Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts

March 27, 2020

Russia is Reporting Very Few Cases of COVID-19, Why?

                               Tourists wear protective face masks as they walk in Red Square near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. The outbreak of the deadly coronavirus threatens to derail a fragile stabilization in the world economy, which had appeared poised to benefit from the phase one U.S.-China trade deal, and signs of a tech turnaround. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

In the last two weeks, it was observed from afar as various places around the world to which I have a personal attachment registered a grim uptick in coronavirus cases, and then, in response, effectively shut down. In Southern California, my mother was the first person I knew to self-quarantine; next were friends in Paris, who, in the span of forty-eight hours, went from eating lunch in cafés and planning a trip to Germany to hunkering down with their young children; then it was the turn of friends and colleagues in New York, where I lived for nearly a decade. During this time, Moscow, the city where I have lived for eight years, has felt like an unlikely outlier. Life here has definitely become stranger, but it is far from completely upended. As of Tuesday, Russia has four hundred and ninety-five official cases of covid-19, a small fraction of the number of cases in major European countries or in the United States.

Vladimir Putin has offered general assurances that the situation in Russia is “under control,” and, although Moscow’s mayor, a Putin loyalist, has closed schools and cancelled public events, the daily ebb and flow of the city hasn’t changed all that dramatically. I’ve mostly stayed at home, but the metro is still running, and shops and restaurants are open. The luxury department store Tsum is having one of its best years for sales in recent memory. Half my friends are observing some form of self-quarantine; the other half doesn’t get what the fuss is about—or, rather, their employers don’t

 Sergey Netesov, the head of the bionanotechnology, microbiology, and virology laboratory at Novosibirsk State University, who was previously a researcher at Vector—the state laboratory that developed the first coronavirus test in Russia—told me, “These are the most dangerous carriers, and I’m worried this contingent is not being caught at all, at least not yet.” 

For every story I heard that suggested a thorough, even overly paranoid, approach—one friend told me of his neighbor who was tested after other residents in their building heard her repeatedly coughing in the stairwell and called the city’s coronavirus hotline—I heard another story that conveyed a less encouraging image, such as that of a nineteen-year-old college student in Moscow who was refused a test, despite experiencing a fever and a persistent cough, even after her university dorm was closed for fear of coronavirus infection. I spoke to a man in Volgograd, a city in southern Russia, who told me that he had come down with pneumonia late last month. 

At the hospital, doctors told him that rates of pneumonia in the city were ten times higher than in previous years—every second or third patient seemed to be suffering from the ailment, they said. “I couldn’t stop coughing,” the man told me. “I was running out of breath every hundred metres—it reminded me of what I’d heard everyone talking about.” Doctors asked him whether he’d been in contact with anyone who had recently been in China or Europe—as far as he knew, he hadn’t—but they didn’t test him for the coronavirus. Stories like this, Vasilyeva said, may suggest either a purposeful coverup or simply a lack of know-how, equipment, and testing abilities, especially in smaller cities and more far-flung regions.

Russia has a higher number of ventilators per capita than many Western countries, which suggests that the country may not be in the worst position as the outbreak spreads. At the same time, according to numerous reports in the Russian press, doctors around the country are worried about a lack of training in how to deal with suspected coronavirus patients, and about a deficit of basic supplies, including masks and gloves. Higher up the chain, Russia’s bureaucracy tends to favor obedience and loyalty over competence. 

The first covid-19 patient in the Stavropol region turned out to be its chief infectious-diseases doctor, who’d ignored quarantine requirements after her return from Spain earlier this month. She visited several hospitals and taught numerous classes at the local medical university before coming down with symptoms and testing positive for the virus. As for the public at large, I’ve observed a kind of weary exhaustion among many Russians toward the state. The country has so many strict and redundant laws, in which the insignificant is made equal with the significant, that outsmarting or ignoring them is an understandable response. That may make it hard for the state to act with credibility and impact as it introduces measures meant to protect the population.

