AKTSIZNAYA MARKA: The online tax stamps collection of Andrey Vasiunin

If you live in a European, African, Asian or South American country, and are a smoker or know smokers, you may have noticed fancy little labels stuck onto the cigarette boxes or other tobacco products you encounter. Attached like a stamp on an envelope but with the ornate designs and security features of paper money, these little slips of intricacy are neither truly stamps or banknotes.

They are in fact cigarette and tobacco tax stamps, a method of collecting taxes by governments. While most countries and territories levy tax on goods such as tobacco and alcohol – the so-called ‘sin taxes’ due to the health implications of using these products – only some issue these special stamps which are attached to the packets by manufacturers in their factories. They are a really elaborate way of saying “Yes, I paid up the tax on my products”. Tax stamps also help tax officials and consumers distinguish the real deal from counterfeit, and often very dangerous, tobacco products. The stamps also act as a quality seal, positioned on the packaging in such a way that opening the box or pouch breaks apart the stamp, so a whole, undamaged stamp means a fresh and non-tampered pack of 20.

 

Most tax stamps are issued by national governments, who usually delegate the task of printing millions of stamps to their finance ministries or tax boards, depending on the administration. According to Professional Security Magazine Online, more than 140 billion tobacco and alcohol stamps are produced annually by more than 150 different national and state agencies. As tax agencies tackle an increasing tobacco smuggling and counterfeiting industry and the resulting need to safeguard tax revenues, they have made their stamps more and more complex, including hard-to-forge features such as holograms, machine-readable elements, UV and infra-red printing, complicated patterns and other security features. These attempts to thwart Ben and his cross-Channel smuggling band of chums flogging cheap ciggies at the local pub have had the added effect of making tax stamps more attractive as a collector’s item

Tax stamps have been around since the 19th century, but most people pay little attention to them. Nevertheless a community of collectors have grown around the humble and official-looking stickers, also known as banderoles or excise stamps. While nowhere near as popular as its cousin, postage stamp collecting, many have come to appreciate the hobby and of course, the beauty and collectible nature of these items. Indeed, early 20th century tax stamps from the United States’ Internal Revenue government body and 19th century European issues can fetch more than £5,000 on auction sites among dedicated hobbyists and investors in collectibles.

Andrey Vasiunin, a resident of Russia’s capital Moscow and the guitar and keyboard player of doom metal band Armaga, is probably the closest thing to a celebrity in the tax stamp collecting universe. A Korolev-born father of one who graduated in economics from the G.V. Plekhanov REA educational institute, Vasiunin caught the ‘collecting bug’ early on in his childhood, gathering up collections of badges, toys and wrappers in his school days. He even built up a fine dossier of the phrase “I love you” in various languages. Then in 2001, while lounging around on a fine and warm July summer’s day in his garden, smoking a cigarette, Vasiunin noticed the tax stamp perched nonchalantly on his smokes. His curiosity piqued, he admired the colourful patterns of the stamp’s design and became hooked. He peeled off the stamp and tucked it into his wallet.

It was this chance counter with a Russian ‘aktsiznaya marka’ or excise stamp, that would be the first step in Andrey Vasiunin’s ascendancy to become one of the leading lights of the hobby. He undertook a trip to the Czech Republic, where he encountered a different breed of tax stamp. Further intrigued, Vasiunin filched the Czech versions too, straight into his wallet. He then chanced upon Italian and French examples affixed to the pages of a friend’s notebook. Soon word of Vasiunin’s new and unorthodox hobby began to circulate among his friends, and tax stamps from across the globe started filling up his wallet. His addiction to tax stamps became so insatiable that he spent a day at a customs depot, going through cigarette packets being shipped in from the rest of Europe and removing their stamps for his collection.

As the Internet became established in Vasiunin’s home country, he decided to embrace the new technology, placing his stamp collection online for the world to see. In 2005, he created a website, akciza.narod.ru. Written bilingually in Russian and English and featuring scanned images of his prized specimens, Vasiunin’s one-stop tax stamp gallery on the Information Superhighway became the world’s first and currently only one of two such websites dedicated to tax stamps for tobacco and alcohol. Within a period of seven years, Vasiunin acquired nearly 600 stamps and cigarette seals from a hundred countries, many donated by good friends and fellow hobbyists who he met online.

