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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On Bureaucratic Woes, the Taliban and Betting

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In response to "Indifference a Constant at U.S. Embassy," a column by Matt Bivens on Oct. 22.


Matt Bivens' article on the inadequacies of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to treat visa applicants in a decent manner is mimicked by other embassies in Moscow as well. This past summer, when applying for a visa for my boyfriend to come to Canada the process was agonizingly time consuming.

As at the U.S. Embassy, applicants wait outside until the processing center is ready, and even after the gates from the sidewalk are opened there is further waiting before security is cleared. Inside, various lines are formed to make time for bureaucracy to work its magic.

Perhaps the most aggravating aspect is the interview day, when you are requested to turn up between 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., or between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. So you are to take a half-day off work to sit and wait and maybe actually not get called until after their mid-day break. And not only the applicant, but the sponsor as well.

In the case of my boyfriend, it was not sufficient that he had a full-tuition scholarship to an Ivy League university or a Fulbright scholarship to support himself while abroad. He still needed proof that he did not intend to stay in Canada. Furthermore, it was me as the sponsor who was in financial question: Would he be able to eat while in Canada?

Governments must appoint ambassadors worthy of their position as a guest in Russia and overhaul the visa regime so that it is a humane, decent and efficient process.

Caitlin Murphy
Toronto, Canada


I wanted to note the accuracy of Matt Bivens' article. I too am married to a Russian national and have experienced the same frustrations with embassy personnel. I was utterly dismayed with the rudeness and lack of respect with which my wife and other Russians were treated by these people.

Dave Allen
Anchorage, Alaska


I rewind my life back to March 1, 2001. Matt Bivens, you must be kidding? I completed the INS K-1 forms in an evening, overnighted them to the Vermont Service Center and the application was approved in two weeks. Then I went back over to Russia. Two weeks later my fiancee received her interview notice. We went to Moscow three weeks later, went to the American Medical Center where we paid $104 including tax for the physical exam, went the next day to the embassy for an interview, which took all of 90 minutes, and came back that afternoon to pick up her visa and doc package.

The only way a K-1 gets shot down is if you blew the submitted application or failed to have all the documentation required and translated.

And where you got that $600 figure for the physical is ludicrous! The U.S. Embassy Package 4 clearly states it costs $100 at AMC.

Patrick Pearce
New York


Unfortunately, Matt Bivens' observation of the arrogance and indifference of embassy officials applies to embassies of all countries, everywhere in the world. He wrote about the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. But let's take another example: the Russian Consulate in London.

In order to apply for a Russian visa, an Englishman (or a woman) needs to line up in front of the consulate gate before 9 a.m. If lucky, only then will he or she be able to get into the building before noon, which is when the reception shuts down. Your first contact with the embassy is with a stern, bulky and rude security guard in a jacket who doesn't speak a word of English. Not even Russian citizens, who sometimes cling to the gate showing him their Russian passports, get preferential treatment. Everybody has to wait in the line.

It is truly sad that the U.S. Embassy in Russia does not treat better Russians wishing to travel or immigrate to the Unites States. But around the world, U.S. embassies come under bomb threats on a weekly basis; the U.S. government is justifiably concerned with illegal immigration and transnational crime. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attack it takes special arrogance to criticize Americans' heightened security measures.

But finally, everything taken into account. The U.S. State Department needs to improve the way U.S. Embassy officials deal with the public around the world. Here, as in many other areas, the U.S. needs to set an example for other countries. The practice of diplomacy around the world is antiquated in many respects, and diplomats (even of the lowest rank) think of themselves as too special and their countries as too important to offer clients a decent service. A major attitude change in diplomacy is needed if we want to live in a truly open world.

Milan Milenkovic
Oxford, England

Taliban Origins

In response to "War-Zone Coverage Tricks," a column by Russell Working on Oct. 22.


I completely agree with Russell Working and I wish there were more broad aspects analyzed. By broad, I do not mean general but very well detailed. I have yet to hear of a single newspaper going deep into the origins of the Taliban. I mean, who created them? Was it not with the help of the CIA during the Cold War that the Taliban emerged? How are they connected to the forces operating in Palestine, and not only there but in India and Pakistan? How can Pakistan be a supporter of the United States when Taliban forces are operating Kashmir? This makes the definition of war against terrorism totally different.

There has been many talks about peacekeeping forces eventually going into Afghanistan once the war is over, but frankly how much would those peace-keeping forces help? If you examine what Russia did economically in Bulgaria in the late 19th century when they liberated the country, you might be amazed. They did not support the Bulgarian people with soldiers, but they sent all manner of leaders who were to educate the people and the future government. Consequently, Russia retreated leaving a prosperous economy behind that respected the Russians as liberators not despotic colonialists, as was the case with Western countries.

Last but not least, nobody mentions anything about the Iranian request for permission from the United Nations to begin strikes on Afghanistan. The UN has preserved the peace ever since World War II, but how much of its power is abused or, should I say, neglected by the superpowers? There is a great importance behind the role of the UN that newspapers ignore completely.

Ivan Lupov
Carlinville, Illinois

Unseeing Soothsayer

In response to "The Soothsayer," a weekly column by Frank Caruana.


How the soothsayer managed to reach such a position where he can be referred to as a "sport punting expert" is beyond my belief. Not only has he in his first week picked many a poor bet, such as Liverpool vs. Leeds, a game no one would bet on, but he has continued in form in his second week by dismissing Liverpool's chances of claiming the premier league title. What he actually knows about premier league soccer seems to me to be very limited. Liverpool is only three points off the top of the table with a game in hand -- so really out of the running then, or maybe not!

