What can Russia’s political elite – and the Kremlin – expect from new U.S. Ambassador John Tefft?
New film project reveals the little-known history of African-Americans in the Soviet Union
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Politics & Society
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Wednesday, October 1, 2014
ARTEM CHERNOV FOR THE PROJECT MEDIA ENABLED MUSKETEERS
RAISING AWARENESS TOGETHER
A unique mutual exchange project brought Russians and Americans together to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
The bilateral Media Enabled Musketeers project teaches people with disabilities how to use journalism to talk about their lives At the presentation of the films on Sept. 19, Alpert further explained his interest in developing this crosscultural filmmaking project. “We like this project, because every country in the world can do a better job fighting for peace and friendship. Both Russia and my country can do a better job for providing equal opportunities for its citizens. Media can be an important part of building friendship, peace and opportunity.” The project eventually included more than 60 participants from both Russia and the U.S. The American participants traveled to Moscow for the Sept. 19 event, and the Russian group will visit the U.S. for the American debut in October. Daily life with disabilities Jonathan Novick, who made a short documentary called “Don’t Look Down on Me” about his life in New York with dwarfism, participated in the program from the American side and presented the American participants in the project at the event on Sept. 19. “This entire experience has been nothing less than amazing. First of all, coming together to make films that share the perspective of people who might be not heard and focusing on issues we might not know about – it was extremely gratifying. But more amazing is to come here, all the way to Moscow and watch films on a big screen with all of you.” To make his film, Novick film used a hidden camera in a shirt button to display the harassment, condescension, and ignorance he faces on a daily basis. He posted the film on YouTube on Aug. 7, and the eye-opening six-minute short has already been viewed more than 2.5 million times. The 13 films shown in the festival were divided into
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ARTEM CHERNOV FOR THE PROJECT MEDIA ENABLED MUSKETEERS
ven as political relations between the U.S. and Russia reach lows not seen since the Cold War, joint social and cultural projects continue. The Media Enabled Musketeers, part of the U.S.-Russia Social Expertise Exchange, presented their first festival of short films in Moscow on Sept. 19. The goal of Media Enabled Musketeers is to train people with disabilities to tell stories about their lives through short documentaries. The project unites professional journalists and film directors with people with disabilities. In addition to learning journalism skills and making films, the partners in the project, which include the Journalism Advancement and Support Center in Moscow and the Downtown Community Television Center in Manhattan, conduct community training seminars on disability sensitivity. American journalist and documentary filmmaker Jon Alpert, who is also the co-founder of the Downtown Community Television Center, told RBTH that the idea for the project came in summer 2013 when he was taking part in a Skype conference with Olga Kravtsova from the Journalism Advancement and Support Center in Moscow and Karina Chupina, an expert trainer-consultant of the Council of Europe on youth participation and disability issues. The initiative received funding from the U.S.-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program, which is funded by the State Department, the Eurasia Foundation, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Sony and private donors, including one of Russia’s best-known hockey stars, Vyshevslav Fetisov, who helped purchase cameras. As Alpert, Kravtsova and Chupina continued to develop the idea, they began looking for participants. In addition to people with disabilities who would be interested in taking part, the group needed professionals on the ground who would help make the films. “We asked here in Russia, who would like to work with us?” said Alpert. “We got no reaction in Moscow, but TV channels in Sergiev Posad (a Moscow Region town about 40 miles outside the city) and Krasnoyarsk (in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of Moscow) became very excited about the project,” Alpert said. In January 2014, Alpert took part in two training sessions for local journalists in those cities.
American journalist and documentary filmmaker Jon Alpert held workshops for Russian journalists.
several categories: little people, people with autism, visually impaired and deaf people, sports and disability in midlife. The creators of the films addressed different issues in their everyday lives, such as choosing a career, taking care of a sick baby and falling in love. After the screenings, American and Russian participants were able to meet one another for the first time – during the course of the project, they communicated with each other online. Mariam Magomedova from Moscow spoke for the Russian group: “I’ve heard about this program from Jon (Alpert), who I knew for long time through the American Cultural Center [in Moscow]. We went to a workshop in Sergiev Posad, and he showed us how to work with the camera. Karina Chupina hold a workshop on understanding disability imagery in the media and common mistakes that journalists make,” said Mariam, who made a film about living with cerebral palsy. “We spoke about terminology for disabled people – like what is correct and what is not. My tutor was from the Sergiev Posad local television station, and with her I was able to feel like a real film director, although she did the montage.” Musketeers come to America On Oct. 17 this unique collection of films will be shown at HBO’s theater in New York, and later some of them will be broadcast on local public television stations. Alpert is optimistic about the future of the project, although at the moment he is not sure if it will continue next year. “I didn’t expect that the films would be so good. I think everybody worked hard and over-fulfilled any expectations. I’m really happy. If everybody will be equally helpful, and we receive the same basic funding, I’m sure we will do it again.” Regardless of what happens in the future, Alpert said that the initiative has already made a lasting impact in the lives of the participants and the partner organizations. “What is really cool about this,” Alpert said, “is that now the local TV station in Sergiev Posad is doing an investigative report as to why there is no single accessible room for disabled people in the main hotel. They do it on their own now!” ■ ELENA BOBROVA RBTH
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Politics & Society P2 // rbth.com // October 1, 2014
First, Do No Harm
NEWS IN BRIEF
Experts weigh in on what Ambassador John Tefft might accomplish
Although experts doubt new U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft will bring any warmth into the chill between the two countries, they at least agree he will do no harm. Nominated in June amid a maelstrom of op-eds and articles, Tefft was confirmed by the Senate July 31 and sworn in by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Sept. 2. The new ambassador kept a low profile during his first two weeks in Moscow, and made his first public appearance Sept. 17 at the opening of the American film festival AmFest. Tefft and his wife, Mariella, hosted their first reception at Spaso House, the ambassador’s residence, on Sept. 18. Although Tefft speaks Russian, having served as the deputy chief of mission in Moscow from 19961999 and later as the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine, he relied on a translator to relay most of his remarks at the event. Tefft is a professional diplomat and is expected to be more cautious in his dealings with the press and the public at large than his predecessor, Michael McFaul, who ran afoul of local reporters just days into his tenure. At his inaugural reception, however, Tefft was approachable and appeared happy to engage with attendees. In a comment for the website of radio station Kommersant FM, columnist Konstantin Von Eggert, who attended the Sept. 18 reception, wrote that Tefft did not come off as the “nuisance for the Kremlin” that many Russian commentators had expected. “Tefft is a very courteous individual, a great analyst and knows many people in Russia personally,” Von Eggert wrote, adding “Tefft’s objective will be to maintain contacts in Moscow on a high level at a time when these contacts, it seems, are at their low.” James Carden, contributing editor to “The American Conservative” magazine and a former advisor to the U.S.-Russia Presidential Commission is skeptical about Tefft’s ability influence U.S.-Russia relations. “Even if – and this, admittedly is a most unlikely scenario – President Obama picked up the phone and asked President Putin to pick the next U.S. ambassador for him – nothing really would change,” Carden said in a comment to Russia Direct. “Ambassadors carry out policy, they don’t make it.” Tefft said as much in a statement issued Sept. 8 after presenting his credentials to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Tefft noted that he has two main responsibilities as ambassador. “First and foremost, I am here to promote, defend and explain the interests of the United States,” Tefft said. “Secondly, I am here to help my own government understand Russia’s goals and perspectives.” Tefft referred to testimony he gave the U.S. Senate during the confirmation process, saying U.S.-Russia relations have a long, complex history. “We have been allies, and we have been adversaries. We have cooperated and we have clashed,” Tefft said. “One thing, however, that has never changed is America’s enduring commitment to engage with Russia, its people, and its government.”
