Sunday, December 27, 2009

What does unrest in Iran mean for Azerbaijan?

I read this article today, and thought about the implications of the unrest in Iran. Consequences are unpredictable. Will government opponents in Azerbaijan see the tyrants fall in Iran, and think about their own tyrants at home. What about the economic consequences - as a huge oil producer faces domestic unrest? What about the repercussions in countries that are dominated by Muslim fundamentalists? Potentially, the fall of the regime in Iran could affect any number of political and economic equilibria.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Recycling, even in Russia

I came across this piece today on the BBC site. Just a look at a huge problem. I don't think there is anything inherently "Russian" about the problem of implementing a system for recycling waste - except the old Soviet mindset that tended to externalize real costs. Resources are not limitless and the environment can not be exploited endlessly. Western countries deal with this mindset too - an attitude that dies hard.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What do you think about climate change and Copenhagen?

Here's yet another survey to probe readers opinions about current issues of the day.
Click here to take survey

Russia cannot afford its smoking habit

RFL/RFE has a good article about a problem that is not new but merits more attention from journalists and policy makers. Everyone knows about the problem with alcoholism. Less discussed is the problem with smoking in that country. I'm not sure it was worse last year when I lived in Moscow than when I moved to St. Petersburg more than 10 years ago. Probably the quality of cigarettes is different. It more rare to see people smoking papirosi - especially in cosmopolitan Moscow & St. Petersburg. But the "Western" style Marlboros and Camels are just as deadly.

The problem with drinking is evident. Its signs are as clear as the drunk you need to avoid in the metro. Nicotine addiction is much more insidious. Its costs are not so immediate - but they are just as real and the threat to Russia is just as serious.

Daunting, complex, and of primary importance

Mikhail Gorbachev and Aleksandr Likhotal have an article out today in the European Voice. Gorbachev needs no introduction. Likhotal is president of Green Cross International and a member of the Climate Change Task Force (CCTF).

The column is fine - and I agree with its essence - about the importance of achieving real progress to address the problem of climate change. But the authors make an interesting point that highlights just how difficult the problem is. Understandably, they make reference to the critical issue of nuclear disarmament.

"In 1985 during the height of the Cold War, when negotiations were bogged down at the US-Soviet Union Geneva Summit, the negotiators were instructed by their leaders annoyed by lack of progress, “we do not want your explanations why this can't be done. Just do it!” And it was done by the morning. Today's leaders must come to Copenhagen and say, 'We want this done!'"

This is fine - but the analogy is not so apt. In comparison with the climate change talks, the bilateral negotiations between the USA & the USSR look almost simple. We had two principal actors in the negotiations. There were tangential economic issues, but they were not driving the argument against nuclear disarmament. The issue of reparations or compensation did not exist. The arguments about the certainty of scientific predictions were not relevant.

It's enough to make you nostalgic for the Cold War!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Economy as a science

This afternoon I came across this news blurb on ITAR-TASS. Funny. A big conference where more than 1,000 papers on the Russian economy will be presented. The fundamental problems of the economy are not so mysterious or technical. Excessive reliance on raw materials, especially oil & gas. Corruption. And a lack of democracy that allows this corruption to survive and even thrive. The problem is not knowing the technical problems of the Russian economy. The problem is getting the people who benefit from the current state of affairs to relinquish their privileges for the sake of the country as a whole. It's a mess. I wish them every success - but it will take more than conferences to fix Russia's economy.

Day of Mourning in Russia

Russia has declared a day of mourning for the victims of the nightclub fire in Perm. This tragedy has had a big impact on the country, which has suffered so many disasters in its long history. Is the proximity of the coming New Year's celebrations a factor? Perhaps. Some first person accounts of the tragedy can be found here.

Power of the bloggers

This is an apt comment from an Azerbaijani artist. You don't need to understand Azerbaijani to get the point. The power of the state versus bloggers trying to discuss the problems of their country openly.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


How do you feel about the new policy announced by President Obama last night? Here's your chance to offer an opinion.