Who Is Russia’s Number 2?

•10/02/2016 • Leave a Comment

In answering the question of who is Russia’s number 2 leader, up to last year most Kremlin watchers would have suggested it to be prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. The two have been close confidants and friends for decades.

It was Medvedev who maintained wireless communications when Mr. Putin rode an underwater submersible in August to explore a shipwreck in Crimean waters. But the Putin tour also included someone who usually remains in the shadows–security chief Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s chief of the presidential administration.

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Sergei Ivanov at a Security Council meeting.

Kremlin watchers understand that Putin and Ivanov, like Putin and Medvedev, share a long history. Ivanov and Putin came from the foreign services of the KGB, and Putin appointed Ivanov as his deputy in 1998 after then-president Boris Yeltsin had named Putin to head the FSB, the new name for the KGB. They have been together ever since.

Since last August, Ivanov has been given a more visible role in the government. Not only do the security services answer to him, but he has begun to represent the government at public events and in official meetings with foreign leaders. Last Wednesday, former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger traveled to Moscow. Kissinger is a long time friend of Vladimir Putin and the two met that afternoon at the presidential residence outside Moscow. Kissinger had come to Moscow as a guest for the opening of the Primakov Center for Foreign Policy Cooperation. However, the official meeting between Kissinger and the government was with Sergei Ivanov.

Kissinger and Sergei Ivanov Moscow 4 Feb 2016

Last May, Russia Insider, a publication which attempts to appear independent, but is in fact owned, operated, and bankrolled by the Kremlin media structure (in this case RBTH), introduced Ivanov among several other new faces of Russian leadership. Then, in November 2015 the publication seemed to suggest that Ivanov, although not elected, holds the number two position in the Russian government.

Russia Insider led that edition with the headline: Key Interview Confirms Sergey Ivanov, Putin’s Chief of Staff Is Russia’s #2. The publication went on to say that the interview by the Russian news agency TASS (Kremlin controlled), was designed to “explain Ivanov’s role and to make him better known to the Russian public. No other Russian official apart from Putin himself talks in such a wide ranging way.”

Some may ask if this is the security forces way of reigning in and keeping Mr. Putin in check? That might be doubtful, as Ivanov is as much a hardliner, and perhaps even more than Putin. A very intriguing statement by Ivanov in the TASS interview was this one: “Don’t think the Kremlin always decides everything, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Could it be a signal that Putin will retire, and forego another term? Again, we do not know, but it was interesting that a Kremlin controlled publication such as Russia Insider would venture to write “if Putin does decide to go, then Ivanov looks like an obvious potential successor.”

 

 

Putin’s Choice for Next USA President

•08/02/2016 • Leave a Comment

Count on the Kremlin to be watching the current American election cycle very closely. A lot is at stake for the Russians–especially in normalizing relationships and bringing to an end the crippling sanctions that Moscow so desperately craves.

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Mr. Putin in the Kremlin during a summit with leaders from India, December 2015.

While they will never admit it openly, the folks in the Kremlin understand that American politics, for all its imperfections, is far more honest and transparent than anything the Russians have yet to experience in their long history. To paraphrase a running Russian joke, “The Americans are only a year away from their election, and they still don’t know who is the winner!”

Vladimir Putin must certainly be enjoying the debates, as both parties have allowed these events to descend into something that more resembles a barroom brawl instead of a spirited airing of the issues. During the 2012 Russian elections, Mr. Putin stayed above the fray of campaigning and debates. Instead of participating in debates with his challengers, of whom everyone already understood the eventual outcome, he claimed that he was too busy running the country as prime minister. He had no time for silly things like answering questions from the media or the opposition.

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Photo: Gage Skidmore

Of all the remaining candidates, both Republican and Democrat, there is one individual who Mr. Putin has described as “outstanding and talented,” and “undoubtedly a very colourful, talented person.” If you guessed that to be wealthy businessman Donald Trump, you may now proceed to the head of the class.

Mr. Putin has experienced the chilliness of Hillary Clinton, and heard the fiery rhetoric from most of the Republican candidates. Trump is different, a least in Putin’s estimation. Following his most recent national press conference, Mr. Putin opined about Trump by saying, “He is the absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today. He says that he wants to move to another level of relations, to a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome it.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has said some things that surely sound like music to Putin’s ears. Trump has said that the world might be a better place had Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi been left in power. He has questioned the American effort to dethrone Syria’s Assad.