Experts on U.S.-Russia relations doubt that new U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft can significantly improve the current state of affairs between the two countries.
John F. Tefft was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1996-1999, and was Chargé d’Affaires from November 1996-September 1997. He served as the United States ambassador to Lithuania from 2000-2003, to Georgia from 2005-2009, and to Ukraine from 2009-2013. Tefft retired from the Foreign Service in September 2013 and served as executive director of the RAND Corporation’s Business Leaders Forum from October 2013-August 2014 until his recall to duty and confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation.
Michael O. Slobodchikoff, a professor of political science at Troy University in Troy, Ala., told Russia Direct that Tefft’s history as an ambassador and his understanding of the importance of culture and context will serve him well. “The United States desperately needs an ambassador who understands the Russians and their view of the world instead of just antagonizing it,” Slobodchikoff said. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told
Russian news agency RIA Novosti that he has known Tefft a long time and looks forward to working productively with him. But Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Expertise and a professor at the Moscow State University, is not as optimistic about Tefft’s chances of improving U.S.-Russia relations. “The reset has finished and it would be naïve to expect any type of warming before the end of Barack Obama’s presidential term,” Minchenko told the Russian news agency Regnum. Tefft’s job, according to Von Eggert, is to convince Russian authorities that the U.S. is serious about using its influence to damage the Russian economy and the country’s standing in the world. “The new American ambassador will deliver this message to high-level Moscow officials,” Von Eggert wrote. “And wait for the officials to respond not with ‘We’ll see,’ but with ‘Alright, let’s talk.’ Thus is a diplomat’s destiny: to wait patiently and be ready. And keep the door open.’” ■LARA MCCOY, ELENA BOBROVA RBTH Reporting from Russia Direct, Kommersant, Regnum and RIA Novosti was used in this story.
kal is the Baikalsk Paper and Pulp Mill (PPM). It was built on the shore of the lake in the 1960s and, as the website of the Russian branch of Greenpeace notes, its infrastructure was even outdated for that time. Although PPM closed in 2013, the problems it created persist. More than 6 million tons of toxic sludge produced by PPM remains in the ground, since the sludge was not held in a facility that kept it apart from the external environment. Although the pollution caused by PPM is the main source of contamination, it is not the only one. Uncontrolled discharge of liquid waste from private homes not equipped with septic systems is another serious problem. According to Marina Rikhvanova, cochairman of the NGO Irkutsk Baikal Envi-
Saving Siberia’s crown jewel: State program aims to clean up Lake Baikal Sweeping almost 400 miles in a great arc through the taiga forest of southeastern Siberia, Lake Baikal is the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake. Surrounded by pristine mountain scenery and thick forests, the deep blue lake is a place of stunning beauty. The region’s tourist industry is actively developing, and plans are well under way to open up more of the lake’s shoreline to ecotourism. But while the growth in tourism is undoubtedly good news for the region’s economy, some fear it will be a serious additional strain on the undeveloped local sanitary infrastructure, and will contribute to water pollution as Baikal faces a growing challenge to keep its famously pure waters clean. The major industrial polluter of Lake Bai-
March for peace in Ukraine held in Moscow and in seven American cities
Pollution threatens the livelihood of fishermen on Lake Baikal.
ronmental Wave, because the settlements around the lake have had almost no sewage treatment plants since the Soviet era, people illegally dump tons of waste into the water. “While earlier it was harmless, as the population around Lake Baikal was small, the problem has begun to grow due to the appearance of tourists and the construction of tourist facilities,” said Rikhvanova. She thinks that it is possible to overcome this problem if the government moves forward with plans for developing the infrastructure around the lake. Government officials have been concerned about the situation around Lake Baikal for many years and in August 2012, a major federal project was established to build on already-existing laws aimed at protecting and restoring the lake. The program, called “Protection of Lake Baikal and the Socio-economic Development of the Baikal Nature Reserve for 2012-2020,” includes plans for the development of regulations limiting pollution levels in towns in the Baikal area and reassessing all local sources of lake pollution. The
Thousands of Muscovites took to the streets on Sept. 21, protesting what they see as Russia’s military involvement in the Ukraine crisis. The number of protesters varies according to the source. The Moscow police reported 5,000 people, and Russia’s Union of Observers said that more than 26,000 participated in the march for peace. On the streets of Moscow, protesters shouted slogans such as “Glory to Ukraine,” “No to war,” and “Russia without Putin,” the mantra of the 2011 and 2012 anti-Kremlin protests. Although the marchers faced counter-protesters along the way, no cases of violence were reported. Coinciding with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, groups in more than 30 cities worldwide staged protests against Russia’s approach to the conflict in Ukraine. Marches in New York, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Houston were organized by the American Russian-Speaking Society for Civil and Human Rights. VIEW THE VIDEO at rbth.com/40015 Pabst – no longer an American beer The iconic Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, will soon be owned by a Russian company. Moscow-based Oasis Beverages and private-equity firm TSG Consumer Partners are buying the Pabst brewing company for between $700-750 million dollars. In a statement,
chairman of Oasis and soon-to-be CEO of Pabst Eugene Kashper called the company, “the quintessential American brand – it represents individualism, egalitarianism, and freedom of expression.” Pabst will remain headquartered in Los Angeles.
projects in the program will be funded from federal sources. Under the program, the Irkutsk Region, Republic of Buryatia and Zabaikalye Territory, which surround the lake, will receive 634 million rubles ($16.5 million) in 2014 alone to fund development. Buryatia will use its portion to build a sewage treatment plant in Kyakhta, a sewer conduit in the village of Petropavlovsk, and a solid waste landfill in Zaigrayevo. In the Irkutsk Region, repairs will begin on the sewage treatment plant on the Angara River, and a sewer plant will be go up in Shelekhov, near Irkutsk. Additionally, by 2020, the state is planning to build six plants for industrial waste processing, which will help to rehabilitate as much as 80 percent of the contaminated areas. ■GLEB FEDOROV RBTH
READ THE FULL STORY at rbth.com/39809
RUSSIAN EVENTS IN D.C. AND BALTIMORE Gala Opening Night, Russian Kaleidoscope Oct. 10 The Embassy of Austria, 3524 International Ct NW, Washington, D.C. 20008 A musical evening featuring Yana Eminova – soprano, Magdalena Wor – mezzo soprano and Vera Danchenko-Stern – piano. This concert series is dedicated to Russian chamber vocal music that is rarely performed in the U.S. Admission at $80 includes: concert, buffet dinner, drinks and dessert. › thercas.com/ticket-info.com
Russian History Seminar: Hot Tubs, Hippies, and Space Cadets: Cold War Passages into Inner & Outer Space Oct. 10 ICC Building, 662 Georgetown University, 37th and O streets, NW, Washington, D.C. 20057
Festival at Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in Baltimore Oct. 17-19 1723 East Fairmount Ave. Baltimore, MD 21231
Andrey Makarevich & Yiddish Jazz Oct. 19 Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW Washington, D.C. 20052
Featuring: Dr. Andrew Jenks of California State University, Long Beach. His most recent book is titled “The Cosmonaut Who Couldn’t Stop Smiling: the Life and Legend of Yuri Gagarin.”
