Tag Archives: modern russia

The Realities of Expat Living in Moscow 2016

Let’s break down some metrics:

I live in a 2-room flat less than a 10-minute car ride to the city center (Prospect Mira for those of you who know the area).

It’s Western renovated and ran about $1330 (40k rubles) before the ruble devalued. Concurrently, most apartments in Moscow have either kept the same rental price, or have actually decreased in price in order to find tenants.

So, while someone’s income has decreased because of the exchange rate in dollar terms, so has relative housing cost; over $8k a year in my case (roughly $675 a month). That 40k includes gas, electricity, landline, cableTV/internet, trash, water and my Tajik Concierge. Great guy, and very helpful.

If I were to go back and live in a comparable flat in Los Angeles, the same cost would double, minimum.

I would also have to buy a car, so we’d be talking conservatively about another $600 for car payments, gas, insurance and maintenance for an average $20K ride. My transportation costs average about $150 a month (metro, taxis, g/f’s car, etc.).

The next biggest expense is of course food. I spend at most 1000 rubles a day. I really can’t see spending more than this, and 1000 could probably be chopped in half if push comes to shove. But for the sake of argument, let’s double it to 2000 and use this for reference.

Housing, utilities cable and WiFi internet – 40000

Transportation – 10000. Remember I’m an expat and don’t need a car here.

Food – 60000, and believe me that is an ambitious sum, more like 30-40000 at most, but again for the sake of reference. We’ll use 60k to include entertainment such as eating out, movies, theatre, etc., and a daily 300 ruble Starbuck mocha that I could easily do without, etc. This factors in a 35% rise in food costs during the devaluation period.

Restaurants/cafes prices have only increased about 5-10% during this time; closer to 5% all things considered.

Pretty much covers about everything and we’re looking at 106,000 rubles.

Now I understand that it would be nice if you could still stash away about $3k a month, but times they do change. And if you were someone who hasn’t saved for a rainy day (time), then that’s on you.

Nevertheless, that leaves us with 94000 rubles and that is still close to $1500; not bad all things considered.

If you think that things will not improve, or that your time back in the States will be better, I say don’t let the customs agent kick you in the ass on your way out. And good luck with those American women.

All I know is, given the situation, there’s no way I’m heading back, and really, why would I? Simply put, I have a wonderful life here, despite all the oppression I [don’t] feel from Putin.

Contrary to popular belief, life is good here. And it’s especially good if you’re lucky enough to be making 200k rubles a month. 98% of the working population in Moscow would love to make that kind of money. And if you’re one of the very fortunate expats to be making 200k a month or more, then count your blessings. Continue reading

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Putin: The Western Media’s Villain for Every Season.

This article first appeared at RT.

As the hysterical outpourings of the Western media and their relentless anti-Putin narrative becomes ever more ridiculous. We look at why.

Vladimir Putin wants to cut off your internet. At least, if you are a reader of the New York Times, you may well believe this. The NYT recently reported that “Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications”.

The NYT didn’t bother to expand on how a submarine might go about acting ‘aggressively’ in the presence of inert under sea cables in international waters. Indeed, later in the article they admit that there is “no evidence of any cable cutting”. So the real story here is in fact: Russian submarine in the sea.

That doesn’t sound like a terribly catchy headline though does it?

If you are a Mail on Sunday reader of the print edition, you were recently treated to a two page headline declaring “Putin’s bombing of the innocents”.

https://twitter.com/RussianHQ/status/659254653146812416?lang=en

Curiously, the online version of that story omitted that headline.

The Mail is good at this. They can find a reason to blame Russia (quoted from someone else of course) in almost any story. The UK telephone company Talk Talk recently suffered a database hacking. The Mail ran a story about it. Sure enough, in that story we find a quote by someone called Ewan Lawson: “this could be part of a wider pattern of activity encouraged or even supported by the Russian state as part of an effort to destabilise the West”.

Colour me sceptical, but I can’t really see the West being destabilised because someone hacked the database of a minor mobile telephone company.

It must have been a quiet day at the Daily Express this week; they are again suggesting Russia is set to start WW3. Apparently, the Express “laid bare” Putin’s “imperialist ambitions”. The reason? Russia plans to build a military base – in Russia.

We see such nonsense in the Western media more than usual right now. When the editors want to keep a narrative alive, or bury some inconvenient actual news, they will publish something, anything, which allows them to use the headlines that apply to that narrative.

