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Muscovites — who think air conditioning is deadly — die from heat afflictions. Hot spy Anna Chapman gets her own action figure. The government ups the gas extraction tax. Plus, Angelina promotes “Salt,” and the humorous tweets of Russia’s Nato ambassador.
Top News: There is one subject of conversation in Russia these days – the weather. In the capital, and across the country, record highs are disrupting life and business, leading to heat-related deaths and prompting sour economic prognoses. Despite Russian and Western press comparing the Moscow heat to the depths of hell, it’s really not that bad (mid-high 90s), but Russians – accustomed to braving rough winters – simply aren’t used to it. Air conditioners are a rarity, and those who do have them rarely use them, as it’s commonly believed here that air conditioners lead, inevitably, to serious illnesses.
Over 2,000 people have drowned over the past two months, as they sought to escape the heat (often with the help of alcohol). Doctors are issuing daily warnings about everything from the greater potential for food poisoning to the importance of taking naps. The countrywide freak out might be funny for anyone who has lived through a New York or DC summer, but the heat wave has already led to serious economic consequences. Russia’s central grain-producing regions have seen no rainfor months, prompting Moscow to revise downward its grain forecast for 2010. This has already led to a global rise in wheat prices. Russia has said it will seek to boost domestic wheat sales from its stockpiles, in a bid to control food prices at home.
The other hot topic (excuse me) continues to be the spy scandalthat grabbed headlines around the world this month. As in the West, tabloids in Russia are keenly following every move made by “hot spy” Anna Chapman (she updated her Facebook! And her Twitter! She got a deal to star in a porn movie! She turned it down, but did get a topless action figure in her likeness). Serious Russian media reported the return of the 10 spies to Russia, but there’s been a blackout aside from that. It is believed that the spies are still being debriefed at a secret location outside Moscow. One of four spies flown to the West in exchange for the 10 Russian spies indicated this week that he hopes to return to his homeland.
Money: The Moscow heatwave has wreaked havoc on crops, but have boosted sales in other areas, particularly air conditioners, fans and ice cream. Sales of kvas, a traditional bitter Russian drink made from rotting bread (yes, it tastes as good as it sounds), have tripled since the heatwave began. In late June, Coca-Cola said it had begun distributing the beverage in the U.S.
Russia’s finance ministry said this week that the government had agreed to a 61 percent increase on the gas extraction tax from January 1, a move it hopes will fill Russia’s first budget deficit in years. The move, due to be discussed by the cabinet this week, would be a blow to Gazprom, which has long (successfully) resisted tax hikes. The move appears to show that fiscal conservatives (part of the Kremlin’s “liberal clan”) are winning out over those who favor giving unchallenged priority to natural resource groups like Gazprom.
Elsewhere: Angelina Jolie heads to Moscow this weekend for the Russian premier of her new film, “Salt.”Rumors are swirling that Jolie had invited Anna Chapman to attend the showing, but Sony representatives have denied this.
Believe it or not, there are a few beaches in Moscow, if any readers are in Russia and looking for ways to escape the heat. Beach Club, on Leningradskoe Shosse, is a posh lakeside beach with a nice restaurant. Entry costs 1,000 rubles (around $30). Another option is Serebrenny Bor, a riverside beach just outside Moscow.
For some light summer entertainment, I recommend reading the Twitter feed maintained by Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO. The man is an unintentional comedian, and his rants offer possibly the best insight into Russia's approach to its Western partners. This week, he wrote my favorite Tweet yet: “I've got a fan at NATO. A waiter. During talks he brings coffee Americano for everyone, but specially for me he prepares it in a coffee pot.”