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Extradition The Bout case is many-tentacled, with U.S. ties and bilateral implications

The Mysterious Bout Identity

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

News in Brief

For the U.S., he is the prolific arms smuggler portrayed in the 2005 film, “Lord of War.” For Russia, he is a martyr to U.S. power games.

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Rosneft, ExxonMobil Sign Agreements on Development

Alexander Gasyuk Special to RN

Rosneft and ExxonMobil are moving forward on an agreement made last summer to cooperate in developing the energy resources of the Russian continental shelf. Representatives of the oil majors signed several agreements, including one on the establishment of two joint ventures for work on the Black and Kara seas and on the purchase by Rosneft of shares in three Exxon projects in North America. Read the full article at

Putin Sworn in as President


Moscow fought the legitimacy of the U.S. federal court case against Victor Bout, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison last month, every step of the way. Just as interesting as what came out in the courtroom is what didn’t come out—including his not entirely resolved history with the U.S. government and American businesses. It took less than an hour for Federal Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin to reach a verdict in the four-year-long high-profile case, “United States vs. Victor Bout.” But Moscow is still stinging from what the Russian Foreign Ministry considers the extra-territorial nature of the case—the prosecution of a Russian citizen after a sting operation in Thailand— and said that it intends to bring 45-year-old Bout back to Russia. Some observers thought a deal might be reached regarding the controversial figure; Bout is known as the merchant of death in the United States and a martyred businessman in his native Russia. Bout pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to kill Americans with the weapons he apparently tried to sell in Thailand. He faced life in prison, but received the minimum sentence of 25 years behind bars and a $20 million fine—a deep disappointment to federal prosecutors. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agents nabbed him in a thrilling Hollywood-style sting operation,

The recently concluded trial of Victor Bout, which was covered by the Russian, American and international media, was a perfect storm for the political reset.

which resulted in Bout’s arrest in Thailand in 2008 and his subsequent extradition to the United States in 2010. However what didn’t come up in court is the fact that companies associated with Bout made money from the U.S. government. Some American companies also may have had ties to Bout. According to U.S. Treasury documents, the Pentagon was working with at least two air cargo companies belonging to

Victor Bout in 2004 to 2005, when his planes made dozens of flights back and forth to Baghdad. But the U.S. government said they did not know that Bout owned or was associated with these companies. Former President George W. Bush’s Deputy National Security Adviser Juan Zarate told “60 Minutes” that hiring Bout was a mistake. Experts who have tracked Bout have said that there needs be a public accounting for American companies that col-

luded with Victor Bout in the past. “There was U.S. law prohibiting U.S. companies and U.S. government agencies from doing business with Victor Bout, there were U.N. sanctions in place and yet these companies violated” these rules, Kathi Lyn Austin told CNN. Austin investigated Bout’s activities for the United Nations. Bout was prosecuted for trying to sell a large package of arms to representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of

Colombia who were undercover informants for the DEA. The DEA informants who testified against Bout were cocaine traffickers. Moscow said the verdict was “baseless and biased.” The fact that the judge did not impose a life sentence, something that the U.S. attorney was pushing for, meant that the prosecutors failed to make the strongest case against Bout, observers said. continued on PAGE 3

Politics Will governors’ elections improve official accountability in Russia?

Chosen Few to Face the Ballot Dmitry Medvedev’s new law brings back gubernatorial elections this year, yet the Kremlin races to replace as many as possible. Andrew roth


russia profile

Following major protests calling for fair elections after December’s parliamentary vote, Dmitry Medvedev--in one of the last major political reforms of his Presidency--submitted a bill to the State Duma restoring direct elections of governors in Russia’s 83 regions. The elections had been previously abolished in 2004 under President Vladimir Putin, who was inaugurated again as president on May 7 for his third term. But before the new law comes into play, the Kremlin is targeting those governors seen as unpopular or unsuccessful and replacing them with other United Russia allies while it still can. Like Kremlinology, the shuffling of governors remains an entertaining but opaque process. It isn’t an exact science: Mikhail Vinogradov and Evgeny Minchenko, two Moscow-based political analysts, produce a yearly list of “survival ratings” for governors that delves into the deciding fac-

President Dmitry Medvedev addresses governors at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow earlier this year.

tors of whether a governor stays or goes. These include popularity, Duma electoral results, internal conflicts between bureaucrats and the governor’s effectiveness as a leader. United Russia’s mediocre victory in the December Duma elections prompted expectations that the Kremlin would take revenge on governors in those regions where the party had performed especially poorly.

Pavel Salin, an analyst for the Center for Political Assessment, noted that some governors are used as scapegoats for government failures and are removed or forced to resign, while keeping national politicians, like Mr Medvedev, above the fray. “Though it is on the decline, in general the idea of the national leader, this modern, monarchic model, persists in society. The leader is associated with

power, stability, sovereignty and other positive, abstract ideas, while the governors answer for the so-called day-to-day government,” Salin said. One of the more recent casualties is Pavel Ipatov, former governor of the Saratov region, who became the fifth governor to leave his post since the ruling party United Russia posted mediocre results in the December Duma elections. Despite the fact that Ipatov won 65 percent of the vote, the move came as no surprise. Ipatov had famously burdened Saratov with more than $1 billion dollars of new debt. However, conflicting information emerged about his departure. While the local press reported that the governor had been fired, citing a Kremlin source telling RIA Novosti that the governor’s poor ratings were behind the decision, Ipatov and the Kremlin press service maintained that the governor had offered to resign and that his departure was planned. “I don’t want to comment on what happened,” Ipatov told Interfax. “These were planned events, and I didn’t think it necessary to speak about this earlier, as I was bound to my word.”

On May 7, Vladimir Putin once again took the oath of office as Russia’s president, officially beginning his third term in office. Putin was reelected in the first round of the presidential election, which took place March 4. Despite accusations of fraud in the elections, observers generally agreed that a majority of Russians did indeed vote for Putin. As a result of constitutional amendments made in 2008, Putin will serve six years as president instead of the previous four, and he will be eligible to run again in 2018. Read more about politics at

Moscow Changes Plans for the Metro The Moscow Metro plans a huge expansion, opening nearly 95 miles of new lines, which will include access to the proposed new government buildings in the southwest of the city. The expansion is slated to double the size of the Metro. An annual budget of $3.4 billion has been approved for construction. “More stations will be within walking distance and the load on some metro lines will be relieved,” said Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. Read the full article at

Apart from the debt scandal, Ipatov was also locked in a vicious struggle with the deputy head of the presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin, who is also from Saratov. The Moscow State University professor Rostislav Turovsky, a regional politics expert, told Kommersant that the firing was a major victory for Volodin, because “Ipatov was kept on as a counterweight to Volodin, so that he could not strengthen his position in the region of which he is a key citizen.” Salin notes that the Kremlin’s sudden rush to replace governors implies that it would hope to find ways to micromanage local politics, even once the new law has been passed. Indeed, under the new bill, the president will still be able to sack governors for corruption, failure to perform their duties or for a conflict of interests. But at the same time, voters will also be able to seek the resignation of an unpopular governor through a referendum organised by a local parliament. Read more at

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Business in brief

Far East Khrushchev first called on Vladivostok to take after the Bay City.

