What Will Happen To the US Embassy In Russia?

When a Russian journalist called me in the evening last week to ask what I thought about the US Embassy in Russia closing, I thought it was a joke, and I told him as much.

The idea of the US Embassy in Russia “closing” is an exaggeration to be sure, but there have been difficulties, even for US citizens over the past year.

For example, last spring, we wrote the US Consulate in Moscow that our 15-year old son’s passport was about to expire and that we needed to come in to renew it. We immediately received an automated message that the consulate was only receiving folks like us on an emergency basis and that we should basically give up on ever hoping to grace the premises of the US State Department’s headquarters in Moscow. My wife countered that disconcerting message with a somewhat drily worded dispatch: “A 15-year-old American will be living in Russia without a passport. What needs to happen to constitute an emergency?” To the consulate’s credit, we were in for an appointment about 2 weeks later.

American flag close-up on the beautiful historic building of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow Russia. I’ll never understand why it is perpetually twisted around the pole like this.

It was a strange visit. The State Department seemed to spare no expense when building the new consulate in Moscow. And the glass windows for receiving lines of Russians, eager to visit the “land of the free and the home of the brave” seemed to stretch into the horizon in the gleaming modern interior.

Unfortunately, the queues of eager visa-seekers could only be seen in my imagination, as the whole area was occupied by my wife, me, and an elderly gentleman who seemed to be somewhat lost. Of course, there was the usual security at the front gate with the (how do these people get these jobs?!?) outrageously crabby Russian guard.

When we knocked at one of the windows to announce our arrival, I could swear the echo went off to somewhere just shy of Kamchatka as I watched some tumbleweed blowing through the office in the back. Well, to be serious, it was very odd to see maybe 5 staff working in such a massive office complex.

Off-topic: I just made the mistake of looking up information on the new office building. It cost us $281 million USD, according to this page on the embassy site. On the positive side (if there is any), I have used this particular building as an argument to show my Russian friends that closing up visa service to Russia was most certainly not in the plans of the US State Department.

In any case, we were happy to get our son his passport, and the whole episode was quickly forgotten until I received the call from this Russian journalist.

I tried to diplomatically tell the journalist that he was full of baloney for even suggesting a closing of the US Embassy. He then asked me to say how a US Embassy closing in Russia would affect me hypothetically. And other than needing to renew passports every ten years, I couldn’t think of a single blessed effect on me.

You see, most embassies in Russia have some sort of relationship with their citizens who live locally, creating national holiday events, for example. But not the US Embassy. I’ve lived in Russia for nearly 23 years and can say, except for a dinner in Perm when the US ambassador visited about 20 years ago, the Embassy has made no effort to build a relationship. It’s sort of like the US State Department and Americans in Russia live in parallel universes, our paths never crossing, as we move through space and time. They do send out alarmist e-mails about the dangers of even thinking about Russia, but I unsubscribed from that list about 15 years ago. Too much stress and ado about nothing.

The Russian consulates are currently processing visas for Americans to come to Russia. Meanwhile, the State Department has given Russia “homeless status”, perhaps with the thought that this monicker would improve relations, and recommended that Russians apply for visas to America in Warsaw.

The situation isn’t simple and has to do with a limited number of allowed employees in some sort of squabble between our two nations that Bloomberg can explain better than I can. But it’s also sort of strange that it matters to Russians more than Americans living locally.

My thoughts on the matter, together with some of my fellow Americans’ (where do they find these guys lol?) views can be found here. The article is in Russian, but Google can help you with translation if you need it.

In my humble opinion, the relationship between our two countries has all too often been based on reciprocity, without one country or another taking the lead. That is why I find it refreshing that the Russian consulates are processing visas for Americans. That is good both for the Americans, and for Russia, as literally every American I have met in Russia has stated that it is way better than they had been told or thought before. That is soft power.

And here’s to us putting this spat behind us, and the US Embassy in Moscow returning to normal… at least for the next time one of my kids needs a passport.

Couch Potatoes Cheer For Food Delivery In Russia

If you thought the McDonald’s drive-thru was lazy, Russia has brought the art of apathy to a whole new level with automated food delivery service.

