Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has become her country’s premier fashion icon, patriotic consumer and ambassador for China’s often maligned designers and manufacturers, who need every bit of international prestige they can get.
Bloggers and analysts follow her every skirt, shoe and handbag choice with breathless enthusiasm. But her stubborn choice of an Apple iPhone over plentiful but not particularly distinguished Chinese brands had, at least until last weekend, become a sore point with the tech savvy and social media trawling public. Read more
It was in 1974 that Yuri Mamleev, a Moscow dissident author, finally decided he had had enough of being banned from publishing. He and his wife took a decision that was then increasingly common for Soviet intellectuals – they emigrated.
Mamleev was part of the so called “third wave” of USSR emigration – the first wave left in the 1920s fleeing the Bolshevik takeover, the second escaped from World War II, while the third, Mamleev’s generation, was driven out mainly by censorship.
And today there may be the beginning of a fourth wave. Economist Sergei Guriev’s flight to France last month may revive the controversial tradition of political exile. Read more
As Russia’s economy slows, one name comes up more and more in conversations – that of Alexei Kudrin, the former finance minister who either resigned or was sacked, depending on whom you talk to, in September 2011.
Kudrin has an unrivalled reputation for economic management, earned in more than a decade in office, before he fell foul of a rivalry with Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev, who was president at the time and is now prime minister, accepted Kudrin’s resignation after Kudrin publicly said he wouldn’t work with Medvedev. Read more
State-owned Rosneft buys TNK-BP Photo Bloomberg
Russia’s government did its best on Wednesday to affirm its continued commitment to privatisation plans, despite carrying out what is in effect the largest nationalisation in post-Soviet history this week.
Andrei Belousov, economy minister, insisted that the purchase of 100 per cent of oil company TNK-BP by state company Rosneft did not mean the government was rethinking its commitment to rolling back state ownership of the economy. Read more
During the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the ultimate status symbol / luxury accessory was a personal armoured train. In 1991, amid the collapse of communism in the USSR, the must have, high concept tool of democratic subversion was the VCR.
And if the current round demonstrations which have broken out in Moscow since last December ever acquire historical proportions, they will be known as the era of the smartphone. Read more
Russian authorities are mulling tax changes that could raise borrowing costs for Russian companies on the international eurobond market by as much as 20 per cent, according to lawyers familiar with the matter.
On Thursday Moscow newspaper Vedomosti reported on a letter from deputy finance minister Sergei Shatalov to the head of Russia’s tax service recommending that they look into levying withholding taxes on interest paid to eurobond holders living abroad. Since the issuers usually pay such taxes, the direct responsibilityould fall on the Russian borrowers, not the investors. Read more
The International Monetary Fund has this week cut Russia’s 2012 growth forecast to 3.3 per cent from 4.1 per cent, a sign that the Fund believes Russia especially vulnerable to a slowdown in global growth. The global growth number for 2012 was cut from 4 per cent to 3.3 per cent.
Most analysts have been cutting Russia forecasts, but the IMF is even more pessimistic than they are. According to Ivan Tchakarov of Renaissance Capital, the Moscow investment bank, this is not a good sign. Read more
Russia’s total capital outflows in 2011 were $84bn as political uncertainty in the fourth quarter caused volumes to rise sharply.
However, while the year’s outflows are the second largest ever recorded in absolute terms, they are not as significant when measured against overall GDP. Read more
Russia’s winter holidays are a sacred ritual in Russia, two weeks starting at New Year’s eve when green bottles of Sovetskoe champagne become ubiquitous and the people go en masse to their dachas.
Government offices, banks, and most of the private sector completely shuts down. But this year there is an important exception: Moscow’s stock market has remained open in an effort to advertise its increasingly global ambitions. Read more
Kremlinology has never been an exact science. During the Cold War, teams of CIA analysts would pore over the seating order of the May Day parade bandstand to see who was up and who is down, while today, experts parse Dmitry Medvedev’s tweets and Vladimir Putin’s bulging neck veins for any clues as to the future pecking order.
