Earthly financial tensions v. heavenly food passions

Russia may not keep its financial woes to itself, Putin says. Source: Shutter/Legion Media

Russia may not keep its financial woes to itself, Putin says. Source: Shutter/Legion Media

Russia may be heading for a financial precipice as sanctions bite, the rouble drops and oil dives, but mayonnaise is a saviour, says Aliya Sayakhova.

Over the past few days, British media has gone into overdrive about Russia's financial crisis. Reams of newsprint and hours of airtime have been devoted to counting money in Russian “pockets”: how much Russia has, how much Russia spends, and how much cash Russia can hope to have in the future. Russia's alleged financial disaster is attributed to three deadly woes: the drop in oil prices, ongoing Western sanctions and the rouble’s devaluation by 30 percent in recent months.

It all adds up to cash losses of $100bn (£63bn) a year from the plummeting price of oil and $40bn (£25bn) for the sanctions, according to figures released by Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov November 24, plus the unknown billions spent until recently by Russia's Central Bank to prop up the rouble.

One story that British hacks missed was discord over the costs between Mr. Siluanov and Alexei Ulyukaev, Russia’s economic development minister, who does not agree with the figures, though has not said whether he considers them too high or too low. For the time being, it is the $140 billion number that fascinates the Western media.

Counting the cost

The Daily Mail, was worried that Russia’s balance of payments was too vulnerable to oil price falls. It quoted Natalia Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank, saying that the $90-100bn estimate does not take into account the effect of a weak rouble, which helps offset losses by boosting exports and curtailing imports. The net effect would thus be around $40bn.

On the other hand, the Daily Mail adds, Siluanov's $40bn may be too conservative: other analysts have arrived at gloomier estimates, such as Russia’s former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who said the impact of sanctions on the rouble and the wider economy was comparable to the impact of lower oil prices, and that foreign investor confidence would take seven to ten years to recover.

Russia may not keep its financial woes to itself, as the country's president Vladimir Putin noted in a November 23 interview with official news agency TASS. "The modern world is interdependent," he said, reminding the world that Russia’s problems could have knock-on effects for other countries too. Perhaps next week British analysts will be checking how much is in their own pockets, particularly since that money sucking celebration Christmas is fast approaching.

Cosmic coffee

Far from the madding crowd, the International Space Station is all set for Christmas after deliveries of a woman and caviar, just the ticket for a six month-stay in the outer space. Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian female astronaut arrived, courtesy of the Russian spacecraft Soyuz, with all the necessities for brewing up a perfect cup of coffee for her colleagues, Russian Anton Shkaplerov and American Terry Virts, reports the Guardian.

Like any genuine signorina, Samantha just had to pack an espresso machine to take with her. The 20kg Lavazza machine is no ordinary domestic device: it was designed by Italian coffee makers and engineering firm Argotec, which specialises in making space food. “Cristoforetti will be not only the first female astronaut from Italy to go into space, but also the very first astronaut in the history of the conquest of space to savour an authentic Italian espresso in orbit,” Argotec boasts.

Heavenly mayo

The Guardian fails to mention whether mayonnaise was on the list of goodies taken into orbit. Mayonnaise is said to be Russia's favourite condiment, and one that is used liberally on literally any sort of food, pelmeni (Russian meat-filled ravioli), salads, soups, sandwiches, potatoes, meat and much more besides. Only Western sanctions can limit the scope of mayo’s application by a Russian gourmand. A Guardian reporter marvelled at Russia's national obsession in story about a mayo debate at Pushkin House (the Russian cultural centre in London), where Russian expats gathered to discuss their shared passion.

No celebration can be imagined without salads swamped in mayonnaise, such as herring pod shuboi ("under a fur coat"), slices of the raw fish topped with a beetroot salad, he learned. Another typical dish is meat à la française –covered with mayo, cheese and onions and baked in the oven(just don’t tell the French!) Pelmeni with ketchup and mayonnaise is another example of typical Russian “haute cuisine”.

If you can digest all this, you might wish to explore Russian cuisine beyond the mayo maze for yourself. Metro and the Telegraph have lists of the top London Russian restaurants.

The opinion of the writer may not necessarily reflect the position of RBTH.

Read more: UK-Russia crossviews

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