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T h i s s p e c i a l a d v e r t i s i n g s u p p l e m e n t i s p r o d u c e d a n d s p o n s o r e d b y R o s s i y s k a y a G a z e t a ( R u s s i a ) a n d d i d n o t i n v o l v e t h e r e p o r t i n g o r e d i t i n g s t a f f o f t h e I n t e r n a t i o n a l N e w Yo r k T i m e s . LAIF/VOSTOCK-PHOTO
Russia is the home of one of the world’s greatest art museums, the planet’s deepest freshwater lake and numerous palaces, churches and architectural marvels — yet the country remains off the radar for many travelers. Even before relations between Russia and the West broke down over the situation in Ukraine, demand for tours to Russia paled in comparison with those to other parts of the world. Now the country’s government seems to have taken notice, installing English-language signs in major cities and opening tourism offices abroad. But is it too little too late?
RUSSIA’S TOURISM IMAGE PROBLEM In a January article on CNN.com, travel reporter Laura Powell asked,“Is now the time to visit Russia?” At the time, the question seemed absurd. Relations between Russia and most of the West, including the United States, were at post–Cold War lows and fighting was raging in eastern Ukraine. Over the past few months, however, the idea of Russia as a tourist destination has gained more traction — partially because of the decline in the value of the ruble against Western currencies. Data from Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism (Rostourism), confirmed that there was an increase in the number of tourists visiting Russia in December, just after the value of the ruble fell sharply. That was not enough, however, to improve the overall numbers for the year. In 2014, the total number of tourists to Russia declined by 3 percent. Nevertheless, the trend that began in December 2014 has continued this year. Since the beginning of 2015, tourism into Russia has increased by between 3 and 5 percent, according to a recent interview that Rostourism’s deputy chairman, Nikolai Korolev, gave the news agency Tass. It isn’t Western tourists who are gradually coming back to Russia, however. The numbers are mostly driven
The country struggles to attract tourists despite historic sites, rich culture, untamed nature and travel deals backed by a cheap ruble by visitors from Asia, who are considering Russia as a destination for the first time. In the first quarter of 2015, tourism from China increased by 10 percent. While most tourists come to Moscow, the number of Chinese visitors to Siberia has also increased, according to Anatoly Kazakevich, the director of the travel agency Baikalov, which focuses on trips to the region’s famous Lake Baikal. “This is due to the currency exchange rate and the strengthening of international relations with Asia,” Kazakevich said. Over the past year, Russia’s economic and political strategies have focused on the“pivot to Asia,”with major deals being signed between Gazprom and China’s national energy firm CNPC. Russian President Vladimir Putin also made a state visit to China last year. Traditionally, Germany has sent the most tourists to Russia. In 2013, about 380,000 Germans made the trip. But in 2014, only 350,000 Germans came to Russia, while the number of Chi-
nese increased to 410,000 — up from 372,000 in 2013. The number of American tourists also declined in 2014 to 162,000, down from 197,000 the year before, according to statistics from Rostourism. Meanwhile, the inflow of tourists from South Korea saw a record-high growth of 57 percent, reaching 70,000; numbers from Japan also increased, to 49,000 — a rise of 4 percent.
Value of a weak ruble Vladimir Kantorovich, a member of the presidium of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), says that right now the weak ruble is the only trump card in Russian tourism, and that advantage is offset by the overall negative attitude of the European Union and the United States toward Russia. “Clearly, it is not directly related to tourism, but tourists want to travel to those countries that have good relations with theirs,” said Kantorovich. Tour operators agree. Alexander
Lanskaya, executive director of Patriarshy Dom Tours, a travel agency specializing in sightseeing tours of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities for foreign tourists, said: “Unfortunately, the depreciation of the ruble coincided with the deterioration of the image of Russia in the foreign market; therefore, the country failed to become more attractive to many foreign tourists.” Business analysts agree that a weak ruble alone won’t solve the problem. “On the surface of it, the weakening ruble is making travel to Russia more attractive since prices, when converted into foreign currency, are down,” said Alexei Kozlov, chief analyst with UFS investment company. He notes, however, that in the tourist sector, trends are often formed on the basis of consumer demand rather than anything else. Dmitry Bedenkov, the head of research at Russ-Invest, mentions another problem with depending on a cheap ruble to encourage tourism.“The
depreciation of the national currency is to the advantage of foreign tourists since their purchasing power is growing,” Bedenkov said. However,“an acceleration in the depreciation of the ruble leads to a rise in inflation, which is soon reflected in the rise of prices in the tourist sector, including hotels, travel and other services.”
