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Russian police are putting the brakes on trying to control the ever-growing inflow of stolen foreign cars. Instead, if a Moscovite driver is found in possession of a car stolen from the West, the street cop will simply issue a one-year permit -- if no foreigner claims the hot car by then, the vehicle becomes naturalized. "We have more important things than just to babysit cars belonging to Westerners,'' said a traffic police officer, adding "Westerners are rich enough to afford a new car if the old one is stolen.'' 

(Geneva) While Westerners may be living longer than ever, the news is not so good for Russian men - at least those who don't live long enough to see 58 birthdays, according to the World Health Organization. Russian men's lifespans peaked at 65 years in 1987, but due to declining health care, the current average life expectancy is down to 57.7 years - below the level of many African countries. Russian women are doing better; their average life expectancy is 71 years.

(Washington, DC) My company published an English version of the influential Soviet newspaper, Literaturnaya Gazeta, in the United States. Our Soviet partners would ship us the large newspaper-size negatives from Moscow to Washington, rolled up snug in a cardboard tube. Since the newspaper's editor-in-chief was a high-ranking official in the Supreme and Gorbachev confidant (Fyodor Burlatsky), the tube could be specially delivered via diplomatic pouch on Aeroflot flights, passed directly to the pilot for handoff to the stateside Aeroflot counter at Dulles Airport, where I would promptly pick it up. Regular as clockwork. Except for the week when Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev was in Washington for a summit, and security was extra sharp. KGB officers confiscated the pouch from the unaware pilot -- that poor innocent -- and routed the negatives to the Soviet consulate. From there a functionary called me to come pick the parcel up. No problem I said, glad I wouldn't have to trek all the way out to Dulles but only across town to consulate row -- a quick trip after lunch. Twenty minutes later, again called the functionary, this time more insistent that I come retrieve the tube immediately.

So, off in a taxi to the Soviet consulate, asking the driver to wait curbside a few minutes till I returned. Once inside and identified, I was quickly surrounded by a circle of large Soviet officers and escorted into a small side room, with the exit effectively blocked. "What exactly is the purpose of these negatives, coming from Moscow in such an unusual way?" demanded the brusque leader of the pack. With a disarming grin, I was able to explain the nature of the negatives, the close relationship we had the powerful Literaturnaya Gazeta, and with a bite dropped the name of our ranking Soviet partner. The room quickly cleared, I was awarded the tube, and cheerily escorted to the door. Outside the taxi driver was miffed, thinking I had stiffed him on a fare. He said he was about to call the police. I suggested if an American goes into the Soviet consulate and doesn't come back out, call the FBI! The CIA! The State Department! With a large tip in his hand, he dropped me back at our Hall of States headquarters, where my boss chortled at the tale.

(Klyuchi) In an instance of necessity hatching good ideas, some Siberian farmers are using chicken eggs to cover their ticket toll into the local movie theater. Many of the farmers haven't been paid in months, so the neighborhood cinema began bartering for movie tickets -- two eggs instead of the 15-cent admission. Problem is that chickens lay fewer eggs during the cold Siberian winter, so the movie theater has also been accepting empty bottles, sold in turn to bottle-users such as liquor stores.

(Moscow) Josef Stalin played a positive role in Soviet history. That, anyway, says nearly one-third of Moscovites in a recent poll. However half of the surveyed say they do not care for Stalin, the USSR's iron ruler from 1924 till his death in 1953. Of those polled, people older than 55 were three times more likely to approve of Stalin than those under 25.

(Moscow) Forget calling someone with big ears "Dumbo" says a group of Russian researchers. They've found that longer ears indicate special abilities, depending on the differences between right and left ear size. A left ear longer than the right suggests a greater proclivity for the sciences, while an extra millimeter or two on the right might indicate better abilities in humanitarian disciplines. The grander ear on either side reflects which brain hemisphere is dominant, according to the study of children's ear size.

(Berezniki) Four people in this Ural Mountain city have been arrested for selling human flesh as veal, after police found the corpse of an elderly man in a suspect's apartment. A police investigation continues.

