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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Politics & Society


Syria’s agony Can Moscow help alleviate the biggest humanitarian crisis for decades?

Londongrad New, juicy TV drama about Russians in the British capital PRESS PHOTO



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Flashpoint: a young Syrian refugee struggles with armed Macedonian police at a border crossing with Greece



ith Europe going through the most acute refugee crisis since the Second World War, European governments are contemplating various “military options”for easing the situation in Syria. The French prime minister Manuel Valls announced France had launched reconnaissance flights over Syria, to better see which targets “could be hit”. Influential German diplomat and chairman of the annual Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, said Europe’s“strategy in Syria could only inspire trust if backed up by the possibility of military action”. It is in this context that talk of Russia’s “growing military presence in Syria”,as the West sees it, sets Moscow on a collision course with both the EU and the US.


But is President Bashar al-Assad really the source of all evil in Syria? Russian president Vladimir Putin says“the refugees are fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), not Assad.” Speaking to the leaders of countries from the post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), Mr Putin said that Russia would continue sending arms and instructors to the Syrian government, because Assad is Isil’s enemy and “without our help, the situation in Syria would have been even worse”. In Libya, which the West left to its own devices after helping to remove Colonel Gaddafi, the civil war is even more protracted than that in Syria. Moscow’s pro-Assad position raises the stakes in the dispute with the US. The Pentagon said it had satellite images of an airbase being built near Latakia in western Syria that it claims may be used by the Russians in future. The Pentagon also noted Russian-made T-90 tanks guarding the future airbase. Russia denied that it planned to“occupy”Syria, claiming it was only fulfilling existing contracts for arms deliveries signed with the Syrian government before the civil war started in Syria in 2011-12. While de-

The current East-West crisis is the worst of all options in the face of the Isil threat, says Sputnik commentator Dmitry Babich nying Russia had“boots on the ground”,foreign minister Sergei Lavrov admitted that Russian instructors were arriving in Syria with the weapons. Mr Lavrov also said western air strikes against Isil were “ineffective”without co-operation with the main ground forces fighting the Islamist extremists – Assad’s army and the Kurdish militias.


Western media reports suggest the Kremlin has already confirmed Russian “military involvement in Syria’s civil war”. In fact, Mr Putin’s comments were much more cautious. On 4 September, 2015, in Vladivostok, he said: “American air strikes are dealing certain blows [to Isil]. Their effectiveness is not high. But to say we are ready to do this [to send Russian servicemen to Syria] – this is still premature.” He added: “We are already providing Syria sufficiently serious aid: with equipment, with the training of its servicemen, with arms. We signed major contracts with Syria five or seven years ago, we are now fulfilling those contracts.” It was not enough for the American administration. The next day, 5 September, US secretary of state John Kerry called his Russian counterpart, Mr Lavrov, saying that if the information about“Russian involvement” was true this could lead to a “further escalation of the conflict”. On 7-8 September, Nato members Greece and Bulgaria closed their airspace to the Russian planes that Moscow said it was using to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria. The gap between Moscow and Washington over Syria grew day by day, reflecting the general lack of trust between Russia and the West at large. On

Russia and the West act in Syria as competitors, allowing Isil to tackle its foes one by one

11 September, US President Barack Obama pressed on with the issue. In a speech to servicemen in Fort Meade, Maryland, Mr Obama said that he had already “had a conversation” with the Russian president about Russian aid to the Syrian government “four or five years ago”. His message then had been that helping Assad “was a mistake, it would make things worse”. Mr Obama added that Mr Putin “did not take my warnings, and as a consequence things have gotten worse”. However, Mr Obama did not exclude Russia’s participation in the fight against Isil – but it had to be on American terms, without co-operating in any way with the Syrian government. “If they [the Russians] are willing to work with us and the 60-nation coalition we put together, there’s the possibility of a political settlement in which Assad would be transitioned out and a new coalition of moderate, secular and inclusive forces could come together to restore order in the country”, Mr Obama said.


Obviously, there is a huge rift in understanding between Moscow and Washington. A personal meeting could help. At the end of September, the Russian president plans to visit New York City to attend the 70th meeting of the UN General Assembly. No meeting with Mr Obama is scheduled – something Russia’s foreign ministry has made clear was a US decision. Mr Putin has officially voiced the idea of an anti-Isil coalition, which could include not only Russia, the West and Iran, but even such opponents of Assad as Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In fact, Mr Putin’s suggestion appeared to get some backing from Saudi Arabia, its relations with Russia having improved of late


following the promise of $10bn in investment from the oil kingdom. But Russia’s plans have been given the cold shoulder in Washington. On Syria’s post-war future, Russia and the US/ EU alliance also differ. Both Russia and the West talk about an“inclusive”future government for Syria. But Russia says such a government could be formed both from elements of the Syrian government and “healthy”groups among the Syrian opposition, while the West insists on Assad’s removal as a precondition for any political settlement. The end result is that Russia and the West act in Syria not as allies, but as competitors, thus allowing Isil to tackle its foes one by one. In a recent interview on Russian television, Mr Lavrov bemoaned the West’s refusal to co-ordinate its strikes against Isil with the Syrian authorities, which he says, “are fighting Isil on the ground”. Russia has long objected to what it sees as biased western media reports on its activities in Syria. Back in 2012, NBC News accused Russia of sending troops to support Assad; no sign of these “Russian troops” ever appeared on the frontlines of the Syrian civil war. In the same year, Turkish fighter jets forced a Syrian Air passenger plane on a flight from Moscow to Damascus to land in Istanbul, where it was searched for weapons by Turkish authorities. No weapons were ever produced in public. The Russian public is divided over reports of Russian involvement in Syria. But the major tone is one of regret: that Russia and the West cannot agree a common front even in the face of such an obvious threat as Isil. And that the longer the West chooses to confront Russia, the stronger Isil becomes. “On 22 June, 1941, Churchill had enough common sense to make an alliance with the USSR, because the alternative alliance with the Third Reich was even less appealing than the one with Moscow,” observes Maxim Sokolov, a popular Russian political commentator. “But John Kerry is obviously no Churchill. He has a different style of thinking.”

Politics & Society P2_Tuesday, September 22, SUPPLEMENT IS SPONSORED BY ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA

Political and economic chaos produces stalemate in Kiev

Monthly Report FROZEN CONFLICTS IN THE POST-SOVIET SPACE The latest Russia Direct report explores the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Russia’s tense relations with Georgia, and Russia’s ability to ensure stability on its borders. Can the Kremlin efficiently address potential security risks while avoiding the outbreak of new crises?

Ukraine crisis Despite a fresh political solution seeming as far away as ever, Russian analysts say catastrophe is not imminent ALEXEI TIMOFEYCHEV RBTH

After three national guardsmen were killed in clashes between law enforcers and opponents of the Ukraine government’s plan to give more autonomy to the Donbass region, President Petro Poroshenko told his cabinet they would be shocked when investigators revealed what the “terrorists’’ has planned. Mr Poroshenko said of the clashes in Kiev on August 31: “A part of the Ukrainian political elite decided that external risks were no longer relevant and that now is the right time to incite internal conflicts.” However, Russian analysts do not see these events, which have already led to a restructuring of the ruling coalition (Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party has left the grouping), as the forerunner of a catastrophe in Ukrainian politics in the short term.

Hot seat: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko faces new challenges as the country sinks further into economic crisis 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


Poroshenko’s resources

According to Boris Shmelyov, head of the Centre for Political Research of the Institute of Economics at the Russian Academy of Science, the political crisis that began in Ukraine in late 2013 is now escalating once more. “The struggle is growing between the Ukrainian oligarchs for political influence and access to the financial pie, which is controlled by the state,” he says. “At the same time, the political standoff within the ruling coalition and between the political parties has been aggravated. The public’s dissatisfaction with their economic position is growing.” Mr Shmelyov says Ukraine has several options to resolve the crisis, but the most likely is that Mr Poroshenko will concentrate power in his own hands. This will lead to a tightening of control over the political situation and the suppression of his opponents, represented by the Opposition Bloc party and radicals from the nationalist party Right Sector, who supported him in the Maidan uprising. Since Mr Poroshenko controls the country’s financial and administrative resources and enjoys the support of the West, Mr Shmelyov predicts victory for the Ukrainian president in this confrontation with his opponents. Mr Poroshenko would also continue a political campaign against the Russian Federation and the self-proclaimed republics of eastern Ukraine to distract attention from domestic problems.

