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International All you need to know about the Kremlin's foreign policy in 2015

Travel Packing tips for tourists who want to enjoy winter in Russia

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Tourism Seeing the launch of a manned spacecraft is one of the most popular programmes in Earth-based space tourism

Tourists to get official access to Russian space launches

© ALEXEY FILIPPOV / RIA NOVOSTI

Trips to see the launch of Russian spacecraft are to be made legal for tourists. Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, is choosing operators who will be licensed to organise tours to the Baikonur cosmodrome. MARIA TIMASHOVA SPECIAL TO RBTH

Those who have ever dreamed of watching a Russian rocket take off for outer space in person now have the chance to make that dream a reality – provided they have the cash. Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos is poised to announce the winners of a competition it has organised for tour operators interested in arranging official trips to the Baikonur Cosmodrome to see space launches. Over 40 companies participated in the competition and the winners, who will receive a licence

from the space agency, will be announced in December 2015. According to the Roscosmos press service, the selection of operators will make it easier for them to bring official tourism to the cosmodrome and for the space agency to supervise the process. Baikonur, located in the steppes of Kazakhstan, is the world’s first and busiest cosmodrome in terms of number of spacecraft launches. In 2014 it launched 21 spacecraft, while Cape Canaveral in the US launched 18. Baikonur is on lease to Russia until 2050. The Earth-based space tourism market in Russia is rather small, with only 10 or so companies currently taking people to Baikonur, according to the RBK business daily, which nonetheless estimates the total turnover at over $100 million a year. And most of these companies, which are not officially ac-

credited, do business thanks to personal connections. "For starters, you need to have contacts within Roscosmos. Then you can make agreements with Baikonur directly," said Tatyana Avgustinovich, project manager at the Spaceport Travel Agency (STA).

The selection of tour operators will make it easier for Roscosmos to bring official tourism to the cosmodrome. Foreign companies also sell tours to Baikonur, however, these companies do not act as operators. Although Roscosmos will issue licences to the newly selected operators, its income – which comes from the state budget – will not change. According to the space agency's press service, its income

depends on the number of spacecraft launched, not on the number of tours sold.

Visiting Baikonur today Seeing the launch of a manned spacecraft is one of the most popular programmes in Earth-based space tourism. Spaceships with cosmonauts aboard are launched from Baikonur four times a year. There are also launches of cargo spacecraft, which are more frequent, but they go into space without pilots and are therefore less popular among tourists, according to Avgustinovich. "The amount varies depending on the hotel price and there is always a risk that during launch periods prices can increase," he said. During their visit to the spaceport, tourist groups are accompanied by Roscosmos chairman Igor Komarov. According to Kseniya

Nikitonova fromVezhitel Tour, the visitors receiveVIP passes and basically come to the launch pad as members of the delegation. These unofficial tours are popular all over the world: Nikitonova lists tourists from the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, India and Australia among those who visit Baikonur. STA has also noticed that tourists from China have also become very interested in the launches.

‘I'll remember this experience for a long time’ Thirty-five-year-old Anne-Marie Corley from Dallas, Texas, who visited Baikonur in 2011 on a US Fulbright Scholarship, describes the rocket launch as "amazing." "We got to be so close to the rocket, and then to walk up to the launch pad afterwards... it was truly incredible to see such a mas-

sive rocket take off. It was a night launch, so that was also beautiful to see against the dark sky," said Corley, whose programme included not only the rocket launch but also getting acquainted with local traditions, camel rides and a visit to the Baikonur landmarks. "I enjoyed the town of Baikonur and swimming in the pool where cosmonauts used to recover before they started going directly back to Star City, and seeing the launch pads where [Soviet space shuttle] Buran took off and where [first woman in space]Valentina Tereshkova was launched," she said. Corley was also able to see Gagarin's gazebo and other places associated with the legendary cosmonaut in what she called "the heart of Russian spaceflight history." “I'll remember this experience for a long time,” she said.

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Politics

GULF NEWS_MONDAY_DECEMBER_21_2015

International A year of war and peace

Key Russian foreign policy events in 2015

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The Russian air campaign in Syria may be a game-changer for the region as a whole.

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Minsk-2

An overview of the five most important Russian foreign policy decisions of 2015, which will have a significant impact on Russia’s policy agenda in 2016.

Against the backdrop of the Syrian crisis, the problems in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine have receded into the background. However, the Ukrainian crisis remained the main item on Russia’s foreign policy agenda for most of 2015. The situation in the Donbass will not lose its relevance in 2016, despite the current lull. The settlement of the crisis in the Donbass was pursued under the “need to observe the Minsk-2 Agreements.”After hours of marathon negotiations, leaders of Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine agreed in Minsk on Feb. 12, 2015 on some basic steps that would lead to a ceasefire and start the peace process in the Donbass. In spite of the Minsk-2 Agreements, fighting, shooting, though with lower intensity, continued until the end of this summer. Genuine calm in the Donbass occurred only in September. According to analysts, the ceasefire came about after the US finally agreed to support the Minsk process, and the subsequent pressure put on Kiev by the West.“Russia was able to convince the Western powers that Moscow’s position was aimed at minimising the conflict, while Ukraine’s position was seeking to maximise the headache

ALEXEI TIMOFEICHEV RBTH

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the main target for the Kremlin's criticism, which declared him an ally of Daesh.

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The ceasefire in Ukraine brought hope for the return of normal life.

Turkey came to the forefront of a resolution to the Syrian issue after it shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber near the Syrian-Turkish border on Nov. 24. After this incident, relations between the two countries have severely deteriorated. The mass media started talking about prospects of an armed conflict between Russia and Turkey, a member of NATO, and, by extension, the bloc as a whole. Moscow chose not to respond militari ly a n d , i n s t e a d , i m p o s e d economic sanctions against Ankara. Russia’s tough reaction stemmed from the fact that Moscow understood Turkey’s action as a planned political provocation. According to politcal analyst Andrei Kortunov, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s order to shoot down the Su-24 was designed to make clear Ankara’s dissatisfaction with the actions Moscow was taking in neighbouring Syria. He notes that Turkey has been talking for a while about the creation of a no-fly zone over a territory inhabited by Turkish-speaking Syrians – the Turkomans. This is a strip of land adjacent to the Turkish-Syrian border. Erdogan is trying to position himself as the protector of Turkomans. By shooting down the

Russian plane, the Turkish leadership made it clear that these people, regardless of whether they are supporters of the Assad regime or its radical opponents, fall under the protection of Turkey, said Kortunov. Analysts believe that Turkey could not have imagined such a sharp reaction from Russia. The Turks “did not expect that Russia would respond with stopping cooperation over such a wide spectrum of economic spheres,” said Suponina. The incident destroyed decades of hard work on building relations between Moscow and Ankara, and restoring these“will not take weeks or months, but many years,” said Suponina. For both Moscow and Ankara it will now be difficult to retreat, said Kortunov. “Maybe relations will become more relaxed, but they will never be restored to the same format as they were before this incident,” she said. In addition to the Russian-Turkish relations, another victim of this conflict between Ankara and Moscow, according to the analysts, is the effort taken to create a real international coalition against Daesh. However, they stress, the creation of such a coalition was difficult either way, given the various views among the major players in West Asia.