(St. Petersburg) How to protect the earth from galactic attack ... comets and asteroids, that is. The subject attracted the world's scientific community to Russia to figure out defenses against cosmic collisions with space debris. The conference was organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Theoretical Astronomy and the International Institute of Asteroid Danger. The long-term goal: creation of a global anti-asteroid protection system.

(Volgograd) The environment has become so hazardous in this southern Russian city that officials will issue 60,000 gas masks to local citizens. The region has suffered from a plague of accidents and fires releasing toxic wastes into the air above this city on the Volga River. About one-million people live in Volgograd -- formerly Stalingrad -- a major industrial center for steel, chemicals and oil refining.

(Itar-Tass) The coordinator of the Women of Russia movement, Yekaterina Lakhova, says stability in the country is threatened by a lack of women in government offices. She says women make up a half of Russia's workers, and are better educated than Russian men. "However there are practically no women in government at the decision-making level," she says. Nor are there women among regional leaders, the heads of legislative bodies, the mayors of major cities or ambassadors to foreign countries, she complains. 

(Edinburgh) Scotland based Buddhists are raising funds to buy a ex-military building in Moscow and convert it into a Buddhist temple. They'll need to do a lot of rubbing on the Buddha's belly to raise the $200,000 for the deposit on the building, though Russians have already contributed $50,000 toward the fund.

(St. Petersburg) Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia has sanctified the Church of Saint Sofia, which has been reconstructed over the last four years. The 19th century church was formerly of Count Shuvalov's family estate, and presently is part of the Ioann women's monastery.

(London) British sugar moguls are a bit dismayed that Russian production of the sugar-intensive "samogon" moonshine is in decline. The potent brew distilled from sugar, water, and anything else in the cupboard -- such as potatoes or bread -- once accounted for 10 percent of Russia's sugar consumption. Samogan uses a kilogram of sugar to make just one liter of the fiery drink, fermented to super-intoxicating levels in just 10 days. The homemade moonshine has been displaced by less-lethal and cheaper imports.

(Vladivostok) Siberian tigers may soon breath their last, if Russian poachers continue to hunt the prized animals for their coveted skins. Wildlife officials estimate only 200 of the tigers remain, down from 300 in 1991. The prized tiger pelts sell for thousands of dollars in Asia, says Russia's chief of the tiger division of the Regional Wildlife Protection Committee.

(Moscow) The largest threat to Russian reforms, says first deputy Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, is an all-pervasive corruption throughout all spheres of Russian society. Some 14,000 corruption cases have been handed to the courts over the last two years. Chaika says banking is the "most crime-ridden sphere," followed by health care. "Untraditional" forms of bribery -- such as recreation services and appointments to well-paid jobs -- are becoming more commonplace, he says.

(Russia) Russians are saying "hot dog!" to good ol' made-in-the USA frankfurters -- their country has become the leading importer of the wieners. Last year Russia chowed down some 53 million pounds of US sausage and bologna, most of that in the form of hot-dogs. That's up from 25 million pounds a year earlier. "It's a fairly inexpensive product that gives them very cheap calories," says a top US hot-dog exporter.

(Amursk) A glut of silkworms may be causing catastrophe for local vegetation, but it's a bonanza for Russian schoolchildren in the region who are reaping 1,000 rubles (about 20 US cents) for every jar of the creepy crawlies they collect. The silkworms have gobbled most of the greenery in Amursk, and city leaders have had no other recourse but to turn to the children, who have each gathered more than two gallons of the pests daily.

(Itar-Tass) Russian foreign minister Evgeny Primakov says Moscow will oppose three negative trends in the Western world directed at his country: 1) The tendency to paint the "winners and losers" in the "Cold War" in terms of "black and white." 2) The attempt by capitalist dominators to create a "unipolar world," rather than moving towards a more "multipolar model." 3) The new Russia is entering the world economy viewed simply as a "raw materials appendage." Primakov says these trends need to be countered by Russian foreign policy.

