Blast at Domodedovo Airport

Interfax reporting at least 10 dead. Off to see.


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Speaking of absurd relics

Here’s one of the many that are still around and kicking, a neat little capsule of Soviet absurdity: cheesy “estrada” evenings on national TV, and the choir of the Internal Ministry. This time, they are singing “Let My People Go,” using a strange mix of Russian choral tradition and the vocal equivalent of blackface.

h/t Alexander Kolyandr

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Politically-correct tigers and more “electioneering”

It’s been a great week for Russian politics, or for what passes for politics in Russia. The “election” season has started, which means lots of meaningless bullshit from all parties involved. Here’s a round-up:

First, we had President Medvedev convening a forum on how to root out the evils of xenophobia in Russia. The speaker of the Duma, Boris Gryzlov, of course added his two cents, and what shiny pennies they were. “We Russians want to live in friendship with others,” he said, adding that “this feature is not inherent to other nationalities.”

That same day, A Just Russia, the party organized by the Kremlin to be a faux opposition party but has since become lord knows what, decided to change its flag and find a new political mascot. They were looking for something to convey strength, honor, dignity. They wanted, according to a source cited in Kommersant, “some kind of animal — something powerful, noble, beautiful, politically correct.” The politically-correct animal they ended up settling for was the Ussuri tiger. How was its politesse made manifest? “The key is that the tiger is more powerful than the bear” — United Russia’s symbol — “people are scared of it.”

Moving right along, we come back to Gryzlov, the #2 in United Russia. The man has clearly hired a young marketing strategist who told him the party needs to rebrand, too, with something more positive, perhaps, than a bear. Coming fresh off the “we’re friendlier than all y’all” success, Gryzlov announced his version of the “Yes, we can!” slogan: “First in everything.” Rolls off the tongue and accurate.

And today we have the last and best installment — of good old fashioned mudslinging. United Russia Duma deputy Vladimir Medinsky took a stance on a real bread-and-butter issue: getting Lenin out of his damn tomb. “Lenin is an extremely controversial political figure, and his presence as a central figure housed in a necropolis in the heart of country is highly absurd,” Medinsky said, adding that the mausoleum was “an absurdist, pagan, necrophilic mission on Red Square.” “It’s satanism,” Medinsky added, for fear, perhaps, that his subtlety would be lost on the electorate.

It’s on, people. It is on.

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Scorched earth

What better way to welcome the new year and break my blogging silence than with news of my favorite person in the world: ex-Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

Luzhkov appears in the news again today, this time because he has applied for residency in Latvia. To that end, he has invested some $200,000 in local banks and owns some property.

Also, it seems he can’t live in Russia any more. Though I’m sure he’d tell you it’s because his daughters were being physically threatened, or because he trying to start a democratic movement — a movement completely relegated to public statements — but really it’s because these are the rules of the game he helped to establish in the last decade: Loot and pillage while the going’s good, then get the fuck out as soon as it’s not. It’s a zero-sum game, and Luzhkov was always its expert (founding) player. This is why the children of its top players live abroad, and why there are residences and documents ready in case one should lose the game. And if anyone doubts that Russia’s top political players are not building a society as much as they are stripping it of its copper wiring, you have only to look at Luzhkov’s example. As soon as he’s out of power, he leaves the city he’s allegedly done so much for.

As for the Latvians, they are none too excited about the prospect of Yuri Mikhailovich settling down among them. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, at a protest outside the Latvian embassy in Moscow in 1998, Luzhkov compared the Latvian authorities to the regime of Pol Pot. Oops!

Said Latvian Foreign Minister Linda Murniece: “Most likely, he will not get” the residency.

via Vedomosti

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Eat it, civil society

Arkady Rotenberg

This morning, a front page Vedomosti story, citing several Kremlin sources, confirmed what everyone knew was going to happen in the Khimki forest: the road will be built as planned, through the already hacked-up forest. Which is what I told you would happen.

