Pioneer

The withdrawal of the American company Corteva Agriscience (Pioneer) from the Russian market may trigger problems in the country’s agriculture. Experts are already warning about a shortage of seeds for certain crops.

Marina Petrova, deputy chair of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s committee for entrepreneurship development in the agro-industrial complex and CEO of Petrova 5 Consulting, told Delovoi Peterburg that while the level of self-sufficiency with domestic grain seeds exceeds 75%, import dependence remains high for sunflower, at about 70%, and for corn, at more than 50%. Leftover seeds held by suppliers and Russian-produced varieties and hybrids are an alternative source.

“Domestic seeds often have poorer traits than foreign varieties. But Russia has a scientific base and decent domestic wheat, oat, rice and buckwheat seed products,” says Petrova. In her opinion, domestic selection and seed production is in need of structural transformation and state support. Over the past decade, the share of foreign seeds has increased significantly in Russia. This is primarily due to their higher yields. The largest players also offered package solutions involving seeds, agrochemicals, and management via digital platforms. Third-party designs may thus often be incompatible with existing ones.

Corteva Agriscience is a well-known producer of alfalfa, rapeseed, corn, cotton, rice, sorghum, soy, sunflower and wheat seeds, as well as plant protection products (including herbicides, fungicides and insecticides). According to the Leningrad Regional Committee for the Agro-Industry Complex and Fisheries, the region does not depend on Corteva Agriscience’s seeds. The committee’s press service clarified, however, that rapeseed, which is cultivated in the region, is actually grown from imported seeds. But corn and wheat seeds are domestically produced, while wheat seed is produced in the Leningrad Region itself.

Prinevskoye Breeding Farm CJSC (which grows rapeseed, among other things) reported that they had managed to purchase all the seeds they needed for the 2022 sowing campaign. “If there is no possibility of sourcing foreign rapeseed hybrids, we have a domestic analogue, Oredezh 6, which at the moment we can use to cover the needs not only of our farm, but also of the region,“ says Alexander Peretyatko, deputy general director for commercial affairs at Prinevskoye.

According to experts at the Agrophysical Research Institute, Russia has the potential to replace imported corn and rapeseed. This can also be said about wheat, which Crimea supplies in fairly large volumes. At the same time, seeds for protected soil (tomatoes, cucumbers, greens) are limited on the market. The chief researcher at the Institute’s Laboratory for Plant Biophysics, Professor Mikhail Arkhipov, recalls that back in 2016, a decree was issued ordering the production of original and elite agricultural plant seeds in the areas of domestic crop production that were highly dependent on foreign-made seeds. According to Arkhipov, the decree has still not been properly implemented.

“75% of the agricultural holdings that produce grain are owned by foreign companies. Foreign seed companies also continue to be actively involved in the Russian market. However, domestic seed growers can also solve the issue of supplying grain-growing areas with domestic wheat seeds. We have the necessary agricultural resources to produce our own seeds,” the expert notes.

In late 2021, President Vladimir Putin said that within a decade the country would be able to provide farmers at least 75% of the seeds they required. Arkhipov believes that this is a real prospect in the seed market for most agricultural crops. Petrova points out that many seed-growing enterprises need to improve their physical facilities and increase their technologization. Another problem that hinders the industry’s development is a shortage of personnel.

Source: Darya Dmitrieva, “Fresh ground: farmers prepare for shortage of imported seeds,” Delovoi Peterburg, 11 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader, who grew up on a farm in the Upper Midwest.


Corteva to Withdraw from Russia

Corteva has made the decision to withdraw from Russia and, having already paused new sales, is initiating a plan to stop production and business activities.

Our priorities remain the safety of our employees and global food security. Since the onset of this tragic war, we have taken all possible action to support and protect our Ukrainian colleagues and their families, our customers, and the communities in which we operate, including through direct and indirect aid to address the immediate humanitarian needs.

We have also put in place direct action to help assure as normal as possible 2022 growing season in Ukraine.

Given the war’s impact on global food security, the Company will donate seeds to Ukraine, Africa, and the Middle East region for the 2023 growing season, to lessen the impact on global food production.

Corteva joins with many others around the world in advocating for peace.

Source: Corteva.com, 28 April 2022

The Show Must Go On

A warehouse in the Edelweiss (Stroybat) hardware store chain in Petersburg. Photo: Sergei Yermokhin/Delovoi Peterburg

Good day!

Skimping on bags and paper, problems with electric cars, and the rise in price of coffee beans

Skimping on little things. Retailers and catering are reducing the use of certain types of packaging, containers, and consumables. Some things you have to give up against your will.

Tired of waiting for guests. The travel industry wants to get a tax exemption from Petersburg city hall, an extension of cashback, and a new version of Booking.com.

Russians charge slowly but drive fast. Sanctions have blocked the way to Russia for foreign electric cars, but import substitution is already being readied.

Pecking like a bird. Petersburg coffee roasters have faced logistical problems. Green coffee beans have risen in price by 15-50%, which has already affected retail prices.

They keep well. In the current situation, warehouses remain the most stable segment of the commercial real estate market, experts argue.

