Mark H. Teeter: Turn on the News

tumblr_m58pus9vFN1qz9qooo1_500Marilyn Monroe doing a spit-take.

And Now the News, With Somebody You Weren’t Expecting
Mark H. Teeter
Moscow TV Tonite
April 7, 2019

The accepted wisdom among high-dome media analysts here in Russia has been that Muscovites who checked on-the-hour radio news either tuned in Ekho Moskvy or Kommersant FM for actual news, in larger and smaller doses, respectively, plus commentary from sources who were relevant and informed or were supposed to be.

Or they got earfuls of untruths, half-truths or misrepresentations of the news from just about everywhere else on the dial, along with pseudo-commentary from various professional spokes-liars (presidential, ministerial, etc.) or professional dim bulbs (Russian MPs, selected idiots on the street, somebody’s cousin Vanya).

Whether or not you accept this accepted wisdom, there has been an interesting recent development you should note: an intriguing Third Way that you may have missed (as I did until recently) has opened up here in the New Muscovite ether for listeners keen on locally sourced radio news coverage. Its creators have given their project’s genre the highfalutin name Avtorskie Novosti, that is, Auteur News, by analogy with avtorskoe kino or auteur cinema.

You might, however, dub the genre The News from Somebody Noteworthy Who Doesn’t Do Radio News for a Living and Might Offer an Interesting Take on Today’s Edition of It.

Auteur News was the brainchild of the modest-sized NSN (Natsionalnaya Sluzhba Novostei), which described the project, as I discovered on its website, in alluring terms.

Auteur News from NSN is a radio program broadcast simultaneously by three stations (Nashe Radio, Rock FM, Radio Jazz) with a daily audience of 1.5 million people in Moscow and four million in Russia. The presenters of Auteur News are well known to listeners, as they are among the most famous people in the country. Currently, 200 contributors are involved in the project.

That thumbnail sketch should pique the interest of listeners numbed by Ekho’s necessary but wearisome good accounts of bad news and the embarrassing agitprop elsewhere on the dial: “President Vladimir Putin today signed another new law to make life better and happier.”

Question No. 1 in the minds of potential listeners would likely be, “Wait, just who are the Auteur 200?” And they would be right to ask. Nikita Mikhalkov is certainly a famous person, for example, but many people would feel more confident getting their news and commentary from a bag of doorknobs.

But let’s start with the glass half full: a brief retelling of how I came across Auteur News.

The wife and I often put on Radio Jazz quietly as background music to dinner, when the grandson, who hates jazz, isn’t joining us.

We were listening to it with one ear, as usual, when the news came on at 8:00 p.m. one recent evening.

Imagine my surprise when a measured female voice from the seemingly politics-free jazz station launched into a four-point litany of items-plus-commentary that seemed like something you’d call Real News with Real Attitude.

The Ministry of Finance, Radio Jazz told us, had “refused to provide the Russian Academy of Sciences funding for international scholarly and scientific cooperation,” which would result in Russia “finding itself in the backwaters of science again, the fruits of which we already know from the Soviet period.”

A repeat of that would be, the voice continued, a “very sad” prospect.

Hmm! My one-ear listening quickly ratcheted up to one-and-a-half-ear listening.

Radio Jazz continued on a more upbeat note.

“Kirill Serebrennikov’s ballet Nureyev was named Ballet of the Year by the jury of the professional music award BraVo,” with the presentation taking place at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

This wouldn’t seem a particularly newsworthy story: the ballet had won a sizable basket of international awards since its premiere in 2017. Ah, but then you recalled the scandals surrounding the production here, including the arrest of the director, and the overall public attitude toward things artistic identified with “non-traditional orientations.”

But the announcement of the award was not the end of the item, as the presenter continued.

“I had the good fortune to see the ballet Nureyev It really is a wonderful ballet, striking from many points of view. And considering that Kirill Serebrennikov, in fact, staged the ballet by long distance, so to speak, the outcome is little short of a miracle. It is sad our national know-how is linked to creative events in ways that are not positive. But I would like to congratulate Serebrennikov on this well-deserved award. May he have the strength to overcome all his trials.”

Wow, just wow. It dawned on me what I was hearing was not only not The News in Putinese. It was news-plus-opinion that would make many Putinistas angry and hostile. I was beginning to wonder whether black sedans and a police van were heading toward Radio Jazz that very minute.

Next, Radio Jazz reported that an ominous institution called the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, which sounds even more ominous in Russian (Federalnaya Sluzhba Ispolneniya Nakazanii, or Federal Service for the Enforcement of Punishments) now “want[ed] to oblige its employees to apologize to prisoners in cases where their rights and freedoms have been violated.” As in, “Sorry for the rubber hoses and the knuckle sandwich there, Petrov, we didn’t mean to, y’know, violate your rights and freedoms and stuff.”

As absurd as it sounded to me, it sounded even worse to the Radio Jazz news commentator.

“What a Kafkaesque reality! We will torture people, but then apologize to them. I don’t really understand how these things go together. Lately, I’ve been seeing various features of the old utopian Soviet mindset in a great number of legislative acts. You get the feeling lawmakers don’t understand what is happening in reality at all and create an attractive little mockup of it for themselves, to placate their consciences. As in, ‘Go right ahead, citizens, demand an apology from your jailers for beating and torturing you.'”

Kafka and sarcasm are surely justified in passing along this news item, I agree, but it was still hard to believe my ears. At this point, I was experiencing a flashback impulse to close the kitchen door and huddle around the radio so the neighbors wouldn’t hear us listening to illegal “foreign voices”!

The final item Radio Jazz offered its evening listeners to ponder was a question about as philosophical as a news broadcast gets: How happy are you?

First, the context.

“Finland is the happiest country in the world,” Radio Jazz told us by way of summing up the annual World Happiness Report. “This ranking of global happiness takes into account GDP per capita, life expectancy, charitable contributions, social support, the level of freedom and the level of corruption in terms of their impact on residents ‘vital decisions.’”

