Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas - c Rozhdyestvom

Merry Christmas from Dave's Russia page and blog. ok so it's a few days early for the Russian Orthodox date for Christmas. This is a Russian themed chistmas decoration I painted it 14 years ago and dug out the loft for the fist time in about 10 years. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Russian Financial Crisis: Keep Calm & Carry On

"Russia is never as strong as it seems, but at the same time, it's never as weak as it seems"
Thane Gustafson, Capitalism Russian-Style.

I think it is worth remembering this quote when considering the turmoil currently affecting the economy and financial markets in Russia.

In his 1999 book "Capitalism Russian-Style", tells how the Soviet system was dismantled and the new market society was born, and examines the prospects for a Russian economic miracle in the twenty-first century.  He describes Russian achievements in building private banks, companies, stock exchanges, new laws and law courts; and looks at the role of the mafia, the new financial empires, entrepreneurs, business tycoons, and the shrinking Russian state. 

Following the hyperinflation, economic dislocation and infrastructure collapse of the post-Soviet period in the early nineties, the Russian economy then survived the 1998 crisis, and again in 2008 following the global financial crisis.

Given the "windfall" oil receipts its has enjoyed over the last 14 years, I m sure Russia is better prepared than before to weather the current storm.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Life is bitter without Sakharov

It is 25 years since the death of Andrei Sakharov - human rights activist, nuclear physicist and father of the Soviet H Bomb. Following his work on developing is work on the hydrogen bomb, he became increasingly concerned over the use of nuclear weapons.  His famous 1968 essay "Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom" was distributed underground "samizdat" in the USSR and smuggled out to the west.   This propelled him into the public sphere (in Russia and abroad) and set him on a course which would set him against the Soviet authorities.  Having become convinced that the goals of peace, progress and human rights were inextricably linked, he became an active campaigner and defender of human rights in the USSR.  

His international recognition and status as Hero of Socialist Labour, afforded him some protection from the full repressive force of the authorities , suffered by other "dissidents", nevertheless he was exiled in 1980 to the closed city of Gorky (off-limits to foreigners), now Nizhny Novgorod, following his vocal opposition to the 1979 invasion of Afganistan.

Gorbachev allowed him to return to Moscow in 1986, as a consequence of the policies of perestroika and glasnost, 

In March 1989, Sakharov was elected to the new parliament, the All-Union Congress of People's Deputies and co-led the democratic opposition, the Inter-Regional Deputies Group. He remained a thorn in the side of the authorities - at the December session of the twice-yearly congress, Gorbachev berated nuclear physicist and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov in a televised debate in which Sakharov was demanding a true multi-party system.  Andrei Sakharov died the next day of a heart attack aged 68.

Since Soviet times, Russia has made real progress in the development and protection of human rights. However, the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Russian state, curbs on freedom, closure of non-governmental organisations, harassment of the independent press, and attacks on protesters raise concerns over human rights and suggests that much work is still to be done in this area.  

Russia still needs a Sakharov.

A mourner at his funeral held a banner stating "life without Sakharov is bitter!" which is a play on the Russian saying  "life without sugar is bitter" (sakharov being the genitive plural for sakhar - sugar). Ironically, the word "bitter" in Russian is "gorky".

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

MIG Design Bureau - 75 years old

75 Years of Excellence: Celebrating the Foundation of MiG Design Bureau

The Mikoyan and Gurevich Design Bureau, now known as the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG, was founded on December 8, 1939. Aircraft designed by the bureau became the mainstay of the Soviet and Russian air forces, and have been widely used by armed forces all across the world.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


On 2 December 1989, the official end to the Cold War was declared at a summit between President George H. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta on 2 December 1989.  Has anyone told the Western media?

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Russian Language Notes: Костёр

Костёр = Bonfire

I love it when you find out something about your own language when you are studying another language.  I'm sure I knew that the word bonfire was originally a fire in which bones were burned, coming from came from Middle English banefire (late 15c.), but I must have forgotten this fact long ago.  So when I came across the Russian word for a bonfire, kostyor, noticing "kost" - the Russian the word for bone, I got that Eureka moment spotting the cognate.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Ukraine PM: Evidence of Russian Interference in Ukraine Elections

Embedded image permalink
Evil Empire interfering in Ukraine's Parliamentary Elections
Prize tit, Arseny Yatsenyuk - Ukraine's Prime Minister, is already blaming Russia for interfering in this Sunday's parliamentary elections, not sure how thought, unless he is thinking of the wrong Evil Empire.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Pushkin Square buskers 1993

One way Muscovites keep warm in mid-Winter is to dance in the street.  Although it was January when I took this picture, it was unseasonably warm - about null gradusov (zero degrees) but the damp weather still chilled to the bone.  What better way to stave off the chill than to dance along to a jazz quintet!

