Guest Post: Speedbox – Postcard from Kislovodsk

Resort city of Kislovodsk, Photograph by Lashkov Fedor.

Mrs. Speedbox has been in Russia for the past week following news that her mother had suddenly passed away (heart attack).   As Cats will appreciate, organising overseas flights at very short notice in stressful situations can be trying, but the nice people at Emirates had her on a flight (in a good ‘private’ seat) in less than 24 hours from the news being received.

My wife’s mother lived in the small city of Kislovodsk (pop. 140,000) having moved from the frozen north of Russia almost three decades earlier.  Kislovodsk is in the North Caucuses region some 1,600 kms due south of Moscow.

Mrs Speedbox will remain in Russia for another couple of weeks but the following observations may be of interest to Cats:

  1. The flight from Brisbane to Dubai was 90-95% full.
  2. The flight from Dubai to Moscow was 100% full with a mixture of people speaking assorted languages, including English.
  3. Mrs Speedbox had to change airports (Domodedovo to Sheremetyevo) to catch a connecting flight. It is very unusual to change airports for the internal flight to Kislovodsk but during the 2 hour taxi ride, she noted that Moscow traffic was as busy as usual.
  4. My wife took Euros to exchange for Roubles. The bank offered only 75 RUB per 1 EUR whereas just three months ago it was around 84 RUB per 1 EUR.  If buying EUR with RUB, the bank sell rate is a whopping 110 RUB per 1 EUR.  Therefore, convert only what you need and only when you need to.
  5. IKEA closed its stores in Russia but a French IKEA-like company continued to operate its chain of stores. That company enjoyed a substantial spike in sales and IKEA quietly announced a few days ago that it will re-open its stores.
  6. McDonalds may be (currently) closed but Burger King is not – and apparently doing a roaring trade. McDonalds are reportedly losing $US55m per month in sales.   Nobody misses Starbucks.
  7. Luxury retailers such as H&M, Fendi, Prada, Hermes, and Chanel have closed their stores but this is an irrelevance to the overwhelming majority of Russians and only impacts those who live in Moscow or St Petersburg. Wealthy Russians who can afford those items will think nothing of travelling to Europe/Turkey/Dubai to buy what they want.   In fact, it will be a ‘badge of honour’ to display such affluence and capability.
  8. During one of our video calls Mrs Speedbox walked around the main town square/CBD of Kislovodsk and it was filled with people. I have been in Kislovodsk a number of times and have never seen it so busy.  The shops were trading; there were street musicians; pop-up stalls, local artists painting and selling their wares, the cafes were bustling……if I didn’t know for certain my wife was in Russia, I would have said she was in Dam Square in Amsterdam or Alexanderplatz in Berlin.  And not a covid face mask to be seen.
  9. Kislovodsk is well known as a tourist destination for its architecture, walking trails in the mountains and in particular, it is one of the largest health destinations in Russia with numerous natural springs and some 45 eco/natural health resorts in the immediate area. A good friend of Mrs Speedbox is a Manager at one of those facilities and she reports that they are fully booked with guests arriving from all over Russia and also, a significant percentage of foreigners.
  10. Enterprising Russians are travelling into Europe and buying large numbers of goods. Want an new Apple phone?  Sure, still in its sealed box from Austria/Germany/Turkey etc.  Don’t even need a power adaptor plug.   Want a new Audi, Renault, Toyota etc.?  Sure, what colour?  Let me check with my dealer in Austria/Germany/Turkey etc.   Price will be a little higher than usual.
  11. A friend of Mrs Speedbox is a local dentist. He was initially concerned that specific imported supplies for his dentistry work would become unavailable.  Nope.  The European manufacturer recently issued a notice to its Russian dental equipment importers that although the manufacturer is deeply concerned with the events in Ukraine, they feel they have a higher duty to the dental health of all people.  Therefore, supplies will continue.  (never underestimate the power of money).
  12. Mrs Speedbox has many other friends in Kislovodsk and has been canvassing their opinion of current events. Without exception, they are disappointed that the invasion occurred and are genuinely sorry for the Ukrainian people.  But, they support the action – even those who are not Putin supporters, and there are many.  The consensus is that American meddling in Ukraine and continuous NATO encroachment has ‘forced’ Putin to act.  They are also aware of Ukrainian military activities in the Donbas and the indiscriminate impact on local ethnic Russians.  Ukrainian President Zelensky is thought to be a fool who is easily lured by coloured lights and trinkets.