Lurking in the background, as infection numbers rise, is the question of the constitutional referendum scheduled for April 22nd. As I wrote earlier this month, this anodyne-sounding vote is really meant to allow Putin to run for a fifth, and possibly a sixth, term. The Kremlin wanted little fuss around the referendum, but the coronavirus is now complicating things. If infections climb exponentially, public voting will look more and more like madness, which is why the Kremlin has begun suggesting that the vote could be held in June. The Kremlin has also hinted that it may expand at-home voting, which sounds sensible, except for the fact that such a vote would be even more susceptible to fraud and manipulation than a normal Russian election. As with the facial-recognition technology deployed to find quarantine violators, such innovations, ostensibly meant to deal with the coronavirus, may well become regular features of monitoring and controlling public life in years to come.

An aerial view shows a construction site for a new infectious disease hospital, as an additional measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, on the outskirts of Moscow, March 18, 2020.Moscow News Agency/via Reuters
I’ve spent the last days waiting for news of whether, as the case count steadily grows, Moscow will be put under general quarantine. Perhaps Putin will wait to enforce such a measure until after he gets the constitutional stamp he needs to extend his rule by another decade or more. The sudden drop in oil prices this month and the subsequent fall of the ruble will likely push Russia into recession; a widespread lockdown could produce further economic pain, which the Kremlin would consider even more politically costly than a worsening epidemic. What’s clear is that Russia’s response to covid-19 is inexorably bound up with the political needs of the moment—and, as Vlassov told me, that as the government weighs the two “the virus comes second.”

February 9, 2020

Russian Region of Chechnya and Their Work To Beat, Killed and Bury Gays is Documented

We won't forget!

You can do anything with a face on screen these days, whether it’s shaving decades off with a digital scalpel or keep faking it into unrecognizable oblivion. Usually, this wizardry has the air of a stunt, a transformation pulled off merely because it’s possible. Never, however, have such effects proven as chillingly essential as they are in “Welcome to Chechnya,” a vital, pulse-quickening new documentary from journalist-turned-filmmaker David France that urgently lifts the lid on one of the most horrifying humanitarian crises of present times: the state-sanctioned purge of LGBTQ people in the eponymous southern Russian republic.

Documentary from journalist-turned-filmmaker David France.
Director: David France With David Isteev, Olga Baranova, Maxim Lapunov
 Closely charting multiple missions to extract and protect brutalized victims of the regime, France collects the candid first-person perspectives that have proven difficult to come by in this climate of terror — thanks in large part to face-altering technology that keeps their identities hidden, but not their searing truth.
Image result for chechnya gay deaths
Government of Chechnya and Russia, You should know both
Premiering in competition at Sundance — with a Berlin date to follow, and an HBO release scheduled for June — “Welcome to Chechnya” further establishes France as America’s foremost documentarian on LGBTQ issues, following 2012’s superb, Oscar-nominated “How to Survive a Plague” and 2017’s similarly stirring “The Death and Life and Marsha P. Johnson.” His third feature represents a departure, however, from those historical, archive-trawling studies, instead of taking the form of an anxiously in-the-moment docu-thriller, tracking and braiding the escape narratives of several human subjects in the present tense — often without tidy resolution or catharsis. This isn’t a story to reflect on, as Putin-directed Chechen authorities continue to flatly deny the human rights violations under scrutiny: This necessarily upsetting film aims for immediate awareness and action. 

Abduction, beatings, electrocution: Gay man describes torture in Chechnya

The pre-existing material in “Welcome to Chechnya” is by far its most distressing: grainy cellphone and surveillance camera footage of real-life homophobic attacks in the republic, including a gay couple confronted mid-kiss by a gang of jeering men, and a young woman dragged from a car and bludgeoned by a male relative in an apparent honor killing. These horrific flashes regularly punctuate the action, emphasizing the constant peril faced by its Chechen subjects. The first of these, 21-year-old Muslim lesbian “Anya,” is introduced via a desperate phone call to David Isteev, a journalist turned crisis response coordinator of the Russian LGBT Network: an activist group that arranges for endangered people like Anya to flee the region, sheltering them in safe houses around Europe.