Need for better promotion The recent downturn in tourism has only reinforced the recognition that despite its rich cultural heritage, Russia needs to promote itself better as a tourist destination. This year, Rostourism opened its first offices abroad, beginning with an office in Dubai in May. By September, the agency plans to have outlets in Finland, Germany, China and Italy. Other government agencies are working to improve Russia’s attractiveness for tourists. English signs and maps were introduced in the Moscow Metro last year, and in July 2014, Russia’s Interior Ministry created a divi-
sion of police to help tourists. However, ATOT’s Kantorovich says that tourists still complain that Metro workers and other municipal staff don’t speak English. And the tourist police have had a hard time recruiting qualified personnel. Nevertheless, the initiatives may be paying off. In early May, Russia rose by 18 points from 63th to 45th place in the prestigious international Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report rankings, prepared by the World Economic Forum and Strategy Partners Group. Russia received high marks for cultural attractions, but low scores for the difficulty of obtaining visas. Getting a Russian visa is associated with a high degree of bureaucracy, according the ATOR’s Kantorovich, who noted that Russia could make concessions there: “No one prevents us from taking this step unilaterally and abolishing visas,” he says, citing the example of the mutual abolition of visas with Israel. After the move, the flow of Israeli tourists to Russia increased by 50 percent. ■ALEXANDER BRATERSKY JOURNALIST
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30 YEARS AFTER PERESTROIKA, LOOKING FOR LESSONS IN U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONS TODAY
PAVEL KOSHKIN JOURNALIST
t has been nearly 30 years since the famous reforms of glasnost and perestroika began, thanks to the initiative of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. At that time, interest in the Soviet Union and the Russian language surged, and Soviet-American ties were strengthened through student and professional exchanges. Telecasts also con-
nected Soviets and Americans, separated both geographically by the ocean and ideologically by regimes. According to the Modern Language Association, enrollments in Russian language classes in the U.S. nearly doubled during the period stretching from shortly before and throughout perestroika. Between 1980 and 1990, the
number of people studying Russian increased from about 24,000 to more than 44,000. Research from Victoria Bonnell and George Breslauer from the University of California-Berkeley indicates that Gorbachev’s reforms and, particularly, his glasnost policy (an attempt to establish freedom of speech and transparency in governmental institutions) excited academics and experts, and enriched the field of Soviet studies “with a multiplicity of novel observations of policy changes and societal reactions.”
Bonnell and Breslauer wrote that “Glasnost increasingly diminished the level of data poverty that had hobbled the field since its inception. From a trickle [of information] in 1986, glasnost opened a floodgate by 1989-90; censorship declined dramatically; increasingly sensitive archives were opened both to Soviet and non-Soviet scholars.” Most importantly, perestroika allowed Soviet and American scholars to exchange their opinions and jointly publish articles in Western scholarly journals. In addition, scholars reg-
ularly participated in telecasts and academic international forums, where, as Bonnell and Breslauer put it, “Soviet scholars became increasingly emboldened to speak their minds.” Likewise, the Soviet and American people started participating in telecasts, or “TV bridges,” starting in the early 1980s. Soviet and American journalists organized such conferences between 1982 and 1987, and brought together Soviet and American people from major cities. CONTINUED ON PAGE 3
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CROWDSOURCE YOUR UNIQUE RUSSIAN VACATION Couchsurfing and EatWith sites offer more personal experiences
INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES CUT FLIGHTS AS DEMAND FALLS The Russians aren’t coming after all. Or at least, they’re not coming to Europe or the United States for their vacations. International airlines are canceling or downsizing service to and from Moscow as the country’s slowing economy causes millions of Russians to rethink travel plans, and fewer foreign tourists and business travelers to visit the country. Overall demand for flights to and from Russia fell as much as 40 percent in late 2014 and early 2015, compared with a year earlier, according to Martin Riecken, Lufthansa’s director of corporate communications for Europe. Routes to Western Europe and across the Atlantic were hit especially hard, he said. Russian tourism to Europe fell by 30 percent in the first quarter of 2015, according to a report by the European Travel Commission. The decline comes after Moscow’s three major airports spent hundreds of millions of dollars on massive upgrades, including building shiny new terminals, and after express trains were built to the city center. Delta Air Lines, the only U.S. carrier currently offering flights directly to Russia, plans to halt its New York– Moscow service in December, the company said. EasyJet, the first major budget airline to launch service between Moscow and Western Europe in 2012, said this spring it will drop service between Manchester and Moscow in October. Niki, the Air Berlin’s subsidiary that
