Wal-Mart in Russia

The big guy, the giant retailer known around the world as Wal-Mart has been in Russia since 2008. Just not in any stores yet. Recently sources close to the world’s biggest retailer say that it will likely build its own stores across Russia instead of buying and converting an existing chain.

Wal-Mart company planners are headquartered in the Northern Tower of the Moskva-City business district and in a sign that the company still considers Russia an important investment; it expanded its staff at the beginning of 2010.

(Photo: Bradmoscu) The towers at Moscow's Citi Business Centre.

If Wal-Mart constructs it’s own stores in sizes ranging from 8,000 to 15,000 square meters. Competing retailers like Auchan from France and Lenta from Saint Petersburg have stores up to 15,000 square meters.

Competition or not, get ready to spell Wal-Mart in Russian– Вал-Март.

Russia to return stolen property to Russian Orthodox Church

The Russian government has announced plans to return more stolen property to the Russian Orthodox Church. The government is preparing legislation on the transfer of religious property that is scheduled to be considered by the State Duma this year. Small restitution efforts have been ongoing for well over a decade and continues today.

Last month one of the more recognizable properties, Moscow’s ancient Novodevichy Convent, was transferred from the State Historical Museum to the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill called the return “an act of historic justice.”

As the Novodevichy Convent is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Russian government retains ownership but operational control will be returned to the Church. In 1926 the Novodevichy Convent was closed by the Bolsheviks, then in 1926 it became a branch of the State Historical Museum. Since 1994 the convent has been used by the Church with nuns and museum personnel sharing the historic landmark.

The convent is just one small but important part of the vast property that was expropriated from the church by the Soviet government, and naturally the Russian Orthodox Church insists that it has a legal right to ask that stolen property be restored.

Not everyone, however, is happy about the return with some saying that the transfer will lead to the ruin of important pieces now preserved in museums.

Awaiting the future of Russian adoptions…

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is seeking intervention to prevent Russia from halting adoptions of Russian children by American families. Saying that child adoptions, and in particular those already in process, should not be halted, the Senator is asking Russian President Medvedev to intervene. 

Following an incident this month in which an American woman put her adopted Russian 8-year old son on a plane alone to Moscow, the Russian government says that all adoptions to the United States are on hold until new agreements are signed. Such matters take months to work through the system and a  U.S. delegation is scheduled for travel to Moscow next week to open discussions on a new adoption agreement.

Senator Gillibrand and four other senators sent a letter  to Russian President Medvedev and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Twelve US House members also co-sponsored the letter. 

According to the Russian Education and Science Ministry, more than 1,800 children from Russia were adopted in the United States last year.

Russian cooking – a little salt from Saint Petersburg

One of our favourite blogs to read about life in Russia is American Russian Observations. We link to it because we feel its worth promoting and feel a kinship in values. The main authors, an American/Russian couple living in Saint Petersburg, like to write about food and cooking from time to time. Yesterday they wrote about salt.

Salt is an essential ingredient to Russian cooking. In fact, salt and garlic are perhaps the two most used “spices” in Russian cooking. Now maybe we’re off on that as we haven’t accessed any marketing studies, but based on our kitchen habits in Moscow and those of our contributing reporters in Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia, we can’t be that far afield.

It is common to prepare a meal, at least 3 times daily, in a Russian kitchen. Sure, there are restaurants and supermarkets all over Russia but eating out and pre-made packaged meals are not as popular as in the West.

As the American Observations writer pointed out, “Russians have a mindset that packaged prepared foods are sort of dumb… expensive, not very tasty, and not satisfying. To most of them kitchen time is worth it. I hear meanwhile that Americans like to brag by saying how quickly they made a meal. What are they saving time for?”

Meanwhile in the vast and spacious (not really) Mendeleyev Journal test kitchen we do enjoy the Georgian spice packats available at the markets.  Among our favourites is one called Khmeli Suneli and the ingredients of herbs and spices include: coriander, dill, basil, bay leaf, marjoram, fenugreek, parsley, saffron, black pepper, celery, thyme, hyssop, mint, and hot pepper.

Of course honey is an important ingredient in a Russian kitchen, too. Used as a sweetner and as a medicine, honey is used in everything from baking to serving in tea. Tea is without question the national drink of Russia (even tops vodka!), and yet another topic of which the Mendeleyev Journal hopes to explore in bringing our readers as close as possible to the Russian experience.

Meanwhile to get you started on cooking, here are 3 cookbook recommendations from the Mendeleyev kitchen:

Food and Cooking of Russia is an excellent tutorial on a variety of Russian dishes. This Russian cook book has over 200 Russian recipes found within its pages.

The Best of Russian Cooking is yet another great Russian cook book and author Alexandra Kropotkin has included 300 very easy Russian recipes.

The Russian Heritage Cookbook, a complete library of 360 traditional Russian dishes. This cook book blends recipes from Russian immigrants in America, blending Russian tradition with American style and flair.

Russia to gradually dump National Health Care?

