Wednesday, December 16, 2015
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MOSCOW’S 2016 FOREIGN POLICY MOVES Russia has made use of events in 2015 to regain status as one of the key global players, but at a very high price, which it will keep paying in 2016
After sabotage, Crimea’s energy has been restored Will the new “energy bridge” save the peninsula from dependency on Ukraine? P3
Culture New Year’s owes a great deal to late ﬁlm director Ryazanov’s movies defined the way Russians celebrate their most important winter holiday. P5
Feature Tunes of the Washington Balalaika Society Orchestra of volunteers showcases the classic folk instrument. P6
The Kremlin’s foreign policy: 2014 vs. 2015 The spontaneous nature of Moscow’s foreign policy means it consistently creates surprises for the West. In 2014, for example, the international community was caught by surprise by the takeover of Crimea and Russia’s subsequent involvement in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. In 2015, meanwhile, Moscow started its military campaign in the Middle East against ISIS and the Syrian opposition. However, while 2014 saw more failures (economic and financial sanctions put in place by the West, along with general isolation from its European and American partners), 2015 has been more successful as Russia returned to the global arena as one of key actors. The G20 summits in 2014 and 2015 reflect this trend. Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin experienced a cold reception, but this year the Kremlin advanced on the diplomatic front, meeting with a number of Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. A main achievement of Russia’s foreign policy has been to offset the consequences of its 2014 foreign policy gamble, most experts agree. Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, argues the Kremlin has managed “to mitigate some of the worst impacts of the post-Ukrainian adventure”
The cost of Russia’s foreign policy improvisation The Kremlin’s aspirations to regain status as a key geopolitical player have not gone unnoticed. They come at a high price in the form of prolonged sanctions,
damage to its reputation, harsh criticism from the West, and even threats of terror: Moscow started its direct military campaign in Syria Sept. 30 and a month later a Russian passenger plane exploded over Egypt due to a terrorist act. Further, the Kremlin’s Middle East overtures ruined relations with a former ally, Turkey. The Turkish airforce downed a Russian jet in late November, revealing the real price of Russia’s foreign policy improvisation. Moscow’s Syrian campaign “is not a cost-free operation for Russia,” said Johns Hopkins University’s visiting professor Dr. Robert Freedman. “While Russian President Vladimir Putin may have hoped he could use the situation in Syria to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and demonstrate Russian influence in the Middle East, so far the Russian operation in Syria has cost
Politics & Society
and prove “that to a certain extent it is a regional and global player.” “Because Putin has demonstrated a capacity to play his weak hand very well, and because Putin has demonstrated a capacity to be a spoiler, he has, at least, made a case that you cannot ignore Moscow,” Galeotti told RBTH. Aurel Braun, a professor of International Relations and Political Science at the University of Toronto, agrees Russia has ensured it is “an important player” that “needs to be respected and consulted.” However, Moscow achieved that success at a heavy cost, he added.
ussia’s foreign policy has been in the spotlight of foreign experts and media since the start of the Ukrainian crisis in November 2013. Most pundits agree that Moscow acts with a great deal of improvisation in making decisions, resulting in unpredictable foreign policy.
More than 100,000 people have lost their lives in the Syrian Civil War.
In mid-November President Vladimir Putin met with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Turkish Antalya.
Russia a passenger plane with 224 lives, a fighter-bomber and a helicopter, with more losses likely to come,” Freedman told RBTH. Russian-Turkish tensions will likely adversely affect Russia’s foreign policy in 2016, given that the Kremlin imposed immediate economic sanctions against Ankara. “By breaking its ties with Turkey, Russia risks moving further down the slippery slope, letting political and status consideration undermine the economic rationale of relations with the outside world,” warned Mikhail Troitskiy, a Moscow-based political and international affairs analyst. “Russian retail markets will see tangible price increases as a result of bans on imports of products from Turkey... such logic could inflict major irreversible damage on the Russian economy and the well-being of Russian citizens,” Troitskiy said. What will come next in 2016: negative scenarios If the Kremlin falls out with Turkey, will Moscow be able to find new partners, considering that its relations with the West are far from ideal? What alliances might emerge from the Russian-Turkish schism in 2016? According to Braun, Russia will keep expanding its cooperation with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and with Iran. However, he argues, such cooperation will be problematic in the longer term “because the Assad regime is really not viable and Iran’s long-term interests, both in pursuing Islamism and ultimately in its desire to become a nuclear power, are incompatible with Russia’s best national interests.” Ironically, Russia’s confrontation with Turkey is pushing the EU and NATO closer to the regime of the Turkish president, which the EU has criticized heavily for its gross abuse of human rights, Braun added. Further, the Russian-Turkish confrontation may well damage Russia’s relations with the West. CONTINUED ON PAGE 2
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Politics & Society P2 // rbth.com // December 16, 2015
NEWS IN BRIEF Threats of attacks keep Russians at home In an online survey by research firm Online Market Intelligence (OMI), almost half of respondents (47.1 percent) said recent terrorist attacks had influenced their behavior in one way or another. This percentage was higher in Moscow and St. Petersburg than in Russia as a whole, with people living in Crimea registering as the most alarmed. The survey showed that after recent attacks, 34.5 percent of respondents have been trying to avoid crowded places. People admitted to having given up visiting concerts, sporting events and movie theaters. However, habits remain unchanged in one particular area: The percentage of those who have given up flying because of the terrorist attacks is low, with only 3.8 percent of respondents saying they canceled a planned trip.
Will Crimea’s ‘energy bridge’ save it from dependency on Ukraine?
Darkness falls over Crimea The Crimean electricity network was completely shut down in the early hours of Nov. 22 after activists opposed to Russian rule in the region blew up the power lines going to Crimea from Ukraine, plunging the peninsula into darkness. At that time, per an agreement signed with Russia, Ukraine was supplying up to 80 percent of Crimea’s energy.
First museum dedicated to Yeltsin opens
As Russia works to restore Crimea’s energy, other resources remain vulnerable
Why wasn’t the cable laid earlier? Many observers, and especially the residents of Crimea, are asking why it took an act of sabotage to get the Energy Ministry to finalize the underwater cable project. According to Novak, the energy bridge required laying cable along the bottom of the Kerch Strait (four lines, 8.4 miles each), but Russia did not produce cables of such length, and most of Russia’s foreign partners refused to supply the cable due to economic sanctions related to the takeover of Crimea in 2014. The cable was finally bought from China, but the Chinese ship only arrived in Kerch Oct. 11 and work began Oct. 18. Moreover, the energy bridge involves building high-voltage lines and new substations. The cost of the project is estimated at about $700 million. As a result, Russia is working on solving all these problems – but not as fast as its residents would like.