Major carriers as well as budget airlines are making changes to their routes to and from Russia operate flights from Moscow to Vienna, has also announced its exit from the Russian market, along with France’s Aigle Azur, which offered flights from Paris. On some flights, large airliners are being replaced by aircraft of lesser capacity, said Lufthansa’s Riecken. “On high-frequency routes, the number of flights has been reduced on days with low demand, including the FrankfurtMoscow route, he noted,
A stronger currency should eventually help coax some airlines back into Moscow by translating into reduced ticket prices for Russians. Many observers called the ruble one of the main culprits behind falling demand among Russians for travel abroad. The Russian currency went into a meltdown in late 2014, losing about half its value in a matter of months. Although the ruble has recovered some lost territory in 2015, it is still down by about a third against the dol-
lar and the euro compared with a year ago. According to Oleg Panteleyev, an analyst with the industry publication AviaPort, Delta’s exit has more to do with a stronger dollar than a cheaper ruble. In an April 15 press release, the company cited increased costs due to the strong dollar as part of its decision to reduce flights to Japan, India, Brazil, Africa and the Middle East. Panteleyev says that given the sharp drop in Russian demand for North American destinations, Delta also couldn’t compete with European airlines that can provide an easy connection from the U.S. to Russia via their hubs.“It is quite difficult for Delta to compete with Russian and European companies, which offer transfers in Paris and Amsterdam,” he added.
Room for optimism Some observers, however, say the ruble’s recent upward trend may help Russian travel spending recover. Interest is indeed beginning to revive among Russians for some European destinations, says Alexander Burtin, commercial director of the tour operator Tez Tour.
“Tourists are beginning to look toward Europe, especially Greece, Cyprus and Italy,“ Burtin said. “Spain is so far a bit weaker.” Lufthansa’s Riecken agrees that interest has recently been picking up. “We have noted an increase in demand for popular dates, such as the May holidays,” he said. “But the volume of purchased tickets did not reach last year’s level.” A stronger currency should eventually help coax some airlines back into Moscow by translating into reduced ticket prices for Russians, said Oleg Panteleyev. Indeed, by late April this year, ticket prices for flights to Europe and Asia were already back to about the same level they were at in September 2014, says Janis Dzenis, the public relations director of JetRadar travel search service. Routes to the U.S. and London remain about 10 percent higher than before in ruble terms, he added. FinnAir and FlyDubai, as well as a number of Chinese airlines, continued to open new flights in Russia in 2014 and 2015 — mostly to destinations outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. “This season, the Spanish low-cost airlineVueling, in cooperation with Tez Tour, launched flights from Barcelona to three important regional markets — Krasnodar, Samara and Kazan,” Panteleyev added. ■KIRA EGOROVA JOURNALIST
While Russian hoteliers worry about the downturn in demand, the number of people in the country using the hospitality exchange Website Couchsurfing is on the rise. Alexei Korykin, who lives in Blagoveschensk in the Amur Region of Russia’s Far East, has not been abroad for a long time. But he has welcomed guests from Australia, Brazil, Germany, Moldova, South Korea and China, among others. “In our Far East such guests are rarities,”Korykin said.“My relatives from the village always invite me to bring my foreign friends so that they can see how people live in the village.” Foreigners who manage to travel to Blagoveschensk can expect significantly different experiences in Russia from those who only visit Moscow and St. Petersburg. “My guests find many unexpected things in Russia. For example, Germans Tim and Dominic saw a movie about the Great Patriotic War for the first time and even befriended a veteran. And a Canadian named Felix would never forget his visit to the Rusian bath,” Korykin said, adding that the most difficult thing foreign visitors to his hometown had to cope with were ticks. The distribution of Russian Couchsurfing hosts shows some interesting dynamics. While there are few users in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, there are many in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. Although YusupYerazov from Grozny has been using Couchsurfing for only a year, he has dozens of comments on his page from Russian, European and Chinese tourists. Another North Caucasus Couchsurfer, Bagdat Tumalaev from Makhachkala in the Republic of Dagestan, says that most of his guests are from Europe: Italy, Spain, Serbia, Switzerland, Germany and Cyprus. “My guests often compare Makhachkala to Istanbul. Europeans like the local fruits and vegetables,”said Tumalaev. One problem his European guests have is that they are often vegetarians, and Caucasian cuisine is famous for grilled meats. “Guests coming to the Caucasus have always been treated specially. Tourists are fascinated by the local traditions, customs and cuisine. I try showing my guests the traditional Chechnya.There are many myths about Grozny, but I try to show them the real city,” said Yerazov. Kat Hodgson, a Colorado native who has often traveled to the Urals city of Ufa for work, said that while her employer pays for her hotel, she used