Well, Miss Radio Jazz News gave the neighboring Finns plenty of credit.

“Frankly speaking, I am ready to agree right off with this award, because in Finland they do a huge number of social projects. The Finnish people try to be at the center of their own culture. For example, if a festival takes place in a large city in this country, the residents of the surrounding villages are brought there free of charge by bus so  they can be involved in culture. I won’t even mention many other important laws related to social status, support for the population, and so on. In sum, we should follow the path of Finland, and not, say, North Korea.”

The last time I heard a Russian newsreader say, “Let’s not be North Korea” was, let’s see here, carry the two, ah, that’s right: never. Which was why I almost lost a mouthful of after-dinner decaf doing a Danny Thomas spit-take over the kitchen table as the news ended. A little went up my nose, but it was still worth it.

After the shock wore off, a little laptop skating yielded some background on the presenter and commentator of that evening’s edition of Auteur News: “Irina Prokhorova, editor-in-chief of the publishing house New Literary Review, specially edited what she thought were the top stories of the day for NSN.”

All I could say was, Nice job, Irina, and here’s hoping you get another turn at Auteur News before unpleasant men in ill-fitting suits are sent to chat with you at your place of work.

A further bit of web surfing still did not yield what I wanted most: a list of the Auteur 200 and a schedule of their appearances for, say, the upcoming month. But I did dig up a little more background.

I discovered that Auteur News had been on the air for nearly five years, and over 200 presenters had contributed, including politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, politican and TV presenter Pyotr Tolstoy, football star Ruslan Nigmatullin, actor Sergey Bezrukov, rock musician Andrei Makarevich, writer Sergey Lukyanenko and other Russian celebrities.

This was clearly a very hit-and-miss kind of thing, I could tell. You can imagine setting a long jump record with a sudden vault across the kitchen to turn the radio off before “Auteur News with Vladimir Zhirinovsky” (or Pyotr Tolstoy) abused your eardrums, but if such leaps of faith were what it took to get the likes of Makarevich, long implicitly banned from state-controlled media as an “enemy of the people,” back in the public arena, then maybe it was worth it, I figured.

Yes, perhaps sharing the airwaves with the loud and confused was not too great a price to pay for getting a great unheard voice of reason heard again.

And that, it has long been assumed here, is the same devil’s bargain by which the majority Gazprom-owned Ekho Moskvy stays on the air: lowbrow types and state shills get air time so real news and sane views can reach millions who would otherwise have to scan the dial for “foreign voices” or, more likely, give up the dial altogether and simply glue their eyes and ears to social media.

Which doesn’t sound so bad at first blush, until you recall that social media were instrumental in blessing our brave new millennium with President Donald Trump, who has in turn introduced us to a new and apparently effective form of zombie-generating, masses-manipulating monologue that substitutes for press releases, news conferences, and indeed governance itself: the Auteur Tweet.

Yikes.

In any case, I was still bothered by one thing: how a longtime listener to Radio Jazz could have remained blissfully unaware of Auteur News for the first five years of its existence. Were the presenters less outspoken before? Or did my long-suffering ears simply click automatically to OFF for any radio news that happened to reach them from a station other than Ekho or Kommersant? Possibly both, but one more net search yielded a more likely answer.

This time, I turned up NSN’s original announcement of Auteur News, dated November 7, 2012, which noted the program would air only on weekdays, and only twice daily, at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. If you were merely a one-ear listener, and your dinner usually ended before eight, it obviously took a bracing shot of Irina Prokhorova to get your attention.

This last search also produced a much better picture of the fabled Auteur 200, as the original announcement named names that were big time; indeed, almost all of them, as the list ran to some 178 people (if my count was correct). And the Big Picture spectrum is a broad one: there are plenty of presenters an educated listener would definitely like to hear an earful from. Beyond Makarevich, the list included director Serebrennikov himself, historian and journalist Nikoai Svanidze, progressive politician Irina Khakamada, saxophone legend Igor Butman, political scientist Nikolai Zlobin, filmmaker Alexei Uchitel, theater director Konstantin Raikin, satirist Mikhail Kononenko, producer and composer Stas Namin, national elections commissioner Ella Pamfilova, and a bunch more.

That said, there are just as many (probably more, actually) who would make the same listener wish he had taken his high-school long jump practice more seriously. Beyond Zhirinovsky and Tolstoy, you find motorcycle gang leader Khirurg (The Surgeon), the “pranksters” Vovan and Leksus, dim Duma stalwarts such as . . . but why list the losers here, have a look for yourself.

And relax. While there are definitely some wildcard types, including several rock musicians who use a single name (ask your grandson), you won’t find Director Doorknobs on the list. At least not yet.

Which is a reminder that, while Auteur News is a real find, without an updated contributor list and a schedule for it, you’ll need to be wary.

Irina Prokhorova was a great way to start, but the next presenter you hear might well focus on Putinista bikers running amok in Crimea.

Be prepared to leap.

Mark H. Teeter, a former opinion page editor and media columnist for the Moscow Times and the Moscow News, is the editor of Moscow TV Tonite on Facebook. His original article was lightly edited to conform with TRR’s nonexistent style guide. My thanks to Mr. Teeter for letting him reprint his article here.

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Outlandish

lakhtaEven with my camera’s lens maxed out, it was not to hard for me to guess who was cleaning the glass (or whatever they were doing) high up in the air on the sides of Gazprom’s almost-finished Lakhta Center skyscraper in Petersburg. They were certainly not ethnic Russians or “people of Slavic appearance,” as they say back in the Motherland. They were almost certainly underpaid, disenfranchised and nearly universally despised migrant workers from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Lakhta, Petersburg, November 11, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

It’s a brilliant plan. The Kremlin now wants to raid neighboring countries and steal their “Russian-speaking” populace (i.e., the non-ethnic Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, etc., who live in Central Asia) to address Russia’s “population decline.”