In such a situation, authorities were forced to supply power only to facilities providing life-sustaining services, particulaly hospitals, while other consumers, including clinics, were switched to rolling blackouts. The local economy came to a standstill. Cell phone connections, street lights and gasoline were scarce. The government had to immediately transfer a large volume of diesel generators onto the peninsula and speed up work on the “energy bridge,” which laid an electricity cable from Krasnodar territory to Crimea. ALYONA REPKINA
After nearly two weeks of blackout conditions due to Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar activists blowing up pylons carrying power lines to Crimea in Ukraine’s Kherson Region, things are almost back to normal for the two million people on the Crimean peninsula. The power supply to Crimea has been restored in full, according to the Russian Energy Ministry, and Crimea is receiving energy from both Ukraine and Russia. The solemn inauguration of the so-called “energy bridge” from mainland Russia (the Krasnodar region) to Crimea along the bottom of the Kerch Strait on Dec. 2 was a joyous occasion for Crimeans, after living without power for more than a week following the sabotaging of the pylons. The second circuit for the bridge was ready Dec. 15. Another two circuits are set to come into service for the energy bridge from Russia May 16, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the Interfax news agency on Dec. 9, after which total power without Ukrainian contributions will be 1,300 MW. This “will fully meet the energy system needs in Crimea,” Novak said. “Considering that solar power generation was put into operation, now we have a total installed capacity of about 900 MW in Crimea which 100 percent covers the needs; that is, no customers will be cut off,” Novak said. “But that is during the day. Given that the peaks are in the evening and in the morning, during which time we will experience a power deficit of 200 MW, which is about 20 percent.” Crimea’s own energy generating facilities, with a capacity for 940MW, will be commissioned by 2018, Novak said to the TASS news agency. Still, many citizens are worried about further subversive activities. Experts believe that even if Crimea has solved its urgent electricity problem, its water supply infrastructure remains vulnerable.
READ THE FULL STORY at rbth.com/547093
A museum dedicated to Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, has been unveiled in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, where Yeltsin spent most of his life and career before being called to Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Yeltsin’s widow, Naina Yeltsina, officially opened the museum Nov. 25. The museum is the
Where to get water from? As if the energy situation wasn’t complicated enough, issues with water are even more complex. On April 26, 2014, Ukraine blocked the locks of the North Crimean Canal, where water from the Dnieper River was channeled to the Crimean peninsula. Since that time, Moscow has provided only temporary solutions. Crimea consumes about two billion cubic meters of water a year, 80 percent of which is used for agriculture. Under normal conditions Ukraine would provide one billion cubic meters of water along the North Crimean Canal, with the rest flowing into reservoirs from local wells and runoffs. The Russian Agriculture Ministry estimates that Crimea’s agriculture alone could lose up to 460 square miles of terrain due to water supply problems, which would cost 5 billion rubles ($74 million) and 180,000 jobs. Creating its own water intakes will not solve the problem. According to Crimean Ecology and Wildlife Minister Gennady Narayev, three new intakes, which will be built by the end of the year, will produce a total of only 195,000 cubic meters daily.
Mariinsky ballet in Washington, D.C. For its 14th consecutive season at the Kennedy Center, Russia’s legendary Mariinsky Ballet returns Feb. 23-28, 2016 with Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda,” widely considered the last “grand ballet” of the 19th century. George Balanchine, who began his career in the Mariinsky corps, once called Alexander Glazunov’s score, filled with spirited rhythms and lilting waltzes, “some of the finest ballet music we have.” A showcase extraordinary for its rich Russian heritage and the virtuosity of its principals and corps, “Raymonda” mesmerizes with a captivating dream sequence, a thrilling duel to the death and a kaleidoscope of variations displaying the essence of ballet technique.
SOURCE: UKRENERGO AND RUSSIAN ENERGY MINISTRY.
Redirecting energy to flow from mainland Russia.
first of its kind in Russia. Ralph Appelbaum, who built the Jewish Museum in Moscow, created the exhibition. Archivists faced a serious problem during the process: Rather than being archived, a large number of essential documentary videos were instead reused, meaning the footage they contained was ultimately not preserved.
SPECIAL TO RBTH
Russia’s foundation for 2016 foreign policy CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
According to Aurel Braun, repairing relations with the EU and U.S. should be top priority for Russia in 2016, but it “does require a reorientation of Russian policy” and “its willingness to compromise on a number of issues ranging from Ukraine to the Middle East.” Troitskiy is skeptical about the possibility of compromise between Russia and the West in 2016. “Painful sanctions against Russia are likely to remain in place until Donbas is returned to Ukraine, while a full-fledged coalition to combat the Islamic State will not materialize until there is agreement on the shape of a post-war political settlement in Syria,” Troitskiy said. In general terms, Troitskiy continued, the West will keep pointing to the lack of trust with Russia as the main obstacle to cooperation, and Russia will continue to point fingers at the West for causing the mistrust. One particularly negative scenario: the continuation of Russia’s internal stagnation, growing problems in Ukraine, and Central Asia’s increased radicalization following Middle Eastern destabilization. “For the U.S.-Russia proxy war in Syria to be averted and a greater progress on the broad coalition to take place, a critical inter-
TIMELINE Minsk-2 • An agreement reached Feb. 12 between the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, the Minsk-2 was another attempt to settle the crisis in Ukraine. However, fighting continued through the end of the summer. Agreement on Iran • Reached in July between the “Six” and Iran, the agreement details a gradual removal of sanctions against Iran and the imposition of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. Military campaign in Syria • Russia’s initiation of air operations against radical Islamists in Syria at the end of September caught most observers by surprise. The airstrikes have led to concern about the lack of coordinated military efforts. The downing of the Su-24 • Turkey came to the forefront of Middle Eastern affairs after shooting down a Russian bomber near the Syrian-Turkish border Nov. 24. Relations between the two countries deteriorated after the incident.
vention from the White House is required not only to compromise with the Kremlin on Assad, but also to discipline Turkey and Saudi Arabia,” Andrei Tsygankov said, a professor of International Relations and Political Science at San Francisco State University. “The potential for that intervention is nowhere to be found.” A positive scenario is less likely Most pundits seem to be pessimistic about Russia’s foreign policy in 2016. A favorable outcome requires a great deal of political will among global stakeholders, and their divergent geopolitical interests make such a scenario unrealistic. Nevertheless, Tsygankov sees the light at the end of the tunnel. “If there is progress in Russia’s engagement with the West in counter-terrorism in Syria, if there is no major escalation in Ukraine and if a modest economic recovery begins, Russia’s vision of world order may be vindicated,” he said. In this case, it’s possible international events could develop positively in 2016 according to the expert. “That vision is based on respect for sovereignty, spheres of influence and multilateralism,” Tsygankov said.
