Thursday, 19 December 2013

Khodorkorvsky Pardoned

President Putin has today announced that he intends to pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky who has spent more than a decade in prison.  This has come hot off the heels of the Russian Parliament's pardon of the two Pussy Riot demonstrators yesterday.   It's obviously an attempt to avoid international criticism of his rule on the run up to and during the forthcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.  But I think is just another example of his playing the Kind Tsar to mask the absence of a truly independent judiciary in Russia.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Buran: triumph and tragedy of the Russian space shuttle

Another anniversary! It's 25 years since the first and last space flight of the Soviet Space Shuttle, Buran (Russian for snowstorm). An audacious copy of the American Space Shuttle, the Soviet's version of  a"reusable" spacecraft was, in many respects, technically superior and took only 10 years to develop (compared to 15 years for NASA's shuttle).  

It was an example of the triumph of Soviet technical know-how and expertise in the space race.  It was first space shuttle to perform an unmanned flight, including landing in fully automatic mode. The ability to fly the shuttle into space, have it perform two orbits then land it on a runway - meters from its intended destination, all on autopilot, demonstrated the technical brilliance of the scientists employed in the space program. 

This is how the old Soviet new agency TASS (Telegraph Agency Sovietsky Soyuz) announced it:

"November 15, 1988 was marked by the formidable success of the Buran space shuttle flight in Soviet Union. After the departure of the Energia launcher and Buran shuttle, the orbital shuttle was placed on its orbit, made two rotations around the Earth and finally landed on the cosmodrome at Baikonur . . . . . .It is the extraordinary outcome of the technology and science of our nation, opening a new way in the Soviet program for the space studies.  It was the first and until now the only landing in automatic mode of a shuttle in the history of the aerospace. This new and outstanding fact in the space conquest was gained brilliantly by the science and Soviet technology."

The automatic unmanned flight did, however, mask a serious flaw in Buran's design.  Although it was intended to carry as many as ten crew members, including four pilots, there was no room for life support systems on the shuttle, so they had no choice but to fly it in auto-mode.

Perhaps the Soviet electronics industry, driven primarily by military considerations, did not have the commercial impetus towards miniaturisation that their western counterpart did, and so could not shrink all that sophisticated equipment to a size suitable for a manned shuttle flight. 

I vaguely remember an old Russian joke which was a wry comment on the Soviet's obsession with gigantism in their propaganda: The USSR has created a new microchip – it's the biggest in the world!

A full size mock up which resides in Gorky Park, Moscow

The tragedy was that it was not economically viable for commercial use and, thanks to the end of the Cold War, its military role was surplus to requirements. The collapse of the Soviet Union effectively brought an end to the Cold War, but it was the consequent economic dislocation and squeeze on budgets in the new shrunken Russian state, which ultimately put paid to the Soviet space shuttle program. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

McEwan's Best Scotch - Moscow (1988, UK)

Russia - nice place, shame about the beer!

Can't believe its 25 years since this advert came out.  Some classic lines in there "they've only got propaganda, not propa Geordie brew"

Friday, 15 November 2013

GQ Magazine 25 Years Old

Its 25 years since British men's style magazine "Gentlemen's Quarterly" first hit the news stands in the UK.  Originally a quarterly publication, hence the name, GQ is now a successful monthly publication with worldwide readership.  What is the relevance here, I hear you ask?  Well, apart from the fact that GQ has published a Russian version for a couple of years now, I used to buy GQ back in 1988.  I clearly remember some adverts in that first edition which were advertising clothes by "Sisley", mainly because I cut them out and still have them (loser!), which were  themed "Moscow Tour".  I kept the adverts because I loved the images of Moscow.  Here are two of them.  They are poor scans - as they were done years ago; but I will dig out the originals and re-scan them.

On Manage Square, in front of Moscow Hotel.  On the advert, I'm sure there was some caption "you must be some kind of idiotsky to speed down Prospekt Marx on a motorbike"

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Russia House scene locations "bagged"

I've just returned from a short break with my family in London, originally for four nights, but owing to the storms and the subsequent cancelled trains, we were forced to stop another night - such a hardship!

Anyway, the trip presented an opportunity to "bag" some locations from The Russia House movie. With careful planning of routes, tube maps, I managed to persuade the missus that we could make a couple of diversions to our itinerary. 