In 2008, Andrey Vasiunin switched web service providers and unveiled a new and heavily upgraded site “Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey” with a more detailed look, customised header graphics and a bigger selection of images drawn from his collection, which now numbers more than 2,000 examples. With its distinctive vintage appearance and interactive gallery of Vasiunin’s collection, scanned in great detail and sorted by geographical region, countries and territories, the site has become a detailed window into this unknown hobby. According to Flag Counter, his e-collection has received more than 9,000 visits from over 6,000 visitors representing 175 countries. The highlight of the ‘Tax Stamps Collection’ is definitely its gallery, with stamps arranged as if though in a high-quality album, like the heavy-duty pricey ones you can find in stamp collector’s hobby outlets. Each image enlarges when clicked on, allowing you to appreciate the full beauty and detail of each of Vasiunin’s stamps. The issues for each territory are arranged in chronological order from oldest to newest. Fellow collectors can also arrange to swap and sell stamps to Andrey, with the website maintaining a guestbook for collectors to introduce themselves and interact with Andrey.

More recently, Vasiunin has branched out into social media, opening a Facebook version of his hit site – www.facebook.com/TaxStamps – where he showcases the latest additions to his collection. The Facebook page has already accrued a small community of nearly 200 fellow collectors.

You can visit Andrey Vasiunin’s site at www.tax-stamps.com

SOURCES/IMAGE CREDITS:

“TAX STAMPS” – Andrey Vasiunin http://www.akciza.narod.ru/index2.html

“About Me” – Andrey Vasiunin, Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey http://www.tax-stamps.com/about

“Collection” – Andrey Vasiunin, Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey http://www.tax-stamps.com/collection

Andrey Vasiunin’s Facebook profile.

Cigarette tax stamps collection, Andrey Vasiunin, Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/TaxStamps/

Flag Counter http://flagcounter.com/

“Track and trace” – Professional Security Magazine Online (10 July 2017) http://www.professionalsecurity.co.uk/news/interviews/track-and-trace/

“Armaga” – Spirit of Metal http://www.spirit-of-metal.com/groupe-groupe-Armaga-l-en.html

Advertisements

PHOTO MOMENT: The lady and the clouds – Katerina Plotnikova

Photography by Katerina Plotnikova 

A woman in a dark blue dress attempts to liberate the sky from the clouds, summoning strength amidst the drab. She battles on, beyond the unforgiving and featureless landscape.

A photograph made by Russian photographer Katerina Plotnikova  – another tale of wonderland – born in 1987, she specialises in graceful landscapes and people and animals embracing, uniting as one in friendship. She operates from Moscow.

This picture was shared by Traceyanne McCartney via Judy Adamson.

SOURCE/IMAGE CREDITS:
“HEM Bloggers List” – The Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind/lists/hem-bloggers-list
Judy Adamson, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/JudyAdamson
Traceyanne McCartney, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/jasmoonbutterfl
“About” – Katerina Plotnikova Photography, Facebook, Facebook Inc https://www.facebook.com/KaterinaPlotnikovaPhotography/info?tab=page_info

BORIS NEMTSOV: Russian opposition leader gunned down

The politician Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader serving in Russia’s parliament, the Duma, has been shot dead in Moscow, the European news division of the BBC reports.

The country’s officials say that Nemtsov, who once served as deputy prime minister, was killed yesterday in Moscow while travelling around the city by foot. The BBC reports that unidentified attackers passing by in a car shot four times into Nemtsov’s back as he crossed a bridge near the Kremlin, police in Moscow said.

According to the BBC, Nemtsov was with a friend, and was crossing the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge when the drive-by shooting took place at 11:40 pm local time (8:40 pm GMT) yesterday (27 February 2015), said the Interior Ministry. He was shot with a pistol from a white car of unknown make and model. The attackers then promptly fled the scene, a police source told Russia’s Interfax news agency. Meduza, a news website, added that several people left the vehicle to gun down Nemtsov. His death was formally confirmed by a colleague of his RPR-Parnassus party, Ilya Yashin. Flowers were left at the site of his killing on the bridge and tributes to the slain politician were coming in via social media since yesterday night’s incident. 