Have a good day!

Source: Delovoi Peterburg, daily email newsletter to subscribers, 7 April 2022. Photo by Sergei Yermokhin for Delovoi Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader


Queen’s hits as played by a symphony orchestra

Show must go on? [sic in English] We agree! Great news for everyone who has dreamed of going to a concert by the legendary Queen. On April 21, the group’s international hits will be performed at Tinkoff Arena by the IP Orchestra under the direction of the brilliant Igor Ponomarenko.

Queen is one of the greatest bands in history: their cultural legacy has changed the world of music forever.

The supremely rich acoustic palette of a symphony orchestra, new arrangements of classic Queen compositions, the wild drive of the musicians on stage, and the charming voice of the soloists — all this is part of the patented “Queen Show. Show Must go on” [sic in English].

The IP Orchestra performing Queen Show. Show Must go on. Tickets for their April 21 performance cost between 1,500 and 2,500 rubles [approx. 17-28 euros]. Subscribers to Bileter.ru’s newsletter get a 10% discount

The IP Orchestra has long established itself as a brand not only in Russia, but also in the countries of the near and far abroad. The band has toured on five continents, performed at the world’s best venues, and has thousands of admiring viewers and loyal listeners.

To attend this event, you will need a QR code showing that you have been fully vaccinated or have had the disease, or a certificate showing that you have had a full course of a vaccine, or a document confirming that you have been granted a medical exemption from vaccination along with a negative PCR test for participants and guests over eighteen years of age.

Source: Bileter.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader


Unfortunately, for reasons beyond our control, all parts of J. K. Rowling’s famous saga about the boy wizard will be unavailable on LitRes in three days. Only now can you buy them in time with a 25% discount! It is important that every book remains in your personal library forever.

“Unfortunately, the Harry Potter series will disappear from the LitRes shelves at 23:59 p.m. on 8 April 2022. Buy the books in time and they will remain with you forever.”

To activate the discount, follow this link or enter ACCIO on the promo code page. The offer is valid until April 8.

Source: LitRes email newsletter for customers, 6 April 2022. Image, above, captured on this page on their website. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Russian Anti-War Committee

An image of a “vandalized” howitzer at Petersburg’s Artillery Museum, as posted on the website of the Petersburg Courts Consolidated Press Service and published by the Petersburg business daily Delovoi Peterburg

The Petrograd District Court has arrested Petersburg resident Nikolai Vorotnev on suspicion of vandalism.

According to the Petersburg Courts Consolidated Press Service, on March 23, Vorotnev and a friend painted yellow and blue stripes on howitzers at the Artillery Museum on the Kronverk Embankment.

“Using aerosol cans, the accomplices drew an image in the form of two horizontal stripes, blue and yellow, on the shield coverings of two howitzers, which are relics of the Great Patriotic War, thus desecrating and spoiling property of the Artillery Museum,” the press service reports.

It follows from the evidence in the case that the motive for the man’s actions was ideological, political and national [sic] hatred for military personnel performing their civic duty as part of the special operation in Ukraine.

The suspect has been placed under arrest until April 16. According to Article 214.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (vandalism), he could be imprisoned for up to three years if found guilty.

Last week, DP wrote that a resident of the Northern Capital had been fined 30 thousand rubles for anti-war stickers.

Source: Delovoi Peterburg, 23 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


A four-minute video communique from the newly formed Russian Anti-War Committee. In Russian with English subtitles. Thanks to Mark Teeter for the heads-up.

The Moscow District Court of Petersburg has ordered a woman who pasted up anti-war leaflets at the Salut! condo hotel to pay a fine of 30 thousand rubles [approx. 265 euros at today’s exchange rate].

Polina Mityanina was brought to justice under the article of the Russian Federal Administrative Code on discrediting the Russian army.

“Mityanina pasted up pre-made leaflets bearing the inscription ‘No war…’ [sic, in English]. Mityanina thus tried to persuade others in her midst that the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation were involved in a war, not a special operation, and undermined the authority, image, and trust in the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” the Petersburg Courts Consolidated Press Service reported.

The detainee explained that she had taken the leaflets from friends under public pressure [sic] and pasted them up only in her own building.

Late last week, DP wrote about the criminal charges filed against a man who made anti-war inscriptions on the Mass Grave of Soviet Army Soldiers Who Perished Defending Leningrad in 1941-1943 memorial.

Source: Delovoi Peterburg, 18 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Last Picture Show

“Cinema. Closed.” Photo by Sergei Yermokhin for Delovoi Peterburg

Due to the cancellation of premieres of foreign films, Petersburg cinemas may lose half of their customers. The business will suffer huge losses, because such pictures account for about 70% of their revenue.

Disney, Warner Bros., and Sony Pictures have decided to temporarily stop releasing films for distribution in Russia. This was reported by the media yesterday The Luxor theater chain told DP that, for now, it could officially confirm the cancellation of The Batman and the animated film Blush whose premieres were to take place in early March. Sony Pictures has removed the film Morbius from its scheduled release date for Russian distribution.

