If you look at a chart of Mobile TeleSystems (NYSE:MBT), whose stock has wavered between $30 and $40 for some time now, you might assume it's a stable operator in a stable environment. You'd be wrong. Russia and its former republics are far from stable, and Mobile TeleSystems is far from joining the sluggish growth ranks of American operators like Verizon (NYSE:VZ) or Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick SBC Communications (NYSE:SBC).

For the second quarter, the company reported that sales climbed 35% and earnings rose roughly 14%. Both figures exceeded analyst expectations. Although free cash flow (FCF) production has declined from last year due to higher capital expenditures, the company is still free-cash-flow positive.

Despite worries of saturation in the core Russian market, the company managed to nearly double last year's subscriber base, posting sequential growth of roughly 14%. By quarter's end, the company led market shares in Russia (35%), Ukraine (49%), Uzbekistan (57%), and Belarus (51%).

Looking at other operational figures, ARPU (average revenue per user) was $9.30 in Russia and $10.80 in Ukraine. These figures fall below the previous year's quarter, though they're up a bit sequentially. Churn rates (the percentage of customers who left) also remain quite high at 6.8% and 5.7%, respectively. With all of the competition for subscribers from VimpelCommunications (NYSE:VIP) and others, and the resulting promotions, these numbers will probably stay volatile for some time to come. That said, the company continues to roll out more marketing initiatives and product options with an eye toward building loyalty and increasing usage of higher-priced services.

There are valid reasons to be nervous about jumping into former Soviet republics. Organized crime, political corruption, and ethnic rivalries have all created problems before and likely will again. But while caution is absolutely warranted, don't forget that you're talking about a sizable, well-educated population that generally wants to be more prosperous in the future.

I'm a sucker for good emerging-market telco stories (see prior Takes on Philippine LongDistance (NYSE:PHI) or China Mobile (NYSE:CHL)) and Mobile TeleSystems is high on my watch list. Were I not pretty much fully invested in the space already, I might think about nibbling at these shares. Investors can choose from literally a global menu of stocks, but I do think this Russian might be worth a little love.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).