Often these stories are essentially made up, but they allow the use of the words and phrases the narrative dictates, and the narrative remains in the ‘news’.

Continual hyperventilating about so-called (and usually non-existent) ‘Russian aggression’ keeps things like the US bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan off the front pages. Certainly it will keep out of the news the US tank that crashed though the gates of the same hospital destroying evidence less than two weeks later.

That is what is happening here. The Western media have had nothing credible to bash Russia with for some time. There’s not a lot being published about American bumbling in the Middle East, Ukraine is yesterdays news while Poroshenko decides how to further eviscerate the country that he is, nominally, the leader of. Few in the Western media really want to run stories about how Russia is obliterating ISIS positions in a matter of weeks where the US failed over a year and a half.

So instead, we get silly pieces that enable writers and thought leaders to keep the anti-Russian meme going with their audiences. Make something up, quote an unnamed source, add a stock photo of Putin with no shirt, and the anti-Putin propaganda train keeps on rumbling down the tracks.

Why the Western media misunderstand Russia.

Much of the Western media fundamentally misunderstand Russians and Russia. Many blame Putin’s 89% popularity rating in Russia on a ludicrous notion that people answer poll questions while gripped with fear. US News recently reported that “Russians that truly do support Putin form their opinions in a virtual information vacuum. The Russian public’s news and information is overwhelmingly created, or at least vetted, by the Kremlin.”

The very idea that – in the internet age – the government of a country such as Russia could control the media to such an extent that 127m people (89%) could be hoodwinked en masse is frankly, preposterous.

A better approach for Western hacks might be to take a look at why Putin has such high support in Russia rather than trying to pretend he hasn’t. From that, politicians elsewhere might learn something.

If one judges a politician’s credibility by what they do, compared to what they say they will do, Putin is credible, honest and honourable. He has a long track record of doing what he said he would do. On the whole, when he says a thing, it will be so. If he does not say a thing, then you can be sure that what you are hearing is speculation. Voters like that. In the West, we have almost no experience of this.

On foreign policy, the Western media glibly overlooks the fact that the US has invaded over a dozen countries and tried to overthrow the elected governments of many others since just 1990. Yet Russia is criticised for allowing Crimea to reunify with hardly a shot fired, which undoubtedly saved many lives while following the will of the people.

Russia is somehow ‘aggressive’ when it expresses concern that the US and the EU are surrounding it with missiles placed in FSU countries, but continual US aggression across the world – this week with China – is meant to be seen as somehow ‘spreading democracy’ and a harbinger of some kind of ‘freedom’.

The Western media is confused. To find a president that actually leads, one who puts the national interest first and does what he says he will do is somewhat disturbing for them. Such behaviour is beyond their domestic sphere of experience. So they extrapolate from this that it cannot actually be so. The polls must be faked, people must be rigid with terror and afraid to speak out or they must have no access to news.

How to report what you do not understand?

If so few Western hacks understand Russia, and cannot be bothered to learn, how do they fill their column inches? Rather than critical analysis, investigating a variety of viewpoints or perhaps even talking to some Russians, many just follow the herd and make it up.

Cue another story on ‘Russian aggression’, Russia being poised to invade [choose any country here], Russia encroaching in someone’s airspace or the latest media misrepresentation: Russia killing moderate terrorists (helpfully called ‘rebels’ for that purpose), presented as if eradicating terrorists is a bad thing.

Reading the Western media can easily conjure up an image of Putin that has him cackling in his volcano, stroking a white cat with a control panel of missile launch buttons at his elbow. It is also amusing to note that every decision made at any level of government in Russia is always personally attributed to Putin. The media imagines that he somehow personally approves every piece of media output, every article and every minor decision. He must have some time management skills!

With such an anti-Putin narrative now the norm in the Western media for so long, it becomes quite easy to see how lazy hacks will use him as the default baddie for almost anything that happens. Mobile phone company hacked? Blame Russia. Found a Russian submarine in the sea someplace? See what is nearby and accuse Russia of being aggressive towards it. Facts are irrelevant if you are able to twist words or modify their intent by quoting them out of context. Find someone who is ‘worried’ and sprinkle in the word ‘Kremlin’ here and there for a sinister overtone.

It seems unlikely that the mainstream Western media will ever go back to honest and fair journalism as they have now travelled so far in the other direction. But a good start would be having the hacks who diligently churn out negative content about Russia each and every day to actually go to Russia and learn something.