In conclusion, nobody has any concerns about the sanctions and at present, that view is justified as the sanctions do not appear to be having any noticeable impact or alternatively, the impact is nominal (traveller FX notwithstanding).  Generally speaking, it appears that the Russian people are going about their lives without any regard for those who have closed their stores or otherwise ceased importing to Russia.

Unsurprisingly, Russian manufacturing, including the outright copying of previously imported goods, continues to gain momentum.  (lessons learned from China’s modus operandi?).  Those manufacturers are certain that no claim for breach of copyright will succeed in any Russian court.

Once again, it appears that the west, and America in particular, do not understand the Russian psyche.  Namely, that for the last 70 years or so, Russia has been largely isolated by the west and for its own survival has had to become self-sufficient in virtually any area we can name.  And when imported items suddenly disappear from local stores, the average Russian will merely shrug their shoulders and look for an alternative.

Russians are used to this and it is in their DNA to accept and overcome adversity.  To be fair, they may not ‘be cheering’ but nor will they respond like overwrought westerners.  Remember when your mother or father told you how Australians used to react to adversity by just ‘making do’ or that they would just ‘get on with it’?   That attitude still exists in Russia today and whilst the sanctions may possibly impact some specific areas, you can be certain that the average Russian will barely notice, despite what the MSM will have us believe.

38 thoughts on “Guest Post: Speedbox – Postcard from Kislovodsk”

  1. Thanks for the insights.

    Its always good to hear direct news on the ground, rather than the stuff we’re being spoon fed by the MSM and our governments.


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  2. Interesting little look at the other ‘side’.

    .Russia has been largely isolated by the west and for its own survival has had to become self-sufficient in virtually any area we can name.

    They make sumfink.


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  3. Speedbox,

    In late September 2018 with my wife and Irish Ex Chairman and his wife from UK, enjoyed staying in Moscow, then taking Volga Dreams River Cruise from Moscow to St Petersburg staying in Kempinski Hotel – we also flew Emirates Dubai to Moscow and having flown St Petersburg back to Moscow – Emirates back to Dubai

    We really enjoyed our time in Russia, impressed by the vibrance and youth of Moscow and St Petersburg, and coming from multicultural Sydney, surprised by the mono ethnic character of both Cities (could have been in Northern beaches of Sydney) – the young people we spoke to were enthusiastic about life and very supportive of Putin – the older people seemed to pine for the old life under communism – a great experience.

    Mrs Speedbox has many other friends in Kislovodsk and has been canvassing their opinion of current events. Without exception, they are disappointed that the invasion occurred and are genuinely sorry for the Ukrainian people. But, they support the action – even those who are not Putin supporters, and there are many. The consensus is that American meddling in Ukraine and continuous NATO encroachment has ‘forced’ Putin to act. They are also aware of Ukrainian military activities in the Donbas and the indiscriminate impact on local ethnic Russians. Ukrainian President Zelensky is thought to be a fool who is easily lured by coloured lights and trinkets.

    Your wife’s comments above – Obama and especially Joe Biden on getting the Ukraine Prosecutor investigating the Ukraine company employing Snorting Hunter Biden fired, the Deep Swamp Impeachment Trial of President Trump over the Ukraine phone call, plus witnesses like Victoria Nuland. and Alexander Vindman during that trial make me cynical about the situation in Ukraine, given the US activities of the CIA, State Department and US Weapons Manufacturers over the years destabalising overseas countries, has made me question western propaganda and try and look at both sides of the story

    I am pleased you Wife made it to Russia.