Blackmailed for sex by an uncle in return for keeping her sexuality a secret from her father, Anya is just one cruel man’s whim away from being another casualty in Chechnya’s rapidly swelling list of LGBTQ people killed or forcibly disappeared in the last three years. Using a New Yorker exposé by Masha Gessen as his starting point, France claims the hate campaign escalated with a 2017 drug raid in which explicit gay images and messages were found on a suspect’s phone, thus initiating a chain system in which LGBTQ detainees are violently coerced by police into revealing the identities of others.

It all amounts to a social “cleansing” project by Chechnya’s head of state Ramzan Kadyrov, a gun-loving far-right thug who denies the existence of such a campaign as vehemently as he denies the existence of any gay people in his republic at all. “We have no such people here,” he cheerfully tells U.S. sportscaster Bryant Gumbel in an excerpted 2017 interview. “To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.” It’s clear Kadyrov gets his fake-news credentials from his Russian superior Vladimir Putin; the system that Isteev and his fellow activists, including grittily determined lesbian Olga Baranova, find themselves up against is in such profoundly corrupt denial, it’s all but impossible to fight. 

Lesbians more accepted than gay men around the world, study finds

France and co-writer/editor Tyler H. Walk trace these institutional battle lines with compelling rigor, but the heart of the film, in all senses, is with the survivors retrieved by Isteev, Baranova and their colleagues. In sequences more racked with nail-digging tension than any fictional prison-break film, France’s camera unobtrusively follows the activists on their runs into and out of Chechnya, complete with subterfuge, disguise, and breath-halting border crossings. At a shelter in Moscow, we observe both the sense of community and alienation felt by the fugitives, some of them mere teenagers, after leaving everything in their former lives behind. For some, the exhilaration of escape only lasts so long before desolate fear of the future sets in, and the film seeks no pat feelgood shortcuts. One traumatized young man attempts suicide; for Anya, isolated indoors for her own safety in an undisclosed location, the lack of outside-world contact only aggravates her fragile mental state.

The closest thing here to an uplifting arc is still raddled with uncertainty and compromise. Having been detained and tortured while working in Chechnya, gay events planner Maxim (initially introduced as “Grisha”) is released on the strength of his Russian citizenship, only to be pursued once more when authorities fear he’ll tell his story to the media. (His family, in turn, is threatened, forced to flee their home.) United with his boyfriend in the Moscow shelter, Maxim resolves to take his case to the courts — becoming the first survivor to testify about the Chechen purge. 

Suspect arrested in NYC subway attack on trans woman

In parallel with this disclosure, he becomes the only subject in the film to let slip his real name and his digital mask — one of several deftly applied by VFX supervisor Ryan Laney, with only fleeting blurs and seams to betray the illusion. The dissolution of his computerized face, in the midst of an impassioned press conference with Russian media, is the one gasp-inducing moment of showmanship in a film that otherwise deploys clean, no-fuss shooting and cutting to gripping effect. Otherwise, the only flashes of cinematic artifice come via the cold, quick pulse of Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s score at the most white-knuckle moments in proceedings.

Maxim’s story gives “Welcome to Chechnya” its clearest moments of emotional release, but needless to say, his testimony hardly has a seismic effect on a crisis this crushingly entrenched — with only limited awareness and support from the rest of the world. France’s film closes on a grimly telling statistical postscript, noting that of 151 survivors rescued by the Russian LGBT Network and granted refugee status in other countries, the Trump administration has accepted a grand total of zero. The ironically inviting title only hints at part of the story in this wholly devastating documentary: The crisis, it turns out, is all around us.

