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Ripped For Calling Russia


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How do you like this mailshot, entitled: ‘The True Costs Of Calling Abroad’. Well, it attracted me. It’s all in cyrillic. So, I naturally assumed it is cheap to call Russia with O2.

But nooooo . . . .

Call me stupid. Though once I got the bill I wised up.

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Poland Goes Ballistic

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If you needed proof that the Georgian war was a PR set-up, it came soon enough. Within days, Donald Tusk hurriedly signed up for US missiles while John McCain topped the media ratings.

The majority of ordinary Poles aren’t so enthusiastic. ‘It puts our head between the hammer and the anvil’, as my friend Marek said. But of course, America is the master at starting wars in faraway places. Far from America, that is.

Though now it might need no help in starting a war in Europe. There are plenty of other hotheads around. The deal puts Poland’s finger firmly on the trigger. To quote Donald Tusk:

Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later - it is no good when assistance comes to dead people. Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of - knock on wood - any possible conflict.’

Any pretence that the ‘possible conflict’ will come from unspecified ‘rogue states’ has been dropped. As a condition of the deal, Poland insisted on a war chest of short range hardware, along with a beefed-up airforce and Patriot missile batteries.

The quote from Donald Tusk is rather telling. All Georgia got from the US was a couple of planeloads of Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix - after it had surrendered. Poland wants to push that big button now.

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The Caucasian Talk Circle

After blowing away a Russian Peacekeeping base in South Ossetia, ‘experts’ were ’surprised’ by Russia’s response. Yeah, right.

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Inevitably, chatter about Georgia is coming round to the pieces that don’t fit. And we wonder if we’re really watching a Brechtian play within a play.

Even Stratfor analysts are puzzllng over ‘The Mystery of The Georgian Invasion‘ while others ask why Saakashvili chose to risk it all. Sure he did?

It’s a stretch to believe that the US knew nothing of the invasion, even though Bush was in China watching the synchronised swimming. There are some 130 permanent Pentagon advisors in Georgia, along with Special Forces, CIA spooks and so on. Yet it seems no one noticed anything unusual - like Georgia mobilising for WW3.

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Georgia. A Military Defeat For NATO.

According to Ossetian blogger, narod, 400 out of 500 Georgian tanks were destroyed. And not just by Russians.

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Who’d a thunk it?

For the last five years, Georgia has been trained and equipped, no expense spared, by US and Israeli specialists. Georgia’s annual defense budget is put at around 950 million. South Ossetia - the real winner - doesn’t even have a budget. It barely has running water.

Israel supplies Georgia with all kinds of scary techno toys, including tactical missile systems, anti-aircraft systems, automatic turrets for armored vehicles, electronic equipment and remotely piloted aircraft.

So the UK ‘Times’ headline today, ‘Georgian Forces Cut and Run‘, won’t sit well with Georgia’s sponsors. Even though the story is largely nonsense. Oh, and by the way, the ‘Times’ doesn’t put its most idiotic leaders on the net, where they might be easily rubbished and dissected, although the headline I quote is front page on UK newstands.

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Georgia. Round Two.

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Last November saw Saakashvili’s riot police crush civil protest in Tibilisi. Euronews ‘no comment’ footage is testimony to the ruthlessness of a man who is no advertisement for democracy. Levelling and burning a town of wooden huts shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Saakashvili narrowly won a second term of office in an election which OCSE observers were challenged to endorse. They pointed especially to ‘an inequitable campaign environment’ due to state activities.

But so far, the US has been happy to support the man they helped to put in. The US educated Saakashvili shares Bush’s flexible definitions of ‘freedums’.

Domestically, Saakashvili has rolled back quite a few ‘freedums’. His actions have included removing any rights for workers and closing down independent media - even the TV station at one point. Banana republic style, his achievements are a huge military and shopping malls.

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Georgia. What Happened?

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You’re going to have to read a lot of independents and between a lot of lines to get a handle on this one. Even the UN Security Council can’t agree three lines of text.

While it might not be world war on the ground, international media is locked in ‘moral’ combat while foreign ministers on different sides denounce their opposite numbers.

Argumentation is on the ‘well they started it’ playground level, rhetoric devoid of reality. But then, one set of peacekeepers attacking another is rather absurd to begin with.

Blatant propaganda is quickly making a case for one side or the other. But it looks like public relations struggling for rationale. Igniting this conflict isn’t to anyone’s advantage.

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More Tragic Than The Titanic

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This is the Wilhelm Gustloff, all set to sail on an exotic cruise from Hamburg. It was built during the golden age of luxury liners, a floating showcase of shining brass, polished mahogany, pampering cabin staff and Captain’s Table cuisine.

During wartime it was pressed into service as a hospital ship. On its last voyage it was torpedoed while evacuating those fleeing the East Prussian front. As it listed and sank, some 9000 perished in the icy Baltic waters. Half of the dead were children.

The fate of the Wihelm Gustloff is an episode in a recent book by Isabel Denny about Konigsberg, ‘The Rise And Fall Of Hitler’s Fortress Town‘. Digging into Konigsberg/Kaliningrad history tends to turn over a lot of old bones. Konigsberg, like Dresden and Magdeburg, was one of those unfortunate German towns trashed and burned twice over, once by RAF fire-bombing and once by the Red Army.

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Not Impressed. Kaliningrad’s Jazz Festival.

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The first days in August mark Kaliningrad’s big summer event: The Don Chento Jazz Festival.

Hmmmm. Remind me. Don Chento? Didn’t he play bass with Count Basie? Or, just a minute, wasn’t he in Duke Ellington’s horn section?

Er, no. Don Chento is the adopted name of Kaliningrad pizzeria magnate, Vladimir Katzman. There’s usually a Don Chento pizza place next to one of Kaliningrad’s Viktoria supermarkets.

To digress a little, Don Chento pizzas are truly awful. Any babushka in Kaliningrad can knock you up a better Italian in half the time for half the money. But then you’d have to eat it in her post-Soviet kitchen with all the wrong wallpaper, and good decor matters more than good food to aspiring Russians these days. So Don ‘Vladimir’ Chento had his pizzeria interiors designered as a jazz club and set up the annual Jazz Festival in Kaliningrad as a promo.

How’s it working out? Kaliningrad blogger Kokoc isn’t impressed. Continue reading Not Impressed. Kaliningrad’s Jazz Festival.

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Moving Baltic Sea

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Above, the sailing ship ‘Lovis’. Below, the former Soviet sub B-413. Location, the Port of Kaliningrad. The connection is an environmental happening called Moving Baltic Sea, a kind of travelling circus seashow.

Propped by films, fun and festivities, Moving Baltic Sea promotes creative strategies for cultural and environmental co-operation between countries that share the same ecological space.

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Workers Of The World . . . Uninvite

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Since my previous post on the expat exodus from Russia, I received some mail and insight into the phenomenon. I don’t use the word phenomenon lightly.

To add hard numbers, HVS, a global recruitment and consulting firm, recently completed its 2008 survey of managerial staff in Russia. The comparison with 2007 is dramatic.

In the hotel and leisure industry, just for example, the only posts steadily held by expats remain those of General Manager and Executive Chef. As the survey shows, in just one year, there’s an average 50% drop in foreign workers in almost every category.

If this is the decline at managerial level, you can just imagine what’s happening off the radar in less protected jobs.


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