Long Way to San Francisco russia now

Preparations for the 2012 AsiaPacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit are transforming Vladivostok’s skyline, but residents of this economically struggling city are worried about what will happen when federal funds run out. In 1959, after a visit to California, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev called on the residents of Vladivostok to make it “our San Francisco.” Half a century later, Russia’s leaders hope to realize his dream as the city readies itself to host the 2012 APEC summit this fall. Similarities between the two cities are readily visible to the first-time visitor: The buildings and streets meander up and down the hills surrounding Golden Horn Bay; the trolley cars dotting Vladivostok’s main thoroughfares; visitors stroll through a thriving Chinatown; and a booming harbor on the Pacific covered by an ever-present morning fog. Vladivostok even has a liberal-leaning political climate. Putin garnered 47.5 percent of the vote here compared to a national average of 63.75 percent. Historically, the gradual migration of settlers from Russia’s more-populated Western regions across Siberia to Vladivostok was not unlike the American Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century migration stemming from the idea that the United States must expand across the continent. These days Vladivostok blazes with welders’ flames as cranes dotting its hilly downtown reflect the billions of dollars the federal government is pumping into the city ahead of the APEC summit, scheduled for September. The narrow, potholed road from the airport has been raised up to 10 feet in some areas and expanded into a modern, four-lane freeway; the new airport is scheduled to open this summer. Two Hyatt hotels are under construction, while monuments, roads and facades have been repaired. One of the most impressive projects nearing completion is the bridge to Russky Island -the island closest to Vladivostok. The two-mile-long bridge, partially held up by masts standing on two artificially constructed islands, was started less than three years ago. The central mast reaches a height of 1,050 feet. When completed this summer, the $1-billion behemoth will be the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world. “When we talk about innovation and modernization, this is it,” said Alexander Ognevsky, press secretary for the ministry of regional development. “A number of international companies left the tender because they said it couldn’t be done; in the end a firm from Omsk took on the contract. The technology and know-how they developed with this project will be applied elsewhere and even exported abroad.” Russky Island will be the venue for the upcoming summit, after which the campus will be transferred to the Far Eastern State University. “Russia is experiencing a demographic decline, and universities nationwide are facing a shortage of students,” said Vladimir Miklushevsky, who was until recently the university’s rector. “That’s why we’re studying markets like

The bridge across Golden Horn Bay connects two sides of Vladivostok.

Russia to Assist Europe, IMF

Bridge to nowhere?

The other side of the story is darker, less visible, and has to do with the region’s demographic decline. Over the last 20 years, 300,000 people have left for more hospitable regions of Russia or abroad -- that’s half of Vladivostok’s already sparse population. “Of the students I know who are studying Chinese, no fewer than two-thirds want to pursue their careers abroad upon graduation,” said Victor Larin, Director of the Institute of Histo-

Everyone’s concerned about what will happen after the APEC summit passes. ry, Archaeology and Ethnology of the Peoples of the Far East. “Most of the city’s infrastructure is in shambles. Roads are falling apart; there’s nowhere I can go for a walk with my wife. The key to getting people to want to live here doesn’t lie in building bridges to nowhere.” “Everyone’s concerned about what’s going to happen after the summit’s over,” said Vasily Avchenko, local correspondent for daily Novaya Gazeta. “We practically don’t even have a local seafood industry. This is especially sad given that not long ago local seafood factories like DalMoreProdukt, which went bankrupt a few years back, were nationally famous. We should have lively, thriving fish markets and seafood-themed cafes. I wish Vladivostok could be known as the “fishiest” city in Russia in a positive sense and people would come here to sample the local cuisine.” In mid-March, a crowd of journalists crowded into the first floor marble hallway of the towering, white State House in downtown Vladivostok under typically dreary morning weather. They were awaiting the results of the legislature’s vote over the candidature of the 44-yearold Vladimir Miklushevsky for the post of governor. The previous governor, Sergei Darkin, had been abruptly dismissed by President Dmitry Medvedev just

Russia will contribute $10 billion to the International Monetary Fund to help bail out European countries suffering from the economic crisis, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak announced. The statement comes on the heels of talks in Washington, D.C., that included the IMF, the group of 20 finance ministers, and the heads of the G20’s central banks. Storchak said that measures to build financial “firewalls on a global level” was a response to requests from the IMF, the ministry’s web site reported. The group is responding to fears shared by governments and analysts alike that a European crisis could well lead to a global recession.

weeks earlier after a decade in power. The news came as a shock to many locals, who credited him with lobbying for many of the federal funds pouring into Vladivostok. Miklushevsky was voted in by a wide margin, which came as a surprise to no one; he had promised to make transparency and fighting corruption a cornerstone of his governorship. Speaking to journalists after the vote, he announced “we have to base our long-term development on the scientific and educational resources we have at our disposal, especially the Far Eastern branch of the Academy of Sciences and the Far Eastern Federal University.” “The APEC summit will have a direct impact on the long-term development of Vladivostok,” Miklushevsky told RBTH. “The 200 billion rubles (almost $7 billion) of federal funding coming here will improve infrastructure, a lack of which is a barrier to investment (not only in Russia). It would also put Vladivostok on the world map and make it known throughout APEC. We can’t miss this opportunity.” “He’s a good manager and is not tied to the local business and criminal elites,” said Avchenko. “But I question how much of a difference one individual can make in Russia’s current political system. A lot has to be changed in the economy, laws and especially the application of laws. On the other hand, places like Singapore show it’s possible.” “But I definitely have a feeling of lost potential concerning Vladivostok’s development, especially over the last two decades,” he continued. “This concerns the economy, cultural life and basic quality of living. I hope that we’ll stop losing people and realize the enormous potential that our city has inherited. Only time will tell how justified my hopes are.”

Far Eastern Federal District

China Will tourists come for dinosaurs and European flair?

Border Town Reinvents Itself Skepticism toward China has hampered economic integration in Russia’s Far East, yet trade is booming and locals point to progress.

Internet Usage Soars

vladimir bartov special to rn

The Far Eastern Russian city of Blagoveshchensk witnessed a fireworks display the night after Vladimir Putin was elected President in March. But the fireworks didn’t come from Russia; they were launched on the south bank of the Amur River, which separates Blagoveshchensk from the Chinese city of Heihe. Chinese authorities decided to celebrate Putin’s victory. And why not? Putin has overseen a fivefold increase in bilateral trade over the last decade to $70 billion. Few places in the world offer quite as sharp contrast as the five-minute bus ride across the frozen Amur, which during a short summer can be traversed by hydrofoil. And contact between Russians and Chinese is becoming more frequent because of a visa-free travel for local tour groups. “I’m going to rest and buy some stuff,” exclaimed Valery, a burly and boisterous Blagoveshchensk native boarding the Amur bus. Heihe boasts shopping malls, saunas, restaurants, dentists’ offices and teashops, all offering their wares in Russian to cater to visiting tourists with rapidly growing incomes. Even the street signs are bilingual. Not everyone is happy with the boom on the Chinese side. “They used to have a small village over there with huts and dirt roads,” recalled Nikolai Kukharenko, a lifetime Blagoveshchensk resident and head of the local Confucius Institute (a Beijing-based nongovernmental organization that promotes Chinese language and culture.) “Now there are more skyscrapers on that side than here. A lot of locals are concerned that they’ve advanced economically at our expense.”

Half of Russia’s adult population uses the Internet. Among people under 34, the Internet is the most used media, even ahead of television. In 2011, the number of daily Internet users in Russia grew by 22 percent to 44.3 million people, 38 percent of Russians over 18 use the Internet daily, Gazeta. ru reported, citing a Public Opinion Fund poll. Russia now boasts the most Internet users among European countries, and is sixth in the world in terms of usage, according to TNS media research. China, the United States, Japan, India and Brazil have more Internet users.

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Artem Zagorodnov

China, Indonesia and Vietnam to attract students.” Authorities hope the impressive campus and generous state grants provided to federal universities will attract the brightest minds from around the world and establish several strong schools in fields like biomedicine and IT. Plans for a technopark affiliated with the university are also in the pipeline. “Our country’s higher education faces two major problems: universities don’t know how to produce what business wants, and business isn’t very interested in innovative products,” said Miklushevsky. “That’s why our university will focus on creating small startups in conjunction with major world businesses.”

Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has criticized a government project to create a mega state corporation to develop eastern Siberia and the Far East. The corporation, which covers 16 Russian regions, will be partially exempt from federal legislation. If approved, it will have the power to bypass state tenders to distribute mining licenses, including in many ore deposits, such as Sukhoi Log, the country’s biggest gold reserve. “The creation of such a market player capable of implementing any private project…means that any other investor must always be aware that at any moment the stronger player…may seek to compete,” said Kudrin.


The APEC summit has led to a surge of construction in Russia’s Far East, but local residents worry the trend will be short-lived.

Kudrin on State Corp.

A crossing on the Russian-Chinese border.