By Variety

February 4, 2020

In Russia, Konstantin Kotov Wont Get A Review of His Political Sentence

Konstantin Kotov was arrested and charged amid a wave of criminal prosecutions that were opened over last summer’s Moscow election protests.
  "If Putin is such a big man I don't understand him being afraid of Konstantin, just like Trump was so afraid of Biden way before the elections he got himself impeached for life"  (Adam)   

Maksim Stulov / Vedomosti / TASS

Russia’s Supreme Court will not review Moscow protester Konstantin Kotov’s guilty verdict, his lawyer said Friday days after President Vladimir Putin promised to investigate whether his conviction was lawful.
Kotov, a 34-year-old programmer, was sentenced to four years in prison in September for "repeated" participation in unauthorized rallies. In the past week, Putin has ordered federal prosecutors to determine if Kotov’s verdict was lawful and Russia’s Constitutional Court ordered its review.  The Supreme Court, according to Kotov’s lawyer Maria Eismont, will not review Kotov’s conviction because the Constitutional Court’s order did not declare the criminal article under which he was prosecuted to be unconstitutional.
“We were prepared for this eventuality,” Eismont wrote on Facebook, adding that Kotov’s defense has filed a new appeal.
Amnesty International declared Kotov a prisoner of conscience Tuesday and called for his immediate release.
The London-based rights group also criticized Russia’s Constitutional Court for failing to strike down the provision punishing repeat violations of protest rules when it issued the review order Monday.
“Until it is repealed, the authorities will be able to use the provision to prosecute and imprison peaceful protesters for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Amnesty International said.
Kotov was arrested and charged amid a wave of criminal prosecutions that were opened over last summer’s Moscow election protests. The rallies, which began after opposition candidates were barred from the ballot in the Sept. 8 Moscow City Duma election, became the largest wave of protests seen in Russia since 2011-2013.

September 5, 2019

Do You Like The Beach? Russia had Some Good Ones But Now Some Make you Irradiate

Image result for russian radioactive beach
Radioactive pontoons involved in the Russian failed Nuclear accident wash ashore to the beach

A pair of pontoon barges suspected of being doused in radioactivity during a deadly nuclear missile accident in Russia washed up on a local beach three weeks ago, where they’ve reportedly been leaking radiation into the sea and sand ever since.
They landed near the mouth of the Verkhovka river, at a spot once popular with locals as a seaside hangout on Russia’s far-northern coast, and have been sitting there with no official warning signs beyond a dirty red shirt stretched between two wooden poles, according to a report on local television station Belomorkanal. 
Radiation measurements as high as eight times normal background levels were taken on Aug. 31 from a distance of 150 meters, while earlier tests soon after the pontoons arrived peaked as high as 38 times normal, the outlet said. Those levels are still well short of life-threatening, but measurements closer to the barges haven’t been made. 
“No idiots could be found to check the levels on the pontoons themselves without protection,” the local TV presenter deadpanned during a broadcast Monday.
Radioactive barges on a holiday beach are just the latest unsettling incident to arise after a deadly nuclear accident in Russia’s far north on Aug. 8, widely believed to have been a result of the country’s secretive Skyfall nuclear missile program. 
Russian President Vladimir Putin personally unveiled Skyfall last year as a crucial part of Russia’s new “invincible” arsenal of nuclear weapons. The project aims to field a cruise missile with effectively unlimited range thanks to an onboard nuclear engine.
 But some two-dozen Russians have been killed or injured in accidents involving high-tech, secretive nuclear military gear since July, in what outside military and nuclear experts say appears to be a deadly trend linked to a new arms race between the U.S. and Russia. 
The Aug. 8 explosion killed seven people and sent radiation readings in the local city of Severodvinsk spiking up roughly 16 times normal levels. The blast occurred during a mission to recover a missile from the ocean floor, a U.S. intelligence assessment reportedly concluded. 
One of the two barges washed up at the mouth of the Verkhovka River a day after the explosion, on Aug. 9. The other was left there by tugboats four days later, Belomorkanal reported. 
Readings are taken on Saturday, Aug. 31 measured from 70 to 186 micro roentgen per hour. Earlier measurements in August peaked at 750 micro roentgen per hour. Normal local background levels in the area are closer to 20 micro roentgen per hour, according to Greenpeace.   
Those tests don’t yet indicate a serious danger to locals, Dr. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey told VICE News. But there’s not enough data yet to know what the levels are like on the barges themselves. 
“It is important not to be exposed for too long, but a short dose is not life-threatening,” he wrote in an email. “However, I hope that the dose is much lower in the population centers nearby.”