His predictions this week were again a joke. England, without competitive rugby and their inspirational captain, was not a team to put your life's savings on. Likewise, Manchester United to win is no longer a safe bet.

Had he looked at the Leicester vs. Liverpool match, a crisis club against a team in great form (not a one-man team as he so foolishly dubbed them) then he would have immediately been onto a winner. Just to add to his seeming inexperience: A school-boy error of betting on a derby (Milan-Inter) was bound to back fire; who in their right mind bets on a derby game. They are the most unpredictable games in soccer and outcomes can be bizarre. Anyway, his comment about Liverpool really riled me because it just proves how little he knows. If you want a better soothsayer, pick some bomzh off the street and give him a hundred dollars -- I'm sure he'd put it to more use.

Nicholas Ryan
Moscow and Liverpool

Sheremetyevo Shambles

In response to "Moscow's Airport: Back To U.S.S.R," an editorial on Oct. 25.


You are spot on with the editorial. I have been meaning to write exactly those words for many years; I always swear to do so whenever I arrive at Sheremetyevo-2 but I never got around to it. You are exactly right in suggesting that President Vladimir Putin could do a great deal to improve Russia's image in the eyes of foreign visitors by ordering his officials to remedy the Sheremetyevo-2 embarrassment.

I would add only one other thing: The heart of the matter is that those Russians who could do something about it -- influential businessmen, politicians and senior government officials -- never see what you refer to because they do not go through the normal channels at Sheremetyevo-2. It is analogous to expect people with flashing blue lights on their cars to demand that the traffic problems be solved.

Bob Foresman


Thank you for writing about the dismal conditions at Sheremetyevo-2. You could devote an entire newspaper to the subject. I've witnessed no improvements in the nine years that I have lived here. I don't care about fancy shopping arcades, I just want to get through passport control! I was recently told by the person manning the one open booth that, as a foreigner here, I make a lot of money. She said that she doesn't and therefore I could wait. How does one respond to this?

There is continuing talk about building a new airport. Why bother if there is no one competent to work in it or manage it? It will just be another opportunity to bleed off money to Switzerland.

Lastly, can anyone tell me why the escalator that leads down to passport control doesn't and never has worked?

Jim Smyth

Oily Issue

In response to "Oil-Wary RTS Flirts With 200, Falls Off," an article by Victoria Lavrentieva on Oct. 22.


I read with interest this article, and, in particular, the last comment supplied by Peter Boone, head of research at Brunswick UBS Warburg.

While I concede that the Russian market is reliant to some extent on oil prices, I strongly disagree that the risk in the market is greater on the downside than the upside. If Boone was a slick-ass, fast-money speculator who only looked at one-week charts, then perhaps this view could be asserted. However, I have yet to find a serious research house covering Russia that does not believe Russia is fundamentally undervalued. The fundamental macro- and microeconomic improvements over the past two years means there should be more to stock picking than simply chasing cheap cash generators. The next stage of Russia's market development will be in these companies with exposure to domestic recovery and domestic reforms. Unified Energy Systems, Mosenergo, Lenenergo are at the top of the list of reasonably liquid companies that offer that exposure.

As detailed in Renaissance Capital's recent utilities report: "Unified now prices in the complete absence of change in the company, while we believe that the restructuring of Unified is on the verge of beginning. Unified is the most liquid Russian stock, which if you believe our research, which I might add is fundamental, there lies considerable upside."

Russia is not just about oil.

Sam Barden

A Matter of Trust

In response to "Landmark in U.S.-Russian Relations?," a comment by Pavel Podlesny on Oct. 19.


I read the statement, "In Washington, right-wing politicians are already warning Bush and his team not to make any concessions to Russia."

It would seem that the reason is because some of them fear that old Cold War hard-liners still have a finger in the political pie of Russian politics or that some mischievous agenda is afoot. This may or may not be true, but the fears are still there. Putin has stated that Russia has fundamentally changed. But it may be that more time is needed to see what that means exactly.

Unfortunately, I cannot answer for the Russian point of view, but I am sure that there are some post Cold War fears and concerns about the U.S. and NATO that remain.

Until both sides can truly view each other as trustworthy (if that is actually possible -- geopolitics makes for strange and sometimes contradictory alliances), it does not look like a truly full and open relationship can exist. Also, just as each U.S president differs in his agenda, so too will future Russian presidents. That is human nature.

I will say though that closing the base in Cuba was a pleasing event for the U.S. government. If that was part of a Bush-Putin deal, then look for the United States to somehow return the favor.

John Reynolds
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Floyd Syndicated?

In response to "Chris Floyd's Global Eye," a weekly column.


I would like to tell you how much my wife and I look forward to reading Chris Floyd's column every week. We find his articles intelligent, insightful and darkly humorous -- a refreshing challenge to much of the banal writing that passes for news writing today. I was surprised to learn that his column is not internationally syndicated. What a shame.

David Wack

What Goes Around ...


Although I am disgusted by the events of Sept. 11, I am not surprised. Throughout the 20th century, the United States has given radical groups monetary aid that is used to purchase U.S. made weapons. When the radicals are of no use, they are abandoned or become the enemy. Americans ask how people of other countries could hate the United States. However, they have little if any knowledge of the backstabbing and deceit that is U.S. foreign policy. When U.S. leaders say something is for the good of the United States. they really mean "us" (leaders, corporations). I feel it is time for the U.S. government to step out of other countries' affairs. Who are the U.S. politicians to decide what is good for the rest of the world's population?

Christopher Blowers
Charleston, South Carolina