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Economy rbth.com // December 16, 2015 // P3
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Behind the front lines in the war of sanctions Why Russia is restricting import but not export and how countries are bypassing these sanctions In the past two years, the Russian government has introduced sanctions against several countries, including the U.S., Australia, Turkey and the EU. In each case, Russia has responded in a retaliatory manner. Who is involved in the sanctions? In August 2014, Russia introduced sanctions for the first time in modern history, responding to anti-Russian measures undertaken by certain countries because of Russia’s position in the Ukrainian crisis. The EU and the U.S. took action first by forbidding an entire group of politicians and entrepreneurs considered close friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin to enter their territories and freezing their assets. In response, the Russian government prohibited the import of U.S. and EU food products, a significant blow: Before the ban, the share of import products on the retail market was 40 percent. At the end of November, after the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian bomber, the Russian government retaliated with sanctions against Turkey. Imports of practically all food products from Turkey – except fish, nuts and milk – are banned. In addition, as of Jan. 1, 2016, Russia is suspending the visa-free travel regime for Turkish citizens; Russian employers will not be allowed to hire Turkish nationals; and charter flights will be banned. Finally, per a Nov. 28 presidential decree taking effect Jan. 1, Turkish companies, primarily construction firms, will have to obtain special permission to get new contracts in
Russian territory. This may create serious difficulties for the U.S. State Department in Moscow, reported the daily newspaper Izvestia. Turkish workers now employed at the construction site of the new U.S. embassy building may be taken off the project at the beginning of the new year. Additionally, one of Turkey’s largest construction companies, Enka, is working on the project. For the past 15 years, Enka has been a steady subcontractor for American company Caddell Construction, which is the general contractor for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as well as the construction of almost all U.S. embassies around the world. Caddell is looking for a way out of the problem, according to U.S. Embassy Spokesman Will Stevens. The next country to be hit with Russian sanctions may be Ukraine, in the event that it signs an economic association agreement with the EU preventing the re-export to Russia of prohibited products from European countries. If Ukraine does sign the agreement, according to the Russian government, the import of food products from Ukraine may be prohibited after Jan. 1. Why is Russia restricting import? The Russian government is restricting imports because in recent years, the country has been exporting substantially more than it has been importing, experts explain. Further, a significant share of Russian exports is made up of oil and gas. For example, the commodity turnover between Rus-
Authorities removed 44.8 tons of banned goods from stores in the first half of 2015 and are destroying sanctioned products seized at the border.
decrease of imported animal products into Russia in 2014.
increase in prices of food products at the end of 2014, according to Rosstat.
552 tons of sanctioned products were confiscated in the first six months of 2015. READ THE FULL STORY at rbth.com/549725
sia and Turkey in 2015 is expected to be between $23-25 billion. Of that amount, about $20 billion will consist of Russian exports, while imports will be worth only $4-5 billion. “Russian sanctions concern only import, since this way in the short term they improve the country’s trade and payment balance,” says Finam financial analyst Timur Nigmatullin. In his words, the balance of trade has a particular influence on the GDP. The choice of sanctions is also related to the structure of Russia’s external trade, notes Nigmatullin: The country does not export any type of unique products that other countries heavily depend on. For example, the EU and U.S. sanctions primarily concern the export of technology and financial services. What do Russian sanctions lead to? As a result of the ban on food imports, agricultural production grew, but so did product prices (which the devalued ruble also affected). According to the Federal Customs Service, in 2014 the import of animal products in Russia decreased by 42 percent, milk products by 33 percent, and meat and meat byproducts by 32 percent. At the end of 2014, according to the Rosstat Federal Statistics Service, prices on food products in Russia increased by 16.7 percent.
The general prosecutor’s office studied the reasons for the growth of food prices in the largest retail networks and accused several of them of manipulating the market. In Moscow alone, 418 administrative proceedings were launched. As a result, the networks introduced a temporary 20 percent price freeze on socially important goods. What about sanctioned products that cross the border? On many occasions, the Russian government has accused food suppliers from the EU of bypassing the sanctions. The Federal Customs Service, which is responsible for officially fixing import and export in the country, says that in the first six months of 2015, 552 tons of sanctioned products were confiscated. In the first few months of 2015, authorities registered 700-800 violations of the food embargo, said Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. Russian authorities also removed 44.8 tons of banned goods from stores. And since Aug. 6, they have been destroying sanctioned products confiscated at the border. ■ALEXEI LOSSAN RBTH
To improve the economy: create a safe space for investors Sergei Aleksashenko is Russia’s former deputy minister of finance and former deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank. A previous scholar-in-residence in the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Economic Policy Program, he is currently a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
Former deputy minister of finance Sergei Aleksashenko speaks about the relative stability of Russia’s free market economy
Recently economic experts have been speaking about a thaw in relations between Russia and the West. Does this mean the situation will now improve? I personally don’t see any rapprochement. There is some limited dialogue on Syria, but the problems in relations are much more profound. And until the Minsk Agreements are fully realized the sanctions will stay in place.
How do you evaluate Russia’s economy this year? I can’t say that it has been catastrophic. In comparison to the 2009 crisis, its position is much better. Also, this year it became evident that the Russian economy is relatively stable because it has indeed become a market economy. Sure, corruption persists, but there are also free market prices, a free exchange rate. When the exchange rate and prices adapt, in the end market forces always restore their balance. This obviously involves the reduction of consumption and the patience of the population, which is still ready to stoically endure the burden. The fact that in the last 15 years there were no significant attempts to regulate prices means that President Putin is familiar with this market advantage.
Are all the sectors in Russia’s economy in equally bad shape at the moment? Not at all. The differences are great. The defense indus-
Let’s say the sanctions are lifted. Will this help the economy? In my view, the problems in the Russian economy are not mainly due to the sanctions and the low oil prices. Back in 2013, when there were no sanctions and oil prices were high, we saw an economic growth of only 1.3 percent. External factors had nothing to do with this. Concerning the technological sanctions in the energy sector, they are basically not producing any results because they are aimed at offshore production, which with today’s oil prices is unprofitable anyway. If the financial sanctions are lifted, this will obviously lead to short-term improvement. However, without an increase in investments long-term economic improvement is impossible.