“Even the distribution companies cannot say whether the release dates will be postponed or the films will not be released in Russia ultimately, and how long the restrictions will last,” the cinema chain reported.

Mirage Cinema reported that, at the moment, the only information they had about the cancellation of releases was from the media. “We have no official letters from film distribution companies about the cancellation of premieres,” they said. The KARO chain’s press office laconically replied that they would work with what they had.

The Luxor chain noted that moviegoers choose different content at different venues. For example, in one of the the chain’s cinemas, they chose The Batman, and in another, Blush.

“Hollywood blockbusters garner most of the box office, especially family films. Viewers choose popular artists and trust the quality of the content produced by the film studios. Of course, multimillion-dollar production and advertising costs imply high traffic,” the company noted.

The network is confident that now the Petersburg film industry [sic] will return to the period of October–November 2020, when there were restrictions related to the coronavirus and blockbuster premieres were postponed. Attendance will be affected not only by the cancellation of films, but also by the general emotional and economic backdrop. The Russian film business [sic] will suffer significant losses, but it is difficult to predict further actions in the market now.

Disney and Sony Pictures are the world’s leading filmmakers. Warner Bros. ranked fourth in the 2021 global rating of film studios, behind Universal in third place. Ivan Samoilenko, managing partner of the communications agency B&C, noted that the Russian film distribution market was losing most premieres of western films, which were the main draw for Russian moviegoers. Last year, foreign films in Russia earned 30.3 billion rubles (106 million tickets were sold), while domestic projects had a total box office of 10.4 billion rubles (39.7 million tickets).

Samoilenko pointed out that out of the top ten highest–grossing films last year, eight were foreign (Hollywood) productions and two were domestic. “So we can say that in the absence of western cinema, traffic in Russian cinemas may decrease by 30-50%. This will especially affect the capital and St. Petersburg, which are national leaders in terms of numbers of cinemas, numbers of moviegoers, and turnover,” Samoylenko stressed.

In 2021, analysts at the consulting company JLL noted that traditional entertainment formats, including cinemas, had been experiencing the greatest difficulties in Petersburg’s shopping centers. Over the past year, the cinemas at the Pik shopping center and Ligov shopping mall [in central Petersburg] have closed.

Source: Darya Zaitseva, Delovoi Petersburg, 2 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The seventh protest rally in a week has been taking place in downtown Petersburg. The protesters oppose the military special operation for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.

On the evening of March 2, protesters gathered again at Gostiny Dvor on Nevsky Prospekt. According to Kommersant Petersburg’s Telegram channel, initially the protesters declined to chant anti-war slogans, but after some time the situation changed.

A scene from the seventh anti-war rally at Gostiny Dvor in Petersburg, 2 March 2022. Photo: Kommersant Petersburg’s Telegram channel

Police officers have already begun to detain the protesters: participants of the unauthorized rally have been snatched from the crowd and taken to a bus for detainees. The Petersburg artist Yelena Osipova was sighted among the protesters. She always comes to such events with placards that she makes herself. She has also been detained.

It has also known that the pedestrian underpass next to Gostiny Dvor has been blocked. The regional Interior Ministry office and the Russian National Guard have not released official information about the unauthorized protest.

As DP reported earlier, almost 150 administrative hearings were conducted by the district city courts after one of the previous anti-war rallies. As a result, forty-nine participants of the unauthorized protest were jailed for a period of 5 to 10 days. Some protesters were fined and sentenced to community service.

On the afternoon of March 2, a rally in support of Russia’s actions in the Donbas [sic] was held next to the Bronze Horseman monument [in downtown Petersburg]. RIA Novosti has published video footage from the scene.

Source: Delovoi Peterburg, 2 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Perfect Gift for Defender of the Fatherland Day

The Dendy Junior with a cartridge and detachable controllers

Toys for everyone

On the eve of Defender of the Fatherland Day [February 23], the demand for electronics (game consoles, laptops, tablets) has grown — they are among the most coveted gifts. Ozon said that in mid-February, unit sales of consoles and accessories had increased 2.2 times year-on-year. “Retro consoles have been an unexpected trend in the video game consoles category — they have been the best-selling products. Dendy Junior and Sega Genesis will be nostalgic February 23rd gifts for Petersburg residents,” the retailer’s press service added.

Wildberries has also seen a run on electronics. But electric razors (demand for them increased by 153% in the first half of February) and hair and beard clippers (up by 48%) have been their most popular items.

M.Video-Eldorado told us that headphones and portable acoustics have been trending. In addition, the new digital reality dictates its own rules: gifts that cannot be touched with your hands are becoming more and more desirable. High demand this year has been shown by digital content such as subscriptions to services (videos, books, etc.). Sales of digital codes for games had more than doubled by February 2021 [sic].

Sales on Avito of laptops and smartphones have also increased by 15% and 9%, respectively. You can buy devices for an average of 22,380 rubles and 17,920 rubles [approx. 249 and 199 euros]. Some female Petersburgers decided to make their task as easy as possible and present men not with a specific gift, but with a gift certificate. The Avito press service said that users spend an average of 4,700 rubles [approx. 52 euros] on them.

