Tuesday was a busy day for Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. Just the day before, on Monday, he had made an offer to Russian president Vladimir Putin via telephone to release two Russian soldiers in exchange for Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko. In addition to speaking of the possible exchange, Poroshenko and Putin agreed that Ukraine’s consul general in Rostov-on-Don will be granted access to Savchenko in the near future.
Savchenko has been on a hunger strike after recently being sentenced to 22 years in a Russian prison. In June 2014 she had been captured by Russian soldiers operating in Eastern Ukraine, and was illegally taken across the border into Russia as a hostage.
Poroshenko met with Nadiya Savchenko’s mother Mariya Ivanivna and her sister Vira to speak with the Ukrainian pilot from the Ukrainian presidential office. After the call, President Poroshenko released a statement saying that the two countries will do a prisoner swap.
Savchenko will likely be traded for a couple of Russian soldiers who were recently tried in a Ukrainian court and sentenced to 14 years in prison. In March she was sentenced to 22 years in a Russian prison.
The two Russian soldiers, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov, were captured by Ukrainian forces and then tried and convicted of terrorism against Ukraine. As is common when Russian soldiers are captured, Moscow claims that the men were volunteers, and simply using their holiday time to fight in Ukraine.
During the call President Poroshenko complimented Savchenko on her courage, urged her to end the current hunger strike, and promised to send the presidential plane to Moscow for her as soon as details of the release were agreed upon by Russia.
At this time neither side has announced a date for the exchange, and while the Ukrainian side seems confident of the pending release, the Kremlin will only admit that Putin and Poroshenko have spoken about the pilot’s condition.
Apparently the Russian love affair with Bill Clinton, mostly remembered during the Yeltsin years, is officially over. Certainly you can still find souvenir matryoshka nesting dolls in the likeness of Bill Clinton for sale at some street kiosks, but the days when Russians admired the saxophone playing, womanizing and vodka-loving American politician as one of us are gone.
During President Putin’s recent nationwide call-in show last Thursday, one caller asked Mr. Putin about American democracy, and about Hillary Clinton in particular.
Putin employed the old Russian proverb that the “Husband and wife are the same devil” in responding to the caller who asked his thoughts on current American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Putin noted the length of time the Bush and Clinton families have been in power and opined, “Where is the diversity?” He avoided the obvious correlation to the tenure of Putin-Medvedev-Putin.
The annual live broadcast averages about 3.5 hours in length and is broadcast on all the major television and radio networks across Russia.
The Moscow Times reported that approximately three million questions were submitted for Putin’s traditional telephone marathon. The Presidential Press office selects which questions are asked during the show via studio guests, video messaging, telephone, or email.
During a January debate of Democratic presidential candidates, NBC anchor Lester Holt had asked Mrs. Clinton about her relationship with Putin to which she replied, “Well, my relationship with him, it’s um, it’s interesting.” Clinton went on to describe Putin as a bully.
Several members of the Russian Duma (parliament) have suggested that Mr. Putin place travel sanctions on Mrs. Clinton stemming from the arrest of a Russian pilot while she was the American Secretary of State.
Near the Square where the Paveletskaya Metro and Train stations are located, there is a typical Moscow street kiosk. In an effort to beautify to city, many of these types of small vendor kiosks are being demolished. Many of them disappear overnight, with no warning to the owners.
These signs indicate that shoes are repaired and keys made on the spot. Other products such as batteries, flashlights, electrical strip outlets, USB adapters and phone cords are sold here.
Immediately across the street is a fruit and vegetable kiosk. What will happen to the small business person who operates this vendor stand when the city takes it away?
One must wonder what becomes of the persons who found employment at these kiosks, and to local customers who need them? For local residents, and especially pensioners who need close and convenient access, who depended on easy access to such products and services, these kiosks were a necessary lifeline.
Why does the government give little or no notice to these small business owners when their stands, considered legal for many years and generate local sales taxes, are about to be razed? Why is there no compensation when these kiosks are destroyed overnight?
