Happy birthday Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Михаил Борисович Ходорковский

Happy birthday, Mikhail Khodorkovsky! The most popular prison inmate in Russia celebrates a birthday today as on this day, 26 June 1963 Михаил Борисович Ходорковский was born and we wish him the best day possible in spite of being a political prisoner.

Free "mbx" or Mikhail Boris Khodorkovsky. Unfortunately he will not be allowed to enjoy such a cake.
Free “mbx” or Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky. Unfortunately he will not be allowed to enjoy such a cake.

С Днем рождения, Михаил Борисович.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky k

Здоровья, терпения, выдержки! Помним и переживаем за тебя. Держись!

Mikhail Khodorkovsky birthday 26 June 1963

С Юбилеем, Михаил Борисович! (26 июня 1963)



On Syria, from Antioch

Arab Spring or Tornado?

Editorial by His Eminence Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, from the June 2013 issue of The Word:

Since the so-called Arab Spring began in Libya in 2011, we have seen the devastation and destruction of that Arab country by Libyan and NATO forces. This Arab Spring has since spread to Tunisia and Egypt, the most populated Arab country. This fire has burned relentlessly in Gaza and all of Palestine since 1948. It is spreading into Jordan, Bahrain, and Iraq and has caused the most devastation in Syria, where many of us have ancestral roots. Unfortunately, the American and European news outlets are not reporting such stories to the world, neither through the written word nor graphic photographs like the ones you see in this sad issue of The WORD magazine.

The WORD has been able to obtain these pictures and information from reliable sources. Syria has been most victimized and experienced the most devastation by this seemingly endless war. The WORD believes that the only country that can bring peace to this most explosive region of the world is the United States of America, because America has leverage over Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Europe.

For more than two years, a savage war has been raging in Syria. It has consumed more than 100,000 Syrians and left thousands of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Canada, and Australia, to name a few. Billions of dollars have been lost in the properties of cities like Damascus and its suburbs, Dara’a, al-Kousyr, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Deir al-Zoor and others in Northern Syria. Our distinguished President, Barack Obama, and our Secretary of State, John Kerry, have been calling the world to arm the rebels (the Free Syrian Army) to continue the fight and topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

We do believe that there must be a peaceful solution to this war in Syria; if it continues, however, it may burn the whole Middle East, including our American interests in the region. Therefore, one might ask what the solution is. Surely it is not more arms for Syrians to kill each other. What Syria needs is a peace conference between the Syrian regime and the opposition, supervised by the United Nations.

Syria does not need more arms. Syria needs more financial aid, more relief to millions of Syrians who have lost everything and more relief to thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and other countries. The war in Syria is also shaking the political situation in Lebanon. This is precisely why the Lebanese have not been able to form a government or agree on a new parliamentary law.

No, Mr. President, and no, Mr. Secretary of State, arming Syrians against Syrians will not bring peace to Syria; instead, more war and bloodshed. What Syria needs most of all is peace, “for blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Editors note: read the entire article here.

Putin – Obama – Snowden

Russian social media can be interesting. Perhaps you recall last week the G8 Summit and the side meeting with Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama. They two refused to look at each other, averted eyes, stared at the ground, sat with their hands folded and spoke thru interpreters although Mr. Putin understands English. When finished, Mr. Obama put his hand on Mr. Putin’s shoulder as they were walking away, causing Mr. Putin to step up his pace to create more distance between himself and Mr. Obama.

Well photoshop can be a bitch fun for those who know how to do such magic. Sadly, I have neither the time or the skill but had to chuckle at this doctored photo from a Russian social media site.

Putin Obama G8 height=415

So what was the immediate reaction? All I need to do is show the first two comments:

Comment: The monkey on his back.

Comment:  By the looks of it I’d think the monkey is being ridden.

Before you think I’m the racist, keep in mind that I’m just the reporter and not associated with the message. This does show the deep rift between the two and as it is true that Vladimir Putin intensely dislikes Mr. Obama, always has and even the term detests him might be a mild description; it doesn’t help that Washington sends mixed signals which further angers Mr. Putin.