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Agreement on Iran

The agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme, reached in midJuly, was not unexpected. Many fundamental agreements between the “P5+1” negotiators (five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran were hammered out in April. In July, negotiators reached a final and mutually acceptable compromise. The agreement between the P5+1 and Iran involves the gradual removal of the sanctions imposed against Iran in exchange for imposition of severe restrictions on the development of Iran’s nuclear programme, which the West believed was aimed at the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The role that Russia played in reaching this agreement surprised leaders in Western capitals.“They were surprised how Putin and the Russian government were able to split the two main issues; Iran and Ukraine. We would have never reached this agreement, if not for

Russia’s readiness to work together with us and other members of the P5+1 in order to achieve a good settlement,” said US President Barack Obama. Some observers wondered why Russia was supporting this deal; since after lifting sanctions on Iran, crude oil from that country would enter the world market, inevitably leading to lower prices for the commodity, which is an important Russian export. According to Moscow, the benefits of this agreement for Russia outweigh the possible disadvantages. According to Pyotr Topychkanov, member of the Non-proliferation Issues Programme at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, the lifting of sanctions on Tehran will be of great benefit to Russia, primarily in the sphere of military-technical cooperation (MTC), and in the sphere of peaceful use of nuclear technology. As analysts note, the potential defence contracts alone are estimated to be worth between $20 and $70 billion. Analysts stress that Iran is fundamentally important for Russia, in terms of forming multi-vector foreign and international economic policies. Tehran and Moscow are also tied via their active involvement in the Syrian crisis and support for President Assad. The removal of sanctions will add legitimacy to Iran in the region and in the international arena as well, said Anatoly Kortunov.

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SCO and BRICS Summits

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The downing of the Su-24

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The Iran nuclear deal proved Russia and the West can still cooperate.

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Russia's launch of operations against radicals in Syria at the end of September caught most local and international observers by surprise. Most analysts are still not agreed on the reasons that led to this decision. Moscow’s action could have been based on a number of factors, or a combination of these: - The failure of coalition forces led by the United States to curb Daesh; - An attempt to provide an impetus to political dialogue on Syria; - Fear that Russia’s failure to act quickly could lead to the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria, based on the Libyan example. Some observers believed the decision to send Russian forces into Syria was because of the sticky situation in which the Syrian government army found itself. “If it were not for the Russian military campaign, then the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria would have fallen before the new year. It is clear that Assad was under great pressure,” said political analyst Dmitry Yevstafiev. Now this developing situation has been reversed. The military initiative has moved in favour of the Syrian regime, with Assad and his allies making significant progress. Assad has now been able to consolidate and gain control over the territories under his control, and the military units located there. Analysts agree that the current phase of the military campaign, by the Russian forces in Syria, will continue until January in approximately the same format, with a possibility of a slight increase of the Russian military presence. This may be due to weather conditions; the beginning of the sandstorm season is likely to hamper aviation. This period could be used to activate the political settlement process, said Anatoly Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). Much will depend on the political positions of regional players; the Gulf States, Iran, and Turkey; and whether they will compromise on the issue of Syria’s political future.

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Start of the military campaign in Syria

for the US and the EU,” Iosif Diskin, analyst and member of the Russian Public Chamber said. A major test to determine compliance of the parties to comply with the Minsk Agreements will be the forthcoming local elections in the Donbass in February 2016.

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Iran is a fundamentally important part of Russia's foreign policy.

The BRICS and SCO Summits were held in July 2015 at Ufa, Russia. At the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) meeting, steps were taken to transform the association into a full-fledged organisation. A major outcome of the summit was the launch of financial mechanisms like the New Development Bank (NDB) and the pool of contingent reserves. For Moscow, this is of particular importance, given the fact that Western sanctions have largely cut Russia off from global capital markets. The NDB, with a capital of $100 billion, will start financing projects from 2016. This year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit (comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan) brought in a qualitative change in the association, said Topychkanov, approving the memberships of India and Pakistan to the SCO. According to Alexander Lukin at the Centre for East Asian and SCO Studies of MGIMO, this makes the SCO an even more powerful global player.


RUSSIA BEYOND THE HEADLINES www.rbth.com

Economy

GULF NEWS_MONDAY_DECEMBER_21_2015

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Economy Russia is searching for new horizons of development as its recession bottoms out

After a rough year, fresh hopes for renewed economic growth in 2016 Amid recession and sanctions, Russia’s economy had more than its share of adversity this year. Yet signs have emerged the downturn may finally be ending. ALEXEI SERGEYEV

essentially flat in 2016 if oil prices stay roughly where they currently are, at around $55. Russia’s economy may expand by 0.3 per cent next year and by 1.8 per cent in 2017 if oil averages $65 per barrel.

RBTH

A cheaper ruble: harbinger of growth? The Russian Central Bank’s decision to let the ruble lose almost half of its value against the dollar over the past year had a profound impact on the Russian economy, with implications that rippled through many sectors.

Production costs have fallen by almost 50 per cent inside Russia, helping the producers lower wholesale prices On the positive side, one key result has been to provide a boost to Russian exporters, slashing prices for Russian products and allowing them to compete favourably with foreign offerings. Indeed, production costs have fallen by almost 50 per cent inside Russia, helping producers aggressively lower wholesale prices. One example: the cheaper ruble has created a boom in agricultural exports to China. Russian sales of foodstuffs to China rose 33 per cent in the second quarter of the year in terms of value. Overall, however, trade between Russia and China is still lower this year than in 2014, primarily due to the depressed value of Russia’s energy exports. Russian agriculture also got some backhanded assistance from the country’s sanctions war with Europe. Having blocked European food imports over the political standoff with Ukraine, Russian farmers are now being tapped to fill the breach. Meanwhile, global car producers scrambled their plans for Rus-

ALYONA REPKINA

After a punishing year in which plummeting energy prices kicked off a grinding recession, signs finally began to emerge late in 2015 that the worst may be over for the long-suffering Russian economy. Economic activity declined by 4.1 per cent during the third quarter compared to the same period a year earlier, according to Russian government statistics. While still brutal, the decrease was smaller than analysts had expected, and less than the 4.6 per cent contraction of the previous quarter. Indeed, the data showed a 0.3 per cent month-on-month increase in economic activity since August. Meanwhile, industrial production declined in September at 3.7 per cent, the slowest rate since March, and capital investment fell more slowly in September than in August. “It now appears that Russia’s recession may have bottomed”during the second quarter, analysts at Moscow’s UralSib investment house wrote in a note to investors. “Nonetheless,” the analysts wrote, “the recovery is fragile.” To be sure, Russia is set to see its first annual economic contraction this year since 2009, in a decrease the World Bank estimates will be 3.8 per cent for the year. For Russia, whether growth will resume in 2016 depends largely on the price of crude oil, the country’s key export. Russia was hammered when oil collapsed by 60 per cent from June 2014 to January 2015, causing its national currency, the ruble, to enter a tailspin as the Russian Central Bank abandoned its former policy of supporting the currency. According to an estimate by the American ratings agency S&P, Russian economic activity will be

The falling ruble has also taken some of the pain away for Russian oil companies, which sell crude onto international markets in dollars. The ruble has closely tracked the decline of oil, meaning oil exporters have had significant support to their profits when calculated in the domestic currency. Despite sanctions and recession, other sectors of Russia’s economy, such as healthcare, have also managed to attract foreign investment. Before the end of 2015 Merck, the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant, plans to open a production facility in Russia to produce medicine for treating dia-

sia as domestic demand fell, reworking their strategies towards exporting cars made in Russia to take advantage of the weaker currency. The Reuters news agency reported in September thatVolkswagen, Ford, Nissan and Renault were all considering increasing exports from Russia, although final decisions have yet to be made. Nevertheless, German carmaker Volkswagen opened a 250-millioneuro engine manufacturing plant in Russia’s Kaluga Region in September with a capacity of 150,000 engines a year, while America’s Ford produced its first car with a Russia-made engine in October.

betes and heart ailments. Merck’s full production cycle is scheduled to commence in the second half of 2016, with plans to produce up to 1.5 billion tablets a year. “For us Russia is one of the key countries among the developing markets,” said Merck’s Executive Vice President Elcin Ergun. “We plan to strengthen our positions and create a long-term development strategy.”