 First stop, King Charles Street, Whitehall. After being on the London Eye, we walked across Westminster Bridge to Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. From there, we walked up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square.  En route, we passed King Charles Street which is the first side-street you come to (on the left, heading towards Trafalgar Square) and runs parallel to Downing Street. This street, or at least a room in a building purporting to be on this street was where the secret service discuss the importance of the notebooks passed to them by a disaffected soviet scientist, Danté (Yakov Yefremovich Savelyev, played by Klaus Van Brandauer).

The scene is set with the camera panning past the statue of King Charles,which stand at the top of the steps facing St James's Park, and focusing on a window of a building on the corner of the street.

The second location I visited was the location of the street training scene in which Ned (James Fox) teaches Barley (Sean Connery) how to make contact with a "source" when out in the field."the source is the star of the show and the star decides whether to make the meeting or abort". 

It has taken me years to find this location - an earlier blog post describes how I found it. I always felt that the scene was filmed in an area around Victoria in London; in fact, it was filmed on Symons Street, just off Sloane Square in Knightsbridge, so I wasn't too wide of the mark with my Victoria guess.  It was great to finally walk along this street, but I was a bit disappointed because so much has changed since the film was shot here over twenty years ago.  

Monday, 21 October 2013

Mayor Sobyanin rides the Metro

Shortly after his re-election as mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin was pictured taking the metro to work. Obviously, a stage managed photocall to show that he is just like ordinary Muscovites having to endure the crush of the morning rush hour on the Moscow metro.

This sort of "man of the people" stunts rarely turn out well in Russia - especially when they make the country's leader - sitting aloof in the Kremlin - appear remote and out of touch with the ordinary citizen.  How does it look to Muscovites?  Sobyanin takes the metro to work, like millions of his fellow Muscovites; whereas Putin takes his private helicopter alone to his office in the Kremlin.

Back in the late 1980s, such a contrast was made between the then Mayor of Moscow, Boris Yeltsin, and Mikhail Gorbachev - the increasingly unpopular General Secretary of the Communist Party and President of the USSR.  Yeltsin used to take the metro to work and developed a frugal image which was popular (or populist?) which contrasted with the luxurious lifestyles and privileges of the members of the Communist Party Central Committee - including Gorbachev (and his wife, Raisa, who was often criticised for her taste in expensive clothing).

Similarly, Kirov, the popular Leningrad party chief, was seen as a man in touch with the people, and his increasing influence was seen as a threat to Stalin - who was the remote and austere leader holed up in the Kremlin.

Yeltsin was sacked, Kirov was shot. Sobyanin, however, is tipped as a possible successor to Putin - it's even been suggested that he has been anointed by Putin as his successor, should Putin decide not to run for president in 2018.  As such, he must be carrying on in he same vein as Putin with his staged photos: a word of advice Sergei - keep your shirt on! ....please!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Iron Felix to stay put - again

Back in 2002, I wrote on my old web site about proposals by the then Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, to restore the statue of KGB founder, Felix Dzherzhinsky, to its former position in the centre of Lubyanka Square outside the KGB offices.

"the Moscow City Duma's monuments committee rejected an appeal by Communist Party members in Irkutsk for Dzerzhinsky's return. The Communists said in a letter sent last month that the monument to Dzerzhinsky was a "symbol of the fight against crime." 
A long-simmering drive to resurrect Dzerzhinsky from his graveyard at the Central House of Artists gained momentum in October when Luzhkov declared that the 16-ton statue was an "excellent" monument that had been "the highlight of Lubyanskaya Ploshchad." "We should remember that he solved the problem of homeless children and bailed out the railroads in a period of devastation," Luzhkov said at the time. 

His remarks were an about-face from four years earlier when he fiercely opposed the statue's return. Liberal politicians slammed Luzhkov for supporting the return of a man blamed for the deaths of millions in the 1920s and 1930s. 

