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10 reasons you should NEVER visit Russia

If you still think Russia is boring, check out these places…

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Originally appeared on RBTH

From the sandy beaches of the Far East to Swiss-like villages lost in the middle of Southern Siberia and from German villages on the Baltic Sea coast to the bridge across Bosphorus – it is all Russia.

If not for the weather, you would never be able to distinguish the sandy beaches of Lake Baikal from those of California.

See for yourself…

READ MORE: 21 photos of Russia’s Far East that will BLOW your mind

1. Tibet?

No, that’s the Ivolginsky datsan in the city of Ulan-Ude.

This monastery is located 100 km from Lake Baikal, not far from the City of Ulan-Ude in the Republic of Buryatia. Like the Buddhist population of Russia, it is virtually unknown to the outside world. The monastery is named Ivolginsky Datsan and was built shortly after the end of World War II in 1945. It serves as the residence of the Leader of the Buddhists of Russia, and is comprised of seven different temples and a university where Buddhist lamas are trained to serve in the various newly established temples of Buryatia. Ulan-Ude is not only famous for its Buddhist monastery, but also for the world’s largest bust of Vladimir Lenin.

2. A German village?

Almost. The town of Zelenogradsk is located in the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, originally known as Konigsberg.

Founded in 1255 by knights of the Teutonic Order, Konigsberg was home to many German colonists and Teutonic knights, and eventually became the capital of the Duchy of Prussia. Kaliningrad was part of the Third Reich and was taken over by the Soviet Union after World War II. Today the enclave is home to Germans, Greeks, Armenians, Poles, Russians, and Lithuanians. People who were expelled from the region after it came under Soviet control often return to wander among the old houses, cemeteries, and German castles. Many of the landmarks and towns had different names back then, for example Zelenogradsk was called Cranz.

3. Istanbul?

Although Vladivostok is far away from Istanbul, there is also a bay here called the Golden Horn.

A Cable-stayed bridge was built across it in 2012, ahead of the APEC summit. However, Vladivostok is more often compared to San Francisco than Istanbul. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev even decided to build a cable railway network in the hilly city in order to transform it into “another San Francisco.” However, all efforts to do so ceased after the construction of the cable railway, and Vladivostok was able to retain its unique Sino-Russian culture.

4. The Chinese Stone Forest?

No, this is a different UNESCO World Heritage Site called the Lena Pillars.

The unique stone features started to form 540-560 million years ago, and sit on a bed of Cambrian limestone. The forested red sandstone pillars reflect majestically in the calm waters of the Lena River, which also serves as the main way to access them, typically via a small boat from Yakutsk. Although it takes less time to travel from Europe to the Lena Pillars than to the Stone Forest, it is still an exhausting journey which involves flying into Yakutsk, taking a bus to the docks, and then spending a few hours on a boat or a ferry. Not all of the Pillars can be ascended, but there are several observation platforms about 100m (330 feet) above the ground from which one can take in the natural beauty of the Siberian landscape and the mighty river traversing it.

5. Switzerland?

Almost, but 6,500km (4,000 miles) farther east, these are actually the Altai Mountains, located in Southern Siberia on the border with Mongolia.

Due to a lack of roads and other infrastructure in the remote mountainous area, the breath-taking Altai Mountains remain one of the most inaccessible places in Russia. The only urban area is the regional capital of Gorno-Altaysk, which has a population of 60,000. The rest of the region’s inhabitants live in villages. Locals say that that the mythical kingdom of Shambhala is located somewhere in the “Russian Tibet.”

6. Ha Long Bay?

No, this is actually the Avacha Bay, located on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

At 24 km long, it is the second largest bay in the world after Port Jackson in Australia. The bay is so large that all the ships in the world could fit into it. The Koryaksky, Avachinsky, and Vilyuchinsky volcanoes can be seen from the waters of the bay. At the entrance to the bay, one can find the Tri Brata, or “Three Brothers”, a rock formation consisting of three adjacent rocks jutting out of the sea. This landmark is considered a natural treasure and is a symbol of the Avacha Bay and the nearby city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The Bay is also the main gateway for people and goods arriving on the peninsula, while the rocky cliffs around it contain several enchanting grottos, which can only be accessed by sea kayaks.

7. Italy?

Sometimes St. Petersburg is called the Venice of the North, but that does not make it an Italian city.

This city, originally built on a swamp, is the largest port in Russia and has long been Russia’s “window to Europe.” This tourist capital of Russia is known for its drawbridges, long seafronts, romantic white nights during which the sun never fully sets, imperial facades, and its many charming streets, many of which are named after 19th and 20th century Russian writers.