In a statement from the Trump campaign, Trump waxed eloquent about the Russian leader. “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond. I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”

The mutual admiration of Putin and Trump has not been lost on other American candidates. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican candidate, went so far as to create a spoof website that promotes a Trump/Putin ticket.

The Kasich spoof includes a video promising that, if elected, the duo would soon “Make Tyranny Great Again.”

Among some there is a suspicion that Trump has an affinity for the women of Eastern Europe. His first wife, Ivana Marie Zelníčková, was born in Czechoslovakia. They had three children together. Wife number two, Marla Maples Trump, gave “the Donald” a daughter, Tiffany. Currently, wife number three is Melanija Knavs Trump, born in Slovenia. Trump has a young son from this third marriage.

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Donald and Melania.

Given the Soviet history of the region which gave Trump two of his wives, one might easily come to think of why he might wish to get along with Vladimir Putin. But, there may be more to it than simple geography. Both men see themselves as strong leaders. Both respect strength and fail to countenance weakness.

Critics claim that neither man seems to have a strong resolve to adhere to constitutional principles as laid out in their respective nations. Could they get along? Maybe. But, at what level? That, as Mr. Putin said in a news conference, is something for American voters to decide.

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Supermarkets in Russia: Dixie

•27/01/2016 • 1 Comment

Supermarkets in Russia have come a long way since the days of long lines and empty shelves so common during the Soviet period.

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Soviet era food shopping nightmare.

These days, the third largest supermarket chain almost has a southern feel, at least in the name, “Dixie” (Дикси). Admittedly, the similarities with the American south ends there.

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Specializing in food and home products, Dixie is based in Moscow as part of the Mercury Group and is traded on the Russian stock exchange (MCX) under the symbol DIXY.

The company operates approximately three supermarket chains in 756 Russian communities, with the Dixie brand being the largest with over 2500 stores. Dixie also operates the upscale supermarket chain “Viktoriya” (Виктория) with 63 stores mainly in Moscow, Kaliningrad, and Saint Petersburg, and the “Megamart” group. The Megamart chain consists of 36 stores, including 24 Megamart compact hypermarkets and 12 Minimart economy supermarkets.

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Founded in 1992 in Saint Petersburg, the second city for expansion was Moscow as the chain began to grow in key Russian cities. Now headquartered in Moscow, Dixie operates 8 distributions centers with their own transport fleet.

Dixie store brands

As of December 2015, Dixie’s growth has been the envy of the Russian food world as a new store is opened almost every day under one of the three brand names.

Learning Russian

•25/01/2016 • Leave a Comment

We have added new resources to our expanded pages on learning the Russian language. We’d like to introduce you to Naya, a refreshing new resource. You will find her videos to be very helpful.

The Mendeleyev Journal page of learning resources is here: https://russianreport.wordpress.com/russian-language/russian-language-resources/

The Mendeleyev Journal page on the Russian alphabet is here: https://russianreport.wordpress.com/russian-language/learn-the-cyrillic-alphabet/

We recommend that you watch Naya’s videos, and that you subscribe because she adds updates frequently to help you learn quickly.

 

 

The Last Stone Building in Moscow

•22/01/2016 • Leave a Comment

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During rush hours, Moscow’s Taganskaya Square is one of the most congested points in Moscow with a multi-junction intersection with six lanes of traffic in each direction.At the far right you can make out the Golden Arch of a McDonald’s cafe and below it is the logo of a KFC restaurant.

The beautiful onion domes call attention to the Church of Saint Nikolas on Bolvanovka at Taganskaya Square with a view of the electric tram & trolleybus cables overhead.

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The sign is in Russian Cyrillic and reads “stop.” Seen in the lower part of the photo is the red “M” denoting a Metro subway station, the Taganskaya station.

The Church holds a special place in Moscow history, not only because it is a Bulgarian Orthodox Church, but construction was barely completed in the year 1712, just before Peter the Great’s order than no stone buildings could be built in Russia outside of his great capital city, St. Petersburg.

During the oppressive Soviet period the Communists closed the church and used it as a warehouse. It was returned to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in 1990 and today it is an active parish.

Moscow: Novospassky Monastery

•19/01/2016 • Leave a Comment

The beautiful Novospassky Monastery (Новоспасский монастырь) in Moscow. The monastery itself dates to the 14th century. It is considered to be the oldest monastery in Moscow. It was originally located inside the walls of the Kremlin.

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Most of the surviving structures were completed when Mikhail Romanov became Tsar in 1612. of Several members of the early Romanov dynasty are interred in the basement of the main Cathedral which dates to 1645.

