Ilya Kalashnikov Krasnoseltseva.

Russia’s full celebrating of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war with Nazi Germany will be celebrated on Saturday, 9 May.

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Nazarbayev Reelected in Kazakhstan

•29/04/2015 • 1 Comment

(From http://www.eurasianet.org)

The results of the April 26 presidential election in Kazakhstan offer a good illustration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s aversion to what he described last month as “forced democracy.” He won reelection with almost 98 percent of the vote.

Nazarbayev_at_2011_Nur_Otan_Congress

The election victory for the 74-year-old Nazarbayev, who in addition to the presidency also holds the official title Leader of the Nation, came on a record turnout of 95.22 percent, according to preliminary results released by the Central Electoral Commission the morning after the vote.

“Kazakhstan has demonstrated its high political culture and democracy to the international community,” Nazarbayev told supporters during the evening of the election.

At a subsequent news conference, the president professed to be embarrassed by the Soviet-like level of voter support for his reelection. “I apologize that for super-democratic states such figures are unacceptable: 95 percent participation and more than 97 percent [of ballots cast for him]. But I could do nothing. If I had interfered, I would have been undemocratic,” said Nazarbayev, who has led Kazakhstan since before the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Nazarbayev trounced two little-known challengers – Turgun Syzdykov of the government-loyal Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan, who received 1.6 percent of the vote, and Abelgazi Kusainov, a member of the ruling party led by Nazarbayev, Nur Otan, who trailed with 0.7 percent.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement released on April 27 that a “lack of genuine opposition limited voter choice.”

“The incumbent and his political party dominate politics, and there is a lack of a credible opposition in the country,” Cornelia Jonker, the head of the OSCE mission, stated. There were also “significant restrictions” on freedom of expression and the media environment.

Nazarbayev has regularly cautioned that the democratization process in Kazakhstan needs to be carefully managed in order to preserve domestic stability. Nazarbayev has defended Kazakhstan’s democratic record in the past: once remarking that in terms of democracy, “our glass is half or three-quarters full, and we have to fill it up.”

Passover in Eastern Europe and Asia

•05/04/2015 • Comments Off on Passover in Eastern Europe and Asia

We are sorry to be late, but during the Passover season wish to extend special greetings to wonderful friends of the Jewish faith. Chag Pesach Kasher V’Sameach! (!חג פסח כשר ושמח)

A special thanks to business relationships with awesome friends whose work is often featured in the Mendeleyev Journal: like Sophie Tupolev and Alexander Lebedev.

Palm/Pussywillow Sunday in Russia

•05/04/2015 • Comments Off on Palm/Pussywillow Sunday in Russia

Wishing all our friends in the West a blessed Easter and celebration of the resurrection. Easter dates are calculated a little differently in the Eastern world and today we celebrate what you would call Palm Sunday, although Christians in the East call it “Pussywillow Sunday” (С Вербным Воскресеньем!) for the Pussywillow branches symbolizing the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.

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THE RESURRECTION AND THE WILLOW

In Slavic lands the willows grow,
By streams and bogs and waters low.
The ancient Slavic peoples saw,
That willows bloom before the thaw,
When warm winds end the frigid cold,
And break, at last, the winter’s hold,
To greet the spring and celebrate,
The vernal advent’s advocate,
Of growth, renewal, life and light,
And set the cosmic order right.
The Slavic peoples gathered in,
The flow’ring willow branches in,
Their homes to decorate anew,
To cure their ills, their lives renew.
Then one day there came from far,
A new religion which would bar,
The grasp of ancient evils’ hold,
Upon the Slavic souls as told,
By True Glory’s saving creeds,
To grant men life and serve their needs.
The Word Made Flesh who lived and died,
And rose again as verified,
By Holy Writ and voices old,
Who testified as was foretold.
Christ is risen from the dead,
And by His death as truly said,
He trampled death and life He gave,
To those who lie within the grave.
And thus the lowly willow came,
The Resurrection to proclaim,
Bear witness to the Great Event,
For which the Holy One was sent.
So when the cold of winter ends,
The message that the willow sends,
And that the flow’ry branches say:
NEXT WEEK IS RESURRECTION DAY!