8. Easter Island?

Stone idols are a common sight for the islands of the Indian and Pacific oceans, but not for a subarctic plateau deep in the taiga.

The giant stone “idols”, located on the remote Northern Urals Manpupuner plateau in the Komi Republic, are actually naturally occurring rock formations which were carved out by the wind over thousands of years. There are seven of these “idols” which are 30-40m (100-130 feet) tall. The Manpupuner is a common destination for outdoorsmen; it can be accessed via a several-day-long hike, or by helicopter.

9. Mount Fuji?

The Kronotsky volcano is located in an eponymous national park on the Kamchatka Peninsula, and may seem almost identical to Mount Fuji to the untrained observer.

However, this is not Japan, but Russia. The Kronotsky National Park is one of the oldest natural reserves in Russia. It is home to many geysers and thermal springs, as well as an ocean coastline. The geyser fields at Kronotsky have been officially named one of the Seven Wonders of Russia. It is the only place in Eurasia where geyser fields can be found. Incidentally, these fields are much larger than the ones in Iceland.

10. Australia?

It is probably difficult to mix up Melbourne and Vladivostok, but the coastline of the Sea of Japan could easily be mistaken for the Australian coast.Moneron Island in the Strait of Tartary closely resembles the landscape of the island from the TV series Lost. Many endangered animals, such as the Siberian tiger, can be found in Maritime Territory, or Primorye, as this region is known in Russian. There are many nature reserves here, which are home to a plethora of plant and animal species. The region is also sometimes called Russia’s gateway to Asia, but large swathes of it are remote and inaccessible.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.

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Via Oilprice.com


Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and American Energy Blackmail

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia.

Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris.

Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia.

The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year. Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses.

Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question. Those extra regulations if they had been imposed would have potentially made the Russian gas supply more expensive. As it turns out, the project will now go-ahead without onerous restrictions.

In short, Macron and the spoiling tactics of Washington, along with EU states hostile to Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries, have been put in their place by Germany and its assertion of national interests of securing economical and abundant gas supply from Russia. Other EU member states that backed Berlin over Nord Stream 2 were Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and the Netherlands.

Washington’s claims that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia leverage of Europe’s security have been echoed by Poland and the Baltic states. Poland, and non-EU Ukraine, stand to lose out billions of dollars-worth of transit fees. Such a move, however, is the prerogative of Germany and Russia to find a more economical mode of supply. Besides, what right has Ukraine to make demands on a bilateral matter that is none of its business? Kiev’s previous bad faith over not paying gas bills to Russia disbars it from reasonable opinion.

Another factor is the inherent Russophobia of Polish and Baltic politicians who view everything concerning Russia through a prism of paranoia.

For the Americans, it is obviously a blatant case of seeking to sell their own much more expensive natural gas to Europe’s giant energy market – in place of Russia’s product. Based on objective market figures, Russia is the most competitive supplier to Europe. The Americans are therefore trying to snatch a strategic business through foul means of propaganda and political pressure. Ironically, the US German ambassador Richard Grenell and the other American envoys wrote in their recent oped: “Europe must retain control of its energy security.”

Last month, Grenell threatened German and European firms involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 that they could face punitive American sanctions in the future. Evidently, it is the US side that is using “blackmail” to coerce others into submission, not Russia.

Back to Macron. What was he up to in his belated spoiling tactics over Nord Stream 2 and in particular the attempted problems being leveled for Germany if the extra regulations had been imposed?

It seems implausible that Macron was suddenly finding a concern for Poland and the Baltic states in their paranoia over alleged Russian invasion.

Was Macron trying to garner favors from the Trump administration? His initial obsequious rapport with Trump has since faded from the early days of Macron’s presidency in 2017. By doing Washington’s bidding to undermine the Nord Stream 2 project was Macron trying to ingratiate himself again?

The contradictions regarding Macron are replete. He is supposed to be a champion of “ecological causes”. A major factor in Germany’s desire for the Nord Stream 2 project is that the increased gas supply will reduce the European powerhouse’s dependence on dirty fuels of coal, oil and nuclear power. By throwing up regulatory barriers, Macron is making it harder for Germany and Europe to move to cleaner sources of energy that the Russian natural gas represents.

Also, if Macron had succeeded in imposing tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 project it would have inevitably increased the costs to consumers for gas bills. This is at a time when his government is being assailed by nationwide Yellow Vest protests over soaring living costs, in particular fuel-price hikes.