The statue, one of the more notorious icons of the Soviet past, was toppled from its pedestal near the former headquarters of the KGB by protesters after the failed coup by Communist hard-liners in August 1991.
Dzherzhinsky's statue along with with other communist statues were daubed in grafitti and unceremoniously dumped in the park next to the Central House of Artists in Moscow.  However, in recent years the statues have been cleaned up and returned to an upright position in in the sculpture park." (
11 Years later and they are still talking about putting Felix back on the Lubyanka Square pedastal.  On Saturday, Moscow city lawmaker, Andrei Metelsky, said that the Dzerzhinsky statue was a historical landmark and could return to its place in front of the Federal Security Service's headquarters (the KGB's successor) after the monument's restoration, at the cost of 50 million rubles ($1.5 million).  However, the city legislators were quick to refute that claim: Vladimir Platonov - legislature speaker - said that the city parliament made no plans concerning the return of the statue of Felix "Iron Felix" Dzerzhinsky.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Russia House scene locations - update

I've added details of a few more scenes and there locations in my blog These describe the meeting between Barley and Katya at Sergiev Posad, and the night train to Leningrad. Here are just a few of the images I've added (including a badge I got in 1988 when I was on the "Yunost" train to St Petersburg.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Oblomov: I’m like a shabby, threadbare coat ...

"I’m like a shabby, threadbare coat, worn out not because of exposure to the elements or hard work but because for twelve years a light has been burning inside me, unable to find an outlet and doing nothing but illuminating the walls of its own prison and, finding no opening to the outside world, has just been snuffed out for lack of oxygen".
Oblomov, Goncharev.

No reason for posting this, just like the quote.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Krasnodarsky chai - tea

Enough of the political posts, let's have a picture of a tea caddy - after all, it's the 25th anniversary of its appearance in my kitchen. I still use it. The Krasnodarsky tea is long gone, but I regularly refill it with Chinese "Gunpowder" green tea.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Pushkov is an arsehole

The words disingenuous or specious are words that usually spring to mind whenever I watch this guy spout crap on the TV, dissembling with the same ease as Soviet-era politicians and spokespersons did.  But his latest ejaculation - on Twitter - is just crass.

Alexei Pushkov, Head of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee,  has mocked the deadly shooting in Washington on Monday.  Thirteen people were killed and eight were injured in a mass shooting at the Navy Yard, a secure military complex in in the U.S. capital.  While most politicians expressed their condolences, Pushkov called the attack an example of "American exceptionalism."

He Tweeted: "A new shootout at Navy headquarters in Washington — a lone gunman and 7 corpses. Nobody's even surprised anymore. A clear confirmation of American exceptionalism,..." "The U.S.A. should part with the notion of American exceptionalism. It contradicts the principles of equal rights and smells of political racism."

What an insensitive tit!  

The term "American exceptionalism" was a term used by Putin in an open letter to the American people published in the New York Times last week.  Pushkov's use of the term smacks of toadyism - he is obviously trying to curry favour with Putin.  

But, I believe his crass and insensitive comments  essentially detract from what has widely regarded as Putin's deft diplomatic out-maneouvering of USA over unilaterla military strikes against Syria, and undermines the credibility of Putin's critique of American-centric viewpoint on world affairs.  In fact, I think it betrays a certain Russian exceptionalism - a sense of being a special nation - which often motivates Russia's attempt to restore its national pride, power and influence in the world (following the collpase of the USSR).

Monday, 16 September 2013

Putin is a tosser

...allegedly; at least according to Conservative MP  Henry Smith, the Tory MP for Crawley, on Twitter (in response to Putin calling the UK a little island) - and I don't think he was referring to Putin's judo skills; meanwhile President Obama has likened him to a 'bored schoolboy in the back of the classroom’.  Both of these comments have been made recently in reaction to events  at the G20 summit in St Petersburg.  Tosser or petulant schoolboy, or even jackass (as some internet spoof news sites have claimed Obama said of him) - none of these descriptions correspond to any of the characters and storylines in the Seventies UK children's cartoon: Mr Benn, as far as I can recall.    This cartoon was a favourite of mine, and I have mentioned it in an earlier post regarding my purchase of a gingham shirt like the one worn by Sean Connery in the Russia House (  In the cartoon, Mr Benn – dressed in a suit and bowler hat - passes a costume shop, which he enters, chooses a costume, puts it on in the dressing room, and leaves the dressing room through another door to have an adventure relating to the identity or role of the costume. 

Listening to a Russia special on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week programme earlier this year, I was fascinated to hear Putin being described as a Mr Benn type character by one of the guests on the programme: Fiona Hill. Fiona is director of the Center on the United States and Europe, and senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution (one of the Washington’s oldest think tanks, which conducts independent research into social sciences; primarily in economics, governance and foreign policy), and she has written a number of books and articles about Russia.  