Inflation concerns One major risk to the country’s recovery, however, is stubbornly persistent inflation, which has eaten away at average Russians’ spending power.

The Russian Central Bank held interest rates steady at 11 per cent on Oct. 30, citing concerns over double-digit inflation, which hung at 15.6 per cent as of mid-October. “We believe that inflation will decelerate more steeply into the year end, and expect it to reach 12.5 per cent by the end of the year,”UralSib analyst Olga Sterina wrote in November. Getting control of inflation would allow the Russian regulator to cut interest rates to spur the economy and promote lending. Sterina said she expected the bank to cut the interest rate by half a percentage point in midDecember.

Tourism UAE nationals and residents willing to discover Russia will now get assistance at the official information office in Dubai

It's time to Visit Russia NATALIA REMMER BUSINESS EMIRATES, SCECIAL TO RBTH

Russia’s national tourism agency Rosturism hopes that the Visit Russia office in Dubai will be of use not only for UAE residents but also for tourists from neighbouring countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Iran) as well as for local expats.“We mainly work in the B2B format, but if an individual tourist turns to us, we

shall provide them with all the necessary information and assist them with getting a visa via the consulate,” said the head of the Visit Russia office in Dubai, Marina Morozova. She explained that UAE residents can get a Russian visa in a matter of five to seven days, provided all their documents are in order. The visa costs about Dh350, or under $100. The application does not have to be filed in person: it can be sent by courier or via a tourist agency. Getting from the UAE to Russia has also become easier: there are daily flights to Moscow and St. Petersburg operated by Aero-

flot, Emirates and Etihad Airways, while the local carrier Flydubai has launched flights to 10 large regional centres. Ahead of its launch in the Middle East, Russia has rolled out a Halal Friendly hospitality programme whereby hotels are certified for a special halal standard, and tours devoted to Russia’s Muslim heritage are provided. It is expected that one of the main destinations for Middle East tourists will be the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia’s biggest Muslim region. “The capital of Tatarstan, Kazan, will forever remain in my heart. I’ll make sure to go back there with my children

Russia has rolled out a Halal Friendly hospitality program whereby hotels are certified for a special halal standard. SERGEY KARPOV / TASS

A regional tourist office called Visit Russia has opened in Dubai this month. It will become the first port of call for tourists from UAE and neighbouring countries who want to discover Russia.

when they are old enough," said TV presenter and UAE culture ambassador Ali Al Salum. "Respect for religion and attitudes to Muslims there are better than in many countries of the world.” Rosturism also hopes to interest Arab travellers with extreme

Travelling to Russia is now easier for UAE nationals and residents.

ENGAGING THE WEST

GLOBALLY SPEAKING GOING EASTWARD

Russian Winter tours. Incidentally, journalists from the Emirates have already visited St. Petersburg in winter, while His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah

Read, Watch and Listen to RBTH’s weekly analytical program, featuring three of the most recent high-profile developments in international affairs.

Emirate, has paid a visit to the Yamal peninsula in northern Russia, where he attended a reindeer racing event, a traditional sport for the indigenous people of Russia’s North. “There are things that we can be proud of and are ready to offer to even the most exacting tourist. These include sightseeing tours of old Russian towns, skiing in Sochi, or getting to know the natural beauty of Kamchatka or the Arctic,” said Marina Morozova of Visit Russia. It is also worth pointing out that the exchange rate makes tourism and shopping in Russia very attractive indeed — you can now enjoy a stay in a five-star hotel in Moscow or St. Petersburg and go on a shopping spree at leading designer outlets at very reasonable prices.

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Science&Technology

GULF NEWS_MONDAY_DECEMBER_21_2015

Technology A breakthrough by a Russian scientist has brought the production of new strengthened materials ever closer

DARYA KEZINA RBTH

During his speech at the UN Climate Conference in Paris on Nov. 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the introduction of new technologies for producing carbon nanotubes will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Russia by 160-180 million tonnes by 2030. Nanotubes improve the qualities of 70 per cent of materials known to mankind, that is, they augment their durability. This helps increase the lifetime of metals, rubber, construction and other materials by two or three times. And since things and mechanisms will last longer, this will significantly reduce energy spending on producing new materials, as well as the use of old energy (substantial amounts of energy are also spent on recycling waste, and burning waste results in a large quantity of greenhouse gas). "Nanotubes not only provide an indirect positive effect in electronics and industry that leads to the reduction of CO2 emissions," said Professor Albert Nasibulin at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, who is also a specialist on nanomaterials. "It would also be possible to directly convert CO2 into carbon nanotubes."

New materials made from CO2 A carbon nanotube is essentially convoluted graphene. It is one of those materials that, according to scientists, will change our life. Currently, nanotubes are used in airplane lining, microchips and thin displays. "The possibility of using them in new generation solar panels, as well as in devices for conserving energy, is actively being discussed," said Nasibulin. "Little additions of such material significantly help increase the

Carbon nanotubes improve the qualities of 70 per cent of materials known to mankind. resistance and durability of metallic and polymer composites." The new method of obtaining nanotubes from CO2 was suggested this year by scientists at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The essence of the technology consists in the fact that a high-temperature electrochemical reaction helps break CO2 down into carbon nanotubes and oxygen. Active research in the synthesis of nanotubes and their properties is being conducted throughout the world. In Russia the leaders in this field are the RAS Institute of Catalysis SB, the Kurchatov Institute, Kemerovo

Russian scientists are conducting large-scale research into the practical application of carbon.

State University, the Prometei Institute of Structural Materials, RUSNANONET of Tambov, St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology and others.

"Now there is the possibility to create materials of the future" — Kseniya Kulgayeva, OCSiAl

Revenue from the tube Today multilayered carbon nanotubes are manufactured by the American company CNano, France's Arkema, Japanese firm Showa Denko and Belgian company Nanocyl. But the production of single-layered carbon nanotubes, which are considered to have more quality and are therefore more expensive (their cost can reach up to $150,000 per kilogram), has until recently been carried out only in laboratories. Mikhail Predtechensky, an academician from Siberia, was the first in the world to identify the technology that would reduce the price of mass produced single-layered nanotubes by 50-100 times, to $3,000 per kilogram. Predtechensky co-founded the OCSiAl company, which in 2013 launched the world's largest industrial system for synthesising single-layered Graphetron 1.0 nanotubes.

GETTY IMAGES

Russian technology has made carbon nanotubes 50-100 times cheaper to produce, paving the way to the potential production of a range of "supermaterials" that could change the world.

