Relaxed visa rules coming soon for USA travelers to Russia

It was discussed at the G-8 in France and Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev have instructed their foreign ministers to move quickly on an agreement easing rules for the issue of three-year, multi entry visas. Outgoing US Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle broke the news while a guest on Moscow’s talk radio station Ekho Moskvy.

Sample of a travel visa to Russia from the USA.

Ambassador Beyrle said the agreement would also reduce charges for visas and that Russia and the United States could finalize the agreement before the end of July.

Advertisements

Runaway inflation in Communist Belarus

Threatening to expel Russian journalists for supposedly sowing “hysteria” in his country’s financial crisis, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has received a warning from Moscow that such actions would endanger the bailout loan his country desperately needs. Russia has indicated that Belarus would need to sell billions in state assets in order to secure the loan but part of Lukashenko’s rambling outburst was a warning to Russia that Belarus would not sell off state assets cheaply.

In the midst of runaway inflation, Lukashenko’s socialist policies have failed and his crackdown on political opponents and journalists continues. It is much harder to control Russian media because many Belarussians watch TV channels from Russia.

Belarus devalued its ruble by 36 percent last week with the rate set at 4,932 to the dollar and again set to weaken to 4,977 tomorrow. Belarussian citizens are hoarding food staples and while the official inflation rate is 39%, in reality it is much higher with international market economists warning that the country could implode if soaring inflation isn’t brought into check. Lukashenko, who runs the country by fiat, has decreed that only local governors or the prime minister can authorize price increases for consumer goods.

Meanwhile the Belarussian news agency BelTA has announced that effective 1 June 2011 Belarus will increase export duties on oil and oil products exported from its territory outside the customs territory of the Customs Union states. Belarus receives Russian crude oil and petroleum products free of duties and the new law provides that duties from the export of Belarusian crude oil will go to the budget of the Republic of Belarus and the duty on export of petroleum products to the Russian Federation.

Michael McFaul will replace John Beyrle as US Ambassador to Russia

For many it is sad to think of US Ambassador John Beyrle no longer heading the Moscow Embassy. Emphatically it would be a shame if someday the world learned that while Beyrle has been both a loyal and enthusiastic supporter of President Obama’s “reset” efforts, he was replaced simply because he wasn’t “Obama’s boy.”

To be clear, soon to be named Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul knows Russia. The 47 year old former political science professor at Stanford University is credited as being a main architect of the “reset” policy in U.S.-Russian relations in 2009. If confirmed by the Senate, McFaul would be the first ambassador to Russia in 30 years who did not come to the post as a career diplomat and sometimes a fresh perspective is of value. Mr. McFaul is the author of seven books on Russian politics and co-head of a bilateral working group on civil society with the Kremlin’s chief political strategist, Vladislav Surkov. By all accounts he should be a good Ambassador.

We do think however that current Ambassador John Beyrle is marked forever with the fact that he was nominated by President George W Bush. Mr. Bush appointed Ambassador Beyrle to the position on May 13, 2008. A trusted diplomat and then serving as Ambassador to Bulgaria, Beyrle was confirmed by the Senate on June 27 and arrived in Moscow on July 3, 2008. He formally presented his credentials to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the Kremlin on September 18, 2008.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and new US Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle shared a glass of Russian champagne after the formal presentation of diplomatic credentials. (September 2008)

This was not Beyrle’s first tour of service in Moscow. He first served as a political officer at the Moscow Embassy from 1983 to1985 and again as Deputy Chief of Mission from 2003 to 2005. Prior to service as US Ambassador to Bulgaria he was the Counselor for political and economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Prague and a member of the U.S. delegation to the Conventional Forces in Europe negotiations in Vienna. He also served in the State Department for several years and as foreign policy adviser to U.S. Senator Paul Simon.

John Beyrle however is not the kind of man who plays politics as some would expect. He has taken seriously the fact that he is America’s Ambassador to Russia, not simply representing a particular president or party. Ambassador Beyrle is highly respected by the Russian people, partly because of ties to Russia that extend to almost 70 years ago. Not just fluent, he is exceptionally fluent in Russian and authors a popular LiveJournal blog (http://beyrle.livejournal.com) which is read by thousands of Russian citizens daily.