‘Stable instability’

Boris Kagarlitsky, head of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements, also believes the conflict in Ukraine will grow, but that noth-


Fitch cuts Kiev’s debt rating The international rating agency Fitch has downgraded Kiev’s debt rating to C from CC amid fears it may default on hryvnia–denominated repayments. “The downgrade of Kiev’s longterm local currency IDR reflects Fitch’s view that default by the city on certain senior debt obligations is now almost inevitable,” the agency said. Kiev’s economy is forecast to contract by 9pc in line with national forecasts.

ing will change dramatically in the next few years. “As of today, a typical rule for Ukraine is the chronic and stable reproduction of instability,” he says, adding that this would continue until a political force that could end it appears. He believes this task is beyond the Ukrainian political class, so the initiators of change can only be forces outside it – the military or external foreign players. Ukrainian analyst AndriyYermolayev, director of the New Ukraine Institute for Strategic Studies, says events in Ukraine are directly connected with the effects of the Minsk agreements signed in February. According to these agreements, a formula for Ukrainian domestic dialogue should be worked out and a political solution to the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed rebels in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine found. However, Kiev was showing an unwillingness to offer a reasonable political constitutional formula. “Poroshenko has become a hostage to the situation,”says MrYermolayev.“He is afraid of losing ratings. He may have understood the need for dialogue, but he is a hostage to war.” He adds that the president’s compromise proposals on decentralisation, intended to resolve the conflict, have actually split the Ukrainian political world into several parts. The subject of peace and dialogue between the parties is not even discussed.


Mr Yermolayev notes the importance of the forthcoming local elections. They will be held in Ukraine and Donbass, but in the latter case, under the control of the authorities of the breakaway regions. The elections are likely to deepen the split between Kiev and the Donbass.


New political design

The question of a “new political design in the region that leaves Ukraine” will become obvious, says Mr Yermolayev, who compares the potential situation to that of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, which currently enjoys close ties to Moscow. After the election, the crisis of power is likely to deepen in Kiev and conditions will emerge for early elections in 2016, he adds. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s dire economic situation continues to play havoc with any prospect for more stable politics. The European Union’s €1.8bn (£1.32bn) emergency loan to the cash-strapped state, agreed at a Riga summit in May 2015, is a drop in the ocean. Ukraine owes Russia $3bn (£1.96bn) from a loan made in December 2013 that many analysts say was an attempt by Moscow to support the government of now ousted President Viktor Yanukovych in its pro-Russia course. Terms of a recent $18bn (£11.7bn) external credit restructuring deal have not impressed Russia, which is still waiting to be repaid.


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Russian Central Bank governor right on the money after international recognition


Russia’s Elvira Nabiullina has been named Central Bank Governor of 2015 in the September issue of Euromoney magazine. Ms Nabiullina received the award for skilfully fighting the economic crisis and her “efforts to combat the macroeconomic storm engulfing the Russian economy through prudent policy measures”. Putting the honour in context, the article stated: “A perfect storm has faced Russia and its foreign investors over the past year.” Ms Nabiullina’s

role in the dramatic efforts made by the Central Bank to stabilise the currency and support liquidity with a transition to a floating exchange rate, was crucial. This helped to build investor confidence in the Russian Central Bank. Under Ms Nabiullina’s stewardship, the Central Bank was able to adapt the economy to low oil prices and avoid a banking crisis, Euromoney said. The Central Bank’s “prudent monetary policy stance”, though faced with “stubborn domestic inflation, capital outflows and tight dollar liquidity” was helping bring “real exchange-rates” towards consistent levels. Ms Nabiullina had pulled the Russian economy back from the brink of a “market abyss”, it added. But more resolute actions were needed. It warned: “Russia faces a prolonged contraction as expectations of a recovery in oil prices have yet to materialise, sanctions are still biting, while capital flows to emerging markets are vanishing.” Outside factors, including continued rouble volatility, sanctions and commodity prices, were likely to increase inflationary pressures in the coming months. Euromoney, one of the world’s top global financial and banking magazines, has been nominating the best central bank governors for almost 30 years. The winners in 2014, 2013 and 2012 were Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan, Mexico’s Central Bank chief Agustín Carstens and Canada’s Central Bank head Mark Carney, who became governor of the Bank of England in July 2013 – the first nonBritish national ever appointed to the post.

EasyJet pulls the plug on London to Moscow route

Elton John fooled by ‘Putin’ pranksters

EasyJet is to scrap its London to Moscow route from next year after it proved less popular than hoped. The budget airline announced on 11 September that it would stop services on the route from 21 March, 2016 because of reduced passenger demand in flying to the Russian capital. The move follows EasyJet’s decision last March to halve the number of flights between London’s Gatwick airport and Moscow’s Domodedovo. Passengers for London-Moscow routes will still be able to choose regular scheduled flights from Aeroflot, Transaero and British Airways. However, following the development earlier this month, when state-run Aeroflot took over cash-strapped Transaero for a token sum of one rouble, some experts have predicted that the merger may lead to less choice and higher fares. Hungary’s Wizzair is now the only budget operator still flying to Moscow.

Sir Elton John this month became the latest victim of notorious Russian pranksters Vladimir “Vovan” Krasnov and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov. Pretending to be Russian president Vladimir Putin and his press secretary Dmitry Peskov, the jokers called Sir Elton by telephone, saying that they wished to discuss gay rights. The musician has been critical of Russia’s controversial stance on the issue. “Thank you to President Vladimir Putin for reaching out and speaking via telephone with me today,” Sir Elton announced via his Instagram page after the call. “I look forward to meeting with you face-to-face to discuss LGBT equality in Russia. The Kremlin issued a swift denial. “Putin did not speak with Elton John and most importantly, we never received any requests to meet,” Mr Peskov said. He did however, add that Mr Putin could still respond positively to Sir Elton’s offer. Stolyarov explained that the idea to call the singer came after Sir Elton had met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and said that he would like to meet Vladimir Putin and speak about gay rights. “Knowing that our president was unlikely to meet Elton John to discuss this problem, we decided to play a prank on him.” The singer and gay rights advocate took it all in good humour, using his Instagram account to clarify that he enjoyed the joke after the pranksters revealed themselves and a recording of the call on a Russian late-night TV show. “Pranks are funny. Homophobia, however is never funny,” he wrote, adding that his offer to talk to Mr Putin still stands.


Russian volunteers for head-turning medical first


Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero is preparing to graft a living head to another body in a procedure scheduled for December 2017 – and Russian Valery Spiridonov is the leading candidate for the first-ever human head transplant. The 30-year-old programmer from Tver, west of Moscow, has a rare muscle-wasting condition that renders him immobile. “I just want this body to be a little healthier than mine,” Mr Spiridonov told RBTH. “In all other respects I can bring it to the desired condition with sports and nutrition. To choose a body is so far an impermissible luxury on the verge of folly.” He revealed that he contacted the Italian surgeon himself. “I’ve been immersed in the subject of such transplants and know about all the experiments carried out in the past. Then I came across an interview, where he claims to have found a solution to the main problem: spinal cord fusion. “I did not send any medical details about myself to Canavero. He is well aware of my diagnosis.”