© SERGEY PYATAKOV / RIA NOVOSTI

Siberian lab brings future of carbon nanotubes within reach

A carbon nanotube is essentially convoluted graphene.

What exactly is a carbon nanotube? Carbon nanotubes are basically graphene — the material from which a pencil lead is made, or the crystal form of carbon, rolled into a cylinder. This natural element changes the mechanical, chemical and other properties of metal. The diameter of a single-walled nanotube is about

1-1.5 nanometres (one billionth of a metre). Added in tiny concentrations (less than 1 per cent), to aluminium, for example, they produce a metal with the strength of titanium. Carbon nanotubes are made by evaporation and explosion, or by being “grown” in the laboratory.

In the near future the company plans on establishing in Novosibirsk a centre for prototyping technologies based on single-layered carbon nanotubes, to create rubber, composites, lithium-ion batteries and many other materials. "The mass use of nanotubes has the potential to change the face of civilisation. Now there is the possibility to create materials of the future, ones that are more effective and more ecological," said OCSiAl's marketing director Kseniya Kulgayeva. Producers from more than 30 countries buy the nanotubes made in Novosibirsk, including South Korea, Japan, the US, Germany and Israel. "The nanotubes' qualities are famous all over the world, yet many still perceive them as highly specialised additives. We are fighting this stereotype," explained Kulgaeva.

INTERVIEW SERGEI ANDREYEV

Russia’s ABBYY shows how to keep ahead of the IT competition Since its humble beginnings in a Moscow dorm room in the 1990s, ABBYY has grown to become one of the world’s leading developers of IT solutions. Today, ABBYY’s technologies are licensed by some of the world’s largest manufacturers, including Microsoft, Acer, Panasonic and Samsung. RBTH spoke with ABBYY’s CEO Sergei Andreyev about the challenges the company faces in the new economic reality. Which markets are you focusing on? Are you expanding in the United States? For us, all regions are important. The US market remains a priority because it is more developed in terms of technology. In the US competition in the technological sphere is very steep. It takes a lot of work to transfer knowledge. We are exporters, and almost 80 per cent of our profits come from abroad. We get about 20 per cent

CURRICULM VITAE

A graduate of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Andreyev joined ABBYY (formerly BIT Software) as commercial director in 1991. Since becoming ABBYY’s CEO in 1999, he has supervised all aspects of production, sales and marketing, research and development, support, finance, and public relations.

of our revenue from Russia and about 40 per cent from the United States. Europe accounts for 20 per cent, and another 20 per cent comes from a combination of Asia, Africa and South America. Interestingly, sales in developing countries are growing faster than in the developed nations. The decline of the ruble against the dollar is helping us develop new products and technologies. This is because we get higher profits from exports once we convert back into rubles. So this is a positive situation. Also, the main component of the cost structure for IT companies is the [ruble-based] cost of salaries of qualified specialists. How different are the products that you offer in different countries? Here the question really is, what kinds of projects arise around these products. In Russia solutions for document

and data input are in demand. They are used mostly by financial organisations, state-owned corporations, and energy companies. We also have a project that is aimed at processing the results of the EGE [a standardised university admission exam taken by all Russian students]. To complete this project on time, you must process millions of pages in a single month. And there can’t be any mistakes because a slipup could lead to a young person failing to get into university. In Asia, we find that projects are much simpler. For example, we do a population census, which has a more relaxed deadline. Which new technologies and projects do you consider most promising? We are actively moving into the market of projects related to computational linguistics, word processing and information extrac-

tion from large streams of unstructured text. For example, we’re helping Russian banks make quicker decisions about granting loans. We can automatically analyse the client’s credibility and determine how well data in a given real estate contract matches up with the market. We also work with computer vision, which is gradually transforming into completely new technologies. This can solve such tasks as software test automation for your computer. What projects are most in demand in the United States? We have a project in the oil and gas industry. In contrast to Russia, where the owner gets the rights to a piece of land and is free to do with it whatever he wants, in the United States rights are sold for different layers. Different people have different rights to the first, second, fourth, fifth layers, and so

on. If one of the owners wants to drill a hole in his layer, he must examine all claims and agreements. Previously, this was carried out by hand. But these agreements are, of course, text information, and you can automate the process. We also work with a company that is engaged in providing cloud services for accounting. Customers using the system feed it with a body of data, including the provisions of their agreements – payment schedules, the terms of contracts, and special conditions. We can structure this information and analyse it. We can notify you when you need to update the agreement, or of upcoming expiration dates. Now it is a pilot project. In the US, there are many companies in your field. What’s your advantage? It lies in our development of a universal system called ABBY Compreno, which helps the computer understand the content behind the text. Despite the fact that people speak different languages, they live in the same system of concepts. We are all very similar; we have the same conceptual framework. Prepared by VICTORIA ZAVYALOVA


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Culture

GULF NEWS_MONDAY_DECEMBER_21_2015

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Theatre For a majority of dancers their career finishes even before it has a chance to bloom

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Russia's children strive for ballet stardom Despite the fact that most ballerinas stop performing by their late 30s and dancers have only a small chance of becoming stars, parents still enroll their children in ballet schools.

ter teach the child to appreciate classical music. All movements are beautiful and harmonious. They develop the body, especially its poise."

THE QUOTE

Natalya Mostovaya

Natural selection MARIA FEDORISHINA SPECIAL TO RBTH

All Russians are proud of their ballet, even those that rarely watch it. During the Soviet period, for every place in a choreographic institute, there were 100 people in competition. Today ballet's popularity still runs high. The Ilse Liepa Studio begins accepting children at the age of two and a half, says the school's co-founder Maria Subbotovskaya. "Nothing trains the body like the ballet," said Subbotovskaya. "Exercises with the concertmas-

In other countries, Russian classical ballet is often associated with the leading Russian theatres, the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky, where the dancers are mostly graduates of the Moscow State Academy of Choreography and the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. It is practically impossible to prepare for entrance to such institutions because natural attributes – such as flexibility, being able to rise and jump, and a good ear for music – play such a leading role. "About 98 percent of children study ballet for themselves," said

DIRECTOR OF THE RIBAMBELLE BALLET SCHOOL

Often parents do not understand the details of the profession and decide that their child should dance. Problems arise if the child does not have the desire or natural talent. If parents pressure the child, his or her life will be broken. Even among the graduates of the ballet academies, only five percent make it into a good company and even fewer become soloists."

Subbotovskaya. "Perhaps they would like to continue, but there are very few little stars. Raising such a child is tough work. Our school has been operating for eight years and in all this time only five of our students have entered the Moscow State Academy of Choreography." Yet world-famous Russian ballet dancers such as Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova and Rudolph Nureyev had average physical characteristics. That is why experienced teachers of choreography say that physique is not the most important thing. "If the child has the will and a dream, that is already a lot," said Subbotovskaya. "Methodology alone won't yield any results. Character and discipline are fundamental, while physical fitness can be

Often the results do not match the amount of time and resources invested, let alone the toll it can take on one’s health. In Moscow three monthly lessons cost about $500.