That is, it is done with importing swarthy Muslims by the trainload and planeload so it can make them to do all the country’s menial labor while underpaying and shaking them down at the same time. Now it just wants to destabilize and impoverish their countries even further by robbing them of five to ten million people.

In recent years, self-declared progressive Russian scholars have nearly made a cottage industry of applying postcolonial theory to post-Soviet Russia. These scholars have focused almost entirely on how the Satanic West has “colonized” their country in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

How the Russian metropole colonized and occupied other countries during the tsarist and Soviet period is of no interest to them whatsoever, nor are post-Soviet Russia’s attempts at recolonization and neo-imperialism through migrant labor, military aggression, and the creation of post-Soviet counterparts to the EU and NATO.

No, it’s all about how the big bad West has woefully mistreated the world’s largest, richest country. {TRR}

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Kremlin Seeks Russian-Speaking Migrants to Offset Population Decline
Moscow Times
March 14, 2019

The Kremlin plans to attract up to 10 million Russian-speaking migrants in the next six years to reverse the country’s population decline, the business daily Kommersant reported on Thursday.

Russia’s population declined to 146.8 million in 2018, official data released on Thursday estimates, its first decrease in 10 years. Migration has been unable to offset natural population losses for the first time since 2008.

President Vladimir Putin has prioritized migration policy by signing a plan of action for 2019–2025 and adding migration to the remit of his constitutional rights office.

The plan involves granting citizenship to anywhere from 5 to 10 million migrants, Kommersant reported, citing unnamed sources involved in carrying out Putin’s migration policy plan.

The Kremlin lists Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and other post-Soviet states with Russian-speaking populations as so-called “donor countries” where new Russian citizens could be recruited, the paper writes.

Russia needs up to 300,000 additional people per year in order to reach net-zero population growth, Kommersant’s sources are quoted as saying.

Several bills designed to ease citizenship and immigration rules are also in the pipeline, some of which could be considered this May, Kommersant reported.

Sanktsionshchiki

sankts“Sanctioned product”

The Demand for Sanctions Specialists Has Grown in Russia
Svetlana Romanova
RBC
November 9, 2017

According to recruiting agencies and job search sites, he Russian job market has seen a growing demand for employees who understand the ins and outs of sanctions legislation.

According to Headhunter.ru, there were 27 published vacancies for sanctions specialists in October 2017; there were a mere nine vacancies in October 2014. Sberbank, VTB, UniCredit, Raiffeisen, Globex, and the Russian Regional Development Bank are among the companies now recruiting these specialists.

It is not only banks that have been generating the demand (they account for 44% of all vacanies) but also law firms (21%), accounting firms (11%), and insurance companies (10%). Starting pay is 250,000 rubles a month [approx. 3,600 euros a month], but experienced specialists can count on monthly salaries of 500,000 rubles, we were told by the personnel agencies we interviewed.

Vacancies advertised on websites are only the tip of the iceberg: headhunters are usually employed to find sanctions specialists. The first request for a sanctions specialist to the recruiting agencyHays was made by a major private Russian bank in late 2014, said Darya Anikina, managing consultant for financial institutions at Hays. Currently, the agency selects candidates for at least five positions a month at different companies. Our sources at the agencies Cornerstone, Kontakt, and Unity also told us about a deficit of sanctions specialists.

“The profession doesn’t exist officially. It’s not taught anywhere,” said Yuri Dorfman, a partner at Cornerstone.

Headhunters have to make compromises and use their imaginations. For example, Cornerstone recently succeeded in placing a specialist at a bank. At his previous job, he had been employeed preventing money laundering, and monitoring and stopping illegal financial transactions. Sanctions specialists are also aware of the demand and have been making the most of it. When moving to a new company, they ask for at least a thirty or forty percent raise, rather than the customary twenty percent raise.

Whereas sanctions specialists are sought out by banks and legal firms, the consumer goods retail sector has been vigorously looking for specialists to help it get round the Russian Federation’s countersanctions, meaning specialists in logistics and foreign trade. According to the website Superjob, the salaries for such vacancies increased by 18% in 2017.

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Sanktsionshchiki: Who Recruiting Agencies Are Hunting Nowadays
Svetlana Romanova
RBC
November 9, 2017

The Russian labor market’s demand for sanctions experts has been growing. People who practice this new, rare profession earn between 250,000 and 500,000 rubles a month, and employers have been headhunting them with a vengeance.

Since March 2014, the US, the EU, and other countries have been continously imposing more and more sanctions on Russian nationals, companies, and individual industries. This has provoked a demand for sanctions experts on the Russian jobs market. Some companies simply cannot do without their assistance. According to headhunters, there is a lack of such specialists. Employees who have improved their qualifications and learned how to deal with the restrictions and risks occasioned by sanctions can count on salary increases of thirty to forty percent.

Sanktsionshchiki
In March 2014, 46-year-old Artyom Zhavoronkov, a partner at the legal firm Dentons who specializes in mergers and acquisitions, was planning to travel to Washington, DC, to give a lecture to an American audience about how to build a business in Russia. But since the US had imposed the first set of sanctions against Russia [sic], the Americans cancelled the lecture. Zhavoronkov kept his head and suggested changing the subject of the lectures. He decided to talk about something more topical: the sanctions and their consequences. Ultimately, the lecture took place, and it was standing room only in the auditorium. It was then that Zhavoronko understood he had found a new business niche: legal advices on issues related to sanctions. Currently, he consults twenty to thirty international and Russian clients monthly.

Recruiting agencies received the first requests for sanctions specialists in the spring of 2014, but by the autumn of 2017 the demand for such specialists had become stable. The demand has grown not only for temporary consultants like Zhavoronkov: many companies seeks to hire in-house specialists. According to HeadHunter.ru, its website listed nine such vacancies in October 2014. By October 2017, that number had grown to 27. Candidates are usually expected to have degrees in law or finance, a good command of English, and a high tolerance for stress.