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  4. McDonalds may be (currently) closed but Burger King is not – and apparently doing a roaring trade. McDonalds are reportedly losing $US55m per month in sales. Nobody misses Starbucks.

    I laughed.

    Thanks for the insight speedbox, I’ve heard similar things from the Russians I know. While there are some who hate Putin, it’s almost universal that they feel the west has spat in the face of Russia again.


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  5. Two Weeks to Flatten the GDP

    Economic confidence among the general public is right now lower than it was during the depth of the lockdowns.

    The Biden administration has been brutal in its tax plans, regulatory impositions, vaccination and mask mandates, and daily threats against fossil fuel, crypto, and just about everyone else. And then there’s the war — the US government is doing its best to make it last and last — and its further wrecking of supply chains in all corners of the globe. The result should not surprise us.


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  6. I’ve never believed that sanctions against ordinary people due to decisions made by their leaders are a just measure, especially in non-democratic countries where the citizenry has no say in policy.

    Having said that, I’ll also add the observation that it’s a pity life isn’t so rosy for Ukrainians at present.

    Hope your wife returns safely, Speedbox.


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  7. the older people seemed to pine for the old life under communism

    Bald and Bankrupt had a great insight into this, to paraphrase:

    You worked your whole life in a tractor factory, a massive industrial enterprise, thousands of workers streamed through the gates every morning, the factory took in raw materials and pushed tough and reliable tractors out the other end. Now it’s finished, your whole lifes work, the enterprise went bankrupt, the buildings are falling down and everything of value has been stolen or sold off.


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  8. I have been in Kislovodsk a number of times and have never seen it so busy. The shops were trading; there were street musicians; pop-up stalls, local artists painting and selling their wares, the cafes were bustling….

    Wow. Bit different to Perth then after McClown has worked his Covid magic for a couple of years. Shops shut everywhere.

    Thanks for the post Speedy.


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  9. the older people seemed to pine for the old life under communism

    A young Russian woman who grew up in the fading years of the Soviet Union told me her parents both had good jobs and at home drawers were stuffed with cash because there was nothing to spend it on.


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  10. Very interesting read. Thanks, Speedbox. In our short trip to St Petersburg, my wife and I were fortunate to have a university lecturer as our guide. She was brilliant in describing the way of life prior to the Russian revolution. As we gaped in awe at the flagrant and frankly obscene shows of wealth in St Petersburg and surrounds, we had a slight inkling of what may have fomented the “ordinary” people to revolt.

    Apart from that, we found St Petersburg a city of incredible contrasts. Leaving the ship, for example, we drove through an area of 1970s housing: dank, dark, sombre rows of identical apartments, the buildings themselves already decomposing with concrete cancer.

    Then abruptly you were in a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that, apart from the cyrillic lettering, could have been any large city anywhere in Europe — or even parts of Melbourne.

    Then there was the modern architecture and roadworks, the equal of anything anywhere.

    Thanks, Speedbox, for bringing so much of it back to us.


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  11. Thanks, Speedbox.

    Your words brought back memories of my trip to St Petersburg and Moscow in May, 2017. I had the most transcendent experience in St Basil’s as our male tour guides sang a capella in Church Slavonic close to the end of our tour. I had tears rolling down my face at the overwhelming beauty – physical, aural and spiritual – of it all.


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  12. impressed by the vibrance and youth of Moscow and St Petersburg, and coming from multicultural Sydney, surprised by the mono ethnic character of both Cities (could have been in Northern beaches of Sydney)

    Where vibrance wasn’t used as code…


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  13. Now Catallaxy openly posts shit where it fondly remembers life in communist Russia.

    If that is directed at my comment above about drawers stuffed with cash you’ve missed the irony.

    If not, carry on.


