U.S. Threatens to Punish Russia with Economic Sanctions for Violating Arms Treaty

On December 10th, at a Congressional hearing, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller said that Russia was in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). The State Department undersecretary told the panel that current US countermeasures include both military actions (such as missile defense systems) and the so-called “three-pronged approach” involving diplomacy and even possible economic sanctions. In retaliation for the treaty’s violation, the Pentagon might consider re-deployment of nuclear cruise missiles in Europe as well. “We don’t have ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe now obviously because they’re prohibited by the treaty,” said Brian P. McKeon, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, at the hearing, “but that would obviously be one option to explore.”


In light of the tensions over the Ukrainian crisis, Russia’s reckless behavior in the Baltic, its continuous support of the Assad regime in Syria, its disproportionately large defense budget, and now its new military doctrine, U.S. concerns should be taken quite seriously.

Russia and U.S. have accused each other of cheating on arms control agreements for years now. As early as 2008, Washington first raised its concerns surrounding Russia’s testing of its R500 cruise missile, which has a range long enough to violate the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) treaty. In May 2013, the Obama administration officially voiced its concerns with the Russians. In late July 2014, the administration finally provided its official finding that Russia was “in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Russian officials, however, responded with their own allegations; claiming that Aegis Missile Defense System sites being deployed by Americans in Romania and Poland breach prior treaty obligations. Although their purported purpose is to intercept Iranian missiles, Russia worries that they are actually designed to intercept Russian missiles. Meanwhile, according to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Ministry never received a clear answer to Russian questions, nor was it provided with any evidence that such a deployment was permitted.

“As far as we know”, says Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow at the Arms Control Association, in his email to the IMR, “Russia has not begun the deployment of the ground-launched cruise missile tested. And even if it did, it is difficult to understand why this would be a militarily significant enhancement of Russia’s capabilities, considering the hundreds of nuclear-tipped warheads it can already deliver at INF ranges from its strategic missile arsenal.” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, adds that “punitive actions are mainly something being pushed by the hardliners in Congress.”

It is also fair to assume that given the current situation of economic slowdown, currency crisis, Western pressure and diplomatic isolation, President Putin feels entrapped – a miserable situation that the headstrong leader has never felt before. Placed under such circumstances, he may believe that Russia is in no shape to compete with the Western democracies economically, however, in military terms, Russia is still a nation to feared and respected. «Putin is a ‘He-man’ under the squeeze”, comments Mr.Kristensen in his email to IMR, “and some of his defense plans will have to be scaled back, so he’s perhaps trying to be more dramatic than he actually is.” Given Putin’s unpredictability, this creates a dangerous situation. Therefore, it is in the United States’ interests to make sure that Russia stays in compliance with major treaties and does not cross any red lines.

By its strident warnings, the United States is seeking to bring Russia to the negotiations table, rather than fomenting a military snafu. “I believe the Obama administration would be very reluctant to deploy new weapons banned by the treaty and most potential host-nations even more so,” notes Mr. Thielmann. “Instead,” he continues, “the administration is likely to continue efforts to persuade Moscow to cease prohibited activities and avoid giving it an excuse to back out of the INF Treaty.”

Gottemoeller said President Obama has written a letter to Russian President Putin about the treaty violation. However, she did not specify how long the United States would wait before taking action in response to the alleged violation. One way or another, without resolution of the issue soon, “it could eventually lead to enhancements of U.S. military capabilities — but more for political rather than military reasons”, says Mr. Theilmann.


Russia bans food imports

On August 6th, Russia adopted a retaliatory package of sanctions against the West. Namely, they ban imports of food coming from the US, European Union, Norway, Canada, Japan, and Australia. In theory, the initiators of the restrictions have sought to hobble Western economies by hitting their exports to Russia. In fact, Russian authorities seem to have done much more damage to Russia’s own economy instead. The total volume of food exports from the EU to Russia was 126 billion euros in 2012. However, that number represents only 9% of the EU’s food exports, a noticeable decline, yet not fatal. Nevertheless, Europe’s #1food importer is still the USA, not Russia. Russia has occupied second or third place in European trade. Meanwhile, China, India, Saudi Arabia are each rapidly rising economies with growing population and thus growing demand for food. As a result, it won’t take long for Europe to divert its food exports to these regions thereby ameliorating the eccentricities of its rowdy eastern neighbor.