This is the tip of the iceberg, because companies usually employ headhunting agencies to find sanktionshchiki. Russian ompanies have realized no one is going to cancel the sanctions anytime soon, the lists of sanctioned companies and individuals have been expanding, and so the problem will not solve itself.

The first request for a sanctions specialist to the recruiting agency Hays was made by a major private Russian bank in late 2014, said Darya Anikina, managing consultant for financial institutions at Hays. Currently, the agency selects candidates for at least five positions a month at different companies. Compared with other professionals, this is a tiny figure, but for the time being they are all that is needed. In a company that employs a thousand people, there might be three or four such specialists, but they will earn more than their colleagues.

Who and What Banks Are Looking for

Vacancy: Specialist for international sanctions monitoring group

Duties: Vetting of bank clients and transactions against the lists of international sanctions, as imposed by the US, EU, UN, and other in-house lists. Search and analysis of additional information on the internet and the bank’s internal databases in order to analyze automatically generated warnings regarding the bank’s clients and transactions. Drafting of brief, well-argued analyses of automatically generated warnings. Filing of reports.

Requirements: Tertiary degree in economics, finance or law. No less than six months’ experience working in a credit institution. Experience working with automated banking systems. Command of written and spoken English at the intermediate level is obligatory. Ability to cope with large amounts of routine work. The candidate must be detail-oriented, focused, perseverant, able to learn quickly, proactive, diligent, and well-spoken.

Sourcejob listing on the website Headhunter.ru

Banks on the Hunt
Artyom Zhavoronkov provides sanctions-related legal services. He establishes whether the owner of a company with whom his client plans to make a business deal is not on the sanctions lists, and he drafts supply contracts that account for international restrictions. But he also provides more ambitious services. Recently, Zhavoronkov drafted a plan for an oil company: he conceived and drafted an in-house list of “sanctions” rules. For example, Zhavoronkov devised a special algorithm for sale managers that prevents them from making deals with companies and individuals on the sanctions list.

“If questions arise, sales managers contact legal counsel, and together they decide whether they can sign a contract,” Zhavoronkov explained.

Most of all, Zhavoronkov is proud he succeeded in getting a major company off the sanctions list. (He did not name the company, citing a nondisclosure agreement.) He conducted long negotiations with regulators, trying to prove to them that the circumstances that had led to his client’s ending up on the sanctions list had changed. Although the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has not made public a single instance in which the US has taken Russian companies off the sanctions lists, there have been precendents in other countries. In September 2014, Canada removed sanctions from two Russian banks, Expobank and Rosenergobank, acknowledging they had been placed on the sanctions list mistakenly.

The services of sanctions experts are needed by investment funds, including ones run by major banks, and the management companies of oligarchs who have been sanctioned, said Zhavoronkov.  There is also demand from consulting companies. However, judging by job search websites, it is Russian banks that are most in need of employees versed in the ins and outs of sanctions. Since 2014, banks have accounted for 44% of such vacancies on HeadHunter.ru, with legal companies coming in second at 21%.

Recently, two vacancies were posted by the country’s largest bank, Sberbank. It seeks two experts for its international sanctions monitoring group. The specialists must prepare opinions on transactions and operations, that is, check whether they are covered by the sanctions imposed by international organizations and individual governments, consult with employees, and respond to their requests. Sberbank refused to tell us whether it had succeeded in filling the positions.

Other financial institutions have placed help wanted ads on HeadHunter.ru: VTB, UniCredit, Raiffeisen, Globex, and the Russian Regional Development Bank. None of them agreed to talk with us on the record. RBC’s sources at a major state bank confirmed they have a full-time sanctions specialist on staff. But the source refused to provide details, adding that no one wants to talk about it publicly, since the “topic is painful and nothing to brag about.”

Russian financial institutions that have been sanctioned need specialists to keep from having even more serious restrictions imposed on them and avoid jeopardizing their business partners.

Banks that have not been blacklisted need such specialists to avoid violating the sanctions by working with counterparties. Otherwise, they can also have their access to western loans cut off. Primarily, this concerns the top one hundred financial institutions in terms of assets. It is they who hire sanctions specialists, said Roman Kuznetsov, senior analyst at the investment company QBF. Each major bank has a few sanctions specialists, said Andrei Zakharov, director of the financial institutions personnel recruiting department at Kontakt.

Experience Is More Important than a Diploma
Of course, not a single Russian university educates sanctions specialists, nor are there any continuing education courses on the topic as of yet. Everything has to be learned on the job. Successful candidates for sanctions specialist jobs usually have three or four years’ experience working in legal compliance or auditing departments of banks. Candidates with other financial backgrounds are considered less often, said Darya Anikina.

Dentons employs 200 attorneys. Aside from Zhavoronkov, however, only two of his colleagues, both of them under thirty, deal with sanctions-related cases. Zhavoronkov is their mentor. He made it his goal to cultivate these unique specialists in firm. Currently, there are very few experienced employees who understand the intricacies of the sanctions. Three and a half years have passed since the first sanctions were imposed. This is too short a time to form a pool of specialists.

Unlike the Russian labor market, the specialization has existed on the American job market for several decades. Sanctions compliance in the US is an entire niche business, claimed Zhavoronkov. The staff of any American law firm usually has one such specialist. His or her work is considered routine.

According to Bloomberg, the demand for sanctions expertise in the US grew in 2014. American companies frequently hired former officials from the Treasury Department, who were involved in drafting most of the restrictions. For example, until 2014, Chip Poncy was head of the unit for combating the financing of terrorism and financial crimes at the Treasury Department, but after the first sanctions against Russia [sic] were imposed, Poncy founded Financial Integrity Network, which helps businesses deal with the restrictions.

The costs of making a mistake can be quite hefty. For example, the French bank BNP Paribas agreed to pay $8.97 billion in fines after it was discovered it violated sanctions regimes between 2004 and 2012, when it did business with individuals and companies from Sudan, Iran, and Cuba, which have been sanctioned by the US.

