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Old 18th September 2014, 02:54
Hannia Hannia is offline
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Odds and Ends

Russian Travel Agencies Bankrupted as Demand Falls Up to 50%
The Moscow Times Sep. 17 2014 14:06

Some 130,000 Russians have lost money or needed emergency help with air tickets to return home from interrupted overseas vacations after more than a dozen travel agencies went bankrupt over the past two months, Interfax reported Wednesday.

At least 14 travel agencies in Russia folded between mid-July and mid-September as part of a "deep systemic crisis exacerbated by political and economic factors," with demand for tour packages falling 30-50 percent this year alone, Irina Tyurina, spokeswoman for the Russian Tourism Industry Union, said in comments carried by Interfax.

About 56,000 Russians needed emergency help overseas after their travel operators went bust, leaving clients facing eviction from hotels over unpaid bills and without air tickets home, Tyurina said.

Meanwhile, federal lawmaker Mikhail Starshinov from the ruling United Russia party has called for investigators to conduct an inquiry into the country's tourism industry watchdog, Rostourism, because of the rash of bankruptcies, Interfax reported.

"I am more than certain that our bureaucrats from Rostourism aren't thinking about … our citizens getting into unpleasant situations abroad," Starshinov said.


Court Sanctions Arrest of Top Tourism Official in $757 Million Fraud Case
The Moscow Times Aug. 29 2014 19:36

A Moscow court on Friday ordered the arrest of the deputy head of the Federal Tourism Agency, who is accused of conspiring to steal 28 billion rubles ($750 million) from mid-sized lender Mezhprombank.

Despite character references from senior government officials and movie director Nikita Mikhailkov, Moscow's Basmanny Court put Dmitry Amunts under arrest until Oct. 20, Interfax reported. Prosecutors sought Amunts's arrest because they said, if set free on bail, he could hinder the ongoing investigation or seek to flee the country.

Investigators allege Amunts was part of a criminal gang that stole 28 billion rubles loaned by the Russian Central Bank to Mezhprombank between 2008 and 2009.

Amunts was charged Friday with embezzlement, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, according to a statement on the Investigative Committee's website.

Other prominent figures linked to the case include former senator and businessman Sergei Pugachyov, for whom Russia has issued an international arrest warrant, and Alexander Didenko, a branch manager at state-owned lender Sberbank.

Already under arrest, Didenko, the former chief executive of Mezhprombank, was also charged on Friday, according to the Investigative Committee.

At the time of the alleged fraud, Amunts was the director of OPK Development, the development arm of an industrial holding under Pugachyov's control. Pugachyov himself was the chairman of Mezhprombank and Didenko the chief executive.


Tour Agency Bankruptcy Leaves 25,000 Russians Stranded Overseas
The Moscow Times Aug. 04 2014 15:40

A major Russian travel operator has suspended operations, citing a "negative political and economic situation" and leaving an estimated 25,000 clients stranded overseas, after Western nations tightened sanctions on Moscow for its meddling in the Ukrainian crisis.

Labirint travel agency said in a statement it could not withstand the combined effect of sluggish booking on foreign travel, provoked in part by the deepening rift between Moscow and the West and the erosion of Russians' purchasing power caused by a sharp weakening of the Russian ruble, and a government recommendation to ban foreign travel for military servicemen and law enforcement employees.

Some hotels in Spain and Greece have already begun evicting Labirint clients, a spokeswoman for Russia's state travel watchdog Rosturism, Irina Schegolkova, told Interfax.

An association of Russian tourism agencies set up to provide emergency travel assistance, Turpomosch — which translates as "Tour Help" — said it would try to "evacuate" all of Labirint's clients who are stranded abroad, but it remained unclear if the association could raise enough funds to bring home an estimated 25,000 people, Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Travel Industry Union, was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass.

Scores of other customers have paid Labirint for booking future tours and will now have to seek refunds. But Tyurina said it was not yet clear how many people may be affected.

Labirint said that it was also forced out of business by an "unresolvable conflict" with Orenburg Airlines — which on Friday cut ties with another travel operator with which Labirint is affiliated, Ideal Tour, Itar-Tass reported.

Orenburg Airlines is also the company that was to take over some routes of Russia's low-cost carried Dobrolyot, which suspended operations this weekend after the European Union slapped sanctions on it in late July in connection with the Ukraine crisis.