Politics & Society This supplement is sponsored by Rossiyskaya, September 22, 2015_P3

Promised land? Syrians get on their bikes and head for a new life in Europe

Yuri Kozyrev/Noor

Refugee crisis Scenes of people storming train stations, negotiating barbed wire and sleeping in parks across Europe are unlikely to be repeated in Russia. What can Moscow do to help alleviate the biggest humanitarian crisis for decades? marina obrazkova, pavel koshkin RBTH

Russia is not a natural destination for refugees from war-torn Syria, but some are using it as a transit point to Europe. Stories of the “Arctic crossing” may seem rather far-fetched, but a small number of refugees are making the long journey to safety and crossing from Russia to Finland and Norway. At one border point, Skorskog in Norway, north-west of Murmansk, crossing on foot is banned, but wheeled transport moves freely – leading to a bizarre northern cross-border trade in bicycles for desperate families. The numbers remain tiny – Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) says there are currently around 12,000 Syrians in the country, less than 0.1pc of all registered foreigners in Russia. But that could change as European governments take an increasingly robust approach to illegal arrivals. Muez Abu Al-Jadael, a Syrian human rights activist and journalist for the online newspaper Open Dialogue, is a political refugee who was given shelter by Sweden. A graduate of Moscow’s People’s Friendship University, he tried and failed to be granted asylum in Russia. Now he helps Syrians to assimilate and adjust to life in Russia by giving legal assistance to his compatriots. “Before the civil war, most Syrians were just migrants, in Russia or elsewhere, but since the onset of the war we all became refugees,” he

told RBTH. The small number of Syrians who do come to Russia see it as a longer, but perhaps less challenging transit point for Europe. Using Russia to reach Finland and northern Europe via St Petersburg is cheaper and sometimes safer than taking a route through Turkey, Greece or Belarus and Ukraine.

Can Moscow help?

Today there are more than four million Syrian refugees scattered around the world, with 430,000 formal asylum requests made in Europe between 2011 and 2015. The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR forecasts that numbers will almost double in Europe in the next two years to a total of 850,000 refugees. Most of them will settle in Germany and other European countries. Russian officials and agencies working with refugees differ over what, if any, role Moscow can usefully play in alleviating what is Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Nikolai Smorodin, the deputy head of the FMS, says the notion that Russia is refusing to take any Syrian refugees is misleading. He says that a total of 7,103 Syrians arrived in 2015, but slightly more, 7,162, left. “The position of the FMS has not changed regarding asylum to Syrians,” Mr Smorodin says, adding that Russia was ready to receive Syrians given the seriousness of what was hap-

pening in their country. Of the 12,000 Syrians registered with the FMS, a total of 2,000 have been given temporary shelter, and a further 2,500 given temporary residence permits. More than 2,000 have been granted asylum and 5,000 are in the FMS system awaiting rulings on their status, Mr Smorodin said. The perception of Russia’s response to the crisis was partly shaped by President Vladimir Putin’s public pronouncements. This month he refused to join any EU scheme to help refugees from Syria, saying that Russian efforts to support President Bashar al-Assad are the best way to stop refugees leaving, and blaming the West for the refugee crisis. It was not always that way, according to Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee.“In 2012, when the UNHCR asked representatives of the countries that had signed the convention on refugees to introduce a moratorium on their deportation to Syria, the Russian authorities demonstrated their loyalty to the refugees and even started preparing documents for them.” Responding to accusations from the committee that Russia was refusing to provide temporary asylum to refugees, the FMS claims that the numbers coming to Russia are exaggerated. Most requests are from spouses of Russian citizens who had returned to Syria after the war started, it says.

A human catastrophe

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Syrians are free to use Russia as a transit point, but those countries whose policies lead to the current crisis should shoulder the burden of a “catastrophic situation”. Russia also needs to guard against any risk

Horizon of hope: a Syrian refugee from Homs looks out at a calm Mediterranean Sea from the coast of Libya

Hopes of international co-operation MULTIMEDIA

Scan this code and listen to the podcast: will Moscow deploy ground troops to fight Isil?

Find more

‘I just need to provide a future for my children’ True lives Syrian refugees are facing a life in limbo, frustrated by Russian red tape, after fleeing the nightmare of war at home Flora mussa, Pavel koshkin RBTH

East or West, home is best. This saying seems to have lost its relevance for many Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country for Europe, and particularly for Ahmad, 40, a Shia Muslim who now lives in a comfortable apartment in south-west Moscow. When the Syrian civil war began in 2011, bombs flew over his “family’s heads, houses, and schools and killed peaceful civilians”. Ahmad quickly realised that he had to flee to save his wife and two children. “I didn’t care about myself, but I did care about my family and so I wanted to find them a safer place,” he told RBTH. “So we came to Moscow. We applied to the United Nations’ refugee agency and it provided letters of recommendation.” Before the civil war started in Syria he

lived in the town of Al-Malihah, about four miles from the capital, Damascus. He had been involved in both clothing and poultry businesses and owned a chicken company, while his wife worked as a teacher in Damascus. As a result of an outbreak of political instability – the bombings and shootings that started in 2011 – his poultry shop was destroyed, with the property confiscated by radicals who regarded him as an infidel. He was forced to move to Damascus, but then more bombings started. Ahmad fled to Russia in 2013 on a tourist visa, then received temporary asylum and worked at a Moscow restaurant. However, in 2014 Russia’s Federal Migration Service refused to prolong his refugee status, possibly because by then Russia was struggling to cope with a huge influx of refugees from eastern Ukraine, fleeing the conflict in the Donbass region. He is now awaiting a court decision on his status, while continuing to live legally in Russia. Ahmad and his wife feel that they have settled and assimilated very well in

Uncertain future: Ahmad, 40, lacks the paperwork that would enable him to find a steady job from personal archives

Russia. His children have also successfully adjusted to life in Russia. Although they have been living in Moscow for only two years, they speak fluent, almost accentless Russian. They go to a local school and are friends with Russian schoolmates and the children of their neighbours. “Me and my wife don’t speak Russian well, so our children talk in Russian with each other as a tactic to play jokes on us,” laughs Ahmad. “I wanted my kids to

that Isil terrorists may enter the country under the guise of refugees, Mr Peskov says. Robert Legvold, professor of political science at Columbia University, doubts that Russia will share “the flows of migrants that are coming out of Syria and North Africa”,but believes “it is the responsibility of most of the major developed countries, not only in western Europe,”but also the United States, which has agreed to take 10,000 refugees. “It is a matter of ethics and principles,” he said.“It would be very good if Russia was able to assist in an international refugee crisis. It is not just a western European crisis, it is a human crisis.” Dmitry Polikanov, a Russian political analyst, and activist who has worked with Ukrainian refugees, believes that the situation offers opportunities for improving international co-operation.“Germany, for instance, has many years of good practice in hosting migrants and the system of integrating them into society; Russia has its own mechanisms of coping with people coming from Central Asia and accommodating Muslims from that region,” he says. “The problem is that Europe is in shock now.” Mr Polikanov sees the opportunity for Russia to forge a diplomatic solution. Moscow is pushing for the elimination of the root cause of the problem by establishing a coalition against Isil, rather than fighting against the Assad regime. That is not an approach the West shares, although the forthcoming UN General Assembly offers a platform to promote it. In this case, this will help to strengthen Russia’s image of a country suggesting reasonable solutions to global problems.

study Russian. Maybe we'll be here forever.” The key challenge of living in Russia for Ahmad can be summed up in a word: documents. As a refugee he has a certain status, but lacks all the paperwork that would ease his life in Russia. This is why he is unable to move freely around Moscow or find a reliable, steady job to support himself and his family. He relies on the help of his Syrian friends based in Moscow. What he cares about most is stability, independence and the future of his children. “I want to get all the documents and be independent, so that I can live here like a normal person. I just need stability, to do business here, open a coffee shop and provide a secure and decent future for my children.” The unpredictable nature of his status is psychologically difficult to overcome, he says, adding: “I hope that one day I will get these documents to move about and work freely.” Ahmad’s fears seem not to be unfounded. Another Syrian, Hassan, 40, relates a less encouraging story. Facing difficulties remaining in Russia, he decided to try to reach Europe via Turkey. But he found himself trapped in the transit zone at a Russian airport, unable to travel because no country would take him. He told RBTH that he had now spent more than a month trapped at the airport. It may not be the nightmare scenario faced by thousands of other desperate Syrians trapped and facing riot police at European borders, but a life in limbo can be little better than one in a war zone.