Few graduates become ballet stars

Dancing remains a popular activity

Natalya Mostovaya, 38, is a former ballerina. Intense daily training sessions and a dream brought her to Moscow from Ukraine as a young girl. After years of studying, taking roles in circuses and minor theatres, and endless attempts to make it into a major bal-

The alternative to children's ballet schools is dance classes. Moscow has thousands of them and many are free. According to a 2012 Russia Public Opinion Research Center survey (WCIOM), of the 61 percent of Russian children that attend extracurricular activities, 17 percent go to dance groups, which are second in popularity after sport. But it is rare for a child to choose dancing as their profession. Muscovite Alla Kremleva spent 10 years in dance classes before she entered university. Now she is the director of preschool and elementary school education at Novy Disk. "It was a great joy and I couldn't wait for each lesson,” said Kremleva. “I even danced at home, repeating the movements and following the videos. Then I had an injury that did not permit me to increase the training and advance to a higher level, even though the desire was there. Now I am thinking of encouraging my daughter to study dancing." Despite all the difficulties associated with the profession, children still want to be artists. According to a 2013 survey by children’s charitable fund Deti Mira, 16.4 per cent of Russian children aged 4-6 dream of an artistic profession, including the ballet.

Experienced teachers of choreography say that physique is not the most important thing. let company, she decided to start teaching at the age of 30. Now she is the director of the Ribambelle Ballet School. Competition among ballerinas is especially high, since few boys are enrolled in the academies. For example, since opening in 2006 only 15 boys have studied at the Ilse Liepa Studio. For the majority of dancers their career finishes before it even has a chance to start. "If you haven't made it by the age of 23, you must seriously start thinking about your future," said Mostovaya. "In most cases the girls become teachers, get married or obtain a second degree. A ballet dancer's life is short: most retire by age 38."

PHOTOXPRESS

VITALY IVANOV / TASS

Being a professional ballet dancer is mostly hard work.

worked on. When we see a child with character and discipline, we talk to their parents. If they agree, we put more effort into the child and have ballet become the main direction in his or her life."

Despite difficulties the magic of the ballet attracts the young.

Literature Horror stories, fantasy and whodunnits by 21st-century Russian authors are now making their way to foreign readers

As December 2015 sees another week of Russian literary events in New York City, RBTH asks readers and publishers about their favourites among 21st-century Russian fiction. PHOEBE TAPLIN SPECIAL TO RBTH

When English-speaking readers talk about Russian novels, they generally mean Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, Bulgakov and Pasternak. How many of us read works by 21st-century Russian writers? And, if not, what kinds of books are we missing? There is no shortage of serious literary fiction coming out of Russia, but the best-selling contemporary authors write, as they do in many languages, horror stories, fantasy and whodunnits.

Supernatural thrillers and apocalyptic sci-fi In Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series, supernatural beings do battle on Moscow’s streets. Andrew Bromfield translated the first book into English in 2006 and it sold millions worldwide, winning an international following. A sixth

book, already extensively pre-ordered, is due out next summer. Bromfield also translated Boris Akunin’s successful cascade of effortlessly elegant whodunnits, featuring diplomat-turned-detective Erast Fandorin. Part I, set in 19thcentury Moscow, London and St. Petersburg, was published in English as The Winter Queen in 2003. Agnes Kindrachuk from Montreal recommends Akunin for “fun reading”. Dmitry Glukhovsky found an international audience with his Metro 2033, a post-apocalyptic underground adventure set in the disused tunnels of the Moscow metro. Published in English in 2011, it became a European cult bestseller, shifting nearly two million copies of the printed edition worldwide, with equally large numbers downloading the Russian digital edition. Ksenia Papazova of Glagoslav, a publishing house specialising in translated Russian books, told RBTH that their Dutch translations of Glukhovsky’s fantasy and its sequel Metro 2034 were consistently among their top bestsellers.

© ALEXANDR POLYAKOV / RIA NOVOSTI

Classics still outselling contemporary writers

Which Russian books besides the classics does the English world know?

There is no shortage of serious literary fiction coming out of Russia.

A chance to re-discover contemporary Russian literature Glagoslav’s current bestseller is far more surprising: Maria Rybakova’s Gnedich (2015) is a novelin-verse about a 19th-century poet, Nikolai Gnedich, who translated Homer’s Iliad. Papazova believes that interest in contemporary Rus-

sian authors is generated by “the reputation of Russian classics”, but knows there is little chance of attracting “ the same number of readers as J.K. Rowling did.”Numbers of readers globally are shrinking, she says, and most Russian fiction is “serious … not meant to entertain but to make the reader think and question themselves, and search for answers.”Papazova sees an important role for publishers in helping this discerning readership discover modern masterpieces: “Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky do not need any marketing,”she said, “but new authors do!” Allesandro Gallenzi of Alma Books also sees a contrast between the easy sales of famous names from the past and the challenge of introducing the unknown modern authors. He told RBTH: “The trouble, in my view, is that a lot of Russian contemporary novels are too self-referential and Russo-centric.” “We have published, successfully, many Russian titles, mostly from the 19th but also from the 20th century (Bulgakov, Bunin, Dovlatov),”said Gallenzi. The only con-

temporary Russian books Alma has published so far are Dmitry Bykov's Living Souls and Alexander Terekhov's The Rat Catcher. “They both sold reasonably well,” said Gallenzi, but sales were still a fraction of those generated by earlier classics. The dynamic, expanding Pushkin Press, which – despite the name – only started publishing Russian books relatively recently, has had successes with a couple of Soviet classics. Contemporary writers are represented so far by one adult novel and one children’s book (Mikhail Elizarov’s The Librarian and Anna Starobinets’ Catlantis respectively), but there are plans for more. Papazova sees a chance today to redress Russia’s Soviet-era isolation by promoting authors abroad: “Nowadays we have an opportunity at last to fulfil this mission and to translate the books into English.Thus, the global readership has a chance to re-discover contemporary Russian literature.” rbth.com/549199


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Heritage One of the world's greatest art museums has a legion of very unusual guards

A cat’s eye view of the Hermitage The State Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg is often called Russia's jewel box. Throughout its history, some of its most devoted guards have enjoyed a purr-fect view of the art collection. JOY NEUMEYER

Cats have resided in the Winter Palace since the time of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. In 1747, she issued a decree arranging for a chauffeur to bring“house cats suitable for catching” to the Winter Palace. A carriage full of Russian Blues was ferried posthaste from Kazan to the imperial residence in St. Petersburg. It was Elizaveta’s successor, Catherine the Great, who transformed the palace into one of the world’s greatest art institutions. “Very early on, she realised that [art] was a status symbol among the rulers of Europe,” said Geraldine Norman, author of “The Hermitage: Biography of a Great Museum” and advisor to the Hermitage’s director. In 1771, Catherine brought the first Raphael painting to Russia. Eight years later, she purchased the nearly 200-piece collection of British Prime Minister Robert Walpole, which included works by Rubens and Velazquez. In all, Catherine acquired around 4,000

Cats have resided in the Winter Palace since the early 18th century.

Old Master paintings and an astounding 10,000 engraved gems, which Norman called her “great love.” “It was a love affair, but also state policy, and a very clever state policy,”Norman told RBTH.“She was competing with the French, the Germans, the English, and she was steadily outclassing them in her purchases of art.” The rising prestige of Catherine’s collection, which was opened to the public as Russia’s first public museum in 1852, was mirrored by the status accorded to its guardians. Under Catherine, the palace began making a distinction between house and court cats, which had free rein of the halls. Their work was more important than ever: in a letter, Catherine wrote: “There are few visitors to the galleries — only me and the mice.”