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  14. Luxury @10.46am:

    Ahh memories……I was in Russia in 1989 in the glasnost period & recall a most exquisite choral recital in a small church outside Moscow. It was freezing & the choristers had to change in some small toilet area outside the chapel. The resilience of Russians is phenomenal. I actually like them a lot.


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  15. Namely, that for the last 70 years or so, Russia has been largely isolated by the west

    I recall something that happened in that period but the details are fuzzy now. Oh well, must be always the Wests fault. China agrees.

    ….fondly remembers life in communist Russia.

    It was from the Babylon Bee? My friend in Shanghai is also so fortunate, under Communism he gets to stay home all day and laze about, doesn’t even have to go to work. There is less pollution there now under Communism and never traffic jams or supermarket lines.


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  16. Pollak: Biden Takes High Risks in Escalating War with Russia in Ukraine

    President Joe Biden’s garbled request for Congress to authorize an additional $33 billion in spending for weapons to send to Ukraine came without any explanation as to what U.S. goals in the ongoing war might be, or what victory might look like.

    The answer may be in the spending proposal itself: the Biden administration may hope to defeat Russia, not just by stopping its advance in Ukraine, but by causing Russia’s ailing military to collapse and forcing President Vladimir Putin out of power.

    That is the goal that Biden let slip during his address in Warsaw, Poland, in lat March, which was billed by aides as a kind of “historic” speech. (President Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw in 2017 warning of Russia’s advance was called “racist.”)

    While the so-called experts running Biden’s national security apparatus were openly contemptuous of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the start of the war, and offered to help him flee, they have been surprised by Ukraine’s strength.


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  17. The frantic hysteria of the western media over this war has been immense and it has raised red flags for me . The hypocrisy of the USA over what is occurring in Ukraine is staggering considering what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan (etc,etc…). I used to think that Russia with its rampant corruption and totalitarian government was “the bad guys” but now I realise that that title belongs elsewhere as well. A.B.C. – Accept nothing, Believe no-one and Check everything.


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  18. Chris M says:
    May 2, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    Namely, that for the last 70 years or so, Russia has been largely isolated by the west

    I recall something that happened in that period but the details are fuzzy now. Oh well, must be always the Wests fault. China agrees.

    Any chance of enlightening us about that ” something that happened in that period “?
    I don’t recall anything special myself.


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  19. Thanks for taking the time to share, Speedy. Russia has always been on my list of places to see before I succumb to the ravages of time. I’ll make sure Kislovodsk is on the itinerary.

    My sympathy to your family on your bereavement.


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  20. Condolences Speedbox.

    I scratch my head on why Australia even is involved in the conflict. Even the US, we have seen how the US react when there’s meddling in their backyard. Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia… Europe IMO different story, their mess.

    One thing is this whole episode has forced me to become more educated about Russia from the old Soviet image that I am accustomed to and grew up with. Closest I have been to it is a 4 month stint in one of the ‘stan’s to it’s south, I did meet a few Russians while there. I have also seen the best and worst of Russians in Asian bars. I hold no grudge to them but now realise there is so much more to their history that even the Soviets couldn’t destroy unlike what Mao did to traditional Chinese culture, that incidentally is now playing out. I learned at high school about the Czars and the Russian Revolution along with Napoleons disastrous invasion, I was unaware of the wars against the Swedes.

    I don’t condone Putins actions but after educating myself I am seeing it in a deeper historical context. Context of millennia which we Australians regrettably don’t have when it come to our very short existence on the world stage.


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  21. “Kislovodsk is in the North Caucuses region some 1,600 kms due south of Moscow.”