Russian Travel Operators Say Tourism Affected By Ukraine Crisis
Moscow Times By Anna Dolgov May. 06 2014 11:22

Moscow's interference in Ukraine has caused a sharp drop in foreign tourism to Russia, with scores of travel cancellations for political and security reasons coming ahead of the summer holiday season, an industry newsletter said.

Most Russian tour operators have reported a significant drop in sales, with cancellations coming in from around the world, including regions that were traditionally considered "loyal" to Russia, RATA News tourism industry newsletter reported Monday.

Group tours that do arrive often show up in sharply reduced numbers, Nina Zharova, an inbound tourism director at Intourist, was quoted as saying.

"What is worse is that April-May is the main time for booking tours for the season, but there are very few new bookings now, sales have dropped sharply," she said.

Tour operators from Poland have canceled most of their reservations, and operators from Finland, a country that is traditionally viewed in Russia as a "loyal" tourist market, have also put through a number of "unexpected" cancellations, the report said.

While most Europeans cite their objections to Russia's actions in Ukraine as reasons for canceling travel reservations, some are also concerned about security in Russia. A group from Albania has agreed to visit Moscow only after it received guarantees that all losses and damages would be compensated in case of a war, the report said.

Americans are "actively annulling" their travel reservations to Russia, the report said, blaming the cancellations by U.S. and Latin America travelers on Washington's criticism of Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Tourists from Southeast Asia, who are usually undeterred by political upheavals, have also canceled a number of their tours, and a handful of cancellations have also been received from China — a country that has largely maintained a relative neutrality throughout the crisis in Ukraine — the report said.


It does sound like the typical Soviet-style mess which is sadly still very common in Russia. Small/medium-businesses are severely handicapped and even persecuted by the Russian government, while those of their oligarch supporters are given outrageous preferential treatment. Maybe if enough Russian consumers get fed up with the consequences of the Kremlin's mafia-style management of the country, Russia can get back on track to becoming a modern true democracy.

The way things are going anyway, in a year or two, few Russians will still be able to afford traveling outside Russia. Many of the ones that can will be planning their escape permanently.

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Old 18th September 2014, 13:36
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Reuters: BBC complains to Russia after news crew attacked
Sept. 18, 2014, 3:26 p.m. | Ukraine abroad

LONDON, Sept 18 (Reuters) - British broadcaster the BBC has lodged a formal protest with Russian authorities, saying one of its news crews was attacked while looking into reports Russian soldiers had been killed near Ukraine's border.

Unidentified men assaulted BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg, a producer and a cameraman and destroyed their camera in southern Russia on Tuesday, the broadcaster said.

"The attack on our staff, and the destruction of their equipment and recordings, were clearly part of a coordinated attempt to stop accredited news journalists reporting a legitimate news story," Thursday's statement read.

"We deplore this act of violence against our journalists and call on the Russian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and to condemn the assault on our staff."

The team, which had been filming in the city of Astrakhan were taken to a police station for four hours of questioning and their recording equipment was electronically wiped, the BBC added.

Astrakhan police spokesman Pyotr Rusanov said officers arrived shortly after the attack and were still searching for the culprits.

"At the moment, the attackers have not been detained, but an investigation is being carried out and a criminal case was opened," he told Reuters.

On Tuesday, a NATO military officer told Reuters Russia still had about 1,000 soldiers along with hundreds of combat vehicles and artillery inside Ukraine.

Russia has denied sending troops into eastern Ukraine to prop up a rebellion by pro-Moscow separatists, despite what Washington and other Western powers say is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

A Reuters journalist was threatened by unidentified shaven-headed men while looking into reports of deaths of Russian paratroopers in eastern Ukraine in late August. A Russian politician said he was badly beaten after drawing attention to the paratroopers' funerals. (Reporting by Michael Holden; Additional reporting by Thomas Grove in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Heavens)BBC complains to Russia after news crew attacked

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Old 18th September 2014, 14:12
Hannia Hannia is offline
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The Next Mrs. America Will Be Crowned in ... Crimea?

There's a reality-based prime time television special that airs every year, featuring 51 married American women vying for the title of "Mrs. America." But next year, these hopeful beauty queens won't sashay across any stage in the United States.

The 2015 Mrs. America pageant will be held thousands of miles away in Crimea.