Better still; send them to Syria to watch the 800,000 refugees returning home thanks to Russia’s efforts to crush ISIS. It’s hard to put a negative spin on that. Continue reading

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Russian Diplomats Being Quietly Expelled from the UK.

The UK government appears to be quietly in the process of removing Russian diplomats from the UK.

The method they are using to do this is by not renewing or issuing new visas to staff at the Russian embassies in London and Edinburgh.

The press secretary in the Russian Embassy in London today decided to go public with the dirty tricks campaign by the UK government.

Among the tactics outlined are:

Stopping extensions of diplomatic and official visas for those staff members of the Russian Embassy in London and Consulate General in Edinburgh who stay in their positions over five years.
Refusing to extend UK visas for other staff members regardless of the requested period, quite arbitrarily.
A senior diplomat had to depart the UK last month because his visa was not extended.
The Russian Embassy says this is a clear violation of international obligations, in particular, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

According to the Vienna Convention, the functions of a member of the mission come to an end only after a relevant notification is served by the sending state (Russia) to the receiving state (UK). The Convention does not provide the receiving state with the authority to limit the length of stay, with the exception of cases when a member of a mission is declared persona non-grata or an “unacceptable person” by the receiving state.

Thus, by implication, the UK’s recent imposition of time limits on diplomatic visas, suggests the staff members refused visas are persona non-grata. A contravention of Article 9 of the Vienna Convention. In practice it means this is expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK.

Articles 7 and 10 of the Vienna Convention, stipulate that appointment of a diplomatic agent, with the exception of the head of the mission, does not require the consent of the receiving state (the UK in this case) and is done by notification.

Under Article 25 of the same convention, the receiving state shall accord full facilities for the performance of the functions of the mission.

It can safely be assumed that the “full facilities” mentioned, would, among other things, refer to issuance of relevant documents (like visas) enabling unrestricted entry and departure of diplomatic agents to and from the UK.

Despite the Russian Embassy having made repeated appeals, the illegal actions have been already deployed by the Home Office in coordination with the Foreign Office.

Already, in addition to the senior diplomat who had to return home mentioned above, another diplomat left without being able to be replaced this month, and two further staff members will have to leave for the same reason. The extensions of their visas were made for a measly three months, instead of the more typical one or two years.

One might say that the three month visas was in fact giving semi-permanent staff the opportunity to pack up and tie up their affairs before they leave. It is a de facto expulsion.

The Russian Embassy says it is practically impossible to prepare and process replacement staff members within such a limited period of time. And even if they succeed in doing that, the Embassy has been experiencing the same prolonged delays in issuing British visas for their new staff members, causing them to be unable to arrive to take up their posts.

The Embassy also incurs substantial financial losses by paying rent for apartments of our staff while they are sitting vacant. Their would-be occupants unable to get diplomatic visas.

The Russian Embassy says that the British authorities, in no uncertain terms have told them that this is their consolidated position, and the intent is to degrade the ability of the Russian Embassy to function as an effective diplomatic mission.

Such action, as well as being illegal under international law, is clearly aimed at diminishing and limiting the Russian diplomatic presence in the UK and a deliberate attempt by the UK to hamper Russian diplomatic work, in clear violation of the Vienna Convention of 1961.

Such an obvious attempt by the British government to wreck – on purpose – the established international order may prove to be a dangerous gamble by the UK in respect of the Russian diplomatic and consular missions. Such action by the UK will undoubtedly sour relations between the UK and Russia.

Other foreign diplomatic missions to the UK may like to take note of what the UK is doing to Russia here. The UK has has difficult relationships with a number of other countries; how long before they start to quietly expel diplomats of countries without just cause and in contravention of international law?

This is all the more noteworthy at this time as Russia is again looking at ways to relax the rules for people getting visas to Russia.

For me that can’t come fast enough, as I am one of many who has not visited Russia this year due to the onerous extra requirements of biometrics involving personal travel to London each and every time.

The current visa regime for Brits to get a visa to Russia needs swift and radical overhaul. It is unfair to subject ordinary travellers to Russia – many with family members in Russia and/or married to nationals – to extra bureaucracy simply as tit-for-tat because our government happens to be extremely foolish.

Russia could use this diplomatic crisis to overhaul the visa system for Brits and demonstrate to the UK that they are bigger than petty squabbles like this.

As a voting Brit, I would urge the UK government to abandon this pettiness, adhere to the Vienna Convention, and let the Russian diplomats back into the UK. Continue reading

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Russia’s Cunning Plan on Sanctions, Europe and the US.