How IKEA Has Transformed Russian Homes

•25/03/2015 • 1 Comment

IKEA (ИКЕА in Russian Cyrillic) was the Russian story that almost never happened. Still, the Swedish retail giant has transformed Russian kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms in ways that the profit-wary communists of a few decades ago could have never imagined. In some ways, one might say that IKEA has finished what Richard Nixon started in the famous “Kitchen debate” with Nikita Khrushchev over 50 years ago.

The year was 1959. That July, USA Vice President Richard Nixon had traveled to Moscow to accompany the opening of the American National Exhibition, a USA-Russian exchange program held at Sokolniki Park. The Americans constructed an entire house filled with American appliances and home products, most of which were only a distant dream at the time for the typical Russian family. When Nixon treated Khrushchev to a tour, the two engaged in a spirited debate over the merits of capitalism versus communism.

apt kit IKEA off white

Nearly every item in this kitchen, from cabinets, to fixtures, and to furniture and appliances is an IKEA product.

On 17 August 1998, IKEA’s Lennart Dahlgren arrived in Russia. Dahlgren, newly appointed as the future head of IKEA’s Russian division, was sent by IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad to open the Russian market. The process to begin business in Russia took the company longer than expected, cost more than anticipated, and due to corrupt officials and bureaucracy, the retail giant came very close to abandoning their Russian stores altogether.

The city of Moscow offered locations for the first store, but it was soon clear that the cost of opening inside the city limits was far higher than ordinary real estate and construction expenses. Then-mayor Yuri Luzhkov had suggested several sites, but when the company expressed interest in another property along one of Moscow’s major avenues, Kutuzovsky Prospekt, company officials claim that the city mailed flyers that resembled IKEA letterhead to local residents. The flyers, an apparent forgery, stirred up opposition to the site.

apt bed IKEA sofa bed a

From sleeper sofa, to lighting fixtures, to the desk and curtains, these are IKEA products.

IKEA eventually chose to open their first store in the Химки (Khimki) region, just outside city limits. That store faced unique obstacles and the opening was delayed after police raided the store just days before the scheduled grand opening. Officials claimed that a highway off ramp that had been constructed to handle the projected store traffic was in the wrong spot. The fact that officials had previously approved the ramp design, and inspectors had approved the construction process, seemed to have been forgotten.

Located in a busy shopping area along Leningrad Highway, the main road to Sheremetyevo (SVO) airport, it took a few months later, and several million dollars for a new government approved contractor to rework the highway ramp. However, once officials had been satisfied the project moved forward.

In June 2000, some forty-one years after the “”kitchen debate” between Nixon and Khrushchev, IKEA was ready to advertise the grand opening of their first Moscow store. But, there was another hitch: government officials at first banned the ads, saying that recent studies had discovered that consumers exhibit unstable moods when in underground floors, and that adverts promoting a store with an underground retail level might constitute a danger to public health. Foreign investors have long believed that local officials protect Russian businesses against competition by using excessive regulations and operating restrictions.

Despite the challenges, the first IKEA opened to a crowd of excited shoppers. The line to enter the store was several hours long, traffic in the area was jammed, and by the close of business that day, thousands of shoppers had picked the store clean. While hard to fathom, official estimates put the opening day traffic at near 40,000 shoppers.

Even then, there were kinks to resolve. The first day almost bombed when shoppers thought that prices were written in US dollars. At that time, the dollar was the most trusted currency following Russia’s recent default and currency devaluation. There was a big difference between $600 and 600 rubles, and so store employees quickly added the word “rubles” alongside prices to put shoppers at ease. For the rest of 2000, the average floor traffic exceeded 100,000 shoppers per week.