Come take part in the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church’s 41st Annual Russian Festival. This three-day cultural festival is a great opportunity to sample and buy Russian food, see authentic folk dances, buy handmade souvenirs and meet representatives of the Russian congregation.
In his new program, rock musician Andrey Makarevich tackles an extraordinary range of Jewish Diaspora melodies – all sung, for the most part, in Yiddish, Russian or English, and backed by a live band of internationally renowned jazz musicians. Think Klezmer music reimagined with big-band jazz.
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Business rbth.com // October 1, 2014 // P3
Modernization or isolation? Economist says the Russian economy can respond to sanctions by stepping up or cutting itself off RBTH spoke to Alexander Shokhin, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), a former deputy prime minister of Russia, and one of the authors of Russia’s market reforms in the 1990s, about whether the Russian economy can guarantee import substitution and restructure itself in the conditions created by the sanctions war between Russia and the West.
Alexander Shokhin holds an economics degree from Moscow State University. He served as the Minister of Labor and Employment of Russia from 1991-1992, and as Deputy Prime Minister from 19931994. For 10 years, Shokhin
How has political instability, the instability that is also linked to the Ukrainian crisis, reflected on Russian business? Can we say that Russia is perhaps losing its traditional partners? You can’t say that business will not suffer from the sanctions. There are two key areas: the attraction of financial resources and new technologies. According to certain calculations, the restriction on accessing long-term financing has already had an effect on the growth of Russian companies’ borrowing costs on foreign markets. The potential reduction in the capitalization of Russian companies is calculated at 15-20 percent from the level of July 16 (the MICEX has fallen to 1250-1180 points). It is difficult to evaluate the restric-
BP, E.ON Ruhrgas AG, Scheneider Electric, Fortum Corporation) and producers of technology, food and equipment (Philips, Nestle, Unilever, LG Electronics). Many western companies are afraid that Russia will turn to protectionism and economic isolationism. Do you think that Russia has changed its economic policy priorities? The Russian entrepreneurial community actively interacts with its foreign colleagues; therefore there can be no talk of isolationism. The support of national business is a normal practice for any country, as long as it does not contradict international obligations. It took Russia a long time to join the WTO and it fully observes its obligations. We must use the opportunities that the WTO grants us, we must actively use its instruments as far as trade disputes are concerned, for example, antidumping procedures. Despite the suspension of Russia’s accession to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), we are still trying to implement legislation on bringing Russia’s legal and regulatory framework into accordance with OECD norms. We think that this implementation is important for Russian businesses and foreign companies operating in Russia, since it creates a common legal and regulatory dimension. Of course we intend to expand collaboration with Asian and Pacific countries, yet this will be done not in lieu of our policy to deepen ties with Europe, but in addition to it. How important does the role of organizations such as RSPP become in times of large import substitution programs introduced by the government? One of the most serious problems facing business, one that RSPP is trying to solve, is the lack of qualified personnel. A survey that we organized reported that 70 percent of companies encounter a deficit of qualified workers and more than half of companies – a lack of machine operators and equipment. Without a radical change in the personnel factor, the implementation of the import substitution program is impossible. And RSPP’s most significant proposal is not to increase the fiscal burden on businesses. Achieving this will be the most difficult part. There is discussion about an entire series of initiatives to increase taxes and obligatory insurance payments. However, RSPP hopes to persuade the government to stimulate business, and not to limit its development.
© RIA NOVOSTI
Some economists believe that the Russian economy will only gain from the sanctions, precisely due to the development of import substitution. Do you think these hopes are justifiable? For many sectors, in particular for the agroindustry, there now exists an additional opening for “reconquering” a part of the domestic market. The RSPP’s monthly business indicator shows that in the last few months there has been an increase in demand for production from Russian companies. At times this is the result of the ruble’s devaluation in the beginning of the year, at times the restrictions on imports. But in general, the entrepreneurial mood has improved in comparison with previous months, even though it still has not reached a positive level: In August the indicator was 49.6 points, at a neutral evaluation of 50 points. In addition, import substitution, especially in high-tech production, requires time: It is impossible to find a solution in just a couple of months. However, this does not mean that Russia can wait to modernize its industries and augment their innovativeness and just do it later. Later will be too late.
has headed the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that coordinates Russian companies’ efforts to improve the Russian investment climate, among other functions.
tions on technology exports, but it is likely that it will have long-term effects on the modernization of the Russian economy. There are partners who have been forced to halt certain projects, mainly in the investment sector. In particular, in the past two years the state Rusnano Corporation [which develops nanotechnology] has been working on an important project: the creation of a direct investment fund with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The EBRD’s investments were going to be over $100 million. In today’s climate these plans most likely will not become a reality, which will have an influence on overall attempts to attract private investments and develop new technologies. However, there are still traditional partners that do not plan on leaving the Russian market. These are banks (Raiffeisen Bank, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley), energy companies (Royal Dutch Shell,
■ALEXEI LOSSAN Russia’s benchmark stock indices have fallen dramatically since the start of the year due to the geopolitical situation.
Interest in genome testing grows in Russia, but prices remain high
A risky business model While several Russian genome testing firms hold up 23andMe as a model, they may be more able than the American firm to keep up with the latest trends. In
The forbidden science Starting in the 1930s, geneticists were persecuted in the Soviet Union. Official propaganda claimed that citizens of socialist countries could not have genetic diseases and that discussions about genes were the foundation for racism and fascism. The American scholar Hermann Muller, a Nobel Prize laureate, wrote that being a geneticist in the Soviet Union was like being Galileo at the inquisition. The director of the Institute of Genetics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Trofim Lysenko, headed up the campaign to persecute researchers. Many talented geneticists were arrested and killed. For example, plant geneticist Nikolai Vavilov was accused of being an English spy and eventually died of malnutrition in prison. In 1948, Josef Rappoport, who had discovered chemical mutagenesis, was told to renounce the chromosomal theory. He refused and was dismissed from the institution where he worked. Student-geneticists who visited their professors in prison were also harassed and arrested.
$600-800 is the average price for genome testing in Russia; in the U.S., a test can be performed for $100-200.
