Mrs Speedbox is still in Kislovodsk, Russia, although she returns in a few days. The following are additional observations that may be of interest to Cats.
1. With regard to reporting on the war, Russian television is the polar opposite to what we see here in Australia in terms of partiality. That won’t be a surprise but Mrs Speedbox has commented on the ‘gruesomeness’ of the reporting. Russian TV news has no problem showing dead bodies in various states of disarray – bullet and shrapnel wounds and other much more severe injuries.
2. Russian TV has featured interviews with assorted residents of Mariupol and have particularly focussed on the damage to the homes and businesses of those people. The interviewees claim that much of the destruction was caused by the Ukrainian forces. The interviewees claimed that Ukrainian forces bombarded the town with artillery/rocket fire as Russian forces approached then, as the town was being taken over by the Russians, the Ukrainians adopted a ‘scorched earth’ mindset as they retreated. One man claimed his house, and most of those in his neighbourhood, had survived unscathed yet the Ukrainians made a point of flattening every property as they withdrew. Moreover, they claim the city is now riddled with booby traps. The interviewees were very unhappy with the Ukrainian forces.
The TV news also featured interviews with others who claim that Ukrainian forces have undertaken similar scorched earth practices elsewhere.
3. Moscow is serviced by a number of airports. If you have flown into Moscow on a heavy jet international flight, it is very likely you landed at Domodedovo or maybe Sheremetyevo depending on your departure point. The smaller airport of Vnukovo mostly handles lighter aircraft on international commuter flights. It is well known that numerous airlines have suspended flights to Russia and as a consequence of reduced air traffic, the government has decided to close (care & maintenance) Vnukovo airport. Zhukovsky airport handles light aircraft, charter and some short haul commuter airlines and remains operational along with Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo.
In the good times, the four airports collectively handled over 150 million passengers per annum.
4. After 1991, each Russian bank issued their own credit card and signed up retailers but, there was a problem in that bank ‘A‘ didn’t trust that bank ‘B’ would honour purchases made on a card issued by bank ‘B’ at bank ‘A’s retailer. Therefore, unless you had a card issued by the bank with whom the retailer also did business, your card was useless.
There was no universal ‘clearing house’ and the individual banks were not set up to manage the inter-bank card purchases. The issue persisted for a while but eventually common sense prevailed and the banks came to agreement – which also included access to Mastercard and Visa.
Recently of course, Mastercard and Visa announced they were suspending their services in Russia and whilst that suspension definitely applies to foreign bank issued cards, Russian bank issued Mastercard/Visa branded cards continue to work as usual inside Russia.
5. I should have mentioned the issue of purchasing the flight tickets to Russia in my earlier post.
Because of the sanctions, searches for flight tickets to Russia have been blocked by most of the usual websites. (They actually show a message saying that the booking you are trying to make has been blocked.)
Obviously there are work-arounds but the lack of direct website access is irritating.
6. For most people, sending money to Russia is a problem. The international SWIFT transfer system has shut out Russia and all of the other money transfer websites, including those not necessarily using SWIFT, now block the transfers – even Western Union has suspended services.
Globally, there is a large expatriate Russian cohort who are commenting on assorted websites that they are now unable to remit money to their families and are requesting that a limit be implemented, rather than an outright ban. The authorities are currently disinterested in changing the status quo.
Theoretically, outbound remittances are also frozen however a friend is sending money to his son who is studying in the USA. It turns out that there is a quirk in the system that circumvents the freeze. That quirk cannot be exploited by all people and for my friend, it was a serendipitous discovery. I won’t spell it out here but it is hilariously simple when explained. You can bet your socks that the oligarchs are also aware and have been/will use it to move money both into and out of Russia.
* Yes, a museum dedicated to mineral water. It sets out the history of mineral water in the Caucuses and the health benefits. There are numerous mineral water drinking fountains inside and a ‘bottomless glass’ costs 2 roubles (AUD .04c).