January 12, 2019

FBI: Inquiry to See If TRUMP Secretly WORKING For RUSSIA


In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation of the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said. 

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.

The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017. He privately testified in October before House investigators who were examining the F.B.I.’s handling of the full Russia inquiry.
“Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” Mr. Baker said in his testimony, portions of which were read to The New York Times. Mr. Baker did not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the investigation of Mr. Trump to congressional investigators.

No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials. An F.B.I. spokeswoman and a spokesman for the special counsel’s office both declined to comment. 

Rudolph W. Giuliani, a lawyer for the president, sought to play down the significance of the investigation. “The fact that it goes back a year and a half and nothing came of it that showed a breach of national security means they found nothing,” Mr. Giuliani said on Friday, though he acknowledged that he had no insight into the inquiry.

The cloud of the Russia investigation has hung over Mr. Trump since even before he took office, though he has long vigorously denied any illicit connection to Moscow. The obstruction inquiry, revealed by The Washington Post a few weeks after Mr. Mueller was appointed, represented a direct threat that he was unable to simply brush off as an overzealous examination of a handful of advisers. But few details have been made public about the counterintelligence aspect of the investigation.

The decision to investigate Mr. Trump himself was an aggressive move by F.B.I. officials who were confronting the chaotic aftermath of the firing of Mr. Comey and enduring the president’s verbal assaults on the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt.”

A vigorous debate has taken shape among some former law enforcement officials outside the case over whether F.B.I. investigators overreacted in opening the counterintelligence inquiry during a tumultuous period at the Justice Department. Other former officials noted that those critics were not privy to all of the evidence and argued that sitting on it would have been an abdication of duty.

The F.B.I. conducts two types of inquiries, criminal and counterintelligence investigations. Unlike criminal investigations, which are typically aimed at solving a crime and can result in arrests and convictions, counterintelligence inquiries are generally fact-finding missions to understand what a foreign power is doing and to stop any anti-American activity, like thefts of United States government secrets or covert efforts to influence policy. In most cases, the investigations are carried out quietly, sometimes for years. Often, they result in no arrests.

Mr. Trump had caught the attention of F.B.I. counterintelligence agents when he called on Russia during a campaign news conference in July 2016 to hack into the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump had refused to criticize Russia on the campaign trail, praising President Vladimir V. Putin. And investigators had watched with alarm as the Republican Party softened its convention platform on the Ukraine crisis in a way that seemed to benefit Russia. 

How the Mueller Investigation Could Play Out for Trump
If Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finds evidence that Mr. Trump broke the law, he will have decisions to make about how to proceed. We explain them.

May 23, 2018
Other factors fueled the F.B.I.’s concerns, according to the people familiar with the inquiry. Christopher Steele, a former British spy who worked as an F.B.I. an informant, had compiled memos in mid-2016 containing unsubstantiated claims that Russian officials tried to obtain influence over Mr. Trump by preparing to blackmail and bribe him. 

In the months before the 2016 election, the F.B.I. was also already investigating four of Mr. Trump’s associates over their ties to Russia. The constellation of events disquieted F.B.I. officials who were simultaneously watching as Russia’s campaign unfolded to undermine the presidential election by exploiting existing divisions among Americans.

“In the Russian Federation and in President Putin himself, you have an individual whose aim is to disrupt the Western alliance and whose aim is to make Western democracy more fractious in order to weaken our ability, America’s ability and the West’s ability to spread our democratic ideals,” Lisa Page, a former bureau lawyer, told House investigators in private testimony reviewed by The Times.

“That’s the goal, to make us less of a moral authority to spread democratic values,” she added. Parts of her testimony were first reported by The Epoch Times.

And when a newly inaugurated Mr. Trump sought a loyalty pledge from Mr. Comey and later asked that the end an investigation into the president’s national security adviser, the requests set off discussions among F.B.I. officials about opening an inquiry into whether Mr. Trump had tried to obstruct that case.