Me - too miserable to take part in the dancing

Ten McDonald’s Restaurants Closed in Russia

As a result of the mass unscheduled inspections by Russia's public health watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, the work of 10 McDonald's restaurants in Russia has been temporarily suspended. On the face of it, the restaurants have been closed because they failed these hygiene inspections, but it is suspected that it is part of Russia's response to Western sanctions that have been imposed.

McDonald's has 451 restaurants in Russia. Since August, Russian consumer protection officials have carried out over 200 safety inspections at various McDonald's premises throughout the country. Even the flagship McDonald's on Pushkin Square in Moscow has fallen victim to these failed inspections.  

Moscow’s first McDonald’s, the first one in Russia or the Soviet Union, was the largest McDonald’s in the world when it opened on Pushkin Square, 31st January 1990.   On that opening day, there was a line of customers of snaking around Pushkin Square. 30,000 customers were served during the restaurant's first day of business, a record for the opening day of a McDonald's restaurant.  The queues to get in would exist for quite some time after the opening, because at the time, it was one of the few places in Moscow where you could dine informally, in comfort, relatively cheaply, and where you would be served quickly by friendly staff. Oh, and it had the best toilets in Moscow!

I went in 1993, and while there weren't any queues to get it, it was still very busy.

View of Pushkin Square from inside McDonald's

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Pushkin Autumn

Following my recent post about National Poetry Day, her are some more passages from Pushkin's Autumn courtesy of the Moscow Times. Quote for the day, or #ЦитатаДня from The Moscow Times

Every autumn I blossom anew; the Russian cold is good for my health.
Alexsandr Pushkin

October has come. The grove is already shaking the last leave from its naked branches.
Alexsandr Pushkin

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

ComicCon Russia

The Exhibition "ComicCon Russia" was held in Moscow last week, at the exhibition complexCrocus Expo.  Should it not have been held here instead . . .or am I living in the past?

Old COMECON building, Novy Arbat, Moscow

Thursday, 2 October 2014

National Poetry Day - Think of A Poem

Today, in the UK, it is National Poetry Day.  This year’s theme is "Remember", so if you remember a poem, however short, you are encouraged to pass it on with hashtag #thinkofapoem. 

I caught the end of an article on the radio this morning where someone was extolling the virtues of memorising poetry - in terms of improving memory skills and helping those with dementia. Listeners of the show were encouraged to get involved and post some lines of of poetry they are able to recite from memory. 

Apparently, once you have commited something to memory, a poem for example, it is likely that you will remember it for years - even when the rest of your faculties have diminished.  There is something to be said for rote learning, but it has been out of faviour in the education system for 40 odd years now, because it is said that it doesn't promote critical learning and true understanding.  Supporters of rote learning would claim, however, if you know something off by heart, you are able to devote more mental resources to the critical thinking.

I don't know, but I did feel slightly ashamed that I am not able to recite a single poem.  I can, however, cite a couple of lines from Pushkin's poem Autumn - in Russian as well.

Here is the lines from the poem which I have transliterated and translated.

lyeko i radostno igrayet v sertstye krov
- lightly and joyfully the blood in my heart plays 

zhelaniya keepyat - ya snova schastliv, molod,
- desire seethes, I am again happy, youthful

ya snova zhizni poln - takov ma-ee arganeezm
- I am again full of life - such is my nature (organism)

I'm no translator, so I apologise if I have got that wrong.  This is just a few lines from a long peom by Pushkin which is an ode to the autumn season.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

First General Richards, now Paddy Pantsdown

What's going on?  First we have General Richards, former UK army chief, calling for a rapprochement with Russia and expressing pro-Russian views, now Paddy Pantsdown is at it!  Sorry Lord Ashdown, but you will be forever known by your classic Sun-headline-based moniker (well, by me, at least).