Washington just can’t seem to get a handle on how to manage a productive relationship with Moscow.  A prime example of that is the dredging up the old story of a Super Bowl ring, obviously timed to make Mr. Putin look bad after his refusal to go along with Washington’s plans for Syria. Especially when Robert Kraft had in Russia told the media that the ring was a gift and only upon reflection back home, and perhaps some nagging from his late wife, did he decide that the ring had been “stolen.” No matter what you think of the story, it is a very old story and an odd time to be hitting the news now. Thank you James Carville and Rahm Emanuel types for dipping into the sewer to pull that one out again.

Would you like to know the real story why Mr. Putin kept John Kerry waiting, for over three hours, before finally meeting with him? Let us be blunt because Mr. Putin’s 40 minute phone call with Israeli PM Netanyahu didn’t take 3 hours. That was a message directed squarely at Washington because Kerry’s visit included more mixed signals. Mr. Putin had ordered Red Square cleared of parade practices two days prior to the Victory Day parade, halting last minute work of parade coordinators. Mr. Putin gave the order so that Mr. Kerry could take his entourage to see Red Square.

So what kind of thank you did the USA show to Mr. Putin for making that happen? Kerry scheduled personal meetings with key opposition leaders for the next day. He also met with several NGO directors who had come under fire by the Kremlin. Mr. Putin was infuriated at the timing of the meetings which are something more usually handled by an Ambassador in most cases instead of a visiting Secretary of State on his first official visit to Russia.

Since the Putin government practically controls the media, when Mr. Putin wants to demonstrate his displeasure with Mr. Obama, within a short period of time that message can be delivered to the vast majority of Russians to whom 85 percent or more get their first and primary news coverage from television. Western media, especially American media is under the delusion that Russians don’t know about a young man named Edward Snowden.

Obviously the American media doesn’t pay much attention to Russian social media but perhaps they should. Were Edward Snowden to leave the airport and walk the streets of Moscow he’d have a prime choice of wedding proposals within the hour. Young Russian ladies love a daredevil and this one has attracted their attention.

So, what does the doctored photo above have to do with Edward Snowden? The State Department and many in the media are frantically frothing at the mouth over what kind of secrets might be revealed to the KGB. Obviously there are things they don’t want Russia to know. Obviously Vladimir Putin ordered Snowden be allowed on Aeroflot flight SU213 from Hong Kong to Moscow.

When was the last time you were allowed to board an international flight with a revoked passport and no visa?! To Russia, no less! Every flight I take to Moscow, no matter from where in the world, my passport is checked and I must have a valid destination visa. These things are checked at the gate and again during the boarding process. Twice before boarding is the standard operating procedure for flights headed for Russia.

So what is Snowden doing now? We don’t know and Russian media representatives have been escorted out of the transit area at the airport.  One thing is certain: for many in various parts of the world this is a very welcome embarrassment to the Obama administration.

Navigating your way around with just a little Russian

Travel in the former Soviet Union can be a challenge but it is getting easier due to increased tourism and the use of English as an International language on street signs and in transportation services such as trains, buses, etc.

So, can a little Russian help you along the way? Absolutely and to do that you’ll need to know something about the Cyrillic alphabet, found here. Using that knowledge can help you with the basic stuff like street directions, and finding things like a restaurant, hotel, bar and other services.

Speaking of bars, we’re going to visit the “Banka fan bar” in the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv (Kiev). Here we don’t call the city “key-evh” with two syllables as in the West. Instead we speak Kyiv (Kiev) like the locals, a one syllable word that sounds like “keeve” which is just like ‘peeve” or ‘sleeve’ but with the letter k at the start.

tourist directions

So if we wanted to inquire about the Banka fan bar in Kyiv where they serve drinks in uniquely styled jars, here is how we’d ask:

bar banka in Kyiv

For directions we’d ask “gdye” ( Где) which means “where” is something. A local would tell us that the Fan Bar is at ул. Елены Телиги 13 and our new skills at deciphering Cyrillic would tell us that we’re looking for #13 Ye-l-e-n-a  T-e-l-i-g-i street. In Eastern Europe you pinpoint locations by the nearest subway station which in this case is м.Дорогожичи, or “Metro D-o-r-o-g-o-zh-i-ch-i.

Simple, right?

FREE Kindle version of “Call Sign White Lily”

Our friend and colleague Matt Crisci is giving away FREE Kindle versions of his book, “Call Sign White Lily” and there are less than 24 hours left to take advantage of his offer. The book is about Lily Litvyak, a young female Russian fighter pilot who became an ace fighter before being shot down and killed in World War II. It is an inspiring story!