Her most recent book, co-authored with Clfford Gaddy, is “Mr Putin: Operative in the Kremlin”, which describes how Vladimir Putin’s public relations team has orchestrated PR stunts to appeal to the Russian populace; these have ranged from a  fire-fighting airplane pilot, the shirtless big-game hunter, the scuba diver, the easy-rider biker, even night club crooner – Hill thinks is reminiscent of the British cartoon character Mr. Benn.    These staged PR stunts do cause much amusement in the West and perhaps for the urban middle classes in Russia, but they are popular with the wider Russian population outside of the capital, specifically with the target  audience to which the various stunts are intended to appeal.

They ask in the book “Who is Mr Putin?”; because, it has proven very difficult, if not impossible, to get any concrete facts on Vladimir Putin’s past: “Observers have variously said, he has no face, no substance, no soul; he is 'the man from nowhere' - a nobody, yet a man who can appear to be anybody. Of course, Putin is not a 'nobody'; he only wants the world to see him that way, and he has gone to extraordinary lengths throughout his life to conceal who he really is."

Much has been made, in the Western press, about Putin’s past as a KGB operative – suggesting secretive nature, shadowy past, brutal operating methods, communist – but this is too simplistic an observation to explain his improbable rise to power. 

 Whatever we may think of the role of the KGB in persecuting dissidents, killing defectors, crushing dissent, its core function, as a security service, was to protect the state.  It has been said that the KGB, with all the vast intelligence resources at its disposal, was perhaps the most “progressive” organisation in the Soviet Union – in the sense that they were able to assess accurately the relative fortunes of western and communist economies – and identify that the centrally planned model was failing (not that they were able to do much about it, although it has been suggested that the KGB were influential in hastening Gorbachev’s rise to power).  

Putin’s background as a KGB operative was probably more important in the development of his “people” skills – in the book Hill and Gaddy describe how Putin let slip that he was a specialist in communicating with people:  “Working with people has a dual meaning in KGB jargon. It also means working on people”.  They have indentified Putin’s multiple identities, of which, six are most prominent: Statist, History Man, Survivalist, Outsider, Free Marketeer, and Case Officer. It is the combination of all his identities that made Putin an effective behind-the-scenes operator in Russian politics and helped propel him into the Kremlin.  

It’s fascinating stuff (from what I’ve read from various internet extracts and transcripts of talks that Fiona Hill has made) so much so, I have ordered the book today from Amazon.

Incidentally, my wife bought me a new winter coat last week which has a big furry hood.  When I saw it, I thought “my god, it’s a Putin coat!”.  So I tried it on and thought “I know, I shall go for a Mr Benn-like adventure - as President Putin”. Now, who is the tosser?

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

It's better to see once than hear a hundred times

Лучше один раз увидеть, чем сто раз услышать.

Transliteration: Luchshe odin raz uvidet', chem sto raz uslyshat'

This is so true - you can know a fact to be true, and understand it, but sometimes seeing a thing or experiencing it can lead to a greater or deeper understanding

I've found myself using this Russian proverb quite a lot lately, as i've flailed around trying to come up with satisfactory English equivalent - "seeing is believing" doesn't quite cut it for me; as it seems to close, in sound and meaning, to "I'll believe it when I see it"  which seems to cast doubt on a fact rather than suggest the opportunity for deeper understanding, which the Russian proverb gives. (There is of course "a picture is worth a thousand words" - but I've only just remembered it. 31 Oct 2013)

I've found this to be true even with the simplest of things. Eg i know potatoes grow in he ground and can be grown from other 
potatoes,  but when I dug some up from my garden that had grown from discarded potato peelings, I had a bit if a eureka moment, a little bit if pleasure as some neurons were fired up in some dark corner of my brain. I'm easily pleased . A eureka moment - an enlightenment , an awakening - incidentally does anyone know whether Buddha (awakened one) shares the same etymology as the Russian word to wake. - budit?  Seems obvious that it does.