If that isn't bizarre enough, here's the kicker: These American contestants won't be the only married women competing for the crown. They'll join dozens of other women — from Russia. The show will be branded as the Mrs. America-Russia pageant.

Confused? Let Brady Bunch mom Florence Henderson convince you this is all a great idea.

Back when a married woman’s place was in the home and only in the home, when pageant people cared only about the young, single and unattached, Mrs. America put the married woman on a stage," Henderson said.

"It was a great idea then and, you know what, it’s a great idea now," Henderson said during this year's Mrs. America pageant, which was held in Arizona.

This time around, it was Russia who extended the invitation again for the co-branded pageant. But if the pageant took place in Moscow, perhaps this wouldn't be as strange of a story. But the fact that the organizers settled on a city in Crimea speaks volumes.

The Black Sea region belonged to Ukraine, but after a referendum in March, Russia annexed Crimea. However, international bodies — including the U.S. government — refuse to recognize Crimea as part of Russia.

Mrs. America, however, isn't focusing on that. Organizers are proudly proclaiming that next year's pageant will be held in "Sevastopol, Russia." The homepage of its website even has the 2015 event location in bold letters.

When asked about the political implications of the venue choice, David Marmel, who cofounded Mrs. America with his wife Elaine, said he doesn't dwell on the negative because his competition is about fostering peace.

"I like to focus on the positive, and if somebody has a problem with group focused on creating a peaceful environment then I suggest they visit their own priorities," he told Mashable over the phone. "Ours is pure, noble and meaningful. It’s not about politics or politicians."
Who's behind Mrs. America?

Chances are if you don't watch PAX or the WE (Women's Entertainment) networks, you've probably never heard of this pageant. It's not affiliated with Miss America or Miss USA, and it's largely left uncovered by mainstream media, aside from local publications with write-ups about their hometown contestants.

Mrs. America Inc., which is based in Santa Monica, California, holds the national competition every year with a contestant from each state, and the winner goes on to compete in the Mrs. World pageant.

The Marmels founded Mrs. America in the 1970s. Mr. Marmel, a well-spoken man who served in Germany with the U.S. Army, is a television producer credited with a few reality shows and documentaries, including 2007's Chris & Adrianne Do Russia, which followed model Adrianne Curry and Brady Bunch actor Christopher Knight on the road to hosting the 2007 Mrs. World Pageant. This year, Mrs. America played a role in Bravo's Game of Crowns, which is about six contestants.

Marmel expanded Mrs. America Inc. to an international platform in 1985 and created the Mrs. World pageant, which hosts Mrs. Russia. That pageant is now organized by 4Vlast ("Fourth Estate"), an advertising agency that is based in the eastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia and operates in all countries of the former Soviet Union.

When Mashable called 4Vlast to ask about the Mrs. World pageant, associate Kristina Gourulko confirmed it was the organizer, but she said the language about the upcoming Mrs. America-Mrs. Russia pageant location in Crimea was under the control of Mrs. America, Inc.

Marmel said the 2015 location in Crimea was a decision that the Russian pageant organizers made. However, he maintains that Sevastopol is a peaceful place, even though fighting continues to escalate just north of the region in southeastern Ukraine.

"I’m saying it is safe. It’s inviting. The people are happy. There was a vote — not at gunpoint. There was not one shot fired," said Marmel, who noted that he's never been to Crimea but has traveled throughout Russia.

"Crimea was part of Russia for time and memorial," he said, adding that his grandparents were from Ukraine.

"One thing that should never change is the pursuit of peace," Marmel said. "Anyone who could look for ulterior motives in the shadows ... god bless them." The Next Mrs. America Will Be Crowned in ... Crimea?

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Old 19th September 2014, 02:04
Tkach Tkach is offline
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I disagree with your conclusion/statements in the first post, Hannia, but interesting articles, nonetheless.

Here's another article about how Russia runs their economy....they criticize the West (often, justified) but they are hypocritical. Russia's Putin clan is soft on obedient and friendly oligarchs but they must stay in line with the crowd or they'll become ostracized and punished/persecuted.

Russia's 15th Richest Man Yevtushenkov Arrested | Business | The Moscow Times

Russia's 15th Richest Man Yevtushenkov Arrested
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Old 19th September 2014, 02:32
Hannia Hannia is offline
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Hello Tkach.