There are two main food delivery services in Russia:  Yandex Food and Delivery Club.

Yandex Food is in 24 Russian cities while Delivery Club, is only in Moscow, from what I see.

In the end, Yandex will win… at everything, in Russia.  They are taking over, from taxis to money transfer systems, now real estate, and much more.  If you think of Yandex just as “Russia’s search engine”, you are missing out.  It is much more.

And that now includes swarms of young men with thermos-box backpacks, hustling and bustling through the streets of major Russian cities, rushing steaming victuals to the famished masses, who are too lazy to do anything more than stand up from their couch and open their front door.

These food delivery guys are improving their physical condition, while the rest of the population is rapidly degrading.  If I were into conspiracy theories…

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In the event of a zombie apocalypse, these will be the only survivors in Moscow

Not only is pushing buttons on your cell phone easier than brushing your teeth, combing your hair, and changing out of your pajamas… it’s also usually quite a bit cheaper.

A Burger King bacon cheeseburger, 3 Whoppers (w/cheese), 3 medium fries, one order of “village-style” fries and 15 chicken nuggets for 500 rubles.  That’s about $7.69 (USD).  And the best part is, that’s the price only if it’s delivered.  If you made the effort to put on your shoes and coat and walk outside and breathe fresh air, the price would be considerably more.

All the nutrition, without all of the cost and exercise:  Here’s how my wife bought all of that fantastic food, delivered to our home, for our kids, on an evening when she and I were out.  Delivery Club was having a promotional sale:  If you spent 800 rubles or more, they would subtract 300 rubles from the total and give you 15 chicken nuggets.  And yes, the delivery itself is included in the cost.

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How did the creators of the movie Wall-E see our future so clearly?

These food delivery services aren’t limited to fast food.  It seems any restaurant that wants to stay in business had better link itself to the service, including even some of the lesser-known establishments, like this small Indian restaurant.  So, whether you fancy sushi, pizza, shish-kabobs, vegan, or a steak, you can just push a few buttons on your iPhone and lay back and wait for the doorbell to ring.

And because these food delivery systems are incredibly efficient and convenient, they are also very disruptive.  It will be very interesting to see how it affects the restaurant business, and over time real estate value, particularly for restaurant locations.

And the other night when my wife and I were out and our kids were devouring Burger King at home?  Well, she and I were sitting with some friends in Vokrug Sveta, which I sort of refer to as a “trendy international food court”, and watching the food delivery guys rush past, with their thermos boxes.

And that’s when we got a fantastic Moscow money-saving idea:  why not walk into a busy Moscow food court, sit down at a table, and then order delivery from the restaurant of your choice to your table.  Pretty sure it would work, you would save money, and maybe some time.  And why embark on that arduous expedition to the cash register when you can just sit in a chair and look at your cell phone?

If you try that genius idea, please be sure to let me know how it goes.  As for now, I’m feeling hungry, and if I were to go into the kitchen, I might need to put food into the microwave to warm it up and then put my plate in the dishwasher.  Seems pretty complicated.  I might as well just pick up my phone and see what sales Delivery Club is offering today…

 

 

 

American Man Attempts To Ride Entire Moscow Metro System In One Day

Editor’s Note:  It is extremely rare to have a guest post on Planet Russia, but when I saw on social media that Scott, a fellow American expat, had attempted to ride the entire Moscow metro system in a single day (223 stations and 379 kilometers!) I asked him to write about his experience (Photos are those taken by Scott during that day).  Here it is, in his own words:

One of the things I love most about where I live in Moscow is that I am within
walking distance of where I work. As a result, I experience Moscow traffic only a
handful of times in a given year. If you have to drive in Moscow, you know that this
is a big deal. Similarly, I would consider myself to be a casual user of the Moscow
Metro. In an average week I use the Metro for a total of 2-3 round trips. So it’s not
like I’m a hardened commuter, expert in all things having to do with the Metro.

