Russian President addresses FSB (former KGB)

In yesterday’s annual speech to the Federal Security Service’s board meeting President Medvedev complimented the agency for successfully fulfilling their tasks for the year 2009. In outlining the agency’s primary responsibilities, President Medvedev spoke of the fight against terrorism and extremism, economic security and counterintelligence activities.

(Photo: Russian Presidential Press Service) President Medvedev inspects new FSB internal security equipment.

A top priority for 2010 will be the effective protection of Russian borders. The President drew attention to new challenges accompanying the creation of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, as well as the need for helping South Ossetia and Abkhazia strengthen their borders, something surely to be a sticking point in relations with the West.

Mr Medvedev stressed the need to continue with the publication of archival materials and to preserve the historical truth about the events of the Great Patriotic War (World War II) years of which Russia will celebrate the 65th victory anniversary this year.

Russia bulldozes private homes

Riot police, left and citizens protesting, right.

That is the face of it, at least on first glance. Russia you must remember is a country of contradictions. Just as the the government gets caught developing a high-end resort for the wealthy elite on environmentally protected sea front property in Sochi, back in Moscow the government is bulldozing private homes built by the wealthy elite along the Moscow River…because they were built on environmentally protected land.

So how did all this mess come about in Moscow? Back during the Soviet times, certain party members and government leaders were given plots of ground to use as summer gardens and to build dachas. A dacha is a small summer cottage. The more important one’s status, the nicer the property.

Many cottages are hidden behind trees along the Moscow River.Admittedly, the area being bulldozed Речник (Rechnik) is very nice. Situated along the Mosocw river, Rechnik blends in with the winding river and enjoys great views as well as being a quiet weekend and getaway spot from big city life in the largest city in Europe.

Over the last decade landowners have built bigger and nicer houses at Rechnik. No longer little weekend cabins for gardening, mansion after mansion has appeared, on environmentally sensitive land, and at the same time Moscow authorities have threatened to bring in bulldozers to tear it all apart.

What about building permits, one might ask? At one time such wasn’t really needed for a simple summer garden cottage. If an official asked, the homeowner paid a bribe and life went on as usual. But in more recent years as landowners have built mansions in place of cottages, most mansion owners possess permits, approved plans, stamped inspection forms, etc. What they don’t have is zoning, and they’ve never had it.

In most countries things like building permits and inspections could never happen without zoning permit changes first. But this is Russia and things don’t always work “logically” when it comes to government.  Both sides have court victories to bolster their position as the battle has waged on for several years.

But the city of Moscow owns the bulldozers and controls the police, thus the destruction has begun.

The residents of Rechnik aren’t the only local residents who are worried. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said that the Fantasy Island residential complex would face destruction next because the grounds that it was built on are dedicated for sports facilities, not apartments for the wealthy.

He promised that City Hall would deal with the complex after Rechnik. “This will be a different case but with a similar ending,” he said.

Completed in 2004, Fantasy Island, or Ostrov Fantazy, consists of more than 250 apartments of up to 480 square meters each that rent out for up to $20,000 per month, ranking them among the world’s most expensive condominiums.

The government says this development is illegal and will be bulldozed next.

Political arrests in Russia

The Moscow Times
 
Alexei Dymovsky, the former police major who was fired after his videos against corruption appeared on YouTube, was arrested in his hometown of Novorossiisk on Friday.
A local court sanctioned the arrest on the grounds that Dymovsky had put pressure on an investigator, local human rights campaigner Vadim Karastelyov said.

“During the hearing it turned out that he had supposedly threatened a law enforcement officer taking part in the criminal investigation,” Karastelyov told Interfax.

Dymovsky was dismissed from the police force after posting two online addresses last November in which he complained to Prime Minister Putin about rampant corruption in the police force. Last week, he was charged with fraud and abuse of office, and he faces up to six years in prison if convicted.

Karastelyov said Sunday that authorities refused to immediately hand over warm clothes brought to Dymovsky. “Today his lawyer brought clothes to the pretrial detention center, but according to their rules he will receive them only on Monday, Karastelyov told Ekho Moskvy radio. Temperatures in the Black Sea port stood at minus 8 degrees Celsius over the weekend, according to the Meteonovosti.ru web site.

In an audio recording taped just before Friday’s hearing, Dymovsky accused investigators of fabricating the reason for his arrest. In the message, posted on his web site, Dymovskiy.name, he explained that investigators unexpectedly told him Thursday that he should appear for a court hearing that would consider his arrest the next day. “They told me they had evidence I had put pressure on members of the investigation and witnesses,” he said.

“I believe that I will be detained today — this is a political case that was ordered,” he said.