The market for genome research is growing rapidly in Russia. According to data provided by the Genotek laboratory, which performs genome testing, the number of people asking for DNA tests is steadily growing by 10-12 percent per month. The first companies offering genetic testing in Russia appeared in the mid-2000s. My Gene opened at the Innovation Park of Moscow State University in 2007 offering non-invasive prenatal diagnosis of fetal chromosomal pathologies. My Gene representatives claim that the method they use is only available in six other laboratories in the world – one in China and five in the United States. In 2009, Florida-based CyGene began offering direct-to-consumer genetic testing in Russia. Today international pharmacological giant Roche conducts genome research in Russia, and Genotek also offers complete genome testing. The inspiration for Genotek’s business model was the American firm 23andMe, which Google founder Sergey Brin’s former wife, Anna Wojcicki, created with Linda Avey in 2008. A new project by Atlas Biomed Group, also inspired by 23andMe, launched in late September. Many Russian genetic testing firms focus on one specific genetic condition or a range of conditions that could affect one part of the body. St. Petersburg company Sequoia Genetics has collected more than 1,500 DNA samples from patients with cystic fibrosis. Oftalmik, based in Moscow, specializes in the genetic testing of people suffering from eye diseases. “The market for genome research is very dynamic and a large number of people in Russia are now working to obtain genomic information,” said Marianna Ivanova, founder of Oftalmik. Russians cannot order direct-to-consumer genetic testing from firms located abroad due to a 2007 ban on the export of human medical specimens.
Companies offering health-related and genealogical DNA testing appeared in Russia only recently.
While Russians who do genetic testing primarily do so for health reasons, some are willing to spend the money to figure out who their ancestors might have been. 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of the company’s kits for personal genetic testing. In its explanation of the decision, the FDA said it was concerned about possible errors in the test that could cause the company’s clients to make radical decisions about their health and health care. As a result, 23andMe stopped offering clients tests that checked for predispositions to diseases and today focuses instead on tests that will help people trace their ancestors via geneological research. Founder Wojcicki said that the decision will inhibit the company’s development. “You can already see what the Genomics Institute in Beijing in doing,” Wojcicki said in an interview with the medical portal Medscape. “Saudi Arabia announced plans to genotype 100,000 people… The rest of the world is moving forward aggressively with this, but we are somewhat stuck.”
FOR EACH OF YOU, THERE IS A RUSSIA OF YOUR CHOICE
High-tech equipment and prices to match While Russians who do genetic testing primarily do so for health reasons, some are willing to spend the money to figure out who their ancestors might have been. One Russian politician recently did a did a haplogroup geneology DNA test that linked him to a variety of famous people. “We found out that he had common ancestors with Napoleon, Einstein and Hitler,” said Valery Ilinsky, Director of Genotek. “He was proud of it and told other politicians that Napoleon was his relative.” According to Oftalmik’s Ivanova, all the necessary equipment for proper genome decoding is available in Russia. For example, the supercomputer Lomonosov, one of the 100 largest supercomputers in the world and which can perform genetic sequencing, is in use at the biotechnology cluster of Moscow State University. Despite the availability of technology and equipment, Russian genetic testing clients still pay more on average than people in other countries. Whereas in the U.S. a client can pay $100-200 for a test, in Russia, such a test runs $600-800. ■VICTORIA ZAVYALOVA RBTH
For each frantic metropolis, there is a peaceful village For each Siberian winter, there is a Black Sea summer
Comment & Analysis P4 // rbth.com // October 1, 2014
A UNITED FRONT AGAINST ISIS? VLADIMIR SOTNIKOV RUSSIA DIRECT
An insult to America The United States cannot help but respond to the threat posed by ISIS. The recent vid-
oth the U.S. and Russia should account for the threat posed by the Islamic State in their long-term foreign policy strategies. And there are signs of that already happening. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently announced Russia’s support of a French initiative to create an international conference on Iraq, as well as Russian support for any U.N. resolutions authorizing the U.S. to carry out air strikes in the Middle East and North Africa. The Islamic State, also called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), emerged from the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in the Middle East and currently controls 30 percent of Syrian territory as well as some Iraqi territory. Altogether, the territory it holds is as big as Belgium, and the group boasts up to 90,000 active members of armed units. Despite some experts’ opinions that the menace this group poses has been unduly exaggerated, the Islamic State is becoming a serious threat for both the United States and Russia. The U.S. has already started bombing ISIS militants’ position, but this alone won’t solve the ISIS problem. The U.S. also intends to call on the international coalition it is creating, including some states in the Middle East, to weaken or eliminate this terrorist threat, which probably means delegating ground operations to coalition partners. Severe losses could result. It is important to understand that the U.S. operation against ISIS will be long-term – at least a few months or possibly even a year. It is also important to understand that collaboration between the U.S. and Russia will be essential to this operation. At the moment, the countries are unable to find any common ground in Syria. The U.S. is constantly accusing Russia of propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad while Russia alleges that the support the U.S. is giving to opposition groups ostensibly to fight ISIS is actaully intended to fight the government. Both sides should instead focusing on finding concrete ways Russia and the U.S. can cooperate to fight ISIS.
The ISIS militants are a threat not only for the U.S. but also for Russia because both Iraq and Syria are geographically much closer to Russia than to the U.S. eotaped beheadings of Americans along with looting near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in the summer have delivered a bitter insult to the Americans. However, the U.S. faces the question of whether it is ready to engage all its forces and resources to deal with the acute conflict that has emerged in Iraq and the ongoing conflict in Syria. U.S. President Barack Obama has voiced the American establishment’s stance that the primary task is to try to clamp down on the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and ISIScontrolled Syrian territory using the fewest resources possible. That is, by carrying out air strikes. According to mass media reports, 61 per-
cent of Americans support Obama’s decision to carry out an American military operation in Iraq and Syria. But the public’s appetite for another prolonged ground war in the Middle East should not be exaggerated. Additionally, any large military operation will require significant funding, which the U.S. Congress might not be ready to allot. The Obama administration doesn’t know what will happen in Afghanistan after NATO and the U.S. withdraw their troops at the end of 2014, or how the Americans are going to protect their interests in Afghanistan. Getting involved in Syria will create more questions than answers. The U.S. would like to see a change in leadership in the country, but launching a real fight against the Islamic State will require the cooperation of both the Assad regime and the opposition rebels. Neither is it clear what will happen in Syria. ISIS as a threat to Russian The ISIS militants are a threat not only for the U.S., but also for Russia. ISIS has already threatened that it would “liberate Chechnya” and wage war in the North Caucasus
and ISIS is already actively engaging with users of major Russian social networks, including the country’s most popular social network, VKontakte, to promote its ideas. The ISIS leaders seem to have taken to heart the lessons of the role of the Internet in organizing activitsts during the Arab Spring, which between 2011-2013 led to the overthrow of several established regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya. Is there any common ground? Although Russia and the U.S. are on opposite sides of the barricades in the Ukraine crisis, cooperating on fighting ISIS is not only possible, but necessary, first and foremost because the terrorist activities of the Islamic State go beyond the scope of a regional threat. With its ideas of a caliphate stretching across the Muslim world and the goal of exporting its terrorist war into countries including the U.S. and Russia, ISIS could become a significant global problem if it is able to secure funding on top of the resources it already has, which include the illegal oil trade.