Former marine, Lord Ashdown, states in the Times today, Tuesday 30th September 2014, that "Russia is an essential ally in the fight against jihadism. The alternative is a global religious war".  He acknowledges that "Sunni jihadism is roaring away in the Russian Islamic republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, almost as much as in Iraq and Syria. We in Europe may be concerned about jihadis returning from the battlefield. But Russia is one of the battlefields." 

Putin has been saying this for years - since the first war in Chechnya in 1994 - and long before 9/11.  It's about time the west, especially Obama and the US administration, acknowledged this and stopped with their ridiculous policy of sanctions and ostracism against Russia.

Former General supports Russian position over Crimea

Last week's Sunday Times, 28 September 2014, contains an interview with one of Britain’s former top soldiers, General David Richards, who retired last year.  The article was essentially discussing the crisis in Iraq and Syria, and Friday's vote in the House of Commons to commit the UK's armed forces to airstrikes against the terrorist group ISIL in Iraq, but in it he expresses some refreshingly honest, and accurate views on Russia, which run counter to the prevailing Russophobia in the western press.

General Richards outlines his solution to the crisis, which includes, among many other things, some kind of arrangement with Russia - their assistance in tackling Islamic terrorism is crucial.  But he does on to express some pro-Russian views in respect of the events in the Ukraine and Russia's annexation of Crimea.  In respect of Crimea, he refers to the annexation as Putin's "cleverly executed plan".   
“I don’t want to sound an apologist for Russia, but think Falklands, think Cuba, and you begin to understand what Russia feels about’s been a part of their country for hundreds of years." In respect of Crimea, he refers to the annexation as Putin's "cleverly executed plan" 
I do tend to think that you are on dodgy ground when you try to establish borders and rights to territory on the basis of a arbitrarily selected point in time (or a point in time chosen to support your case), especially in the case of historically contested territory and fluctuating borders of nation states, kingdoms, princedoms, tribes.  However, General Richards goes on to state:
"Crimea is Russian. The Russians, British and French went to war over Crimea 170 years ago. The idea that Crimea was ever going to be allowed by Russians to be part of Ukraine, or a Ukraine that was hostile, was cloud-cuckoo-land. And from a purely military sense, it was a rather cleverly executed plan."
On the events Ukraine, he expresses a more honest opinion than you usually read in the western press; he asks:
"are we really certain those protesters in the early days were properly representative of the majority of Ukraine? There were certainly some dodgy elements, and a president who was democratically elected was kicked out, however much you don’t like him."
He goes on to express his worry, which I believe is quite an honest assessment of western actions in Ukraine, Georgia, Syria and elsewhere: we get involved, we give encouragement, moral support, but we don't follow through; we keep encouraging people to get to the top of the hill but don't do enough to get them there. Perhaps like Sisyphus in Greek mythology: as a punishment for chronic deceitfulness, Sysyphus is compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Russia's opposition to action against Syria

Up until a few months ago I thought that ISIS was just a pub along Silksworth Row in Sunderland.  It turns out that an Islamic extremist group of that name has emerged which is more barbaric than Al Quaeda.  It is a well-armed, well-organised and well-funded terrorist organisations intent on creating an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and has variously been called ISIS, IS and now ISIL.  Whatever it is, it's not a state and it's not Islamic.  

Russia has been warning the west for years - long before 9/11 - about the rise of Islamic extremism, having experienced it on its own soil.  The Russian position has consistently been to ask who would govern Syria if Assad is deposed, and to point out that by arming the rebels, you fuel Islamic extremist groups, making matters worse. Whatever Russia's motivation and allegiance are in this, it is nevertheless a reasonable question to ask.

I have previously viewed Russia's support for Assad, and both Russia and China's opposition to intervention and the military action against Assad's murderous regime, to be morally reprehensible, self-serving, obstructionist and realpolitik at its worst; but, given the rapid rise of this radical terrorist organisation, comprising circa 30,000 fighters from Syrian rebel groups, the Russian position seems remarkably prescient and sensible.  

There is now talk in some western circles about engaging in dialogue with Assad with a view to assisting him crush these rebels.  There was the meeting of foreign ministers this week, which included Russia's Sergei Lavrov, on the pressing need to do something about the ISIS/IS/ISIL. On the news this morning, I heard that the US was taking military action to protect Syria's border.  

What's going on?  Its just like the shifting alliances in the perpetual war depicted in Orwell's novel "1984".