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Scott’s first train of the day

That being said, I love the Metro here. The system is extensive, fast, pretty
reliable, and inexpensive. And ever since moving here in 2016, I really wanted to
explore the entire system. That’s right…I wanted to see if I could travel the ENTIRE
network in a single day. On our various trips to a mall, or Red Square, or an FC
Lokomotiv match, I would stare at the huge poster with the system-wide map on it,
trying to calculate the best way to go about seeing everything in a day. If you’ve
never looked at one of those maps, they’re a thing of beauty…so many vibrant
colors! Such an intricate web of lines! But could it be done in a day?!

Visas to Russia for Canadians and Americans

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Is it possible to ride the entire Moscow metro system in one day?

On Thursday, December 27, I decided to try and find out. The first thing you
should know is that you have to get up early. The Metro operates from 5:00am to
1:00am, and, looking at all those lines, I knew it was going to take almost all of that
time. But the other thing to note is that, just because the Metro opens at 5:00am
doesn’t mean you’ll be able to catch a train at your station at 5:00am. So, I decided
to shoot for 6:00am, in hopes that enough trains would be running that I could catch
one pretty quickly at my starting station of Novye Cheryomushki. I was able to catch
a train right away, but unfortunately going in the opposite direction from what I had
planned. That early in the morning, most trains are heading towards the city center,
and I had wanted to catch one going away from the center. But when I entered the
station and both tracks were occupied by trains going towards the center, I decided
I better improvise and change my plan around.

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A mural at the Kievskaya metro station

So, here’s the order of my trip as it happened:
1. North on Line 6 from Novye Cheryomushki to the end.
2. Switch to Line 1 using Moscow Central Circle (MCC); go to north end of
Line 1, then go all the way to the south end of that same line.
3. Come back to MCC and switch to Line 4. I then used a couple hours to
cover all of lines 4, 8A and 11, taking care of the western portion of Line 3
as well.
4. Lunch break near Red Square.

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Statue at the Belorusskaya metro station

5. Finish the remainder of Line 3 going to the eastern end of this line.
6. I then rode the MCC all the way around the city, just over an entire circuit,
and exited at Shosse Entuziastov.
7. Go west on Line 8, then reverse and finish Line 8 at Tretyakovskaya.
8. Go back east on Line 8 and switch to Line 7 at Marksistskaya.
9. Go south on Line 7, then turn around and ride Line 7 to its northern end.
10. Return on Line 7 to Barrikadnaya, and switch to Line 5.
11. Similar to the MCC, I rode Line 5 for just over an entire circuit, exiting at
Belorusskaya (Line 2).
12. I then went north on Line 2, then turned around at the end, and took Line
2 to its southern end.

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Follow the signs…

13. I then went back one station on Line 2, and switched to the end of Line
10. I then rode Line 10 all the way to its northern end.

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Many tourists to Moscow travel through this station.  Can you name it and say why they come here?

14. I then came back 3 stations and switched to Line 9, going to its northern
end. After that I turned around and took Line 9 south.
15. By this time it was getting late…past 11pm. I arrived at Sevastopolskaya
and got off the train in order to switch to Line 11A, which currently
connects Lines 9 and 2. By the time my train arrived it was 11:45pm and
I still had over 20 stations to go in 75 minutes, so I made the decision to
skip 11A and go back to Line 9.

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Outside the Moscow city center, some of the metro system is above ground.

16. I rode Line 9 to its southern end, and switched to Line 12.
17. At this point it was just past midnight and I had 16 stations to go. I again
made the decision to skip some stations, in this case the southern end of
Line 12, and I went north on Line 12 to where it connects to the end of
Line 6.
18. I rode Line 6 from its southern end to my start point, arriving back at
Novye Cheryomushki at 12:31am, 18.5 hours after I started.

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A sign for the Slavyansky Boulevard station

Was it worth it?! Mostly. I wish that I had been able to actually finish what I had set
out to do. I had to skip 8 stations.  Now I know not to take as much time for lunch, and to not wait on Line
11A until late at night. Had I made those 2 changes, I probably would have been
able to complete the task as envisioned. But aside from that, I got see lots of things I
hadn’t yet seen in Moscow. Even though you spend most of your time underground,
you still get to see many different stations, many parts of the outer portions of the
city where the tracks are above ground, and most of all, lots of people…and
Moscow’s population is quite variegated!

