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Emily Liedel

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In Pyongyang
food / travel

Back In The USSR, Russian Eyes On The New North Korea

PYONGYANG — In the Beijing airport, as I was preparing to fly to North Korea, you could practically smell the communism. Traders were checking large, beat-up bags of household items. A family was buying a large appliance in the duty-free shop.

The North Koreans were easily identifiable: They were required to wear buttons with portraits of the great leaders: Kim Jong-un's father and grandfathers. It was also clear that the North Koreans we traveled with were VIPs, for as soon as we arrived in Pyongyang, they were whisked away by an official while the rest of us — a bunch of foreigners, a dance group and a few business people — waited in line for the inspection and registration.

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Demonstrators carrying an anti-oligarchy banner in Chisinau on Sept. 6

The Limits Of Anti-Corruption Protests In Moldova

CHISINAU — The tent city in the center of Moldova"s capital sprung up the evening of Sept. 6, just after a downtown protest had drawn thousands. The demonstrators decided on the spot to stay until they could claim victory; and by nightfall, a few dozen tents had appeared. By the next day there were at least 100.

On a recent day, yet another tent was being set up — and from an unlikely protester. "I worked for the police for 16 years, sometimes even clearing settlements like this," said the man, who did not give his name. "I've tried to go about my business for the past couple months. Now I'm renouncing my duty."

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French chevre cheese
food / travel

A Russian Farmer's Sharp Response To French Cheese Embargo

A Russian embargo bans imports of French cheese and other Western products. But one farmer has the answer: bring in French cheesemakers to teach him to make his own.

MASLOVKA — "Hi, uh, do the Frenchmen live here?" asked the small delegation of women gathered in front of Maslovka's largest house. Inna Myachina, a resident from the neighboring village, had brought her mother, her sister and her niece. "People are talking, saying that Frenchmen have come to Maslovka and are making good cheese — the forbidden kind. So we are trying to be neighborly and came to see if it is true," she explained.

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Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Barack Obama in 2014

Russia Can't Afford To Choose Between East and West

If it wants to grow in a balanced way, Russia should not think a rash of new agreements with China will permit it to forsake the West.


MOSCOW — The Cold War was always described as being between "the East and the West." The terms were geographical, but they were understood to include political and ideological differences. It's curious that although it was a worldwide conflict, the geographic root for the names of the different sides was purely European.

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Ukrainian miners' helmets

Coal Mines In Eastern Ukraine Go Underground

DONETSK — Komsomolets Donbas is one of the largest coal mines in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine. But for more than a year now, it's been out of operation due to serious damage suffered by the war. There are holes from falling explosives. The electricity has been interrupted. And the entrance is practically collapsed. Only a couple of the workers are still left, and they haven't been paid for several months.

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Building pipelines in Russia

Will Macedonia Scuttle Gazprom's New Mega Pipeline?

SKOPJE — Macedonia's prime minister announced last week that his country would participate in Gazprom's "Turkish Stream" pipeline, which is meant to allow gas deliveries from Russia to Europe to bypass Ukraine, under one condition: that the European Union sign off on the project.

Opposition groups in Macedonia have been lobbying for Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski to resign. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has declared that the opposition protests are being organized by foreign forces, who are angry that the prime minister didn't join the rest of Europe in instituting sanctions against Russia.

In an interview with a local newspaper, Gruevski tried to distance himself from pro-Russian positions. When asked about people who came to his demonstration wearing T-shirts with Putin's photo on them, he responded that there were 100,000 people at the demonstration, and perhaps three or four were showing off pro-Russian paraphernalia.

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Chinese tourists in Moscow's Red Square
food / travel

Tourism In Russia, A Silver Lining For Ruble Nose Dive

MOSCOW — Russia placed 45th in the world on the most recent Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, a ranking of 141 countries compiled twice a year by the World Economic Forum and Strategy Partners Group. This represents a significant improvement over the previous year, when it ranked 63rd.