(Brussels) Russian has become the most popular language across the European continent, according to a survey by Eurostat. Adding the European Union's 286 million citizens to Eastern Europe's 269 million, 35 percent of the total understand Russian, compared to English at 28 percent, German at 20 percent and French at 17 percent. The citizens of Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg were the most polylingual. Coming in as the least useful European languages: Portuguese, Greek and Finnish.

(Books) Gregory Rasputin, the mad-monk confidant to Russia's last czarina, was not easily killed by his enemies: they poisoned, stabbed and shot him, yet he still lived for several hours before he was finally drowned - all in one long night of murderous conspiracy. How was this intriguing tale reported in the heavily censored czarist press of the day? Like this: "A certain person visited another person with some other persons. After the first person vanished, one of the other persons stated that the first person had not been at the house of the second person, although it is known that the second person had visited the first person late at night." Want to fill in the blanks? Read The Man Who Killed Rasputin by Greg King.

(Moscow) More than five million Russians work in harmful conditions, according to the Itar-Tass news service. An all-Russian conference on labor safety pointed at unsafe manufacturing equipment as the biggest risk to workers. Safety advocates are calling for adoption of "economic methods of the management of labor safety," says the report.

(Moscow) Russia was home to nearly 8,000 different crime rings of at least 30 members each in 1995, says a senior official with the Russian organized crime directorate. The official says some 140 Russian crime "families" are operating abroad, half of them in Germany and 15 percent in the United States. Russian and U.S. leaders signed a 1995 agreement cooperating in the fight against mobster crime.

(Bonn) Where does Russia stand in a survey of 54 different countries for the most corrupt? Well, not at the bottom. That was reserved for Nigeria, followed by Pakistan and Kenya. Russia came in at 47th place, in the vicinity of China (50th) and India (46th). Coming in at first place as the least corrupt country is New Zealand, followed closely by Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Canada and Norway. A few other corruption ratings, from worse to best behaved: Italy (34th), France (19th), Japan (17th), United States (15th), Germany (13th), and Britain (12th). "Much of the corruption in the developing countries is the direct result of corrupt multinational corporations," says Peter Eigen, director of the Berlin-based anti-corruption group Transparency International.

(Switzerland) Who's the top competitor on the world's economic battlefield? Not a big surprise: it's the fiscally pugnacious USA. That's according to the annual World Competitiveness Yearbook, published by the International Institute for Management Development. Moving down the ranking ladder, stands Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Denmark on the 2nd to 5th place rungs. Switzerland and Germany have slipped to 9th and 10th places, while Britain and France are in 19th and 20th place. Russia comes in last at 46th.

(London) But what inquiring minds REALLY want to know is which countries are the world's top SEX superpowers. This time Russia comes in first, with the USA in the inferior second place. Russians engage in doing "it" 135 times a year on the average, while Americans average 133. That's still more than twice as often as the less-lascivious Spanish (64 times). The London International Group (makers of Durex condoms) surveyed 10,000 sexually active adults in 15 countries about their love lives. Voted the most considerate lovers: Canadians, Mexicans and Britons.

(Ottawa) The Russian mafia is taking root in Canada, which has Toronto police pondering how to counter the invasion. The Russian mobsters are increasing their take ranging from petty street crimes, to extortion and laundering millions of dollars through real estate deals. Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary have also become unfortunate hosts to Russian crime families.

(Warsaw) The Russia-Belarus union has nearly half of Poland's people feeling a little edgy, according to a recent poll by the CBOS agency. Forty-seven percent of the Poles says the alliance poses a threat, while 36 percent says it does not. The treaty was signed on April 2, 1996 establishing a Community of Sovereign Republics between Russia and Belarus. The accord signals Russia's plans to rebuild a Soviet-era empire, says 63 percent of the survey respondents.

