Russian citizens honour the memory of Malaysian flight MH17 victims

(Moscow) It was a somber scene outside the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as Russian people came on Saturday, the Dutch day of mourning for victims of flight MH17, to express their condolences and sorrow over the shooting down of the passenger airliner over Eastern Ukraine. It was a solemn reminder that there is often a difference between the people of a nation and the leaders of a nation.

Flags at foreign embassies across Moscow flew at half mast in solidarity with the Dutch declaration of Saturday as a day of mourning. Several touching points are worth mentioning: Some Russians wrapped themselves in Gold/Blue flags, the colours of Ukraine, and others draped themselves in the red-white-blue of the Netherlands flag.

Russian citizens honour the memory of Malaysian flight MH17 victims

There were small placards with flowers reading, “Простите наc” which means “forgive us.”


Death Toll Rising in Metro Crash

Moscow Metro

(Moscow) Moscow city officials are reporting that at least 16 people have died and 120 injured in the Metro’s subway crash that happened around 8:35 local time this morning. The crash came in the midst of the morning commute as thousands of riders were traveling to work, causing traffic jams and long delays in getting around the city.

The crash took place between the Park Pobedy (Victory Park) and Slavyansky Bulvar (Slavic Blvd) stations Tuesday morning. Officials say the initial cause was a sudden loss of electric power causing a train to suddenly decelerate. Trains are often spaced only 90 seconds apart during Moscow’s heavy rush hour commute.

Moscow Metro

Emergency personnel say that over 100 ambulances and several emergency helicopters were used to evacuate the injured. The Slavyansky Bulvar and Park Pobedy metro stations are part of the city’s Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya line, commonly known as the Blue Line.

Emergency Situations Ministry officials shut down the Slavyansky Bulvar station so that rescuers could attend to the victims and give investigators time to determine the exact cause of the crash. Making the rescue work difficult was the depth of the system–at 84 meters, that is 275 feet, Park Pobedy is the deepest of Moscow’s 194 metro stations.

Slavyanskiy Bulvar station opened in 2008.
Slavyansky Bulvar station opened in 2008.

The packed train was traveling from the north of the city toward the center and some 200 passengers had to be assisted in evacuating according to emergency workers. Dozens of injured commuters were treated outside for smaller injuries. Prosecutors have launched an official inquiry to determine the cause of the derailment.


New Ambassador to Russia will be John Tefft

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s senior foreign policy advisor, Yuri Ushakov, has signaled to Washington that Moscow will agree to the appointment of John Tefft as the next Ambassador to Russia. Although cautious, Ushakov in an interview with the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS called Tefft a “professional diplomat” with previous experience in Moscow.

New Ambassador to Russia will be John Tefft

Still ahead are the US Senate hearings once the Obama administration makes the formal nomination. Confirmation shouldn’t be a problem as Tefft is no stranger on Capitol Hill, with foreign service experience dating back to 1972. Most recently Mr. Tefft was the US Ambassador to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013 and he has served previously in the Moscow Embassy under deputy roles. From 2000 to 2003 he was the US Ambassador to Lithuania and the US Ambassador to Georgia during 2005 to 2009.

The nomination of Tefft , who speaks Russian and Ukrainian, is likely to be well received in the Senate after the debacle with the inexperienced Michael McFaul in the position. The Russians say that the Obama administration made the initial request regarding Tefft in June and their announcement of acceptance came while Russian President Putin was in Cuba as part of his diplomatic tour to Latin America.

The annexation of Crimea and the continued fighting in Eastern Ukraine have left relations in tatters between Russia and the United States, some going so far to call the chill a new “Cold War.” Adding to the tension is the suspicion that Tefft’s appointment is due to his experience with so-called “color revolutions.” He served in Ukraine at a time of regime change and he was the US Ambassador to Georgia during the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.

Pravda wrote this week that Russia could not afford to trust Tefft regardless of his prior experience in Russia. Andrei Kortunov, of the Moscow based New Eurasia Foundation, was quoted in Pravda saying that the Tefft appointment would not automatically signal a renewal of open dialogue with Russia. Kortunov pointed to the failures of the McFaul ambassadorship and current tensions regarding Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Both countries must approve Ambassadorial appointments and foreign diplomats are received when the incoming Ambassador formally presents diplomatic credentials to the host nation. Traditionally foreign ambassadors present their credentials to Russia’s president and foreign minister during ceremonies held in the Grand Kremlin Palace’s the Alexander Hall.

