Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category


March 4, 2015

The best thing in Moscow is the underground system. I didn’t find anything above ground to write home about. In fact the underground is so superior to the overground that I found someone to take me on a tour of it.






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March 2, 2015

On the way to town from Krasnoyarsk airport, I ask the lady from the foreign ministry about the only two buildings I plan to set foot in in this city in eastern Siberia: the hotel, and the conference centre.

‘Beautiful,’ she says.

‘Beautiful?’ I repeat. ‘Do you mean the hotel is beautiful, or the conference centre is beautiful?’

‘Everything is beautiful,’ she clarifies.

We enter the city and I am conscious of the sound of people eating breakfast cereal, loudly, outside the car window. The eating stops and starts again each time we stop and start at a traffic light. After a while I realise that this is in fact the sound of the little nails on the car tires that enable vehicles to have traction on ice.

Arriving at the hotel, the nice lady from the foreign ministry insists on helping me to take my luggage to the room. We enter. ‘Let me see how your view is,’ she says. She pulls aside a curtain and peaks out: ‘Very good.’

Later, I take a photograph that approximates to what she was looking at.















It is thus that I arrive for the XII Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum, of which the 2015 theme is Economic Integration with Asia (Mr Putin, you remember, having fallen out with everyone in Europe).

Since the organisers have invited many more people to speak than there is time for, I am asked to reduce my remarks to a maximum 15 minutes. That equates to about one minute for every thousand kilometres of round-trip travel, but still constitutes top billing. After the Plenary Session, there is a High Level Luncheon, to which very few people turn up. One of those who does speaks loudly into his mobile phone as I am asked to say a few more words.

I am not sure that I understood anything that was going on at the conference.

Possibly, people in business were intimating that the central government does not do much governing.

Fortunately, the bigger point turned out to be that there was time before I left for the foreign ministry lady to give me a tour of key Krasnoyarsk beauty spots.

Paramount among these is a hill with a very small, windmill-shaped church from which Krasnoyarskians enjoy panoramic views of their city.





















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We were at this Elysium on a Friday, which is one of the days (along with Thursday) when people like to get married, since it allows for the requisite three- or four- day weekend of drinking.

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Descending to the city, we stopped at the bridge over the Yenisei (one of the Three Great Siberian Rivers, along with the Ob and the Lena), which is so famous that it appears on the 10-rouble note. (That equates, following the latest devaluation, to the 10 pence note.)

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Not far from the bridge, the Soviet-era water pumping station is being restored for the benefit of future generations.

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At the other end of town, the second-most famous beauty spot in Krasnoyarsk is another bridge. The foreign ministry lady told me that in the summer romantic couples stroll across it in droves.

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You just have to try to imagine the droves.

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Naturally enough, there was another wedding couple there.

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Nearby is a triumphal arch erected in 2003 to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding. (This appears to be the first anniversary to be architecturally commemorated.)

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The arch will make French people think of Paris. As a British person, my favourite landmark is the iconic Krasnoyarsk time-piece known as Little Big Ben.

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There is a train from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow. It takes three-and-a-half days.

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I travelled by plane, which takes just five hours. To Moscow.

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As I was leaving, I noted in the VIP lounge of Krasnoyarsk airport that management has been quick to amend the map on the wall to include Crimea and its administrative centre, Simferopol. I wondered whether the contractor has yet prepared a piece for the eastern Ukrainian (should I say Western Russian?) region of Donbass.

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I hope you find these images of the best sights in Krasnoyarsk useful. Before my visit, Internet searches under terms such as ‘Krasnoyarsk best sights’ failed to elicit anything.


Tony down, Vince up

April 29, 2013

Cardiff promotion Tan and Chan Tien Ghee Fernandes QPR sad

The weekend’s English Premier League soccer results confirm that the team controlled by Malaysian billionaire Tony Fernandes will go down, while the team controlled by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan (currently in the league below) will go up.

What makes Third World billionaires waste their money on Premier League soccer clubs?

My working theory is that the habit reflects a desperation for recognition among people whose businesses will never buy them respect. (Actually, Tony Fernandes is a poor example because his Air Asia business is a relatively ‘normal’.)

The typical Third World billionaire who buys a Premier League club does not do something at the office that allows them to hold their heads high in the company of those they would like to be seen with. To wit:

‘So, how did you make your money?’

‘My dad fucked my mum.’


‘Well, I got my start robbing a train. Then a I cornered a bank. And now I’m in minerals. It’s important to have good bodyguards.’


‘In essence, I gave these guys who run my country a huge bung, and they gave me a licence to print money. So I did.’

So you buy a soccer club. Of course it is also useful to be in London on a regular basis to stash and invest some of your cash, while the UK’s tax laws have been redesigned around the needs of footloose billionaires.

But, in the end, no one will respect you even if, like Abramovich, you win the Champions League.

Methinks it a mug’s game.


Premiership clubs controlled by billy-willies:

Abramovich controls Chelsea and, according to Forbes, has spent US$3bn on the club. Meanwhile life expectancy for men in Russia is just 60 years.

Uzbek-Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov and partner Farhad Moshiri control 30% of Arsenal. Usmanov has long indicated his willingness to increase his stake in Arsenal to full control but has yet to lay his hands on the shares.

Sheik  Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan owns  Manchester City.

Mohamed El-Fayed, erstwhile owner of Harrods, still owner of the Paris Ritz, controls Fulham.

Tony Fernandes and Lakshmi Mittal control Queens Park Rangers, who are already relegated. It looked like a good networking opportunity for Tony, founder of Malaysian Ryanair tribute company Air Asia, but will the two still be pals after losing tons of money while achieving nothing?

Vincent Tan, a master of the untendered Malaysian government monopoly concession, controls Cardiff, who are coming up from the division below to replace Tony’s QPR. Other Malaysian billionaires love to hate Vince, but the children of Cardiff momentarily love him. Note that Vince has also signed up to the Gates/Buffett GivingPledge, promising to give away at least half his loot ‘to help address society’s most pressing problems’; (here is his personal pledge). Now that Vince has got his team into the Premiership, he could choose to regard the losses required to stay there as fulfilment of his GivingPledge. What more pressing problem is there than Wales’s lack of a Premiership football team? If other premiership billionaires grasp the angle, Melinda Gates’s phone will be ringing off the hook. Soccer as philanthropy — allowing Third World tycoons to feel better about themselves while watching football. If any of them get the idea from this blog, I would like some tickets please.

There is a Wikipedia table of English football club owners here.

Thoughts beyond the premiership

European businesspeople who constructed more regular businesses invest in clubs some times, but seem to go for smaller clubs. Amancio Ortega, behind Spanish retailer Inditex, put money into Deportivo La Coruna. Francois Pinault, who controls the likes of Gucci and YSL, also controls the football team Rennes. Delia Smith, of English cookbook fame, has a major stake in Norwich. George Soros does have 10% of Manchester United, but that is a big club run for profit.

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