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18.5 hours later, Scott returned to his home station

I took a book with me (and I highly
recommend this!) and was able to do a lot of reading along the way. And finally,
even though I was riding along with lots of people for most of the day, I was “alone”,
able to spend the day taking a break from my normal routine and do something
different.

Tony Robbins’ Epic Moscow Fail

The news cycle will quickly forget the fiasco of Tony Robbins in Moscow, but it is important to take what lessons we can from such fails to improve cross-cultural understanding.  And for those who plan to do business in Russia, this sad event is a treasure trove of how NOT to do business in the Motherland.

If you don’t know who Tony Robbins is, that’s perfectly ok.  But a quick snapshot is that he is billed as being the #1 Life Coach in the World and the most expensive business consultant in the world.

If you check out his upcoming events, you will see statements such as this:

“4 days with Tony in London will help you to break through your fears and limitations, to reconnect with your inner power, to awaken your hidden energy in your body, and to set global fearless goals for decades!”

Tony Robbins has coached the likes of Bill Clinton and Oprah.  I have watched a few of his performances and listened to some podcast interviews.

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Tony Robbins

And to be clear, I do think that there is some usefulness to motivational speakers, but I don’t know of any motivational speakers that I will pay $440 (the minimum price for one day at Olimpiisky Stadium in Moscow with Tony) to listen to for a day.

With that, I never had a second thought, I had no plans to go watch Tony.

It seems that I made the right choice as, judging by the internet, the event was a disaster.  Here are my thoughts on what went wrong, why, and what could have been done differently.  Some of these points will be as obvious as some of Tony’s “Disappointment destroys you!”, for that I apologize in advance, but I think when opening a business in Russia, we often overlook the most obvious.

Choose Your Russian Business Partners Wisely

Regardless of your opinion on Tony Robbins, he is a professional, and he runs high-end professional events around the world.  Unfortunately, those he partnered with in Russia proved incapable of running a large-scale event, let alone an event with tickets that ran up to $7300 per person.

This is really too bad, because Russia is more than capable of managing large-scale events.  The World Cup as an obvious example, went off recently without a hitch, and the two matches that I attended (including the final) were absolutely flawless.

Russians Don’t Like Standing In Line

Perhaps your view of Russia is one long bread line.  If so, that stereotype is more than antiquated.  There are still lines in Russia but even after all these years it’s not like anyone has become used to them, particularly at an upscale event.

In the case of Tony Robbins in Moscow, folks were left standing in line for more than an hour, waiting for translation headsets.  And according to Russia Beyond, many of those headsets didn’t even have batteries, so they were left scrambling to local stores to buy some before the event started.

And most attendees, like Twitter user Dmitry Glazunov, took to social media to complain about the chaos.

Punctuality Matters In Russia

In the book that I recently wrote in Russian for Russians on “how to do business with foreigners”, I discuss in length the need for punctuality.  This is because punctuality is not Russia’s most distinguishing trait.

At the same time, if you have come to Russia on business, you had better be on time.  This is particularly if you are focused on the type of clients who will pay thousands of dollars to listen to you for a couple of hours.

Tony’s Moscow show started 3 hours late (!).  That would have been absolutely okay if there had been fighter jets flying around inside the covered stadium with champagne flowing from the rafters.  But there weren’t, and I think, most importantly, this made the crowd feel played.

Russians Love Authority

So, why did Russians pack out the stadium in what was Tony’s largest one-day crowd, paying more than folks in the West pay for a similar event with Mr. Robbins?

One Facebook friend “Dmitry” wrote after the event that he had gone to “learn more about business seminar styles, since he was running business seminars himself, and that he had wanted to show his girlfriend a great day out, full of emotion”.  And he felt that in these regards he had been successful.

The point that Russians love authority is something that I have written about concerning negotiations in Russia.  But if you are #1 in the world, at practically anything, you will draw a crowd in Russia.  The marketing campaign for Tony Robbins in Russia was very smartly focused on the points that he is #1.  Russians love authority.

And some of my Russian friends seemed to enjoy casually mention that they were going to see Tony Robbins even months before the event.  This also was a display of authority.  Or at least disposable income.