But law enforcement officials put off the decision to open the investigation until they had learned more, according to people familiar with their thinking. As for a counterintelligence inquiry, they concluded that they would need strong evidence to take the sensitive step of investigating the president, and they were also concerned that the existence of such an inquiry could be leaked to the news media, undermining the entire investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election.

The first was a letter Mr. Trump wanted to send to Mr. Comey about his firing, but never did, in which he mentioned the Russia investigation. In the letter, Mr. Trump thanked Mr. Comey for previously telling him he was not a subject of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation.

Everyone Who’s Been Charged in Investigations Related to the 2016 Election
Thirty-seven people have been charged in investigations related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Aug. 21, 2018
Even after the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, wrote a more restrained draft of the letter and told Mr. Trump that he did not have to mention the Russia investigation — Mr. Comey’s poor handling of the Clinton email investigation would suffice as a fireable offense, he explained — Mr. Trump directed Mr. Rosenstein to mention the Russia investigation anyway.

He disregarded the president’s order, irritating Mr. Trump. The president ultimately added a reference to the Russia investigation to the note he had delivered, thanking Mr. Comey for telling him three times that he was not under investigation.

The second event that troubled investigators was an NBC News interview two days after Mr. Comey’s firing in which Mr. Trump appeared to say he had dismissed Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry.

“I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

Mr. Trump’s aides have said that a fuller examination of his comments demonstrates that he did not fire Mr. Comey to end the Russia inquiry. “I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people,” Mr. Trump added. “He’s the wrong man for that position.”

As F.B.I. officials debated whether to open the investigation, some of them pushed to move quickly before Mr. Trump appointed a director who might slow down or even end their investigation into Russia’s interference. Many involved in the case viewed Russia as the chief threat to American democratic values.

“With respect to Western ideals and who it is and what it is we stand for as Americans, Russia poses the most dangerous threat to that way of life,” Ms. Page told investigators for a joint House Judiciary and Oversight Committee investigation into Moscow’s election interference. 

F.B.I. officials viewed their decision to move quickly as validated when a comment the president made to visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office shortly after he fired Mr. Comey was revealed days later.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to a document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Follow Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos on Twitter: @adamgoldmanNYT, @nytmike, and @npfandos.

A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 12, 2019, on Page A1 of the New York edition

August 31, 2018

Russia's Putin Forced to Soften A Little His Dramatic and Unpopular Pension Cuts

 Mr. Alexei Navalny (Can you see what is behind that face?)

Usually Putin doesn't say much when he decries about anything in a way of explanations. But this time the Russian population was having a big problem swallowing the fact they now had to wait 8 more years to retirenment. That is a big increase and only a leader that either has a lot of backing from his constituents or a dictator that can use force to jail and kill the opposition could just say it and do it. But this time Putin had to soften the years by 3 which is not much but I guess it was his gesture from someone who doesn't back down to his people. At the end the Russians have to swallow what ever he throws at them. I wonder if the population knows or suspect how many billions he is got in multiple properties in Russia and much more in dollars, pounds, rubles  and real estate in outside banks. All he had to do is put some money back to the economy like a $billion or so as a way of thanking the Russian population for making a nobody ex KGB middle level spy with not many assets to one of the riches man in the whorld. 

If you like the order that comes from dictators you have to put up with making them rich with the family and many friends. You also have to put up with the jailing with jacked up charges and sometimes dissapearences which means death bcause you never get to see your son or husband ever again. 

I know some don't like to suffere while Putin enjoys your money. One of those is Alexei Nalvany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has softened his plan for pension reform in response to his falling approval rating and the threat of nationwide protests, reports the AP.
Why it matters: In a rare concession, Putin said the retirement age for women would be raised from 55 to 60, rather than 63 as originally planned. The televised speech in which he announced the partial change illustrates just how unpopular the reforms were, as Putin seldom explains his policy decisions to the public. 