The new measures will be detrimental for the Russian market and ordinary Russian citizens. First, it is important to consider that before the restrictions so-called “domestically-produced” products were made partially with imported ingredients. Russia’s hot dog and sausage industry relies on imported ferments and fillers. Russian chocolate also depends on foreign ingredients. To make a chocolate bar, Russian confectioners add local ingredients like sugar to cacao solids brought from abroad.
Second, to maintain the variety and quality of home-made goods the market needs to be open and conducive for small and medium business. The companies, in their turn, need to be competitive. Russia’s current situation is the opposite. A few monopolists dominate the market. Shelf space is literally purchased, rather than won on the basis of price or quality. In such an environment, there is little chance that the isolated Russian food market will be able to offer a large assortment of goods at similar to Western quality.

Third, barring Western brands from Russian market won’t really stop the flow of goods from the West. Belarus and Kazakhstan haven’t adopted any restrictions on foreign food items, plus both are in the Customs Union with Russia, which acts as a free trade zone. Thus, Belarus and Kazakhstan will become essentially the gateway for foreign food to enter Russia’s market. Replacing foreign stickers with “Made in Russia” is a well-known trick practiced in Belarus. So, little will change from the exporters’ perspective; however, people who work along its path will get a lot richer. In Russia, instead of the anticipated deficit of foreign foods, there will be a giant black market controlled by gangsters, who will charge outlandish prices. The situation will be analogous to that of Venezuela, which implemented currency controls, resulted in nothing more than a thriving black market for foreign currency.

Who will pay for a social experiment with entirely predictable consequences? Obviously, Russia’s ordinary people will.. For how long? For at least a year, as Putin made it clear. Bearing in mind recent attempts to protest in the streets over the past two years, it’s highly doubtful that the Russian people will be eager to tolerate such a denial of their basic rights. It is also doubtful that after such a retaliation against Western pressure and sanctions, Putin will still be enjoying his current 85% approval rating. Prohibition of food imports from the West is a draconian measure primarily directed against Russia’s own people and yet is just a mosquito bite for the targeted countries. In this regard, tension in Russian society will increase. Russian indignation with their decision-makers should spill over to other social clusters and including both the older generation and low-income groups, giving it the potential to become massive. In the best case scenario, Putin will soon realize that and change their policy trajectory. In a worst case scenario, the peoples’ resentment might soon grow to a revolutionary fervor.

America: doctrine of disengagement

With the situation in Iraq getting out of hand, many criticize Obama for the withdrawal of American troops from the region, while many more blame Bush for initiating the War on Terrorism in 2003. Playing the role of the world’s policeman and maintaining the presence of its troops in unstable, yet strategically important regions, the United States pursued its foreign policy doctrine, also known as Pax Americana, throughout the decades following WW2. It is much easier to deal with a predictable world, the one evolving by a coherent plan than to deal with a tinderbox. Both Bush and Obama failed to secure America’s interests in a region that has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Bush might have been acting in line with the old doctrine, yet apparently without much knowledge and understanding of the region. His major blunder was the ignorance of the historical and cultural specifics of the Middle East in general, and Iraq in particular. When the Bush administration made a decision to wipe out Saddam Hussein’s regime and build a democracy from scratch, it did so in a country that had been ruled by tyrants from its inception; it was quite an unforgivable misstep. Obama, in turn, does not seem to adhere to any consistent doctrine save America’s global disengagement.


Throughout recorded history, Middle Eastern states thrived under strong leaders, capable of generating peaceful coexistence between multiple religious and ethnic groups such as Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Turkmens, and Bedouins. When Saddam Hussein was toppled, in the absence of a strong leader, Iraq started falling apart. The dissolution of the Iraqi Army and administrative institutions left over half a million former government employees in disarray – they had nowhere to go and nothing to do. The Shia minority, who under Saddam were not allowed to form any political institutions and thus were not represented in the state political system, soon seized power. Once in power, they rushed to “restore justice” with prosecutions against both Sunni and other non-Shia groups. Soon, the sectarian conflict spilled over to Syria and Lebanon in the west and Pakistan in the east. Iraq’s plunge into chaos has been spurred by two overlapping drivers: a failed attempt to build a parliamentarian regime and the existential threats posed by Saudi Arabia and Iran


Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki can’t defeat the Sunnis, the Sunnis can’t defeat the Shia; Northern Iraq has de-facto become Kurdistan. In April 2013, a radical jihadist group, descended from al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), formed the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). The organization is said to be “surpassing al-Qaeda as the world’s most dangerous jihadist group.” The group is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was released from Camp Bucca, an Iraqi prison, in 2009 by American soldiers. “I’ll see you guys in New York,” said the ISIS leader-to-be to the U.S. Army reservists as he was leaving prison. To the outside observer, it would appear that, in 2009, another nascent Bin Laden was simply released so that in 5 years he could call on hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Mosul (Iraq’s second city) to “make jihad” for the sake of Allah. On the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, June 29, 2014, ISIS simplified its title and adopted the name Islamic State (IS), whereas its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, became a self-anointed “Caliph Ibrahim” – for the first time since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk renounced the Caliphate in 1924. Ataturk also abolished the Arabic alphabet, introduced Latin instead, familiarized a traditional Muslim society with European values and introduced western clothing. Thus, from the perspective of modernization and secularism, Abu Bakr has pushed the Arab world 90 years back by attempting to restore the Islamic Caliphate. The current events strongly resemble those of the Middle East in the 7th and 8th centuries AD, when a small Muslim army conquered Mesopotamia (along with Egypt, North Africa, and part of the Iberian Peninsula) in the glimpse of an eye and thus stretched their possessions across three continents. Such a sweeping conquest was largely possible due to the weakness of the Sassanid and Byzantine Empires, declining states that were unable to contain the Umayyads. Today again, a relatively small group of people is seeking to repeat the accomplishments of their ancestors and capture lands in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. The map made publicly available by ISIS shows a wide swath of black-colored countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The desired territory encompasses all of North Africa; Nigeria and Cameroon in West Africa; Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia in Africa’s eastern coast. Their land appetite also expands over the Mediterranean and Red seas to embrace the entire Arab world.

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In fairness, such a grand plan doesn’t seem delusional at all. First, the West is no longer the world’s policeman. Second, jihadist groups and other Muslim rebel groups (who sympathize with the idea of creating an Islamist state through violence) are spread throughout Africa, the Middle East, and in parts of Asia. Prof. Peter Neumann of King’s College London estimates that about 80% of Western fighters in Syria have joined the group. The total number of fighters in the IS is estimated to be 15,000, approximately 2,000 of which are of foreign origin. The foreign contingent of the IS is recruited from the UK, France, Germany and other European countries, as well as the US, the Arab world and the Caucasus. The mujahedeen army is very mixed. It comprises Turkmens, Kurds, the Naqshbandi Army (composed of the former Saddam regime officers), and even former Ba’athists. While the elite is predominantly engaged in military actions, the IS covert groups, together with local tribal sheikhs, control the territory.


The bad news is that there is no feasible challenger to Al-Qaeda, the IS, and Jaysh al-Islam. Currently, Sunni mosques, kuttabs (primary schools) and madrasa (theological institutes) are full of students whose theological education and weapons training are generously funded by wealthy sponsors from the Persian Gulf states. Speaking of the IS’s funding, initially the group relied on private donations from rich Arab states, particularly Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Besides such funding, the IS has seized oil refineries in eastern Syria (Raqqa province) and is now selling oil to the Syrian government. Above all, should Iraq fall to the IS, Iraq has the fifth largest proven crude oil reserves in the world. Illegal trade, trafficking, theft, kidnapping, as well as the sharia tax system account for other important sources of income for the IS. Prof. Neumann believes that before the capture of Mosul in June 2014, ISIS had cash and assets worth about $900 million. Afterwards, ISIS had assets worth around $2 billion.


What the ongoing chaos in the Middle East has explicitly demonstrated is that President Bush failed to clearly articulate the goals of invading Iraq – whether it was a punitive measure against the terrorists, whether it was an attempt to spread democracy in the Middle East, or whether it was just an attempt to secure a reliable and predictable partner in the Middle East like the Gulf States.. In fact, the last seems quite achievable, bearing in mind that in 2009 Iraq was in a fairly good shape. Alas, President Obama, who entered office that year, failed to get things straight in Iraq and define America’s interests there with a cohesive strategy. Lack of a clear purpose and the means to implement it is not just a quality of America’s Middle Eastern-policy these days, but rather an earmark of U.S. foreign policy for the past twenty years. With the end of the Cold War, the world has changed; it is no longer a bi-polar system, but an interconnected complexity of competing and rising powers and precarious non-state forces. The model of post-WW2 America’s foreign policy no longer fits in the new state of affairs. So far, American interests and goals in the post-Cold War-era have not been clearly defined, nor a coherent military strategy developed. The United States might not act as a world policeman any more, but it still must protect its national interests.


