Some driving advice for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev: Don’t.

When it comes to presidents driving cars, one thing is certain–George W. Bush encouraging Vladimir Putin to drive his own car might have been a little too much. We’re almost certain that the driving advice was for fun and pleasure trips, not when making public appearances.

Last year’s road trip from Russia to Ukraine when you drove the new Ukrainian president along those country roads and through small villages was fun. It made for good press and was controlled as a road rally with plenty of preparation and protection along the way. Driving in a restored classic car from the war period was dang cool, anyone would admit. But that doesn’t mean a head of state should drive himself to every public appearance. And it is one thing to be on the open road out in the middle of nowhere, but sitting behind the wheel can be very different when reacting to crowded roads and groups of people in a large city.

Like Mr Putin before him, President Medvedev has taken to driving. For the leader of a major world power to operate a presidential vehicle behind the wheel isn’t necessarily a good thing with all the security details and additional concerns about safety. We’ll be the first to concede that it sure is good public relations as long as things go well.

But what if they don’t?

Seems as if President Medvedev forgot to stop the car before he got out to greet people recently. Most seasoned drivers know this and perhaps Mr. Medvedev isn’t that seasoned of a driver. After all, he grew up in the Soviet Union where only the privileged few sat behind the wheel of a private car.

See what you think:

Fortunately nobody was injured. Please Mr. President, you have an extensive security detail for a reason. Let them do the driving!

No taste for Campbell’s soups in Russia

Soup. In Russia, soup is served year around and made from scratch with recipes handed down for generations. Russians enjoy cooking and soup, or суп as it’s spelled in Cyrillic, is a stable at meals all year long and if you’ve tasted soup made in a kitchen from fresh ingredients, then you understand why Russians simply ignored Campbell’s extensive attempts at marketing. Nonetheless, after 4 years Campbell’s Soups is pulling out of Russia.

Campbell’s had done their homework and correctly identified Russia as a prime potential market. Russians consume hot soups in winter and cold soups in summer at nearly every evening meal. So it wasn’t for lack of interest. Frankly, what Campbell’s failed to understand is that food from a can is greeted with suspicion in these parts.

"Soup chik"

Vodka and strawberry jam take the place of chicken soup as a cold remedy so even in the harsh and cold Russian winters, Campbell’s couldn’t make a dent. Local street kiosk vendors and mall cafe’s like супчик (“Soup-chik”) and the more upscale Суп-кафе (“Soup-Cafe”) offer popular soup choices for hungry soup lovers away from home.

From Borsch to fish soups, Russians are true soup lovers and Campbell’s never really stood a chance at winning either loyalties or taste tests. The Mendeleyev Journal has devoted an entire page with recipes of Russian and Ukrainian soup favourites.

Campbells Vice President Denise Morrison told the media that Campbell’s will turn their attention to the Chinese market. Campbell’s is convinced that China represents great opportunities and in hindsight understands that asking Russians to purchase a soup ready-made from a can was a long shot.

The pullout from Russia will mean that Campbell’s will cut 770 jobs worldwide and minimize production at a plant in Michigan. In addition, the new management company intends to cut about 130 positions in the company’s headquarters in Camden (NJ). By reducing operations in Russia and the dismissal of employees worldwide, the company expects to save $ 60 million over the near term.

Below: Menu from a “Soupchik” cafe:

Top Russian Blog

The Mendeleyev Journal has been named as one of the top blogs in/about Russia for 2011 by GO! OVERSEAS and we’ve been given permission to use the Emblem pictured here as part of our publications. Only 10 recipients are selected each year so this is quite thrilling to our little venture and it is with an attitude of gratitude that we offer sincere thanks to each reader who felt we deserved to be included in this group.

Russia will light up Belarus–electricity back on in 2 days

World opinion perhaps? Russia will restore power deliveries to cash-strapped Belarus by this weekend after receiving a late payment for $21 million on Wednesday–not enough to bring the account current but enough that along with diplomatic communications from other nations, Russia will turn the light switch back on within 2 days.

Russia’s RAO Electric company had cut power supplies to Belarus early Wednesday. Meanwhile in Minsk energy officials said that Russian supplies accounted for only 12 percent of the power consumed and Belarus is frantically working to compensate by shifting local power generators to natural gas. Belarus national power supplier, Belenergo, used a commercial bank loan to make today’s partial payment.

Logo of Belenergo power company, owned by the Belarus Energy Ministry.

The Belarussian treasury has been emptied by dictator/president Aleksander Lukashenko’s social spending prior to his reelection in December and a sharp increase in energy prices by its much larger neighbor, Russia. Lukashenko has ruled with an iron fist for 17 years and his brutal crackdown on opposition groups after the election has left the small county isolated from the international community.

A recent poll showed a high level of mistrust in President Lukashenko. In regards to who was responsible for the deadly Minsk Metro subway bombing, 57% of those surveyed blamed President Lukashenko, 18% blame Russian Prime Minister Putin and only 24% believe it was the action of terrorists. (Poll: http://333monkeys.livejournal.com/187858.html)

The shortage of hard currency prompted by the isolation caused a run on cash exchange facilities as citizens anticipated a coming currency devaluation which was implemented in May.

Russia has cut off electricity to Belarus

Holding on to Communism as if it were some great achievement, President of Belarus Aleksander Lukashenko continues to resist political modernization of his country. So, saying they have tired of playing political games and running up bigger and bigger loans to the stubborn dictator, Russia has cut off the electricity to Belarus effective at 12:01 am today, Wednesday.