Moscow should not fear U.S. action in Syria because despite its air strikes, Washington will resist the urge to topple Bashar al-Assad and ISIS in one go. Air strikes in Syrian territory are fraught with the risk of large-scale civilian damage as well as destruction of important industrial sites and nuclear facilities. From a political perspective, even though the U.S. makes unilateral decisions on bombing Islamists in different places in the world without U.N. approval, it would require at least minimal consent of the international community. Ultimately, only the two biggest world nuclear powers can efficiently fight the Islamic State: the U.S. and Russia. Options for military and special services cooperation range from exchanging intelligence on ISIS to exercising influence on the countries affected by the war with ISIS. This does not mean Moscow would send its troops as part of an international coalition to fight ISIS. More likely, Russia will use its influence on Assad to force his army to act more decisively against ISIS militants on Syrian territory. This is how Damascus could support Washington in its fight against ISIS. The role of Iran, which is another noted ally of Syria, should not be dismissed, either. Tehran has already sent a few hundred fighters from its Revolutionary Guards Corps to Iraq to fight off ISIS attacks. Iran could soon be openly aiding the U.S., especially if the two countries reach an agreement on Nov. 25 over Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Moscow could use its relations with Iran to back the U.S. in its war with ISIS. But any U.S. attempts to use the operation against ISIS to topple Assad’s regime could hamper potential American-Russian cooperation. Although the Ukrainian crisis has been detracting from the potential of U.S.-Russia collaboration in fighting ISIS, there are signs that Russia and the West can finally find common ground. As the U.S. enters the first stage of a long-term, collaborative strategy to address the terrorist threat posed by ISIS, it is bolstered by Russia’s avowed support of its air strike operations in the Middle East and North Africa. But it shouldn’t end here. As in the Ukrainian case, U.S. and Russian top-level bilateral diplomatic talks are necessary on the ISIS issue, as well as potentially resuming cooperation between the two countries’ agencies on fighting global terrorism, despite the negative atmosphere of current Russian-American relations. Vladimir Sotnikov is an international affairs expert at the Institute of World Economy and Foreign Relations and the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
GET TO KNOW THE REAL AMERICA ON THE SCREEN
o matter how much Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin (whom Russians unequivocally deem “the sun of Russian poetry”) may have swaggered, and regardless of how deeply he loved the fall, even the great poet was unlikely to have escaped the autumn blues. Indeed, his glorification of the fall was an attempt to love the unlovable. Fall inevitably follows summer. After such pleasant relaxation, warmth, and light, unburdensome clothing, it is difficult to grapple with the thought that we have to wait another whole year for it. A short trip to warmer climes is off the table; not everyone can afford it. And either way, that trip would not replace three months of summer. So how to deal with the autumn blues? Everyone has their own cure. Some people drink, some eat, some work, and some don’t work. Some pretend they don’t have the autumn blues, but then the gray, dreary days force them to think otherwise. I have my own cure. My favorite film festival happens in the fall: the American Independent Film Festival, or AmFest. Knowing that I’m soon going to see something special, sometimes I even dream of the summer ending faster. I always associate autumn not with the endof-summer blues, but with a unique atmosphere which is best fit in dreary, somewhat sad (but in a good way) independent American cinematography. The festival opened in both Mos-
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ALEXANDER PAVLOV IZVESTIA
AmFest shows Russians an America that they know very little about. The problem is that those who attend are those who are already familiar with this America and want to spend time exploring it.
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cow and St. Petersburg on Sept. 17, and it will take place in Voronezh and Yekaterinburg from Oct. 9-15. Not everything that plays at AmFest is good, but that’s what makes it special. No one can dispute that many independent films are not very good, and are often even horrible. As the creator of South Park once described them, independent films are black and white movies about sexual minorities. Oddly enough, sometimes that’s true. But still, a substantial portion of that type of film is good. What ends up at AmFest has already gone through several powerful filters. Of course, the films shown at AmFest are interesting, but for me personally, the festival itself is important. When you go to see ninja turtles, you don’t get a sense of the unique atmosphere that AmFest creates. But of course, you still need to go see ninja turtles. But whereas some blockbusters attempt to become an event, AmFest in itself is an event that embodies something you can’t see elsewhere in Russia. That’s probably why
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On Olga Allyonova’s column in the Sept. 3 issue
I often meet many people I know, particularly students who want to get better acquainted not so much with serious films as with rare films within the walls of a movie theater. AmFest is a rare occurrence in our cultural life. It shows us an America that Russians know very little about. The problem is that those who attend this event are those who are already familiar with this America and want to spend even more time exploring it. Independent American film is a snapshot of the lives of everyday Americans – of how difficult it is to live in the depths of alcoholism or how to cope with the problems of aging. These problems are not explored very often in mainstream movies. These are not “popcorn movies.” They are not the kind of American series that have won the hearts of ordinary people and in fact do not even effectively represent the U.S. in all its diversity. With the exception of major premieres – say, Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight” – each film in and of itself would unlikely be able to be as big a hit as, say, “The Amazing Spiderman.” But together, these uneventful films create an event of Russian cultural life. Russian viewers once again have the chance to get to know an America that was unfamiliar to them before. Alexander Pavlov is a professor in the faculty of philosophy at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
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Of course we’d like to have some ways of ending the war in Ukraine, which presupposes understanding it. “What is to be done?” as Lenin said. In rare instances, usually imaginary ones, violence may be justified – as in a plot to kill a Hitler, or when the Buddha has to kill one man to save 40 others. But rarely. In the meantime – let us fol-
low the teachings and tactics of non-violence taught by such masters as Tolstoy, Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King. I do, and am one of the few American males to do so. Please introduce us to the heroes of non-violence in Russia. The histories of both our countries continue to be too violent. David Eberhardt Baltimore, Md
CO N V E RT I N G M O N O LO G U E S I N TO D I A LO G U E
Russia Direct is a forum for experts and senior decision-makers from Russia and abroad to discuss, debate and understand issues in geopolitical relations from a sophisticated vantage point.
September 2014 Monthly Memo
September, when Russia commemorates the anniversary of the tragic Beslan terror attack and the U.S. mourns the victims of 9/11, is a good time to remember that Russia and the West need each other to counter a serious threat to the whole world: international terrorism.
This Monthly report on the Rise and Fall of USRussian Counter-Terrorism Cooperation is now available online!
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Culture rbth.com // October 1, 2014 // P5
‘These are books I’d like to share with the American audience’
A search for equality that led to Russia
Wayland Rudd in the film “Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen,” (1945). will condemn her because the father of her child is black. “The key message of the film is that in the Soviet Union, nobody cares about race,” Demikovsky told RBTH. “The message implies ‘We love them all.’” Since the movie’s release, generations of Russians have fallen in love with the mysterious black child, who is widely accepted at the end of the film. For many years, few people knew that the actor, James Patterson, was actually the son of a black American who moved to the Soviet Union and married a Russian. Demikovsky discovered Patterson’s story in the 1990s, after reading Allison Blakely’s book “Russia and the Negro.” She was surprised to discover that quite a few black American professionals traveled to the Soviet Union, a new country, where everybody was pronounced “equal.” “I started asking my friends, Americans and Russians if they’ve ever heard about this tide of African-American immigration,” Demikovsky said. “Nobody had any idea. This entire chapter of U.S.-Soviet history seemed to be completely ignored and unknown.” It’s difficult to verify the number of people who left America for the Soviet Union, according to Carew. “Sources indicate that several hundred blacks went for a range of reasons and stayed for varying lengths of time… Additionally, some made more than one trip; and others went and never returned to the United States,” Carew wrote. But their stories must be known. “Such a film is urgently needed today, as it is about people who are unafraid of pursuing their dreams and fighting for their dignity and freedom,” Demikovsky said. The documentary is ready for post-production, but her studio, Red Palette Pictures, is still fundraising. Post-Soviet Russia and the United States still share the bond created by the life stories of Rudd, Patterson, and their contemporaries, who made the brave and controversial choice to move to an unknown, foreign place and create art. This unusual twist in history is still contributing to the forging of new relationships, according to Demikovsky, who befriended James Patterson, now in his 80s and living in the U.S., during her work on “Black Russians – The Red Experience”. “If I only knew when I was little, and loved the boy from the “The Circus,” that one day I’ll become his friend,” Demikovsky said.