Russian opposition leader and prominent Putin critic Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to 30 days in prison for breaking public protest laws, reports Al Jazeera.
Why it matters: Navalny was convicted in January but sentenced more than six months later, a delay he claims was part of the Russian government's efforts to stop him from leading nationwide protests over pension reformon Sept. 9. Navalny has been jailed several times for organizing protests against Putin and for other charges he says are bogus. He was barred from running for president in January.

July 26, 2018

Sir Elton John Blasts Russia Over it's Mistreatment of Gay People


SSir Elton John has sharply criticised Russia and other eastern European governments for their treatment of gay people, warning that stigma and discrimination are contributing to a fast-growing Aids epidemic in the region.
Sir Elton, who was speaking at the International Aids Conference in Amsterdam, has long been a champion of people with HIV/Aids through his foundation.
He told a press conference he was "so anti" the discrimination faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in eastern Europe.
“We’re here to protect them and for everyone who’s HIV [positive] but especially for the LGBT community that has suffered so badly and are still suffering and it makes me crazy,” said Sir Elton. “If there wasn’t this discrimination we could get rid of the disease far quicker.”
People have asked me to boycott Russia but you can’t boycott peopleSir Elton John 
His comments came as he launched further funding from his Aids foundation for local partners working in the region.
“Until we get that idea out of our head that gay people are 'less than' then I am afraid we will still be sitting here in 20 years time discussing the same thing,” he said.
“To be an LGBT person in Russia is very difficult,” he added.
Experts are increasingly warning of a “huge crisis” in the HIV and Aids epidemic in the eastern European and central Asia region, which is the only area of the world where numbers of cases of the disease are rising sharply. Between 2010 and 2017, rates of new infections in the region rose 30 per cent with much of the rise driven by new cases of the disease among injecting drug users. 
Sir Elton, whose foundation works in the region, acknowledged that working in Russia was challenging in light of conservative attitudes and discriminatory official policies. Non-governmental organisations receiving foreign funds for instance risk being labelled foreign agents by the government. 
"We know what we are up against. We are not stupid,” said Sir Elton.
“People have asked me to boycott Russia but you can’t boycott people,” he added.
Sir Elton also announced a new joint initiative to tackle HIV infection in men alongside the Duke of Sussex, whom he praised for his passion and “dedication” to tackling the HIV epidemic.

January 22, 2018

Pepsi and Stolichnaya in Russian History 60's-90's Exchange of Warships for Pepsi


 This Russian General had Pepsi bottle the drink right on a warehouse by his house since it could not be imported. It is believed he was the original Russian drinker in Russia.

On April 9, 1990, American newspapers reported on an unusual deal. Pepsi had come to a three billion dollar agreement with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had long traded Stolichnaya vodka in return for Pepsi concentrate. But this time, Pepsi got 10 Soviet ships.
This wasn’t the first time that Pepsi sold soft drinks in return for a flotilla. The previous year, the company even received warships. This situation—a soft drink conglomerate briefly owning a fairly large navy—was the unusual result of an unusual situation: a communist government buying a product of capitalism from the country it considered its greatest rival.
It began with a rare exchange of culture. In the summer of 1959, the U.S.S.R. held an exhibition in New York, and the United States reciprocated. The American National Exhibition in Sokolniki Park, Moscow, featured American products: cars, art, fashion, and an entire model American house. A number of still-familiar brands sponsored exhibits and booths, including Disney, Dixie Cup Inc, IBM, and Pepsi.
That month, many Russians got their first taste of Pepsi. One of them was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. On July 24, then-Vice President Richard Nixon showed Khrushchev the exhibition. It became the scene of the infamous Kitchen Debate. While standing in a mock-up of an American kitchen, Nixon and Khrushchev traded barbs about communism and a recent American resolution on “captive states” under Soviet power. Nixon also led Khrushchev towards a display booth that dispensed nothing other than Pepsi-Cola. Symbolically, the booth offered two batches: one mixed with American water, the other with Russian.
It was a set up. The night before, a Pepsi executive, Donald M. Kendall, had approached Nixon at the American embassy. As the head of Pepsi’s international division, he’d defied the company’s leaders in deciding to sponsor a booth and attend the exhibition. To prove that the trip was worthwhile, he told Nixon, he “had to get a Pepsi in Khrushchev’s hand.”