The Russian President Vladimir Putin has implemented a cunning plan in relation to Europe and their sanctions on Russia. I call it “Right back at ya – watch this!”

“Russia is finished! Sanctions from Obama and the European Union will finished the Russian economy and now it will become the poorest country in the world! Russia can not do anything to answer the West! We will all die”

So love to scream those who do not know about Putin’s cunning plan.

Europeans believed that Russia does not respond to sanctions; but Russia has. The EU will soon feel the pain as they now know that they will lose at least 12 billion euros by being Washington’s puppet.

Putin has decided to act on the principle “I will beat gently, but firmly.” The effects wont take long to be seen.

European politicians have expressed “surprise”, “confusion”, “misunderstanding” and the hope that we can somehow “get out of the logic of sanctions.”

For the European Union, Russia is a key market. The EU’s share in the Russian food imports was 42%, and for the EU, Russia was the largest consumer, after the United States.

It is significant that the European politicians console themselves in the fact that sanctions are only imposed for a year, but the Russian market can be lost forever. Therefore, the damage from the “sanctions” Putin has retaliated with will be long-term.

In addition to the direct economic effect, the Russian sanctions will create permanent political problems. It turns out that Putin has – as Russians say – generously laid out a whole constellation of buttons on the chair – and the European Union will soon think twice about imposing sanctions on Russia.

The fact is that now all the affected countries will require from the European Commission compensation for loss, and the European Commission has to then find an extra 12 billion euros a year – and it can’t.

Finland is asking already for money: Finland is worried it will slip into another economic crisis due to the fact that Russia introduced sanctions against it. The Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said, “There is the potential that it will be the economic crisis number two,” at a press conference yesterday. It’s funny that the Finnish politician immediately demanded compensation from the European Union: “It is absolutely clear. If sanctions hit Finland disproportionately, we will try to get help from our partners in the EU. he said”

With a flick of the wrist, Putin has turned a few EU countries into clones of Ukraine. They will now also lose money just for the fact that they hate Russia (or believe they should). For Ukraine, this disease has already ended badly, but Finland and other countries will be cured of it quickly.

The treatment with be with the favorite German medicine – budget austerity policy, better known as the “healing by starvation.”

Another headache for the EU is the need to somehow arrest the indirect consequences of Russian sanctions. For example, farmers are unable to repay part of the loans that they have secured via export contracts in Russia.

Some manufacturers will not be able to pay subcontractors, some will have to lay off workers – it’s creating problems; the solution of which requires money. And the most annoying is the fact that it is now or will need to accept the fact that the export potential of the EU is diminished. 10% or so is the food consumed in Russia from European exports. The EU will have to increase subsidies to European producers, so they have a chance in other markets.

The level of subsidies in the EU amounts to 30% already, and to increase it will be very expensive, and the WTO rules will not allow this. For some countries, even the increase in grants won’t help.

For example, the Minister of Agriculture of Poland has already admitted that to replace the Russian market will be extremely difficult. The Europeans do not even have options to respond in kind, because Russia does not export food to Europe.

Russia is a major exporter of grain, but does not sell it in the EU.

With the exception of certain premium goods like French wine, Italian ham and certain cheeses, all food exports from Europe are easily replaced by exports from other countries, or Russian production.

It turns out that for Russia, there is potential for growth of its own production, while for the EU losing money is guaranteed.

There is something to think about. Assessing the long-term problems that arise from the first Russian sanctions, EU bureaucrats are likely to come to the conclusion that it is much more profitable ignore Ukraine and forget about the situation there. It is very possible that such thoughts have already dawned on EU leaders.

Just a few hours after the administration of Russian sanctions, news feeds carried this message:

“We want to overcome the logic of sanctions, we want to sit down with the Russian to the table to jointly discuss further ways of development of Ukraine”, – said the spokesman of the European Commission in Germany, Austrian Richard Kuehnel, RIA “Novosti” with reference to Deutsche Welle.
Russia offered this at the beginning, but, apparently, the Europeans needed a demonstration of political will and proof that Russia can inflict pain, without even touching the gas valve.

They got the proof, and in a rather offensive manner.

One has to be very naive to believe that the Europeans would agree to suffer economic losses for Ukraine. As can be seen from the statement by Kuehnel, they can not even tolerate a couple of weeks in order to “save face” and at least pretend that they care about the problems of Ukrainians more than the problems of their own farmers.