Couchsurfing to find a tour guide. Alina Salimova “drove us around Ufa and pointed out landmarks, then took us to a Bashkir restaurant so we could try the local food. On our last night in Ufa, we didn’t have a hotel room, so Alina hosted us,” Hodgson said. She recommended Alina to another American friend visiting Ufa to attend a hockey match two years later. Russian couchsurfers agree that foreigners are often surprised by the small Russian apartments and their tiny kitchens. Another surprise is the amount of vodka Russians don’t drink. “They are convinced that we drink vodka the whole day and are therefore surprised when they see we don’t,” said Maria, a couchsurfer from Kazan.
A taste of Russia One group hopes that tourists to Russia will focus on the country’s cuisine rather than its beverages. EatWith gives local residents an opportunity to prac-
Foreigners are often surprised by the small size of Russian apartments — and the amount of vodka Russians don’t drink. tice their culinary skills on travelers, who get an inexpensive homemade meal in return. Hosts post a description of their food and atmosphere on the EatWith site, the cost of a meal and the dates and times the opportunity is available. In Russia the service has operated since 2013, but only in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Before being listed on the site, hosts must participate in a Skype interview with the project’s organizers and then invite the EatWith ambassador to dinner. Moscow EatWith users Natalya and Irina said that the trouble of going through the accreditation process is worth it.“What can be more exciting than eating and speaking with interesting people, and also making some money as you do it?” said Irina. “EatWith is great because it has something for everyone — chefs, food-lovers, etcetera.” Professional chef Kirill Olkhovsky is also an EatWith user. He says that the format of a restaurant does not allow the chef to communicate with the people he cooks for, but EatWith does. ■ELENA DOLZHENKO JOURNALIST
SEEKING TOURISTS, RUSSIA AGAIN TURNS EAST Russian tourism officials see “huge potential” in promoting the country to Chinese travelers tial” in the development of tourism from China.“We can increase the number of tourists several-fold,”said Oleg Safonov, head of Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism. According to Safonov, the development of tourism from China will be of great importance for the economy of Russia’s Far East, Siberia and the area around Lake Baikal.
Tourism agencies to open
Courting the Chinese
In 2015, for the first time, three Russian agencies will open in China as a part of the Visit Russia federal project, Safonov said at the forum. The project will meet the challenges of promoting Russia and its regions, and building a system of routes. In order to show tourists the Russian
Tourists from China are attractive in the eyes of travel professionals, not only because of their number, but also because of their ability to pay. “Chinese tourists have become world leaders in spending on tourist trips,” said Anna Sibirkina, the project manager of China Friendly, speaking at the March forum. In Russia, the aver-
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More than a million tourists from China visited Russia in the past year, a number that the Russian and Chinese governments plan to increase to 5 million. Much work remains to be done, however, on the “big” issues — infrastructure, logistics and tax-free purchases — in order for Russia to become more accessible to visitors from the Middle Kingdom. “We expect that the volume of tourist traffic between China and Russia will be 5 million people — and we are confident that very soon we will be able to reach that figure,” said Liu Jianming, head of the Chinese diplomatic mission for tourism, during his speech at the third Russian-Chinese Tourism Forum, held in Moscow in March. Russia for its part sees“huge poten-
regions, it is necessary to first solve the infrastructure problem. According to Ivan Vvedensky, who heads the travel association World Without Borders, the majority of Chinese tourists go to Moscow and St. Petersburg, which are both cultural and transportation centers. The regions remain on the sidelines due to their remoteness. “Regions should be ready to solve this issue at the local level,” said Sergei Mstislavsky, sales director of the international company ATC AIR Services (Hong Kong). According to Vvedensky, five or six strong regions in Russia can afford to cofinance regional tourism development programs today.