Friday, 22 August 2014

Prince Andrei Kurbsky letter to Ivan the Terrible

"To the Tsar, exalted by God, who formerly appeared most illustrious but has now been found to be the opposite! May you, o Tsar, understand this with your leprous conscience .... You have persecuted me most bitterly; you have destroyed your royal servants and spilled the blood of innocent martyrs ... You have answered my love with hatred, good with evil, and my blood - spilt for you - cries out against you to The Lord God!"

Taken from the excellent book by Martin Sixsmith: Russia A 1000 year Chronicle of the Wild East, which I am currently reading.  I'm only up to Chapter 8, but what I've read so far is fascinating - and it seems there are so many historical parallels with Putin's Russia in respect of his return to authoritarianism, centralised authority, powerful state whose interests must be place higher than the individual, immense power concentrated in the hands of one individual; and the manipulation and control of oligarchs.  

The quote above is from a Prince who fell foul of the Tsar Ivan the Terrible and corresponded with the Tsar while in exile.  I liked this quote not because of its relevance to modern Russia but because it has some personal resonance for any loyal, hard-working employee who has suffered from a capricious, bullying, incompetent, unstable boss bent on destroying their career.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

12 Faces of President Putin - Calendar 2002

Here is something from the archives, for all those Kremlinologists, Putinologists, amateur psychologists and so-called experts on Russia: extracts of a 2002 calendar featuring the 12 faces of President Putin.

His myriad of facial expressions no doubt provide a huge source of information for Western security analysts, but I've often wondered whether he deploys them consciously and purposefully to manipulate his interlocutors or to provide disinformation for analysts.  The bored, petulant schoolboy look is Obama's favourite (

The calendar was based on some paintings made early in Putin's first term as President when his popularity ratings were, as now, "sky high".

The scanned images here were originally published in The Times with, I think, the following: "The most sought-after Christmas present in the Kremlin this year is a 2002 calendar featuring the 12 faces of President Putin.

Although criticised by some Russians for placing restrictions on the media, and for getting too close to the United States too fast, he has sky-high popularity ratings and is widely admired for restoring national pride in the nearly two years since he took over from Boris Yeltsin. Unlike Mr Yeltsin, who, despite his defence of democracy, eventually became a figure of fun for his chaotic and sometimes drunken management of post-Communist Russia, Mr Putin is seen as upright, with a skilful and assured touch on foreign affairs and the economy.

The calendar reflects a growing campaign to show that he is not only a strong leader or vozhd in the Russian tradition —both Tsarist and Communist — but that he also has a human side that belies his image as a hard-faced former KGB agent.

The pictures, painted by Dmitri Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeeyeva, a husband and wife team, were not officially commissioned by the Kremlin and were based on photographs rather than sittings.

Mr Vrubel said that this was deliberate because they wanted to pin down certain expressions and match them to months, whereas when a subject sat for a portrait their expression kept changing. Mrs Timofeeyeva said: "In the end I felt we were painting a friend or a neighbour, not a leader who inspires fear."

The paintings had unofficial approval and were being bought by Kremlin officials for their offices and to give as gifts, Mr Vrubel said. A senior official has given the calendar to Mr Putin, together with the original oil painting of the December portrait. which shows the Russian leader in a thoughtful pose. "He apparently liked it very much" Mr Vrubel said. The President’s office has also bought the original of the calendar’s cover portrait— in effect, a thirteenth pose — which shows Mr Putin, a former judo champion, sitting cross-legged in his judo clothing.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted that the calendar was in contrast to the idealised pictures of Mr Putin available in Moscow bookshops, which were a throwback to the airbrushed portraits of Soviet times.

THE "manly chest" of President Putin, exposed in a judo pose was proving popular with many women, Viktona Timofeeyeva, who painted the studies with her husband, Dmitri Vrubel, said. She said that many women found Mr Putin attractive, particularly in the calendar’s cover portrait, which went on display at an exhibition that opened in central Moscow."

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Peter Hitchens on Flight MH17 Tragedy

Peter Hitchens has got this spot on.  The EU and NATO stir up trouble in the Ukraine (and other places as well e.g. Georgia) then walk away when things get difficult. The causal link is more EU than Putin.

"Those who began the current war in Ukraine – the direct cause of the frightful murder of so many innocents on Flight MH17 on Thursday – really have no excuse.
There is no doubt about who they were. In any war, the aggressor is the one who makes the first move into neutral or disputed territory.
And that aggressor was the European Union."