Local papers abound with near-daily stories of Chinese poachers being caught smuggling everything from protected timber to rare tiger pelts. The vast majority of the burgeoning trade between the two neighbors is raw material exported from Russia and manufactured goods imported from China. The nature of the economic relationship is symbolized by the East-Siberian-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline, which ships Russian crude oil to fuel China’s factories.

Offer the Chinese Europe and the dinosaurs

Some Russian officials have begun to think about how they

Dinosaur Cemetery Dinosaur remains were first discovered on the bank of the Amur river in the early 20th century. In 1911, some excavated skeletons were taken to St. Petersburg and put on display at the Museum of the All-Union Geological Institute. Excavations ceased until a RussianBelgian team returned to the site in 1999 to discover the complete skeleton of a platypus mammoth. Since then the area has been designated a federal monument as several more unique species have been unearthed.

can change the economic relationship. Igor Gorevoy, the recently appointed economy minister for the Amur Region, said he would like to start attracting Chinese consumer spending as well as their cheap consumer goods. “The way I see it, there’s no way we’ll be able to out-manufacture the Chinese,” he explained over tea in his posh office in downtown Blagoveshchensk. “Their products are cheaper and better. We have to look at our competitive advantage, and offer them the one thing they can’t produce.” Gorevoy wants to attract the 100 million-plus potential tourists with rapidly rising incomes who live just across the river. His vision is based on the notion that the Chinese see Russians as a European people and are eager to “visit Europe.” “If we set up a few Eiffel Tower mockups, a Big Ben and some basic infrastructure for a leisurely family vacation, they’ll be eager to visit,” he explained. Cranes and trucks now dot the Russian side of the Amur as a “Golden Mile” of Ferris wheels and hotels begins to take shape. Blagoveshchensk is also famous for having some of the world’s best-preserved dinosaur remains, and by 2015 the Amur Region will host Russia’s main spaceport, which is currently under construction. Exclaimed Gorevoy: “It’s our Cape Canaveral. This is world class stuff.”

Originally published in The Moscow News

GLOBAL RUSSIA BUSINESS CALENDAR visit russia 2012 International tourism forum may 25-26 2012 yaroslavl, Russia

The Forum offers an oportunity for global experts, practitioners and tourism industry leaders to speak about the challenges facing Russia’s tourism industry during plenary and section meetings, expert panels and discussion clubs. It is organized by the Yaroslavl regional government. ›› register/

16th semi-annual russian-american innovation technology weeks (ranit-bio) June 14-21, 2012 Philadelphia, PA - Boston, MA

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Vladivostok’s downtown is divided from other parts of the city by Golden Horn Bay; the new bridge is designed to relieve traffic congestion.

The event will open with a welcoming ceremony in Philadelphia City Hall and the Russian-American Life Sciences Conference. It will highlight biotechnology, nanotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry, and the life sciences. ››


Find more in the Global Calendar



MOST READ Stalin notebooks: Internet meme, or provocation?


Politics & Society


History In the West, Stalin is remembered for the terror he inflicted on his own people, while at home the collective memory is more complex.

Russians Think About Stalin in the last few years tend to ignore Stalin’s crimes. “From my nearly 15 years of teaching, I have the impression that Stalin is the central figure in Russian history of the 20th century in the eyes of the vast majority of students,” Bochkarev said. “And, often, this image basks in an aura of heroic grandeur.” At the request of RBTH, Bochkarev asked his students to write essays about Stalin to express their thoughts. He requested that RBTH use first names only. “I think that Stalin’s terror will be imprinted on people’s minds for a long time,” said student Eugene. “And even now you can hear its echo in the position ‘I do not care about what does not concern me directly.’ Stalin is often spoken about in a half-bad, half-good light.” When discussing Stalin’s popularity, sociologists refer to the “Stalin myth,” which reflects more of a generic heroic symbol of the Soviet people rather than a specific historical figure, Dubin said. This myth was cultivated in the 1960s and 1970s, when Russian were even more divided, according to Boris Drozdov, 78. Drozdov’s father was sent to a prison camp and his grandfather was executed. “Those who were unaffected by the repression thought of Stalin as a genius,” he said. “But those run down by the repression machine believed that he personified evil.” The pain of memory was so intense that amnesia has been a favorite response, according to sociologists. “This happened by way of erasing the memory of the repressive nature of the totalitarian regime, mass murder, gulags, deportation of entire nationalities,” said Dubin. “In Russia, the memory of the terror has been driven to a far corner, not least because there are no monuments, no memorial plaques, no museums – there is nothing,” added Arseny Roginsky, who heads the Memorial Historical Society, which aims at rehabilitating the victims of political terror. Memorial notes that people are much more interested in their relatives, who died as victims of political repression, than they were in the 1990s. In recent years, the number of people visiting Memorial in search of relatives who disappeared during Stalin’s purges has been growing. About 1,000 people come to Memorial each year, he said, a dramatic increase from the 1990s. The most recent official effort to deal with the issue of Stalin’s crimes took place in 2011 under President Dmitry Medvedev. “This is essentially an attempt to perpetuate the memory of the victims of political repression rather than a de-Stalinization crusade,” said Mikhail Fe-






Moscow history teacher Stephan Bochkarev often recalls a lesson he taught his students several years ago. It was a lesson about Joseph Stalin that he happened to be teaching on the day the director of his school decided to observe his class. “I went strictly by the book, talking about the repression, when the director interrupted me and stopped the lesson,” he recalled. “She really did not like the fact that Stalin was presented in a negative light.” Bochkarev, who now works for a private school in Moscow, said his lesson caused a scandal at the school and he subsequently resigned. Sixty years after Stalin’s death, he is still cursed, worshipped, and monetized in Russia. Communist Party members march under his image and tourists get their photos taken with Stalin look-alikes on the pedestrian streets. Yet what happened to Bochkarev is becoming less common—and less acceptable. The percentage of Russians with a positive attitude toward the Soviet leader is 30 percent today, according to a Levada Center study. Asked whether they would like to live under Stalin now, only 3 percent said yes. The perception outside Russia is that society is split into Stalinists and anti-Stalinists. But this is outdated, according to sociologists. A majority of Russians, 60 percent in fact, have two seemingly incompatible images of Stalin in their minds: the cruel tyrant who murdered millions of people and the wise statesman who led the Soviet Union to prosperity. In the West, Stalin is best remembered for his forced collectivization of farming, which led to famine and millions of deaths, and the Great Terror, during which thousands were executed and millions more sent to the Gulag for long terms of slave labor. In Russia, his memory is more complex. For some, he is inextricable from the victory over fascism. In Russian society, there is no rational understanding of Stalin’s role, said Boris Dubin, head of sociopolitical research at Moscow’s Levada Center. Any focus on the achievements of the U.S.S.R. under Stalin is interpreted as an attempt to justify his crimes, while putting the emphasis on the terror of his crimes upsets Russians who want to be proud of their past. This duality can be seen in today’s classrooms, where opinions are changing slowly, even if history textbooks published

Some older communists still revere Stalin and use his image at their protests.

dotov, head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, which initiated the campaign. The Human Rights Council supports the establishment of memorials to the victims of repression in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The council also proposed creating a National Institute of Memory. Fedotov noted that if Medvedev is appointed prime minister to Putin’s president, the program will continue, though now government officials have slowed the process until the new

presidential administration is in place. Roginsky said he was skeptical about the program, since many archives are still kept secret and not open to the public. As for history teacher Mark Bochkarev, he feels free to discuss Stalin in a private school, “where children have a fairly high level of knowledge,” he said. “However,” he mused, “even they sometimes employ the image of ‘Stalin-creator’ rather than “Stalin-destroyer.”