Sergei Aleksashenko graduated from the Department of Economics at the Moscow State University in 1986 and received his Ph.D. in Economics in 1989. From 1993 to 1995, he served as deputy minister of finance, responsible for macroeconomic and taxation policy. While working for both the Russian Central Bank (19951998) and the Ministry of Finance, Aleksashenko was in charge of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. His research focused on Russia’s integration into the global economy, transition process for CIS and Eastern Europe, monetary policy and international financial infrastructure. He’s lived in the U.S. since 2013.
try is doing exceptionally well – defense orders are growing consistently. This in part has led to growth in industrial production in the last months. The agrarian sector traditionally finds itself in a good state. In the beginning of the 2000s Russia created a more or less functional agrarian subsidy system, thanks to which this sector is growing today at a rate of 2-3 percent. The ban on import products benefited the agrarian system even more. The raw material and transportation sectors were able to preserve their stable levels because the physical demand for Russian raw materials did not decrease. The consumer market, however, is not doing so well: trade, the car industry, development projects, real estate. You mentioned investments. This year Russia was ranked 51st in the Doing Business Ranking, while five years ago it was 120th on the list. Were the reforms really so successful? Sure, there were successful reforms, even though they were related more to electronic services for interacting with fiscal organs or to the acceleration of separate bureaucratic procedures. But such ratings often measure only technical parameters, that is, how fast and at what price a citizen can receive a service from the government. However, the rating does not pay attention to the quality of the institutions. Based on the fact that the Russian court is faster than, let’s say, the American one, it cannot be said (as the Doing Business Rating says) that agreements and property are better defended in Russia. On the one side of the scale there are the technical parameters; on the other you have the entrepreneur’s risk of losing his property in court. For investors the latter is more important. How do you evaluate the Russian government’s crisis management at the moment? The right cure requires the right diagnosis. And with this there are problems. Russia’s main problems are a poor investment climate and inadequate legal protection for pri-
vate property. The government is mostly concentrating on external factors. It sees problems with the sanctions and is trying to make the economy autonomous, which actually can be harmful. Not one country has been able to create long-term growth with import substitution. How do you see the Russian economy in the next year? It’s difficult to make short-term predictions. Basically, it is rare that an economy experiences a recession for more than two consecutive years without some kind of catastrophe. For this reason alone Russia should return to growth. The problem is that without a growth of investment this dynamic will be rather unstable. But the investment climate was not any better in the past. Yet there was growth. This began in the last 10 years and the Yukos case worsened matters even more (Yukos investors claim that the Russian court was not acting in good faith when criminal proceedings against Yukos resulted in bankruptcy. Shareholders are trying to win back more than $100 billion in various international court cases. - RBTH). The economy is rather unwieldy and depends not on the decision of several investors but on thousands of entrepreneurs. That is why events such as the destruction of Yukos gradually have an impact on the economy. Before the beginning of the financial crisis Russian banks and enterprises could borrow abroad an amount equal to 7-10 percent of the GDP. The economy was growing. After the crisis, in 2010-2011, Russia experienced a rebound effect and only in 2012 did we reach a pre-crisis level. From that time there has been no growth.
Would an increase in oil prices help? Russia’s dependence on oil is obviously great but it shouldn’t be overestimated. If the price reaches $100 certainly things will get better. For a year or two. But in principle nothing will change. The government’s strategy cannot be based, bluntly speaking, on weather forecasts. What’s necessary is the improvement of framework conditions for doing business and the increase of legal protection, guaranteed by an independent judiciary. For this, political competition and an independent media are fundamental. Without them it will be difficult for the Russian economy to get out of the quagmire. ■MIKHAIL BOLOTIN SPECIAL TO RBTH
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Opinion P4 // rbth.com // December 16, 2015
THE DIFFERING PRIORITIES OF KEY SYRIA PLAYERS CREATE DEADLOCK
THE POLLS What do Russians think about military operations in Syria? The Levada Center asked 1,600 people from 48 regions between Nov. 20-23 why they think Russia is performing airstrikes in Syria.
FYODOR LUKYANOV SPECIAL TO RBTH
Moscow’s motives Russia’s motivation for its involvement in Syria has many layers. The main motive, of course, is the threat of the unchecked spread of terrorism. Another layer has to do with relations with the incumbent Syrian authorities, some of Russia’s longstanding partners. Al-Assad’s fall would be seen by all as a major setback for Moscow. There were some more instrumental motives at play as well. For instance, Russia’s desire to expand the field of conversation with the West, which for the past two years was all but limited to the topic of Ukraine and the Minsk process. At the same time, Russia’s actions in Syria should be viewed in a more global context too. Moscow made a claim to the right – which in the previous 25 years (since operation Desert Storm) exclusively belonged to the U.S. – to use force to restore international order, i.e. the function of a “world policeman.” Russia has entered a sphere where issues of hierarchy are addressed.
Asked about their country’s intentions in Syria: 55 percent of respondents said airstrikes are aimed at ISIS/terrorists, 15 percent see actions in response to the plane crash in Egypt. Ten percent think Moscow is trying to gain more international respect, while 7 percent said to show military power. Only 5 percent said to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The majority of respondents held a negative attitude to possible ground operations in Syria.
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ussia’s decision to get involved in the Syrian civil war, and the subsequent terrorist attacks in Paris and Sinai, have considerably raised the stakes in that regional conflict. Already the international efforts in the fight against ISIS are involving new external (and not necessarily regional) actors. Just two weeks ago, the UK and Germany joined in. What to expect from the lineup of players? Is indeed an anti-terror coalition being formed? Hardly. The main obstacle is that the objectives and tasks of those who should take part in this coalition do not coincide. The situation is a paradoxical one. Despite the large differences in the approaches that the outside players (the U.S., France, Russia, the UK) have, they identify the main enemy similarly. It is ISIS, which – ideally – should be eliminated or at least stopped. To fulfill this task, active assistance from the regional players – those inside Syria and in the Middle East as a whole – is needed. In theory, it is they who should be carrying out the main military action. What makes this difficult is the varying set of priorities at play. Countries in this region are desperately trying to maintain control over internal situations and as a result, ISIS does not always seem like the most pressing threat. For Turkey, the main threat is the Kurdish issue, which the Turks perceive as far more dangerous than ISIS. Saudi Arabia’s main fear is that of an Iranian (Shi’i) expansion rather than threats posed by ISIS militants. Iran is engaged in a complex regional game, with ISIS being just one element in it. For Bashar al-Assad, the range of opponents is extremely extensive and includes far more entries than the radical Islamists. This state of affairs practically rules out a successful coalition and creates an unpleasant prospect for outside players. Everybody realizes and admits that ISIS cannot be defeated without a ground operation. The idea is that a ground operation should be conducted by Middle East players, all the more so since the countries of the region invariably condemn “colonialists” for any interference. However, if they do fight, they will be fighting not against terrorism but against each other, which cannot be allowed to happen. Therefore, there may be a need for a deeper military involvement on the part of Russia, the U.S., France and others. Yet, everybody knows the history of direct interventions in the Middle East.