The reaction to this exceptional diplomat was illustrated this past January following the terror bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. We wrote about that experience here on the Mendeleyev Journal. On the day after that horrible attack, Ambassador Beyrle came to Domodedovo bearing flowers for the make-shift memorial that had been erected by ordinary Russian citizens. To those gathered at the scene this wasn’t simply another foreign dignitary stopping by to leave some flowers out of official obligation. As we wrote on that day, It just seemed right. He was the only man who fit this task perfectly given his history and personal link to the Russian people. Russian onlookers quietly and reverently moved aside and then silently watched, many with tears in their eyes as United States Ambassador John Beyrle respectfully moved toward the memorial. Before leaving Beyrle spoke these powerful words to onlookers, “I am here to express my personal sympathy to the families of the victimsThese flowers are just my expression on behalf of the American people of our solidarity with the Russian people.”

Domodedovo Airport: US Ambassador laid flowers at make-shift memorial to terror bombing victims. (January 2011)

Why was John Beyrle so respected and admired on that day? Because Russians know and respect him every day and not just on important days. You see, not only has Ambassador Beyrle gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate via a regular Russian language blog, he is a frequent guest using his fluent Russian skills to connect with citizens via Ekho Moskvy talk radio, and the Russian TV news channels First Canal and Vesti-24.

US Ambassador John Beyrle in a moment of reflection at the grave of Andrei Sakharov.

But of all the ties the one that strongly binds this Ambassador close to the hearts of the Russia people comes through his father. As we wrote on these pages in January, Beyrle’s father was the only known American to have served in both the American and Soviet armies when the two countries were allies in the war against Nazi aggression. Shot down by German anti-aircraft fire, the senior Beyrle quickly learned Russian, donned a Soviet army uniform and continued fighting until the end of the war when he was decorated by both countries for his service. Russians respect that kind of history and because of his father the Ambassador is accepted as a brother.

US Ambassador John Beyrle (left of President Medvedev) introduced former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

A lot has been accomplished since President Obama asked Ambassador Beyrle to remain in his post. It was Ambassador Beyrle who formally introduced President Obama and also Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. Mr. Beyrle would later introduce Vice President Joe Biden to the Kremlin. Under Beyrle, the Spaso House, official home of the US Embassy, has again become a place of sharing culture and common visions with the Russian people.

Of course we wish the incoming Ambassador Michael McFaul success, but one this day we prepare to soon bid farewell to a genuine friend of the Russian people in Ambassador John Beyrle.

Mr. Obama broke the news to Russian President Medvedev during the G-8 meetings in France and we hope that this change isn’t a mistake. Time will tell. For now it appears that a new master will soon take over duties at Spaso House in Moscow.

Anna Chapman riding Russian popularity wave

Анна Чапман (Anna Chapman) is certainly the talk of the town across Russia these days.

On 9 May when she showed up at Red Square for the annual Victory Day celebration, she was the talk of Moscow. Traveling to Saint Petersburg to visit children’s orphanages and schools, she was the talk of Peter.

Anna Chapman with orphan children in Saint Petersburg.

This is the woman who gave America the middle finger. She spat in the eye of the USA and came home to tell about it. That is the current Russian version and frankly it makes her pretty popular right now.

Likely you remember that Chapman was one of those Russian agents arrested last year in the USA. She and the nine others were deported in exchange for four Russians imprisoned for spying for the West. Upon arrival back in Moscow Miss Chapman and her fellow spies were greeted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB officer. Putin sang patriotic songs for their entertainment and later Russian President Medvedev quietly hosted a ceremony where they were awarded medals for state service.

Anna Chapman, beautiful Russian spy.

The idea that she was getting rich, some stories say that she consummated business deals in her bed, while the average Russian was struggling to survive is rarely mentioned or considered. Frankly, she may not be Miss Universe but she is attractive.

Anna is smart enough to recognize that unless she does something new, soon, even in Russia she’ll be yesterday’s news. So she is doing something about it. She wants YOU to become a part of her life.