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P4_Tuesday, August 26, supplement is sponsored by Rossiyskaya Gazeta, September 22, 2015

Aeroflot takes Transaero under its wing Transport sector State−run behemoth of the skies soars in to rescue a key competitor ©mikhail mokrushin/ ria novosti

Home comforts: Russians learn to love the staycation Holiday trends A fall in outbound tourism by almost 34pc was the steepest for 20 years, according to the Russian Travel Industry Union. RBTH takes a closer look at the figures Bryan Macdonald special to RBTH

During the economic boom of President Putin’s first two terms, which had long periods of double-digit growth, Russian visitors were a familiar sight in many parts of Europe. But some destinations were more popular than others. For the Russian elite, London and the Côte D’Azur reigned supreme. The middle class preferred more affordable resorts in Spain and Turkey. Indeed, there’s little doubt that the Russian surge compensated for diminished inter-European tourism after the financial crash. Cannes has long been the playground of movie stars and royalty. But in the past decade, it wasn’t the Aga Khan or Hollywood stars making waves, it was the nouveau riche of Moscow. In 2015, the local view is that the number of Russian visitors has nosedived spectacularly. Russian-owned cars are less obvious, but Moscow-registered Toyota Land Cruisers and St Petersburg Porsche Cayennes can still be found. A Mini Cooper with Archangelsk plates was parked on the Croisette earlier this month. But the number of “RU” vehicles now pales in comparison with their German and British counterparts.

Litmus test

The Russian shops in Cannes are perhaps the best barometer of the resort’s popularity. The Russian store in the Californie district is so authentic that it could be mistaken for one in Krasnodar. Owner Marcel admits business is down. “I’d estimate by about 30pc. The num-

THE numbers


pc: the fall in the number of Russian tourists visiting Europe


pounds is the average sum Russian tourists spend daily in Europe


Sept: date EU began fingertip scanning Russian visa applicants

ber of visitors has dropped hugely this year. However, there is a large permanent Russian population in Cannes, and they will always need this service,” he says. Marcel is also pretty sure where his missing clients have gone. “Sochi. They are mostly in Sochi. After all, this is what Putin wants,” he says. “Maybe we will move there and open a French shop,” his wife Tanya quips. It’s not just the prosperous south of France that’s suffering: Russian trips to Turkey are down from two million to 1.4 million; visits to Germany have fallen by 30pc; and Greek holidays have slumped by 54pc. Even cheap Bulgaria has seen numbers drop by 36pc. Further afield, in places such as Vietnam and Azerbaijan, there are reports of masses of empty hotel rooms formerly occupied by Russians. Turkey’s figures are especially interesting. The 600,000 fall in Russian visitors has been partly offset by a 200,000 rise in Germans. This suggests that even wealthy Germans can’t compensate for the loss of business from Turkey’s giant Eurasian partner.

The big spenders

In Spain, a year-on-year decline in Russian visitors of 41pc has been almost cancelled out by a 40pc jump in Americans. Nevertheless, this does not compensate for a huge drop in spending. The average Russian spends £115 a day, twice the figure for the Americans. Some countries have tried to box clever. Egypt, which has had troubles of its own in recent years, has suggested allowing Russian tour operators to pay in roubles rather than dollars. Cairo’s move to protect the lucrative Russian market has seen the country replace Turkey as the most popular with Russian visitors. Italy, hit by a 31pc fall in Russian visitors, is also fighting back. The Italian embassy in Moscow has launched a Russian-language website,

Alexei lossan RBTH

Russia’s largest airline, Aeroflot, is to buy the country’s second largest passenger carrier, Transaero, for one rouble – less than one penny. Experts predict the deal will give birth to a new monopoly in the Russian airline market, drastically changing the rules of the game. The decision to buy a 75pc stake comes after Transaero accumulated debts totalling 159 billion roubles (£1.56bn). The purchase, for a symbolic fee, creates a new monopoly, with the two companies now controlling more than half of the Russian passenger air travel market. “Transaero’s activity will be fully restructured and integrated in the Aeroflot group,’’ an Aeroflot spokesman told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Aeroflot’s bid was sent to Transaero on 3 September, 2015 and approved after a meeting headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. Transaero’s largest shareholders are currently its founders, Alexander and Olga Pleshakov, who will both leave the company after the merger. “For the aviation industry, this means consolidation and a move towards monopoly, and in this particular case, government monopoly,” says Anna Bazoyeva, an analyst at investment company UFS. The deal could see higher ticket prices and reduced choice for passengers, but better deals for holders of Transaero debt. In 2014, Aeroflot and Transaero handled 51.5pc of all Russian air passengers, with 34.7 million and 13.2 million people respectively. According to the Federal Air Transport Agency, a total of 93 million people flew in Russia last year. “In today’s aggravated economic conditions the sector is not doing so well,” says Russ-Invest analyst Semyon Nemtsov. “Transaero’s debt over the past several years has remained very high.” He adds that Transaero had previously asked the government for a £193m loan. Ms Bazoyeva notes that, for a private company, clearing such levels of debt is much harder than for the sector’s state-owned leader. “For the passengers and tour operators, such a merger will doubtlessly lead to increased ticket prices, inconvenient conditions and basically the lack of right to choose an airline,” she adds. However, for the financial markets and the banking sector, the deal offers stability. Between October and December 2015, Transaero debt holders will be offered new terms, with greatly reduced risks following the deal. According to Georgy Vaschenko of Freedom Finance, Transaero found itself in a critical financial position from which it could escape only through recapitalisation or bankruptcy. He added: “Practice has shown that companies with low budgets that are not supported by the industry’s giants do not survive.”

Holiday in the sun: tourists in the Black Sea resort of Adler, Russia

called La Tua Italia (Your Italy), which informs prospective Russian tourists about Italian destinations. Parts of the site are dedicated to the Expo world fair in Milan and low-cost flights. There are also some discounts. But it all seems to be of little help; and some industry players are quite pessimistic. “My average of Russian clients is still the same, but it is easy to recognise all over town that it is not the way it was in the past,”Tuscan hotelier Salvatore Madonna told The Guardian. “Friends with shops and restaurants are talking about it. From what I have heard from the Italian government, there are almost 80pc fewer Russian clients than there were.” “The decline in tourist traffic in Europe is even greater if we look at the data of the countries not in the European Union,” says Russian Travel Industry Union (RTIU) spokeswoman Irina Tyurina.“In particular, the decline in Norway was 37pc, Switzerland 28pc, Montenegro 14.5pc, and Serbia 11pc.”

Historic decline

The RTIU figures confirm the evidence, both anecdotal and official. The Russian travel industry has never seen such a sharp decline in business. Not even in 1998 when the country defaulted on foreign debts or in 2009, when the world economy collapsed. The falls in those years were 24pc and 23pc respectively. Mostly because of enduring visa restrictions, travel agencies remain popular in Russia. The Ryanair-style concept of DIY holidays has yet to catch on to any great extent so the current crisis threatens thousands of jobs. Meanwhile, domestic Russian destinations report bumper years. Vladivostok and Sochi are welcoming people who once insisted on the beaches of Thailand and Marbella. “People have begun to travel around their own country and found that it’s not as scary as they thought”,says Irina Schegolkova of the government agency Rostourism.At the same time, Crimea is enjoying a relatively busy summer, considering that the peninsula is in effect closed to its former markets in Ukraine and the EU.The“Golden Ring”, historic sites route, that surrounds Moscow has also benefitted from the trend as patriotic Russians shun beaches for cultural tours. Another problem for tour operators is that from 14 September all Russians have to submit fingerprints before they can get Schengen visas. This will not help struggling European resorts either. And the Kremlin has told security officials not to travel abroad.The rouble crisis means that Russian spending power abroad has more or less halved. If western anti-Russian sanctions continue and global oil prices do not rise, it might be a long time before Russian tourist numbers return to pre-crisis levels.