    I’m reminded of something Peter Hitchens wrote about recently, I think it was in the Speccie. He and his wife were based in Moscow in the late 1980s, at the time when the Soviet Union was crumbling. Whilst the state grocery stores were bare, Moscow had small private markets where people would come up from the Caucuses with their produce to sell….fruit, veg, meat and alcohol. The Hitchens family were in Moscow for Christmas….and Hitchens wrote how his wife would frequent the markets and buy the fruit to make traditional English Christmas pudd and cake. The almonds and walnuts tasted of almonds and walnuts, the apricots, plums, sultanas and so on were fruity, dense and luscious. He wrote how the fruit tasted magical and reminded him of his childhood, of tastes and textures that have disappeared in the UK and elsewhere with the rise of mass production and manufacturing, both of which have tampered with food quality and most importantly, food taste.


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  22. Appreciate the assorted comments and just want to respond to a few.

    Bluey says:
    ….. it’s almost universal that they feel the west has spat in the face of Russia again.

    Yes. The attitude of the USA, in particular, infuriates them. Years ago, Obama said that Russia was “just a regional power”. Russians were, unsurprisingly, deeply offended although this was just another disparaging comment in a very long list.

    OldOzziesays:
    …..the older people seemed to pine for the old life under communism.

    True. Many of the older people were economically ‘left behind’ after 1991 and they found it near impossible to survive under the new system. So, they want to go back t the old system but that boat has sailed.

    Bruce in WA says:
    …..gaped in awe at the flagrant and frankly obscene shows of wealth in St Petersburg…

    Yes, it is an eyeopener! And parts of Moscow are no different. Depending on who your friends/associates are, it soon becomes obvious that there is a significant group of people with ‘serious money’ in Russia, especially in Moscow and St Petersburg. Some achieved it through hard work, others by entrepreneurial spirit, some by corruption or other crime but however achieved, the contrast can be startling.

    Megan says:
    Russia has always been on my list of places to see…… I’ll make sure Kislovodsk is on the itinerary.

    Russia will provide you with extraordinary contrasts and the history is incredible. The first and most jarring thing will be the difference between what we are told with the ‘on the ground’ reality. Russians are not a sullen people eking out a meagre existence eating borscht every day and drunk on vodka every night. (ok, there’s a few of those but is grossly exaggerated.)

    Kislovodsk is a beautiful picturesque city/town that sees many tourists and especially if you’re interested in hiking in the mountains or relaxing at a health resort (mineral water spas, mud baths, therapeutic massages etc.). The Russians love this stuff but heaps of western Europeans also travel to Kislovodsk such is its health/eco/hiking reputation (if you’re into that sort of thing).

    As you can see from the other comments above, those who visit Russia come away with great memories.


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  23. Mrs Speedbox, thanks for the local viewpoint report from Russia. Please ask her to keep them coming and perhaps find a reliable replacement prior to leaving for Oz.
    moderated

  24. Not sure to what degree Russia was isolated for much of the last 70 years.

    Their military and “spook” operations as the ‘USSR were EVERYWHERE.

    The general population was certainly restricted in both domestic and international movement, but the planet was awash with “fraternal assistance” projects. It was soviet equipment and “technical advisers” who got Hanoi’s army across the line in Viet Nam, see also the “Great Bear” Viet-Sov” offshore oilfield. From the sixties to the eighties, large chunks of Africa were being “visited” by The Red Army and its proxies, like Cuba.

    Western academia was basically run from the Lubyanka / Moscow central starting in selected spots in the 1920s. A significant proportion of the Brit spook services was effectively staffed by Soviet operatives for DECADES. The Afghans got VERY “up close and personal” with soviet troops from 1979 onwards. The middle east was a hotbed of soviet “activity” from before WW2.

    Back in the 19th Century, the Czarist Russian Empire was playing catch-up. Several Australian states built actual coastal defense forts complete with some serious artillery, just in case the Russians got frisky in their efforts to catch up with the global activities of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Belgians, Brits, French, Germans, Italians, Turks, etc., etc., of course.

    A country steeped in the history of its own invasion by the Mongols and the Vikings, for starters, has some interesting baggage.


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  25. i am old enough to recall reports of communists extolling the virtues of Soviet resilience and capacity. Nothing changes among those drinking the Kool Aid


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