Anna Chapman is ready to receive mail!

Apparently she is ready to respond because her mailbox is open and she is sharing her phone number, address and email information very freely. Hey, it is the era of social media and Anna wants to be social.

For starters, Russian REN TV is producing a television project called “Secrets of the World with Anna Chapman” and as the title suggests, Anna will be the star host. I do find it curious that REN has given her the professional title of “investigative journalist.” Seriously?

The title says that the program will be devoted to fascinating phenomena in the modern world, unlocking the mystical secrets and mysteries of mankind. Okay, w can accept her posing in short skirts, but will she really unlock the secrets of the world?!

We’ll see.

She’ll have a co-host, a real and live broadcast professional to guide her in the art of television production and hosting. Her new website promises to “remove the stamp “secret” from the world’s secret archival materials.”

Easy there Tiger, so far the only thing she’s been able to remove is her clothing. That talent might be necessary as the production weeks move along. REN says the show will air on Fridays at 22:00 (10pm Moscow time).

We’ll be watching. At the least she is easy on the eyes.

Anna Chapman, classic Russian beauty.

Oh, as for her contact information, it’s on her website: http://www.annachapman.ru/ru/

Moscow not so proud, cracks down on “Gay Pride” parade

Saturday’s Gay Pride in Moscow is over and several protestors spent the night in a Moscow jail, all have now been released. To be fair, the latest report shows 34 arrests and while 18 of those arrested were participants in the parade, 16 persons out to protest the parade were also arrested.

Moscow’s Gay community was led in this year’s parade by an American–US Army Lieutenant Daniel Choi, himself involved in the gay rights movement in the US Military, was in Moscow as a guest of the gay pride organizers. One journalist was injured, and arrested, during the march. Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Kostyuchenko according to reports attacked a bystander who was there to protest the parade. The bystander lashed back and both were arrested. Ms. Kostyuchenko was taken to a local hospital with a concussion.

Russian Interior Ministry officials say the march was an unauthorized action and took place not far from the Alexander Gardens at the Manege and Tverskaya Squares near the old City Hall just steps from Red Square. Last month the Moscow City Council had given approval for the gay pride march to be held legally for the first time. However, the decision was quickly reversed and police warned gay rights activists that they would break up the march.

All in all it was a mild event with the number of bystanders to protest against the march, journalists and Interior Ministry police perhaps matching the number of marchers.

34 arrests, 18 gay protestors at the 2011 Moscow Gay Pride parade.

Medvedev and Obama at the G-8

Wouldn’t it be great to trade?! Presidents, that is. Send Barrack Hussein Obama to…well, anywhere. Then send Russian President Medvedev to Washington. This writer would go for the deal. The only thing worse than keeping Mr. Obama in Washington is sending him out in public.

So off we go to the G-8 meetings in France where the American president is trying to walk a tightrope between Russia and Poland. Good God, this man can’t get a toast right at a dinner for the Queen, so how in hell does one expect him to conduct diplomacy where lives and futures are at stake?!

You may remember the famous “reset” with Moscow, you know the one where Washington presented a “reset button” to Moscow but misspelled the Russian word. Sources say that the Obama administration, at the time unsure if the US Embassy staff in Moscow was loyal to the new president, insisted that the button be made in Washington under State Department supervision. Well that was plenty stupid—he had an Embassy staff filled with fluent Russian speakers in Moscow but assigned the translation work to young and inexperienced staffers who might be loyal, but obviously with their thumbs stuck up their asses when it comes to the Russian language and diplomacy.

In the “reset” deal with Russia, Obama pulled the rug out from under the Poles, putting in danger Polish politicians who had followed Washington’s lead about the plans for a missile shield. Despite his actions which speak otherwise, Mr. Obama will travel to Poland after the G-8 summit, assuring Central European leaders that the USA will defend NATO members against any foe. As proof of his commitment he has indicated a plan to redeploy 16 U.S. F-16s from Italy to a base in Poland. Let’s do some math: The US Airbase in Aviano Italy has 31 operational squadrons, with up to 50 planes in each squadron. So Poland will receive 16 planes. Frankly, why even bother?