“There is no one to tell the young generation” Moscow resident Boris Drozdov, 78, whose father and grandfather were repressed under Stalin, talked to Russia Now about his family’s survival. About ten years ago, Boris Drozdov began researching the fates of his grandfather, Alexei Drozdov, a lawyer and a Bolshevik, and his father, Pavel, an accountant who spent more than a decade in the Gulag. Documents were scattered all over the former Soviet Union, but he was assisted by the group Memorial. Like so many others, Boris’s grandfather was accused of counter-revolutionary activities in the Crimea. In 1921, 18 days after his arrest, he was executed. His father, Pavel Drozdov, started to work at the age of 15. “He worked as a male nurse and an errand boy, wherever he could find a job,” Drozdov recalled. Of course he too was arrested in June 1924. The charge was the same, conspiring to overthrow the government, and he was sentenced to three years in a labor camp. Released in 1927, he stayed on, like many other former prisoners, to build the local paper plant, where he worked as an accountant. “I think this is why my father survived,” Boris said. Boris Drozdov was born in Moscow in 1934 when his father was in Vladivostok. Fresh reprisals began in 1934, but the wave of terror did not reach Boris until early 1937. The chief accountant was arrested. “My dad was not arrested because somebody had to write the annual report,” Boris Drozdov recalled. “My father had beautiful handwriting and all the reports were released in my father’s hand.”


Sixty percent of Russians have incompatible images of Stalin in their heads: the cruel tyrant and the victor over fascism.

Moscow resident Boris Drozdov researched his family.

Once his father had finished the job, they arrested him again in 1938. “I learned that my father was alive only in 1951, when he was released,” Boris Drozdov recalled. He was allowed to bring his family to his place of exile on Kolyma. “Mother and all of us went there. There was a scramble to get on the steamboat. The wait could last for a year. When we got off the ship, there were three men waiting for us. I looked at them and asked my mother: ‘Which of them is my dad?’ I had not seen him for 13 years.” In 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, Boris’s father was rehabilitated. “One must draw the line once and for all,” he said. “The atrocities committed by Stalin outweigh his services. The construction projects were built on the bones of the convicts and victory in the war was won by the people,” he said. “I bear no grudge against the country or the people. But it is a pity that few victims of reprisals are still around,” he said. “There is no one to tell the young generation about them.” Prepared by Vladimir Ruvinsky Read more at

A Hollywood-style Thriller Called “The Bout Identity” Judge Shira A. Scheindlin said in court that there was no evidence presented to support the claim that Bout had anything to do with terrorism. The Judge added that Bout wasn’t voluntarily seeking an opportunity to sell arms until he was engaged by the DEA, which lured him in a sting operation. Bout’s lawyer, Albert Dayan, called this case politically motivated. He tried to make the case that the U.S. government not only overstepped its mandate and applied American law to a foreigner in a third country, but also was enforcing a “political order” from the White House. “In the case of Victor Bout, it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for a

man who has committed it. It is rather a question of picking the man and then searching the law books or putting investigators to work to create and pin some offense on him,” Dayan told RBTH. RBTH interviewed Bout one year ago, in April 2011, at the notorious

Bout’s lawyer tried to make the case that the U.S. again overstepped its mandate in this case. Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC). “This myth was intentionally created and money has been invested in it as if it were a trademark,” Bout said then about his nicknames— “lord of war” and “merchant


Victor Bout was born to Russian parents in Tajikistan in 1967. He attended the Soviet Military Institute for Foreign Languages in Moscow and ultimately learned to speak six languages fluently. According to some accounts,

Bout worked for the K.G.B. in Angola when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. He worked in other African countries, and later Europe, where he had multiple air transport companies, shipping cargo mostly in Africa and the Middle East. He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 before being extradited in 2010 to the United States to stand trial on terrorism charges. On April 5, 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a U.S. judge.

of death.” Bout spent more than a year at MCC in solitary confinement. Awaiting transfer to a maximum security prison, Victor

Bout still thinks he will get back home. “I’ll get back to Russia. I don’t know when, but I feel sure that sooner or later this will happen,” he said.




Bout’s wife Alla, protests his imprisonment in St. Petersburg.


Crash Course on the American Way of Life Russian exchange students encouraged to see U.S. not as better or worse, but different

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Eugene Ivanov


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.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul is likely to accomplish something none of his predecessors ever dreamed of: He is becoming a household name in Russia. His ascension to the status of celebrity might be surprising, but hardly accidental. U.S. President Barack Obama tapped McFaul, his longtime adviser on Russia, to replace seasoned career diplomat John Beyrle as the envoy to Moscow. By nominating McFaul, the White House was sending a message that the Obama administration is going to pay more attention to the issue of human rights in Russia. McFaul, one of the leading U.S. experts in democracy promotion, embodies this policy shift, and even sworn enemies of the administration’s Russia policy hailed McFaul’s nomination. McFaul didn’t disappoint his supporters. He went directly to work immediately after his arrival in Moscow: On his second day on the job, McFaul invited a group of Russian opposition politicians and civil society activists to the ambassador’s residence, Spaso House. What should not have been a surprise is the fact that the meeting was extensively covered by the Russian media. It appears that McFaul hoped that hosting social events would become a prominent venue to keep himself visible, but dances and poetry readings won’t throw the Russian media off the scent of his meetings with political activists. McFaul threw a party featuring a folk band that was flown to Moscow from McFaul’s native Montana. Images of the ambassador dancing with his wife were promptly made available to the electronic and print media. Yet the impact wasn’t quite the same as a meeting with Lev Ponomarev. McFaul is working hard to establish his presence on social networks. His first post (in Russian) on LiveJournal, a popular blogging portal, appeared on the day

sador was confronted by a group of young people with cameras who introduced themselves as reporters from the state-sponsored NTV station. According to McFaul, the crew had prevented him from entering into the building. (On the NTV video, viewers can see a man’s arm blocking the doorway.) Later, McFaul let his frustration into the open on Twitter. He complained that the NTV reporters stalked him everywhere he went to and wondered how they knew his schedule. McFaul suggested that NTV employees read his emails and hacked his phone. If the hope was to treat this story as a single street encounter, it was quashed by the U.S. State Department’s formal complaint to the Russian Foreign Ministry alleging that McFaul’s security and safety had been compromised. Incidentally, this

Can anyone imagine an NTV crew constantly following Patriach Kirill around? Increased public profile comes at the price of reduced privacy and additional security. of his arrival in Russia. McFaul also opened a Twitter account where he writes both in English and Russian. But when McFaul arrived for a chat with human rights activist Ponomarev, a private visit that was not announced as part of his public schedule, the ambas-

is not for the first time that Russian youth, with TV cameras or without, have harassed foreign diplomats, and it’s hard to believe that the Russian authorities weren’t aware of these incidents or couldn’t do anything about it. Naturally, the NTV officials dismissed McFaul’s charges of eavesdropping and instead attributed their knowledge of the ambassador’s whereabouts to an extensive network of informants. The Russian Public Chamber threw its support behind NTV, arguing that there was nothing wrong with journalists’ desire to “learn more about a public figure – an ambassador, a patriarch or politician.” A patriarch? Can anyone imagine an NTV crew constantly following Patriarch Kirill? McFaul knows Russia well and is aware that promoting democracy is a safe business compared

Obama’s Useless Trophy the moscow times


onvicted arms trader Victor Bout made a video appeal last week from his U.S. cell, asking the State Duma to sue the United States and Thailand to free him from prison. The Duma rejected Bout’s request, explaining that it has no authority to act in this capacity. But it is likely that Bout won’t need the Duma’s help anyway. One of the most overlooked aspects of the Bout affair is that U.S. President Barack Obama had little to do with it. Bout was arrested in Thailand in March 2008, eight months before Obama was elected. The sting operation was organized when George W. Bush was president, and it very much fit into his quasireligious, messianic mission in which good — that is, the United States — would conquer evil all over the world. For U.S. neoconservatives, Bout — the “merchant of death” who allegedly sold weapons to some of the worst dictatorships and rebel groups in the world — was the personification of evil. The only problem for the Bush administration was that there

was no direct U.S. legal grounds to extradite and try Bout in the United States. Its first attempt to do so came after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when U.S. authorities looked for a trail that would have linked Bout’s weapons sales to al-Qaeda. But no hard evidence was found. The problem for the Bush administration was that Bout’s main weapons market was Africa, where there were few U.S. direct interests, and allegations of violating United Nations weapons embargoes did not give the United States legal jurisdiction over Bout. Even money-laundering charges weren’t enough to arrest and extradite him, although the U.S. Treasury levied sanctions against Bout in 2004. Even if Bout’s weapons deals led to the deaths of millions in Africa, he never committed a crime against the United States. That is precisely why the Bush administration devised the sting operation to create this crime. The goal was to provoke Bout into entering a criminal conspiracy to sell illegal weapons to an organization the United States considers to be terrorist, and to enter a conspiracy to kill Americans in Columbia — a count that even the judge called into question when she read the sen-