How great is the chance that Iran goes nuclear any time soon?

I think the chances are much lower now than Autumn 2012. There is a two-fold reason for this. First, Iran has been severely hampered by stiff economic sanctions imposed by the West, so now it is desperately seeking to get some relief and restore its people’s living standards. Second, after Russia annexed Crimea and its relations with the United States and Europe became challenged, the West turned to Iran with more than just a non-proliferation agenda. Geographically, Iranian gas is located much closer to Europe than Russian gas delivered to Europe from the remote gas facilities in the Yamal Peninsula. It is estimated that over the course of 10 years Iranian gas could replace Russian gas in the European market. In fact, today, Iranian gas can be transported through a gas pipeline in Georgia, that is built but not yet in use.

Hence, the West is taking incremental steps to rebuild its relations with Iran. Thus, for instance, Great Britain opened its Embassy in Tehran, and the US has suspended certain sanctions. Iran, in exchange for relief from painful restrictions, has allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to have daily access to its nuclear sites and enrichment facilities. In compliance with an interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (US, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom plus Germany) from last November, Iran has stopped producing 20%-enriched uranium (HEU) and converted almost a half of its stockpile to low-enriched uranium (LEU) with concentration of 5%. During the latest talks in June between the P5+1 and their Iranian counterparts, Kerry said substantial gaps still exist between what Iran’s negotiators say they are willing to do and what they must do.
Even though the negotiations are still far from a final resolution to the Iranian nuclear program, hypothetically, once the West removes the embargo on Iranian exports, Iran will immediately start selling its oil and gas to Europe and Asia. This uptick in supply will help eventually bring down the world prices for hydrocarbons, which, in the long run, would be catastrophic for Russia.

South Stream pipeline and the EU double standards

Naftogaz, Ukraine’s gas company, owes its Russian-owned counterpart, Gazprom, an estimated $4.46 billion for previous deliveries of gas. Gazprom demands prepayment for future supplies to Ukraine now and files an arbitration claim in Stockholm. On June 16, Naftogaz missed a deadline to pay part of that debt (about $2 billion), which entails three consequences. First, even though the new president was elected, Ukraine has yet rendered to be an unreliable client who fails to pay bills and thereby prompts another cut-off. Second, Ukraine has repeatedly proved to be unable to provide a reliable transit for Russian gas to Europe. Third, the need for diversification of gas supplies has become even more obvious and relevant.

No wonder, Russia has become even more bullish about South Stream, a pipe-line project designed to pipe 63 billion cubic metres of gas per year from Russia to Central and South Europe bypassing Ukraine. The pipeline will go across the Black Sea bottom from Russia to Southern Europe. Its length will be 900 km. The project is being implemented by South Stream Transport, of which Gazprom owns 50%, Italian ENI 20%, French EDF and German Wintershall 15% each. To build the land part of the pipeline, Russia has stricken agreements with the governments of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, and Austria.
Thus, the project will cement Russia’s hold on the European gas market and diversify the gas supplies. However, the European Union seeks to diversify the gas suppliers (in other words, to give other gas suppliers access to the pipeline), not the methods of its supply. As a result, the European Commission postpones the final approval of the pipeline and applies pressure on the key-members of the South Stream chain. With solely a political purpose – to punish Russia.

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On the one hand, Brussels sharing its part responsibility for the ongoing events in Ukraine (namely, the so called Euro-Maidan was inspired by hopes to join the Economic Association with Europe), cannot let the situation be taken over by Russia. Once the situation is under Russia’s control, Ukraine (who is physically unable to pay the debt back, because its economy is gruesomely broke) is no longer the gas-transit country, Ukraine is no longer Russia’s client at all. Russia will build a new gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine, and leave the country in oblivion. That being said, why does not the EU bail out Ukraine and helps it redeem the debt to Russia? Once the debt issue is settled, there is a chance for a new round of talks regarding further cooperation in gas supplies between Ukraine and Russia, between Putin and Poroshenko, who have numerously demonstrated their eagerness to diplomatically solve the conflict.