A group of Chinese tourists poses in front of St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace.
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age Chinese tourist spent 100,000 rubles in 2014 ($2,500 — according to the2014 average ruble exchange rate.) China Friendly’s Sibirkina says many countries are implementing special projects to attract tourists from China. Australia, for example, spends 25 percent of its marketing budget to attract Chinese visitors. The Russian certification system has recently joined the China Friendly International project. According toYury Polyakov, a member of the board of directors of TsUM (a central Moscow store selling luxury brands), Chinese consumers purchase about 29 percent of luxury goods in the world. Russia could become a good luxury market for the Chinese, but the lack of a tax-free system severely hinders the process. “The introduction of this system will seriously promote tourism in Russia,” said TsUM’s Polyakov. “But until that happens we will not have a boom like that in Europe.” ■KIRA EGOROVA JOURNALIST
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COULD NOW BE THE TIME TO VISIT RUSSIA ? RUSSIA: UNREALIZED POTENTIAL MAYA LOMIDZE EXPERT
CO N V E RT I N G M O N O LO G U E I N TO D I A LO G U E Russia Direct is a forum for experts and senior decisionmakers from Russia and abroad to discuss, debate and understand the issues in geopolitical relations from a sophisticated vantage point.
Report: Best Russian Studies Programs 2015
Russian studies programs in the United States have suffered from not really being about Russia, but about the Soviet and post-Soviet space. Today, we are seeing the end of major state funding for Russian studies in the United States. At the same time, we are witnessing the ongoing confrontation between Russia and the United States, meaning that interest in Russia is more likely to grow in the coming years at the same time as funding is declining.
Maya Lomidze is the executive director of the Russian Association of Tour Operators.
POLITICS ASIDE, RUSSIA HAS MUCH TO OFFER TODAY’S TOURISTS DMITRY DAVYDENKO EXPERT
f I was a tourist from, let’s say France, I would definitely go to Russia. Why? To see new cities and a new country, to try the Russian cuisine and to drink some Russian vodka as the Russians drink it — from frozen shot glasses, accompanied by mushrooms or herring. To visit the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, to take a walk on Red Square in Moscow, to buy some souvenirs on the historic pedestrian street, the Arbat, and then brag to my friends and neighbors back home about my travels to“authoritarian and aggressive” Russia and appear in their eyes as a sort of superman who is not afraid of anything, even a trip to Russia. Possibly some of my friends would suspect that I support President Putin’s
regime. I would then have to tell them about everything I saw and learned in Russia. First, I would have to tell them how people in Russia behave toward foreigners, about how foreigners are welcome guests and how Russians are happy to see them, about how many fabulous hotels there are for all tastes
Definitely go to Russia… to try the Russian cuisine, to visit the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, to take a walk on the Red Square in Moscow. and income levels, about how the number of exquisite restaurants in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi is greater than that of Paris or Milan, with much lower prices. I would also tell them that it is safe to walk around at night in tourist centers, that major cities are equipped with modern tourist information sys-
he main phrase to apply to Russia as a tourist destination is “it has big potential.” This phrase can be applied to practically all the country’s regions and cities — except, perhaps, to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi. Indeed, throughout the country, there are opportunities for development. In most of Russia, there are interesting things to see and cultural experiences that will likely attract tourists, but these opportunities have not been realized. Perhaps because of the geopolitical situation, the past year has been a watershed in the Russian tourism industry. For the first time, Russia is actually making an effort to realize some of this potential and attract tourists. In 2014, for the first time, Russia’s state tourism agencies began the process of establishing tourism representative offices abroad. In 2015, they plan to open Visit Russia offices in China, the United Arab Emirates, Finland, Italy and Germany. Although such an idea has been raised numerous times over the past 10 years, it was always met with complete rejection, accompanied by a clear lack of understanding of the value of such offices and what they could contribute to improving Russia’s image abroad and increasing flows of tourists. In comparison, there are more than 40 representative offices of foreign tourism agencies working in Russia. The popularity of certain foreign tourist destinations among Russians is significantly affected by the work of these representatives. If the plans for opening theVisit Russia offices abroad are realized, then for the first time in its recent history — for the first time in almost 25 years of the existence of the tourist market — Russia will have the opportunity to present itself as a tourist destination. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this step, especially this year, when preserving — let alone increasing — the numbers of foreign tourists is one of the main challenges for the tour operator business in Russia. The external political situation and the serious cooling of relations between Russia and the West have had a significant impact on Russia as a tourist market and, consequently, on the number of Western tourists. According to Russian tour operators working in inbound tourism, in 2014, sales volumes for trips from the United States and European countries decreased by 30
percent — 40 percent. The devaluation of the ruble, however, had a notable effect.When tours became cheaper, politics practically moved to the background. Suddenly tourists were willing to consider Russia again. Tour operators predict that demand for Russia as a tourism destination will remain at the same level as last year, which in this climate is definitely a breakthrough. Tourists’ preferences for what to see in Russia have not changed practically since Russia opened up as a tourist destination. Most travelers want to see Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Russian capital and its northern counterpart account for almost 90 percent of all tourist traffic. The Golden Ringtowns outside Moscow are also considered popular, as is a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, although only 3 percent of tourists make this journey. Lake Baikal, Kamchatka and the Altai come in a very distant third, but are attractive to adventure travelers and ecotourists. Important for both tourists and tour industry experts to remember is that political situations change, crises arise and die down, but people always trav-
el. The main question that Russian tourism experts must answer now is whether Russia can be considered a real tourist destination, capable of attracting visitors in spite of geopolitics, or if it just has the potential to become one. There is no unambiguous answer. It is clear, however, that the image of Russia created by its foreign posturing and its domestic political positions, and the real Russia that tourists want to see are two different things. The beauty of St. Petersburg during the White Nights does not depend on what Russia is for or against politically. The late afternoon shine of the Volga, the pink salmon’s dance in the Sea of Okhotsk near Sakhalin or the amber deposits during low tide on the shores of the Baltic Sea in Kaliningrad are eternal. They do not depend on or care who is in power. A walk along the boulevards of old Moscow or an evening excursion to the places featured in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “Master and Margarita”are unforgettable. As in Kazan, which is an ideal mix of European, Russian and Islamic cultures, there are any things to promote across Russia — snowmobile races in the polar snows in the Nenets Autonomous Area in April, air balloon rides in Yaroslavl and a therapeutic sleep at the beehives in Altai. But perhaps it would be better to come and see it all for yourself.
30 YEARS AFTER PERESTROIKA, LOOKING FOR LESSONS TODAY CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
Primarily, the telecasts dealt with common interests, culture, movies, journalism and lifestyle, as well as the history of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Famous TV talk show star Phil Donahue and his Soviet counterpartVladimir Pozner were among the hosts of these “TV bridges,” one of which was viewed by 200 million Soviets and more than 8 million Americans. Meanwhile, Donahue said that when “Gorbachev came to power in April of 1985,” almost everybody “was talking about a new openness,”which was crucial for mutual understanding. “We did a woman-to-woman TV bridge between Boston and Leningrad,” he told Russia Beyond The Headlines. “We asked them, ‘May we see what’s in your purses? And they all opened their purses and there were the same things [inside]. It was the beginning of seeing ourselves in others. We reached out instead of lashed out. And we saw each other as parents caring about their children, adults caring about their employment and income, and so on and so forth. And I think we made a bit of [progress] in what had been a suspicious relationship.”
