Moscow Then and Now, part 1

This is Sverdlova Plaza (Площадь Свердлова), in 1950.

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Sverdlova was later named Teatralnaya Plaza (Площадь Театральная) reflecting that the area includes the Bolshoi Theatre and the Teatralnaya Metro station. These photos are from 2015.

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Below is the Bolshoi Theatre and the backside (perhaps appropriately) of the statue honouring Communist Karl Marx.

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Next is Kutuzovskiy Avenue in the summer 1976, near Victory Park (which hadn’t been built then).

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A more modern look at Kutuzovskiy Avenue (2012) captured how Kutuzovskiy looks in more recent years as shown around the famous Triumphal Entry overlooking Moscow.

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It was here on this hill in 1812 that Napoleon and his French army sent riders down the hill to inform Moscow that the French midget had arrived and expected an unconditional surrender along with the ceremonial keys to the city. The Tsar’s generals sent word back that Napoleon could shove his proposal as there would be no surrender. They set the city on fire before the French army could arrive. Napoleon was eventually defeated and his army decimated.

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Oddly, Napoleon is somewhat of a hero figure to Russians, as if they feel a sense of pride that he would think enough of them to march across Europe to invade their country. In fact, some believe that they did name an ice cream after him–the one with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry swirls (although others say the name is Neapolitan).

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The Murder of Pavel Sheremet Still Stings

In just a few days those who loved and admired Pavel Sheremet will recall that fateful day, 20 July 2016, when one of the most outspoken and influential journalists of this region was murdered in a fiery car bombing while idling at an intersection in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine.

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Closing in on four months later investigators still have not named a single suspect. Perhaps, some say, that is because investigators believe the murder was the work of one of the Russian security services. If that were true, the two countries are already at war in Eastern Ukraine, and revealing details of the murder might lead to a wider regional conflict was the response from one source.

One week after the bombing, police released video footage from CCTV cameras of two individuals seen near the parked car in the early hours of that morning. The footage showed a man and woman in loose-fitting track suits. Baseballs caps prevented their faces from being seen and police say the video shows the woman planting the bomb while the man was the lookout.

Writing in the KyivPost, Taras Kuzio, a leading expert in Ukrainian political and security affairs remarked that the Sheremet murder, “was a direct attack on Ukrainian democracy. And, if Russia is behind the murder, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) is not any better at “investigating” – especially as it seems there are Russian spies in the structure.”

Meanwhile, we wait…

Russians React to USA Election

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Donald Trump 45th President of USA.

There is a popular Russian joke that goes: “Unlike here in Mother Russia, those poor Americans have to wait until the votes are counted to know who won.

There is a truckload of truth in that humour as elections in Russia have become much like elections in the Soviet period–citizens cast votes already fully aware of the winners and losers. The surprise for Westerners is that Russians really don’t mind fewer choices as they find comfort in “stability” over the uncertainty of unexpected change.

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Stability: therein lies the fascination with American elections. Russians marvel at how Americans deal with constant change of leadership every four years, and the prospect of a different political party in power. While they are curious, it is not something most wish to adopt. The single brief period of truly free elections for the Russian people came soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and those were days of  overwhelming disruption in every aspect of life from the availability of food, long periods between payment of salaries, changes in the political system, rampant crime, devaluation of currency, etc. Perhaps it is unfair, but most associate those memories with “democracy” and they do not wish to repeat those experiences.

In this political cycle there was unusual interest in America’s presidential campaign. Following the lead of Vladimir Putin who intensely dislikes, perhaps despises would be a better description, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, most Russians seemed to hope that anyone except Hillary be selected.

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“Good Morning, America.”

Donald Trump, not a traditional politician, reminds them more of wealthy Russian Oligarchs. Russians have a love/hate affair with their oligarchs, hating them for being crooks, but being immensely jealous yet prideful of their success and wealth.

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Like it or not, the election of American presidents does impact Russia. As just one example, with the election of Donald Trump, the Kremlin hopes that Western sanctions over the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s war in Eastern Ukraine will be lessened, if not dropped altogether.

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“Serve the Fatherland!”

We should note that Ukrainians are hoping that a Trump administration might be more helpful than the current Washington government in assisting Ukraine against Russian aggression.

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Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko buffing American shoes is how many Russians view Washington’s response to the current proxy war Russia wages in Eastern Ukraine.

So, here is a peek at how Russian social media is digesting the USA election:

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Russian social media image of Mr. Putin sitting inside an American voting machine while counting votes.

The image above was accompanied by a heavy dose of sarcasm with the headline that Trump was “gaining 146% of the votes” an obvious dig at the Crimean referendum in which the Russian Federal Election Commission first published that the annexation succeeded with 146% of the votes. Embarrassed, the Kremlin later revised the totals to under 100%.

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Time to free the (Oval) Office.

Many Western readers may not understand the next image:

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During the Soviet era two leaders embracing with a kiss was sometimes called the socialist fraternal kiss. Perhaps the most memorable instance came in 1979 when Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev kissed East German leader Erich Honecker in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

The photo was circulated worldwide by the French magazine Paris Match in the late 1970s. Then, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, artists began to paint political messages on the few remaining sections of the wall. In 1990, artist Dmitri Vrubel painted a giant version of the photo and titled it the “The Kiss of Death.” Today you can still find it on display at Berlin’s East Side Gallery.

On a more serious note, Russian president Vladimir Putin sent a message of congratulations to Donald Trump on his victory in the US presidential election on Wednesday, the day after the election. Mr. Putin expressed his desire to work together to lift Russian-US relations out of the current crisis, resolve issues of international interest, and look for effective responses to global security challenges.