CO N V E RT I N G M O N O LO G U E S I N TO D I A LO G U E
Russia has neither the desire nor the resources to wage a lengthy campaign. Moscow wants a political solution no less than other players do. Changing the rules of the game In a “unipolar world,” wars “for the sake of peace,” (those wars that are not aimed at achieving specific and clear goals of one’s own) are waged only by the U.S. with support of its allies. Moscow, having started the military operation in Syria, has changed the alignment of forces and prospects for resolving a major international conflict. This is a prerogative of the top military and political league, capable of setting an agenda. Another important thing is that the conflict in Syria is likely to end the era of a “humanitarian and ideological” approach to resolving local crises. Until recently, an important element of the discussion about sectarian conflicts consisted of accusations of crimes against one’s own people, ruthless suppression of protests, etc. A leader accused of such behavior was put in the category of rulers who had “lost their legitimacy,” which made any dialogue with them unnecessary and unacceptable. That is what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, and Bashar al-Assad was next on the list. However, now it seems that the humanitarian way is once again reverting to a realistic approach. Vienna trajectory One important new element in resolving the Syrian crisis are the talks in Vienna, which took place on Oct. 30 and Nov. 14. This is the second (after the Iran nuclear talks marathon) instance of open-ended negotiations, when the format of a settlement emerges in the course of discussion rather than being signed in advance, leaving the sides to debate ways of achieving it. Clearly there
is no guarantee of success, but conceptually it is a sounder path. Unfortunately, the acute Russian-Turkish conflict caused by the downing of the Russian warplane has become a serious blow to the tentative settlement process that was taking shape in Vienna. Russia has neither the desire nor the resources to wage a lengthy campaign in Syria. Moscow is interested in a political solution no less than the other players are. Now, however, a political solution should take into account a considerable Russian military presence in Syria. It is hard to imagine that the Kremlin will quickly give up the military infrastructure it created there, just like the U.S. did not immediately and fully withdraw from Afghanistan. Blade running Russia has a tricky balancing act to perform. First, it has to ensure its future geopolitical presence in Syria, irrespective of the configuration of the authorities there. Second, it must avoid doing any damage to its developing relations with Iran, a potential major regional partner. For Tehran, preserving the current regime in Syria is essential: It rightly believes that any change will become fatal for Iran’s dominance in Syria. The Syrian saga is perhaps the only topic that cements these relations; in all other respects, Tehran views Russia with doubt. Third, Russia must make sure not to turn into a power that is only serving Iran’s regional interests as, for example, the U.S. did, serving the interests of Saudi Arabia. However, the escalation of the past several weeks and the growing scale of events lead to an alarming conclusion. This is no longer just about Syria; this is about the future of the region as a whole, and Syrian settlement is impossible without a political shake-up of the Middle East. And that is a far larger task, which is fraught with far bigger risks. Having said that, these days Russia is clearly not afraid of risks. Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine and research professor at the Higher School of Economics University.
FOUR SCENARIOS FOR WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN RUSSIANTURKISH RELATIONS
fter Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree adopting economic sanctions against Turkey, the acute crisis in RussianTurkish relations incited by the Nov. 24 shoot-down of a Russian military aircraft has, by all accounts, turned into a protracted standoff. Additionally, Putin’s refusal to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Paris climate summit, like his previous avoidance of answering Erdogan’s telephone calls, bears witness to Moscow’s firm desire to extract more from the Turkish side than just apologies. In this type of situation, there are four possible scenarios:
Escalation This possibility cannot be excluded so long as the chance exists of future clashes between Russia and Turkey near the Syria-Turkey border zone. It may turn into a reality if Ankara continues supporting the Syrian Turkmens and Russia does not cease its strikes on the positions of the Turkmens and other Turkish allies among the Syrian opposition forces. Any incident could lead to unpredictable military consequences. Political reasons for escalation may be steps taken by either side that sharply alter the balance of mutual interests; for example, if the Bosporus (a strait that allows ships to travel from the Black Sea to the Aegean and beyond) is closed to Russian ships.
ALEXEY CHESNAKOV RUSSIA DIRECT
Freezing The two sides maintain their current positions, continuing with their sharp political rhetoric but holding themselves back from actions that could further exacerbate the situation. In particular, Russia suspends flights along the Turkish-Syrian border, and Ankara does not support the Turkmens while closing its border to prevent the entry of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) militants, weapons, ammunition and contraband. In diplomacy, this freezing is also expressed by not imposing further sanctions on each other. Warming Ankara and Moscow, through the mediation of a closely connected country (the attempts of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in such a role have been reported), agree on regular contact with a view to gradually restoring contacts at least at the level of military and diplomatic agencies. Some of the sanctions are gradually lift-
ed at the same time. For the realization of this scenario, the Turkish side must find a new language to replace the minimalistic “regrets” about what transpired. Restoration For this to happen, there needs to be a meeting at the highest level: Putin and Erdogan. After such a meeting, it is possible that Moscow will announce the repeal of the sanctions imposed earlier. The sides start to cooperate in Syria across a broad spectrum of military and political issues. There is one condition essential to such a scenario – a high level of trust between the sides, enforced by real mechanisms of cooperation between Russia and NATO. Future escalation is disadvantageous to both sides. For Russia, which is experiencing an economic crisis, events developing in this direction (sanctions plus military spending) can put an increased strain on the budget. Moscow must bear the costs alone, under the permanent threat of fresh clashes with foreign air forces. There will
be no coalition in Syria and NATO countries will be forced to support Turkey. For Ankara, escalation is also a dead end – the displeasure in Europe at its conduct will expand, and if the conflict with Russia worsens, the attitude toward Turkey could change. As an increasing number of refugees continue to arrive in Turkey and Europe, these countries cannot afford any further disruptions in their relationships. A warming of relations is not predicted for the near future. After the imposition of sanctions and dramatic announcements, any quick withdrawal would be perceived as a sign of weakness. The controversies between Moscow and Ankara are deep and fundamental, and they stem from differing perspectives on the nature of the Syrian conflict. Keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power is a priority for the Kremlin while his removal is a priority for Ankara. In view of this, complete restoration of relations is also unlikely at this point. On the other hand, it must be recognized that despite all of the tough rhetoric, there is nothing to be gained by severing the path to compromise. Sanctions against Turkey are still limited. In Syria, it will be necessary to come to an agreement about the demarcation of flight paths. For Moscow, there is no sense in fighting a war on two fronts – an open one against ISIS and another one against Turkey – a hybrid, indirect one. It is exactly the same for Erdogan, who cannot simply retreat. Thus, as of today, the most realistic scenario is that the conflict will enter into the frozen phase. Alexey Chesnakov is a Russian political scientist and director of the Center for Current Politics. Chesnakov served as Deputy Head of Internal Policy for the Administration of the Russian Federation (2001–2008). Read the full version at russia-direct.org