Second Perestroika? Given big changes in public opinion in both countries, decreasing differ-
ences and reassessment of mutual stereotypes in a short period of time, perestroika could be seen as a valuable lesson for Moscow and Washington now, says Andrey Kortunov, general director of the Russian International Affairs Council. “It happened thanks to the readiness of the authorities from both countries to come up with compromises,” Kortunov said.“It indicates that nothing could be irreversible and definitive in politics. The transition from confrontation to collaboration in the 1980s should evoke cautious optimism in us.” In contrast, Nicolai N. Petro, professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island specializing in Russia, warns against romanticizing the perestroika period. “For the Soviet leadership at the time it was not an effort to promote mutual understanding with the West,” he argues. “Rather, it was an attempt to reform the U.S.S.R. and reconnect with the original Leninist ideals of the Bolshevik Revolution.” According to Kortunov, perestroika drove Soviet-American relations to a significant improvement, but it was “unstable, inconsistent and unsustainable” and failed to reach long-term results, partly, because the U.S. “was in a state of euphoria” that stemmed from its triumphalism after the Cold
War.This prevented Russia and the U.S. from building a reliable partnership, adds Kortunov. Petro says he believes that the U.S. must look beyond Gorbachev’s perestroika to “anticipate the emergence of a new national consensus based on traditional Russian values.” “Failure to do so would result in misreading Russia as simply an extension of the Soviet Union, and blind us to opportunities for forging a new relationship that come but once in a lifetime,” he cautions. When asked why the increasing interest in Russia after the Ukrainian crisis hasn’t translated into more funding for Russia Studies programs in the U.S., Petro said that“initiatives of this magnitude take years to establish and our focus on Ukraine is barely two years old.” According to the professor, the problem in funding lies in the historic perception of Russia. In particular, Petro argues that more funding will be available to study Russia as “the perennial enemy of the West”and to combat“Russian propaganda,” as was the case at the apex of the Cold War. Only when such tactics fail,“academics will again be brought in to explain to the public relations folks that translation is not enough,” says Petro. “The good news, therefore, is that government support will afford more
opportunities to study Russia,”he says. “The bad news is that we will have replicated the ideological, organizational and institutional perspectives of the Cold War, and once again lost sight of the complexity and diversity of Russian life and society.” Gregory Feifer, a former correspondent of National Public Radio and Radio Free Europe in Moscow, argues that the current trend in U.S.-Russia relations is far from the one that existed during perestroika. “Today’s dynamics are the opposite,” he said.“Vladimir Putin’s drive to shore up power by waging a new Cold War with the West is ensuring relations will only deteriorate. He has fashioned opposing the West into a test of loyalty to the Motherland: Precious few ambitious people would risk taking part in the kinds of television links and exchanges that characterized the late 1980s. Putin is a leader in the mold of Stalin or Brezhnev, not Gorbachev or Khrushchev — any Perestroika 2.0 will have to wait.” Pavel Koshkin is the executive dditor of Russia Direct and a contributing writer to Russia Beyond The Headlines. He has also contributed to a number of Russian and foreign media outlets, including Russia Profile, Kommersant and the Moscow bureau of the BBC.
tems, about how prices after the December 2014 crisis have dropped by 50 percent when converted to euros. Then I would tell my friends that Russians are really worried about the situation in southeastern Ukraine, where many have friends and relatives. I would tell them about the man-made miracle of Sochi, the home of the 2014 Olympics, the first-rate, year-round ski and beach resort built in an incredibly short period of time. The Olympic villages are still decorated with the flags of almost all the national teams that participated in the Sochi Olympics, reminding everyone that, besides political interests, there are more important events that unite the people of the world. But most importantly, I would tell them that before making conclusions about a country and its people, one should go there and see it with his or her own eyes. One should dive into its thousand-year history and culture, speak to the people and then compare that with what is being shown on TV and printed in newspapers. One should free him or herself of all stereotypes, of politics and everything related to it and then fully enjoy the new impressions of a great country. The treasures of the Hermitage will not be less significant if, for example, Crimea returns to Ukraine. St. Basil’s Cathedral managed to endure through many wars and 70 years of communism. It will stand through the Putin era and astonish Russians and foreigners during the next president’s tenure, regardless of the country’s political course. The taste of frozen vodka accompanied by a spoon of black caviar will not change with a different electoral system and the Russian winter will not become warmer if Russia allows same-sex marriages. It’s worth mentioning that even though many Russians have different views from Europeans on some social issues, this in no way prohibits Russians from visiting their favorite European cities and spending countless sums of money there — Russians spent more than 36 billion euros in the European Union in 2013. That is why I propose, as we say in Russia, to “separate the flies from the cutlets”and not mix tourism with politics. I promise to visit Paris in October, even though I categorically disagree with the policies of the Élysée Palace. Therefore, I suggest you travel and follow politics, but just avoid mixing these two important activities, just like sports and politics were not mixed during the 2014 Olympics. Dmitry Davydenko is the chairman of the Organizational Committee of the All-Russian Tourist Association.
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Monthly Brief: Hi-Tech and Sciecne Cities
In June, Russia Direct released a brief examining Russian hi-tech and science cities. New efforts to modernize the economy have taken on even greater significance with the introduction of Western sanctions and recent volatility in global energy markets. This report highlights the early successes and challenges of Russia’s modernization drive, with an emphasis on the role of the state in supporting innovation efforts at the local level.