The Reverse Side of the Sanctions
Whereas banks and legal firms have been seeking sanctions specialists, the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) sector has been vigorously seeking people who can help them bypass the produce embargo imposed by Russia, that is, they have been seeking experts in logistics and foreign trade. According to the website Superjob, the job of foreign trade manager was among the top jobs in terms of salary increases in 2017. The starting salaries for such specialists have increased by 18% since the beginning of the year.

The Price Tag
None of the vacancies on HeadHunter.ru that RBC examined contained information on the salaries of sanctions specialists. However, recruiters says the starting salary of a specialist with little work experience is 250,000 rubles a month.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to fill the positions quickly, admitted Anikina. Nor is it always clear how and where to find the right people, Yuri Dorfman, a partner at the agency Cornerstone, agreed with Anikina.

“This is not marketing, where the process for filling jobs is clear and formalized. The profession doesn’t exist officially,” he said.

Recently, Cornerstone managed to find a specialist for the compliance department at a bank. At his previous job, he had been employeed preventing money laundering, and monitoring and stopping illegal financial transactions. Sanctions specialists, a new and rare breed, are also aware of the demand and have been making the most of it. When moving to a new company, they ask for at least a thirty or forty percent raise, rather than the twenty percent pay rise customary on the market.

Felix Kugel, managing director of the recruitment company Unity, sees an experienced attorney who has a thorough knowledge of corporate law as the perfect sanctions specialist. The salary of an employee like this could be around 500,000 rubles a month [i.e., over 7,000 euros; by way of comparison, according to the website Trading Economics, the average montly salary in Russia as of October 2017 was 38,720 rubles or 556 euros, although regular readers of this website will know that real monthly salaries are often much lower in particular occupations and regions—TRR].

It is unlikely sanctions specialists will be unemployed.

“I would be glad if the sanctions were lifted, despite the fact I earn money from them,” said Zhavoronkov, “but I am confident this won’t happen in the near future.”

Zhavoronkov recalls the Jackson-Vannick amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, which limited trade with countries that restricted emigration and violated other human rights, e.g., the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Albania. It was officially abolished in 2012, although it had de facto ceased to function in 1987.

The new specialization will be in great albeit limited demand [sic] in Russia in the coming years, agreed Roman Kuznetsov. But additional knowledge about how the sanctions are structured would come in handy to all Russian banking, finance, and legal sector employees. Understanding the ins and outs of the sanctions means you have a good chance of increasing your salary by thirty to forty percent, we were told at Hays.

Restricted Area
The first set of sanctions, occasioned by the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Donbass, were imposed by the US, EU, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada in mid March 2014. Since then, the black lists have expanded due to the inclusion of personal sanctions (directed at specific people and companies affiliated with them) and sectoral sanctions (directed against individual industries and activities), and other countries and international organizations have joined the sanctions regime. Currently, the US has sanctioned over one hundred Russian nationals and companies, not counting foreign companies connected with sanctioned Russians. The EU has sanctioned 149 individuals and 38 companies.

Five Russian banks with ties to the Russian state have been sanctioned: Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, Rosselkhozbank, and Vnesheconombank. These financial institutions are not eligible for long-term financing abroad, and US and European investors are forbidden from buying shares and Eurobonds from these banks. In addition, the US has banned doing business with 33 companies in the Russian military-industrial complex, including Kalashnikov, Almaz-Antey, Rosoboronexport, Rostec, United Aircraft Corporation, and Russian Helicopters. The oil and gas industry is represented in the black lists by Rosneft, Transneft, Gazpromneft, NOVATEK, Gazprom, and Surgutneftegaz. The US and UE have imposed sanctions not only on banks, military-industrial companies, and oil and gas companies but also on completely “peaceful” firms, for example, the drinking water and beverage manufacturer Aquanika, a subsidiary of Gennady Timchenko‘s Volga Group.

In 2016, [former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the US Department of State] Victoria Nuland said in Kiev that the sanctions would not be lifted until Russia returned Crimea to Ukraine.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Stringer

Pay Your Rates

Gazprom Refuses to Name and Shame Russian Authorities Falling Behind on Bills
Moscow Times
March 29, 2017

Russian energy giant Gazprom has refused to name and shame regional governments for falling behind on their gas bills.

Previous press releases by the company had turned the spotlight on authorities who refused to pay up.

Gazprom’s last debt report in 2016 slammed local governments in Russia’s North Caucasus, reporting that officials in the region owed more than 48 billion rubles ($845 million)—more than 80 percent of all money owned to the company across Russia as a whole.

This year, the company took a less-confrontational approach, declining to name its main debtors despite a rise in outstanding payments. “Overdue payments remain an urgent problem,” the company said in a press release. “In 2016, it grew by about 6 percent, amounting to 161 billion rubles ($2.84 billion) as of January 1, 2017.”

Some have seen the change as part of a bid to appease Chechen leader Kadyrov after he locked horns with the energy company last month.

Kadyrov, whose government forms a vital part of Russia’s North Caucasus region, accused Gazprom of using “worn out” equipment. He said that the company’s “bad management” forced the Chechen people to live in “19th century conditions.”

“People pay for light, for gas, but the money just doesn’t get there,” Kadyrov said.

The Chechen government has long waged a campaign to see local energy assets handed over to Kadyrov’s safekeeping.

The Kommersant newspaper reported in February that Russian oil giant Rosneft could sell its assets to the Chechen republic in a multi-billion dollar deal.

The Chechen government also took control of property belonging to Chechenneftekhimprom—the state-owned company that controls the republic’s oil-refining and petrochemical industry—in December 2015 after repeated requests to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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That’s certainly a curious article.

I was walking round town the other day and came across several instances of Gazprom’s engaged in quite the opposite behavior, that is, naming and shaming ordinary flat dwellers to their neighbors for the money they had failed to pay the gentle folks who “hold[] the world’s largest natural gas reserves.”

The funny thing is that the worst gas-bill shirker in this particular block of flats, the bourgeois wrecker who lives in flat no. 48, owes mighty Gazprom the equivalent of a whopping 35 euros. The bastards in flats no. 35 and no. 41 owe a bit over nine euros each, but they’ve already been tied to the same whipping post as the foreign saboteur in no. 48.