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Photo exhibition - The Side Gallery Newcastle

Tucked away up an alleyway off Newcastle's quayside, The Side Gallery & Cinema truly is a hidden gem.  I don't come here often enough, despite the fact that I run past here most days.  When out for a run today, I was passing here and remembered I had seen an advert for their current exhibiution " LEGACY: Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, & The Caucasus", so I decided to pop in for a look.  

The exhibition runs until Sunday 20 July 2014 - so only a few days left!

It is an exhibition of photos by a number of photgraphers: George Georgiou, Lucia Ganieva, Mila Teshaieva, Rafal Milach, Justyna Mielnikiewicz, Donald Weber, Olga Kravets, Maria Morina, Oksana Yushko, Alexander Chekmenev; and covers  the former Soviet Union republics and their "Struggles for independence and identity take place against the intensifying backdrop of a geo-political battle between Russia and European Union. Through a series of imaginative landscapes the exhibition explores shared histories, isolation and engagement, tradition and the desire for modernity"

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

25 Years ago - Congress of Peoples Deputies created

Andrei Sakharov  - the congress's most famous deputy - calls for a multi-party system
Gorbachev's attempt at constitutional reform was the creation of the Congress of Peoples' Deputies of the Soviet Union in 1989.  750 deputies were elected to this new body - intended to comprise the Supreme Soviet - on 26 March 1989, with the first congress taking place over June and July of that year.  Although it was intended to separate the Communist Party from the state, the composition of the body (with allocation of seats to public organisations - the Communist Party, Komsomol, Trade Unions, Academy of Sciences etc) was designed to ensure the Communist Party remained the leading force in this new state body.  At the December session of the twice-yearly congress, Gorbachev berated nuclear physicist and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov in a televised debate in which Sakharov was demanding a true multi-party system.

Soviet Space Shuttle, Buran, Moves to All Russian Exhibition Centre

The life-sized prototype of the Buran spaceship — the Soviet's copy of the Space Shuttle was moved from Moscow's Gorky Park to the All-Russian Exhibition Centre (formerly VDNKh) which has been getting a bit of a face lift of late.

Best of 1950s Soviet Design Exhibition - London

It's Time for a Grand Housewarming' 

THE GALLERY FOR RUSSIAN ARTS & DESIGN (GRAD) in London (3-4a Little Portland Street London W1W 7JB) has an exhibition on at the moment about Soviet design in the 1950s onwards.  This is the blurb from their website.


20 JUNE — 24 AUGUST 2014

Exhibition design by CALUM STORRIE and KATYA SIVERS


Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain brings together over fifty key objects featuring the quirky, colourful and often charming design style that emerged from the 1950s in the Soviet Union.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Back in the USSR Socks

A gift for a president who has everything.  I got these for my birthday recently off the mother-in-law, probably because of the number of USSR nostalgia posts of late.  She got them from the Beatles museum in Liverpool.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Fast Food Russian Style - Invented 200 years ago

Perhaps not the best time to be talking about invading Russian troops, but I was just contemplating, or rather remembering, the origin of the word "bistro".  The informal dining concept of a bistro is obviously a French import, but it is not well known, with the exception of a few hundred million Russians of course, that the word bistro comes from the Russian adjective/adverb: "fast"/"quickly".

Following France's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon was repelled by advancing Russian army and eventually defeated in 1814.  The invading Russian troops arrived in Paris desperate to be fed and watered.   A group of Russian soldiers were dining at La Mère Catherine in Montmartre, they asked to be served "bistro" (быстро; Russian: "quickly"), banging their fists on the table chanting this repeatedly. Thereafter, "bistro" became a description of a restaurant where you could get food or drink quickly.

La Mère Catherine in Monmartre was founded in 1793, and is one of the oldest restaurants in Paris. A plaque at its entrance provides the etymology of the word "bistro" describing the above occasion which occurred on 30 March 1814.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Novy Arbat - back in the USSR

Given all the media talk of recreating the USSR, here is a picture of Kalinin Prospekt (now Novy Arbat) in downtown Moscow - with the building lights  displaying the letters CCCP(pronouced es es es er) - USSR. I love the layout of this street and the architecture, although some of the buildings are starting to look a bit shabby.  Here is a collection of photos of Novy Arbat:

Friday, 23 May 2014

25 Years Ago - Socialist Property Exappropriated

I'm not sure at what point I thought it would be a good idea to smuggle goods out of the Soviet Union, but my stomach told me exactly when I realised it was a really bad idea - at the point I handed over my luggage and went through security at Leningrad's Pulkovskaya airport.  Feeling sick to the pit of my stomach, I really wished that I hadn't attempted to smuggle a Soviet Army and Soviet Navy belt buckle inside a tea caddy - in a tea caddy not unlike the one I described in an earlier post:  

I had long wanted a Red Army belt buckle, and could have bought one from any one of the many black marketeers on the streets of Moscow and Leningrad on a number of occasions; but I had always passed up those opportunities on the basis that it was illegal to export them from the Soviet Union. I had also been told that the buckles were made from gun metal and would therefore set off the metal detectors at the airport - so you couldn't wear one as a belt and conceal the buckle with your jumper.   After buying some Russian tea which came in a metal tea caddy, I hit upon the idea of emptying the tea into a plastic bag and replacing the contents of the caddy with a belt buckle - brilliant!  I could now purchase my long coveted Red Army belt buckle; hell, why not go daft and get a Soviet Navy belt as well? 

So, with much trepidation I queued at the check-in knowing I had foolishly stashed not one but two belt buckles in an empty tin hidden in my suitcase.  It was not until the pilot announced we had left Soviet airspace did my arse stop twitching. Despite my relief the usual cheer which greeted such an announcement still pissed me off though.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Greatest catastrophe of 20th century

...was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin said this once apparently. No he didn't you idiots (and I don't mean you, readers!). What he actually said was the collapse of the Soviet Union was the "greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century".  The omission of "geopolitcal" alters the meaning and context of what he said; in this context, the word "greatest" means "largest in geographic area".

It's a line frequently trotted out in the Western media and top US politicians, more so since the Ukraine crisis has unfolded. The Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk even uttered this tripe the other day.

We certainly seemed to have returned to a Cold War footing - especially on the propaganda front. Back in the eighties, I remember Mikhail Gorbachev making a speech about Afghanistan which was taken out of context and widely misquoted. He said something along the lines of "imperialism has turned Afghanistan into a bleeding wound"; he was laying the blame squarely at the door of the Americans and their support of the Mujhadeen in opposing the Soviet occupation. But this was shortened, taken out of context and presented as an admission that "Afghanistan has become a bleeding wound".  It was not what the Soviets wanted either the world or it's own people to believe was happening in Afghanistan, and it completely changed the meaning of what he had said.  Even so, this was seen as a frank admission that things were not quite as they seemed in Afghanistan or a tacit acknowledgement that the Soviet Union was mired in its own "Vietnam". After all, "glasnost" - openness  - was the policy of the day.

Similarly, Putin's statement is often misused. It's interpreted that he somehow bemoans the loss of the Soviet Empire, the loss of Russia's power & status in the world, and his current actions can be explained by his desire to restore Soviet borders for the Russian federation, or to recreate the Soviet Union, or even to return to communism. Of course, his KGB background is often mentioned when propagating this nonsense.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the separation of the territory of 15 Soviet republics into newly independent countries was accompanied by economic hardship, hyperinflation, collapse of social protection, rise in organised crime, unemployment, brain drain, and complete economic dislocation (the Soviet Union was a centrally planned economy with all sectors, infrastructure and transport links very much interconnected and interrelated. The Soviet Union's vast geographically distance economy was controlled, albeit imperfectly, by banks of supercomputers whirring away on Prospekt Marx in downtown Moscow - home to the state planning body Gosplan (the building now houses the State Duma a Russia's parliament).

The system wasn't working effectively in many areas, but the breakup of the Soviet Union destroyed the planning system and fractured industry and infrastructure - eg how do you run a railway if your trains have been commandeered by newly independent countries, who owns the tracks, who owns the trains, who marshals the train service?

The period was also accompanied by considerable political upheaval  as new institutions state power structures had to be developed very rapidly and often from scratch:  legislature, executive, parliament, political parties, legal framework, other levers of power and democratic institutions- simultaneously across the vast territory of the former USSR.  Yelstin's power struggle with the Russian parliament which ended with the army shelling the White House - the building housing the Russian Parliament - is a prime example of the consequences of the the political collapse: political stalemate resolved in violent and fatal fashion.  But in some former republics, the power struggles were more violent in character, with some verging on civil war.  Edvard Schevardnadze, first President of Georgia, felt the harsh reality of the geopolitical catastrophe, following the collapse of the USSR, when he was holed up in a bunker during a Georgia's civil war in the early nineties - As the former foreign secretary of the second most powerful country in the world and, at the time, President of Georgia,  he must have thought "where did it all go wrong?" as the shells rained down around him in that bunker.