The European Union is not so much interested in bailing out Ukraine and even less so in its admission to the Union. It would entail further subsidies, humanitarian and financial aid, all that burden that the German taxpayers have already been pissed off by dragging Greece, Spain, and Portugal out of their debts. The problem is that there are actually two Europes: the European Union as a huge bureaucratic machine, and Europe as a conglomerate of nations. Those two Europes appear to be different. What’s more, those two Europes appear to be pursuing different interests and goals, if not conflicting goals. The European Commission is acting from a position of a universal judge who seeks to pursue justice and punish the hot-headed game-breakers. The European Commission is a “stronghold” of morality that cannot allow its members to do business with someone who violates international norms and neglects other country’s sovereignty. Fair enough. Such an approach is quite understandable from the rule of law and the world-system perspective. But the reality is more complex. The reality is that Europe is still (whether it likes it or not) highly dependent on import of hydrocarbons. The price it pays for these imports matters too – now even more than ever, given the stagnation in the eurozone. Thus, the cheapest and the most reliable gas supplier to Europe is still Russia. In fact, Russia has never let Europe down since the 1960s in terms of the energy supplies. Again, 2006 and 2009 were the transit zone blackouts. The Middle East could potentially be accounted too, but at the moment it’s major client is Asia and it’s undergoing another wave of terrorist coups and civil war turmoils. EU countries get about 30% of their gas from Gazprom, and half of that is piped through Ukraine. If Europe had alternative energy suppliers such as LNG from Qatar, Algeria, and the U.S available right now (by “available” I mean ready-installed refineries, de-liquification facilities, special storages, the money, after all, to pay for the gas shipments across the Atlantic), or if Europe had alternative energy resources (wind, solar power, water energy, etc) that could easily replace natural gas, the Brussels talks would make more sense. Sadly, the fact of the matter is that Europe does not have those alternatives handy as of yet. Nor is it going to have them available in the next two-three years. Thus, no matter how unlawful and rogue Russia’s bahavior is, Europe is nowhere near ready to wean itself from Gazprom. To sum it up, Brussels acts from its supranational, hyper-idealistic perspective and makes decisions based on the same premises that drives the EU committees to set cucumber shape regulations or obligations to put a sticker on non-GMO food-items. Meanwhile, individual European states, being guided by sheer energy security interests, have to think pragmatically and act individualistically. They need to make sure that the gas supplies are guaranteed and there is no such a situation when their citizens have to burn woods to keep their homes warm on cold winter days (as it used to be the case in 2009).

Thus, Italy’s Saipem, for instance, signed a contract worth 2 billion euros with Gazprom regarding the construction of the first submarine section of South Stream and is now ready to start the work. Right at the rise of the Ukrainian crisis, in April, Austria and its biggest energy firm OMV enthusiastically supported the South Stream project. Hungary, another land route of South Stream, is also teaming up with Russian state companies for a €10 billion deal involving the construction of two nuclear reactors.
Serbia finds itself caught between its ambitions to join the EU, with which it has started accession talks, and historical ties with Russia. Nevertheless, Ivica Dacic, Serbian Foreign minister confirmed that the South Stream project is in their best national interests. After all, whether Serbia shifts to the EU or not, does not really matter. Serbia is not the key player in the project. What does matter though is Bulgaria. The gas pipeline goes through its territory, thus its approval of the project and commitment to it are crucial for the entire venture. The European Commission figured it really quickly and started pressing Bulgaria. In the very beginning, since 2010 (long before the Ukrainian crisis, by the way) the Bulgarian part of the South Stream has been criticized by the European Commission. The latter was skeptical about the transparency of the tender. Meanwhile, the tender was won by the Bulgarian Gasproject Yug and Gennady Timchenko’s Stroytransgas. Timchenko is already on the sanctions list after Russia took over Crimea in February 2014.
In April and May, the situation in Ukraine deteriorated which only strengthened Brussels’ stiff position against Russia and elevated its desire to punish it. The Bulgarian socialist government (very loyal to Russia) was holding a staunch resentment against the EU threats – until the EU reminded Bulgaria of the 15 billion euro it promised in subsidies for the Bulgarian agricultural sector and infrastructure. On June 8, Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski announced the suspension of the project till matters with the EU clears up. The Bulgarian head of government made his decision shortly after meeting a US troika delegation – John McCain, Ron Johnson and Christopher Murphy. The meeting came after a public statement on the 6th of June by American Ambassador in Sofia Marcie Ries, warning that Bulgarian companies participating in South Stream maybe part of US sanctions against them due to their collaboration with the Russian Stroytransgaz. This caused the Bulgarian government to split into pro- and anti-Russian factions, and they announced early elections scheduled for September this year. Boiko Borisov, who leads the centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party, is the most likely prime minister to be, given that his party scored the largest number of seats (representing Bulgaria) in the European Parliament elections in May.