The circumstances at a nearby block of flats is a bit more dire. Flat no. 58 has seemingly gone rogue, racking up an unseemingly debt of 245 euros. And yet Gazprom, which, as the Moscow Times article, above, suggests, has learned the lesson that discretion is the better part of wisdom, has also ratted out flat no. 9 for owing it the equivalent of eight euros fifty cents.

So the takeaway is that if you’re a North Caucasian republic, you can get away without paying your gas bill, which, I imagines, amounts to more than nine euros a month.

For the record, my monthly gas bill amounts to a little over six euros a month and I always pay it on time, such a fervid patriot am I.

But not everyone is conscientious as I am, as I saw a bit further down the same street, where Gazprom had named and shamed packs of shirkers wholesale—alas, to no avail.

Sigh. These folks don’t want to pay their rates at all, apparently.

Or maybe they can’t afford to pay them?

Well, that never stopped maniacal Russian debt collectors from going after debtors like Murder, Inc., carrying out a hit.

So pay your rates.

All photos by TRR

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Grigory Lourié: How to Understand the Russian Orthodox Church

Belfry of Our Lady of Vladimir Cathedral, Petersburg, June 15, 2016. Photo by TRR
Belfry of Our Lady of Vladimir Cathedral, Petersburg, 15 June 2016. Photo by TRR

How to Understand the Russian Orthodox Church
Grigory Lourié
Ekho Moskvy
February 24, 2017

There are people whom the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has succeeded in surprising. This group now includes not only its own parishioners but also utterly innocent folks. Their terms of reference for the ROC were at odds with reality. That is the sort of thing that happens with terms of reference, even when they emerged in the pure souls of first-year seminary students or, on the contrary, in the elastic souls of museum directors. It even happens that officials of a secular state, who by constitution are not supposed to have souls at all, conceive false terms of reference for the ROC.

We won’t discuss the question of how the ROC is “actually” organized. Our objective is modest: describing the terms of reference by which we can predict all of the ROC’s actions as a corporation, both internally and externally—meaning what makes it tick.

Attentive analysts have already conceived one model. It is correct albeit too crude, and so it leads to lots of mistakes. It is only around 60% accurate. But we shall start with it, and then we will modify it to make it 100% accurate.

I am referring to the so-called business model, which imagines the ROC as a corporation with a monopoly on the business of religious ritual. Its unattainable paragon is Gazprom. Like Gazprom, it wants to be ubiquitous from bottom to top, from the flats of poor people to the Kremlin and international politics. Like Gazprom, it is involved in the international rivalry over natural monopolies. (The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, its main competitor, grabbed it by the throat and forced it to release Ukraine.) Like Gazprom, the ROC is not in the business of historical preservation. You can put the religious ritual businessman into a museum, but you cannot turn him into a museum curator. The controversy surrounding the potential transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC is on a par with Gazprom’s attempt to build a skyscraper on the spot where the Swedish fortresses Landskrona and Nyenskans had once stood.

The business model, however, is at odds with the ROC’s other qualities. Real money likes silence, but the ROC likes money and hullabaloo at the same time. Its bishops enjoy a luxury worth of African chieftains, not modest millionaires. The inefficiency of slave labor is a scientific fact, but rank-and-file ROC clerics say that slavery was outlawed in Russia in the nineteenth century, but not for Russian priests. Finally, run-of-the-mill businesses do not defend their turf either with religious processions led by storm troopers or round dances featuring “pale boys with burning eyes,” whatever their age or sex.

These things are symptomatic of the emergence of archetypal regressive groups within the business. As described by British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, all three such so-called basic assumption groups find a place in our precise portrait of the ROC.

Screenshot of an advertisement posted on the VK social network page of Andrei Kormukhin, coordinator of the astroturfed Russian Orthodox lay movement Sorok Sorokov (SS), which can be translated as "Multitude." The poster invites Petersburgers to take part in a religious procession at St. Isaac's Cathedral on 19 February 2017. It urges them to "join the right ranks," and not a "faggot" [sic] or people wearing blue ribbons, the symbol adopted by Petersburgers opposed to the Gazprom skyscraper project on the Neva and now plans to hand over St. Isaac's to the ROC. In Russia, "blue" also connotes "gay." Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Screenshot of an announcement posted on the VK social network page of Andrei Kormukhin, coordinator of the fascist Russian Orthodox lay movement Sorok sorokov (SS). (The name of the movement should be translated as “Multitude,” rather than “Forty by Forty” or “Forty Forties,” as you might find in other Anglophone articles on right-wing extremism in the ROC.) The poster invites Petersburgers to take part in a religious procession at St. Isaac’s Cathedral on 19 February 2017. It urges them to “join the right ranks,” and not a “faggot” [sic] or people wearing blue ribbons, the symbol adopted by Petersburgers opposed to the earlier Gazprom skyscraper project on the Neva River and now plans to hand over St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC. In Russia, “blue” also connotes “gay.” Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

The model takes the shape of a living being, consisting of a fleshy body and the two halves of a thin exoskeleton. The body is the leadership from top to bottom, their subordinates, and the few believers who ask the clergy for advice on how they should live. In Bion’s terms, this is the dependency group. Junior members of the group are infantile and irresponsible vis-à-vis senior members, while the latter are narcissistic and sadistic toward their juniors. Sadomasochism provides everyone with a bit of happiness, even the most abject. The narcissism, typical of the group’s leaders, is often coupled with homosexuality. (This is a medical fact.) You cannot do without it, but not everyone can be allowed to engage in it. So it is a product of elite consumption and a means of climbing the career ladder.

The exoskeleton is the only thing visible from afar, from the vantage point of secular society. The skeleton is thin but sturdy, although it looks shabby, since it is constantly exfoliating.