Anyway, for me, a trip to Russia offers any number of such moments where seeing once does indeed seem far better than hearing (or reading about). I remember such an occasion when i stopped in Moscow in 1993 on a family homestay visit (incidentally the family were called Kalashnikov) I had long known that Russian cars did not have wiper blades attached to the windscreen wipers - at one time they were in such short supply, that if you left them on, someone would nick them. To avoid this, Russian drivers would remove them and store them in the boot of the car until they were needed I.e. when it starts to rain. A few drops of rain on the windscreen and the driver would immediately pull over and park the car, get the wiper blades out of the boot and attach them,then continue with the journey. Knowing this, I was thrilled when the driver, who had collected me from Sheremetyevo had barely left the car park compound when it started to rain, immediately stopped the car in the side of the road and proceeded to attach his wiper blades - brilliant!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Russion Opposition Leader - Navalny found guilty by Russian Court

I don’t know the whole ins and outs of the embezzlement case against the Russian opposition blogger, Alexei Navalny, but I found it depressingly predictable that Navalny was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to prison.  It raises more worrying questions on the independence of the Russian Courts and the extent to which the Russian state, in particular Putin, is cracking down on all form of dissent and opposition to the regime.

On a positive note, Navalny has been released, pending appeal, which means he can still stand as a candidate in September’s Moscow mayoral elections. The thousands of demonstrators which took to the streets last night protesting the guilty verdict -  descending on Manezh Square and blocking traffic on Tverskaya - might have been a factor in the authorities allowing his release.

Navalny and his codefendant and business partner, Pyotr Ofitserov, stood accused of embezzling 16 million rubles ($490,000) worth of timber from a state-owned company in 2009, were found guilty of the charges and sentenced to five years in prison.

Many observers said was part of a politically motivated crackdown on dissent by the Kremlin, especially since Navalny was charged with the offences just one day after he was registered as a candidate for the Moscow mayoral elections.  

There are many curious facts on this case which suggest that the charges were fabricated and the case against Navalny and Ofitserov were politically motivated – you can read more about this on The Medeleyev Journal Blog:

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Dave's Russia Page relaunched!

Originally established in 1999, but no updates since 2003, Dave’s Russia Page is back – now on its own domain and ad-free site:  I chose “” because I Iove the film and the book of that name, and I have a page and a blog dedicated to this movie.

But in general, this is my site dedicated to all things Russian. I try to cover a variety of subjects relating to Russia - its language, culture, history, politics and anything that is of particular interest to me. 

The site was originally hosted by at, and is still there at that location, but it is an advert-ridden site with annoying pop-ups.  I am in the process of transferring all the content from that site to include in the new location.  So far, I have only transferred the Home page, "Why Russia?" and "About Me".  I will transfer the other main features shortly.  All of the other content: news, economy, photos and miscellaneous sections will be put in an archive section of the new site.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Russia House Scene Locations: Barley Makes Contact with Katya

I am continuing to make slow progress in describing the locations used in all of the scenes from the Russia House - I document these in my other blog:

The Russia House Scene Locations: Barley Makes Contact with Katya: Making Contact Location: Red Square & GUM Moscow Russia Details: Katya and Barley get a taxi to Red Square.

This post includes some photos of GUM which I took in 2002, which I have included here:

Gosudarstveny Universalny Magazin - State Universal Store.  These photos were taken in May - a few days before the May 9 Victory Day celebrations.  As you can see, the side of GUM facing Red Square was adorned with huge banners depicting war medals commemorating victory in the Great Patriotic War.  There were similar banners hanging from the ceiling inside GUM as well.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Polish Shops in the North East of England

Friday again, and another trip to my favourite Polish Shop - Malgosia's in Newcastle for my Friday treat - a couple of bottles of Baltika No 4, some smetana and a bag of frozen pelmeni.

Following the demise of Newcastle's only Russian shop - The Samovar  - a couple of years ago (which was also located in Newgate Shopping Centre, Newcastle), I had no opportunity to purchase some of the Russian delicacies I had previously enjoyed at The Samovar.  Malgosia's Polish shop fills that gap - it has a large selection of Polish and Lithuanian food, but it also stocks a range of Russian products too.

Polish Families in the North East of England: Polish Shops in the North East of England

Polish shops Małgosia's and European Foods: Coś dla ochłody!

Polish shops Małgosia's and European Foods: Coś dla ochłody!: Wygląda na to, że do North East przyszło lato, a wraz z nim - wysokie temperatury! W końcu! Zapraszamy po orzeźwiające napoje prosto...

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Can Soviet hotels halt the destruction of Moscow?