Russia says that the electricity will stay off until Belarus fully pays for electricity it has already purchased and which remains unpaid. Russia’s electric utility RAO say the amount is 1.2-billion ruble ($43 million).

On 9 June Russia had cut electric supplies to Belarus by half as a warning and gave notice that Belenergo, the Belarussian electric utility, needed to settle up debts before the last week of June.

Generating hall at Russia's powerful electric plant. (photo: Андрей Корзун)

Russian authorities deny that the cutoff is political and say that Russia supplies only about 10% of the Belarus electric demand. Belarus says it has enough domestic currency to make the payments but is having problems finding countries willing to convert it into international hard currencies. Belarus last made a payment in mid June to cover the bill for March.

Some sources in Belarus say that Russia is trying to shut down the technology factories in Belarus that supply electronic goods such as microwave ovens and television sets to China, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

President Medvedev meets with “Right Cause” political party.

Today’s meeting between President Dmitry Medvedev and the newly elected head of the Russian “Right Cause” party, Mikhail Prokhorov, was instructive in learning how much President Medvedev would like to gradually move Russia away from the “Putin Plan” form of government.

Prokhorov is a businessman but President Medvedev was more interested in talking to Prokhorov about how to develop Russia’s political system.

Left: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Right: Leader of "Right Cause" party head, Mikhail Prokhorov.

President Medvedev: What are your ideas here?

Mikhail Prokhorov: I think our country is excessively centralized at the moment. We need more decentralization, because this will make it easier to solve the various problems our people encounter.

To this end we propose making 25 percent of the seats in the State Duma single mandate seats so as to give talented people the chance to enter parliament without having to go through political parties.

We also propose that if the regional governors are to remain appointed, they should be given greater powers for carrying out federal responsibilities in the regions.

We think that mayors and local self-government heads are the cornerstone in work to develop people’s quality of life. They do not have enough money at the moment to carry out their functions. We therefore propose changing the way funds are distributed between the different budgets, and to some extent even changing the tax system too, bolstering tax collection at the local level, so as to encourage effective mayors and local government heads in their efforts to resolve the tasks that are their responsibility.

In the interests of making the whole power system healthier in general, I think it would be useful to elect judicial and law enforcement system officials at the lower level – prosecutors, local police heads, and perhaps even local tax collectors. This way, alongside the officials on the various local boards, there would be officials elected by the local people themselves. This would make the system healthier, and would also serve as an important social lift to help people in their career aspirations.

Given that the city heads in Moscow and St Petersburg de-facto perform the same functions as mayors (they are the ones who decide the issues concerning the quality of life of people in these cities), I think it would be useful to restore elections of the heads of these two cities.

President Medvedev:. Your ideas correspond on some points with my own views. At the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, I spoke about the need to decentralize power and have already given instructions to set up working groups in which the regional governors and local government heads will take part.

Some of your ideas are more radical in nature and require more reflection, but one thing is clear, and that is that centralized power in any country, even in as complex a federal state as Russia, cannot continue forever. There was a time when we had to ‘tighten the screws’ as it were, in order to get our institutions working and establish a state administration system capable of carrying out the instructions given, because the system had deteriorated during the 1990s, unfortunately. But of course, it’s one thing to ‘tighten the screws’, and another thing to turn them too far.

We need to look now at how to make our system – the power system, and the electoral system – less bureaucratic, freer, and less centralized at the national level and in the regions, and this includes looking at new ideas too, ideas that haven’t been discussed yet. All of the political parties should take part in this work, and I hope that Right Cause will get involved too.

At the end of their meeting President Medvedev signed an Executive order On Preparing Suggestions for Redistributing Powers Between Federal Executive Authorities, Regional Executive Authorities of the Russian Federation and Local Self-Government. The President also ordered the creation of a working group on legal issues pertaining to redistributing powers, as well as a working group on financial and tax issues and inter-budgetary relations.

Russian journalist murdered

VIENNA — The International Press Institute (IPI) today called on Russian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the stabbing death of a journalist working for a regional television company in northern Russia.

Anatoly Bitkov, the chief editor of Kolyma Plus regional television company, was found dead in his apartment this morning in the city of Magadan with multiple stab wounds to his head and body.

Investigators said the wounds likely caused his death, and that a criminal case had been opened. They expressed doubt that the murder was connected to Bitkov’s work, but said that all possible motives would be checked.

IPI Press Freedom & Communications Manager Anthony Mills said: “This shocking murder shows anew the dangers that journalists in Russia face, and the possible consequences of allowing a climate of impunity to fester. We are concerned about the investigators’ statement apparently downplaying any potential connection to Mr. Bitkov’s work, and the speed with which that statement appeared. We extend our deepest condolences to Mr. Bitkov’s family and colleagues, and we call on Russian authorities to conduct a swift, transparent investigation that adequately explores all possible theories of this crime.”

Russia remains a dangerous country for journalists, especially those working in the volatile North Caucasus region. Last month, Yakhya Magomedov of the Russian Islamic newspaper As-Salam was killed when he was shot four times near the city of Khasavyurt in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan.

Also in May, a Moscow court sentenced nationalist Nikita Tikhonov to life in prison for the 2009 shootings of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova. Tikhonov’s girlfriend and accomplice, Yevgenia Khasis, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

According to IPI’s Death Watch, two journalists were killed in Dagestan in 2010.

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