Retailers can also make money in February on sales of children’s goods. Radio-controlled toys have become more than twice as popular on Ozon. Wildberries noted that parents purchase toy weapons, cars, airplanes and helicopters, as well as various prefabricated models for their little defenders.

Whether he’s going to the army or on a fishing trip

Goods for hunting and fishing — that’s what female customers have paid attention to this holiday. However, even this involves electronic gadgets. “The list of [our] popular items includes an echo sounder and a case for it, a monocular telescope, powerful binoculars, and a set of walkie-talkies,” Ozon’s press service says.

“In the household and garden goods category, sauna accessories (for example, a hat embroidered with the phrase ‘February 23’) and goods for cooking kebabs and barbecue (a set of skewers with lacquered beech handles in a tight protective cover has been among the top sellers) have been purchased the most,” [reports Ozon]. It’s funny that in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region this year one of the most popular February 23rd gifts will be a set for making homemade liqueurs.

Wildberries’ female shoppers have been no less creative in choosing gifts. They decided that army dry rations are an inexpensive and original option, orders of which have increased by 344% year-on-year. These are gift sets designed to look like a real soldier’s rations. Jumbo-sized dry rations featuring canned food and snacks cost about 1,5000 to 2,000 rubles [approx. 17 to 22 euros].

Traditional values

And yet the popularity of socks and men’s skin care products remains unshakable. In the first half of February, Wildberries saws the number of orders for socks in St. Petersburg increase by 113%, and shaving kits by 150%, while orders for cosmetic care kits rose by 750%, deodorants, by 46%, and colognes, by 157%. The demand for men’s lotions has increased by 100%, while the popularity of shower gels has soared almost ninefold compared to January. Ties (up 95%), belts (up 153%), and wallets (up 144%) are also among popular traditional gifts.

Corporate customers of online stores this year bought sweets for the holidays. According to SberMarket’s b2b department, companies have most often ordered gift sets of Merci candy, coffee and tea in gift packages, and Old Spice, Palmolive, and Gillette skin care sets for employees for Defender of the Fatherland Day this year.

Source: Darya Dmitrieva, Delovoi Peterburg, 22 February 2022. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

Spikery, or, How to Give Aid and Comfort to Fascist War Criminals While Making Lots of Money

It’s funny the things you find in your email inbox in the morning. This morning, as usual, I found mailers from many of the Russian and English-language online newspapers I read, including Petersburg’s humble but always revealing business daily Delovoi Peterburg.

Today’s big news was that police had searched the head office of Bukvoyed, one of Russia’s largest bookstore chains.

Founded in 2000, Bukvoyed (“Bookworm”) has 140 stores around the country.

A source at Bukvoyed told Delovoi Peterburg the search had nothing to do with the company per se but with one of its business partners.

If you have been monitoring the fortunes of Russian business under the Putinist tyranny, a crony state-capitalist regime, run by “former” KGB officers as if it was the Soprano mob, only a million times nastier, you would know it has not been easy to do business of any kind in Russia during the last twenty years. The country’s current prime minister and ex-president, Dmitry Medvedev, once famously said the regime’s vast police and security apparatus, known collectively as the siloviki, needed to stop “nightmaring” (koshmarit) business.

He also famously said, when he was president, that his country was plagued by “legal nihilism.”

Although he was right on both counts, Medvedev did nothing about it. Since the brief, supposedly more “liberal” period when he was freer to speak his mind because, technically, he was the most powerful man in Russia, the nightmaring of business (and nearly everyone else who makes themselves a target by doing anything more ambitious than hiding their light in a bushel) has only got worse, and legal nihilism, along with anti-Americanism, homophobia, xenophobia, and neo-imperialism, has become even more entrenched as part of the Kremlin’s unwritten ideology and, thus, a guidepost for how Russia’s police, security agencies, prosecutors, and judges deal with “criminals.” 

As Denis Sokolov recently argued in Republic, the siloviki have established a system of “police feudalism” in Russia under which the FSB, the Russian Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, the Russian National Guard, the tax police, and other state security agencies have divided the country into fiefs, bits of “turf” where they are almost entirely free to shake down, rob, nightmare, and legally nihilize whomever and whatever they want under a set of unwritten rules outsiders can only guess at.

After reading about Bukvoyed’s legal-nihilistic woes, then, I was startled by the banner ad I found at the bottom of the page.

mooks“Synergy Global Forum, October 4–5, 2019, Gazprom Arena, Saint Petersburg. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Grant Cardone. Michael Porter. Randi Zuckerberg. Ichak Adize.” Ad courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg

Referred to, hilariously, as “spikery” (“speakers”) on the Russian version of the Synergy Global Forum’s website, these five greater and lesser lights of global capitalism have been, no doubt, promised or paid extraordinarily hefty fees to keynote this hootenanny in the belly of the crony state-capitalist beast.

Formerly known as the Zenit Arena (after the city’s Russian premier league football team, FC Zenit, owned by state-controlled Gazprom), even the venue itself, the Gazprom Arena, is a monument to the mammoth crookedness, thuggery, violence, and corruption replicated all over the world’s biggest country every day for the last twenty years by the Kremlin’s minions.