If you are planning to market a product or service in Russia, remember that authority matters, but also as we learn in this almost fable-like experience with Tony Robbins, so does execution.

Russians Value Substance Over Feelings

Ok, this is a theory.  But since I am running business seminars myself, I began to watch more closely what Russian business trainers do.  I was surprised and impressed at the volume of information they would produce in a very short amount of time during their training sessions.

Compare this to what I have seen with Western business trainers, and the motivational/informational ratio in the West seems to shift away from the informational side.

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This Russian Tony Robbins meme says “Close your eyes.  See how everything immediately became dark?”

I don’t have a strong opinion on this one way or another, since both sides have value.  I question the ability of the audience to absorb all of the facts of a Russian business trainer, and I also question the value of a motivational performance.  In my case, if I don’t want to work, I just need to remember that I have a family.

I saw an evening TV talk show where one of the guests said that the only difference between Billy Graham coming to Moscow in the early ’90’s and Tony Robbins in 2018 was the cost of admission.  I do not share this sentiment, but I understand the point, and it might be worth considering by Western church organizations who wish to reach out to Russia.

In the case of Tony Robbins, I suspect that the Russian attendees expected more hard material for their money, particularly since the hype didn’t measure to the level of the entry fee.  This point is proven by Russian Esquire reporting that one attendee has now taken the event organizers to court claiming that Tony Robbins simply repeated phrases and made everyone clap for four hours.

Instagram user @art.coaching asks is Tony Robbins a genius or a scam artist and then proceeds to give a much more balanced view of the Tony Robbins event than most of the Russian internet.  She says she didn’t have to pay full price, wait in lines in the heat, and says she didn’t receive new information, but was reminded of important points that are easy to forget.

Fool Me Once Shame On You, Fool Me Twice Shame On Me

I heard that Tony Robbins is planning to visit Moscow again.  I think it will be very difficult for him.  In any case, the prices will be much lower, and the crowds much smaller.

The main reason for this, in my humble opinion, is that going to watch Tony Robbins a week ago in Russia was a sign of success, and today it is a sign of mind-feebleness.

As a matter of fact, the word I saw most used for the event in Russian cyberspace was лохотрон, which when translated into English means something like “automated idiot machine”.

Anyone who goes to a Tony Robbins event again in Russia will do so in disguise and in the dark of night.  Because in Russia, what others think about you matters.

I think it is a sign of envy to those who have more money, but immediately following the fiasco, the Russia internet was jam-packed with taunting of those who had gone to watch Tony Robbins.  If everything had started on time, if the event had been run in a way to match the price tag, then following events would be a slam dunk for the organizers.  Now, I believe, it would be a tremendous waste of resources.

Moscow Might Have Higher Standards Than You

Perhaps if Mr. Robbins had run this event in another city in the world, it would have gone great.  The folks would have reacted “with understanding” to the lines and the tardiness.  They would have gone home and told all their friends about their life-changing experience instead of their tails between their legs, like what happened in Moscow.

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The mega-city of Moscow is incredibly difficult to impress.  It even seemed to take it a couple weeks to even be won over by the World Cup this summer.

So, if you come to Moscow for business, you had better come with your A-Game.  Moscow is much more than the stereotypes you have perhaps unwittingly accrued over the years.

In Conclusion

I don’t fault Tony Robbins for any of this, and I think it will only be a blip on the screen of his worldwide brand in business. I would expect he is disappointed with this even if “Disappointment destroys you!”, and perhaps has also reached the conclusion that he should have partnered with different folks for the event management.

Perhaps Mr. Robbins will even be able to use this experience to improve his work around the world.

And I don’t fault my friends who went to watch Tony Robbins.  That’s their personal decision, and I wouldn’t want to be judged for the different ways that I choose to spend my money.

For my Russian friends who have enjoyed making fun of those who participated, get a life.  Small people discuss people.

But I do hope that for those foreigners who want to do business in Russia, that we can learn from the mistakes of others.  And avoid becoming part of a лохотрон or even worse becoming the automated idiot machine ourselves.  Because if you become the лохотрон your business in Russia is done.