African-Americans found new opportunities in the Soviet Union A dream of racial equality behind the Iron Curtain may seem counterintuitive to Americans today, but for African-Americans escaping the violence and hate at home in the 1920s and onward, immigration to the Soviet Union seemed like a road to long-denied freedom and respect. In this early stage of the Soviet Union, although some measures already curtailed the freedoms previously offered to many minorities after the Bolshevik Revolution, it still appeared as a welcoming land to those marked as second-class citizens in the U.S. As Joy Gleason Carew writes in her book, “Blacks, Reds, and Russians: Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise,” the majority of black immigrants to the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, did not embark on this life-changing trip as a “messianic quest.” Those who went for political training hoped to organize communities of color back home, according to Carew. Those who signed contracts for industrial or artistic projects were happy to land a job during the time of the Great Depression at home, where they also were fleeing the “pressures of Jim Crow.” One such actor was Wayland Rudd (19001952), who started his performing career at the Hedgerow Theater in Pennsylvania. He first gained notice for his part in Eugene O’Neill’s “Emperor Jones.” When his career goals limited by racism in the American entertainment industry, Rudd moved to the Soviet Union in 1931 to pursue a career on stage and screen. Eventually he graduated 1
from Moscow’s Theatrical Art Institute and worked at the Stanislavsky Opera and Drama Theater. Although many others followed Rudd’s example, he became the face of the Soviet ideological machine in its promotion of racial justice in the Soviet Union and its criticism the injustice perpetrated against ethnic minorities in the so-called “free” West. The Soviet-born, U.S.-based filmmaker Yelena Demikovsky is producing a documentary called “Black Russians – The Red Experience” that addresses this unusual pattern of immigration. In the upcoming film, Demikovsky interviews the descendants of the black American émigrés, including Rudd’s son, Wayland
The majority of Black immigrants to the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s did not embark on this life changing trip as a “messianic quest.” Rudd Jr., a Moscow-based musician, and Russian television host, Yelena Khanga, the granddaughter of a Mississippi cotton farmer and a Polish-Jewish American woman, who relocated to Soviet Uzbekistan. Like many Russians, Demikovsky grew up watching the 1936 Soviet film “The Circus,” in which a young American circus star (Lubov Orlova) performing in Russia initially hides her child from the Russian people, afraid they 3
1) “Black Russians – The Red Experience” - is the new documentary on black people in Stalin’s USSR 2) Wayland Rudd on a poster of “Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen” (1945) and (3) “The Great Consoler” (1933).
GORKY PARK An autumn selfie or just a pretty picture on Instagram is guaranteed to all visitors to Gorky Park. There is free access to WiFi in the park along with stands for charging laptops and cellphones. In Gorky Park visitors can find a wide variety of backgrounds for photographs – one of them being the park’s symbol, the legendary “Girl with an Oar” sculpture. And with a little luck, it’s also possible to get that perfect shot of falling leaves dancing right on the bank of the Moscow River. Walking and cycling paths connect Gorky Park with Sparrow Hills, where visitors can enjoy the autumn colors from the high banks of the river or on a funicular.
THE BOTANICAL GARDEN The pearl of the Botanical Garden is the Japanese garden, arranged according to traditions of Japanese national landscape art. It is the best place in Moscow for solitary contemplation of the harmony of nature. It also creates the ideal opportunity to practice Momijigari, the traditional Japanese custom of admiring maples. The Manchurian maples, gingkoes, spindles and chestnuts bring autum colors and create beautiful reflections in the garden ponds and simply create an overall gorgeous view. In the center of the garden is a stone pagoda that symbolizes a Buddhist temple. Tea ceremonies occasionally take place in the tea house.
KOLOMENSKOYE The old Dyakovo, Kazansky and Ascension apple orchards are symbols of Kolomenskoye. These orchards, located at the highest part of the park, provide the single most wonderful view of Moscow River in the whole city. Here, visitors can almost taste the scent of apples and the sweet smell of aging foliage. Few places in the city are quieter, lovelier and more pleasant than the apple orchards located in Kolomenskoye Park. Take a blanket and a picnic basket and spend the whole day in a completely different world! Kolomenskoye also offers another way to enjoy the autumn view of the capital: Use the free panoramic binoculars on Ascension Square.
■IVAN SAVVINE SPECIAL TO RBTH
READ THE FULL STORY AND VIEW A FILM TRAILER at rbth.com/40113
MOSCOW TODAY IS ONE OF THE GREENEST MEGACITIES IN THE WORLD. THERE ARE MORE THAN 50 PLACES WHERE VISITORS CAN ENJOY THE FALL COLORS. IF YOU HAPPEN TO BE IN THE RUSSIAN CAPITAL HERE ARE SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AUTUMN SPOTS.
A VISITOR’S GUIDE TO THE BEST PLACES TO EXPERIENCE MOSCOW IN THE FALL
An overlooked author The first in a trilogy, “Harlequin’s Costume” chronicles the real-life adventures of legendary 19th century chief police inspector Ivan Putilin, who chased St. Petersburg’s most notorious criminals. Its sequel, “Prince of the Wind,” won the National Bestseller literary prize. In Yuzefovich’s hands, the stories of the man later dubbed the Russian Sherlock Holmes become richer and more multi-layered than traditional murder mysteries. Although Schwartz also won the 2011 Heldt Prize for her translation of Olga Slavnikova’s novel “2017,” the 2014 Read Russia award is particularly welcome because she decided to translate “Harlequin’s Costume” on her own. “Having translated about 70 books over the last 35-plus years, fewer than five of them, probably, have been at my initiative,” Schwartz told the Moscow audience for the Read Russia Award Presentations. “I found, appreciated, and translated ‘Harlequin’s Costume’ on spec, convinced that it would find a publisher eventually.” In the end, the book was finished only with help from a grant, and it was several years before Glagoslav published it in 2013. “My hope is that this prize will help in finding a publisher for all of Yuzefovich’s books,” Schwartz said, describing Yuzefovich as “one of the most overlooked authors in English translation.” Schwartz is also translating and seeking a publisher for Yuzefovich’s more recent, more serious novel “Cranes and Pygmies,” which won the Big Book award in 2009. Strong Russian voices The Putilin mysteries appealed to Americans partly because they were “so unlike most Russian books people had in America,” Schwartz said. “After the break-up of the Soviet Union, I spent a long time looking for the strong Russian voices we hadn’t heard in the West,” Schwartz told RBTH. “It was time, in my opinion, to broaden the West’s view of Russian literature.” Schwartz said she was drawn to do what native Russian speakers could not. “I became a translator largely because I felt that was the one role – bringing Russian literature to the English-speaking audience – I could play best,” Schwartz said. Schwartz first studied Russian at Harvard University and Leningrad State University, and later at the University of Texas. “I was already fluent in French and had ambitions to learn many languages, so Russian was just the next one on my list,” Schwartz said. “I’d read a lot of Chekhov in high school, especially the plays, but once I got to college, the literature got its hooks into me and never really let go.” Schwartz was a translator for Nina Berberova, an émigré novelist and short story writer born in St. Petersburg in 1901. The collaboration, which lasted from 1981 until Berberova’s death in 1993, was defininitve for Schwartz, she said.