But you would never know that by reading the cheery boilerplate on the Synergy Global Forum’s website.

Gazprom Arena is the most visited indoor stadium in Eastern Europe, second only to the famous Wembley in London. The main feature of the project — a sliding roof, which allows you to carry out activities in a comfortable environment at any time of the year and in all weather conditions. Large capacity, modern technical equipment, and two-tier parking make Gazprom Arena one of the best venues for major festivals, exhibitions, and business conferences.

More important, however, is the ostensible point of all this spikery, other than making lots of money for everyone involved.

Synergy Global Forum has been held since 2015. The first Forum gathered 6,000 participants and became the largest business event in the country. Two years later, we broke this record and entered Guinness World Records — 25,000 entrepreneurs and top managers participated at SGF in Olympiyskiy in 2017. This year we set a new big goal — to gather 50,000 participants from all over the world at SGF 2019 in St. Petersburg. Synergy Global Forum not only gives you an applied knowledge, but also motivates and inspires to global achievements, gives the belief that any ambitious goal is achievable. What goals do you set for yourself?

Aside from being one big [sic], this sampling of spikery reveals that the apocryphal gospel of Dale Carnegie and other “good capitalist” snake oil salesmen is alive and well and making waves in a place like Russia, where it could not be more out of place.

I don’t mean that Russia and Russians are “culturally” or “civilizationally” incompatible with self-improvement, the power of positive thinking, and other tenets of American capitalist self-hypnosis. If you had spent most of your adult life in Russia, as I have, you would know the opposite is the case.

Unfortunately. Because what Russia needs more than anything right now is not more navel-gazing and better business practices, but regime change and the rule of law. Since I’m a democratic socialist, not a Marxist-Leninist, and, I hope, a realist, these things cannot come about other than through a revolution in which Russia’s aspiring middle classes, at whom snake-oil festivals like the Synergy Global Forum are targeted, join forces with the grassroots, who have been nightmared and legally nihilized in their own way under Putin.

One of the first things a new bourgeois-proletariat Russian coalition government would have to do, aside from prosecuting and imprisoning tens of thousands of siloviki and banning them from politics and the civil service for life, would be to disentangle the country from its current incredibly destructive armed and unarmed interventions in conflicts in other countries, starting with Ukraine and Syria.

What does the Synergy Global Forum and its sponsor, Synergy Business School have to do with such seemingly distant and terribly messy international politics? Well, this:

The school has branches in 26 Russian cities, as well as a unique campus in Dubai, which is home base for an international MBA program for students from the UAE, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

So, in fact, Synergy Business School is in the business of equipping people from some of the world’s most powerful and aggressive theocratic, monarchist, and crony state-capitalist tyrannies with MBAs while claiming its core values are “openness to newness, commitment to development, and intelligence.”

You can say I’m a dreamer but I am nearly sure SBS’s core values are completely at odds with the neo-imperialism, neo-colonialism, militarism, hostility to civil and human rights, and fascism of the current regimes in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

I write this not because I believe in building a “better” capitalism (I don’t), but because I am nearly sure one party to this mass chicanery, including the invited spikery, does believe it is possible to do just that and thus “peacefully” transform these countries into slightly quirky versions of Australia and Canada. (For the record, I don’t for a minute believe these supposedly democratic countries have no problems of their own with human rights, etc.)

That is not going to happen if only because, at another level, carefully hidden from the incurious eyes of the people who go to such events, their real purpose is to whitewash these regimes, make them more attractive to foreign investors, and expand their international networks of shills and useful idiots.

I learned this valuable lesson about Putinist Russia by carefully following the amazing career of Vladimir Yakunin, another “former” KGB officer and fellow Ozero Dacha Co-op member who could write a textbook about how to co-opt distinguished foreign academics, decision-makers, and journalists into, mostly unwittingly, toeing the Putinist line.

It comes down to this. Why are Arnold Schwarznegger, Randi Zuckerberg, and their fellow 2019 Synergy Global Forum spikery so willing to help whitewash a gang of fascist war criminals who are also at war with their own people?

Since there is no good answer to this question, they should be arrested upon their return from the forum and charged with colluding with hostile foreign powers.

If you don’t understand what I mean by “fascist war criminals,” please read the article below. // TRR

______________________________________________________

Russia and Assad are butchering Syrian civilians again. No one seems to mind
Terry Glavin
National Post
July 24, 2019

Maybe it’s because of the guilty anti-interventionist conscience of the world’s comfortable liberal democracies, or because it’s now an article of respectable faith in the NATO capitals that Syrian lives simply aren’t worth the bother. Maybe it’s just that we’ve all become so accustomed to reports of slaughter and barbarism in Syria that it barely warrants public attention at all.

Whatever the reason, or excuse, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is finally having his way in the Syrian governorate of Idlib, and the world barely notices.