Matt Crisci is a fine writer, a retired newspaper journalist from New York and has done excellent research on the background of this young female pilot’s life. It is a compelling story and you will learn a lot of WWII history as a bonus.

Russian Postal Service – trials and tribulations

Although often maligned, there is no doubt that the Russian Postal Service has made tremendous strides in recent years to modernize systems and improve service.

Russian post c

For many Russian citizens, the Postal system today often looks like the frequently circulated joke that if one wishes to see what Soviet customer service was like, visit a post office.

Even critics admit that perhaps the crowning accomplishment of the Russian Post was the delivery of some 70 million parcels per month under dangerous conditions to Soviet army units during  the Great Patriotic War (World War II). They just wish it worked as efficiently and with the same sense of urgency today.

Postal authorities point to improvements and say that in reality the system is getting better.

According to the Moscow Times, Russian Post has 42,000 post offices, 380,000 employees, 52 million parcels, and processes 1.5 billion letters annually. Meanwhile, the company received 27,000 complaints, 15,000 burned letters, and 7.5 million rubles of fines in the last six months.

In a report from January of this year, Russia Behind the Headlines wrote that the average delivery time for a package from the UK to Russia is two months. As to frequent delays, many of those are the fault of Customs as the Postal Service simply must wait until each incoming package has been inspected.

There are even delivery games created to play “Postal Express.

Russian Post game

Those critical of the service point to a shortage of employees and low pay thereby contributing to a “why should I care?” attitude among mail handlers and those who make deliveries.

Disgruntled customers went so far as to create a website detailing problems at the service, http://anti-russianpost.ru. That website appears to have been closed but not to worry, there are plenty of ways to hate on social sites such as Facebook (I Hate Russian Post) and vkontake.

If things like low wages and disregard for customer service weren’t bad enough, how is your package treated en route? An online video has “gone viral” as the expression goes when passengers on a train filmed this scene of postal packages being tossed from a train wagon onto the concrete platform in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

Postal authorities are currently investigating the Novosibirsk train incident. In April of this year then-Chief Executive Alexander Kiselyov of the Russia Post was fired after several scandals surfaced. It remains to be seen what impact the Novosibirsk matter will have on current director Dmitry Strashnov. Russia has seen five different Postal Service Chief Executives since 2007.

russian post a

Need to track a package online? Here is a tracking tool for the Russian Postal Service.

Putin admits to starting war with Georgia

Not that it is a surprise to anyone in the know, but most Russians have been told that Georgia started the fighting and Russia entered the war to protect their citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian authorities have stuck to that story line for five years.

Until last week.

In a television interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted to striking first saying that Russia attacked Georgia because the Georgian government was smuggling terrorists across Abkhazia to the Russian border near Sochi. As columnist and radio talk host Yulia Latynina explains, the part about Georgia smuggling terrorists across a disputed territory virtually controlled by Russia would have been quite a feat.

(photo: Semyon Khorunzhy)
(photo: Semyon Khorunzhy)

What is surprising however is that Mr. Putin would let it slip that Russia started the fighting.

Here is more from Yulia Latynina:

During an interview on RT television last week, President Vladimir Putin made a truly sensational statement by revealing the real reason for the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008. Apparently, Russia delivered a preventative strike to liquidate international terrorists who were sent by Georgian forces to penetrate Russian territory. Putin said the terrorists advanced to positions 30 kilometers south of Sochi before they were eliminated.

“About six or seven years ago when we had to attack Georgian territories, those were not just strikes on Georgia. We targeted militant groups that came very close to Sochi. … Georgian police vehicles were transporting the militants to the Russian border. So we had to take some preemptive measures. And I informed the president [Dmitry Medvedev] about this,” Putin said.

First of all, Putin’s timeline is all wrong. Russia’s war with Georgia was five years ago, not six or seven. There were no other military conflicts between the two countries during Medvedev’s presidency except the five-day war in 2008.

This is not the first time that Putin has a made a surprising statement intended to show how well-informed Russia’s intelligence agencies are. Instead, however, everyone was left wondering, “What are those people smoking?”

Russia Today television interview: http://rt.com/news/putin-rt-interview-full-577/