But one indicator of succession has never failed in more than a century: the bald/hair dichotomy. Read more
With markets in panic mode, Russia has not escaped the global sell-off. Capital flight and the expectation of lower oil prices has put pressure on the stock market and on the rouble which has this week plunged to its lowest since September 2009, when the country was emerging from a currency run.
Since the beginning of the month, the Micex stock index has fallen by 12 per cent and the rouble by 7 per cent against a basket of euros and dollars used by the central bank to set the exchange rate. Read more
A Russian TV “mockumentary” which described the fictional collapse of the world economy sent thousands of Russians rushing to sell dollars early on Tuesday, apparently believing that that they were watching real television coverage of a global run on the dollar.
“The End of the Dollar Epoch”, an hour long programe aired on Russia’s state channel 1, caused the dollar to dip slightly in morning trading after the programme aired late Monday night, and foreign exchange kiosks reported heavy dollar sales before word got out that the dollar was still in good stead on financial markets. Read more
Is president Dmitry Medvedev using privatization to get a second term as president?
If so, he would not be the first Russian president to use that gambit to energize a re-election campaign. In 1996, Boris Yeltsin, with a 3 per cent approval rating, was seen as unlikely to win against communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov. But Yeltsin’s campaign manager, Anatoly Chubais, came up with a brilliant strategy to assure victory – sell off mountains of state property in the infamous “loans for shares” programme, creating a new class of property owners who would stand to lose everything if Yeltsin lost, and thus threw their resources behind the president and secured victory. Read more
In Russia the slightest hint of disagreement between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is a media sensation.
And Vedomosti duly delivered one on Wednesday, reporting that at a meeting with business leaders and oligarchs, sandwiched in between a disaster report on the sunken Bulgaria cruise ship, and afternoon head-banging session with the mayor of Moscow and the governor of Moscow Oblast, Medvedev had met around the table at his leafy residence at Gorky with over two dozen of Russia’s top business leaders. Read more
The first thing that sets Dmitry Medvedev apart from all the others is the grin. By “all the others” we mean other high ranking Russian figures, both historical and present day. In a country where companies send employees to boot camp to learn to smile at customers, where dour is the required demeanour in the business world, smiling without good cause is a bit suspicious. Guidebooks tell you to tone it down – that if you walk around Moscow smiling you will be taken for an escaped mental patient or paedophile.
Seen from this perspective, the Russian president’s penchant for smiling amounts to a dangerous political risk. But it is also the thing that gives Medvedev his own political brand. Read more
Russia’s central bank raised interest rates today for the first time since 2008, signaling that inflation concerns now outweigh sluggish credit growth and rouble appreciation as the bank’s chief preoccupation.
Then bank raised rates by 25 basis points Friday, to 8 per cent, ending a two year cycle of rate cuts begun in April 2009 when the bank began cutting its benchmark refinancing rate from 13 per cent to 7.75 per cent in May. Rates have been on hold for the last 8 months. Read more
Will Russia’s Muslims catch the Middle East’s revolution bug? It is not something the Kremlin is ruling out, apparently.
Russia has been publicly critical of the popular uprisings that have swept the Middle East since the start of this year. President Dmitry Medvedev (pictured) earlier this week called the revolutionaries “fanatics” during a security meeting, and said: “All that is happening there will have a direct impact on our situation … This is a large complex problem which requires serious effort over a very long time.” Read more
It’s Russia, in the freezing dark middle of January, and you have a pre-paid air ticket and hotel voucher for a week of sun on Egypt’s Red Sea coast. Only trouble is, the country is in flames. What do you do? If you’re like many Russian tourists, the matter is simple: grab your flip flops and go. Read more
With the price of oil above $100 a barrel, Russia’s federal budget is starting out 2011 in the black. The country’s budget balances at about $95 per barrel and it will be interesting to see how it uses its windfall oil surplus. Read more
Trusted public institutions are a rarity in Russia, roughly on the scale of the Higgs boson particle in quantum physics – theoretically possible, but very hard to find.
However, investors may soon have a new chance to buy a slice of one of these rare items. The third most trusted public institution in Russia turns out to be state-controlled Sberbank, which is set to privatize a 7 per cent stake worth around $5.5bn in the not too distant future. Read more