1st of September, Day of Knowledge

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September 1 is a special day in Eastern Europe. It has two names, the “Day of Knowledge” (День Знаний) and “First Bell” (Первый звонок); both refer to the beginning of the school year. It is a day when parents come to school with the children and there are lines of well-dressed students holding flowers for their teachers.

The celebration begins as children gather in groups designated by their class/grade. The school director and teachers welcome the students and a program of songs, dances, and poetry readings by upper class students takes place. Then an older student (boy) picks up one of the young new students (little girl) and she rings the “first bell” (Первый звонок) as they parade in front of all the assembled students.

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Once inside, students and parents meet their teachers for the year. The teacher walks them through the rules, guidelines, and expectations for the year and students are assigned seating–normally two students to a double desk.

Generally students attend the same school for their entire experience and this really enhances the educational experience and creates bonds between students and teachers. Older students traditionally tell the younger ones “Азбука – наука, а ребятам бука!” (alphabet is a science, but a bogeyman for children!)

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FIFA World Cup Brings New Look to Moscow

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is poised to change an important view of Moscow. A very exciting addition is the construction of an enclosed cable lift connecting the Sparrow Hills (Vorobyovy Gory) Observation point with the Luzhniki Olympic stadium. Currently an open-air ski lift connects the observation point to the Moscow river but does not cross the river to the stadium.

 One of the stations will house a restaurant.  The length will be 737 meters (2,418 ft) long and have 3 stations. The Observation point is 200 metres (660 ft) above sea level and offers a panoramic view of Moscow.

The following is a fact sheet issued by the United States Embassy in Moscow regarding suspension of non-immigrant visa applications in Russia:

US Embassy Seal

As a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the U.S. Mission, all non-immigrant visa (NIV) operations across Russia will be suspended beginning August 23, 2017.  Visa operations will resume on a greatly reduced scale.  Beginning September 1, non-immigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  NIV interviews at the U.S. Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok are suspended until further notice.  As of 0900 Moscow time Monday, August 21, the U.S. Mission began canceling current non-immigrant visa appointments countrywide.  The NIV applicants who have their interviews canceled should call the number below to reschedule their interview at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for a later date.  NIV applicants originally scheduled for an interview at the U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok should call the number below if they wish to reschedule their interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The staffing changes will also affect the scheduling of some immigrant visa applicants.  Affected applicants will be contacted if there is a change as to the time and date of their interview.

For rescheduling of non-immigrant visa interviews and other questions, contact: +7 (495) 745 3388 or 8 800 100 2554 (ITFN).

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and three consulates will continue to provide emergency and routine services to American citizens, although hours may change.  (For American Citizen Services hours, please check the U.S. Mission to Russia website at https://ru.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/acs-hours.)

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg will no longer accept new visa applications for residents of Belarus.  We will reschedule NIV appointments for Belorussian applicants who have already paid the application fee.  We encourage residents of Belarus to schedule NIV appointments at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw; the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv; or the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.

Q:  Will my non-immigrant visa appointment be canceled? How will I be informed?

A:  Beginning at 0900 Moscow time Monday, August 21, we will begin canceling all current non-immigrant visa appointments countrywide.  Affected applicants will receive an email with a phone number to call to reschedule their interview at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for a later date.  Capacity for interviews in the future will be greatly reduced because we have had to greatly reduce our staffing levels to comply with the Russian government’s requirement.

Q:  Will you still offer visa appointments at your consulates in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, and Yekaterinburg?

A:  Because of the required drawdown of personnel, all non-immigrant visa interviews countrywide will now be conducted at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Q:  How will you prioritize visa appointment requests?

A:  We must give first priority to the travel of officials to the UN, international organizations with offices in the United States, and bilateral missions.  These are generally required by international agreements, diplomatic practice, or customary international law.  We will also give priority to other categories of non-immigrant visa applications depending on our staff level, such as travel for medical or family emergencies.  This could include funerals, hospitalizations, or legal proceedings.  We will process other categories as staffing permits.

Q:  I am a university student studying in the United States.  I need to get to my university now.  Will there be an appointment available to me?

A:  We are planning to offer a block of visa appointments to students in early September.

Q:  What if I qualify for a non-immigrant visa without an interview?

A:  The U.S. Embassy in Moscow will continue to process non-immigrant visas without an interview for those who qualify.

Q:  How long will the suspension last?

A:  We will operate at reduced capacity for as long as our staffing levels are reduced.

Q: I already paid my visa fee! Can I get my money back?

A:  We cannot refund fees that have been paid.  However, the fee is valid for one year from the date of the payment.

Q: Can I transfer my visa fee to apply outside of Russia?

Visa fees are not transferable outside the country in which the fee was paid.  If you wish to apply outside Russia, you would need to begin a new application and pay the fee according to that location’s instructions.

Q:  Why did the U.S. Embassy cancel visa interviews scheduled before September 1?

A:  Planning for departures and staff reductions has already begun in order to meet the Russian government’s September 1 deadline for the reduction of personnel.

Q:  I live in Belarus.  Can I still apply for a visa in Russia?

A:  No.  We will reschedule visa appointments for Belorussian applicants who have already paid the application fee.  We encourage residents of Belarus to schedule non-immigrant visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw; the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv; or the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.

Q:  Why do I need an interview for a non-immigrant visa?

A:  The interview is a legal U.S. requirement that applies worldwide.

Yesterday may have been a significant day in Russia’s history. In Moscow the date went by with barely a whisper, but in Asian Russia the day was watched carefully by several republics of the Federation. The legal agreement that tied the federal Republic of Tatarstan to the Russian Federation expired yesterday and neither side has announced a renewal. The Kremlin wants these types of treaties to fall by the wayside while retaining control over all 22 republics.

Kazan Mosque

In reality, there may not be a renewal. Even with a power sharing treaty, Moscow has slowly stripped away power in violation of the treaty. For example, the Tatarstan Constitution calls for a president and parliament. However, Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin has stripped the title of “president” from all Republics and decreed that only he bears that title. In Moscow, Rustam Minnikhanov is called the “Head” of Tatarstan, but back at home in his republic he is still given the Constitutional title of President of his semi-autonomous Republic.

Tatarstan’s capital, the city of Kazan, is over 1,000 years old and is enshrined as the “third capital” of Russia. It is a beautiful city, and one of Russia’s few economic success stories.

Kazan Agriculture Palace

There are a number of republics who might be tempted to leave the Russian Federation if they could be confident that Moscow’s military powers would stay home if they decided to leave. In addition to Tatarstan, observers say that the Sakha Republic and the Republic of Bashkortostan might bolt if given the chance. There are others, most of these are majority Muslim, who might walk too if given the chance.

Noted Russian watcher Paul Goble wrote that extending the treaty might trigger “a domino effect” to rival or even exceed the parade of republics lining up to leave over two decades ago.

Kazan Kremlin

The Republics of Dagestan and Chechnya have been beaten into submission and they would likely be forced to stay. But, if Moscow were to find herself in a weakened state, Chechnya’s brutal dictator Ramzan Kadyrov is believed to fancy himself as the successor to Vladimir Putin someday, so it is possible that he’d rather stay and conquer European Russia than to leave the Federation.