It is fair to say that Russia tries to manipulate Ukraine and tells it what to do. It is also fair to say that Russia wants Europe play by its rules and buy its oil and gas the way Russia offers them. Paradoxically, criticizing and punishing such misdeeds, the European Union acts by exactly same token. It disregards national interests of its individuals members and uses threats and blackmails to force them to do what the EU deems appropriate. Abusing the weak points of other states (such as bad economies or chances for future membership in the EU), Brussels is actually playing by the same rules it’s been fiercely opposing.

Soviet trade system

[This is a rough translation of some soviet reminiscences by my favorite Russian author Tatyana Tolstaya. Following the main text are the comments to the original post in Russian by the readers, who also happened to live the Soviet regime].

All goods in Soviet Russia were either socialist or capitalist. The capitalist goods were unavailable to the ordinary Soviet folk – they were sold only at “Berezkas” (“Birches” stores) to the nomenklatura people or to secret dealers. Those who had money, had contacts – so they had access to capitalist goods as well. However, the latter were very very expensive.
Imagine a family with five grown-up children. They all need clothes, so do I. In 1974, I am going to get married. I need a pair of nice wedding shoes. In shoe-stores you will find nothing. No wedding shoes, no sandals. You can only chose between boots “goodbye youth” and felt flip-flops “no step back”. The only shoes, that were on the shelf, were horrible – they were made in Romania and had a poopy-brown color, with laces. Our family was friends with a Frenchman who ultimately went with me to the Berezka store and we got a decent pair of wedding shoes “Gabor”. My wedding dress was made of rough silk and patterned with large yellow flowers, short and tailored. My tailor Valentina would steal fabric all the time.
However, you can’t wear Gabor pumps for a hike or to go sunbathing at a sea-resort. You need a pair of sandals. There was no way to get sandals in 1974. I was asking around my friends if they knew some old ladies who would remember the 1919 and how to weave sandals out of ropes. Once I had found one, another problem popped up – in 1974, no ropes were sold in the stores. I can’t remember now how I made it through, but I clearly recall a woman in our hiking group – she was wearing a summer coat. A summer coat when it was 85 F out! So I asked her privately – why? And she whispered – “I have no dress”.
We also had a special dealer, although mother disapproved of dealers – she believed that dealing was unfair. My sister and I didn’t take mother’s principles seriously, so we just let her have her own opinion. Meanwhile, we bought two identical puff coats (made in Finland, with click-buttons!) from the dealer, and then our sister-in-law bought one for herself too. So we all three were dressed in identical puffers, and thought that we were very very cool.
What was also cool was to wear a mohair scarf. Men would wear them. Once I happened to be at our dealer’s home. All her shelves and cupboards were stuffed with crystal wares. A double bed was covered with a huge mohair plaid with Scottish checkers. It was 2×3 meters in size. That was unbelievable! Had one happened to see it, the dealer would have ended badly.
Socialist goods could be found and purchased in special shops in Moscow. “Vanda” was selling polish eye-shades, whereas neighboring “Sofia” had some terrible rose butter that caused splitting headaches. There was “Leipzieg” in the middle of nowhere and “Yadran” in the combes.
I went to “Yadran” once. Some roll-sweaters called “banlons” and blouses were given out. But “given out” did not simply mean “sold out”, no-no, nothing was simple back then. Blouses were wrapped in plastic and it was prohibited to unwrap the package and try the thing on. Don’t ask why. Because. You first buy and then try on! They were made in Yugoslavia so the cut was different from the  normal Russian one, thus it was impossible to guess which size was right. So, what women would do was first, they would stand in line for hours – the closer you are to the counter the tighter you are getting squeezed by the others behind you – also willing to grab a blouse. Finally, you get a couple of blouses of the size you guess will probably fit you (normally, two blouses because if one doesn’t fit, the other will). Yet, it’s not the end of the story. After you grab the blouses, sweaty and blowzy, you step out of the crowd onto the street, or, rather, in the combes. And there, on the unpaved road, you open the package and try the blouse on. You are not the only one doing that – many other women are doing absolutely the same, with no shame or fear for men around them (who are equally hunting for mens clothes).
If the blouse doesn’t fit you, patiently wrap it pack in plastic and sell to another woman, who the blouse will more likely fit. At times, there is a police officer walking around and arresting women for illegal trade (“speculation”). I happened to be approached by police once and was threatened with a detain. In my defense, I said that “speculation” is something when you buy a thing at one price and sell it at another price, so that you benefit from the deal. In my situation, I was selling the unfit blouse by the exact same price I had bought it at the store. “If you arrest me and bring to the police station, you’ll simply waste both your and my time”, I said to the officer. He looked at me in surprise and then walked away.