Human rights campaigners voiced anger about the arrest. “A man speaks out about his superiors’ illegal actions. … Now he is arrested. This is outrageous,” said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Committee, Interfax reported.

Medvedev to appoint new Tatarstan President

Ruling Party United Russia has drafted a list of candidates to serve as President of Tatarstan and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will soon appoint one from the United Russia list.

Upon the recommendation of current Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev, the list includes Tatarstan Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov who many consider the likely front runner. Also on the list for consideration is Tatarstan legislature Speaker Farid Mukhametshin.

Current Tatarstan President Mintimer was elected in 1991 and has served 4 full terms. On Friday he publically announced that he would step down at the end of his fourth term in March.

Tatarstan is a President Republic within the territory of Russia and as such a member of the Russian Federation.

It’s Saint Tatyana Day in Russia and Ukraine!

More than seven million students across Russia are celebrating Tatyana Day. On 25 January 1755, Russian Empress Elizabeth signed a decree establishing Moscow State University. It coincided with Tatyana’s day in the saint’s calendar, and she was adopted as the patron saint of scholars.

Empress Elizabeth of Russia granted a  petition to establish the university now known as Moscow State University.   For many years January 25 (or January 12 on the Julian calendar) was observed as a Russian religious holiday and known as Tatyana Day. The day commemorated the heroic actions of a Christian martyr in 2nd century Rome named Tatyana.

Students in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine celebrate the day.

It wasn’t long before Moscow University was built, thus giving the day a link to students and education. Ever since, the day has been centered around young learners and the teachers who work so hard at providing an education for them.

Many now know January 25 as ‘Student Day’. However in 1791 The Church of Tatyana the Martyr was opened on the Campus grounds. Thus the original religious link to Student Day has never been lost and so most continue to call January 25 ‘Tatyana’s Day’.

The religious signifance of this holiday has not been lost. Today in Moscow a crowd grew to overflow as students flocked to a service led by Patriarch Kyrll at Saint Tatyana’s church at Moscow State University.

The holiday has expanded far beyond the limits of the Moscow State University and is celebrated in many places of the former Soviet Union. For example in Krasnoyarsk the city governor holds an annual ball today. The residents of Nizhi Novgorod will choose the best Tatyana among the students of the city.

Burger King opens in Moscow

Бургер Кинг spells out B-u-r-g-e-r K-i-n-g in Cyrillic, creating a new "cognate" (borrowed word from another language).

(Moscow Times/Vedomosti)

Burger King, the world’s second-largest hamburger chain, opened its first Russian outlet Thursday as it seeks to capitalize on a booming fast-food market several years after its main competitors started operating in the country.

The fast-food chain opened its first restaurant in the Metropolis shopping mall in northwest Moscow and will open at least two more soon, including a branch in the Yevropeisky shopping center Jan. 25 and another in a Mega shopping center in Tyoply Stan.

Burger King will continue to open restaurants throughout 2010, the company said in a statement, but the firm would not disclose further details.

The opening comes long after McDonald’s entered the Russian market in 1990. McDonald’s has more than 240 restaurants in Russia, while domestic chain Rostiks-KFC has 170 outlets.

“Now is the appropriate moment to launch the brand on the Russian market in cooperation with the local partners,” said John Fitzpatrick, Burger King’s senior vice president for development and franchising in Eastern Europe. The company did a thorough study and sees the Russian market as “interesting and active,” he said.

Burger Rus, the restaurant’s Russian franchisee, is controlled by Alexander Kolobov, who founded the Shokoladnitsa coffee shop chain. He and partners Oleg Gurkov and Mikhail Serdtsev will operate the brand in Russia.

“We are looking forward to working together with Alexander and his team, and we are convinced that partnering with a local company will satisfy the expectations of our Russian customers,” said Yana Pesotskaya, general manager of Burger King in Russia.

Ukraine death toll from flu exceeds 1,000

(Interfax-Ukraine )

The number of those who have died of flu and flu-like illnesses in Ukraine has increased to 1,005 people as of January 19, the Ukrainian Health Ministry’s press service has reported.

Cold and snow have heightened the problem of spreading flu in Ukraine.

Seven people, including one child, have died of flu and its complications (pneumonia) over the past 24 hours, the press service said. According to the ministry, the epidemic threshold is exceeded in Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Poltava and Sumy regions. The number of influenza cases is rapidly growing in Crimea and another three regions.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic (October 29), over 4,324 million people have contracted flu and respiratory infections, including 48,872 people over the past 24 hours. The ministry publishes no separate statistics on cases of A/H1N1 influenza or swine flu.