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The Semi-Regular Newsletter

Travels in Russia

KLM Rocks Across Europe!
Santa Claus in Moscow
Television Is a Time Suck
The Reality of Irrelevance
Salute Mayor Luzhkov
Impeachment Happens
I Am Not The Only One...
I'm Back! Did Ya Miss Me?
Chechnya Burning
Weddings in Winter
The Jews Are Here!
Gailyn Goes to Town
Is There a Central Bank?
Santa Barbara is Real
Nick's Thanksgiving in Russia
Den' Rozhdeniya = Birthdays
Those Crazy Expats
It's Just a Few Drops of Vodka...
Elections Are Always Rigged
The Blind Leading the Blind
Good Russian Grooms
You Say 'Boris Berezovskiy' Fast
Too Cold to Care!
Russian Oil Towns
Sneaky Siberian Tigers
Which Way is St Peterburg?
Where am I again? Oh, yeah...
I Love Me Some Vodka
It's a Gosorg Halloween
Hunger Comes to Us All
Why Don't They Just Learn English?!
Is Yeltsin 'The Man'?
Murmansk - Brrrr!
Taganka Hides Her Secrects
These are Communists
It's a Power Vaccum
The Commies are Back
Propaganda is Good for You
You Better Buy Russian!
Sex Ed Soviet Style
Party over, oops outta time!
Russian Healthcare in Moscow
What Russian Financial Crisis?
YE Prices in Russia
The Hungry Duck
Russian Caviar Mafia
Magical Mushrooms
Shhhh! We're Bear Hunting
Soviet Street Scams
Bez Dollarov
A Koshka Konspiracy
On The Dacha
The Banking Implosion
Surviving Army Life
Shashleek is Steak on Steroids
Dacha Thinking
Beach Weekend
Dos Vedanya
Hello from Vladivostok
Equality Means Only She Works
Jogging is an Extreme Sport
Russians Have Reunions Too
My Folks in Massive Moscow
Better than Fireworks
Miners Are Real Men
The Russian Mafia is the Roof
No One Smiles in the CIS
One Year Anniversary
Russian Brides Rock
Laura is My St Pete Connection
Change is in the Wind
Chuck Norris' Beverly Hills Casino
The Expat Woman's Predicament
Street Food is Yummy!
Spring Flowers Make June Leavers
The Provinces Are Provincial
Ever Take an Elektrichka?
The English Invasion
Nuttin Like New Money
Rules Are Made to Break
All Black is Russian Fashion
Easter Memories = Easter Dinner
Politics, Russian Style
Theresa Tries to Russify
I Go to Gay Clubs Worldwide
I Hide on Women's Day
New & Shiny: Nizhny Novgorod
Psst! Wanna job in Moscow?
Fili Park Has All the Bootlegs
Web Page Reactions
Take a Break at Dom Odaha
Expat Living in Moscow is Swank
Why Are You Remonting?
They Look Like Telephones...
In Need of a Decent Hairstylist
Smashing Bottles in Red Square


Russia, October 12, 1998

Post-Crisis, Life Goes On

The rough part is over, now all we have to do is find Cheese Balls!

Oh the taste of pure cholesterol!
Dunkin D's Closed!
Some things will never go out of style!
The one and only!
Food is in the stores!
Gimme some Chuda Yogurt
At least the nightlife never slowed down!
A life to live!
Now I have a problem. I am trying to type this as I eat a Rice Krispies Treat, and I am getting my keys all sticky. Tonight's desert is the best way to describe the events of the past week.

Before the complete self-destruction of the Russian banking sector, my ex-flatmate Ann and I bought a $12 (yes, twelve dollars!) box of Rice Crsipies for this very purpose. Then, when we couldn't find marshmallows anywhere in Moscow, Ann's brother brought them from America. Just as all the ingredients were ready, the crisis struck, and in the resulting chaos, the dream Ann and I had was put on hold.

Now, life is returning to some sense of normality, but it will never be the same. Ann is gone; having decided that the party is over in Moscow and the grass is greener in other pastures. There are no more Rice Krispies in Moscow (at any price), but I am relaxed enough now to spend an evening making (and eating) a quintessential American desert with a Russian friend of mine.

I have a whole new Post-Crisis Life today. Monday to Friday is spent working, with the privacy of my apartment as welcome cocoon to crawl into at 8 pm, not to leave till 9 am the next day. Friday nights I go to one of the many going-away parties hosted by expats who are leaving Russia for the West. Recently, the PW expats have started a great tradition; renting out a near-by bar for a night of debauchery supported by free drinks and no inhibitions. Good thing I am such an angel.

Saturday mornings I have a Russian lesson either in my home, or at a non-touristy Moscow attraction. Saturday afternoon, I return to my Peace Corps shopping style, and go to the rinoks to squabble over every ruble when buying food. There are still Western supermarkets, but they all jacked up their prices to astronomical levels, and I just cannot justify paying $5 for tomatoes when the rinoks have them for 5 rubles (big difference when its 15 rubles to the dollar).

With my current non-existent dating life, I formed a group of club kids who I spot-hop with on Saturday nights. Last weekend we were at Propaganda, and two nights ago we were at Pilot. Next weekend, we have already made plans to check out another place called Garage.

Sunday is always a good day to sleep in and play video games till four in the afternoon, especially when you flat mate buys a playstation, new games are $3, and it rains all day.