Comments by people:

“A cold winter night… and a line in 3-4 circles to a store. People are lining for a Rubic’s cube.”
“In “Passage” (a department store), there was a multiple meter long line to get Japanese umbrellas.”
“Sometimes you see a queue and and just join it, with no idea what people are standing for. You just stay in this line because everything you could think of was in short, while you need everything.”

“In bridal salons, one could buy good shoes and clothes. For this, one should have a special checking book from the Vital Register with coupons valid for everything in the bridal salon – varying from underwear to kitchen utensils. Many people would send their fake applications for marriage licenses several times – for the sake of obtaining the bridal salon checking book.”

“When toilet paper was available (“was trown out”), people would buy it amass, string it up on a rope and carry such a “necklace” home.”

“When I was five I remember standing in line for 2-3 hours to get an ice-cream. We lived in a small military town, where the ice-cream truck would come only twice a year.”

“People from Tver’ would travel 3 hours to and 3 hours back from Moscow to buy groceries.”

“My mother was lucky to get a beautiful crimson coat in a small provincial town in exchange for two sacks of pumpkin seeds. When she arrived at a place to get the coat, she was pointed out that the seeds “were not fanned”. So, my mother and my uncle started fanning the seeds in the street shuffling them from one sack into another back and forth… ”

“When Russians traveled to Lithuania in 1987 and saw 5 types of bread in the supermarket there, they couldn’t believe their eyes and thought it was a miracle. And then they came back to Russia and told their friends, and the friends couldn’t believe.”

In the 70s, a soviet citizen was supposed to get 200 gr butter, 0,5 kilo sausage, 0,5 kilo meat, 1 kilo rice and a lill bit of something more per MONTH! The money my parents-academicians earned went all on food from the market. Once a month my dad and his professor friend would travel to Moscow and bring meat, butter, chocolates, whiskey, cognac and Finnish cheese “viola”with them back home.

“When I was a high-school student it was impossible to get a lipstick. You could only buy it from gypsies at the railway station, and it costed 10 rubles. However, I didn’t dare to ask my mother for money (for two reasons: first, it was embarrassing, second, parents would usually say that it’s a bad manner to color leaps with a lipstick and unhealthy, because lipsticks are poisonous). So I had to color my leaps with a red pencil and then put a layer of petroleum ointment… I also remember the only type of mascara available in stores. It was a box of black dry and solid paste in it with a small brush, you spit in the paste and smoosh the paste with the brush and then but that mixture on the eyelashes.”

Anti GMO-hysteria

The world’s population is growing by 1 billion people every 12 years, and by 2050 it is expected to reach the 9 billion mark. The increase in population drives food demand up, so that by the middle of the century food consumption is expected to double. Much of the demographic growth takes place in Asia and Africa. In Africa, one third of the population is dependent on rice. 3.5 billion people, half of mankind, depend on rice as a staple crop. Roughly 20% of all human calories come from rice. However, rice is a vulnerable crop. It requires two to three times as much water as other cereals, yet fresh water is generally scarce. If there is a shortage of water, the entire field dies. Over 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced and consumed in the Asia-Pacific Region. The intensifying urbanization of Asia, and especially in China, triggers the problem: fertile rice-growing lands are increasingly being converted into industrial zones, buildings, and roads. Climate change poses another threat – sea-levels are rising, thereby jeopardizing rice crops with floods and salinity. Droughts, damaging storms, dry winters and very hot days in summer are taking toll on crop yields. With climate change, the weather has become less and less predictable, which only decreases chances for stable yields. In the meantime, the food production cannot keep up with rising demand.
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In this situation, science is of great help, if not the savior. Geneticists and plant breeders are now working on rice modification that will bring about flood-resistant rice, or rice that better tolerates drought, salinity and extreme heat. Mid-century demand for rice is estimated to exceed 555 million tons. Rice that is better adapted to sudden changes of climate and weather, could double yields, which would boost global output of rice by 1.2 – 1.5% per year. Growth of rice yield at such a pace should be sufficient to feed the growing population and keep prices affordable even to the middle of the century.

