Russia: The System Matters

They began just shy of a year apart.

Two Stanford University students, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, started a company they named “Google” on the 4th day of September 1998 in Menlo Park, California.

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Eleven months later, on the 9th day of August 1999, Russian president Boris Yeltsin named a former KGB Colonel, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, as Acting Prime Minister and named Putin as his eventual successor. Yeltsin stepped down early, and Putin assumed the presidency on the 31st day of December 1999. Putin’s first official act, signed on the same day, was an Executive Order barring the prosecution of Yeltsin and any of his family from ever facing charges of corruption.

Mr. Putin has been credited as reviving the Russian economy and building Russia into an energy superpower. Enjoying high public approval ratings, Putin is widely acclaimed by Russians for bringing stability to the country.

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Russians say that Vladimir Putin has accomplished a miracle. At the end of December 2014, the value of the entire Russian stock market, the Micex exchange, was $325 Billion.

Google has not been credited with reviving any nations, but they have not done too badly themselves. As Justin Worland of Time wrote recently, by the end of December 2014, Google, a single company started just eleven months before Mr. Putin took power, was worth $340 Billion, more than the entire Russian stock market.

Ah, but then so is Apple. As is ExxonMobil, also an energy superpower. Another American stock, Microsoft, is also worth more than the entire Russian stock market.

Detractors will rush to say that Putin took power at a time when Russia was on her knees and therefore somehow the comparison is invalid. They will argue that the environment in which Google started was much more favourable than the one in which Mr. Putin had to navigate, and that Russia was just emerging from the shadow of the Soviet Union.

Exactly. That is the point.

During that same period, Americans have changed presidents several times, and both houses of Congress have changed hands. Via peaceful means and open elections, whoever the “opposition” party was at the time found the way to win, and yet you don’t hear Americans complaining about the lack of stability. It is the United States Constitution that provides stability, not an individual.

In the midst of change, two college students founded their little company, without the need to appease any Oligarchs or national leaders, and their Google idea has grown to be worth more than the entire Russian stock market.

The worth of Russia’s giants: Rosneft, Gazprom, Lukoil, Yandex, Norilsk Nickel, Sberbank, etal, are still not worth the value of one American company started by college kids.

It is not about one group of people being better than others. It is the system. The system matters.

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How Ukrainian Soldiers Are Treated When Captured

If you happen to be inside Ukraine and find yourself captured by the Russian separatists, or pro-Russian terrorists, Russian Army regulars, Putin’s “little green men” or whatever they are calling themselves, for God’s sake please be sure to die rather than taken captive.

We thought that this sort of thing was against International laws for treating prisoners, but apparently that does not matter. “New Russia” TV wanted to show viewers how locals treat Ukrainian soldiers who are captured, so they brought this captured Ukrainian “Cyborg,” a term Ukrainians give to their soldiers defending the Donetsk airport, to the scene of a bus that had been hit by stray shelling.

“В честь полоненого Кіборга”

Ти йшов, як Він, смиренно так ішов,
свого Хреста ніс на свою Голготу.
В глибоких ранах запеклася кров
під камуфляжем, що змокрів від поту.

Й тобі юрба кричала: Розіпни!
за те, що боронив свою Вкраїну.
А ти ішов проклятий без вини,
слова і камені летіли вслід у спину.

Не впадь, рідненький, під тяжким хрестом,
бо мусиш до кінця пройти страшну дорогу.
У відповідь на зло, не варто – злом,
в душі тихенько змов Молитву Богу.

…Ти так смиренно ніс свого хреста.
Юрба хотіла хліба і забави.
Це їх дорога, їх страшна ганьба.
Для тебе це була дорога – СЛАВИ!

ИРИНА ГУЛИЕВА

Cyborg

A new question has opened up: was it a license plate registered to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affair on the green car that drove away with the prisoner? We do not know, but it is an intriguing question.

Russia bans Ukrainian nationalists groups

As reported by ITAR-TASS yesterday, the Russian Justice Ministry has banned the activities of Ukrainian nationalist organizations inside Russia. Acting on recommendations by the prosecutor general’s office, Russia’s Supreme Court have banned the following groups:

–  Right Sector

– the National Assembly for Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO)

– the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)

– the Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Organization

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office issued a statement saying, “The extremist activities of the Ukrainian organization in question encroach on the foundations of Russia’s constitutional order and territorial integrity; entail the violation of human rights and civil liberties; cause damage to individuals as well as to citizens; public order and public security.”

Prosecutors say that the list of groups banned may be expanded.

Epiphany – Крещенские in Russia

Epiphany, the observance of the baptism of Jesus Christ, has arrived in the Eastern world. Tonight at midnight and all through tomorrow until sundown, millions of Christians across Asia and Eastern Europe will renew their baptismal vows by plunging into icy waters.

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In Moscow Orthodox Christians will begin to assemble at churches, monasteries, and parks just past midnight. Had you asked about the first time, prior to taking part, this writer was expecting nothing more than a freezing ice bath. In reality, at least for personal experience, it triggers a flood of emotions, including sorrow for sin and a resolve to take up one’s cross and follow the Master.

With city rescue workers standing by, a priest blesses the water and the tradition is to lower yourself into the water, and dunk three times, making the sign of the cross each time.

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If you observe Epiphany, we wish for you a joyful and fulfilling time of spiritual growth and reflection. Amen.

 

Heroes on the front in Eastern Ukraine

One cannot think about Ukraine without giving due to her heroes. Some are professional soldiers, but most are volunteers who have hastily trained and then traveled to the Eastern front, even when ill-equipped. They are motivated by a deep desire to serve their country.