Yes, life is returning to normalcy, with the twist only Russia can provide. Nice to see the ruble is slowing its decent again, the first boxes of Granola cereal reappearing at the local grocery store, and the clubs are still full of the young and fun, but everyone wonders when Yeltsin will croak and I don' think my local kiosk will ever stock Planters Cheese Balls again.

-- Update! --

Today, November 1, I saw Planters Cheese Sticks in the kiosk! Ok, so they aren't actual Cheese Balls, but close enough for my 23 rubles to purchase!

Christian Science Monitor December 3, 1998

Despite it all, Russian firms do well

By Fred Weir

The evidence is still scattered and sparse, but amid Russia's blizzard of economic woes, a few rays of light might just be breaking through. Just watch Masha Ratinova, a graphic artist use her computer to put the final touches on a new label design for an old brand of Russian cooking oil. The label, which includes Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers,' a crispy head of lettuce, and a smiling housewife, is a part of a new marketing pitch by an agricultural enterprise hoping to compete against imported cooking oil.

The imports were highly favored after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when foreign goods flooded Russia. But in August, imports suddenly became expensive when the Russian currency fell to barely a third of its previous value. Now Russian products have a chance to compete. 'Russian sunflower oil was considered too dark and heavy for cooking and was just sold in bulk for industrial purposes,' says Ms. Ratinova.

Half the price

Now, with a little dash of Western marketing style - provided by Ratinova - plus a whooping great price advantage, the home-grown product may do well. The Russian product can now be bought in local shops for less than half the price of its foreign-made competitors. Currency devaluation has also proved an unequivocal boon for a few key Russian exports, which are produced in rubles but sold on the international market for dollars, such as oil, gas, and steel.

But most companies producing for the domestic market have been sorely buffeted by bank failure, inflation, and the uncertainty that swept in with the August crisis. After nearly a decade of economic depression and political turmoil, few today feel like looking on the bright side.

'It's reasonable to expect benefits from the massive devaluation of the ruble last summer,' says Andrei Neschadin, an economist with the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, a private-sector group. 'But in fact we see very few domestic producers actually making any headway,' he says. 'We seem to have a worst-of-all-possible-worlds scenario unfolding here.'

The Soviet Union is usually depicted as a vast industrial rust bucket that churned out tanks and machine tools, and little else. But its factories also produced a vast array of consumer goods, from hairpins to automobiles - often, admittedly, of atrocious quality.

Post-Soviet hopes dashed

Many Russians hoped the post-Soviet transition would bring investment, new technology, and better management to enable domestic companies to take their place as competitors on the global economic stage.

Instead, they lost most of their home market to aggressive foreign imports. Mr. Neschadin estimates that by the middle of this year, about 60 percent of the consumer goods on sale in Russia were foreign made. In wealtheir markets, like Moscow, the figure reached 80 percent.

Russia's gross domestic product has plummeted to about half its 1991 level, and the Finance Ministry recently forecast that it will slip again by 3 to 9 percent next year. 'Most Russian industries did not reform themselves,' says Vilen Perlamotrov, an expert with the independent Institute of Market Problems. 'They were slow to introduce new product lines. They didn't make use of advertising to overcome the negative image of Soviet goods in the minds of Russian consumers. So, they were easily squeezed out of the market.'

Neschadin, whose center organizes an annual contest to select the best Russian consumer products, says those few companies that did undergo painful restructuring in recent years are now surviving.

Some are prospering.

He cites the Cherkisova and Tsaritsino plants, Moscow-region dairy producers, which upped quality control and introduced Western-style packaging a few years ago. Even without the relative price boost conferred by ruble devaluation, their milk, yogurt, sour cream, and processed-cheese products had pushed most foreign brands off Moscow shop shelves by this year.

Green Mama, a line of soap and beauty products, has been aggressively grabbing market share away from imports since devaluation gave it a huge price advantage, Neschadin says. 'This is particularly encouraging, since the reputation of Soviet-made cosmetics and bath products was the most dismal of all,' he says. 'If they can come back in this field, anything is possible.' Dumplings snatched up

Another example is the Biryulevsky meatpacking plant, which began producing frozen pelmeny, traditional Siberian-style meat dumplings, a couple of years ago. Seldom seen in Soviet times, except in homemade form, pelmeny served with sour cream is an ample meal in itself.

'There aren't many good quality frozen or tinned Russian foods on the market, but when they appear people snap them up,' says Vera Khaliulina, manager of the Shabalovka grocery shop in downtown Moscow. 'It shows Russian products can compete.'

But some foreign companies that started operations in Russia are now cutting back or leaving altogether. One of the Gorbachev-era pioneers in the new Eastern market, Pizza Hut, announced recently that it will sell its two downtown Moscow outlets and pull out by the end of this year.

One exception to this trend - which might prove the rule - is the hamburger giant McDonald's, which has opened four new restaurants in Russia since the August crisis and plans to more than double the total number to 100 by the turn of the century.

Buying in rubles

'When we entered this market a decade ago, we realized we had to integrate into the domestic economy and find Russian sources for everything we make,' says Glen Steeves, the Canadian managing director of McDonald's-Russia. Today, he says, about 80 percent of the chain's products are grown and processed locally.

'The fact that most of our inputs are measured in rubles has insulated us from the shock of devaluation,' he says. 'Our prices have risen somewhat, but in dollar terms they have fallen. Business is only marginally lower than pre- crisis levels.'

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