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Global view: atomic experts talk about partnership Nuclear energy Rosatom representatives were at the high-powered World Nuclear Association conference in London andrei retinger special to RBTH

Construction boom

Indeed, the nuclear market is global and large players such as Russia, the US, France and the UK in the West, and South Korea, Japan, China and India in the East, are building new nuclear plants at home and in other countries. Ten years are needed to build a nuclear power station. Its operating period is about 60

Despite the differences between Kiev and Moscow, Rosatom continues to supply Ukraine with fuel

Political security

Participants at the symposium were unanimous about one thing: the security of nuclear power plants must not depend on political decisions. However, a political scenario is developing in Europe in which nuclear security has become a bargaining chip: the Ukrainian government is trying to change the nuclear fuel supplier for its plants. But despite the differences of opinion between Kiev and Moscow, Rosatom continues to supply Ukraine with fuel. “Ukraine is still ordering fuel and pays for it, and we continue to supply it. We do not have conflicts, scandals, or disruptions in supply,” said Mr Komarov. In the past 10 years, Rosatom has become a global corporation. It has increased its 10-year portfolio of foreign orders to

Nuclear age Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) held a symposium in London on 10-12 September attended by representatives of nuclear corporations, government officials and experts. The representatives discussed global partnerships in the nuclear energy sector and latest developments in the industry. While Russia and the West are opposing each other with sanctions and countersanctions, nuclear co-operation is continuing without change. “Neither Rosatom nor its collaborators are on the United States and European Union sanctions list,” says Rosatom’s first deputy general director Kirill Komarov. He adds: “It is important for everyone to understand that nuclear energy is possibly one of the few sectors of co-operation between Russia, the EU and the US where before introducing some type of restriction you must think twice. Because any such move can have an impact on security.”

projects, the Fennovoima plant in Hanhikivi, Finland, which Rosatom owns and that will be built according to Russian design, stands out. The completely new plant was selected for construction by Finland’s STUK, which is regarded as the world’s strictest nuclear authority. Mr Komarov pointed out that the Hanhikivi plant’s electricity price for European Union consumers of about $65-70 per MW was convenient for the corporation. “We can adapt to these prices and possibly even to lower ones,” he underlined, explaining that the fuel component in the nuclear power plant’s general price was relatively low. “The share of uranium in the total cost of a nuclear power plant is 3pc, while in gas and coal plants it is 60-70pc,’’ notes the independent nuclear sector expert Alexander Uvarov.

years and it’s possible to extend its life by another three decades. Then between 10 and 20 years will be required to decommission a disused nuclear plant. Thus it must spend a century under the reliable control of its operators and supervising agents. The plant must also be supplied with quality fuel and be decommissioned without any incidents. That is why stable and reliable partnerships between countries throughout the entire nuclear-fuel cycle are so important in the sector. Russia and the US have collaborated for more than 20 years in the “Megatons to Megawatts” programme on producing highly enriched uranium (HEU), despite changes of government. Now one in 10 American homes are supplied with power thanks to Russian uranium.

more than $100bn (£64bn) and continues signing new contracts, many in Europe, Africa and Asia. The company is building nine nuclear power plants in Russia and a total of 29 abroad. Among Rosatom’s main European partners are the major companies Siemens, Alstom, Schneider Electric and Areva. Of all Rosatom’s foreign nuclear

Partners in power: the volume of trade between Russia and the EU in nuclear energy is worth €2-3bn a year

The world’s interest in nuclear technologies in recent years has significantly increased. According to the forecast announced during the symposium, in the coming decades about 1,000GW of new power capacity will be introduced throughout the world, which is equal to 1,000 new nuclear power plants. The expansion of the nuclear technologies market will increase the demand for uranium, which will inevitably influence its price, which today is very low. “Prices for uranium will inevitably keep growing,’’ says Mr Komarov. According to the WNA, the demand for uranium deposits, which are necessary for the functioning of nuclear reactors in the plants, will grow by 66pc by 2035.

Analysis P6_Tuesday, September 22, 2015_www.rbth.ru_This supplement is sponsored by Rossiyskaya Gazeta

lack of common cause risks handing syria to ISil

ART of diplomacy

When official relations are cool, culture and people can lead the way

Fyodor Lukyanov

international analyst

T konstantin maler

An official representative of the US administration has warned Russia that it risks being isolated if it continues supporting Bashar alAssad’s regime in Syria. Other western leaders are also concerned, albeit rather vaguely – no one has a clear idea of what should be done in the crisis zone. The two camps fall broadly into those opposed to Russian troops entering the conflict and those who think they might just achieve what hand-wringing and western air strikes have failed to. If we distance ourselves from the ideological preconceptions that colour all views of Russia, we may understand why there is no united front in the struggle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), even though all agree such an approach is desperately needed. There are a range of basic discrepancies, either stated or implicit. First, Isil is seen as a terrorist group, which is why everyone is speaking about an anti-terrorist campaign. This is not the right definition.The problem can be traced back to the beginning of the 2000s when the international fight against terrorism, declared by the Bush administration, stimulated processes that culminated in the current chaos. Also, even if the world is now confronted by terrorism, Isil represents a new type and level of terrorism. The Islamists headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are overrunning and destroying the institutional structure of the Middle East, intent on rebuilding not only the ideological but also the national and political order. Isil deserves to be countered by the most serious measures using the most modern arsenal that countries have at their disposal. The West continues viewing Isil through the prism of familiar concepts of the fight against terrorism, while Russia is inclined to take up measures that are usually characteristic of interstate wars. Ideas about Syria’s future also do not correspond. The West’s obsession with Assad is related to the question of who will manage Syria after the conflict. Here, the original meaning of the talks on sharing powers with the opposition, the renewal of the Geneva process and so on, come into focus. Russia supported the Geneva and the Moscow processes, albeit with its own agenda, but now it is convinced that the challenge is much more acute. The problem is what will happen to the Syria that existed before. The country has practically been divided into zones of control (or lack thereof) and it is difficult to imagine the reconstruction of former statehood. Now, the question is: where will it be possible to dig in to stop the advance of Isil? It is clear that the issue of power in a reformatted system, whatever it may be called in the future, will arise. No doubt power will have

Now, the question is: where will it be possible to dig in to stop the advance of Isil?

to be shared, but first it is important to understand what exactly will remain. As for the present, many in Moscow reasonably believe that a coalition in the conditions of a massive external attack is good only when the various forces, having set their differences aside, sincerely unite against a common enemy. That is not the case in Syria. Both the government and the opposition’s level of obstinacy is close to absolute. And to use force to impose co-operation in such a situation (theoretically external players can try to achieve this) means condemning the coalition to immediate failure with a clear result: the enthronement of Isil in Damascus. So despite the above-mentioned divergences, is it possible for the leading players to reach an agreement on joint actions in Syria? The inflows of refugees to Europe and its complete inability to do anything about it is quickly changing the public’s mood in the Old World. Now the mood is dominated by the opinion that, to stop the situation, Europe should do everything possible and not on its territory. The American position is dictated by a tangle of various motifs, but in general it is no longer monolithic. Public declarations and real views do not always correspond, while opposition to Moscow is determined not by the desire to remove Assad, but by fears that Russia will strengthen its position in the region. But

this is an issue of a rational balance of interests, which is always easier to solve (though still very difficult) in comparison to when the situation concerns ideological preferences. It is clear that by initiating the anti-Isil campaign and getting more involved in Middle Eastern intrigues, Russia is taking risks. Besides the threat of material and, more importantly, human losses (which cannot be denied, especially considering the inhumane enemy that will be opposed), there are always doubts related to reaching the objective. There are no guarantees of success, especially in this complex situation where everyone is fighting multiple enemies, and so-called allies are stabbing each other in the back. Russian public opinion must prepare itself for various scenarios. It should also be recognised that Russia’s decision to participate more actively in the Syrian battle is informed by its past experience. In international politics, it is action and not criticism that is valued above all else. Although it is action that wins points and elevates status, the opposite may occur. However, without risk there is no “Big Game”. The author is chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy. First published in Russian at Rossiyskaya Gazeta