A recent report in the Moscow Times suggested that there was now a preference for renovating Soviet era hotels rather than demolish and reconstruct them.

Is this a sign that the tide is turning against the trend of the last twenty years of demolishing buildings- irrespective of their architectural merits or historical value? I certainly hope so. There has been vandalism on a grand scale over recent years - especially in the capital, Moscow, and Muscovites have mourned the loss of their architectural heritage - even despite the fact that some of these buildings, Soviet-era ones, were themselves erected on the spot where similar level of destruction had previously taken place - ancient buildings destroyed and historic neighbourhoods cleared to make way for Soviet modernist thoroughfares (eg Novy Arbat), monumentalism, socialist realist buildings and Stalinist wedding cakes etc.
Much of this modern destruction has taken place for spurious reasons often under corrupt or questionable practices of awarding construction contracts, building permits. Some have had damage inflicted upon them deliberately eg arson in order to leave no alternative to demolition, others have been destroyed only have a replica (often a pale imitation of the original) built in its place - derided as "mock heritage" or "sham replicas" (The Hotel Moscow springs to mind here).
Pressure groups have arisen to call a halt to what appears to be wanton destruction and irreversible changes to the character of streets and neighbourhoods.  Moscow Preservation Society is one such group

While it is often cheaper build from scratch than to renovate an old building and equip it to modern standards and conveniences, it seems that in the hotel industry at least, the desire for a quick turn around and short lead time to revenue generation is driving developers to renovate soviet era hotels rather than demolish and rebuild.  New construction can take 15 to 20 months, whereas renovation could take as little as nine months, according to statistics from the St. Petersburg-based construction company STEP.   In addition, the old hotels can even continue operating on some floors while other parts are undergoing renovations.  
But in some cases renovation is not the best option - the carcases of Soviet-era hotels , with their relatively small rooms and low ceilings, places a physical restriction on developers; it is difficult to incorporate modern features into an existing structure while meeting the space and convenience needs of the modern traveller.

I would hope that the  trend to renovate rather than destroy continues and expands beyond the hotel industry.  Perhaps these commercial pressures facing developers will help to avoid a repeat of the destruction of old buildings that took place under Stalin, and will be encouraging for the growing conservation movement in Moscow.  There are grounds for optimism. The Moscow Preservation Society made up of locals and foreigners, admits that the Russian government is not used to listening to pressure groups, but says consciousness, via newspapers and blogs, is growing.  

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Happy Paskha!

Easter always occurs later in the year in orthodox Christian countries than in Western christian churches where Easter falls around the time of the March equinox.   This is because Orthodox churches base their Easter date on the Julian calendar, which differs from the modern Gregorian calendar that is used by many western churches (and is the most universally accepted and used calendar), and is about 15 days behind the Gregorian calendar.  Russia adopted the modern calendar in 1918 which is why the 1917 Russian revolution celebrated in November was called the October revolution. 

This year, Easter is on 5 May which, incidentally, falls on the same day as it did in 2002 when I was in Moscow.  In many respects, this added a magical quality to visits to churches, cathedrals and monasteries - with Easter festivities in full swing and the many  bell chimes providing a melodic soundtrack.  

At Kolomnenskoye, the former royal estate to the southeast of the city centre of Moscow, there was a long table crammed with Easter cakes, Kulichi, awaiting bleesing.  Кулич is a traditional Easter bread in Russia and is eaten on the Easter breakfast with decorated eggs. Kulichi are decorated with colored icing two letters - ХВ, which means "Христос Воскрес" (Christ is risen).

 At the Church of Christ the Saviour, I saw Patriach Alexei II, who died in 2008, conduct a mass; then I bumped into him again, on another day, in the Kremlin as he was going from church to church, blessing each one in turn:

There also seemed to be some kind of military celebration going on there at the same time - it appeared to be some kind of passing out parade.

Aeroflot Smells like Mr Men Soap

Have you ever noticed how a smell can immediately to transport you back to an event, place or circumstances where you first encountered it?  I think that it has long been recognised that out of our five senses, smell is one of the most powerful - particularly in evoking memories.  