It is possible that we will have to watch the show and it will become quite funny. Washington will put pressure on the European Union and demand the preservation and strengthening of the sanctions, or the European Union will require compensation from the United States.

Extra money, the Americans do not have now they are bombing Iraq again, and so they may be forced to run the printing presses (“quantitative easing”) this autumn for fear of completely undermining the economy.

The most likely scenario is the US and the EU will organise some kind of scheme that could pass for a “diplomatic solution to the issue”, allowing Europeans to wear the halo as peacekeepers.

Russian sanctions have freed the EU from its default feeling of invulnerability and exclusivity.

Understanding that the loss of good relations with Russia is an unaffordable luxury, will greatly help the EU to build a better relationship with Russia, in spite of pressure from Washington. Continue reading

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2013 Musings from Togliatti: Taxis and getting around in Russia.

Getting around.

When I first went to Togliatti, when you wanted a taxi, you just stood by the road with your hand out and someone would stop. Negotiate a price before you get in and job done.

It always used to concern me the thought that any weirdo could stop and pick up women, and anything might happen. And indeed, sometimes it has done from what I have heard.

Happily, this practice seems to have mostly stopped. Now like anywhere else, you call a taxi, and a few minutes later you get an SMS that tells you what car it will be and how many minutes. Quite efficient really. Prices are really cheap still, anything between £2 and £4 takes you across town.

However, the quality of the said taxis, and the drivers, still leaves much to be desired. Most seem to be the crappiest old Ladas and other budget rubbish available. The quality of repair is terrible. Blowing exhausts, clunking suspension, dodgy brakes, etc. Interiors are generally filthy and the drivers personal hygiene leaves much to be desired. Bloody awful all round.

After the first few days of this, and trying several different firms to find they are all the same, I began looking out for liveried taxis to take a number from. There are some. But again, it often is the case that you take a number from a smartly liveried car, and the usual plain smashed up Lada arrives with foul smelling Ivan at the wheel smoking a Parliament. Cunning trick.

In one of the restaurants we visited, there were some business cards that proclaimed their taxis were “new foreign cars”. But when you call, a foreign car will be an hour, and a smashed up one can be there in minutes. :chuckle:

I expressed concern that I didn’t want my wife and daughter travelling about in a piece of smashed up crap with no brakes, even if it is £2. There must be a proper firm out there somewhere.

My wife asked a girl she knows who she calls a “new Russian” and got a number of a firm called ‘Elite’: 702 702.

And guess what arrived? A brand new Chevrolet with aircon, with a rather fetching young lady driver! And she was a good driver too – which makes a change there. So that’s the taxi problem solved. :nod:

Not all drivers at that company are women, but the cars are generally better than most and the drivers are not smoking and juggling two mobile phones and a taxi radio whilst driving. As all the cars are liveried, they are image conscious one told my wife when asked. The price was just the same as a smashed up one. That wont last…..

For the hell of it, we took a trolleybus on a couple of occasions. These have not been updated yet and are still the creaking rattling relics of yesteryear. They are ridiculously cheap. Pennies.

I suspect the new liveried taxis are where local travel is heading, and the smashed up taxi will soon become a thing of the past. As soon as the local cops cotton on to the fact that taxis in bad condition are easy targets for fines, as are people on phones, I reckon they will be forced off the road in a changing Russia. Continue reading

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2013 Musings from Togliatti: Russia is Changing.

Usually when you get on the road, you get the gargling paraffin taste in your throat that is the pollution. It is normally so bad that I need some antibiotics after a few days to quell my swollen throat.

I wont say the air smelled like an English meadow in spring, but the paraffin taste has gone. This air tastes somewhat cleaner than it has always done in the past.

And the road. What is different there?

Ahh yes, the ruts are fewer, the potholes not as big and while not the M1 or a Floridian boulevard, the road surface is somewhat better than I remember.

The drive from Samara to Togliatti used to take about an hour. Now it is 40 minutes as the roads are better.

Repairing the roads in Samara and Togliatti will take decades. But it is well under way and the main routes are all in the midst of being resurfaced.

They haven’t yet started on the pavements; they are still the death trap they have always been. But roads matter more IMO. Anyway, fewer people are using the pavements as more seem to be driving.

I can only guess what has caused the pollution to lessen and that is more newer cars and vans on the road. Many of the old crappy vans and trucks are now gone, as are many of the 70’s and 80’s Ladas. In their place is American imported SUV’s and modern Ladas. Continue reading

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