Putin signaled that he is confident that Moscow and Washington can establish a constructive dialogue based on the principles of equality, mutual respect, and genuine consideration.

(Jim Mendeleyev)

SAM_0336 ed

 

 

Recent European Birthdays

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Almaty, the former capital and still a major city of Kazakhstan. Birthplace of the apple, and turned 1,000 years old recently. Coming in at a not even close second is KLM airlines, the Royal Dutch Airline at 97 years old!.
 

One of the most beautiful Kazakh landmarks is the Ascension Russian Orthodox Cathedral, sometimes called the Zenkov Cathedral after the esteemed architect who designed it, was completed in 1907. The Soviets turned the building into a museum and the regions radio station transmitters were housed in the bell towers.

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Although it is the second tallest wooden Cathedral in the world, not a single nail was used in the construction. Today, many experts believe that the technique of interlocking joints, instead of nails, made it possible for the Cathedral to withstand the great Central Asian earthquake of 1911.

 

KLM is one of our favourite airlines. Why? Certainly not because they wimp out by taking the first 3 rows of coach, place a “not available” sign in the middle seat, and declare the section to be first class. No, it is because they are Dutch, and “if it isn’t Dutch–it isn’t much!”

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Who remembers their daughter airline, ALM, that for years served the Antilles and the Caribbean?

New Duma Open for Business

Less than 16 hours ago President Vladimir Putin opened the seventh convocation of the State Duma (parliament). During his address he welcomed the newly elected Members of Parliament from Russia’s 85 regions, including those from the annexed regions comprising Crimea and Sevastopol.

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Mr. Putin stressed the need to curb corruption as an impediment to development of private business interests and he called on the country to continue development of Russia’s Far East regions.

As for key initiatives, he singled out a key issue for Parliament to address: What is this issue? Of course, special attention should be paid to reaching objectives in education, healthcare, housing policy and the environment. That is, in areas that directly influence people’s well-being and social and demographic development.

Putin named Vyacheslav Volodin, formerly the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff to the position of State Duma Speaker. Putin thanked former speaker Sergei Naryshkin who has been appointed as the new chief of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.

Few opposition candidates were allowed to run in the recent elections and so this is expected by many to be a “rubber stamp” body for the Kremlin.

 

Uber and Bla Bla Car Battle Russian Taxis

Just the mention of Uber brings out detractors who quickly point out how much money the service continues to lose. However, given the big-name investors and the fact that Uber opens a new city every five days, one simply cannot discount this company that loves to disrupt the status quo.

In the spring Uber introduced a flat rate of 700 rubles (currently $10.96) for travel from any of the three major Moscow airports to the centre of the city. That is easily a third of what most official Taxi drivers charge.

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Facing stiff competition from Yandex (Russia’s “Google”) Taxi service, Uber came close to being driven out of Russia earlier this year. Uber steered clear of the regulatory off-ramp by agreeing to use officially registered taxi drivers and to share travel data with transportation authorities.

The Israeli-based Get.taxi (Gett.ru) is another popular app that allows Russian riders to arrange ride sharing with drivers.

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Get.Taxi app

Another ride sharing company that is growing rapidly is the Paris based Bla Bla Car, in which riders not only pay for the ride, but as it is primarily a city to city or region to region service, riders must promise to talk with the driver to help them stay awake on the longer distances. Thus, the “Bla Bla” in the name.

When logging in to BlaBlaCar.ru, riders can see who is traveling to the same city, and then select the driver based on the price and times of travel. For identity purposes a photo of the driver is shown.

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As Russian cities have banned the practice of “gypsy taxis” over the years in which ordinary drivers would stop on city streets and haggle with hitch-hikes for the fee, these transportation alternatives have begun to gain footholds in Russian cities.

So far, officials have done little to shield local taxi companies from competition, proving yet again the power of the Internet to disrupt and innovate.

 

 

Russian Duma Elections 2016

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This building, home to Russia’s lower house of parliament, is known as the Duma. The term is tied to the idea of thinking, and those who thought that the United Russia party would increase their hold on power were thinking correctly.

Reaction from Russian president Vladimir Putin was predictable as he greeted news of his party’s continued control with the expression “pretty good.” Mr. Putin arrived at 12:50 pm to cast his ballot at polling station No. 2151, the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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United Russia increased its majority from 238 to over 300. There are a total of 450 seats, all were up for reelection, and the only “minority” parties to hold seats were those loyal to the Kremlin.

Two highly visible Kremlin opponents lost their bids: Current deputy Dmitry Gudkov, considered to be only remaining opposition liberal, was defeated. Well-known opposition candidate Maria Baronova lost her bid for a seat.

The chart below shows the new alignment of the 450 seats:

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United Russia: 343

Communist Party: 42

Liberal Democrats: 39

A Just Russia: 23

The Rodina (Homeland) party and the Civic Platform party each won a single seat. The final seat went to an Independent. Roughly half the seats will be appointed from party lists, the others from single-mandate voting.

Unsurprisingly, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors pointed to plenty of polling violations and ballot-stuffing which are widely considered to be standard fare in Russian elections.

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Russians in general were unimpressed, with less than half of registered voters bothering to cast a ballot. It was the lowest turnout of any election since the fall of the Soviet Union with fewer than 40% showing up. The two cities with the highest number of opposition voters were quiet. The Moscow turnout was about 30% and just under 20% for Saint Petersburg.

For our Russian language readers we recommend the Medusa media analysis of the election at this link.