The first section consists of the storm troopers. Bion labels them the fight-flight group.  They are always itching for a fight, and always on the lookout for enemies. There are not enough enemies, so they have fight each other and, sometimes, the leadership. The old layers of chitin thus peel away, even as the exoskeleton accumulates new layers.

Courtesy of slidesharecdn.com

The other section of the exoskeleton consists of idealists. They wait and they hope. They know everything about the leadership, but they believe in the Church. Not, however, in the Church that has canons and the examples of the saints, which show how bad church leaders need to be replaced and, most importantly of all, which oblige the faithful to do this. No, they believe in their own church, where “things have always been this way.” Bion call these groups pairing groups. They resemble married couples who go on hoping that Someone with a capital “s” will be born to give their lives meaning, but for the time being they wait and are barely alive. Some grow weary and leave the group, but they are replaced by new members.

Russia’s cultural figures thus “dialogue” with this combative creature, while the country’s officials stumble over themselves trying to sate its appetites, hoping it will cover their own ugliness with its beauty. You cannot even say who are the most inveterate idealists in this case. Judging by their persistent belief in beauty, it must be the government officials.

2682794Grigory Lourié is a bishop in the Russian Autonomous Orthodox Church. He blogs (as Basil Lourié) on Facebook and (as Bishop Gregory) on LiveJournal. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. For a different perspective on the fascization of the Russian Orthodox Church, see Nikolay Mitrokhin’s articles, as translated and posted on this blog.

The Scare (The Sequel)

“TNT. An American Spy at Gazprom. From February 6. The comedy serial ‘Adaptation.’ 8 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.” Central Petersburg, 2 February 2017. Photo by TRR

Why look for a new whipping boy when the dead horse you’ve been beating mock-ferociously for the last seventeen years shows no signs of giving up the ghost? Especially when you can play your profound, self-induced inferiority complexity and sheer intellectual bankruptcy for laughs, as it were.

Yep, no top-down, state-mandated anti-American hysteria round these parts. Just lots of good clean fun.

Meanwhile, back in the unreal world of Russian post-factual reality, it really is always more convenient to blame the mighty Americans for everything, especially total meltdowns within your hopelessly criminalized bureaucracy and security services, who operate like competing mafia gangs. TRR

Hooked

Stuck on the needle: oil and gas account for 98% of Russian corporate profits
Pavel Miledin
September 24, 2015
rbc.ru

RBC’s rating of the 500 largest Russian companies shows the real value of the oil and gas industry to the domestic economy. The contribution of all other companies to total gains—46 billion rubles in 2014—amounted to less than two percent

Andrei Molodkin, Hope, 2009. Acrylic block filled with Russian crude oil, edition of eight, 56 x 20 x 11 cm. Image courtesy of priskapasquer.com

According to Rosstat, Russia exported almost 500 billion dollars’ worth of goods in 2014; oil and natural gas accounted for 42% of this sum. In 2014, oil and gas revenues accounted for 7.4 trillion rubles or 51.3% of the country’s budget. If you look inside the corporate sector, the dependence on the oil and gas sector is even more impressive.

According to data from the RBC 500, a rating of the largest Russian companies, released on Wednesday, the total revenue of oil companies in 2014 amounted to 19.8 trillion rubles or 35.3% of the total revenue of all the companies in the rating, but 97.7% of all net profit, or 1.98 trillion rubles. All other sectors accounted for a mere 46 billion rubles of net profit. If only net profit is taken into account as the outcome of domestic business activity, there are, essentially, no other industries in Russia.

Our Everything
According to Oleg Buklemishev, director of the Economic Policy Research Center at the Moscow State University economics department, the date once again reveal the key story of the interaction between the Russian economy and the state, the agent that redistributes oil revenues.

“The whole history of attempts to diversify the economy has come precisely to this,” says Buklemishev.

This once again confirms that talk of diversifying the economy has just been talk, he adds.

Andrei Movchan, director of the Economic Policy Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, thinks there is nothing unusual about all this.

“Russia is an exporting country, and all other sectors of industry dwell in the shadows of the oil industry,” he says.

According to Movchan, this is particularly noticeable during a crisis, when currency prices for commodities continue to allow the oil sector to profit.

The oil and gas sector’s net profit in 2013 was also huge, but not to the same extent. Then it amounted to 79.2% of the overall net profit of companies listed in the RBC 500.

“The devaluation of the ruble is having an impact,” explains Natalya Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank.

Oil and gas companies, which sell their products for hard currency, have weathered the collapse of the national currency better.

Buklemishev draws attention to the fact that the beginning of 2014 was generally good for the economy, and the effect of the sanctions and falling oil prices began to impact Russian business in the second part of the year. As late as June 2014, Brent crude oil cost $114 a barrel, which helped the oil sector show good results.

It is all a matter of revalued hard currency, argues Oleg Vyugin, board chairman of MDM Bank.

“Oil companies are chockablock with hard currency,” he says by way of explaining their brilliant 2014 results.

It is no wonder the most profitable company was Surgutneftegaz. Due in large part to its revalued hard currency savings, it made 885 billion rubles of net profit, 43% of all profits among the RBC 500.

Crisis More Noticeable
Falling corporate profits among the RBC 500 companies reveal the crisis more vividly than official data. Profits fell by nearly half (45%) from 2013 to 2014: from 3.7 trillion rubles to 2 trillion rubles. However, according to Rosstat’s data, in 2014, profits of Russian companies fell by a mere 10%, from 6.5 to 5.9 trillion rubles. Moreover, according to official statistics, 72% of companies were profitable, while 28% made a loss. Among the RBC companies, the split was slightly different: 81% were profitable, while 19% were loss making.

Movchan argues the difference in the numbers may be due to several factors. There is a “sector bias” in the rating of the largest companies. By the end of 2014, the crisis had not yet reached several sectors, for example, the service sector, which is not represented in the rating due to the absence of large companies there. Buklemishev says the more noticeable drop in profits among RBC 500 companies speaks to the fact that business has been going through difficult times.