I had such an experience of this effect last night when I was washing my kids, when I opened a tube of soap i've not used before.  It was Mr Men soap - and it had a peculiar fruity smell. It immediately reminded me of my first flight to Russia on an Ilyhshin 76 Aeroflot flight in 1988. I can't recall exactly what the source of the smell was on the plane (because I don't think I knew at the time), but I attributed it to the smell of the free fruit drink served on the flight - it was billed as "lemonade" but it neither looked nor tasted like lemonade - it was a dark colour which made it look more like apple juice.   It was either that or the fuel smell in the fuselage, or perhaps both. I dunno, but I was immediately taken back to that flight as soon as I smelled this soap.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Lada 2101 first produced 43 years ago

The Moscow Times today marks the 43rd anniversary of the Lada 2101: 

"Forty-three years ago today, on April 19, 1970, the first VAZ-2101 rolled off the assembly line. Better known as a Lada outside of the former Soviet Union, the VAZ-2101 was formed as a collaboration between Fiat and the Soviet government. It was a functional, family car that is currently a collector’s item for car aficionados"

To mark the occasion, here is some pictures of Ladas:

Friday, 12 April 2013

Yuri Gagarin

Today is the 52nd anniversary of the first manned space flight.  Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin shook the world when it was announced on 12 April 1961 that he had circled the Earth in a spacecraft - Vostok 1.  

After circling the planet, Gagarin became an international superstar and undertook a world tour, which included London which he visited in July 1961, three months after his legendary flight - meeting the Queen and the Prime Minister, Halrold McMillan, as well as members of the Foundry Workers Union during his visit, as he had worked as a foundryman before his career in aeronautics,

Vostok 1 marked his only spaceflight, but he served as backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission (which ended in a fatal crash). Gagarin died in 1968 when the MiG 15 training jet he was piloting crashed - he was 34 years old.

The statue of him, pictured here, has recently been moved from Admiralty Arch to a permanent home at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London.  On 7 March 2013, there was a ceremony held there to celebrate its new home.

In 2011, for the 50th Anniversary of his flight, a statue of Yuri Gagarin was unveiled in London just off The Mall, next to Admiralty Arch, and features the cosmonaut in his flight suit and standing on a globe. A host of dignitaries were present for the unveiling, including the cosmonaut's daughter, Elena Gagarina.

"The 12th of April 1961 was one of the most remarkable days in history, uniting all people in all countries on all continents," said Gagarina, who is the current director of the Kremlin Museums.

Yelena Gagarina was also present at the unveiling of the statue at its new Greenwich home in March and said “I would like to thank all people living in London for the support of the idea to place the statue in Greenwich park. I hope my father's statue will be evoking only smiles, and I feel very happy today for Yury Gagarin, cosmonaut and man, who was dreaming of the sky, and at the same time always dreaming of home. And finally he found this beautiful home in Greenwich”. 

The figure is a copy of one sited in the town of Lubertsy, just outside Moscow, where Yuri Gagarin trained as a foundry worker in his mid-teens.  The original was made in 1984 to celebrate what would have been the cosmonaut's 50th birthday.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

RIP Mrs Thatcher

Former UK Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, died yesterday aged 87.  I didn't intend to mark her passing with a blog post, but I love this photo- taken during Mrs Thatcher's visit to the USSR in 1987.  She was greeted by enthusiastic crowds on her tours of eastern bloc countries (before the fall of the Berlin Wall) in the mid-eighties.

She maintained an outspoken opposition to communism that earned her the title The Iron Lady from the Soviet Union's Defense Ministry newspaper; however, much has been made in her role in ending communism in Eastern Europe.  Whilst I think her role in this has been exaggerated - these systems imploded without much intervention from the West - she was instrumental in bringing about the end the Cold War through her championing of freedom and democracy,  her belligerent stance towards the Soviet Union and forthright defence of the UK's nuclear deterrent.   Key to this, though, was recognising the reforming potential of Mikhail Gorbachev when he first rose to prominence in the Politburo in 1984.  Following her meeting with him in 1984, he famously described him as a a man with whom she can do business.  After Gorbachev became Soviet leader in 1985, she continued to develop a close relationship with him;  this helped to thaw relations between the USA and USSR, and brought the two sides together in a constructive dialogue on arms reduction.

