Katactpodpa!* (*Catastrophe!): Russians run out of booze
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
Published: 09 July 2006
Buying a bottle of whisky in Moscow has become mission impossible. Shelves once full of imported wine, increasingly popular in the booming capital, have been swept clear. Could vodka, Russia's national drink, be next?
Famed for their hard drinking, Russians are facing the country's most serious alcohol shortage in 20 years. Not since Mikhail Gorbachev, then Soviet president, tried to crack down on alcoholism by curbing vodka sales has there been such a crisis.
This time the drought is not the result of an anti-alcohol campaign, but of a bureaucratic bungle worthy of the most benighted Communist official. The aim was to stamp out fraudulently labelled bootleg alcohol, which can poison or even kill the unlucky consumer, but far-reaching measures against counterfeiting have had all kinds of unforeseen effects.
A date that has come to be known as "Black Saturday", 1 July, was the deadline for introducing new barcoded excise labels for all imported alcohol, and for including them in a new electronic database and tracking system. But nobody, from the Federal Customs Service to alcohol producers and off-licence operators, appears to have been prepared.
In the tradition of Soviet absurdism, most retailers were not issued with the new excise labels. The result was that they had to sell off all their foreign wines and spirits at bargain prices before the end of June, or simply send the booze back to the warehouse. Apart from vodka, almost all wines and spirits that are fit to drink come from outside Russia; the only alternatives are sparkling white wines from the south of the country or cheap, locally-produced beer, which is looked upon here as a soft drink.
Supermarkets have taken to filling the space previously occupied by whisky, gin, tequila and French and Australian wines with their traditional accompaniments, tubes of crisps and packets of peanuts, which is simply exacerbating the frustration. [..]
It could be three months before the authorities get their act together, according to industry insiders - and by then vodka could be becoming hard to find. Production of the spirit slumped by 20 per cent in the first half of this year, and there are long delays in getting supplies to retailers, thanks to the same problem-plagued electronic tracking system.
The only people who are pleased are health officials, who have been battling, mostly unsuccessfully, for years to persuade Russians to moderate their drinking habits. Alcoholism is blamed for the country's low life expectancy, which is only 59 for Russian men.
[The Russian state] gives the people enough to pre-empt serious discontent, but not enough to create the preconditions for an upheaval.
Russia's greens battle to halt 'super-resort'
13 September 2006
Russian ecologists have launched a last-ditch legal battle to save one of Europe's most pristine national parks from being turned into a sprawling winter sports complex for the country's rich.
Greenpeace Russia accuses the Kremlin of putting profits and sport before the environment by approving a £6bn project to turn the area surrounding the Black Sea resort of Sochi into a ski resort fit to host an Olympic Games.
The area includes one of the few large mountain ranges in Europe - the Western Caucasus - that has not experienced significant human impact.
Its subalpine pastures have only been grazed by wild animals, many of which are unique to the region, and tourist numbers to the area have been restricted.
But all that looks set to change after President Vladimir Putin, who famously uses Sochi's snow-covered mountains for skiing and its subtropical climate for sunbathing, threw his weight behind the city's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
In an attempt to edge out its rivals - Salzburg in Austria and Pyongchang in South Korea - he has sanctioned an ambitious building programme that will transform the region and appears set to go ahead regardless of whether or not Sochi's Olympic bid is successful. Some of Russia's richest oligarchs and most powerful state-controlled corporations have been given the green light to develop huge swaths of land that were formerly considered sacrosanct.
Oligarchs participating include Oleg Deripaska, who is Russia's sixth-richest man and is worth almost £5bn according to Forbes magazine, and Vladimir Potanin, who, with an estimated £4bn fortune is the country's ninth-wealthiest individual.
The state-controlled firm Gazprom, the world's largest gas producer, is also heavily involved in the development plan. About 52,000 hectares of Sochi's 190,000-hectare national park have been earmarked for development and the entire area is on the brink of a radical transformation. Construction of one of several ski resorts has already begun and a high-speed rail link and a hydrological power station are also planned, not to mention an Olympic Village.
But Greenpeace Russia, which is suing the government in the Supreme Court in an attempt to halt the project, argues that an environmental impact assessment has not been carried out and says that the law has in effective been broken to fast-track a development which has the personal imprimatur of Mr Putin. The stakes are high, as environmentalists regard the area as unique.
It is home to about 300 endemic plant species, 160 of which are endangered, as well as wolves, brown bears, lynx, a population of European bison that has been reintroduced, and endangered leopards and bats. But Greenpeace warns that one quarter of the Sochi National Park will be destroyed in the building frenzy. The group is also concerned that developers are being allowed to build in a precious "buffer zone" bordering the Unesco-listed Kavkazky nature reserve.
"We're talking about virgin territory where agriculture and other economic development has not been allowed in the past," Greenpeace's Mikhail Kreindlin said. "It [the development] is a very serious threat. [..]"
Dmitri Chernyshenko, the general director of Sochi's Olympic Bid Committee, stressed that no development would take place in the Kavkazky reserve itself. "All our plans have been agreed with the pertinent authorities and won't damage the environment," he said.
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What are the most common misconceptions of Russians?
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How about misunderstandings...another-words, individuals tend to have a picture in their mind of how things are done in Russia. Sometimes, this picture is wrong. So, what are some things about Russia that are incorrect?
Is it true that over half the population has drinking problems?
We have been told (on this thread) that the criminal elements control the neighborhoods.
Recent newspaper articles reported the Russian population was in decline.
Europe's Long Legal Tether on Russia
Court of Human Rights a Powerful Check on Excesses, Abuses
[..] While President Vladimir Putin has been marginalizing Russia's parliament, opposition, media and human rights groups, this international court [the European Court of Human Rights] sitting 1,250 miles away in Strasbourg, France, has emerged as a powerful check on the excesses of the Russian bureaucracy and failures by the country's own investigative organs and courts [..].
The European Court has entered Russian popular consciousness as a port of last resort for those seeking justice because the Russian state does bow to its judgments -- albeit with some very public grumbling. [..]
Russians now file more complaints with the court -- 10,583 in 2005 -- than people from any of the 46 countries that make up the Council of Europe, according to court statistics. [..]
Since 2002, the court has issued 362 judgments concerning Russia -- on issues ranging from environmental degradation to, most recently, abductions, disappearances and killings in Chechnya [..]. All but 10 judgments have gone against Russia, according to court statistics. [..]
"The Russian authorities care about the Council of Europe and the court, and they take it seriously," [Ole Solvang, executive director of the Russian Justice Initiative in Moscow,] said. "We see that in our cases. There is a complete change in attitude towards a case, a disappearance case, for example, when the government learns the case has been filed with the European Court." [..]