He was murdered only hours after giving a speech offering his support for a march in Moscow against the conflict in Ukraine which was due to take place tomorrow. In his last tweet, Mr Nemtsov sent out an appeal for Russia’s divided opposition to unite at an anti-war march he was organising for Sunday.

If you support stopping Russia’s war with Ukraine, if you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino on 1 March,” he wrote.

Russia’s controversial President, Vladimir Putin, expressed outrage at the killing of Boris Nemtsov, and condemned his murder, according to a source associated with the Kremlin. President Putin is said to have taken ‘personal control’ of the investigation into the killing, said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov to news outlets.

Investigators charged with uncovering the motive for Nemtsov’s shooting have said that the perpetrators may have been attempting to create instability inside Russia. The investigative committee said in a freshly-released report that a number of possibilities are being considered, including that the former deputy prime minister was murdered on the orders of Islamist extremists, but there is no evidence to support any theory at the current time.

Putin’s equivalent in the United States, President Barack Obama also condemned the “brutal murder” and asked Russian lawmakers to conduct a “prompt, impartial and transparent investigation“. The President of UkrainePetro Poroshenko, whose country is currently battling pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Luhansk (Lugansk) and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, described Mr. Nemtsov as a “bridge between Ukraine and Russia“, according to the BBC.

The murderers’ shot has destroyed it. I think it is not by accident,” Poroshenko commented in a statement published on his administration’s Facebook page.

While there is no suggestion that the Putin administration has anything to do with Nemtsov’s murder, the politician himself, who had served under President Boris Yeltsin‘s administration in the 1990s, had recently given an interview where he voiced that Putin would have him killed for speaking out against the Ukrainian war, which Russia is accused of secretly funding and arming. Nemtsov’s lawyer claimed the politician was receiving death threats via social media for his opposition of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and for its annexation of Crimea last year, which brought the country international condemnation. 

Nemtsov’s career also included working in economics and serving as governor of the city of Nizhny Novgorod. He fell out of favour with Vladimir Putin soon after the latter was elected and subsequently Nemtsov became an opposition politician.

Fully known as Boris Yefimovich Nemtsov, was born in the Olympic city of Sochi in Russia’s Caucasus region in 1959. He graduated from the State University of Gorky in the field of physics in 1985. After earning his PhD, Nemtsov worked as a research fellow at the Gorky Radio-Physics Research Institute (NIRFI) until entering politics in 1989 as the Soviet era was drawing to a close. He allied himself with fellow reformists in the Russian parliament and soon became a confidante of reformist president Boris Yeltsin. By 2004, and marginalised by the new Putin government, Nemtsov began to speak out against what he saw as the increasing clampdown on newly-won freedoms by the President, and that ‘Putinists’, the president’s loyalists, were leading Russia towards a dictatorship. Nemtsov made his opposition to Putin and his politics very clear. He was arrested by police in November 2007 during one such protest against Putin. 

The Russian president himself had accused Nemtsov of being involved with corruption. During Nemtsov’s tenure as director and chairman of a small Russian financial institution, Neftyanoi Bank, which was involved with the country’s burgeoning oil industry, investigators were called in following allegations of fraud and money laundering, which forced Nemtsov to step down from his positions at Neftyanoi. On 16 December 2010, Putin stated, in a live television broadcast, that during the 1990s, Nemtsov was friendly with the billionaire oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who had been sent to prison and who later fled Russia. Putin accused him of ‘dragging around billions’ of Russian oil money.

Nemtsov was just fifty-five years of age at the time of his killing. He was married with four children.

SOURCES:
Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/
“Russia opposition politician Boris Nemtsov shot dead” – Sarah Rainsford and contributors, BBC News Europe/BBC (28 February 2015) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-31669061
“Boris Nemtsov” – Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Nemtsov
IMAGE CREDIT:
Getty Images via Zemanta.