“Profit is still a controllable variable, and in a bad situation corporations might try and show less profit in order to pay fewer taxes,” he argues.

But a revenue growth of 14%—the RBC 500 companies earned 56 trillion rubles in 2014—is merely the outcome of high inflation.

“It is practically zero in terms of tangible results,” says Movchan.

Oleg Vyugin agrees with him. According to Rosstat, inflation in 2014 was 11.4% and GDP grew by 0.6%.

“The RBC 500 data, which show a slight real growth in revenue and a fall in profits, correspond broadly to the situation in the economy,” he argues.

Small Improvements
There are a few other things worth remarking on in the RCB 500 rating. In terms of revenue (or rather its equivalent, operating income), the financial sector came in second place after oil and gas. Banks and financial companies earned 6 trillion rubles in 2014, outpacing metals and mining. It would seem that a good result for the financial sector testifies to the diversification of the oil economy.

Movchan and Buklemishev note, though, that the financial system is a function of cash flows from the oil industry, just like, however, transport and retail trade. According to Buklemishev, in 2015, the performance of banks will not be so impressive, and the sector itself will make a loss. (In 2014, the banks and financial companies in the RBC 500 showed a profit of 13.1 billion rubles.)

Another trend economists are watching is the strong growth and high net profit margins (the ratio of net income to revenue) in the Internet and online retail sector (e.g., Yandex, Yulmart, Mail.Ru Group, and Wildberries). Here, net profit is more than 50% of revenue. The telecommunication sector has also performed well in terms of profitability (11%). With a profit margin of 10%, the oil and gas industry is only in third place.

The growth of e-commerce is, apparently, one of the few trends showing that a market economy can develop normally in Russia. Oleg Kuzmin, chief economist at Renaissance Capital, argues that growth in this sector is quite understandable: cash flows from the ordinary goods and services sector are being redirected to the Internet. Another reason is that the public has been attempting to reduce its expenditures by buying cheaper goods on the web. It is no wonder that economists have pointed out the low profit margin in the retail segment—3.5% in 2014.

It is interesting to see what yields more profit to foreign companies operating in Russia. Last year, they received 7.2 trillion rubles in revenue here and earned 211 billion rubles in profit. Despite the low margins, most of their profits came from retail trade (17%), the production and sale of alcohol and tobacco (17%), and finance (10.8%). How is that not a diversified economy within Russia’s oil economy?

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Russia rejects criticism of greenhouse gas plan, will not amend – top Putin adviser
Andrey Kuzmin
September 23, 2015
Reuters

MOSCOW, Sept 23 (Reuters) – Russia has rebuffed calls for a more ambitious plan to cut its carbon dioxide emissions after environmentalists branded its current pledge inadequate and backward looking.

The world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Russia pledged in March to keep its emissions at 25–30 percent below the level it generated in 1990, the year before the Soviet Union and its vast industrial complex collapsed.

Green groups say the pledge, made ahead of a global warming summit in Paris in December, is far too easy for Moscow to fulfill because 1990 was a time when Soviet industry was a notoriously prolific polluter whereas Russia’s industrial base today is much smaller.

A group of four global climate research groups, known collectively as Climate Action Tracker, have rated Russia’s pledge as ‘inadequate’, worse than the ‘medium’ assessment they have handed out to other big polluters such as China, the United States and the European Union.

But President Vladimir Putin’s top adviser on global warming dismissed such criticism during an interview on the sidelines of a Moscow meeting of the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change this week.

“It is their opinion, it does not reflect anything and is not objective,” Alexander Bedritsky told Reuters, saying Russia would stick to its current plan.

“They can say whatever they want, but our commitments are based on around 70 scenarios of how the climate system will be developing.”

It is unfair to compare the Kremlin’s commitments to those of developed economies such as the United States or European Union member states because Russia is still an economy in transition, he added.

Russia’s pledge stresses the importance of increasing energy efficiency and boosting the use of renewables.

“If the contribution of Russian forests is fully taken into account, limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 70-75 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 does not create any obstacles for social and economic development,” it says.

“TRAGIC PLEDGE”
With its gigantic reserves of oil, gas and coal, Russia emits 2 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent a year, making it the fourth largest producer of greenhouse gases after the United States, China and India.

According to Greenpeace, 85 percent of CO2 equivalent emissions in Russia come from its energy industry.

They and other green groups say Russia’s current programme is far too unambitious because the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse in 1990—the year the programme is pegged to—and its greenhouse gas emissions therefore fell sharply as the country’s industrial base shrank.

“This pledge is a tragedy, a catastrophe,” said Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace’s energy programme.

“With this 25–30 percent commitment they are basically saying: ‘Guys, we’re staying in the 20th century with our carbon-centered technology’.”

Chuprov and fellow environmentalists want Russia, the world’s biggest country by territory, to do much more, noting that its richest company—state-owned Gazprom—is the world’s leading corporate emitter of greenhouse gases.

ANDREI-MOLODKIN-artfair-superJumbo
Andrei Molodkin, Gazprom, 2012. Image courtesy of Orel Art, via Art Paris Art Fair

Specifically, Chuprov says Russia needs to expand its use of renewable energy and try to develop new power generating technologies or risk missing out on another technological revolution.

Currently, Russia gets 90 percent of its energy from carbon fuels such as oil, gas and coal, Chuprov said. Green groups estimate that only around 1 percent of the country’s energy needs comes from renewable sources.

Green groups such as Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund complain that central government in Russia does not consult them enough when it comes to formulating climate change policies.

Under its existing plan, Russia would fail to meet the goal set out by the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change to cut emissions to 50–80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, he said.

Bedritsky said Russia was already making good progress and that its greenhouse gas emissions would peak at 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. They will then fall or stay flat until 2030, he added.

“Our preparations for the (Paris) summit are not just good, we have achieved excellent results, announced our commitments on time up until the year 2020, and until 2025 and 2030,” said Bedritsky. “We will definitely fulfill our promise.”

(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Gareth Jones)