She was loved and loathed in equal measure in the UK.   My own view?  Well, I spent much of the eighties as a left wing student despising her and campaigning against her (well for 2-3 years).  In 1984, I attended a protest march in Newcastle when she was visiting the North East.  To my shame, I took with me to the rally two eggs which I had intended to lob at her (given the opportunity).  Fortunately for her (and me) both these eggs had cracked open in my coat pocket - long before I had reached Newcastle!   Within a very short time, my political views changed considerably - especially once I had managed to get a job in a nationalised industry (after a short period of unemployment)  where I saw at first hand the profligacy and inefficient work practices she railed against which were so common in the public sector - I reassessed my views on her and became to admire what she had done for the country, to the extent that I was sad when she was forced out of office in 1990.  

Her economic reforms led to the decimation of the UK's heavy industry - it may have been in parts moribund, sclerotic,  inefficient and loss making, but her policy of refusing to subsidise ailing industries hastened their terminal decline.  The North of the UK, with its predominance of heavy industry, was disproportionally affected by the rapid industrial decline;  in areas of the North-East, where I live, where there was a reliance on such industries as coal mining, ship building, steel manufacturing, some communities never recovered from the loss of jobs in these sectors.   However, a paradox of the eighties recession, long recognised by economists, was that despite high unemployment and a shrinking economy, consumer spending continued to grow.  Unemployment rates of 10-15% were a tragedy for those who were part of that statistic, but it appears that remaining 85-90% of the workforce with jobs were doing all right, thank you very much.  This probably explains her electoral popularity.  On balance, I believe that Mrs Thatcher was one of the greatest post-war leaders the UK has had.  She transformed the ailing UK economy and its political landscape in the UK, put the great back in Great Britain.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Berezovsky Dead

Boris Abramovich Berezovsky dead

Strangled? Hanged? autoerotic asphyxiation? Or was he murdered by the secret services (British or Russian).  Either side might have wanted him dead - to prevent him from revealing (possible) UK involvement in the Litvinenko murder or providing evidence of Putin's corruption (past or present); who knows - to speculate is to get sucked into the strange, deluded and paranoid world of conspiracy theorists; its pointless.

But it was own machinations, his muddying of waters, a lover of intrigue, a conspiracy merchant diminished his credibility as critic of Vladimir Putin and his increasingly authoritarian regime in Russia.  His analysis of Putin might have been largely correct but his argument was tarnished by his hubris and desire for revenge against his erstwhile protégée.

Berezovsky loved the cut and thrust of Russian politics; loved having power, influence and control - perhaps more so than his great wealth - and has been described as his playing politics as a game of chess where only he is allowed to move the pieces.  He was the embodiment of the wild 1990s, a former mathematician who made a great fortune through Russia's privatisation program, widely regarded as being corrupt.  He was close to the Yelstin family, became a close advisor to Boris Yeltsin and reportedly played a key part in the rise of Vladimir Putin as Yeltsin's successor as Russian president.   However, once Putin became president, Berezovsky was deprived of his influence and his control - his fall was spectacular.

He was exiled in London to avoid corruption charges, and an inevitable prison sentence in Russia, and became obsessed with revenge on Vladimir Putin.  It would be of no surprise to me that he hand in the Litvinenko poisoning. Possibly a convoluted attempt at implicating the Russian authorities that backfired. 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Friday Baltika treat from Malgosia's Polish shop

Just been to the polish shop, Malgosia's, in Newcastle to get myself a Friday treat - some bottles of Wehey!

This is primarily a Polish shop but it does have a good stock of Eastern European products - including Russian. Got some smetana as well as a Latvian tin of sprats in oil.  
Małgosia’s Shop: Polish, Czech and Lithuanian Food
Unit 23,
Newgate Shopping Centre,

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Arctic Convoy Veterans receive medals

After 67 years, veterans of the WW2 Arctic convoys are to receive medals from the UK Government.  
The Arctic Convoys, described as "worst journey in the world" by Winston Churchill, took supplies to the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945.  More than 3,000 men died while on the convoys.

Following a long campaign to get the veterans recognised (by the UK Government) for their extraordinary bravery, the veterans will now receive the new Arctic Star medal and Bomber Command clasp.  The first of up to 250,000 presentations were made by Prime Minister David Cameron at a ceremony in Downing Street who hailed them as a "group of heroes".

Arctic convoy veteran - Glyn Williams
As I mentioned in a blog post of 7 March 2013 (my-first-trip-to-russia.html), I was privileged to meet one such veteran in 1988  who was in my tour group.  Glyn Williams, pictured here, had received a medal from the Soviet Government in 1985, which was offered to British servicemen to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War.