I think that in Putin's view, the geopolitical catastrophe is a historical fact - it has occurred, it can't be undone.  It may be possible or expedient even to right some "historical wrongs", but I don't think there is any appetite, desire, motivation to restore the borders of the Soviet Union.  Politically, he has presented himself as the only alternative to the wild Nineties - an antidote to the Yeltsin era, and has been successful in restoring the prestige (domestically at least), stability and power of the Russian state.   The collapse of the USSR, influences his approach to building power structures in order to control the levers of the economy and the state; he has resurrected many Soviet symbols, including the Soviet National Anthem (same music - different words), but restoring the USSR is not on his radar.  For example, Belarus - the bankrupt, corrupt, dictatorship of the former Soviet republic Belorussia would love to join Russia; it has courted Russia for many years, and Putin/Russia  has consistently rejected their advances.  In the Baltic countries, Latvia and Lithuania in particular, the sizable Russian speaking population has been discriminated against, repressed, deprived of rights for 20 odd years without any attempt by the Russian state to annex part of that territory on the pretext of protecting the rights of ethnic Russians.

The thing is, US politicians should know all this.  Fiona Hill of the US Brookings Institution has often challenged this red herring in her books and lectures (Putin's view that the Soviet Union collapse was a tragedy).  Both Fiona and this respected institution have been advising the US Government at the highest levels for years on Russian affairs, so it is inconceivable that US politicians don't know that they are spouting disingenuous crap.

New Cold War May Emerge in Ukraine Crisis, Medvedev Says | Johnsons Russia List

New Cold War May Emerge in Ukraine Crisis, Medvedev Says | Johnsons Russia List

Russia is being pulled into a new Cold War with the U.S. and its allies, who are using economic warfare reminiscent of the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Hotel Moscow, Stolichnaya Vodka Label

Hotel Moscow - rebuilt version. 
Following my post last week about the redesign of the Stolichnaya Vodka label, I though I would post a few pictures of the Hotel Moscow.  As I mentioned, this hotel was demolished and rebuilt to the same design - a process which is common in Moscow as described in my post of  this post highlights the dubious practice of preserving the architectural heritage by creating facsimiles of original buildings (with lucrative contracts for demolition and reconstruction awarded in the process.

Hotel Moscow in January 1993.  
The Moscow hotel was built in the 1930s and is situated on Manezh Sqaure (its original name before being renamed in 1967 "50th Anniversary of the October Revolution" square.  60th Anniversary.  Stalin approved two separate designs  for the side blocks, the architects were not sure which design to use, so the hotel was constructed using both designs, thereby giving the hotel a clumsy, ill-proportioned facade.   As you can see in the above photograph from 1993, the square was not pedestrianised as it is now.  There was a vast expanse of tarmac in front of the hotel, which was flanked by two busy roads making it accessible only by a pedestrian tunnel.  In the 1990, the whole area was pedestrianised (except for the road in front of the Hotel National at the bottom of Tversakaya available for vehicles).  A large,multi-level underground shopping centre was created here with fountains, gardens restaurants and bars on the exterior - running the length of Alexander Gardens (Alexandrovsky Sad)

Manezh Square May2002. 

July 2003 - Before demolition commences. 

July 2003 - Before demolition commences. 

Taras Schevchenko - Ukrainian poet

Me and Taras Schevchenko
Born 9 Match 1814, Taras Schevchenko was a Ukrainian poet, writer, artist, public and political figure, as well as folklorist and ethnographer.

Shevchenko dreamed of a Ukraine that would be free of the stifling rule and censorship of the Russian Tsarist Imperial government. Some of Shevchenko's works were also censored by the Soviet Union. Shevchenko was not only a national poet of Ukraine he was also a universal poet. He defended the rights of all peoples to freedom, of human dignity, of women, of Jews, and stressed the importance of education, tradition and heritage. In addition, the renaissance of the Ukrainian language since 1991 is a tribute to Shevchenko's role as the founder of the modern literary Ukrainian language.