On Sept. 6, Marian Schwartz, who has been translating Russian literature since 1978, won the 2014 Read Russia award for Contemporary Literature. Her English translation of Leonid Yuzefovich’s 2001 novel “Harlequin’s Costume” recreates the different voices in this postmodern whodunit to great effect.
In the past three-and-a-half decades of her career as a literary translator, Marian Schwartz has published more than 70 volumes of fiction and nonfiction. Her translation of Edvard’s Radzinsky’s “The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II” was on the New York Times bestseller list for 16 weeks. Schwartz is known best for her prize-winning translations of Nina Berberova, a Russian émigré writer. Schwartz has retranslated a significant number of Russian classics, but she is committed to contemporary Russian literature.
“After the break-up of the Soviet Union, I spent a long time looking for the strong voices we hadn’t heard in the West.” Challenges The most difficult of the many challenges Schwartz has faced was also the first, she said: an early 20th century collection of philosophical essays called “Vekhi,” or “Landmarks,” which she finished in 1978. Since then, Schwartz has translated books about history, art and food, as well as fiction, including Mikhail Shishkin’s dense and intricate novel “Maidenhair.” “‘Maidenhair’ was fundamentally complex,” said Schwartz, “but I felt a great affinity for Shishkin’s style, so the end result was extremely satisfying.” Recently, Schartz has been working on another challenge: Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” due out in November from Yale University Press. Retranslating such a classic has been daunting, Schartz said, but she felt strongly about the project. “There were aspects of the book related to style that had not been correctly addressed in previous English translations,” Schwartz said. A broader audience Schwartz’s passion for her work is rooted in her intended readers, she said. “What all these books have in common, apart from their literary brilliance, is what I see as their potential appeal to the Western reader,” Schwartz said. “These are books I’d like to share with the American audience.” ■PHOEBE TAPLIN SPECIAL TO RBTH
IZMAILOVSKY PARK This park is the best place for autumn hiking within the city. Izmailovsky Park, unlike many of Moscow’s parks and estates, is not formally landscaped, which gives it the natural appearance of a real forest, complete with tree branches and old stumps covered in moss. Park-goers can feel the crackle of fallen leaves under their feet as they walk and pause to gather beautiful bouquets of autumn foliage. The Izmailovsky Park grounds cover more than 700 acres, so it is best to rent a bicycle if you want to see the whole property. In order to see it all in one glance, you can take a ride on the Ferris wheel.
TSARITSYNO Tsaritsyno is the only English-style landscaped park in Moscow. This park kingdom has a rare and wonderful color spectrum, combining red brick with white stone ornaments for vivid contrast. Pseudo-Gothic palaces, pavilions, arches, and lacework bridges effectively set the stage for magnificent autumn vistas. The cascade of ponds acts as a mirror, doubling the surrounding beauty. In autumn, it gets dark early, and one can have a lovely time at Tsaritsyno sitting with friends and watching the music fountain late into the evening on Horseshoe Island in Tsaritsyno Pond.
KUSKOVO ESTATE The French formal garden decorated with original marble sculptures of mythological characters, as well as a preserved summer palace with authentic interiors and porcelain collections, make this estate a worthwhile place to visit. There is no better spot in Moscow for admiring the vibrant colors and shapes of the autumn landscape. It is a treat to escape to this beautiful location on the weekend, especially in the early fall, when the trees and shrubs on the site are painted in all of the brightest colors of nature.
T R AV E L 2 M O S C O W. C O M
Feature P6 // rbth.com // October 1, 2014
The Russian embassy rings in 20 years The history behind the building is twice as old as the facility itself
Russians, including the families of diplomats, live in the embassy compound.
years is how long the embassy was completed before it opened, in 1994, for Boris Yeltsin’s visit to the U.S.
“There is a joke,” Melnik said, that “the Russian embassy observes D.C., and the only thing that observes the embassy is the National Cathedral,” which towers overhead only four blocks away. Despite the benefits of the site, the Mount Alto location was not the Soviets first or even second choice. They had requested property closer to the National Mall and their existing embassy, but when the veterans hospital closed, the U.S. government found it logical to assign the expansive property to the Soviets, according to Melnik. Although the Washington Post made only a small mention of the construction when the Soviets broke ground on the site in 1977, U.S. intelligence agencies were paying closer attention. In a tit-for-tat mini-Cold War, both embassies faced repeated setbacks at every turn as each country searched each slab of concrete and window frame for unwanted transmitters or vulnerable points. Work on the biggest and most expensive intrusion, a tunnel under the Soviet embassy, began as soon as the State Department assigned the location to the Soviet government, although serious digging had to wait until major construction could mask it.
acres is the size of the embassy territory. In 1969, the Soviet Union signed an 85-year lease on this land.
A casual visitor or passing jogger might be tempted to compare the Russian embassy in Washington D.C. to Russia itself. The sleek, marbled exterior of the embassy, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this September, is as white as a blizzard on the tundra. Its eight stories symbolize the eight time zones from Moscow to Magadan. Its spherical shape is like a block of ice cut from the Neva, which runs through St. Petersburg. In contrast to Russia’s colorful culture and rich art, however, the Russian embassy building situated on Mount Alto, the third highest hill in Washington, D.C., is austere. Its 12.5 acres are home and workplace for close to 700 Russians, including employees’ families, according to Yury Melnik, first secretary of the embassy. Its buildings include the chancery, a ceremonial building and a nine-story apartment complex. Although the embassy was inaugurated in 1994, with President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin sitting at a great oak-andbirch table, its history began more than 20 years earlier as an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union. By the 1960s, the Soviet Union had outgrown the historic mansion on Sixteenth Street that served as their embassy, and is today the ambassador’s residence. Most embassy employees had to commute between several office spaces and work in cramped quarters. According to Melnik, who is also the chief of the ambassador’s staff, the number of Soviet personnel then was comparable to Russian staff now. “If you compare building sizes, it must have been amazingly crowded. In a room like this,” Melnik said, looking around a tea parlor, “six or seven desks would be crowded.” The new complex “gave people space to breathe and work naturally.” When it became clear that more space was needed, the State Department approved a new Soviet embassy at the site of a razed veterans’ hospital on Wisconsin Avenue. The FBI and other intelligence agencies were quick to point out the property had a direct line of sight to the Capitol, the Pentagon and the White House, facilitating eavesdropping on radio communications and capturing telephone calls by microwave, writes espionage author and D.C.-based journalist, David Wise. In contrast, following a 1969 reciprocal agreement leasing land in Moscow to the United States, Moscow granted Washington a permit to build a high-rise embassy there on one of the lowest points in the city, along the banks of the Moscow River.