A possible factor in Macron’s sabotage bid in Germany’s Nord Stream 2 plans was his chagrin over Berlin’s rejection of his much-vaunted reform agenda for the Eurozone bloc within the EU. Despite Macron’s very public amity with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin has continually knocked back the French leader’s ambitions for reform.

It’s hard to discern what are the real objectives of Macron’s reforms. But they seem to constitute a “banker’s charter”. Many eminent German economists have lambasted his plans, which they say will give more taxpayer-funded bailouts to insolvent banks. They say Macron is trying to move the EU further away from the social-market economy than the bloc already has moved.

What Macron, an ex-Rothschild banker, appears to be striving for is a replication of his pro-rich, anti-worker policies that he is imposing on France, and for these policies to be extended across the Eurozone. Berlin is not buying it, realizing such policies will further erode the social fabric. This could be the main reason why Macron tried to use the Nord Stream 2 project as leverage over Berlin.

In the end, Macron and Washington – albeit working for different objectives – were defeated in their attempts to sabotage the emerging energy trade between Germany, Europe and Russia. Nord Stream 2, as with Russia’s Turk Stream to the south of Europe, seems inevitable by sheer force of natural partnership.

On this note, the Hungarian government’s comments this week were apt. Budapest accused some European leaders and the US of “huge hypocrisy” in decrying association with Russia over energy trade. Macron has previously attended an economics forum in St Petersburg, and yet lately has sought to “blackmail” and disrupt Germany over its trade plans with Russia.

As for the Americans, their arrant hypocrisy is beyond words. As well as trying to dictate to Europe about “market principles” and “energy security”, it was reported this week that Washington is similarly demanding Iraq to end its import of natural gas from neighboring Iran.

Iraq is crippled by electricity and power shortages because of the criminal war that the US waged on that country from 2003-2011 which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. Iraq critically needs Iranian gas supplies to keep the lights and fans running. Yet, here we have the US now dictating to Iraq to end its lifeline import of Iranian fuel in order to comply with the Trump administration’s sanctions against Tehran. Iraq is furious at the latest bullying interference by Washington in its sovereign affairs.

The hypocrisy of Washington and elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron has become too much to stomach. Maybe Germany and others are finally realizing who the charlatans are.

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Russia Readies Own Web To Survive Global Internet Shutdown

Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

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Via Zerohedge


Russian authorities and major telecom operators are preparing to disconnect the country from the world wide web as part of an exercise to prepare for future cyber attacks, Russian news agency RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK) reported last week.

The purpose of the exercise is to develop a threat analysis and provide feedback to a proposed law introduced in the Russian Parliament last December.

The draft law, called the Digital Economy National Program, requires Russian internet service providers (ISP) to guarantee the independence of the Russian Internet (Runet) in the event of a foreign attack to sever the country’s internet from the world wide web.

Telecom operators (MegaFon, VimpelCom (Beeline brand), MTS, Rostelecom and others) will have to introduce the “technical means” to re-route all Russian internet traffic to exchange points approved by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), Russia’s federal executive body responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications.

Roskomnazor will observe all internet traffic and make sure data between Russian users stays within the country’s borders, and is not re-routed abroad.

The exercise is expected to occur before April 1, as Russian authorities have not given exact dates.

The measures described in the law include Russia constructing its internet system, known as Domain Name System (DNS), so it can operate independently from the rest of the world.

Across the world, 12 companies oversee the root servers for DNS and none are located in Russia. However, there are copies of Russia’s core internet address book inside the country suggesting its internet could keep operating if the US cut it off.

Ultimately, the Russian government will require all domestic traffic to pass through government-controlled routing points. These hubs will filter traffic so that data sent between Russians internet users work seamlessly, but any data to foreign computers would be rejected.

Besides protecting its internet, Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

“What Russia wants to do is to bring those router points that handle data entering or exiting the country within its borders and under its control- so that it can then pull up the drawbridge, as it were, to external traffic if it’s under threat – or if it decides to censor what outside information people can access.

China’s firewall is probably the world’s best known censorship tool and it has become a sophisticated operation. It also polices its router points, using filters and blocks on keywords and certain websites and redirecting web traffic so that computers cannot connect to sites the state does not wish Chinese citizens to see,” said BBC.

The Russian government started preparations for creating its internet several years ago. Russian officials expect 95% of all internet traffic locally by next year.

As for Russia unplugging its internet from the rest of the world for an upcoming training exercise, well, this could potentially anger Washington because it is one less sanction that can keep Moscow contained.

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