RUSSIA BEYOND THE HEADLINES A global media project sponsored by Rossiyskaya Gazeta www.rbth.com
UNFORGETTABLE RUSSIAN DESTINATIONS FOR YOUR BEST VACATION THIS YEAR Although the summer travel season is already in full swing, it’s not too late to plan a Russian trip of a lifetime.
More than 90 percent of visitors to Russia visit Moscow and St. Petersburg, and for good reason. These are the most iconic cities in the country and, for first-time visitors, stopping here for several days is an absolute must. From their worldfamous sights, such as the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Kremlin in Moscow, both cities offer plenty of exciting activities — particularly during the summer. From the inspiring White Nights Festival on the banks of St. Petersburg’s Neva River to the colorful open-air food and music festivals in Moscow, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the long summer days and nights.
Timeless Classics — Moscow and St. Petersburg
SERGEY KULIKOV / TASS
The world’s largest country is in the headlines of many major media outlets, but this time it’s not about politics.Though the conflict in east Ukraine still smolders, there are no travel warnings against visiting Russia this year. In the meantime, the ruble’s slide means that a visit to Russia will be much more affordable than just six months ago. Another plus is that the upgrades to the country’s infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi means that one’s time in Russia will be both more convenient and more tourist-friendly than ever before. Russia is the ultimate year-round destination.
Sochi — The Perfect Blend of Sea and Mountains The host city of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games has always been a popular resort among Russians. Sochi’s popularity lies in its unique geographic location. Stretching along the Black Sea coast, Sochi is a place where one can enjoy almost every recreational activity imaginable. From soaking in therapeutic mineral springs with healing qualities to skiing at lofty mountain resorts; and from lazy days sunbathing on the Black Sea Coast to re-energizing in a traditional Russian banya, or sauna, there are plenty of options for everyone. This year, after its major upgrade for the Winter Games, Sochi has brand new trains and hotels to make every tourist feel comfortable.
golian capital of Ulan Bator is an absolute must for any traveler on this route. The Trans-Siberian is one of the most exciting travel experiences on Earth, but it does require some legwork. It’s not too late to make the trip this year if you plan now.
cludes a mosque, a pagoda, an Orthodox church and a synagogue; and the Kazan Kremlin. However, these sites are just a taste of its riches. Other top attractions include a 16th-century fortress, the Raif monastery and the House of Tatar Cuisine, which is distinctly different from traditional Russian food. The city has convenient connections to Moscow and St. Petersburg by train or plane, and this year is celebrating the 1010th anniversary of its founding.
The Ultimate Rail Trip — The Trans-Siberian This is probably the best time to take the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia and Mongolia, all the way to China. This year, costs per person on the famous route will be approximately $800 lower than they were last year. Start in either Moscow or St. Petersburg and end in eitherVladivostok or Beijing. Plan a trip to include stops along the way in beautiful and historic cities such as Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk and Ulan Ude. Additionally, the Mon-
The Rising Star of Russia — Kazan Sometimes called Russia’s third capital, Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, deserves all the praise it gets. It doesn’t take visitors long to get a sense of the mix of Islamic, European and Asian cultures in Kazan. This multi-ethnic city is most famous for its colorful Qolärif Mosque, one of the largest in Europe; the Temple of all Religions, which in-
Far Eastern jewels — A Cruise to Remember Nature-lovers and adventureseekers will enjoy taking an expedition cruise along Russia’s Pacific coastline and discovering the unspoiled nature of Russia’s Far East. Adventure cruise programs offer a va-
riety of activities, from whale watching to visiting remote Eskimo settlements. The best part about these trips is that every group member partakes in nature conservation activities led by professional biologists, ornithologists and enthusiastic naturalists. So, if spending a couple of weeks on a well-equipped expedition vessel and surviving the rough conditions of the Far Eastern weather while enjoying some of the finest natural scenery in the world sounds good, this cruise fits the bill.
■SLAVA SHIROKOV TRAVEL ALL RUSSIA FOR RBTH
Slava Shirokov, CEO of Travel All Russia and an enthusiastic globetrotter, recommends inspiring destinations for a tour of Russia.
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Published on Jun 24, 2015