Industry analysts agree that the driving factor in this jumb is the steady devaluation of the ruble, which makes travel to Russia much more affordable for foreigners.

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Summer camp in Tver, Russia

Searching For Summer Camp In Russia Is Serious Business

MOSCOW — In a small town outside the capital, 15-year-old boys live in barracks with soldiers. They march in formation, memorize army regulations and sing songs in unison.

“After our camp, young men aren’t afraid of hazing,” says Vladimir Prixodko, the camp director, referring to a persistent problem in the Russian army that has scared off potential new recruits.

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Step up for Mother Russia!

Patriotism Has Its Price In Russia

MOSCOW — This month, a new topic for discussion appeared on the regulation.gov.ru website: it was about plans for “patriotism education” beginning in 2016. The authors of the plan, which is slated to continue through 2020, say patriotism education in the country must be improved.

Here's their explanation: “In the current difficult geopolitical situation and the attempts of our geopolitical competitors to destabilize the internal political situation in our country, we need to increase Russians’ willingness to defend their country’s interests.”

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Russian general Alexander Suvorov in Transnistria, which is now in Moscow's fold.

Russia Flexes Soft Power In Moldova

Gagauzia, a small region in neighboring Moldova, has taken a turn toward economic union with Russia, and away from the EU. Will the whole country follow?

GAGAUZIA — Since the beginning of the year, the small autonomous area of Gagauzia in southern Moldova has become an improbably important focus of Russian foreign policy.

In February, it penned a regional cooperation agreement with Russia's Bibirevo region, which like Gagauzia has about 150,000 residents. Russian television stations all talked about Gagauzia, and federal officials began stressing the importance of working with it. Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin promised to help Russians invest in it, and Federation Council head Valentina Matvienko said she'd work to convince every single Russian region to do business with Gagauzia.

Why all this focus on a single area of Moldova, a small country that borders western Ukraine? Because Gagauzia chose a new pro-Russian leader March 22.

Gagauzia started to take on special importance as the Moldovan elite seems to have given up on the Russian-controlled breakaway enclave of Transnistria. Several different well-placed Moldovan diplomats and officials told Kommersant that they simply didn't believe that Transnistria would ever return to Moldovan sovereignty, and so they could ignore what happens there.

Gagauzia is important to Russia because it can help provide a way to put the brakes on Moldova's drift toward the European Union. Given that goal, Russia wanted to make sure the leader in Gagauzia was pro-Russian, and Russia accomplished that with a well-calibrated application of what we can call "soft power."

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In Saint Petersburg, Russia

A Russian Quest For The 'Patriotism Gene'

Russian researchers have been doing a rather unusual study that compares DNA across countries with political affinities. A patriotic take on the old nature v. nurture question.

MOSCOW — Russian researchers say they've identified a "patriotism gene." And yes, compared to other nations, Mother Russiaboasts a citizenry in which this gene is supposed to be quite well developed.

Researchers at Russia's Laboratory of Comparative Social Research at the Higher School of Economics have been comparing varieties of genes among residents of different countries, using research from the World Values Survey and DNA information from multiple sources. The first results are specifically related to the production of dopamine, which, in part, is responsible for the human sense of happiness, satisfaction with politics — and even how patriotic people feel.

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In Lipetsk, Russia

Beauty, Russia's Recession-Proof Industry

Despite the ruble's freefall, a shaky economy and growing international isolation, cosmetics companies and the beauty industry at large can rest easy that Russian women will buy what they're selling.

MOSCOW — Given the economic crisis and the ruble's freefall, managers of major international cosmetic brands are in a panic, fearing that the Russian beauty market will implode. And it would be an enormous loss. Researchers recently reported that the average Russian woman spends as much on cosmetics as the average Italian woman, despite earning only a quarter as much. There are also twice as many Russian women as Italian women.

But if past Russian crises are any indication, cosmetics manufacturers have little reason to worry. According to economics researchers, the cosmetics industry in Russia emerged from the 2008 global economic crisis without any losses.

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