LORI/LEGION MEDIA

Of mice and masterpieces

ALAMY/LEGION MEDIA

SPECIAL TO RBTH

St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum is the treasure chest of Russia. Founded by Empress Catherine the Great, the teal palace on the bank of the Neva River contains one of the world’s most renowned art collections. But beneath the baroque grandeur lies a netherworld of heating ducts and storage rooms. Here, the walls are not covered with Rembrandt and Caravaggio, but cat photos. The cats’ story parallels that of the institution they have guarded for centuries, from splendour to poverty and back again. “It’s a true symbiosis of animal and human,”Maria Haltunen, assistant to the director and the cats’ press secretary, told RBTH.

Absent art and animals In 1917, the October Revolution drove Tsar Nicholas II from the Winter Palace. According to Haltunen, the last Romanov rulers had a soft spot for animals, owning several family dogs and cats. While the dogs were shot alongside their owners, the cats were left behind at the palace, escaping their fate. The Bolsheviks nationalised the Hermitage, beginning a traumatic period for the museum that would last for over three decades. In the 1930s, Stalin began selling off the Hermitage’s art to finance Soviet industrialisation. (The Old Masters purchased by American industrialist Andrew Mellon would become the foundation of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.) The darkest days came during World War II, when the 872-day siege of Leningrad resulted in the deaths of around 1 million people.

The Hermitage collection was evacuated to the Urals, leaving only empty frames behind. Meanwhile, the city starved.“All the animals in the city vanished, even the birds,” said Haltunen. “There was simply nothing to eat.” The cats sustained their keepers by being eaten, marking the only time in the Hermitage’s history when they have been absent from the museum. After the war, the Hermitage recruited new cats from nearby cities such as Novgorod and Pskov. As the country stabilised, the museum’s growing cat population paralleled the expansion of its displays. After Stalin’s death, the museum once again showed post-Impressionist and modernist canvases.

Feline at home In the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union left the Hermit-

age destitute. In the documentary “Hermitage Revealed," the museum's director Mikhail Piotrovsky recalls that there wasn’t even enough money to make repairs to the roof. In 1995, shortly after she began working at the museum, Haltunen walked down to the basement and was shocked to see dozens of cats staring back at her. The cats, like their home, were in dire straits, hungry and neglected. Haltunen and a friend began bringing porridge down from the cafeteria to feed them. They started a “Ruble for a Cat” campaign to raise money for food and medical treatment, and won Piotrovsky’s support to devote an area of the basement to the cats’ care and keeping. Today, it is full of scratching posts, food bowls and blankets placed on top of the heating pipes, where the cats cluster in winter. Under Piotrovsky, the museum has gained new life. Two years ago, it opened an innovative contemporary art wing, and last summer hosted the contemporary art biennial Manifesta. For his video installation “Basement,” Dutch artist Erik van Lieshout spent nine months living with the cats in the basement while it was renovated. “The cats are the soul of the building,” Lieshout told RBTH. “They are a subculture for me.” Though the cats no longer roam the halls as they did in Catherine’s day, the more sociable among them venture into the courtyards or down to the riverbank, pausing to scratch their claws on the entrance gate. Today, they have their own “passports” and boast a dedicated legion of volunteers and veterinarians, as well as an annual holiday in their honour, when visitors line up for the chance to meet (and adopt) them. Now, they are less hunters than cultural ambassadors — or“spoiled house cats,” as Haltunen jokes — but their presence still deters mice. They remain a part of the Hermitage's history, no less essential than its Monet paintings or its ancient gold, or the splendid halls of the Winter Palace.

Essentials Planning what to take for a trip to Russia in the cold season is not hard, as long as you think smart siderable problem for every traveller. Depending on your destination you can travel by taxi, suburban train, long distance train or plane, but every time you move you will spend more time in transit than you are probably used to. Spend this time wisely by downloading an audiobook on Russian sights or buy a volume of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky or Chekhov – they make great companions on the road.

Packing tips: What to bring when coming to Russia in winter KIRA EGOROVA RBTH

1. Boots or valenki? Having a picture taken while wearing valenki (warm felt boots that are a popular souvenir among tourists) and an ushanka hat (fur or felt hat with ear-flaps) against the background of the Kremlin is perfect for your Facebook profile picture, but this outfit is hardly comfortable for walking around the city. Snow removal salt lines the streets and roads of Russian cities in winter, so for long walks you should wear solid waterproof boots with thick soles. However, if you go to the Russian countryside, valenki are truly wonderful

companions for making your way through powdery snow.

2. What to put in your thermos flask? It's far from the truth that all Russians keep themselves warm in winter by drinking strong beverages. For many Russians the best way to stay warm outside is to take a thermos filled with hot tea. This device is ideal for travelling around Russia. The thermos became the Soviet traveller's best friend due to its ability to preserve heat for up to five hours. Besides, it's hard to match the pleasure of an improvised tea party when you sip a hot drink directly on Red Square. Today a thermos can be replaced by a thermo mug or a tumbler filled with hot tea, coffee or the drink of your choice. Note: the consumption of alcoholic beverages in public places in Russia is forbidden.

6. Toilet paper...are you kidding me?

SHUTTERSTOCK/LEGION-MEDIA

RBTH examined several travel websites, picked out some of the more absurd tips for those visiting Russia in winter and tried to set the record straight.

When packing for a winter trip to Russia make sure you don't pay too much attention to outdated advice.

You will be pleasantly surprised to find out what you can buy in Russia for just $100.

unpredictable – after a month of freezing temperature and blizzards, a thaw period with rains can begin, or worse – there might be a cyclone storm accompanied by strong winds and icy hail.

4. A money belt or a wallet? 3. A hat or a hood? The answer is obvious. Put on everything you have! A hat, a hood, your gloves and don’t forget warm socks. Get ready for the cold, but don't forget to look at the weather forecast. Winter in Russia is

Money belts are widely recommended for helping tourists keep their money safe. However, in Russia such belts are only worn by older foreign tourists. There are no more pickpockets in Russian cities than there are in Europe and money can be safely stored with

a little common sense and ordinary caution. Keep your cash in a wallet and store it in your coat’s inside pocket that zips up. Incidentally, Russian money has become even friendlier as the value of the Russian ruble compared to foreign currency has fallen by half in the last year.You will be pleasantly surprised to find out what you can buy in Russia for just $100.

5. Glossy magazine or Dostoyevsky? Huge distances are a source of pride for every Russian and a con-

In one blog an author recommends bringing toilet paper. The author explains that Russian public toilets often have no toilet paper or paper towels. This tip seems a bit outdated as most large Russian cities in recent years have reached the level of their European counterparts in terms of the number of restaurant chains and the quality of services there, and public toilets have radically improved. People will look at you a bit strangely if a roll of toilet paper accidentally drops out of your backpack while you are in the middle of the luxurious interiors of the Hermitage Museum. On the other hand, hygiene is always important when you are on the go in any corner of the world, so it’s a wise idea to keep napkins and hand sanitizers in your backpack.