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These are some of the faces of the men and women who have taken up arms in the just cause of defending their Ukrainian homeland, even against a much larger and deadly enemy. Sadly, both Ukraine and Russia were birthed in Ukraine. Close brothers for generations; those brotherly ties are fading fast.

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This installment of “heroes” is dedicated to the brave souls who lost their lives in fighting yesterday: Olga Shudikina, Inna Kornilova, Larisa Starchak, Roman Kolomoets, Tetyana Morgasuk, Oleksandr Morgasuk, Vladislav Polyakov, Maria Grinnik, Dmitro Dukov, Anastasia Logutkina, and Anatoly Karpov. May God forgive their sins from this life, grant each of them eternal rest in His presence, wipe away all tears and sorrow, and comfort their families. Eternal memory.

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Thanks to Western nations like Canada, Italy and Poland for beginning to help modernize and equip these heroes. In addition to defensive weapons and materials, first air supplies, food, modern helmets, warm outer clothing, and a good night’s sleep are in short supply.

Russia and Ukraine: War Plus Sanctions Equals Inflation

The two countries hit hardest financially by the war in Ukraine are the two countries at war: Ukraine and Russia. While Western sanctions have hit the financial sectors of Russia, President Putin has imposed strict “reverse” sanctions, essentially bans on certain Western products. These bans have limited imports and thus driven up costs of things like food. By design the reverse sanctions are bans to cut off the Russian market to Western goods, but the hard reality is that Russia has delivered a financial blow to her own citizens by the resulting price inflation.

supermarket Tikhiy Don a

In Ukraine, the cost of war has driven up the cost of goods, too. Last year’s revolution in Kyiv (Kiev) tanked the already corrupt and teetering economy, and the most vulnerable to high prices and inflation are the elderly. This is a blow to a society in which food is already one of the highest living costs due to relatively low salaries and cheap housing. The average monthly salary in Ukraine varies from under $200 to about $450, depending on the city and the occupation.

Many families of both countries maintain a dacha, a cabin or small dwelling along a riverfront or in the forest. While the typical dacha lacks many of the comforts of life, many do not have running water or electricity, they do have gardens and fruit trees. It is not unusual for a family to raise a large percentage of their annual food needs in simple garden plots in the country.

With rapidly increasing food prices, we wanted to take a snapshot of late December to early January food prices in Kyiv and in Moscow. To approach the project we began with these essentials: eggs, cheese, bread and sausage. Americans think of these as primarily “breakfast” foods, but in Eastern culture there really aren’t many foods tied to a particular time of day, and thus these are among the daily essentials to be served at any meal.

Below: sausages/pressed meats in Ukraine.

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sausages in grivna

Things you might like to know:

– Russians use the Ruble as currency. Abbreviation: руб, or p (which is the letter “R” in Cyrillic).
– Ukrainians use the Gryvnia, sometimes written as Hryvnia, as their currency. Abbreviation: грн.

– Sausages and many meats are typically pressed into rolls as you can see. They are a dietary staple.
– Eggs are either sold individually, loose by each egg, or in cartons of 10.
– Most foods are sold by the kilogram. Abbreviation: kg

Next: sausages/pressed meats in Russia. In some cases when inflation is rising rapidly, prices are not updated in a timely fashion.

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While the sausage pictured below is a veal sausage, and priced more than a bologna for example, it is representative of how prices have risen in a very short period of time in Russia.

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Depending on the brand, eggs in Ukraine are averaging around 41 грн for a carton of 10 eggs. That is about $2.60 when converted into dollars.

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In Russia a carton of 10 eggs is selling for about 52 руб (rubles). To put that into perspective, 52 rubles is around 86 cents in US dollars at today’s exchange rate. That may seem low to American readers, but bear in mind that the Ruble has plunged in value; it was not that long ago that a ruble was worth about 40 cents, but today it is only worth about 16 cents to the dollar. The result is that purchasing power has plunged, while at the same time food prices are rising rapidly with inflation.

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As for bread, we quickly found a loaf in a Moscow market for just 29 руб; just over $2.00 per loaf in dollars.

Finally, pass the cheese please! No, literally. It is too expensive these days. Averaging between 75 and 90 грн per kg in Ukraine, that is well over five dollars per kilogram.

cheese in gryvnia

If one thinks the cheese is expensive in Ukraine, try Russia. As you can see, a Russian consumer can easily pay up to 459 руб (or $7.50) per kg. It just proves that the question is no longer “who moved my cheese?” but the new question has become, “who can afford to buy my cheese?”

cheese in rubles

Many of our Western readers will look at these prices and wonder what the fuss is all about. From New York to California, some of these prices seem very low. But keep in mind that most Americans earn more than $200, $300, or even $500+ per month. From that vantage point, one can perhaps understand how world events are squeezing the financial life out of the average “man on the street” in this part of the world.

Now if we could just find a way to squeeze blood out of those famous Russian beets….

(Photo credits: Natamax-LiveJournal in Ukraine, and Anatoliy Migov in Moscow.)

 

Russian Muslim Leaders Condemn Both Terrorists and Newspaper

From today’s Moscow Times:

Russia’s Muslim leaders have condemned the terror attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo but appeared to spread the blame for the mass shooting that claimed 12 lives by suggesting the publication was guilty of the “sin of provocation.”

While Russia’s Council of Muftis, the country’s main Muslim leadership organization, said in a statement Wednesday that terrorism is indefensible, it also suggested that attacks may be unavoidable unless satirists stop “provoking” the faithful.

“Perhaps the sin of provocation in our world is no less dangerous for the preservation of peace than the sin of those who are capable of succumbing to that provocation,” the group said in a statement published on its website.

Read the entire article here.