June 2014 reception of new Ambassadors in the Grand Kremlin Palace.
June 2014 reception of new Ambassadors in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

Of interest to some is that Tefft’s wife will join him in Moscow. Many Russians didn’t understand why previous Ambassador Michael McFaul chose to leave his family in California while trying to make the 9,000 kilometer weekly commute fit his Embassy schedule.

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Russian Children Meet new Polite Alphabet

Russian Children Meet new Polite Alphabet

The Russian attitude seems to be that if they can’t win the Ukrainians over, then we’ll make sure they hate us and one example of this thinking is in Russian schools as children are meeting the new “polite alphabet” meant to simultaneously engender Russian patriotism and denigrate anything Ukrainian while teaching the Russian Cyrillic letters. The Russian Cyrillic letters remain the same but the word examples for each letter now inject a healthy dose of propaganda, patriotism or both.

The new alphabet is being introduced to Russian school children in the Irkutsk region by Project Network, a pro-Kremlin group with plans to roll the new alphabet learning tools to more schools across Russia next year. They group is part of the “togetherness” project and say they are tasked to teach young Russian children that Russia, Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine are meant to be together.

For example the new alphabet primer and accompanying charts teach students that “A” stands for “Anti-Maidan,” the letter “Ya” is for “Yalta,” and as any good propagandist would hope, “P” is for “Putin.” Naturally “R” is for “Russia” and the face of Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is matched to the term for “firmness” while the letter B represents the “berkut” Ukrainian riot police who defected to Crimea. Some older alphabet charts had the golden eagle (berkut) with the letter and a photo of the golden eagle.

Some will question why the letter “D” stands for Donetsk, a Ukrainian city instead of the more common word for “dom”  (home) as on existing charts. Organizers are quick to point out that Donetsk should and will be a part of Russia and thus school children should learn to think of Donetsk as Russian instead of Ukrainian. Some of the letter equivalents are a bit of a stretch.

To make the point about Ukraine, the chart assigns the letter ы for Крым, spoken as “Krem” (Crimea). No Russian words begin with the letter ы so Russian school children will meet the new polite alphabet with Крым for Crimea. To make the point that Crimea has been annexed into Russia the Ukrainian term for Crimea, Крим, has been circled with an arrow drawn through it.

Two letters within Russian Cyrillic, ь and ъ, have no sound themselves but serve to modify letters adjacent to them. The new “polite alphabet” did find patriotic words which included those letters and for example they assigned ь, the letter which serves to soften other sounds, to мягкость which is a term commonly used to express the idea of gentle or soft in relation to a mother and her baby. Some Ukrainian groups have responded on social mean with an alternate “war alphabet” that mocks the Russian attempt at indoctrination.

It is no accident that Project Network calls it the “Polite Alphabet,” as it is named for the so-called “polite” but armed forces that forced Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year. The Project Network website claims that as Russian school children meet the new polite alphabet they “…will be taught to love the motherland, respect its people and culture.”

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Russia to end permanent daylight savings time

Compressing time zones was one thing but the Medvedev experiment with changing the clocks wasn’t popular with most Russians and as lawmakers prepare to end permanent daylight savings time, most will welcome the return. That the vote in the Duma was 442-1 shows how much Russians had complained regarding the issue. Supposedly over 70% supported the change in 2011 but today polls indicate that close to 70% want to turn back their clocks.

Moscow Kremlin's most famous tower, the "Saviour" tower often considered as the official clock of Russia.
Moscow Kremlin’s most famous tower, the “Saviour” tower often considered as the official clock of Russia.

Changing back isn’t a done deal yet as the upper house of Parliament, the Federation Council (Senate) will take up the Duma bill on 9 July. The bill establishes that “Moscow Time” as Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) plus three hours, and time zones in Russia then based on those UTC times. Currently Moscow Time is UTC plus four hours.

The Duma bill asks that the changes be made within 30 days from passage and that could happen but likely the change will be made on Sunday, 26 October.

In 2013 the Russian Supreme Court had refused to cancel what many Russians have dubbed as “year round summer time.”

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