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The photo below caught a scene of onion domes in the snow while an unknown girl was spending a moment of silence to pray. The main Cathedral features an area where visitors can light candles and pray for cancer victims.

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Napoleon’s troops ransacked the monastery but it was restored after the French were driven out of Russia. The Communists closed the monastery and turned it into a political prison during much of the Soviet period.

In 1991 the government returned the property to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Address: Krestyanskaya pl., 10, Moskva, Russia, 115172
Hours: 7AM–8PM   
Moscow phone: 495 676-95-70

Physical Accessibility in Russia

•15/01/2016 • Leave a Comment

We understand that the modern Western world is consumed by political correctness. Drowning in it to be blunt. So, please pardon our use of terms like handicapped, physically challenged, disabled, and the like. We will make no apologies for stating the obvious.

This topic is introduced with the hope that perhaps someday Russia will join the rest of the modern world in caring about, and making it easier for her citizens with physical challenges to enjoy life with the same privileges as everyone else.

Visitors do not see a lot of folk with physical disabilities in everyday Russia. Apartment buildings, many of which are older buildings with no elevators, simply leave this segment of the population out in the cold. Or, locked up in an apartment with no access to leave other than family and friends who come to carry a wheelchair down several flights of stairs.

The Metro systems in Russia are some of the most efficient, carrying millions of passengers daily. But only recently have new Metro stations been equipped with public elevators. Despite promises from the government, those are so few, in a system with 200 stations in Moscow alone, to hardly be worth counting.

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Typical escalator in an underground Metro station has no access for those with disabilities.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev had begun a programme to modernize Russian facilities and to adopt laws that would make it easier for the disabled to enjoy greater access to life in Russia. Just prior to leaving office May 2012, Medvedev signed into law the legislation that ratified Russia’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Regrettably, the current presidential administration seems to have no time for such matters and the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.

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This ramp serves both wheelchairs and baby strollers at Moscow’s Volzhskaya station.

The issue of access is further complicated by the fact that there is more concern for families with baby strollers than for individuals who are restricted from using public services for lack of access. It is understandable that a baby stroller is pushed by someone who is an active consumer, but frankly those in wheelchairs could be active consumers too–if they had the mobility to become more involved in the day to day economy.

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This pharmacy on Chistova Street serves a large neighborhood in Southeast Moscow, but there is no access for those with disabilities.

Lack of mobility can be a prison for those who have no way to move more freely in their neighborhoods. Those whose apartments are accessible only by stairs can be practically trapped inside their homes for long periods of time.

Sometimes the large institutions that might be expected to serve the entire community, such as banks and medical facilities, either provide no access at all, or something so restrictive as to make it almost useless.

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The Bank of Moscow branch near Domodedovskaya Metro offers access, but at such an angle that only the most athletic person in a wheelchair could make the effort without assistance.

Moscow is not the only Russian city with such pathetic conditions; and in fact is one of the more accessible cities across Russia. That in itself is depressing. To be sure, some commercial and state enterprises have made attempts to provide more convenient access to those with physical disabilities, but they are a minority.

In Saint Petersburg the State museums such as the Hermitage, Catherine’s Palace, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Mariinsky Theatre have made accessibility a priority in more recent years. Those facilities have added elevators, wide doors, and special bathroom stalls for handicapped access.

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While not perfect, this wheelchair ramp is a newer addition inside Moscow’s Kozhukhovskaya Metro station.

Hotels and other tourist oriented facilities seem to be taking the lead in introducing Russia to the ideas of providing greater access to handicapped visitors, but frankly those are facilities not often frequented by Russian citizens.

Local businesses, those which might benefit from attracting a wider clientele, seem hardly interested at all. It is understandable when those with disabilities might wonder as to what is the point?

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At this home products store near Dubrovka, not only is the incline steep, but a trash can is placed in the way. The right door is locked, and even were someone in a wheelchair to somehow accomplish the incline and maneuver around the trash container, the left door is too narrow.

Russians with limited mobility face tremendous restrictions not only via physical access, but in what can only be described as medieval attitudes from some Russians. In late 2015, one Russian apartment owner’s association blocked developers from adding a wheelchair ramp out of fears the ramp would decrease real estate valuations.

John Morris, writing for WheelchairTravel.org, recalls the infamous expression of “There are no invalids in the U.S.S.R.!” Sadly, that insane and cruel pronouncement was made by a Soviet official when refusing to host the Paralympic Games alongside the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow.  Instead, the Paralympics were hosted in The Netherlands, a nation with more civilized attitudes on the issue.

When it comes to accessibility, Russia remains out in the cold.

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