 

FLIGHT MH17: Russian TV station claims Ukrainian fighter jet brought down plane

International news agency Reuters has reported that a Russian television station has obtained photos that suggest the doomed Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down over the restive eastern part of Ukraine earlier this year with the loss of all 298 passengers and cabin crew on board, was the victim of a missile attack by a Ukrainian fighter jet, widely believed to be a Mig-29. The state-owned TV outlet broadcast what it claimed were ‘sensational” pictures allegedly taken by a Western satellite that purport to show the Boeing 777 being shot down by a Ukrainian air force plane, giving credence to Moscow’s theory that the Ukrainians perpetrated the atrocity.

Ukraine has vigorously denied any involvement in the shooting down of MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam’s Schiphol-Rijk Airport to Kuala Lumpur. Separatists fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, which are mainly populated by ethnic Russians, have agitated for closer union with Russia, and the Russian government has been accused of supplying fighters in eastern Ukraine with weaponry and troops, including powerful BUK surface-to-air rocket launchers capable of bringing down aircraft at an elevation of 30,000 feet. It has been claimed that such a BUK launcher was responsible for MH17, which the Putin government strenuously deny.

Several commentators who have studied the pictures have disputed the authenticity of the images, claiming them to be propaganda ‘forgeries’, Reuters reports. Witnesses who viewed the pictures describe them as showing a fighter jet firing a missile at a passenger plane at the same time as MH17 was flying over Ukrainian airspace. Moscow has claimed the pictures add weight to its theory that a jet in the employ of the Ukrainian Air Force ruptured the plane’s fuselage for reasons unknown, while Western military experts refute this, saying that there is evidence that a BUK missile manufactured and imported from Russia was fired by pro-Russian separatists, tearing holes in MH17’s fuselage and causing the plane to disintegrate mid-air and crash in a ball of flames.

The MH17 photographs were shown on a Friday evening show named “Odnako”, which stated that they had been forwarded to a Russian ‘expert’ by a man named George Bilt. Mr Bilt is said to be a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His specialism or field of study is not mentioned in the Reuters report, but further research suggests that he is an aviation expert with twenty years of experience.

Odnako is a Russian langauge programme broadcast by Channel One. A presenter with the station, Dmitry Borisov, spoke with Reuters about the Bilt images of MH17’s alleged final moments: “We have at our disposal sensational photographs presumably made by a foreign spy satellite in the last seconds of the Malaysian Boeing’s flight over Ukraine,

The pictures support that version which has hardly been heard in the West.

Since Channel One aired the pictures at the end of last week, debates in Russia have begun on their authenticity, with many observers ridiculing them as staged fakes or having been manipulated with photo-alteration software. 

Andrei Menshenin, a commentator for independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, called the TV report a “pseudo-sensation“, and said the angle of attack indicated by the photographs did not correspond to the location of the damage.

Bellingcat, a British investigative journalism website, described the photographs as “a crude fabrication“, highlighting what it said were several inconsistencies, which included signs that the photos had been partly derived from historical Google Earth mapping imagery dating from 2012 and sewn into the images. Several Russian media outlets are staunch supporters of President Vladimir Putin and are frequently accused of peddling a government-backed policy of overt nationalism, anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian bias, and reporting news heavily influenced by sensationalism and propaganda which said to be sourced from the Kremlin itself.

In July, an opinion poll by the Levada Center polling agency said only three percent of Russians believed the Malaysian airliner was hit by rebels, with 82 percent saying it was shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces.

The publication of the photos came on the eve of a G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, where President Vladimir Putin faces strong criticism from Western leaders for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, including allegedly arming separatists and supplying weapons and troops. Russia had also recently invaded and annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea, an occupation not recognised by much of the international community.

The Reuters reports has not yet made any mention of the official Ukrainian response to the images.

SOURCES:
Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/
“Russian TV channel says photos show MH17 shot down by fighter jet” – Jason Bush & Crispian Balmer, Reuters Edition U.S./Thomson Reuters (15 November 2014) http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/15/us-ukraine-crisis-mh17-images-idUSKCN0IZ0EU20141115
IMAGE CREDIT:
Getty Images via Zemanta.