Yevtushenkov is/was an energy oligarch. The story here is the company, not the man. Remember Lukoil?
Rostourism is not a company. It is the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism . It's job is to explain-rationalize all the travel bankruptcies.

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Old 19th September 2014, 18:13
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Emerging Markets Daily
News, analysis and actionable ideas about emerging markets.
September 19, 2014, 9:55 A.M. ET
Russian Market Pares Losses, Yandex Sinks

Russia’s Micex Index reversed a decline Friday, but Internet player Yandex was a notable loser.

The Market Vectors Russia ETF (RSX) rose 0.8% and the iShares MSCI Russia Capped ETF (ERUS) was up 0.5%. The Direxion Daily Russia Bear 3X Shares (RUSS) fell nearly 2% and the Direxion Daily Russia Bull 3X Shares (RUSL) is up 1.46%.

But U.S.-traded shares of Russia internet player Yandex (YNDX) are down 2.45% today.

Bloomberg reports:

Russia is mulling “independence from the U.S.-managed Internet domain-names system … Russia is concerned about the possibility of being cut off as the U.S. and European Union threaten to expand sanctions against the country for alleged interference in Ukraine. Some Russian banks have been blocked by Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) as part of U.S. sanctions, causing payment disruptions. The European Union is weighing excluding Russian lenders from the SWIFT banking-transaction system in the next round of sanctions.”

Goldman Sachs downgraded media and technology stocks Yandex, MegaFon and MTS in August.

Earlier this week, Russian authorities arrested oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov on allegations of money laundering. He owns AFK Sistema, which is alleged to have employed “criminal means” to acquire subsidiary oil company Bashneft (BANE.Russia). AFK Sistema’s other businesses include Mobile TeleSystems (MBT), one of Russia’s biggest mobile operators. U.S.-traded shares of Mobile TeleSystems are up 1.21% today.
Russian Market Pares Losses, Yandex Sinks - Emerging Markets Daily - Barrons.com

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Old 21st September 2014, 03:01
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Nadya Tolokonnikova: ‘I suppose we have nothing more to lose’
Nadya Tolokonnikova spent 18 months in jail after Pussey Riot’s protests against Vladimir Putin. She is feted across the West but now she just wants to concentrate on the real work of reform in Russia
Amelia Gentleman The Guardian, Friday 19 September 2014 12.15 EDT

If Nadya Tolokonnikova wanted to abandon protest and flee Russia for a life of quiet exile in the west, it wouldn’t be so surprising. Although she was freed, by presidential amnesty, last December after serving 18 months in prison for participating in an anti-Putin punk protest, the ***** Rioter remains under the close watch of the Russian state. Naturally, her emails are monitored; more disturbingly she recently discovered that state security agents dropped by a cafe she regularly visits to install bugging devices. She has been horsewhipped by police in Sochi and had green paint thrown in her eyes by plain-clothed officers in a regional branch of McDonald’s.

Many of her friends and fellow protesters have decided to leave, in a new wave of departures that she describes as “the emigration of disillusionment”. In the two-and-a-half years since ***** Riot, in rainbow-coloured tights and balaclavas, stormed into Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral to sing their Punk Prayer (“Virgin Mary, mother of God, banish Putin! Virgin Mary, mother of God, banish him we pray thee!”), the optimistic exuberance of Russia’s anti-Putin protest scene has mostly faded to despair.

Tolokonnikova, 24, hasn’t stopped protesting and is not contemplating exile, but for the moment her protest has morphed into something quieter and narrower. Instead of dedicating herself to the overthrow of Putin’s regime, she has set up a prison-reform project and launched a news agency website, Mediazona.

We talk via Skype, early in the morning. She is initially reluctant to press the camera button, explaining that she has only just got up and is not ready to be seen. Then she agrees. Her face is pale and flawless, her green-tipped hair pulled back. Catapulted to global fame during months of televised court appearances she is instantly recognisable. She walks around the flat carrying her laptop, trying to find the best signal, greeting various unidentified ***** Riot members and supporters who hover in the background.