Putin should tell the un to ‘get real’ Ivan Tsvetkov

international analyst

The 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in NewYork, scheduled for late September to early October this year, promises to be the scene of a fierce rhetorical battle. The general debates will feature speeches by the heads of the world’s leading countries, with US President Barack Obama, Chinese president Xi Jinping, Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani likely to make key contributions in sequence on 28 September, the first day of the gathering. In today’s turbulent world, the General Assembly is perhaps the only forum able to gather such a diverse range of speakers under one roof for a polemical head-to-head. Of course, the ceremonial nature of the 70th anniversary of the event will affect the content of the speeches, and the leaders of the great powers are unlikely to set about listing their grievances without ponderous preambles and platitudes. Rather, attentive listeners will have to read between the lines, fishing for their own interpretations from the stream of evasive phrases and allusions. Such sessions always demand the appearance of a speaker willing to tear up the expected script and add spice to the staid proceedings. All eyes and ears will be tuned to the Russian president for juicy denunciations of the United States and its allies, and alternative solutions to pressing international issues. Journalists, of course, would love him to sail close to the wind, livening up their reports and ensuring they get a wider audience. However, such expectations might be in

In today’s turbulent world, the UN General Assembly is perhaps the only forum able to gather such a diverse range of speakers

vain: it cannot even be ruled out that Putin will suddenly decide to subcontract his United Nations speech to a subordinate. In today’s international climate, particularly in the United Nations, it is hard for the Russian president to take the moral high ground over his opponents. And without the certainty of victory, Putin will not act – or will possibly limit himself to a formal address. Over the 70-year history of the organisation, UN-Soviet/Russian relations have fluctuated wildly. For most of the first decade of its existence, the United Nations in Moscow’s eyes was an enemy stronghold and a tool for Western countries (which had a firm majority in the General Assembly) to exert pressure on the Soviet Union. The Soviet delegation during this period, as today, actively used its right of veto, mainly to block the accession of new “ pro-American” members. After Stalin’s death and the arrival of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet attitude to the UN made an about-turn. The admission of new countries was now welcomed, and the Kremlin began to view the General Assembly as the ideal platform from which to spread its influence among the newly independent countries of the so-called Third World. In the autumn of 1960, Khrushchev’s visit to New York to attend the 15th Session of the General Assembly lasted three weeks, during which time the Soviet leader enthusiastically engaged in the debates and attracted global attention… suffice to recall the (alleged) shoe-banging incident in protest against what he regarded as “anti-Soviet” statements. In the Brezhnev era, 1964-1982, the Soviet Union sought to use the General Assembly largely as a platform to promote its ideas in the areas of disarmament and international security. These ideas appeared more sober in comparison with the projects put forward by Khrushchev for “general disarmament in four years”, and allowed the Soviet Union to

This supplement is sponsored by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia), which takes sole responsibility for its contents and is wholly independent of the daily telegraph. the supplement did not involve Telegraph editorial staff in its production. Online:; E-mail: Tel. +7 495 775 31 14 Fax +7 495 988 9213 Address: 24 Pravdy Street, Bldg 4, Suite 720, Moscow, Russia 125993

Ivan Tsvetkov is an associate professor of American Studies at St Petersburg State University.

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What RBTH readers think about hot topics. From Facebook. com/russiabeyond Alex Blosser on the issue of a divided Middle East Helping Syria stabilise, yes, that makes sense, but why should Russia have to solve a crisis that the US and EU have themselves created and is suffering the fallout from?


Gill Fisher on Russian pranksters’ fake Putin call to Elton John They should be put in jail. Elton John has a right to privacy just like anyone else. He is loved and admired by all.


present itself as the “bastion of peace”, especially at a time when the United States was bogged down in Vietnam. But this carefully built construct began to crumble in the late Seventies when an ageing Soviet leadership embarked on its own foreign policy misadventure: the invasion of Afghanistan. As a consequence, the General Assembly swiftly turned from being a champion of Soviet foreign policy into its harshest critic. Forceful intervention in the affairs of small and medium-sized countries unable to resist was not to the liking of most of the forum’s members. The Soviet Union’s reputation in the UN was restored by Mikhail Gorbachev and his “new thinking” in matters of foreign policy. Gorbachev’s speech on 8 December 1988 was one of the most striking episodes in the organisation’s history and seemed to herald a new era of international co-operation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new Russia tried for a while to preserve and build on the political capital gained from “the Gorby effect”, persistently calling for a greater UN role in international affairs. This position was welcomed, especially in light of the openly disdainful attitude towards the UN on the part of the United States. But in the second decade of the 21st century, Russia has decisively waved goodbye to the legacy of Gorbachev’s foreign policy. As the leader of a great power, Putin should deliver a realistic assessment of the current threats, primarily from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), and show commitment to creating a mechanism of international cooperation that can withstand it, preferably under the auspices of the UN. However, given the present state of Russia-West relations, expecting such co-operation may be wishful thinking.

Eugene Abov Publisher, Pavel Golub chief executive editor, Viacheslav charskiy executive editor of western europe, ilya krol editor, UK edition, alexandra Guzeva assistant editor, nick Holdsworth guest editor, olga dmitrieva associate editor (UK), Paul carroll subeditor, SEAN Huggins subeditor, Andrey Shimarsky art director, Milla Domogatskaya head of pre-print department, Andrei Zaitsev photo editor

vox pop

Elena Kazakevich on economic refugees Why does everyone expect to get anything for free? Go to Germany and the rest of Europe, where you can sit on your backside, do nothing, receive benefits and never strive to progress, study, work hard and earn your own money.


Alexander Yakovenko


he exhibition Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age was launched last week at the Science Museum in London to universal acclaim. It was a moving experience to see Russian and British cosmonauts and scientists whose names went down in history meet to unveil the largest display of its kind ever to be held in the museum. The British public can see a vast range of items and artefacts (most of which have never been exhibited abroad, and some of which were declassified especially for the event). They tell the story of the space race – which was one of the most epic and thrilling sagas of the 20th century. As the global powers were still reeling from the tragedy of the Second World War, they found themselves locked into the Cold War mindset. From the very beginning, space research was destined to become just one of the aspects of this global competition. But suddenly, it became more than that. The thrill of new discoveries and mastering new technologies became the universal drive for scientists, engineers and cosmonauts. Their achievements were seen as crucial steps in mankind’s discovery of the new frontiers. Britain cheerfully greeted Yuri Gagarin – and few were bothered by the fact that he was a communist and a Soviet Air Force pilot. Gagarin was the first man sent into space, and that managed to outweigh all ideological and political considerations. What was destined to be a field of fierce ideological and military confrontation went much further than that, giving birth to a mighty unifying idea, as well as to a whole range of astonishing commercial opportunities. Today, this spectacular exhibition is held against the background of serious political disagreements between Russia and Britain. Even though it is not fuelled by an ideological divide, as was the case in the past, the differing narratives are here to stay. However, this shouldn’t act as an obstacle to cultural exchanges. At the height of EastWest confrontation, Moscow theatres staged Shakespeare’s immortal plays and London audiences flocked to the new renditions of Chekhov’s classic works. Moreover, in the 20th century, all thaws in relations between nations have been ushered in by the holding of landmark cultural events – such as the groundbreaking tour of the Kirov Ballet to Britain in 1956. Such events have always been a precursor of convergence at a political level, especially in matters of foreign policy and international affairs, where searching for middle ground and seeking compromise has been a cultural norm for a century. True, culture has a value of its own, but in many ways cultural visionaries define the future more robustly than political leaders.“For a human being there is no other future save that outlined by art,” the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, who was recently honoured with a plaque in Hampstead, said in his Nobel Prize lecture. Culture also has an important role in stopping us sliding into a denial of each other’s humanity. Now, in the absence of political dialogue and intergovernmental co-operation, peopleto-people contacts are more important than ever before. A civil forum, like the ones Russia takes part in with other major European nations, seems to be a timely natural vehicle for unofficial bilateral discourse on matters of mutual interest. This is the way we can maintain and build up trust and understanding between our societies. It would be wrong to be at the mercy of adverse political weather. Let people help bring about a change for the better in our overall relationship.