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Culture rbth.com // December 16, 2015 // P5
Tracing Russia’s influence on music and art
Lost in Sorokin’s retro-future blizzard
Library of Congress showcases Russian impact on 20th century American arts and culture
It began with Billington and Rostropovich The creation of the exhibit can be posthumously credited to Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), a famous Russian cellist and conductor and fighter for human rights who lived in America from 1974 until the Soviet Union collapsed. He was the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C. from 1977-1994. In 1997, Dr. James Billington – the Librarian of Congress from 1987 to 2015 – interviewed Rostropovich for “The Face of Russia” TV mini-series. Some of this footage is included in the exhibit: Rostropovich conducting the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap (1985) performing Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. Billington, who served as the 13th Librarian of Congress for 28 years, was a professor of Russian history at Harvard and enthusiastic about Russian culture, a trait he carried into his tenure at the Library of Congress. He knew that Rostropovich had wanted to make an exhibition that explored the interconnectedness of Russian and American music and dance, but it had not come to fruition. While working jointly on a separate event for Library of Congress in 2012, Maestro Valery Ger-
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TITLE: “THE BLIZZARD” AUTHOR: VLADIMIR SOROKIN PUBLISHER: FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX
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An audiovisual celebration of the connection between Russian and American dance is on display at the Mariinsky Theater II for the next year. The theater raised the curtain on the exhibit, titled “Russian Influences on Music and Dance in America,” Dec. 14 during the St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum in collaboration with the U.S. Library of Congress and D.C. based Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History at American University. The audiovisual exhibition includes 13 separate segments exploring three themes: Russian Dance in America, Russian Music Translated into American Popular Culture and Russian Music in America. Visitors can watch parts of Diaghilev and Balanchine ballets or Walt Disney’s animated jazz fantasy “Bumble Boogie,” based on the 19th-century composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebee.”. The exhibit uses clips from films, television programs, videos and recordings from the incomparable collections in the Library of Congress’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation.
WATCH THE VIDEO at rbth.com/549581 The cross-cultural exhibition will remain open for one year in Mariinsky Theater II.
EXHIBITS NOT TO MISS AT THE MARIINSKY THEATER
Apollon Musagète ballet – music by Igor Stravinsky, choreography by George Balanchine, was commissioned by the Library of Congress in the 1920s. Excerpts of the work, performed in 1966 by the New York City Ballet, are intermixed with clips of Stravinsky conducting a recording of the score, Balanchine discussing the score with Stravinsky and Balanchine rehearsing the ballet with dancers. The clips are shown along with a holograph of Stravinsky’s manuscript score from the Library of Congress Music Division collections.
“Bumble Boogie” (1948) – the jazz version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” as animated by Walt Disney studios for the film “Melody Time.” This orchestral interlude is a part of the fairytale opera “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” (1900), where a prince is instructed by a swan to turn himself into a bee in order to search for his father.
“Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)” is a song by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, from the musical “Lady in the Dark” (1941), as performed by Danny Kaye in a 1981 recreation. The lyrics feature the names of 49 Russian composers, strung together into a show-stopping, tongue-twisting song.
giev, Artistic Director of the Mariinsky Theater, Susan Carmel Lehrman, Founder and Advisory Committee Chair of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History and Dr. James Billington, engaged in an in-depth discussion of Rostropovich’s idea. The result is this exhibit. Finding a new, artistic home in the U.S. Forbidden to freely practice their art and music in Imperial Russia after the 1917 Revolution, many chose to bring their culture and talents to a place where they were not only accepted, but celebrated: America. The Music Division in the Library of Congress includes the personal papers of many émigrés from the Russian Empire, including Sergei Rachmaninoff, pianist Artur Rubinstein and the great musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky, whose “Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Practices” influenced groundbreaking American jazz and rock composers such as John Coltrane and Frank Zappa. The Library’s music collections include manuscripts and papers from popular songwriters such as Irving Berlin (born in 1888 in the Siberian city of Tyumen), whose collection at the Library totals 750,000 items, and Vernon Duke (original name Vladimir Dukelsky), composer of classic American tunes such as “Autumn in New York,” “I Can’t Get Started” and “April in Paris.” “I am honored to play a role in showcasing this remarkable exhibit to the visitors of this Cultural Forum in St. Petersburg,” Susan Carmel Lehrman told RBTH. “I believe this exhibit will serve as an important reminder to its audiences of the deep cultural bonds that the United States and Russia have shared and continue to enjoy in every area of the performing arts.” ■IRINA KRUZHILINA SPECIAL TO RBTH
ladimir Sorokin’s mysterious 2010 novella, “The Blizzard,” shares its premise with Tolstoy’s short story of the same name: A man rides on a sledge through a plotless snowstorm with a fatalistic driver. They lose their way, tire out the horses and get sidetracked by stream-of-consciousness reminiscences. The classic scene is overlaid by Sorokin’s characteristically disturbing, dystopian vision. His protagonist, Doctor Garin, is carrying two bags of vital vaccines to a village infected by a mysterious epidemic, which turns its victims into zombies. In this atmospheric and perplexing work, made available Dec. 1 in Jamey Gambrell’s English translation, Vladimir Sorokin has pulled off another unlikely feat of genre fusion. The brutal 2006 fable, “Day of the Oprichnik,” combined medieval legend with sci-fi to powerful satirical effect. In “The Blizzard,” Sorokin hijacks tropes from 19th-century Russian literature and grafts on elements from fairy tales and horror films, Tolkeinesque adventure and Swiftian fantasy. There are ceramic stoves and patchwork quilts, shot glasses and sour cabbage. Into this familiar setting, Sorokin inserts his own brands of alternative technology:
The distinctly Russian retro-future to which his characters are condemned contains genetically modified creatures, holographic radios and high-tech hallucinogens; but his protagonists are forever in danger of freezing to death. The disease that Garin is hurrying to prevent is later identified as the Bolivian Black. It is left to the reader to surmise whether this rumored, zombifying illness represents contemporary propaganda, global apathy, drug addiction, all of these or more. The hint of movie-macabre stops short of full-blown apocalypse: The doomed sled never reaches the infected village. The meandering journey, powered by bird-sized horses, seems to echo Gogol’s famous question: “Russia, winged troika, whither do you fly?” From buttock-clenching sex with the miller’s wife to a giant, ithyphallic snowman, here are details that will please Sorokin’s fans. “The Blizzard” is an outwardly gentler novel than “Day of the Oprichnik,” but – at its heart – is a chilling vision of Russia’s fatally erratic journey. The anger of the earlier novel has frozen into numbness, the despair of the homeless alcoholic lying down in a snowdrift with a lethal bottle of vodka.