It’s been nearly a year since Lavrov expressed his desire that the “abscess” of Syrian resistance in Idlib, a sprawling province that borders Turkey in Syria’s northwest, be “liquidated.” It’s been nearly a month since 11 humanitarian organizations came together with the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs to warn that “Idlib is on the brink of a humanitarian nightmare unlike anything we have seen this century.”

We’ve reached that brink now. Just this week, 66 civilians have been killed and more than 100 non-combatants wounded, the UN reports, in a series of bombing runs carried out across Idlib. The worst massacre was an airstrike Monday on a public market in the village of Maarat al-Numan. At least 39 people were killed, among them eight women and five children.

Since the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad’s barrel bombers and Russia’s fighter-bombers began their recent offensive in Idlib on April 29, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has tallied 2,641 casualties. The UN counts 400 civilian deaths, but there is no accurate count of the dead and injured in Syria anymore. The wounded lie dying in the rubble of bombed buildings. At least 25 hospitals and clinics in Idlib have been destroyed since April 29, bringing the number of health centers deliberately targeted since 2011 to about 570. More than 800 health workers have been killed.

Three years ago, when the UN and monitoring agencies stopped counting, the Syrian dead were numbered at 500,000. In the face of these most recent war crimes and atrocities, the UN’s humanitarian affairs office has been reduced to begging Assad and Lavrov to ease up to allow humanitarian aid into Idlib’s besieged districts, and pleading with Russia and Turkey to uphold the terms of a year-old memorandum of understanding that was supposed to demilitarize Idlib. Fat chance of that.

The Kremlin-Ankara pact arose from negotiations that began in the months following the 2016 fall of Aleppo, where thousands of Syrian civilians were slaughtered by Vladimir Putin’s air force in the course of the Kremlin’s commitment to Assad to help bomb the Syrian resistance into submission. Joining with Russia and Iran, Turkish strongman Recip Erdoğan entered into a series of talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, that eventually led to an agreement to establish Idlib as a jointly-patrolled “deconfliction zone.”

A series of these de-escalation agreements have each in their turn become death traps. In Homs, in Ghouta, in Quneitra, the pattern has repeated itself. Weakened by starvation sieges, and bloodied by Russian fighter jets, Assad’s barrel bombs, ground assaults by Iran’s Hezbollah units and multiple chemical attacks — sarin, chlorine, napalm — Syria’s various and fractious resistance outfits have surrendered several cities and towns on the promise of safe passage with their families to one or another de-escalation area. Convoys of buses carry them across the countryside. They settle in, and then they come under attack again.

Until April 29, Idlib was the last of these demilitarized zones, and by then the population had doubled to three million people. Among Idlib’s recent arrivals were civilians fleeing the Syrian carnage who had not been able to join the six million Syrians who have managed to escape the country altogether. But the newcomers also include members of various armed opposition groups, and the Assad regime has deftly manipulated its “de-escalation” and safe-passage arrangements to pit those groups against one another.

More than a dozen safe-passage agreements struck prior to the Kremlin-Ankara arrangement amount to what democratic opposition leaders have called ethnic cleansing and “compulsory deportation.” Most of the opposition groups that submitted to them have ended up in Idlib. Among them: Islamic State fighters from Yarmouk, and the jihadist fronts Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Fatah from districts around Aleppo and Damascus.

What this has meant for Idlib is that the mainline opposition in the Turkish-backed and formerly American-supported Syrian Interim Government has been losing its hold on the governorate, and its democratically elected local councils have come under increasing pressure from the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham jihadist coalition. And now that Assad’s Syrian Arab Army has been moving in from the south, and Russian and regime bombs are falling from the skies, tens of thousands of civilians are on the move again.

More than 300,000 people are on the roads, most of them headed towards Turkey, but Turkey has already taken in half of Syria’s six million refugees and the Turkish border is now closed to them. More than 1,000 Turkish troops are patrolling Idlib’s northern countryside as part of the Astana accord, and they won’t let the Syrian civilians pass. Humanitarian groups report that hundreds of Syrian refugees have been picked up in Istanbul in recent weeks and deported back to Syria.

“Yet again innocent civilians are paying the price for the political failure to stop the violence and do what is demanded under international law — to protect all civilians,” is the way UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock puts it. “Our worst fears are materializing.”

No help is coming from Europe. The European Union has made its peace with Ankara — Erdoğan prevents Syrian refugees from sneaking into Greece or Bulgaria or setting out in leaky rafts into the Mediterranean, and Europe looks the other way while Erdoğan deports Syrian refugees back to the slaughterhouse of Idlib.

Neither is any help coming from the United States, where the Kremlin-friendly Trump administration is balking at the idea of imposing sanctions on Turkey for buying into Russia’s S-400 missile system, and is otherwise continuing the Obama administration’s policy of thinking about mass murderer Assad as somebody else’s problem.

And then there’s Canada, where we’re all supposed to congratulate ourselves for having high-graded the best and brightest Syrians from the UN’s refugee camps, and we expect the Syrian refugees we’ve taken in to be grateful and to forgive us all for standing around and gawping while their country was turned into blood, fire, and rubble.