Keep in touch with the Russian Embassy in London on these social networks: (Russian version) Letters from readers, guest columns and cartoons labelled “Comments”, “Viewpoint” or appearing on the “Opinion” and “Comment & Analysis” pages of this supplement are selected to represent a broad range of views and do not necessarily represent those of the editors of Russia Beyond the Headlines or Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Please send letters to the editor to

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Culture This supplement is sponsored by Rossiyskaya, September 22, 2015_P7

Focus on expats: a dramatic view of Russians in London Interview Londongrad is a TV drama series set in the British capital. RBTH asked director Dmitry Kiselev about the challenges of filming in London – and hears a litter-based tale of two cities

press photo

Ilya Krol

shoot an ordinary rubbish dump in Moscow, it is immediately clear that it is Russian. To create British litter takes a lot of effort. Funny as it may sound, we brought sacks of rubbish from London in order to recreate the character and the detail of the city in Moscow.


Everywhere you look in Moscow this month there are massive billboards advertising a new drama from the Russian network CTC. Promotional images for Londongrad border city streets, catch your eye on metro escalators and pop up on your browser whenever you search the internet. RBTH met series director Dmitry Kiselev to find out what all the fuss is about.

Where is it cheaper to shoot, Moscow or London? It is expensive everywhere. More importantly, we began shooting two years ago when the pound was 55 roubles. Today it is more than 100 roubles. That was the main problem we had to face.

What is the series about? And why Londongrad?

It is about a young man from Russia. He is a gifted mathematician who gets a place at Oxford and would have easily graduated had it not been for his rebellious and free-spirited nature. He is sent down from university in his final year but decides to stay in the UK and opens an agency in London called Londongrad, the purpose of which is to help fellow Russians when they find themselves in tricky situations, where the police would be of no use. He is a problem-solver who relies on his wits, cunning and resourcefulness.

Speaking of your personal impressions of London, how well do you know the city? Before filming, I knew London as a city of top professionals in post-production. I had worked with post houses doing editing, computer graphics, colour correction and sound. Now, as I became immersed in its atmosphere, I discovered much that was new to me. For example, it was interesting to learn that tower blocks in the city’s poorer districts all have a single common balcony and this architecture later had an impact on the development of drug trafficking because these balconies are ideal for distributing drugs and running away from the police. We used it in one of the plot lines in our series.

Some ‘London’ scenes were shot in Moscow. How was that possible? As it later turned out, many of the Moscow sites that we show as London were built by the British at the beginning of the 20th century. London is quite a unique character in itself. I had to study it, from the size of its windows to its predominant colour palette. Interestingly, what we found impossible to imitate in Russia was British litter. That is, if you

Space Unique collection of Soviet cosmic paraphernalia goes on show in London phoebe taplin

special to RBTH

In the biggest exhibition of Soviet space artefacts ever seen outside Russia, London’s Science Museum has launched Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, which contains 150 objects borrowed from 18 Russian collections. Museum director Ian Blatchford describes the show as “a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition that has taken years of dedication and skill to make a reality”.His staff collaborated with the Russian Exhibition Centre Rosizo and the space agency Roscosmos to realise the event. In the third hall of the exhibition is the battered Vostok 6 descent module from 1963, in which the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova orbited Earth for nearly three

Dmitry Kiselev russian director 37

Moscow-born Dmitry is a film and advertising director. He has worked with Timur Bekmambetov – the Russian director and producer who moved to Hollywood several years ago – since 1997 and was an assistant director on Wanted. Dmitry’s films include the Yolki series and Black Lightning.

You also had a British crew working on the project. What was its contribution? We had to shoot a car chase through the city and some stunts on a bridge. To shoot that scene we had to have a huge number of permissions. We did not have them, but we turned to local specialists who obtained all of the necessary paperwork. They closed off the streets we needed to use, monitored comings and goings lest anyone – God forbid – accidently fell under a stunt car. When we were shooting a character falling from the bridge into the Thames, we had to have people on both banks with notices saying: “Attention. This is not a suicide. Filming in progress. Please do not try to imitate it.” That was the condition we had to meet because officials were worried that the stunt could provoke somebody to commit suicide. Also, we had British actors for many parts in the film, many of whom had worked in such well-known series as Extras or Game of Thrones. One of the actors came to us for an audition and said that for the chance of a part in Londongrad he had turned down a role in the Star Wars film. I asked him what the part was. It turned out he had been selected to play a droid.


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Political relations between Russia and Britain at the moment are hardly cordial. Did this affect the filming? Absolutely. We began shooting before all of these sanctions and things were quite friendly. Then the problems began. For example, we could not open an account in a single London bank. We were simply refused without any reasons being given. In the end, strange as it may seem, almost at the very last moment we were able to open an account with one of the oldest banks in Scotland. However, there were instances when people simply refused us permission to film. They just said “No.” The first season has 16 episodes. Have they all been shot already? Yes, we have shot everything. I was the director of the first four episodes and am the creative producer of the first season (16 episodes). The second season (12 episodes) has also already been shot, but those are even a secret for me. The series is planned as two consecutive seasons. Of course, we hope that it will be popular and that more series will be shot. We shall know very soon. Is the series intended solely for viewing by the Russian audience or will it be available in the United Kingdom too? I have the feeling that even if there is no official international release, very soon Londongrad will be available with English subtitles on the internet and anybody will be able to download and watch it.

Found in translation: a nation’s great literature

Museum piece: one of the exhibits is a Vostok ejector seat

State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO

Rocket men and women: how USSR explored the final frontier

How close to life is the London you depict? I am not a native Londoner, I cannot be responsible for an entirely accurate and realistic reflection of all the nuances of London life. But I worked with a consultant all the time and consulted with local film experts. For ex-


ample, when we were shooting in jail – incidentally the one where Oscar Wilde was once an inmate – we had one actor who had done time in a real prison. He was such a fascinating character, covered in piercings and tattoos, a 100pc punk. He did not spend long in prison but he had been there – the tattoos were evidence of that.

Word power The Russian Library will give English-language readers access to a comprehensive range of works Randianne Leyshon special to RBTH

days. Mrs Tereshkova, who is now 78, was in London for the exhibition’s launch looking proudly authoritative next to the rusting, scorch-marked sphere that helped her to make history. “Every time I see it, I stroke it and say: ‘My best and most beautiful friend,’” she said. Today, she is still the only woman to have piloted a solo space mission; Mary Archer, chair of the Science Museum Group, calls her “a legend in her own lifetime”. Mrs Tereshkova has not been the museum’s only celebrity guest. Sergei Krikalev, who flew into space six times, was at the opening alongside Mrs Tereshkova. Mr Krikalev has spent a cumulative total of 803 days in orbit and was on the space station in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. “Our ground control kept working,” Mr Krikalev recalls. “I think our operations in space were more stable than what was happening down on Earth.” The American lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Alexei Leonov, who became the first

man to walk in space in 1965, also visited the museum earlier this year. Some of the items have personal histories, including designer Sergei Korolev’s glove, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov’s woolly hat and Helen Sharman’s space suit. A shower, fridge and toilet from the Mir station are on display. Mrs Tereshkova says the equipment on her mission did not include a toothbrush. “Luckily I am very resourceful,” she says sternly, “as any woman would be.” Elsewhere in the exhibition, an orangesuited mannequin in a Vostok ejector seat is tensed at an expectant angle behind a navigation console with multiple dials and a rotating globe. A model of the Venus lander hangs under its parachute alongside lunar probes and the earliest image of the far side of the moon. The exhibition details Russia’s driving role in the global space age, charting the pioneering discoveries from the 19th century onward that eventually made it possible to send human beings into space.