The most likely answer is found that in their place, the erection of chain stores with connections to Russian Oligarchs come into these neighborhoods quickly. Unlike the long and arduous process of red tape required for approval, the chain stores just seem to pop up with none of the hassle or legal expense that these folk experienced.
Connections, we suspect, is the real cause for the removal of these small businesses. One could argue that these kiosks are part of what makes Moscow beautiful. Chain stores owned by Oligarchs–not so much.
In the West, commentators speak from time to time about certain politicians who seem to possess the characteristics of Teflon. No matter what they say or do, it has no bearing on their status.
In Russia perhaps no one individual exemplifies the principle so fully as the man who led the Russian Bolshevik revolution. In fact, it is heresy to vilify Vladimir Lenin in any way. The Soviet system so programmed the populace that today the revolution itself, and the period of Soviet rule can be called into question, and even ridiculed, as long as Lenin is set aside from criticism. It is as if he led the revolution, yet had nothing to do with it.
With the exception of Joseph Stalin who is on a stellar rebound to rehabilitation, any other revolutionary or Soviet leader is fair game. It is hard to find a statue to Sergei Kirov, Aleksandr Bogdanov, or even Leon Trotsky, but Lenin busts are everywhere.
So, what is it about Vladimir Lenin (born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) that deserves the Teflon coating? He was not a model of kindness and congeniality by any stretch. Lenin was a crafty and cunning revolutionary with a flair for both oratory and violence. Only his shortened lifespan spared the Russian people from directly experiencing the fullness of his own brand of sadistic cruelty.
In Russia’s “near abroad,” the regions that make up the former Soviet Union outside the present borders of Russia, Lenin has not fared so well, except in enclaves of ethnic Russians.
Is education to blame? Unquestionably, Soviet schoolchildren were spoon-fed heavy doses of exaggerations, and often outright lies, to create an image of Lenin as someone on the level with Jesus Christ himself. Given that Christ was banished from the Soviet public square, Vladimir Lenin was enthroned as the saviour of the Soviet Union.
Upon Lenin’s death, the Soviet leadership immediately created the idea, borrowed from the Orthodox Christian teaching of the mystical presence, that Lenin was somehow now spiritually present in the life of the Soviet Union, and in the lives of Soviet citizens. In a phrase borrowed from Christian liturgy, the idea of “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ shall come again,” the Soviets adopted something eerily similar: “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, and Lenin will always live!”
The cult of Lenin was cultivated before, and later continued alongside the cult of Stalin. Stalin used the cult of Lenin to enshrine the cult of Stalin.
Were it was just a matter of Soviet education, then why have many former Soviet republics rejected the cult of Lenin? In most of those former republics the reminders and ideas of Lenin are disappearing from public view. He is seen as just another dictator who was bent on power.
Perhaps it is safe to point to the Russian state, as official policy, which allows Lenin to remain clothed in his Teflon suit. The Russian state needs heroes, and goodness knows the last generations of the Tsars were not exactly Russia’s most inspiring role models. Besides, to elevate the Tsars would be tantamount to an admission that the Soviet experiment was a mistake. It was another Russian named Vladimir who in more recent times remarked that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”
So for now in the hearts of many Russians, Lenin lives.
The Ukrainian military pilot who was captured in Ukrainian rebel-held territory, and then spirited across the border by her captors, has been convicted by a Russian court in the deaths of two Russian journalists.
Nadiya Savchenko was sentenced to 22 years in a Russian prison after the court proclaimed her to be guilty of “spotting” artillery fire against pro-Russian rebels in June 2014. The court denied her legal team the opportunity to challenge the prosecutors charges, and they were not allowed to cross-examine state witnesses.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowed that Ukraine would never recognize the verdict. Poroshenko indicated that he was ready to exchange two Russian soldiers captured in Ukraine for Savchenko’s release.