Whatever our reasons, or excuses, Idlib is being liquidated, a humanitarian nightmare is unfolding in Syria again, and hardly anybody notices.

Eat Y’Self Fitter

zeitfur“Time for the girlfriend.”

More bad news from Russia’s Northern Capital:

Количество фитнес–клубов в Петербурге превышает спрос. По данным “ДП” их услугами по–прежнему пользуется небольшая часть населения Северной столицы. В настоящее время в Петербурге спортом в фитнес–клубах регулярно занимаются не более 4,8% населения, в то время как в Лондоне их посещают 20% жителей, в Барселоне — 35%, а в Берлине — почти 60%.

“The number of fitness clubs in St. Petersburg exceeds demand. According to Delovoi Petersburg newspaper their services are, as before, enjoyed by a small segment of the Northern Capital’s populace. Currently, no more than 4.8% of Petersburgers work out in fitness clubs, as opposed to 20% of Londoners, 35% of Barcelonians, and nearly 60% of Berliners.”

ATTENTION! Why do you think this is the case? The first person to send me the correct answer in the comments, below, will get a special prize, dispatched via the mails from Berlin, where I am among the 40% of losers who do not work out in fitness clubs.

Please don’t use Google or other artificial intelligences to answer the question. Instead, use the brains the good Lord gave you.

Photo by the Russian Reader 

Making Life Easier for Vegans in Petersburg

Анастасия Емельянова, основатель VegCode
Anastasia Yemelyanova, VegCode founder. Photo courtesy of Sergei Yermokhin and Delovoi Peterburg

A Barcode for Vegans: Petersburgers Develop App for Identifying Vegan Products Through Barcode
Inna Reikhard
Delovoi Peterburg
December 12, 2018

App Interests a Thousand Users in Single Woeek
Petersburgers Anastasia Yemelyanova, Alyona Kabardinova, and Nikolai Dubrovsky have developed the mobile VegCode app (Vegan IT LLC). Made available to users in early December, the app is designed for vegans. It lets shoppers use barcodes to figure out whether or not items in stores contain animal products and have been animal tested. The app currently has a database of 26,000 items marked “vegan” and “non-vegan.” Most of the items are edibles and cosmetics. Household cleaning products will soon be added to the list.

A Growing Segment
As the designers explained, there is a demand for the app, since the number of vegans in Russia has been growing at a rate of fifty percent annually. There are now approximately 150,000 vegans in Russia.

The team has been preparing to expand the app’s functionality by adding a map of vegan shops, cafes, and producers. The app, which operates in Russia and the CIS, will earn money by advertising the services of these businesses.

Attracting Investors
“Unlike Western Europe and the US, the problem of identifying vegan goods is much gnarlier in Russia, because there is not a well-defined system for labeling goods and far fewer speciality magazines,” Yemelyanova explains.

For example, you might find a retail item labeled “Lenten,” but it might not be appropriate for vegans. On the other hand, producers sometimes have no clue their product lines include ethical products.

The startuppers commenced work on the app in early 2018. They raised money on the crowdfunding website Planeta. They also made it to the finals of Philtech Accelerator, winning a 100,000-ruble prize from the Higher School of Economics. The team got another 300,000 rubles from venture investor Alexander Rumyantsev.

Yemelyanova says the hardest thing was compiling the database of retail items marked “vegan.”

“We get information about the content of products from open sources. Our users can also add items via the app. After they are moderated, the new items are listed in the database,” a spokesperson for the company said.

In a week’s time, the nearly thousand users who downloaded the app have suggested 4,000 more items for inclusion in the database.

Prospects
The market for vegan products in Petersburg has been growing rapidly. In 2015, sales were estimated at 80 million rubles [approx. 1 million euros]. In 2017, this figure climbed to 400 million rubles [approx. 5.3 million euros].

Petersburg has several dozen fast food outlets and shops catering to vegans, including Bunker and B12 Vegan Shop.

Petersburg is also home to a small number of vegan producers. Businessman Ivan Ivanov, for example, makes lactose-free dairy products, wheat steaks, and other edibles under the Primal Soymilk brand. Verde produces cheese and curd. Veganov makes soy and vegetable sausages, while Soymik produces soy-based products.

“Petersburg has the most thriving vegan movement in Russia. The city also has a growing number of vegan producers. Mainly, however, these are small businesses in which not a lot of money has been invested. Their products are usually not sold in retail chains, but I think the day when they’ll be sold there is not far off,” says Ivanov.

Ivanov says he had thought himself about making an app for identifying vegan products.

Translated by the Russian Reader

If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Does It Make a Sound?

RUS-2016-Aerial-SPB-Field_of_Mars
The Field of Mars is in the center of Petersburg, but it is conveniently isolated from well-populated residential neighborhoods and high streets. Unless they are extremely well attended, most political rallies held on the famous former parade grounds and revolutioanry mass burial site go unnoticed by the vast majority of Petersburgers. Photo courtesy of Andrew Shiva and Wikipedia

Up the River: The Smolny Will Expand List of Venues for Political Rallies
Mikhail Shevchuk
Delovoi Peterburg
December 4, 2018

As soon as he took up his duties as acting governor of St. Petersburg, Alexander Beglov announced plans to amend the law on political rallies.