An ambitious translation project is set to open up the world of Russian literature to English language readers. Figures from UN culture and science body Unesco show that while 40,000 English books have been translated and published in Russia in the past 35 years, in the same period only 3,390 Russian books were translated into English in the US. Now Read Russia, a charity founded in 2012 to promote Russian literature, has partnered with the Institute for Literary Translation in Moscow to translate 125 Russian works into English in the next decade. Working in partnership with The Russian Library, the project plans to publish at least 10 print and e-books a year. “Russian literature is like the ocean − and we’ve only explored part of it,”says Peter Kaufman, executive director of Read Russia. An editorial advisory board of academics and translators will choose the books, and Columbia University Press will publish the series. Board members come from universities including Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, the Literary Museum in Moscow and the Institute of Russian Literature in St Petersburg. Studying Russian masterpieces in

isolation, many westerners don’t see that Russian literature is a conversation, with one work answering or challenging another. Turgenev questions the benefits of nihilism in Fathers and Sons (1862), to which the cultural critic Nikolai Chernyshevsky responds with his utilitarian manifesto What Is to Be Done? (1863). This work in turn inspired Dostoevsky to produce Notes from the Underground and Crime and Punishment, both of which emphasis moral responsibility over utopian ideals. The library will showcase “the breadth and richness of the tradition” and include modern works and even genre fiction, says Columbia University Press director Jennifer Crewe. Ms Crewe also hopes English language readers will “appreciate how funny Russian literature can be”. Mr Kaufman hopes the first set of books will come out by December 2016, in time for Russian Literature Week. Held in New York, this Read Russia event celebrates the work of literature’s backstage heroes: translators. Literature has a daily impact on Russia, which is now celebrating its Year of Literature. Ms Crewe, who travelled to Russia for the first time in June to attend a Read Russia conference during Moscow’s Festival of Books, noted: “Even the aeroplane next to us was called Joseph Brodsky.”


Hidden jewels: five wonders of nature and history Russian landmarks A look at the nation’s spectacular Unesco World Heritage sites JOE CRESCENTE SPECIAL TO RBTH

RBTH pays tribute to the natural and cultural wonders of Russia’s 26 Unesco World Heritage Sites. Unesco is a special agency of the UN that promotes peace and security through international collaboration. Its World Heritage Site programme seeks to preserve natural and cultural landmarks deemed to be of global significance. This special feature takes a look at five Unesco sites on the European side of the Ural mountains, beginning with Komi’s Virgin Forests, Unesco-listed 20 years ago.

Virgin Komi Forests (1995)

Although this old-growth forest is at Europe’s edge, it is far from peripheral at nearly 12,700sq miles. It is Europe’s largest forest of its kind and is just west of the Ural Mountains in the Komi Republic. Reindeer, mink, hares and sables wander freely through thickets of Siberian fir, larch and spruce amid peat bogs, rivers and lakes. This area is especially important for studying the challenges of biodiversity in taiga forests. The protected area covers two large nature reserves: Pechora-Ilych Nature Reserve andYugyd Va National Park, Russia and Europe’s largest protected forest.

main sites today comprise several ancient mausoleums and the Black Chamber, a 14thcentury structure that according to legend housed the Khan’s court. Bolgar is favoured locally as a major pilgrimage site for Tatars, but in Soviet times it was also popular with Muslims throughout the USSR. As Soviet Muslims were unable to travel to Mecca, Bolgar became an alternative destination for making a “little hajj”. Included on the list for its contribution to mankind’s understanding of diversity, historical continuity and the formation of civilisations, it is revered today among Tatars as giving a glimpse into what life was like before the Mongols came.


Citadel, Ancient City and Fortress Buildings of Derbent (2003)

Located where the Caucasus Mountains meet the Caspian Sea, Derbent has been an important north-south corridor since the first century BC. Some claim the city was founded as far back as the eighth century BC and several surviving structures here are thought to be more than 5,000 years old. The city has many names in different languages, but they all mean“gate” as the city controlled traffic between Europe and the Middle East for centuries. As a result of its unique geographic position, Derbent was built between two walls stretch-



Kazan Kremlin Historic and Architectural Complex (2000)

Built by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate his victory over the Tatars in 1552, the Kazan Kremlin was constructed on the ruins of his vanquished enemy’s castle. Russia’s easternmost Unesco-listed cultural monument, it features many 16th-century buildings including the Annunciation Cathedral (1554-62), which was built using pale sandstone, rather than brick. The most prominent structure in the skyline here is the Soyembika Tower, otherwise known as the Khan’s mosque. Its construction is a mystery, with various legends confounding scholars. It was named after Kazan’s 16th-century queen, who today is a Tatar national hero. The design of Kazan railway station in Moscow, built in the early 20th century, was inspired by the building's architecture. The Qolarif Mosque was said to be Europe’s largest mosque outside Istanbul when construction was completed in 2005. Recognisable from a great distance because of its tall minarets topped in light blue, it can accommodate a total of 6,000 worshippers. It replaced a mosque that was destroyed in 1552 when Ivan the Terrible’s forces stormed Kazan. Other notable structures here include the Governor’s House, which is now the residential palace of Tatarstan’s president; the beautiful white Spasskaya Tower, once part of a large monastery before being demolished during Stalin’s reign; and the tombs of the Khans of the Kazan Khanate.

Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex (2014)

Russia’s newest Unesco site, it was the capital of the Volga Bulgars, who ruled here from the eighth (some sources say from the seventh) to the 15th centuries. It also became the Golden Horde’s first capital in the 13th century, with the consolidation of Mongolia’s forces in Europe and grew tenfold in subsequent years. Peter the Great ordered its ruins to be preserved in what is believed to be the first official act of historical preservation in Russia. Its



ing the length of the relatively narrow passage from the sea to the mountains. Many structures here were built during the Sasanian Empire, the last Persian dynasty before the rise of Islam. Having been occupied by Armenians, Mongols and Turks among others, Derbent only became a permanent part of the Russian Empire in 1813. Today, the main sites here are the ancient walls, baths, watchtowers, cisterns, mosques and the well-preserved citadel.

Western Caucasus (1999)

This is Russia’s westernmost natural, rather than historical, Unesco site. Making up the western edge of the Caucasus Mountains from the Black Sea to Europe’s tallest peak Mount Elbrus, this range begins just 30 miles from the resort city of Sochi. It was included on Unesco’s list as the last remaining European mountain range that had not experienced significant human impact. Habitats range from lowlands to glaciers and feature towering Nordmann fir trees. Several fascinating species have been reintroduced here in recent years, including the Persian leopard and the Caucasian wisent (bison). Many other animals can be found here, including the West Caucasian tur (mountain goat), bear, lynx and wild boar.


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1, 2 Virgin Komi Forests: Europe’s largest forest of its kind can be found just west of the Ural Mountains in the Komi Republic of Russia; 3 Western Caucasus 4 Citadel, Ancient City and Fortress Buildings of Derbent; 5 Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex; 6 Historic and Architectural Complex of the Kazan Kremlin

Nine venues in Moscow will take part in the annual Circle of Light Festival. Some of the world’s best light designers will present video images projected against a number of the city’s most famous buildings in 2D and 3D installations and multimedia shows as part of the event


From 26 September to 4 October MOSCOW

Artists from Russia, France, the UK and the UAE will display their work on buildings belonging to Russia’s Ministry of Defence and also on the Andreyevsky Bridge over the Moscow River.

This announcement was produced by the Department for Multicultural Policy, Interregional Co-operation and Tourism of Moscow

THE BOLSHOI THEATRE The facade of the Bolshoi will become a canvas for variations on the opera Carmen and the ballet Swan Lake. VDNKh The revamped VDNKh park and exhibition centre will host a light show that includes figure skaters. Light installations will greet visitors at the park entrance and accompany them along the main promenade.

THE CENTRAL CHILDREN’S STORE Amazing stories about fantastic creatures and a parade will turn the facade of the country’s biggest children’s store into a fairy-tale village.

PATRIARCH’S PONDS The location immortalised in Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita will feature projections of the book’s characters.

THE MOSCOW RIVER Boats projecting light and multimedia shows will run from the House of Music near Paveletskaya railway station to the Luzhnetskaya Embankment. Projections from the boats will be visible on both sides of the river.


The Life in the City light installations will take place in this favourite haunt of young Muscovites.

RBTH for The Telegraph in September  
RBTH for The Telegraph in September  

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