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FRIDAY BIZARRE

Our Look Back At Some Of The Weeks Most Bizarre Russo Political Moments

The Pope On The Myrotvorets Hit List

Pope Francis came in for a lot of criticism recently after he called for negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and that Kiev shouldn’t be afraid to compromise. That led to furious denouncements from Kiev as well as Brussels and Washington, making the Vatican a target for extremists. However, rumours that the Pope was added to the notorious Ukrainian Myrotvorets hitlist for assassination have been proven false. But the sight of multiple, senior Western politicians clamouring to publicly attack His Holiness will mean Purgatory will now call in China’s Belt & Road Initiative for additional infrastructure development across its seven terraces, as the arrivals space is becoming rather limited.

British Mercenaries Fighting For Russia

The UK Daily Mail carries a story about British mercenaries fighting with the Russian military. One of them, identified as Ben Stimson, stated ‘Every man takes his choice… a lot of us, the foreign volunteers, have chosen to come over to the Russian side.’ British media has said they are ‘Traitors, drug addicts, convicted thugs and an absolute disgrace’. That compares with British mercenaries fighting for Ukraine, who are described elsewhere as ‘Selfless, heroes, patriots and on the right side of history’. Well, to be fair, the UK should know. It is apparently one of the world centres for private military contractors, many of them with British Army backgrounds. Money talks huh? Given that foreign mercenaries in Russia will be given Russian passports as well as cash rewards, at least the UK should be grateful they are no longer a burden on the welfare state.

Whack-A-Mole Sanctions Busting 

According to Bloomberg, the Yemeni Houthi’s continue to create havoc against Western shipping in the Red Sea, courtesy of…Elon Musk’s Starlink network. SpaceX currently has some 5,500 Starlink satellites in low-earth orbit, while Starlink have sold about 2.6 million terminals, which with an approved subscription can access highly accurate GPS positioning. Yemen’s internet was cut off months ago, but the Houthi’s have a solution: Buy the Starlink terminals and subscriptions from approved dealers elsewhere. Dealers offer to purchase and activate kits in other African countries such as Mozambique, where they are licensed, and then deliver them to where wanted. Russia’s Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked if Russia uses any Starlink terminals in Ukraine, replying with an entirely straight face that “the software is not certified for use in Russia.”

Free Intelligence! Free Intelligence! Free Intelligence!  

A reminder to download the English language PDF of our 2024 Russia’s Pivot to Asia annual report if you haven’t already. It includes the following chapters about Russia’ trade and development with Europe, the Caucasus & Turkiye, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, ASEAN, China, Far East Asia, the African Continent, Latin America, as well as Russia’s Membership Of Multilateral Trade Organisations: the Eurasian Economic Union, Commonwealth of Independent States, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRICS and the Belt & Road Initiative. We also cover Russia-Asia Transport Corridors, the Northern Sea Route, the International North-South Transportation Corridor, Russia & the Digital Currency Revolution, Russia’s 2023/24 Productivity – and an Executive Summary.  Get yours here.  

The Russian language edition will be out next week. 

 

Russian Interference In The US Elections

This media gem will raise its head again in coming months, but as Statista have noted, Russia allocated about ₽33 billion (US$360 million) from its Federal budget to pay for the recent 2024 Presidential elections. The US in contrast is pretty opaque about how much it spends on holding Presidential elections (Can any readers make any sense of this) but in terms of the candidates themselves, Trump and Biden blew an estimated US$16.48 billion in the 2020 campaign, with 2024 projected to be even more costly. Whichever, basic back on envelope maths indicates that US election spending seems to dwarf the Russian election budget by a factor of at least 50 times. And Russia influences US election results? LOL.

Putin – The Facts

While the West is up in arms about Russian President Putin being re-elected for the fifth time, here’s a quick snapshot of some of the reasons why. Autocratic? Or just good at his job? 

BRICS without China

The well-meaning, but slightly short of a Golubsti King of Eswatini, (the country previously known as  Swaziland) has stated that his Kingdom, the last Monarchy in Africa, would like to join BRICS. He made the announcement at meetings in Taipei, stating that “If China does not object in anyways, this would be the best time for Eswatini to join this alliance, with the hope that this would not influence our relations with one of our best diplomatic allies with Taiwan.”

Hungry?

A recipe for a Pigs Ear salad is here.

Huawei, Samsung, or Apple?

The smart phone market in Russia is dominated by Chinese products, most notably Huawei, whose phones commanded a whopping 79% of all smartphone imports into Russia last year. In total, the Russian smart phone market is worth US$7 billion annually.

But both Apple, who sold US$2 billion worth of product that ended up in Russia in 2023 (see our Russia’s Pivot to Asia PDF guide for details on that) and Samsung saw market share decline. Why is this trend happening? Crucially, Apple and Samsung have been disconnecting the MIR app from their phones making Russian banking access for users very awkward following pressure under sanctions. Meanwhile, Apple were fined US$2 billion by the EU earlier this month for…you guessed it – preventing certain apps on their products in contravention of EU anti-trust fair competition rules.        

Russia’s Reciprocal Cancel Culture

Well, there isn’t one. As President Putin stated on Wednesday, Russia has no intention of cancelling any country’s culture. He said that “Moscow has no plans to respond in kind.” While numerous Russian cultural concerts overseas have been cancelled, the Mariinsky (St.Petersburg) is performing works in April by Bach, Beethoven, Massenet, Meyerbeer, Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, and Wagner, let alone the Russian repertoire. And that’s just in week 1. Meanwhile, European Netflix subscriptions surged by 13.1 million in January/February 2024, with price hikes also expected this year. Sort of Tchaikovsky (whose ‘Sleeping Beauty is also on this month) competing with Evil Dead 6. Take your pick!     

Fashionista Report! Smoking Hot Pants!

Louboutin shoes – those super expensive, red soled designer chic items from Paris – have always wisely used Russian dealers to distribute their products in Russia. Good news! Russia’s footwear imports, according to “The Shoes Report” increased by 47% in 2023. All of which is true, as well as a great excuse to show the video by the legendary “Leningrad” rock band who (with the help of Victoria Beckham) did so much to sell the brand to Russia’s super chic. The message: wear Louboutin’s – and someone will marry you. Awww… The video, for those of you who haven’t seen it – with English subtitles – is here. Louboutin – which is still privately held – had revenues of a quarter of a billion dollars in 2023.    

Meanwhile, in January and February 2024, more than half of all new shopping centre openings (25/45) in St.Petersburg were in fashion retail.

Food For Thought

What we’ve been reading:  

Keep Safe. And have a great weekend!
Russia’s Pivot To Asia

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