Eugene Ivanov is a Massachusetts-based political commentator who blogs at the Ivanov Report.

hey are designated prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and their followers on Twitter keep multiplying. Ultimately, punk band Pussy Riot’s dramatic saga has become a symbol of one of the many divides that cleave Russian society. In late February, masked members of the self-proclaimed feminist punk-rock band, Pussy Riot, burst into Christ the Savior cathedral and performed what they called a punk prayer, a chant entitled “Holy Virgin, Chase Putin Away!” This was the group’s best-publicized show, following previous impromptu performances on Red Square and from the roof of a prison. Obscene lyrics and radical causes are Pussy Riot’s trademark. Those few minutes in the cathedral ignited fierce debate throughout Russia and propelled the obscure radical art activists to international fame. Or notoriety, depending on how one looks at their act. The incident had all the signs of being a one-day sensation until the police detained three alleged members of Pussy Riot on charges of hooliganism. If convicted, the punk rockers could face a prison term of up to seven years. Heated debates about the fate of the young women, Anastasia Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich (the first two are mothers of young children), have revealed tensions that once simmered under the surface: Christian believers versus secularists, democrats versus Putin supporters, reformist Christians versus traditionalists. There are very few Russians that think what Pussy Riot did was appropriate or clever. But the severity of the punishment has made even Orthodox believers aghast. “Robbers and violent criminals sometimes get less, so why should a totally peaceful if provocative action carry such dire consequences?” – this question is being asked over and over again. The loser in this situation is

Konstantin von Eggert is a commentator and host for Kommersant FM, Russia’s first 24-hour news radio station. He was a diplomatic correspondent for Russian daily Izvestia and later served as the editor-in-chief of the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau.

when AMERICA covered Russia Beth Knobel


D niyaz karim

Michael Bohm

to some other countries where his colleagues can leave the embassy compound only with an escort of armored vehicles. Yet, having spent the bulk of his professional life in the academic environment, McFaul didn’t learn what other celebrities know all too well: Increased public profile comes at the price of reduced privacy and additional security challenges. McFaul is learning this lesson now. He has his own paparazzi. One can’t deny McFaul’s remarkable ability to use his current job position to advance future career aspirations. One can be sure that during his next confirmation hearings, he’ll carry the NTV encounter as a badge of honor.

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the Russian Orthodox Church. It is considered insufficiently resolute by the conservative laity, which wants maximum punishment for blasphemy to be meted out to Pussy Riot. And it is seen as callous, unmerciful and too reliant on the powers of the state by more tolerant, younger believers, mostly big city dwellers. The Pussy Riot story, no matter what its outcome, marks a watershed in society’s attitude toward the church. For twenty years, it has been largely exempt from the criticism leveled at other institutions. Perceived as the victim of communist persecution, the church enjoyed a degree of public goodwill that it may not enjoy for much longer. Ever since the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill allied himself with Vladimir Putin, the idea that the church is politically neutral holds no water with Russians. Opposition activists who rallied in support of Pussy Riot also lost. Instead of mitigating fears that the democratic movement is hostile to religion, they have strengthened this stereotype. They handed the authorities the chance to portray them as liberal dogmatists oblivious to the country’s spiritual foundations. The authorities are so far the only winners. In the aftermath of the national electoral season, the public rage has been redirected towards the Orthodox Church and the patriarch personally. But the crisis is far from over. If Pussy Riot members continue to spend time in pre-trial detention, more questions will be directed toward the Kremlin. Church officials hint that the decision to imprison them came from the authorities, and they promise to demand clemency once the trial begins. A few minutes of performance turned into one of those moments that made Russia’s stark contradictions stand out in sharp relief, there for everyone to see.

tence. The sting operation and the four conspiracy charges that resulted from it gave U.S. authorities the formal legal grounds to arrest Bout in Thailand, extradite him and try him. Although Obama has avoided commenting on the Bout arrest and sentence, he is probably not overly pleased. Obama has been the “anti-Bush” president who fundamentally rejected Bush’s global mission of exporting U.S. democracy and fighting the world’s largest evils beyond U.S. borders. This is why the Bout affair, contrary to popular opinion in Russia, is, in reality, an albatross around Obama’s neck — if for no other reason that it is a major irritant for the Kremlin that could hurt the reset. If re-elected in November, Obama will certainly look for ways to settle the Bout affair and avoid a prolonged conflict with

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Russia, which is determined to keep this issue a top priority. Perhaps the only way for the Kremlin to secure Bout’s return is to arrest Americans in Russia on espionage and then offer to exchange them for Bout. Although this could lead to a sharp escalation in U.S.-Russian tensions — particularly if U.S. citizens are hastily sentenced on trumpedup charges — exchanges tend to calm relations in the long term. Exchanging Bout would clearly upset the U.S. government agencies that worked so hard to organize the elaborate sting operation. But in the end, these agencies report to Obama, who understands that improving U.S.Russian relations is much more important than collecting trophies. Michael Bohm is opinion page editor of the Moscow Times.

uring the Cold War, there were more journalists in Russia than there were in the 1990s. But 1997 is a fairly good indicator of what things looked like in 1991, so my comparison is based on statistics of 1997 and 2012. In terms of newspapers, in 1997 there were 11 newspapers that had a Moscow correspondent or correspondents, versus only five today. But the numbers don’t tell the complete story. When I started out in The Los Angeles Times in the early 1990s, we had four full-time correspondents sent in from the West. There were two more of us who were doing part-time reporting whereas now the Los Angeles Times has one correspondent. I think that’s fairly typical for most of the newspaper press, the New York Times being the only one that really still has a large contingent. They probably had about five correspondents then and about five correspondents now.

Closing foreign bureaus

Other newspapers have completely held out from having foreign bureaus. Smaller, regional newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and the Phila-

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delphia Inquirer, all of which were able to keep foreign correspondents, don’t do that anymore for lots of reasons. They are not as interested in foreign news, and they have their problems with funding, because since 2008 the newspaper business has been in a pretty bad shape. The situation with magazines looks pretty similar. As for television, in 1997 ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Fox were present in Russia. Now CBS is completely gone. ABC and NBC

It’s very hard to do high-quality reporting if you have only one person in the country. are keeping a crew and a small office, but they have no full-time correspondent. The same deal with Fox which has actually outsourced its presence there to a production company called Feature Story. The only one with a real full-time correspondent there is CNN. There is a secondary effect from losing all of those TV reporters, which is that they all had radio arms, and during Soviet times and immediately after, there was so much radio news picked up about Russia from CBS radio, and ABC radio, and NBC

radio. Those operations have also dwindled down to almost nothing.

But the newswires are expanding.

In 1997 there were only AP, Dow Jones and UPI. Now we have AP, Dow Jones, UPI, Bloomberg and Platts, so we can speak about an explosion in newswires. In particular I would like to talk about Bloomberg. Bloomberg is now by far the largest American bureau in Moscow, they have fifteen or sixteen people working for the English service and another five or six working for the Russian service, and they pretty much dwarf anybody out right now except for international agencies like Reuters. What is result of all this? How much news and what kind of news can you have when you have a large bureau? When you have lots of people you get to do investigative pieces. It’s very hard to do high-quality reporting if you only have one person in the country. All they can do is basically the headline service. So, there is a lot less originality and there is a lot less of what I call enterprise reporting, when people go out and report a story that isn’t being reported by everybody else. An excerpt from Beth Knobel’s presentation at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute.