US Air Force F-16's in Aviano, Italy

For his part, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev understands what it means ‘to kick the can down the road’ while stringing along an inexperienced/inept counterpart in order to delay a decision. Medvedev told reporters at the G-8 that “this issue will be finally solved in the future, like, for example, in the year 2020.”

Maybe Obama could throw in 25 American DVDs along with the F-16s to keep the Poles entertained and happy. Make certain to include the Wizard of Oz…that ought to make them feel safe again.

British journalist reveals shame of America’s president

Hats off to UK Journalist Nile Gardiner for telling the truth about those who occupy the White House in Washington. While I respect the office of the president, I am looking forward to working for change in the next election. For those ready to throw stones, I wasn’t exactly in love with the last one either. You should also know that I’m not a Republican so my views are not dictated from a particular party.

Let’s let Mr Gardiner, a writer for The Telegraph to tell his story:

In March last year I published a list of Barack Obama’s biggest insults against America’s biggest ally Great Britain, during his time in office. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then, including the Gulf oil spill and the White House’s campaign against BP, the now infamous Obama-Sarkozy press conference earlier this year, and the release by Wikileaks of US government documents revealing the Obama administration had betrayed Britain in order to appease the Russians over the New START Treaty.

In honour of President Obama’s state visit to Britain this week, here’s an updated and revised list, as a reminder to readers of the president’s less than stellar track record when it comes to US-British relations. The US president will no doubt be careful not to offend his hosts when he travels to London, and he will receive a warm welcome from the Queen and the Prime Minister, as any American president would. But the prospect of an embarrassing diplomatic gaffe or insensitive remark cannot be ruled out from a world leader whose administration has all too often specialised in them. As I noted in my original piece:

Without a shadow of a doubt, Barack Obama has been the most anti-British president in modern American history. The Special Relationship has been significantly downgraded, and at times humiliated under his presidency, which has displayed a shocking disregard for America’s most important partner and strategic ally.

There are a multitude of reasons for President Obama’s dismissive approach to the UK, and here are a few: an obsession with engaging and appeasing America’s enemies rather than cultivating allies; personal animosity towards Britain because of his grandfather’s role as a Mau Mau supporter in 1950’s colonial Kenya; Democrat resentment over British support for the Bush Administration over Iraq; left-wing disdain for the idea of Anglo-American exceptionalism and world leadership; support for supranational institutions such as the European Union over the supremacy of the nation state.

1. Siding with Argentina over the Falklands

For sheer offensiveness it’s hard to beat the Obama administration’s brazen support for Argentina’s call for UN-brokered negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falklands, despite the fact that 255 British servicemen laid down their lives to restore British rule over the Islands after they were brutally invaded in 1982. In a March 2010 press conference in Buenos Aires with President Cristina Kirchner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Argentina a huge propaganda coup by emphatically backing the position of the Péronist regime.

2. Calling France America’s strongest ally

In January this year, President Obama held a joint press conference at the White House with his French counterpart, literally gushing with praise for Washington’s new-found Gallic friends, declaring: “We don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people.” As I noted at the time:

Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the US president is difficult to fathom, and if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in US foreign policy. Nicolas Sarkozy is a distinctly more pro-American president than any of his predecessors, and has been an important ally over issues such as Iran and the War on Terror. But to suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

These kinds of presidential statements matter. No US president in modern times has described France as America’s closest ally, and such a remark is not only factually wrong but also insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French famously knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.

3. Downgrading the Special Relationship

Barack Obama very rarely refers to the Special Relationship, and has hardly even mentioned Britain in a major policy speech, either before or since taking office. The Anglo-American alliance is barely a blip on Obama’s teleprompter screen, and he acts as though it simply does not exist. The Special Relationship has also been largely erased from the official lexicon of the State Department, and is barely used by US officials in London. Despite being America’s only major reliable ally when the chips are down, London is now treated in Washington as though it were the same as any other European power, albeit less charitably than either Paris or Berlin.