1) The ceremonial building hosts diplomatic meetings, press conferences, and celebrations. 2) President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin toast during a dinner at the Russian Embassy in Washington, September 28, 1994. 3) The complex was designed by Soviet architect Michael Posokhin, who also designed the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow. The tunnel yielded few insights into Soviet secrets, David Wise writes in his book “Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI’s Robert Hanssen Betrayed America.” The most likely reason: Robert Hanssen, an FBI double agent, had given away this colossal secret. In 2001, after unearthing Hanssen as a mole, American intelligence agencies discovered the Soviets knew about the existence of the tunnel a decade before the embassy opened its doors.
In the 1980s, the FBI and the National Security Agency built a tunnel under the Soviet embassy for espionage purposes. Despite setbacks, the staff moved into the apartment complex in 1980, and the embassy was completed in 1985, although use of the ceremonial building and chancery was delayed until 1994. The “two-end deal” stipulated that neither embassy could begin functioning until both countries were satisfied with their embassies, Melnik explained.
CUISINE A LA RUSSE
Ingredients: Eight medium-sized red or new potatoes, • Three to four full-sized smoked herring fillets (approximately 10 oz) or 1 1/2 cups of herring pieces in brine • Four spring onions, cut into thin rings. Separate the white bulb part from the green ends • 30 ml (two tablespoons)) of best quality olive oil • 15 ml (one tablespoon) of horseradish • 45 ml (three tablespoons) of prepared French mustard, preferably “old fashioned” with whole grains • 1/4 cup of the best quality olive oil with more handy • Four to five sprigs or stems of dill, snipped • Half of a lemon, zested, then squeezed • One lemon, cut into wedged for garnish • 15 ml (one tablespoon) of brown Turbino sugar
HERRING IN A LIGHT AUTUMN JACKET possibilities abound. I like to take plain marinated herring and play around with it in a series of warm salads, which are great for a quick autumn dinner or a long Sunday lunch. Herring’s natural soulmate is a potato. The robust tang, salty flavor, and complicated texture of the fish need something bland for contrast. I don’t, however, feel that beets and herring are a match made in heaven, although this combination, enhanced by potatoes, chopped egg, pickles, lots of mayonnaise, and shredded cheese, is the centerpiece of all Russian New Year’s Eves: “herring under a fur coat.” This is my red line. I’m not a fan! Herring under a fur coat is too complicated, too time-consuming. There’s too much mayonnaise and the herring is hidden under too many other flavors that are fighting together rather than working together. So, as an alternative to “Herring under a fur coat,” I give you “Herring in a light autumn jacket.” A simple and delicious way to enjoy herring without all the shredding, dicing and the lugubrious purple mayonnaise. Ideally, enjoy it outside in the crisp October air with a shot of vodka, an ice cold beer, or a nicely chilled white wine. Add some salad greens and a bit of dark Russian bread and you have a marvelously easy and delicious meal!
Instructions: 1. Peel the potatoes and use a small, sharp paring knife to shape them into ovals with facets. 2. Steam the potatoes in a steamer or colander set
My breakfast companion yesterday was a real gentleman in that lovely old way, which is rapidly disappearing. He invited me to the Yale Club, which is always a treat, held my chair out for me, and then asked very tactfully if I didn’t mind if he ordered kippered herring for his breakfast. He was at pains to tell me that if I would be in any way offended by the smell, he would go for the equally delectable corned beef hash. “Heavens no,” I rejoined. “In fact, I’ll join you.” Over our sizzling fish and scrambled eggs, we noted that there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground about herring. People either love it – can’t get enough of it, in fact – or eschew it completely, shuddering slightly when you suggest any hint of herring. Luckily for me, I love herring and I’m in the right place to indulge in a herring binge any time I like. And because local food seems to be the watchword of the hour, this is a good time to explore new iterations of this important fish in Slavic and Nordic diets. You can get all chef-y and talk about poaching or marinating your own herring, but if you live in Moscow, as I do, there isn’t much point: There are whole herring aisles in Russian supermarkets filled with glittering jars containing herring in brine, herring in sour cream, herring in oil, smoked herring, herring with onion... the
However, when it came time to open both embassies, the Soviet Union no longer existed. “These halls never served the purposes of representing the republics that initially signed the agreement of the Soviet Union,” said Melnik. All symbols directly related to the Soviet Union, such as the flag, the coat of arms, and state colors, changed before the embassy officially opened. Nevertheless, the buildings are a “quintessential representation of the Soviet Union and modern Russia,” said Melnik. It’s easy to spot vestiges of the Soviet Union and even the Russian empire in their decoration and names. The space where visitors enjoy tea and cookies is the Belarus room; across the hall is a blue room, designed to represent Ukraine; and a third ceremonial room stands for Russia, representing the three original republics of the Soviet Union. The rooms on the upper level of the building more closely reflect the imperial period of Russia, with wall colors of nautical blue and emerald green and regal gold, rich hues that give these rooms their names. Diplomatic meetings, receptions and press conferences take place in these lushly decorat-
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ed rooms, which recall the grandeur of St. Petersburg’s palaces and the stately elegance of Moscow’s Kremlin. The building is also used for state holidays, such as Russia Day on June 12, when the ambassadorial staff grills Russian shish kebabs known as shashlyk and hosts a picnic for guests. The grounds of the embassy are complete with a school, day care, grocery store, movie theater for personal and educational use, pool, play area for children and bar. The structure of the courtyard is similar to the yards of Russian apartment complexes, with a communal atmosphere in the center of the living quarters. As Melnik walks through this mini-version of a Russian neighborhood, he points out beautiful peach trees next to the playground that never grow ripe. “The kids pick them off before they are ready,” says Melnik, ruefully. “They do bloom beautifully, which must be why they’re here, because the children never let us enjoy the fruit.” ■RANDIANNE LEYSHON RBTH
JENNIFER EREMEEVA SPECIAL TO RBTH
over water at a rolling boil for 12-14 minutes, until the potatoes are still firm, but you can easily insert a sharp knife into them. 3. While the potatoes are steaming, combine the mayonnaise, horseradish, white scallions, mustard, sugar, lemon juice and zest, and half of the dill into a food processor fitted with a steel blade, or a blender, or the cup attachment of a hand-held processor. Pulse the ingredients to roughly combine, then, while the motor is running, pour the olive oil into the mixture very slowly, almost drop by drop. The mixture will gradually solidify and thicken into a loose mayonnaise. You want to be able to drizzle the sauce, so if it is too thick, add a bit more oil until you reach the desired consistency. 4. Drain the potatoes and toss them in all but a few tablespoons of the prepared dressing. Cover and let stand on the counter until they have cooled to room temperature. 5. Arrange the salad by combining the herring with the potatoes and drizzling some of the remaining dressing on the mixture. Garnish with the green scallions and more dill. Give the dish a hearty few grinds of the pepper mill. Serve with lemon wedges. Priyatnogo Appetita! Jennifer Eremeeva is an American writer who has called Moscow home for 20 years. She writes about Russian history, culture, humor and food at www.jennifereremeeva.com
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