“We need to make changes and introduce order, so there were will be no violations on either side,” he said at a meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights in October.

The Smolny has now drafted amendments to the law. The principle of “Hyde Parks,” that is, of specially designated places where Petersburgers can vent their indignation without prior notification of the authorites, remains in force. However, the Smolny has proposed establishing a minimum number of such places, eight in all.

The current law on political rallies does not specify the number of venues. City hall publishes the list of political rally sites in an ordinance. Originally, in 2012, the Field of Mars (or, rather, a small part of it) was designated the city’s “Hyde Park.” Two years later, four more venues were added: Udelny Park, Polyustrovsky Park, Yuzhno-Primorsky Park, and 30th Anniversary of October Gardens. The Field of Mars was struck from the list last year.

uppYuzhno-Primorsky Park is located in the far southwest of Petersburg. It is four kilometers from the nearest subway station, and three kilometers from the nearest suburban railroad station. Map courtesy of Yandex

Theoretically, it is possible to organize demonstrations in other places, but city hall usually refuses to sanction the rallies under various pretexts, suggesting to organizers they use one of the designated “Hyde Parks.” As a matter of principle, however, the opposition avoids the “Hyde Parks,” which are all situated in the city’s outskirts. Instead, they prefer to assemble at such traditional sites for political rallies as Lenin Square, Pioneer Square and, sometimes, even Palace Square, although they risk fines and forcible dispersal by police.

The maximum number of people who can attend a political rally held without prior notification of the authorities would range from 200 to 500 people under the amended law. As under the old law, State Duma MPs, members of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, and members of the city’s municipal district councils would be able to hold meetings with constituents on the streets.

Officials would now calculate how many people can attend a political rally at a particular venue according to the norm of one person per square meter. Lenin Square and Pioneer Square would thus be able to accommodate rallies attended by as many as 10,000 people. Organizers would also be obliged to inform officials of canceled rallies under the threat of a fine of 5,000 rubles for individuals and 100,000 rubles for legal entities.

“It’s not the number of sites that matters,” said Andrei Pivovarov, leader of the local office of Open Russia. “And no one has ever been fined for going over the maximum number of attendees. One venue would be enough for us, but as long as it is in downtown Petersburg. If the venues are going to be in the outskirts, city hall could give us a dozen such places, but we would try to protest downtown anyway.”

However, Pivovarov said that if the new list included the Field of Mars, Lenin Square, and Pioneer Square, the opposition would be quite satisfied and make use of these venues.

St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly member Maxim Reznik also named the two squares. He said the number of people attending a rally and the convenience of Petersburgers were more important than a particular place. The opposition was always ready for dialogue, he said. However, if the regime made a point of tightening the screws, dissenters, Reznik said, would choose the paddy wagon, that is, they would choose to attend an unauthorized rally rather than cancel it.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Bill for the 2018 World Cup

Russia and Brazil World Cup’s Leading Spenders over Last Twenty Years
Delovoi Peterburg
June 18, 2018


Photo by Sergei Konkov

Russia and Brazil took first place in terms of the cost of readying their countries to host the FIFA World Cup since 1998. A report by JLL, a consultancy company, shows each country spent $11.6 billion on organizing the event.

The report’s authors note that, according to the latest data available, Russia has spent ₽683 billion [approx. €9.3 billion] to host the World Cup. Thirty-nine percent of this money, or ₽265 billion, has been spent on building and repairing sports facilities.

The report’s authors also note that Russia has been the only recent host of the World Cup to build or renovate all twelve venues.

They write that Russia has set the per stadium record, spending an average of $380 million on each venue.

By way of comparison, South Korea and Japan spent $8.1 million on the 2002 World Cup; Germany, $7.7 billion on the 2006 World Cup; and South Africa, $5.2 billion on the 2010 World Cup. The most modest preparations were made by France for the 1998 World Cup. France spent only $2 billion on organizing the event.

infrastructure vs. venues

Russia spent the most money on infrastructure while preparing for the World Cup. The country invested $7.1 billion in infrastructure, including $3.9 billion on transportation infrastructure. Meanwhile, it spent $4.5 billion on stadiums.

Russia yields only to South Korea and Japan in expenditures on stadiums. They spent a total of $4.6 billion.

world cup 2018 costs

Overall, Russia spent ₽18.9 billion [approx. €256 million] more on getting ready for the World Cup than was planned in 2013.

According to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee’s preliminary estimate, as cited in JJL’s report, the summary economic impact of the 2018 World Cup on Russia during the period 2013–2018 will be ₽867 billion [approx. €11.8 billion] or roughly one percent of annual GDP. The primary effect will be achieved through investments and operating expenses. It is expected to reach ₽746 billion.

impact

 

The 2018 FIFA World Cup takes place in twelve stadiums in eleven Russian cities from June 14 to July 15, 2018.

Diagrams excerpted from “Investing into [sic] Football Passion: The Effect of the World Cup in Russia.” Article translated by the Russian Reader