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Opinion

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MORE PLAYERS JOIN SYRIAN CHESS GAME ANALYST

T

he terrorist attacks in Paris and Sinai, and Russia’s earlier decision to get involved in the Syrian civil war, have raised the stakes in the regional conflict considerably. Already the international efforts in the fight against Daesh are involving new external (and not necessarily regional) actors. In early December, the United Kingdom and Germany joined in, although neither had previously demonstrated an enthusiasm for direct involvement. What should we expect? Is an anti-terrorism coalition really being formed? Hardly. The main problem is that the objectives and tasks of those who form this coalition do not coincide. The situation is a paradoxical one, however: despite the huge differences in the approaches of the external players (notably the United States, France, Russia and the UK), they identify the main enemy in similar terms. This is seen to be Daesh, which should be eliminated or at least stopped. To fulfil this task, active assistance from the regional players – those inside Syria and in the Middle East as a whole – is needed. In theory, they should be carrying out the main military action.

Regional players But it turns out that their priorities are different. For Turkey, the main threat is the Kurdish issue, which it perceives as far more dangerous than Daesh; so far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, its main fear is that of Iranian expansion rather than of the threats posed by Daesh militants; Iran is engaged in a complex regional game, with Daesh being just one element; Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is not just facing the radicals but a

very wide range of opponents. The other countries in the region are desperately trying to maintain control over the situation at home, so they have to maneuver constantly. And they do not always see Daesh as their worst enemy. This practically rules out a truly broad coalition. But it does create an unpleasant prospect for the external players, who realise and admit that Daesh cannot be defeated without a ground operation — one that should be conducted by Middle East players, all the more so since the countries of the region invariably condemn“colonialists”for any interference. So there may be a need for a deeper military involvement on the part of Russia, the US, France and others. Having said that, everybody knows what risks are associated with direct interventions in the Middle East.

Moscow’s motivation Russia has many motives for its involvement in Syria. The main motive, of course, is the threat of the unchecked spread of terrorism. Another has to do with relations with the incumbent Syrian government, which is Russia’s long-standing partner. Last summer, it became clear that the resources of the ruling regime were close to exhaustion. The Assad regime had turned out to be much more resilient than the West thought it would be back in 2011, but a war of attrition is not something that any country can easily cope with. The fall of Assad would be seen by all as a major setback for Moscow. There were other motives at play, too. For instance, the desire to expand the field of dialogue with the West, which for the past two years has been all but limited to the topic of Ukraine and the Minsk peace process. At the same time, it is important to view Russia’s actions in a more global context. Moscow has claimed

the sides to debate ways of achieving it. No one knows now what Syria will be like after the war, and in this case this is a good thing. 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 a Russian warplane last month was a serious blow to the tentative settlement process taking shape in Vienna. Russia has neither the desire nor the resources to wage a lengthy campaign in Syria. Moscow’s interest in a political solution is as strong as that of the other players. Now, however, a political solution must take into account the fact of a considerable Russian military presence in Syria. It is hard to imagine that the Kremlin will be willing to give up the military infrastructure it has created there so quickly, just like the US did not fully withdraw from Afghanistan once the mission there was over.

VALERIU KURTU / WWW.KURTUKUNST.COM

Fyodor Lukyanov

Political shake-up a right, which in the previous 25 years (since the war in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990-91) exclusively belonged to the US. The right to use force to restore international order is the function of a so-called“world policeman”. Russia has entered a sphere where issues of hierarchy are addressed. In a unipolar world, wars fought“for the sake of peace”, that is, wars not aimed at achieving specific and clear goals of one’s own, were waged only by the US with the support of its allies. Moscow, by starting the military operation in Syria, has changed the alignment of forces and prospects for resolving a major international conflict, with no real practical gains for itself. This is a prerogative of those at the top of the military and political league, who are capable of setting an agenda.

RUSSIA PLEDGES TO HELP COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE DIPLOMAT

T

he world’s climate and weather patterns are changing. Global temperatures are rising, causing more extreme weather events, such as flooding and heatwaves. Climate change is one of the gravest challenges humanity faces today. The potential threat of these global processes remains tangible. The world’s attention has been focused for the past two weeks on the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. We are experiencing a pivot, where we should shift from words to constructive solutions, recognising there is a trend to the worsening effects of global climate change. The event gives us a unique opportunity to address this challenge by achieving a new climate agreement based

on the principles of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Russia is taking active measures to address global warming, including the Climate Doctrine of the Russian Federation; presidential decrees on measures to improve energy and ecological efficiency and “On the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions”; the Federal Law on Energy Conservation; and the 2030 Energy Strategy of Russia. We have more than fulfilled our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Through the implementation of our Energy Efficiency and Energy Sector Development programme, we managed to improve our economy’s energy efficiency by a third over the period 2000-12, and we expect to reach a further 13.5pc improvement by 2020. The fall in Russian emissions since 1991 has stopped 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide entering the at-

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mosphere.These improvements are achieved through the use of breakthrough energy-saving solutions such as nanotechnologies, as well as the introduction of regulatory measures. Russia supports the world’s community’s long-term goal: to keep global warming within an increase of 2C by the end of this century. In Paris, we were advocating a new,

NIYAZ KARIM

Alexander Yakovenko

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Russia has neither the desire nor the resources to wage a lengthy campaign in Syria. Another important factor 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 such accusations as crimes against one’s own people and the ruthless suppression of protests. A leader who was accused of such behaviour was put in the category of rulers who had“lost their le-

comprehensive and legally binding agreement for the period after 2020. Such an instrument should unite the efforts of all countries and in particular those with the highest emission levels. The new agreement should reflect the important role of forests as the main absorber of greenhouse gases. This is especially important for Russia, which has vast forest resources. Not all countries are fully prepared to take efficient emissioncutting measures. That’s why it is important to support the efforts made by developing countries to reduce their harmful emissions. Russia will provide financial and other assistance to these countries, using the relevant mechanisms of the United Nations. Developing countries should be treated on a fair basis. We cannot ignore changes in the environmental, economic, political and technological development of the world, the increased level of their GDP, etc. At the same time, Russia does not reject the principle of“common but differentiated responsibilities” but believes that they should be reflected in a single international legal accord.

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THE ISSUE WAS SENT TO PRINT ON DEC. 17

gitimacy”, which made any dialogue with them either unnecessary or unacceptable. That is what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, and Bashar Al Assad was next on the list.Yet now it seems that the humanitarian component is once again giving way to a realistic approach. The black-and-white division into good and bad guys results in a deadlock, and bargaining will have to involve everyone.

Open-ended negotiations One important new element in resolving the Syrian crisis is the talks in Vienna. This is the second (after the marathon of the Iran nuclear talks) instance of open-ended negotiations, when the format of a settlement should emerge in the course of discussion rather than being signed in advance, leaving

Finally, a strategy to tackle climate change efficiently is impossible without proper research. For this reason we have put forward an initiative that involves holding a United Nations-sponsored scientific congress on the exhaustion of natural resources and the deterioration of human habitat. This will allow global warming to be placed into a broader environmental and social context. These measures are not somehow “a platter of climate-friendly platitudes”as sceptics may put it. Russia has already proved that it has met the Kyoto Protocol's aims. The stakes are high. As the planet’s temperature rises, it is obvious that uncontrolled climate change could have irreversible effects on both humanity and the environment. Dealing with the disastrous consequences will be much harder and dearer. We hope that common sense will prevail and a new post-Kyoto agreement will be reached by consensus. Alexander Yakovenko is Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He was previously Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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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 major regional partner for the future. For Tehran, preserving the current regime in Syria is essential: it believes that any change will be fatal for Iran’s dominance in Syria. Third, Russia must make sure not to turn into a great power that is serving Iran’s regional interests, the way, for example, the US for a long time served the interests of Saudi Arabia. The author is chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy.