Bureaucratic hurdles have sprung up often, and for the most part IKEA has held the line on refusing to pay bribes to local officials. The company did agree to a $30 million donation to a charity benefiting the elderly to gain permits for construction of a large distribution centre outside Moscow in 2003. There was also a scandal during the acquisition for property in St. Peterburg when a former IKEA CEO allegedly approved an under-the-table arrangement between a large Russian subcontractor and local officials. The CEO was fired. Although unverified, Dahlgren says that he had sought a meeting with President Putin and IKEA founder Kamprad, but dropped the request after being told that the price tag for such a meeting was north of $5 million.

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Many a rustic countryside dacha has been transformed by IKEA furnishings.

IKEA promotes their Russian stores with the slogan Наша мечта исполнить вашу (Our dream is to make yours real!) Simplicity, quality, and economy in pricing are at the heart of IKEA’s retail operations, and in a country where retail is at two extremes (products can be very high-end for the wealthy, with cheap goods for everyone else), the average Russian consumer has embraced IKEA with a passion.

IKEA has invested heavily since the beginning in promoting their brand. Along with their associated property management company, MEGA stores, IKEA conducted a promotion in December 2014 to remind Russian consumers that giving is as important as receiving. Random shoppers were offered a gift, and then they were given the opportunity to give a gift to another person. To see the conversations in English, enable the subtitles on your screen, and watch:

Given the small size of many Soviet-era apartments, many living rooms serve as bedrooms by night with the sofa becoming an overnight sleeper. That concept is evolving as traditional beds are gaining acceptance with new apartment designs and remodeling projects. Last year, IKEA outfitted a Moscow movie theatre with beds, replacing the normal theatre seating for a night. In September 2014, the company invited couples to spend the night at an IKEA store to experience sleep on a traditional bed.

The advertising and promotion investments in Russia seem to be paying off, and today Russia is IKEA’s fourth most profitable market. There are 14 IKEA stores in Russia: three in the Moscow region, two in St. Petersburg, and more outlets in Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Ufa, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar and Omsk.

Perhaps IKEA has not only transformed Russian homes, but hopefully has affected Russian officials with insight on honesty and integrity in business transactions. Despite all the challenges, IKEA loves Russia, and Russians love IKEA. But, don’t just take our word for it–this housewife is very happy with the results of her latest shopping adventure:

Russia Celebrates Crimea Anniversary

•19/03/2015 • 2 Comments

A crowd of several thousand Russians on Red Square greeted the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea with music, fireworks, and speeches—including one by President Vladimir Putin. With slogans like “Together as One,” the speakers at Red Square called the annexation an act of reunification.

Over the preceding months the Russian media voices have trumpeted the annexation as a sign of a resurgent Russia, and proof the invincibility of Putin’s rule. Despite past protestations that he had no involvement in the military take-over of Crimea, over the past month Putin has taken great pains to bask in the Kremlin’s actions leading to the invasion, coup of the then-Crimean government, and actions in forcing the referendum for joining Russia.

During the celebration, Putin joined a throng of Russian singers and musicians to sing the national anthem.

Putin now says that his actions saved Crimea, although there was no evidence that Crimea was in any danger during the ouster of the corrupt Yanukovich government in Kyiv (Kiev). The Kremlin narrative, while false, is accepted by most Russians who had no real information of the events taking place in Ukraine.

Charges that some of the celebrating crowd had been paid to attend seemed of little consequence to those in attendance, and some stayed only a few minutes before leaving. Some celebrants had indeed been required by employers to attend. Last week Russian social media was abuzz with comments by those who were required to attend from long distances away as a condition of their employment. Russian newspaper Ведомостей (Vedomosti) published information regarding notices that offered citizens age 14 and above a payout of 300 to 350 rubles for attending.

A recent poll of 1,600 people showed that 69% believe that Russia benefits from the annexation. Over 85% say that it must never be given back to Ukraine.

Events to celebrate the annexation also took place in Crimea.

Adding to the recently minted two 10-ruble coins featuring landmarks from Crimea, the Central Bank of Russia plans to issue a special banknote, 100-ruble denomination, to commemorate the anniversary.

Russia has designated the peninsula and the city of Sevastopol as separate entities. Sevastopol is now one of three so-called Russian “Federal Cities.” The other two are Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

 
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