Letters from readers, guest columns and cartoons labeled “Comments,” “Viewpoint” or appearing on the “Opinion” and “Reflections” pages of this supplement are selected to represent a broad range of views and do not necessarily represent those of the editors of Russia Now or Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Please send letters to the editor to

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MOST READ A prominent literary critic reveals Tolstoy’s mystery






Dystopia with Love Phoebe Taplin







In less than a decade, Russian Jewish émigré Gary Shteyngart has become one of America’s best-loved satirists. Like his peers in his native Russia, he explores foreboding futures in his work. Recently, he has begun skewering the United States, which has become another easy target, he has said, alongside his mother Russia. His 2010 novel, “Super Sad True Love Story,” focuses on America while his first two novels (“The Russian Debutante’s Handbook,” and “Absurdistan”) satirized Russia and the former Soviet bloc. When Shteyngart turned his bite on the United States in the not too distant future, critics hailed the novel as his best yet. In “Super Sad True Love Story,” America is dependent on China in new and insidious ways. Our anti-hero, who as always resembles Shteyngart, who is now pushing 40, is a guy named Lenny Abramov. Plagued with self-esteem issues, he works in a vaguely abhorrent field—life extension—that makes him feel even worse. The son of Russian immigrants, he falls in love with the much younger daughter of Korean immigrants. The weight of failed expectations falls like debris around them, and some-

Shteyngart is one of America’s favorite satirists. He is also the ultimate “third culture kid” who seemed to be able to channel the angst of being transplanted at a young age into a foreign culture and create great fiction. (Third culture kid is a term coined by sociologists for the phenomenon of being neither of your homeland or your new land, but your own land.) Shteyngart has woven imaginative fantasies that center on a hapless middle-aged man, full of anxiety and wonder, loosely based on perceptions of himself. He was born in St. Petersburg, where his father was an engineer and his mother a pianist. They emigrated to New York in 1979, where Shteyngart still lives and works. He is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in New York and Oberlin College in Ohio. He currently teaches writing at Columbia University. His first novel, “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook,” won the National Jewish Book Award for fiction. It was named a New York Times Notable Book. In 2010, he was included in the New Yorker’s “20 under 40” list of fiction writers.

how they find each other in the wreckage. Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times that the book “reflects his dual heritage, combining the dark soulfulness of Russian literature with the antic inventiveness of postmodern American writing; the tenderness of the Chekhovian tradition with the hormonal high jinks of a Judd Apatow movie… and ratified his emergence as one of his generation’s most original and exhilarating writers.“ But in Russia, Russian critics have been merciless, and readers have been slow to discover him. He returns to Russia every year, and in 2010 spoke to university students about his work and success in the United States. In his tongue-in-cheek Q&A with RBTH, Shteyngart said he has “five elderly Jewish readers” in Russia, which of course may be a total exaggeration. He also told RBTH that he thanks President George W. Bush for “making America’s standing in the world much closer to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union.” In your twenties, you created the satirical character Vladimir Girshkin and upended the liter-

ary community with your talent. Chang-rae Lee said it was as if “Woody Allen had been an immigrant.” What do you see now when you look at Girshkin? Was he an alter ego? When you start writing a book in your early 20s, of course it’s going to be autobiographical. What else do you know? You have written that you were nervous or anxious as a child. Do you still get anxious or nervous? What is your advice to an anxiety-choked nation? You should see my medicine cabinet. State-of-the-art! I’m the last person to be giving advice to an anxious nation. Just gobble down the Xanax and pray for 6 solid hours of sleep, America. How does it feel to have been born in a country that no longer exists? Meh, countries come, countries go. Except for Canada. That’s forever. You write about the Soviet Union and modern Russia as easily as the United States, how do you manage to stay in touch so closely with such different realities? I go back to St. Leninsburg [sic], my hometown, almost every

year. To quote Yakov Smirnoff, What a country! Your work is satire, but how close to the future world do you think you get in “Super Sad True Love Story”? Future? I was writing about December, 2010. When did you realize you would be just as good at satirizing the United States as your are at satirizing the former Soviet Union? How did that transition take place--did you feel your perspectives changing? Thank you, George W. Bush, for making America’s standing in the world this much closer to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. What is a “beta immigrant” and when did you realize you are actually an alpha immigrant? How did you celebrate? I think I’m slowly sinking into gamma immigrant status. I haven’t shaved in two days. What can you tell us about what you are working on now? A memoir! Russian men drop dead around 56 on average, so I have 17 years left to get the record straight. Prepared by Xenia Grubstein

Visions of Heretics, Dreamers, Rebels and Skeptics Contemporary Russian writers explore dystopias in wildly inventive ways. But what are they really getting at? PHOEBE TAPLIN SPECIAL TO RN

Apocalypse Now


In the first twelve years of the 21st century, Russian writers have created a bewildering number of futuristic and postapocalyptic novels. Settings range from feudal barbarism to hi-tech nightmare with everything in between. Books are banned and mutant humans live in primitive huts, eating mice. The secret police rape and burn all day and relax with drugfueled orgies. People are continually reincarnated, wear mirror masks, and copulate or die en masse at festivals. Warring factions survive in the tunnels of the disused subway. These are just a few of the many dystopian scenarios that contemporary Russian writers have envisaged in the last decade. Ever since Evgeny Zamyatin wrote “We” in 1921 (providing the model for George Orwell’s “1984”) novelists have been producing satirical visions of the

Vladimir Sorokin’s novels explore sinister oppression.

“I think the politics of my novel should not be overplayed,” said Slavnikova, author of “2017.” future, but recently the genre, like a horror-film alien, has spawned countless offspring.

Sex, drugs and dictatorship

Readers, writers, critics and bloggers have numerous theories about this outbreak of dys-

topias (or anti-utopias as Russians call them.) Given the amount of sex in contemporary Russian fiction, it seems appropriate that one of the country’s most influential literary critics should be a former editor of Playboy. Lev Danilkin, now a columnist for the cultural listings magazine “Afisha,” has been writing annual reviews of the Russian literary scene for years. His authoritative account of the novels of the last decade highlights an “obsession with the ideas of government, empire and dictatorship.”

Olga Slavnikova’s “2017,” which won the Russian Booker Prize in 2006, is also part of this flood of novels describing alternative futures. It is a dense and complex work, overflowing with ideas and combining sci-fi, romance and thriller. It explores – among many other themes – human exploitation of the earth’s resources and the cyclical nature of history. In a recent radio interview about “2017,” Slavnikova categorized it as “first and foremost… a dystopia”, explaining: “I am very interested in writing about the future, because in my writing I can develop those tendencies that I can see in the present.” In Slavnikova’s view, it is currently almost impossible to write a utopian fantasy with a happy ending because “the world is waiting for a catastrophe.” Her depiction of unrest on Russia’s


Literature Novelists are more at home in bleak, hectic, frightening futures Dmitry Bykov, a multi-awardwinning author, journalist and flamboyant media personality has written one of the most outstanding recent examples of the genre, translated into English as “Living Souls.” This crowded and ambitious novel imagines a never-ending civil war in Russia between nationalists and liberals. Bykov is fully aware that his work is part of a tradition, attributing the new flood of dystopian fiction to the stifling stability of Putin’s previous presidency: “They promised us terror – none came, liberalization – none came, war – things have stalled, and everyone’s caught in aspic, unable to arrive at any decision.”

n Oleg Zaionchkovsky’s “Happiness is Possible,” Moscow is alive and all-encompassing and the characters interact with an anthropomorphized city. He writes “the city … is the arbiter of our destiny and the master of our wills.” Zaionchkovsky’s novel, which was shortlisted in 2010 for two major, national prizes, is a series of darkly comic vignettes. The narrator is a struggling novelist, whose ambitious wife has left him for another man. What his story lacks in plot, it amply repays in disheveled charm and style. He shuffles, unshaven, through the dacha village of Vaskovo or fills the abandoned Moscow apartment with dog hair and ashtrays. The smell of the sewage, the sound of the hammer drill or the pangs of jealousy are the grit around which Zaionchkovsky makes his pearls of stories. The author himself was born in the riverside city of Samara and worked until recently as a rocket engineer in a small town, but he recently moved to Moscow. He conveys the city’s gravitational pull; submitting to it is like joining a secret club. The deafening noise provides a “solace and reassurance that only we can understand,” but it also demands sacrifices. If everyone settled down happily, the narrator argues, the metropolis would lose its energy.

streets found an echo in real life events when thousands protested about electoral fraud, with several bloggers citing “2017” as a revolutionary prophecy. “If you write about political upheaval, you can’t help but become a prophet,” she admits, but she is wary of narrowly ideological interpretations. “A lot of literature coming out of Russia is viewed by critics as political satire,” she said. “It is possible to view my novel in this way, but … I think the politics in my novel should not be overplayed.” Slavnikova continues to use the near future as a forum for discussing problems, both global and social. “We are living in a time of huge changes,” she said.

“Heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics”

On the other end of the spectrum, Vladimir Sorokin is committed to satirizing the authoritarian tendencies of the Russian government. In an interview with Spiegel magazine, Sorokin described “Day of the Oprichnik,” as searching for “an answer to the question of what distinguishes Russia from true democracies.” The infamous violence of his novels, he argues, is a reflection of the “sinister energy” of oppression, which still permeates Russian society. “True literature,” wrote Evgeny Zamyatin, grandfather of the dystopian genre, “can exist only where it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy functionaries, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics.”

A.D. Miller was a perfect choice to introduce the English version of this book; it has several elements in common with Miller’s own Booker-shortlisted “Snowdrops”: a fallible narrator, a powerful sense of Moscow as a place and a feel for the absurdity of the things that can happen there. For Miller “Moscow is a monster” and he sympathizes with Zaionchkovsky’s account of the brutal, corrupt and uncompromising nature of urban life. But in “Happiness is Possible,” as the title suggests, there are more moments of affection for an endlessly interesting city and a celebration of its inhabitants’ lives. This is an unusual novel among the (still relatively small) corpus of contemporary Russian works in translation, dealing, as it does, with neither the triumphs and terrors of history nor the prophetic horror of a dystopian future. Zaionchkovsky’s book is set in contemporary Moscow with its quotidian pressures and pleasures. The discursive, drifting, fatalistic narrator, fond of sleeping in the day, is reminiscent of Goncharnov’s sluggish hero, Oblomov, the epitome in classic Russian literature of the traditional “superfluous man.” There are also shades of Mikhail Bulgakov’s canine-human from “Heart of a Dog” in the close bond between the narrator and his mongrel companion. From the details of life around him, dachas, metros, orbital highways, Internet dating and literary buffets, Zaionchovsky weaves a fine tapestry, one that you need to stand back to admire.


wo rat catchers are summoned to the town of Svetloyar to exterminate a plague of rats that keep falling from the hotel ceiling. The town is a reference to Svetloyar Lake in Russia, a place enlivened by its own mythology: A Russian Atlantis called Kitezh, visible only to the “pure of heart,” was submerged and hidden from the invading Mongol hordes. This myth is a suitably fanciful point of departure for these bizarre adventures. Terekhov’s version of Svetloyar is the antithesis of mythical Kitezh with its sinking golden domes and underwater bellringers. The novel’s setting is an ugly, industrial settlement from the Stalin era, which is desperately bidding for inclusion in the tourist trail of “Golden Ring” cities around Moscow. The town is described from the outset in terms of sickness; the high-rise blocks swell and the dark elevators move in their shafts “like roving blood clots.” At times, the novel pays homage to “The Government Inspector,” Gogol’s satirical play, set in a small town in 19th-century Russian provinces. Some similarities are so obvious (a corrupt and divided populace; an anxiously awaited official visit; a duplicitous outsider who causes havoc among both men and women) that Terekhov must be pointing out the endemic nature of human weak-

nesses: greed, bureaucracy, incompetence and infidelity. Even the rats are prefigured by Gogol; the mayor dreams of “two extraordinary rats… black and unnaturally large.” Terekhov’s rat catchers are presented with a Svetloyar ham, only to find a baked rat inside it. “In an ordinary meat plant,” the narrator informs us “there are four rats to every square meter… There are always bits of rat in the sausages.” This is the kind of charming detail that Terekhov’s readers are treated to throughout the book. In the best traditions of rat-infested literature, from Robert Browning’s “Pied Piper,” where the rats “bit the babies” to James Herbert’s horror story, which opens with a man being eaten alive, the tale rests on violent and nauseating imagery. Terekhov’s rats are metaphorical, yet like all compelling images, they are painfully real. Our sympathies shift between the exterminators and their prey as the narrator lingers over the agonies of ingesting ground-glass concrete mix or anti-coagulant poisons. As the rats are anthropomorphized, the trappers are caught like rats in a complicated mesh of assassination plots, double-crossing and disease. The major weakness of Terekhov’s atmospheric novel is its confusion and lack of narrative tension. Despite a chapter-bychapter countdown to a presidential visit, the plot is forever scampering uselessly in new directions until the story resembles a monstrous “rat king” where several bodies are attached to an inextricably knotted mess of tails.



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Tourism Moscow’s past still lives in the present

Hello, Lenin: A Living Tour of Soviet Memory in Moscow With comfortable shoes, visitors can spend the day in the Soviet Union without going beyond the capital city. russia now

Remembering the Cold War


Soviet-era nostalgia can sometimes be misunderstood. For many Russians, and even for returning foreigners, it can simply involve that remembrance of things past: the smells, the tastes and appearances of their childhood, as has been poignantly demonstrated in films like “Goodbye, Lenin.” For others, a trip through the recent past is more about bearing witness to historical events. Either way, it’s easy to plunge into the past by simply spending a day in Moscow. Here one can walk through a park of monuments torn from their pedestals, or linger over Proustian reveries of porridge, stewed fruit and the exploits of Young Pioneers. Visitors can also get a sense of the fallout of failed utopia. In the morning, the fog over the Moscow River is so thick that the spires over the Stalinist-era “wedding cake skyscrapers” are barely visible, and it is even harder to make out the imposing figures of the Sculpture Garden at Krymsky Val, next to the New Tretyakov Gallery of modern and contemporary art. As the mist clears, viewers stroll through a garden where they can find six different versions of Lenin, a grim Stalin with

Fallen Monument Park). Today the museum features about 700 sculptures in bronze, wood and other materials. The most famous statue is “Iron Felix,” a monument to the revolutionary and architect of Soviet terror, Felix Dzerzhinsky, that used to stand in a square of that name just opposite the KGB building. Now Dzerzhinsky Square has reacquired its original name, Lubyankaya Square, and the KGB building houses the Chek-

a chipped nose and a suspiciously athletic Sverdlov, monuments that once stood in the city’s central squares. An old-style cafe resembling a dacha, or summer cottage, serves up Okroshka, a summer soup, and tea. The park began as a graveyard for these and other monuments. After the failed coup of August 1991, the Moscow government hauled the suddenly inconvenient sculptures to the area. Eventually, some were restored and the refuge for Soviet monuments evolved into a popular tourist site (known as

Darya Gonzales

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Even if you shout when you visit Bunker 42 (and you are not supposed to), no one will hear you buried 213 feet underground. It is located in the heart of the capital, which for nearly 30 years was obsessed with the possibility of a nuclear attack. The bunker was manned by 600 officers at all times. In the 1960s, Bunker-42 was

fully equipped with everything necessary to survive a nuclear attack, but today it is a museum. If you survive 18 flights of stairs, you can walk through secret tunnels, see Red Army communications equipment, and the situation room for the country’s top leadership. Of course it would not be Moscow if it did not have a club, and it does.

ist Hall of the Soviet KGB, which opened to the public as the FSB Museum in 1989. The museum is a favorite destination for American tourists and officials. It has lots of surprises in store for any visitor, as it tells the hidden history of the country starting from the first Russian counter-intelligence in fighting Tatar Mongol invaders up to recently declassified documents concerning the capture of agents and joint work with foreign intelligence services. Moscow’s historical center has many more Soviet establishments, from a recent crop of “pseudo-Soviet” cafes to authentic restaurants that serve pelmeni (dumplings) and shots of ryumochnaya (vodka). For those without the robustness to start the day with some ryumochnaya, one alternative is to start it off with semolina porridge, the staple breakfast for all children in the U.S.S.R. The cafe with the European name “Children of Paradise” has a Soviet menu: ten types of stewed fruit, homemade soups and semolina porridge without lumps. The Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines is an eccentric mustsee organized by three enthusiasts who scour the country for broken-down gaming machines. Thanks to them, the museum’s three modest rooms house a veritable time machine that takes Russians back to their

The famous Sculpture Garden at Krymsky Val is a walking park and compound for Soviet-era monuments, a refuge for statues without fixed abode.