“GLOBAL WARMING: RUSSIA COMES IN FROM THE COLD” This report examines the changes happening in Russia ever since the issue of global warming was introduced on the global agenda. For Russia, which is preoccupied with its foreign policy and economic problems, climate change issues are coming to the forefront, as warming in the country occurs at a considerably higher rate than globally on average. REGISTER TODAY AND GET:

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Traditions Russia marks the end of the year by putting on shows for children

The ultimate Russian Christmas gift guide

The New Year ‘yolka’: From Soviet stories to fairytales

One of the best presents you can get this time of year is a trip to Russia for the winter holidays. Apart from seeing Russia’s stunning winter landscapes and the unforgettable adventures that await, you can also shop for many charming souvenirs. Here are a few tips.

From the Kremlin to the simplest of day care centres, the so-called "yolka" is a special traditional show for children that takes place across Russia before the New Year holidays.

Hunting for authentic presents from the Urals When visiting Russia’s regions such as the Urals, make sure to acquire a gorgeous shawl adorned with traditional floral designs. The shawls and scarves (called “platki” in Russian) are recognised worldwide for their beautiful and colourful patterns, as well as for their high quality and ability to retain warmth. The white or grey Orenburg hand-knitted shawls made of hand-spun silk and wool yarn are also a must-have item for many fashionistas and are among the symbols that represent the country. Linen tablecloths, dishcloths and napkins with national ornamental embroidery are always a good idea for a present. The natural fabrics are made of flax and enriched with fine needlework and will be a great addition to any kitchen.

ALEXEI BELYAKOV SPECIAL TO RBTH

At the end of the 1920s, because of the unofficial ban on religion, Russians virtually ceased to celebrate Christmas, at least officially. It was replaced in 1935 by another winter holiday — NewYear. Without much thought, the decision was made to leave the Christmas tree as the official symbol for New Year. Now, however, the tree symbolised winter, while the star atop the tree went from symbolising Bethlehem to representing the Soviet Union, acting as a cousin of sorts to the ruby stars that crowned the Kremlin. The Soviet authorities sought to promote a culture of the masses, which transformed what was traditionally a family holiday into a public holiday. National celebrations were organised for Soviet adults in houses of culture and in public squares. Meanwhile, children gathered at stadiums, daycare centres, and even military grounds to celebrate a“yolka”– a holiday concert where children watched costumed performances, took part in competitions, and received gifts. Thanks to these shows, New Year became one of Soviet children’s favourite holidays.

Father Frost and the Snow Maiden at their official residence.

elite party bragged to their classmates about the tasty candy and amazing gifts long after the event. An interesting feature of the Kremlin yolka was that parents were not allowed to attend, the aim being to give more children the opportunity to take part. Upon entry to the Palace, children were greeted by clowns, bunnies, and squirrels, escorted to the cloakroom, and led in dances — a tradition that has been preserved to this day. After the show, children left the Palace of Congresses and were paraded around like luggage on an airport carousel as their parents picked them out from the crowd.

The yolka concert today Even though religion is back in favour in modern Russia, and despite the fact that about 80 per cent of the population considers itself Orthodox Christian, the yolka remains a purely secular celebration. Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7, while shows for children begin at the end of December. Yolka concerts still enjoy an enormous audience. Tickets to the NewYear shows are publicly avail-

Must-buys in Russia’s Golden Ring towns are authentic handicrafts and tableware with Russian “khokhloma,” intricate designs created by skilled craftsmen observing a centuries-old technique of painting wood. Handmade spoons, bowls, cutting boards, jewellery boxes, and even

matryoshka dolls embellished in red, gold and black will add decorative flavour to any home. Gzhel ceramics are worth purchasing too. These porcelain objects and pottery are covered by hand with white and blue patterns, making each piece unique. Whistles, candlesticks and statuettes are good Christmas gift options. Or pick up a pair of straw "lapti." This traditional Russian footwear has existed since ancient times and genuine “lapti” bast shoes were traditionally woven in a similar manner as baskets. Where to buy: The best place to hunt for gifts in the Golden Ring towns are local bazaars and markets. For example, in Kostroma you can visit the Torgovye ryady market — also an 18th-century architectural monument. Souvenirs can also be purchased directly from local craftsmen.

Shopping for gifts in Russia’s two capitals

SERGEY BOBYLEV / TASS

The scripts of the yolka concerts were imbued with short-term ideological goals and were obligated to reflect the achievements of the USSR in a way that was accessible to children. For example, the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 heralded the beginning of the “space period” in staged performances. The basic outline was always simple and clear: The forces of evil were trying to prevent children from celebrating the NewYear holiday, the forces of good would overcome, and the situation would stabilise just in time for the clock to strike midnight. The forces of good were Grandfather Frost (the Russian version of Santa Claus) and his helpers, while the forces of evil could be various characters from fairytales and folklore, such as Bag of Bones, Baba Yaga, pirates, or robbers. The Kremlin yolka, held at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, was the most coveted New Year party among Soviet children. Only the best students and the children of well-connected parents such as party workers were invited to attend. It was believed that the show was most colourful and the gifts best at the Kremlin yolka. Children who managed to get to this

Picking out exquisite gifts from the Golden Ring

PRESS PHOTO

Russia’s principal ‘yolka’ concerts and their themes

Where to buy: In Orenburg, shawls can be bought in specialised factory stores where they are produced or at the Zelyony market. If you’re looking for more modern versions of Russian platki and shawls, check out the “Uralvagonzavod” (Ural Vehicle Factory).

Father Frost at a children's New Year party in the Kremlin.

able, and any parent can choose a show based on their tastes and financial means — fairytale performances, shows on ice, and even scientific experiments at the Polytechnical Museum in Moscow are among the possibilities on offer. Children can visit dozens of various yolka concerts during the New Year holidays. After the collapse of the USSR,

ideology was removed from the NewYear shows. For example, last year a yolka based on The Wizard of Oz was held at the Luzhniki Sports Complex. Although it may seem unpatriotic to have staged a show based on an American book when US-Russia relations are so strained, the charm of a fairytale is above political issues.

The residents of Russia’s two largest cities take pride in their culture and ornamental legacy. If you have ample luggage space, you might consider purchasing a samovar, a large traditional metal tea kettle used to boil water. A teacup set and silver-plated “podstakannik“ teacup holders or coasters made of juniper complete the Russian-style tea set perfectly. Of course, jewellery is always a good idea. Pick up a necklace made from honey amber in sterling silver — a favourite combination of the Russian tsars. Last but not least is the Faberge egg. The replicas produced in St. Petersburg are inspired by the works of the great master and adorned with precious metals and stones.

Where to buy: In Moscow GUM features a wide variety of souvenir shops offering different goods. In St. Petersburg most major souvenir shopping locations are near Nevsky Prospekt and Palace Square.

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WHAT DOES A RUSSIAN WINTER REALLY LOOK LIKE? Best winter pictures from the snowiest country in the world Interactive postcards in iBooks version Travel routes to the most picturesque places rbth.com/winter_is_coming

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