Recently she has met her heroes Patti Smith and Noam Chomsky, spoken at Harvard Institute of Politics, and spent half the night following her talk protesting outside a police station at the arrest of a Harvard student for trespassing (he was later released). She is feted for her bravery, and gets rock star treatment everywhere she goes, but she says that she is always anxious to return to Moscow, to get back to work. She laughs at the notion of Federal Security Service (FSB) agents trying to wire up her favourite cafe, and says with the wry understatement that flows beneath most of her comments: “It’s obviously not very nice. It makes you realise that the conditions we endured in prison aren’t actually that different from the conditions we’re faced with now that we’re free.”

Although ***** Riot as a movement is “absolutely still alive”, Tolokonnikova and her fellow group members have been sobered by events in Ukraine. “We’re not planning anything for the moment, because it feels very difficult to protest against the main thing on the agenda in Russia right now with our carnivalesque performances. ***** Riot exists as a group to react to political events, but it would look a bit cynical to comment on the war, where people are dying every day, by putting on brightly coloured balaclavas and launching into an irony-infused performance. It doesn’t feel appropriate. That doesn’t mean we won’t again in the future.”

The last ***** Riot action was in Sochi last February when Cossack guards moved in and started whipping and beating performers. “Before the [Winter] Olympics, the ***** Riot form felt [like a] very appropriate way of protesting,” she says, “because the Olympics was an event that you had to laugh at. It was the most expensive Olympics, and a big part – according to numerous investigations – of the money ended up in officials’ pockets, just at a time when things were not going so well with the Russian economy.”

Instead she and Alyokhina, who served 18 months in a different jail, recently launched Zona Prava (Justice Zone), a campaigning charity aimed at improving conditions in Russia’s jails. They had hoped to start work while they were actually in prison, but “the camps turned out to be very difficult places,” she says.

This is also something of an understatement. A year ago, in an open letter from the women’s jail, Tolokonnikova described “slave-like conditions” where prisoners were forced to work 16-hour days sewing police uniforms. “At best, we get four hours of sleep. We have a day off every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners ‘voluntarily’ apply to work on weekend. In fact, there is nothing ‘voluntary’ about it.” She describes how prisoner seamstresses who don’t keep up are undressed and forced to sew naked, how (before she arrived) prisoners beat another inmate to death. She writes of a prisoner who got such bad frostbite that her fingers and one of her feet had to be amputated.

“The convicts are always on the verge of breaking down, screaming at each other, fighting over the smallest things. Just recently, a young woman got stabbed in the head with a pair of scissors because she didn’t turn in a pair of pants on time. Another tried to cut her own stomach open with a hacksaw,” she wrote.

When she found out she was being sent to Mordovia, an all-women work camp, her fellow prisoners at the remand prison reacted as though she had been handed a death sentence. “I assumed it was all an exaggeration – but when I got there, it was much worse than I anticipated.”

If the working hours were long for the prisoners, they were also long for the guards, who would occasionally disappear for unscheduled tea breaks, which was when Tolokonnikova brought out bits of paper that she had hidden under her belt and wrote letters. One of her correspondents was the radical philosopher Slavoj Žižek, and a book of their correspondence titled Comradely Greetings has just been published.

It is an oddly abstract volume, constrained at times by the presence of a censor, stripped of detail about prison life, and concerned with serious theoretical analysis of Tolokonnikova’s protest work. The two discuss how peculiar it was that ***** Riot found such instant support in the west, given that ***** Rioters have voiced concerns about global capitalism alongside their criticism of Putin.

“All hearts were beating for you as long as you were perceived as just another version of the liberal democratic protest against the authoritarian state. The moment it became clear that you rejected global capitalism, reporting on ***** Riot became much more ambiguous,” Žižek writes.

Tolokonnikova does not want to talk much about the letters; she wrote them 18 months ago, and says she has largely forgotten what was in them, but she says she is grateful for the support she has received from the west, from Madonna to Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t really matter if their reasons for opposing Putin differ, she says. “I feel very positive about how Madonna helps us, and people like her,” says Tolokonnikova, who was recently criticised by other members of the ***** Riot collective for appearing on stage with Madonna (their appearance was “highly contradictory to the principles of ***** Riot”, since “we only stage illegal performances in unexpected places”). “Our position is that when Katy Perry sends us good wishes, that’s great. Maybe she doesn’t know anything about human rights, or maybe she does – there’s no reason to think that inside a nice-looking girl is an idiot,” she adds. continue read: http://www.theguardian.com/theguardi...othing-to-lose


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