Ricardo Marquina Montanana (2)


The Soviet Times restaurant.

childhoods as Young Pioneers, with Black Sea summer camps and soda pop vending machines. One such throwback stands at the entrance to the

There is even a restaurant that mimicks the dining rooms used by ministers. museum: visitors have to change thirty rubles (one dollar) for three Soviet-era kopecks to use the vintage machines and enjoy a glass of the fizzy, syrupy stuff. The owners already have an impressive collection of Soviet memorabilia to which the curators keep adding new items,

and the number of rooms is growing. Isolated from all Western arcades and gaming, these machines had their own look-think Sputnik meets “The Jetsons.” In Soviet times all arcades were assembled at munitions factories. As many as 22 of them across the Soviet Union were busy working to delight Young Pioneers. The first machines were incredibly expensive, costing from 2,500 to 4,000 rubles, which was then almost the price of a Zhiguli car. “Down with kitchen slavery,” reads the caption beneath a poster showing a rebellious housewife that hangs at the entrance to the Soviet times cheburechnaya (a place that sells meat pastries). And sure enough, the

cooks and waiters are all male. Moscow’s best pastries stuffed with cheese can be found at 50 Pokrovka Street. That cafe also has appealing prices, good Zhiguli beer and a range of Soviet sodas in every color of the rainbow, from the green Tarkhun (Tarragon) to the dark-purple Baikal. There are old-fashioned valve radios playing Soviet songs and the walls are covered with Soviet-era posters. And smoking is allowed everywhere. The building of the former Automotive Transport Ministry now houses GlavPivTorg, a restaurant that replicates Soviet-era government dining rooms, if one can imagine having that fantasy. The interiors have solid baize-covered ministerial desks, a red carpet and a library housing the collected works of authors ranging from Engels to Lenin. Moscow has another phantom from the Soviet era, the tram-restaurant Annushka, named for the protagonist of Mikhail Bulgakov’s famous novel, “The Master and Margarita,” which was banned under Stalin. The restaurant shuttles through Moscow’s historical center, offering a choice of three different routes. Read more at Moscow travel site:

Theater Artistic directors from Georgia and actors from Russia create original theater in a family atmosphere in the most unlikely city

Russian Actress Wins Kudos in D.C. nora fitzgerald russia now

Irina Koval glides into Busboy and Poets on 14th Street, still preternaturally graceful a week short of her due date. “I guess you didn’t expect a pregnant actress,” she said calmly. It’s more that one does not expect to see a woman so radiant and serene quite that close to delivery. Koval, who was raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, has lots of reasons to exude joy. The actress has won high praise for her acting, over the past decade, both in plays like “Purge,” a dramatic and dark work of sexual and political terror, and the innovative, movementbased dramas of her home company, Synetic Theater. Synetic is a theatrical sensation in Washington, D.C., a scene recently become more diverse and exciting. The troupe, which is increasingly known for its “Silent Shakespeare” series, is the vision of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, who, like Koval, moved to the United States in the 1990s—in their case, from their native Georgia. Synetic Theater was nominated for a record-setting 15 Helen Hayes Awards this year,

and Koval was nominated for her role as one of the daughters in “King Lear.” Seven “Lear” actors were nominated, including Koval, who is a frequent favorite of the Helen Hayes committee. (None of the individual actors won last week, but the troupe did nab best choreography and outstanding ensemble.) “King Lear” was one of Synetic’s most challenging works so far, the actors said. “It was the most difficult piece I did with Synetic,” said Koval. “And to perform it in silence! I spent a lot of sleepless nights.” “Irina is incredibly talented,” said Irina Tsikurishvili, who founded Synetic Theater about ten years ago with her husband Paata Tsikurishvili, after emigrating here from Tbilisi. “She started with our first Stanislavsky Theater [their first theater before Synetic] from day one. She was so beautiful with this great radiance and grace on the stage. It was so much fun with her and she was a source of ideas and inspiration.” Koval’s serenity in person only hints at her magnetism on stage. Her recognition here— in a political capital city where theater has just emerged in the past two decades as its own force —is even harder-earned than with most struggling actresses. Koval first arrived in the D.C.

Synetic Theater

Graeme Shaw/ GBS Photography

Irina Koval, who was raised in St. Petersburg, brings her training from Lenfilm Studios and a natural radiance to her roles.

Irakli Kavsadze (King Lear) and Irina Koval

Koval was nominated for a Helen Hayes award for her role as one of the daughters in “King Lear.”

area from Russia in her late teens. She decided to emigrate with her family, a tough move for a kid, never mind an aspiring actress. In St. Petersburg, Koval had a precocious beginning to her acting career. She was only 13 when she was cast in a film and

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Synetic Theater works with words, but it has become most famous for its “Silent Shakespeare.” The wildly original vision of Irina and Paata Tsikurishvili, Synetic has become a Beltway jewel, shining the way for more innovators in what was once a lackluster theater town. “Taming of the Shrew,” which just finished its run at the Lansburgh Theater, is a lush, amusing and also poignant interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedy about the capriciousness of love. The artistic directors were trained in Tbilisi, Georgia,

where theater training includes mime, voice, speech, character dancing, horseback riding and fencing, among other skill sets. Irina’s father was an Olympic champion in gymnastics. So physical prowess comes to her naturally, and her choreography, for fights and love scenes as much as dance, has helped to mold the distinctive Synetic style. Some critics are not convinced however, and do not accept what Synetic does as theater. “Of course it’s theater, just the way Chaplin is theater,” Tsikurishvili said.

spent the entire summer on the Black Sea. Soon after, one of the directors on the film invited her to study at Lenfilm Studios, which had started a school for young actors. When she came here, she found herself less confident. “For the first time after high school. I thought, ‘I will never fit in. I will never speak the language well enough. I will never be good enough,’” Koval recalled. She returned to Russia, where she attended university. Yet Koval felt compelled to return to D.C. “I already saw I was living in two worlds,” she said. “I

started having friends here, as well as my family, and started having a life here.” When she returned to D.C. for the second time, she went around to local theaters to see what was on offer. Eventually, she started working with the founders of Synetic. “Synetic is like a big family,” Irina Tsikurishvili said. “We have our cast and people stay with us a long time and we train them. We have our own movement vocabulary…we offer intensive training. Once a year we have auditions for new actors to mix them with older actors

Catch the vibes of Moscow When I first arrived in Russia, I suddenly wasn’t as funny as I used to be back in the U.S. I needed to adapt if I wanted to get the ‘spotlight of laughter’ back on me. That opportunity came in the unexpected form of “KVN”.

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and they learn how to work in Synetic,” she said. The group starts with the script, but then works with improvisation, pantomime, acrobatics, and a definitive movement vocabulary that is taught and understood by the seasoned veterans like Koval. Synetic has won praise from the New York Times and The Washington Post as truly innovative theater, the group that dares to do something different. “No one does what they do — not in Washington or, really, anywhere that I know of,” Michael M. Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, told the New York Times in 2011. “It starts from a theatrical base — what plot and characters do we want to portray? — and then creating the most imaginative physical movements in service to that story,” he said. “There is a lot of mutual understanding about what is the process,” said Koval, who, while pregnant, was assistant director for Syentic’s most recent production, “Taming of the Shrew.” The Silent Shakespeare series has become known, and the company has begun touring. “People come back to us and say we saw your performance,” said Koval. “And now we understand the play much better.”


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