(Moscow) — Washington and Moscow are moving in opposite directions, again. This time the difference in ideology is over health care. While President Obama is introducing socialized medicine to the USA, Moscow is planning on gradually adopting a “free market” system and getting out of the national health care business. The Kremlin calls it “anti-socialist” reform.

A bill scheduled to be approved by the State Duma today will change the way Russian hospitals and medical institutions do business. In short, for the first time since the communist revolution, Russian medical institutions will begin to acquire the freedom to decide how to spend their budgets.

The plan is for Russian hospitals and other public medical institutions to eventually go private and if they can’t make it commercially, they’ll have to close.

It isn’t just hospitals either. Eventually other public institutions, such as schools and libraries, will also have to adopt more a free market orientation and adapt to the idea of surviving by serving constituents…or shut down.

The bill, led by the ruling United Russia party, is a result of work at the Russian Finance Ministry which says institutions that raise quality standards and find ways to creatively serve more patients with better care will be rewarded with budget increases. Those who can’t adapt will lose.

Given the success of the last 2 decades of the American Hospital and it’s affiliates in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, free market approaches may work well in Russia. Already patients often pay extra on the side for more professional care at both state run and private hospitals and clinics.

One innovative hospital in Novosibirsk, capital of Siberia, offers patients a “Med Club” experience, complete with a personal family physician, 24 hour emergency services, surgery and rehab services as needed and even a swimming pool, Turkish baths, hydromassage–all for a monthly fee. (http://dkb.nsk.ru/doc/medclub/english)

Perhaps Mr Obama should slow down and listen. It seems as if the former communists are trying to tell him something.

In surprise move Russia gets new Black Sea lease

Kharkov, Ukraine — In a surprise move to the outside world, Russian President Medvedev and Ukrainian President Yanukovych held an unannounced meeting in Kharkov, Ukraine, where the two signed a new agreement to extend the presence of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory for 25 more years, with an option of an additional 5-year extension after the term expires.
 
KHARKOV, UKRAINE. Russian President Medvedev (L) met unannounced with Ukraine’s President Yanukovych (R) to sign an extension on the lease for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory.

The two leaders also oversaw the signing of agreements on the volumes and terms of Russian gas transit via Ukraine, and on terms of Russian gas sales to Ukraine through to 2019.

Translation: Its a trade off. Ukraine gets cheaper gas prices, something desperately needed, and Russia seals the deal on extending the Black Sea fleet no matter who rules in Kyiv (Kiev) for the coming decades. 

President Medvedev called the unscheduled meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart very important and noted the need to mend the gap in contacts at all levels between the two countries that had formed over the last years. The two leaders pledged to put Russian-Ukrainian relations back on a strategic track.

The President's of Russia and Ukraine met in Kharkov yesterday to conclude deals on the Black Sea Fleet and on gas prices.

The two presidents also met with the leaders of Russian and Ukrainian border regions to discuss, in particular, building up economic ties and production cooperation, developing small and midsized businesses, and simplifying customs and migration procedures.

Mendeleyev observation: Ukraine will soon join the economic union of Russia-Kazakhstan-Belarus. These countries have already agreed to merge their customs and border controls (under Russian command), the Postal services are scheduled to be merged next, and talks are being held on a new currency for the union. Ukraine will join as the 4th partner and watch for Kyrgyzstan to follow at some point if Russia can manage to help the new government in Bishkek to settle the unrest and violence there.

Given yesterday’s meetings in Moscow, where the president of Uzbekistan and Armenia were summoned to the Kremlin after the outbreak of violence in Kyrgyzstan, one must assume that those former Republics have also been invited to consider joining the union. At that point, about the only thing missing from the union, would be the term “soviet.”

Who is running for President?

Moscow–In America the surest way for a leader to lose popularity in public opinion polls is to fund health care. Things are different in Russia, however.

Today Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared that his government will authorize $16 billion in new spending on health care over the next two years. Is this, as some say, a sign that the Prime Minister is laying a foundation to boost his popularity before the next presidential election?

Of course no government, whether American or Russian, can raise and freely spend money. That is a myth. For a government to spend money, it must be taken away from someone who first earned it. That is why the idea is called a “tax.”

Mr Putin said that the government will raise the extra funding from higher payroll taxes that will take effect next year. In his second annual report to the State Duma, the Prime Minister said that the payroll tax to fund health care will increase to 5.1 percent of the payroll from 3.1 percent, it’s current levy. Several leading Russian economists have said the increased payroll taxes would hinder the rebounding economy.

Lately Mr Putin has also been busy reminding voters of his plan for major increases in retirement pensions due this year. Notice that he is serious about voters giving him, and not President Medvedev, credit for the promised entitlements.

Putin’s speech lasted just over 80-minutes, a short lecture for the highly spirited and sometimes long winded Prime Minister. While at the Duma  he handled questions from Duma deputies and listened to criticism from the Communists. The Liberal Democratic Party used their time to urge the Prime Minister to oust Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.