Here is his statue which stands in front of the Ukraine Hotel in Moscow.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Stolichnaya Vodka Label redesigned

I spotted a bottle of Stolichnaya in my local supermarket and I noticed that the label has been redesigned. The building  depicted on the bottle is The hotel Moscow in Moscow, on Manezh Square just off Red Square. Now I know the original Hotel Moscow at this location has been demolished and a replica built in its place, but I'm pretty sure they used the exact same design and dimensions - they didn't make it narrower.   The image on the "Stoli" label looks nothing like the Hotel Moscow now - it looks more like the Vermont hotel in Newcastle. 

Stoli?! I hate Stolichanaya being called Stoli! although, I do admit that find it marginally more acceptable than an incorrect pronunciation of Stolichnaya where the stress is placed on the second last syllable - stolichn-EYE-ya. The correct pronunciation is with the stress on the "i" as in stalEECHnaya (forgive my ignorance of pronunciation notation). But I am willing to let that that go as well. I do, however, become apoplectic with rage when someone, say a bartender, corrects MY pronunciation. LISTEN - IT'S stalEECHnaya, a feminine adjective from stalEETsa (stolitsa) the Russian feminine noun for "capital"!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Back in the USSR

25 years ago, I could have bought this album for a fiver.   Paul McCartney released this album  CHOBA B CCCP (s'nova v sssr) on the Soviet Melodiya label as a special edition for release solely in the Soviet Union.  The Beatles were extremely popular in the Soviet Union (and continue to be in Russia) despite their recordings not being available from legitimate sources during communist times.  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Choba B CCCP was given a worldwide release in 1991.

A black-marketeer (fartsovki, I think they were called) offered to sell a copy to me for £5 in a department store on Moskovskaya Prospekt not far from the Pulkovskaya hotel in St Petersburg. 

At the time, I considered McCartney to be a "talent-less has-been", declared him as such and refused the offer (saying to my mate "what do I want to buy that shite for?") .  Back in England, the album had become a collectors item and was being sold for up to £150!  What do I know?

I quite likes the Beatles now, and recognise their considerable talent and contribution to music. But back then, it was only 8 years after I had been hauled in front of the head teacher at school for a bollocking over my music exam paper.  They disliked my answer to the question "name two songwriters from the Beatles". My answer was "John Lop and Paul McCockroach". 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

RT - Russia Today News Channel

I have an admission: I occasionally like to watch RT the Russian state English language news channel which is free to view in the UK on Freeview.  It it is good to get some alternative perspectives on world events and sometimes to see things in other countries which are not necessarily covered by upon in western media for whatever reasons.

But, you have to wonder about its editorial bias and question the credibility of its output when they give a platform to the likes George Galloway on the station -  someone who presents their own program - Sputnik.  Former MP, leftwinger and Trotskyist, Dave Nellist, was also on the other night being interviewed at length.  RT seems to give a lot of airtime for a rag-tag of rent-a-mob, anti-capitalist, leftwingers.  Sometimes I think they focus too much on the negative aspects of the western societies, poverty crime, demonstrations - there is too much handwringing and schadenfreude and self-righteous tone to their reporting style.

It's odd that it has a left wing bias in its coverage of western countries when in terms of economic policy and authoritarianism Russia is on the right wing and anti-liberal.   RT seems to give voice to an odd alliance of left wingers, conspiracy theorists and anti-US and anti-capitalist academics.  

Has RT forgotten that Russia is a capitalist economy nowadays?  On the basis of how much the state accounts for a country's GDP, the UK and France are more socialist by comparison.

Having said that, the rampant Russophobia we have been seeing the western media over recent years and especially since the start of the Ukraine crisis, you would think that the west had forgotten that Russia was no longer communist and the Cold War finished nearly 25 years ago!

Nevertheless, RT does have some good programmes.  Peter Lavelle's Crosstalk is good (but watch out for the dodgy academics); the Kaiser report is entertaining of only they could turn down his rabid winy voice; and occasionally they have some good documentaries on aspects of Russian life you would not normally get to see.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Happy St George's Day Moscow!

...... from England and Newcastle.  England and Moscow share a patron saint, St George, whose day is celebrated today April 23rd.  In Newcastle, we have a statue of Saint George which stands in Old Eldon Square.  Incidentally, nearby the statue is a bench which dedicated to the Russian Convoy Club in Newcastle - honouring those who took part in the Arctic Convoys during World War II.