4. Supporting a federal Europe and undercutting British sovereignty

The Obama administration’s relentless and wrongheaded support for the creation of a federal Europe, from backing the Treaty of Lisbon to the European Security and Defence Policy, is a slap in the face for the principle of national sovereignty in Europe. British sovereignty is non-negotiable, and Obama’s willingness to undermine it is both insulting to Britain and self-defeating for the United States.

5. Betraying Britain to appease Moscow over the New START Treaty

In February, The Daily Telegraph broke a major story with damaging implications for the Special Relationship, revealing that Washington “secretly agreed to give the Russians sensitive information on Britain’s nuclear deterrent to persuade them to sign a key treaty.” According to The Telegraph report:

Information about every Trident missile the US supplies to Britain will be given to Russia as part of an arms control deal signed by President Barack Obama next week. Defence analysts claim the agreement risks undermining Britain’s policy of refusing to confirm the exact size of its nuclear arsenal.

A series of classified messages sent to Washington by US negotiators show how information on Britain’s nuclear capability was crucial to securing Russia’s support for the “New START” deal. Although the treaty was not supposed to have any impact on Britain, the leaked cables show that Russia used the talks to demand more information about the UK’s Trident missiles, which are manufactured and maintained in the US.

Washington lobbied London in 2009 for permission to supply Moscow with detailed data about the performance of UK missiles. The UK refused, but the US agreed to hand over the serial numbers of Trident missiles it transfers to Britain.

6. Placing a “boot on the throat” of BP

The Obama administration’s relentless campaign against Britain’s largest company in the wake of Gulf oil spill was one of the most damaging episodes in US-UK relations in recent years, with 64 percent of Britons agreeing that the president’s handling of the issue had harmed the partnership between the two countries according to a YouGov poll. The White House’s aggressive trashing of BP, including a threat to put a “boot on the throat” of the oil giant, helped wipe out about half its share value, directly impacting the pensions of 18 million Britons. This led to a furious backlash in the British press, with even London mayor and long-time Obama admirer Boris Johnson demanding an end to “anti-British rhetoric, buck-passing and name-calling”.

7. Throwing Churchill out of the Oval Office

It is hard to think of a more derogatory message to send to the British people within days of taking office than to fling a bust of Winston Churchill out of the Oval Office and send it packing back to the British Embassy – not least as it was a loaned gift from Britain to the United States as a powerful display of solidarity in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Obviously, public diplomacy is not a concept that carries much weight in the current White House, and nor apparently is common sense.

8. DVDs for the Prime Minister

Readers of this blog will know I’m no fan of Gordon Brown, but whatever one thinks of his third-rate premiership, Brown traveled abroad not as a private individual but as the leader of America’s closest ally. He represented 61 million Britons including the Armed Forces, as well as a huge amount of British trade and investment with the United States. He was however treated shabbily when he visited the White House in March 2009, and denied a Rose Garden press conference as well as a dinner. To cap it all, the decision to send him home with an assortment of 25 DVDs ranging from Toy Story to The Wizard of Oz – which couldn’t even be played in the UK – was a breathtaking display of diplomatic ineptitude that would have shamed the protocol office of an impoverished Third World country.

9. Insulting words from the State Department

The mocking views of a senior State Department official following Gordon Brown’s embarrassing reception at the White House in March last year says it all:

There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.

One would have thought that this kind of monumentally shallow insult would have resulted in at least a formal apology and a reprimand for the official involved, but unfortunately Obama administration apologies are strictly reserved for the French and assorted enemies of the United States.

10. Undermining British influence in NATO

Despite Nicolas Sarkozy’s distinctly unflattering opinion of Barack Obama, the US president has gone to great lengths to appease French interests, even going as far as apologising to the French people in Strasbourg for hurting their feelings over the war in Iraq. The Obama administration has also done its best to give Paris a lead role in the NATO alliance at Britain’s expense, granting it one of two supreme NATO command positions – Allied Command Transformation (ACT). This, despite the fact that France has for decades been ambivalent and obstructionist over NATO, and is failing to carry its weight in Afghanistan.

Editors note: Read Nile Gardiner’s entire article here.

Obama’s stupidity over Israel may be next in our sights.