As progressive and dynamic as modern science is, so brutal and intense is the mass protest against it. Out of sheer dialectical nature of things, once there is a force there is always a counter-force. Science has had particularly long to deal with such dialectics. If in the Middle Ages, it was revolutionary to say that the Earth is not the center of the universe, that it is not even the center of our galaxy, so is it revolutionary today to apply modern genetics and modify species – be it food, animals, or a human DNA. In fact, the criticism of genetic engineering with regard to food has turned into a massive hysteria. Take a look at daily headlines in newspapers and magazines: “Ben and Jerry’s says goodbye to GMOs”, “Lake Champlain Chocolates nixing GMOs”, “Oregon hopes to be first state to map GMO fields”, “Every State Counts: Support GMO Labeling in Oregon and Colorado”, “GMO companies are dousing Hawaiian island with toxic pesticides”, “France wins greater control over GMOs,” “World needs UN GMO watchdog – Russia”.
What is particularly worrisome is that the anti-GMO propaganda is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of some key things about the way in which the world works. It refers to the statement that “bloody” scientists take one piece of DNA, crop it and insert into another DNA. For example, they take a dandelion DNA, that produces Beta-carotene, and breed it into rice. According to the anti-GMO activists, such an alteration is toxic and will ultimately either kill or turn us into mutants. Environmental groups, food safety watchdogs, and others instill this myth into hundreds of thousands of people. Organizations such as GMO Free USA, Institute of Responsible Technology, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, etc. create outrageous myths about genetically engineered products saying that the DNA, which people consume with the food, is changing their own DNA and causes mutations.


The existence and viability of the anti-GMO propaganda would not be so astonishing were we to live in the medieval Europe or in the Soviet Union under Lysenko’s propaganda and massive stalinist repressions against genetical scientists.

Meanwhile, “the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops,” concludes a team of Italian scientists, who thoroughly studied and evaluated over 1,700 research papers published between 2002 and 2012. The researchers found little to no evidence that genetically modified crops pose a health risk to people and animals. To the opposite, their study reveals that non-GM crops tend to significantly reduce biodiversity. In reality, genetic modification of crops is just an accelerated evolution. The core meaning of evolution is when one gene gets broken, another doubled, or being altered by a natural insertion of one gene into it. What geneticists do today, to put it simply, is they insert a foreign gene derived from, say, bacteria into corn, and give the plant a trait it wouldn’t otherwise possess.


Thus, the anti-GMO propaganda is nothing but a conscious and deliberate misinformation. Sadly, it proves to be quite viable: it has been widely supported by prominent scientists and well-reputed news magazines (such as Huffington Post), students groups and talk-show celebrities: Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz and Bill Maher – they all warn against consuming food made with genetically modified ingredients. Even more sadly, the propaganda works, it attracts thousands if people, who after such a brainwashing go out in protest marches with “”Say no to GMO!” placards, calling the GM-products “cancer food” and “cancer water.” Why does the propaganda work? Because for an average citizen it is much easier to understand a short and simple statement “GMO is bad, GMO kills”, “GMO = pesticides and chemicals” rather than read some serious scientific studies with an abundant evidence that biotechnology and genetic engineering implies no harm. Such myths are dangerous and destructive. They replace science and fundamental facts about life with a fake science through a psychological manipulation. In other words, people consciously wage campaigns against scientifically proved facts, thereby legitimizing pseudoscience.

How do these eco-concerned media and environmental activists benefit from their fear-mongering propaganda? Well, easily. They build their status and fame through telling people that they are being fooled and poisoned by “evil scientists”, whereas the anti-GMO organizations are there to save them. That is scary. The uneducated, intimidated and angry mass of people is scary. Why would the anti-GM organizations be interested in waging war against science? They seek to paralyze people’s ability to critically and logically think, to make them manipulable. The result is a massive support for some completely nonsensical yet destructive ideas. From the larger perspective, the mechanism of psychological manipulation and appealing to human emotions rather than to cognitive abilities help many politicians and religious groups to secure a massive support for their simple yet very tantalizing ideas – who is to blame in income inequality, for instance? The richest 1%, of course. Who is to blame in terror attacks? Western society for provoking peaceful Muslims. Why is Africa so poor? Because of neocolonialism.