Kendall is at the front, pouring.

Nixon delivered. A photographer caught Nixon and Khrushchev together as the Soviet leader gingerly sipped his cup of Pepsi. Kendall stands to the side, pouring another cup. Khrushchev’s son later recalled that many Russian’s first take on Pepsi was that it smelled like shoe wax. But, he added, everyone remembered it, even after the exhibition was over.
 For Kendall, the photo was a triumph. He had big plans for the brand’s expansion, and the Khrushchev photo op catapulted him up the ranks at Pepsi. Six years after the American National Exhibition, Kendall became CEO.
A statue of Pushkin watching over the Pepsi signs.
The U.S.S.R. was Kendall’s land of opportunity, and his goal was to open it to Pepsi. In 1972, he succeeded, negotiating a cola monopoly and locking out Coca-Cola until 1985. Cola syrup began flowing through the Soviet Union, where it was bottled locally. It was a coup: As the New York Times put it, the soda was “the first capitalistic product” available in the U.S.S.R. Pepsi had become a pioneer. But there was one issue: money.
Soviet rubles were worthless internationally, with their value determined by the Kremlin. Soviet law also prohibited taking the currency abroad. So the U.S.S.R. and Pepsi resorted to barter. In return for cola, Pepsi received Stolichnaya vodka to distribute in the United States. By the late 1980s, Russians were drinking approximately a billion servings of Pepsi a year. In 1988, Pepsi broadcast the first paid commercials on local TV, starring none other than Michael Jackson. The bartering worked well—Stolichnaya was popular in the United States. An American boycott in response to the Soviet-Afghan war, however, meant that Pepsi wanted something else to trade.

So, in the spring of 1989, Pepsi and the Soviet Union signed a remarkable deal. Pepsi became the middleman for 17 old submarines and three warships, including a frigate, a cruiser, and a destroyer, which the company sold for scrap. Pepsi also bought new Soviet oil tankers and leased them out or sold them in partnership with a Norwegian company. In return, the company could more than double the number of Pepsi plants in the Soviet Union. (It also ignited jokes that Pepsi was taking the Cola Wars to the high seas.) “We’re disarming the Soviet Union faster than you are,” Kendall quipped to Brent Scowcroft, President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser.
But that was nothing compared to 1990’s three billion dollar deal. (A figure based on Pepsi’s estimate of how much sales of cola in the Soviet Union and vodka in America would net them over the next decade.) It was the largest deal ever brokered between an American company and the Soviet Union, and Pepsi hoped it would spur more expansion. Pepsi even launched another American institution in the country: Pizza Hut. The future looked bright.

Instead, the Soviet Union fell in 1991, taking with it Pepsi’s deal of the century. Suddenly, their long balancing act turned into a scramble to protect its assets in a free-for-all made more complex by redrawn borders, inflation, and privatization. The LA Times described how the new Pizza Huts were hobbled—their mozzarella was sourced from Lithuania. The company had hoped to pivot from heavy glass bottles to cheaper plastic, but the plastic company was located in Belarus.
Similarly, Pepsi’s partially-built ships were stranded in newly-independent Ukraine, which wanted a cut of the sales. Kendall, who had since retired, lamented that the Soviet Union had essentially gone out of business. Over several months, Pepsi pieced parts of the deal back together. But instead of dealing with a single state, they had to broker with 15 countries. Worse, Coca-Cola aggressively entered the former Soviet Union, and Pepsi struggled to keep its advantage. Among other marketing strategies, it launched a giant, replica Pepsi can up to the Mir space station for a commercial and erected two iconic billboards over bustling Pushkin Square in Moscow.
Russia is still Pepsi’s second biggest market outside of the United States. But their pioneering luster has faded. It didn’t help that Pepsi had been around for so long that other sodas seemed novel by comparison. After only a few years, Coke beat out Pepsi as Russia’s most popular cola. And in 2013, even the billboards over Pushkin Square came down. Maybe Pepsi should have held on to that destroyer.
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