READ THE FULL TEXT at rbth.com/546737
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This New Year, raise a glass to Ryazanov Eldar Ryazanov’s films defined the way Russians celebrate their most important winter holiday
Legendary Soviet and Russian film director Eldar Ryazanov passed away in Moscow in the early hours of Nov. 30 at the age of 88. The leadup to the New Year on Russian TV is unthinkable without his films “ The Carnival Night” and “The Irony of Fate.” “Ryazanov’s films offer the best insight into typical hopes and fears of typical people during the late Soviet period,” David MacFayden told RBTH. MacFayden is the author of “The Sad Comedy of Èl’dar Riazanov: An Introduction to Russia’s Most Popular Filmmaker” and a professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. “In the West we tend to view the Soviet period as a binary struggle between the State and ‘underground’ or subversive activity, but 99 percent of the population did not care about politics,” MacFayden said. “They just wanted to live normal lives and enjoy kind friends or helpful neighbors; that search for peace, quiet and love was the primary topic of Ryazanov’s films.” MacFayden pointed to parallels between Ryazanov and Hollywood. “Because Russians use the phrase ‘sad comedy,’ the most useful parallel might be with Woody Allen, especially ‘Annie Hall,’” MacFayden said. “That’s a similar tale about two people and their difficulty finding romance. So, though Ryazanov’s career was built in a very politicized system, his filmography is dedicated to people trying to live despite ideology.” Eldar Ryazanov’s filmography includes 28 feature films, 12 documentaries, 22 film scripts and numerous TV series about world cinema. Here are two New Year highlights.
A romantic comedy set on New Year’s Eve “The Irony of Fate” was first broadcasted on Jan. 1, 1976, and watched by 100 million viewers. “The Carnival Night” (1956) The highest-grossing Soviet film of the year, Ryazanov’s first feature film developed a cult following in Russia. The film follows the director of a Culture Center, who has only a vague idea of art who passes on his subodinates’ proposed New Year program and proceeds on the belief
that the New Year holiday is a serious matter. He invites an astronomer to give a lecture on whether there is life on Mars and minimizes entertaining elements. The audience watches the characters using every trick in the book to stay in the director’s good graces without spoiling the party. Many lines from this audacious mu-
sical comedy, which hit the screens three years after Stalin’s death, have become catchphrases and entered the folklore. But the film reached cult status mainly for portraying the triumph of common sense and uninhibited merrymaking, rather than the usual love and goodness. “The Irony of Fate” (1975) A romantic comedy set on New Year’s Eve, the film takes an ironic look at love, the shortcomings of residential construction in the Soviet Union, and how New Year’s overindulgence can change the course of people’s lives. After going to a boozy party and getting put on a plane by his friends, a Moscow man staggers off the plane, into a taxi, and back to his flat. Little does he know he is actually in Leningrad (today St. Petersburg), whose streets and blocks of flats are named and built identically to Moscow’s, all the way down to identical keys. Hostility between the man and the girl who lives in the flat becomes love. The girl abandons her fiance, and the Moscow visitor forgets about his bride waiting back home. If there has to be just one New Year comedy, then “The Irony Of Fate” is it. Together with Olivier (Russian potato salad) and mandarins, it is one of the three main features of the New Year celebration in Russia. The popularity of the film hasn’t faded, even after a remake by Timur Bekmambetov was released in 2007. ■VLADIMIR ERKOVICH, ELENA BOBROVA RBTH
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LAKE BAIKAL IN WINTER: An ice-cold trip to the legendary Siberian lake
Feature P6 // rbth.com // December 16, 2015
Balalaika ensemble enchants D.C.
WATCH THE VIDEO at rbth.com/549711
The largest Russian folk instrument orchestra hestra outside the former Soviet Union is based D.C., d in D.C C., and has performed for more than 25 years rs
LISTEN LI L IST STEN TEN EN T TO O MUSIC PODCA PODCAST a bth.com/multimedia/ co att rb rbth.com/multimedia/balalike_it
The group now has a membership of 55 volunteer musicians from 12 to 92 years old.
Origins of the balalaika SHUTTERSTOCK/LEGION-MEDIA
The sound of the balalaika is evocative, mysterious and deeply expressive of Russia’s vast cultural history. Originally a peasant’s instrument, the balalaika transcended its roots to become the iconic star of the Russian stage. In 1988, the Washington Balalaika Society was founded to bring traditional Russian music to the greater Washington D.C. area. It is one of the most active balalaika ensembles worldwide, and has shared Russian culture through music for more than 25 years. Assistant Conductor Maxwell McCullough, 78, started the ensemble with his wife and a close friend to bring the lyrical sound of the triangular, three-stringed balalaika to American audiences. When McCullough moved from Houston, where he had played with the Houston Balalaika Society, he was surprised that there was no Russian folk orchestra in D.C. He soon found a dozen people who played the balalaika or the domra – an instrument from the Caucasus resembling a lyre – in local ensembles. “We started a series of weekly ‘jam sessions’ in the basement of our house,” said McCullough. “After four months of practice we performed in the lobby of the Kennedy Center, and the exposure allowed us to perform elsewhere.” The group continued to expand over the years, growing to its current membership of 55 volunteer musicians 12 to 92 years old. Most of the musicians are Americans, and all have an interesting story to tell about discovering Russian music. Musician and retired teacher Janet Bohm bought a balalaika when she visited Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the 1960s, but struggled to find a teacher until she discovered the Washington Balalaika Society (WBS) in 1993. “The music is incomparable,” said Bohm. “It has soul and spirit not found anywhere else. Working with Russian musicians differs from working with Americans: I see the desire to bring understanding and perfection to every note and musical phrase.” The WBS has performed nationally and internationally and produced seven CDs. The group performed at Carnegie Hall in celebration of the 750th anniversary of the founding of Moscow in 1998, and has gone on five musical tours of Russia and Ukraine. “As far as we are aware,” said McCullough, “we are the largest Russian folk instrument orchestra outside the former U.S.S.R., with more than 15 concerts a year.” One retired professional musician in the WBS said that Conductor Svetlana Nikonova holds him “to the highest standards I have ever been asked to reach. This gives us all a challenge and a sense of satisfaction when we can say that each performance is better than the last.” Nikonova is currently in her thirteenth season with the with the orches-
This three-stringed musical instrument has a triangular body and a long past. The first known document mentioning the instrument dates back to 1688, which mentions that a citizen and peasant were drunk and playing the balalaika near the Yayza gates in Moscow. The balalaika was popular as a village instrument for centuries, particularly with herds-
men and traveling musical jesters. The exact origins of the balalaika are unknown; however, it is commonly agreed that it descended from the dombra, an instrument from Asia. In the 1880s, Vasily Andreyev, then a professional violinist in the music salons of St. Petersburg, developed what became the standardized balalaika.