(Moscow) Russian diabetics will be able to receive a dose of "sugar-level reducing" medicines and foodstuffs, produced right there on Russian soil using indigenous ingredients. Russia has about two-million registered diabetics, though analysts estimate the total closer to eight-million. The county imports about $90-million worth of insulin each year, to help stave off the diabetes-related Russian death rate ranking third just behind cardio-vascular disease and cancer deaths.

(Moscow) Russia's most popular puppet show is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Sergei Obraztsov Central Puppet Show has entertained tens-of-thousands of fans in 50 different countries, with a witty program that parodies slipshod variety performances. This year the puppets will perform for audiences in South Korea and California.

(Ussuriysk) College students everywhere know the hunger pangs that can occur between checks from home or college grants. But starving students at the Russian Far East Agricultural Academy have turned to eating frogs and snakes whenever their grants are delayed. The idea came to a veterinary student who had just completed a frog dissection, when stabs of hunger caused him to fry up the legs rather than trash them. Fortunately there is a steady supply of frog fare at the local reservoirs.

(Moscow) In a rare bit of optimistic news out of Moscow, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that investors are again warming up to Russia. Why's that? Stock prices are soaring, inflation is down dramatically, trade surplus is bulging, gross domestic product is no longer falling. Major foreign brokerage houses are bullish on Russia, and investors believe the reforms will move ahead, says the report.

(Jerusalem) Russian government action against the Jewish Agency -- a group responsible for helping some 600,000 Jews emigrate to Israel from Russia and the FSU since 1989 -- has raised concerns that Jewish emigration from Russia could be halted. Actions against the agency include the cancellation of its accreditation to operate in Russia. "The Jewish Agency ... has never been subject to such treatment," says the group's chairman.

(Washington) The Russian mafia's reach has expanded to about 50 countries including the United States, says CIA director John Deutch. He warns the extensive crime network threatens to undermine the political and economic stability of Russia. Russian organized crime encompasses government corruption, drug trafficking, terror, weapons proliferation, embezzlement of government property, contract murder and bank fraud, he told a congressional committee.

(Moscow / Itar-Tass) How could the Communist Party -- which gave a jolt to the entire 20th Century, which lived through three revolutions, which won two terrible wars (the Civil and the Great Patriotic), which performed the miracle of post-war rehabilitation, and which had a membership of more than 18-million -- meekly leave the political arena literally overnight? Those questions are undertaken in a new book, "CPSU: Anatomy of Disintegration," published by Moscow Respublika Publishing House, written by Leon Onikov.

(St. Petersburg) Russian book publishers are rolling their presses in a renewed frenzy following a presidential decree relieving mass media and publishing from tax payments for a period of three years. Analysts say the Russian book market is nearly overwhelmed with new releases. Some 90 percent of Russian publishing houses are located in Moscow; seven percent of Russian books are published in St. Petersburg.

(Moscow) In a diplomatic tit-for-tat, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has imposed a sharp rate increase for Russians requesting a U.S. visa. The move is meant to match the high fees Russia charges Americans for visas. Russians must now pay $150 for a one-year U.S. visa allowing multiple entries, and $450 for a multiple-entry three-year visa -- more than double the former cost. Americans must pay $120 for a one-year multiple-entry visa to Russia, and the same amount for the more-rarely granted three-year visa. Russia's single-entry tourist visa is a bargain $25.

(United Nations) Russia has ponied up $28 million to support the U.N. Peace Force budget, after earlier paying its $46 million annual membership fees. Russia is now in the minority of member states that have paid its dues. Standing debts to the U.N. near $3 billion, including what's owed by the United States.

(Washington) Billionaire high financier George Soros says the world community has missed an historic opportunity to create a free and open society in the former Soviet Union. In 1989 Soros proposed a multibillion dollar aid program for Russia and the other republics along the lines of the World War II Marshall Plan. The failure to accept that plan "is where we went wrong," Soros says. He however plans to continue the work of his foundation in Russia promoting freedom "as long as we are tolerated."

(Even More News From Russia ...)

News from the FSU & Eastern Europe

News from Asia

News from the United States

Various articles on International Issues

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