tra. Born in St. Petersburg, she studied at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory before coming to the U.S. Her thoughtful, intelligent direction creates a meaningful experience for the audience. The WBS blends familiar and new music to educate Americans about Russian culture. “Nineteenth-century Russian music was very inspired by Russian culture and history,” McCullough said. “It brings with it the opportunity for American audiences to appreciate and understand Russian history, its successes and sorrows, and the sheer breadth of the Russian experience.” McCullough also uses breaks between songs to weave in stories providing a deeper understanding of the performance. “Don’t Sing Those Songs” (“Ne poi krasavitsa”) combines the talents of two of Russia’s greatest artists, Rachmaninoff and lyrics by Alexander Pushkin: “Alas, your cruel melodies bring back memories of the steppe, the moonlight and the face of a poor, far away maiden,” sang soprano Olga Orlovskaya, accompanied by the orchestra’s 228 strings in their most recent performance. “Hearing you sing, I imagine it all again before me.” Each performance features renowned guest vocalists and balalaika, domra and bayan artists. The group performs to audiences of hundreds, equal parts Russian and American, and the performers wear traditional costumes. The ensemble held its most recent concerts Nov. 21 and 22, performing selections from “The Snowstorm” by Georgii Sviridov and five pieces from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” While few Americans are familiar with “The Snowstorm,” everyone recognized “I Could Have Danced” from “My Fair Lady” and pieces from “The Nutcracker.” The WBS looks forward to its 2016 season. “It has been our pleasure to work with some of Russia’s greatest artists, and most gratifying to me is the reinforcement of my strong belief that art and culture transcend politics,” said McCullough. Another musician added: “This group has a feel of family and genuine caring. I am thankful to everyone for adding so much richness to my life, even more than I could have believed it to be when I first started playing with them.” ■CATHERINE TRAINOR SPECIAL TO RBTH
THE SOVIET COOKBOOK
Zalivnoye: One more piece in the puzzle of Soviet cooking Despite the fact that I was born in the Soviet Union, spent the first five years of my life as a Soviet citizen, have asked my mom and Granny plenty of questions about life in the Soviet era and have read a great deal about, the U.S.S.R. is still largely a mystery to me. The Soviet puzzle is made up of some elements I know and understand and some I know of but just don’t understand. Part of the puzzle are zalivnoye meals, which just escape me. Zalivnoye is a way of preparing a meal: first the fish or meat is boiled (tongue was very popular), then the broth is filtered with gelatin added, and that liquid is poured over the meal, where it sets and gets all wobbly. Granny says zalivnoye was on every festive table – be it a wedding, funeral, wake or birthday party. “Zalivnoye” is even its own category in the recipe index of the Book. “Your zalivnaya fish is disgusting” is one of the most famous lines in Soviet cinema, and I couldn’t agree more. But if the dish made an appearance in the all-time favorite Soviet holiday movie “The Irony of Fate” and had a place on every Soviet table, I had to try to understand it. As well-loved and (relatively) available as fish was in the cities, it was almost never eaten in the villages of central Russia, according to Granny’s friend, but rural Russians loved zalivnoye nevertheless:
“For big holidays, families would kill a pig and roast it over hay with everyone watching. Then the head and feet were used to make zalivnoye – it was served as the first course with radish spread over it and soaked in kvass.” They used to make zalivnoye with cow tails and cow feet as well as the pig’s head and feet. “We wanted to get the same effect that gelatin gives, and while we didn’t always have gelatin, we’d get it from parts of the meat.” I wondered if using all parts of the meat came from need, and Granny said, “No! Zalivnoye was a festive meal! Although… yes, we did use all those parts, like cow udder, because we wanted to use everything up. I love it though, and would eat it today, too!” Granny had some mercy on me though and allowed us to roast the fish and then cover it not with cow tail, but agar-based gelatin. This way I could eat and even enjoy it, and we rewatched the famous Eldar Ryazanov’s movie looking for the fish quote. I think I got a little bit closer to solving that puzzle. One dubious meat part at a time, I might get there one day.
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Ingredients for zalivnoye fish: 1 kg fish; 10-12 g gelatin; assorted chopped root vegetables; 1 chopped onion; 1-2 bay leaves; Salt to taste Instructions: Jellied dishes can be prepared from fish, meat or vegetables. For fish, pike is especially recommended. Filling can also be made from minced fish and meat: pike, fowl or liverwurst. These products are cut into thin pieces and decorated with slices of egg, lemon, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples and green leaves. For the preparation of jellied dishes from vegetables, use carrots, turnips, cauliflower, asparagus and peas. Make the broth for the zalivnoye from the fish, meat or vegetables that will be in the final dish. The amount of gelatin to make the jelly depends on the strength of the broth. For example, for a broth made from perch stewed with the head and the skin, it
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is sufficient to add 1-2 grams of gelatin per 1 cup. But for the same amount of chicken broth, add 4-5 grams. For vegetable broth, add 6-7 grams of gelatin per 1 cup. When the broth is ready, boil it for 3-5 minutes, add the gelatin and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved. To get a clear jelly, you need to add 1 beaten egg white combined with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice for every 4-5 cups broth. After the gelatin is completely dissolved, filter the broth through a cloth filter. Let cool slightly, add the prepared foods (fish, meat or vegetables). 1. Skin and chop the fish. Put the fish bones, the head without the gills, root vegetables, chopped onion, salt and 1-2 bay leaves in a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. After 15-20 minutes, add the pieces of fish. When the pieces of fish are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon. Put on a dish in the shape of a whole fish, with small gaps in between the pieces. 2. Strain the broth from the saucepan. Add gelatin to it. Boil and strain through a cloth. 3. Put the vegetables on the plate with the fish. Pour the gelatin over the plate. Keep the dish in a cool place until the jelly solidifies. Serve the zalivnoye with red cabbage, potato salad, cucumbers and salt and mayonnaise sauce.
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