Why did this happen? Well, money, for one thing. Vinci, the French company building the road, apparently used the French government to lean on the Kremlin, which was already probably quite willing to listen: if there was deemed to be a breach of contract between SKZZ (Vinci’s vehicle) and the Russian company N-Trans, N-Trans could be liable for as much as 3.5 billion rubles ($113 million). And let’s not forget who N-Trans invited to participate in the project to make sure it gets built: longtime Putin buddy Arkady Rotenberg.

Something tells me that, as much as the Kremlin totally, absolutely, hilariously wants to appease– I mean, pretend– I mean, develop civil society, that Rotenberg’s — and Putin’s — skajillions matter more.

That, and there’s the interests of Sergey Chemezov, the kind of scary dude who runs Russian Technologies and Rosoboronexport, both of which do lots and lots of business with the French military-industrial complex or whatever they call it there. (So much business that they gave Chemezov a Legion d’Honneur in March.) Messing up a deal as big as the Moscow-St. Petersburg road would seriously jeopardize the bigger military in the pipeline.

Sorry, civil society. Maybe next time.

via Vedomosti

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Bambi Slayer

The relationship between Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi has been covered to death, especially after Wiki leaked. Or so one thought.

Yesterday, Italian paper La Stampa revealed perhaps the most revelatory revelation yet, one that finally fleshes out — in full, voluptuous real-life metaphor — the nature of the dynamic between the two mens.

According the paper, on one of Silvio’s visits to Putin’s dacha, Vlad insisted that the two of them go for a walk in the woods, alone. Silvio put on a fur hat, Vlad slung a rifle over his shoulder.

They walked, they talked. Then Vlad saw a shadow flitting by and, before Silvio could even react, Vlad had shot what turned out to be a deer in one shot. Killed it dead. Then he took out a knife and cut out the deer’s heart. Silvio duly fainted.

Of course, this sounds totally fishy but it’s a blog and it’s too good not to tell. I mean, Putin has done many a crazy thing, but killing and de-hearting Bambi is probably his most glorious accomplishment.

via InoPressa

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Cheating Cheaters Who Cheat

Last week was a crazy week, news-wise, so I didn’t have a chance to post one of my recent stories here for your commentary.

In a piece for Slate’s Double X — the site’s lady blog — I wrote as soberly as possible about how commonplace and accepted extramarital affairs have become. It begins with:

One evening in Moscow, Tanya (not her real name) found herself at a dinner table with a group of friends, most of them married couples. One of the men started to tell a story about the coda to a recent guys’ night out. He’d stumbled home the next morning to his wife and two children—a 2-year-old and an infant—to find that he’d forgotten his underwear. Everyone at the dinner table, including the man’s wife, laughed at the story: the hijinks!

Wandering spouses have become a common trope for the women of Moscow. “Men’s environment here pushes them towards cheating,” Tanya told me, adding that, these days, a boys’ night out in Russia often involves prostitutes. Tanya and her friends are young, educated, upper-middle-class Muscovites, but talk to any woman in Moscow, and, regardless of age, education, or income level, she’ll have a story of anything from petty infidelity to a parallel family that has existed for decades. Infidelity in Moscow has become “a way of life,” as another friend of mine put it—accepted and even expected.

I’ve received a mostly positive response, like this one (from a man living in Russia):

Loved your article in Slate. I always have trouble reconciling the conservative moralising of my homo/xenophobic male Russian friends, who in the same breath will insist that ‘all men cheat,’ and that it’s just the way of the world. Nicely done.

And this one, from an enraged young Russian lady named Maria:

Dear Julia,

let me ask you where are you from to be able to write this BS about Moscow? I was certain that you were Russian from the very headline!
Me being a Muscovite have been very assaulted and ashamed that someone like you is bitching about our country and particularly Moscow.
Right now i’m talking on behalf on the majority of Muscovites. Majority is about 90% except those 10% for the jet set, who can afford buying Mercedes E class as you say so. You have such friends or maybe you were one of them and you have been cheated on???? Those 10% i agree got soo much freedom and lost their mind so they think they can “buy anything”, but in general the situation in Russia and in Moscow in particular is far from what you have described above. Yes, there are assholes who cheat but as many as in any countries! Shame on you writing about the Russian history as if it was the most abusive nation re: sex subject while China and some other countries are still socialistic republics (if you dont know) and still have the same restrictions!!! I assume you are too young to judge if it really was unbearable living in Soviet time!!
Let me ask you one more thing, have you really watched a “What men talk about” movie?? Then i suggest you to watch it one more time because you didnt f**n understand a damn thing what the main idea of this movie was!!! It has a completely opposite meaning and you unfortunately didnt get it! Yes, we can laugh and make fun of our flaws but it is what makes us human beings, but in the end men declared that “Family is the most important thing in their lives” and without making any mistakes they got back home to their wives. They might now have liked everything what they had in life but they cherished their families! And most of the people do! Do you???
I feel very sorry for you because you probably are trying to draw attention of the audience like that, but believe me it looks “very cheap”!!!

Yes, I wanted to post that in full. But I am also curious to see how you guys, my loyal — if sometimes hateful — commenters see the article, and what it describes. Speak on up, please!

Article here.

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Ер доттерс вер райт

On Thursday night, Russia won its bid to host the 2018 World Cup and Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko delivered a rousing oration that came, by all appearances, from his nethercardiac region. By Monday morning, the YouTube clip of said soliloquy had been viewed over 600,000 times.

The Internet sensation was such that Sovetsky Sport, a Russian sports periodical, decided to investigate with a hard-hitting interview with the Minister, “Olde 97 Breakfasts” himself.

Highlights include and are limited to:

Vitaly Leont’evich, first of all, bravo. It was very impressive! I don’t even know what language to interview in…

No, seriously keep reading.

V97M: 2018 is still a long way away.

Mutko promises to learn English by then. Unclear why.

Anyway, sorry, keep reading:

Admit it, did it take you a long time to prepare the speech?

V97M: Two weeks, probably. In the mornings and evenings, it was a required part of the program. Plus, I even read it to my wife, daughters, driver. My phone had an audio recording of it; I listened when I had a free moment. Then we had rehearsals. I think I know it by heart now! If you wake me up in the middle of the night, I’ll recite it: “Диа президент Блаттер… Екзекьютив комити…” [Dear President Blatter, Executive Committee]

What was the reaction of the people around you?

My wife supported me as much as she could. My daughters were cracking up. My driver? My driver was fine about it. He’s seen worse. …

Are you embarrassed by how your performance looks from the side?

I warned everyone right at the start, that I don’t have a Harvard accent. On the stage, I tried not to think about the fact that millions of people are looking at me. That was the most important thing, to ignore the live broadcast, and speak just for those who were sitting right in front of me…to really [speak] “фром май харт” [from my heart].

The most important question: what letters was your speech written in, English or Russian?

I already saw a sheet of paper on the Internet that allegedly had my speech on it… I repeat: it’s fake! On my sheet of paper, I had three options: English, Russian, and English words in Russian letters. I read in English. I don’t really have problems with reading [English] — I’ve already read many documents. As for the pronounciation, everyone’s life comes together differently. I was born in a rural area — what English was there to speak of? None. And then I didn’t have time to learn it.

That actually is a fair point, though I wonder if it also explains Mutko’s mind-boggling corruption. In rural areas, did you take extra breakfast into the field with you?

via Sovetsky Sport

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From the bottom of everyone and their mother’s heart

It’s where all the thank you’s to FIFA are coming from. The best is, of course, Vladimir Putin’s, especially the part where he talks about soccer promoting fair play.

The Cup, by the way, is, by some estimates, projected to cost $50 billion. $50 billion, people! I know what you’re all going to say, my apologist commenters, but that is a bonkers amount of money.

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Let the games begin

Today, Russia won its bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Since Putin, miffed over allegations of that FIFA was selling votes, declined to attend the ceremony at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Sports Minister Vitaly “97 breakfasts” Mutko spoke of Russia’s gratitude. Probably, the megaubersuperduper corrupt Minister spoke of his own gratitude, too — think of the kickbacks! —  from his heart, and, quite likely, a piece of paper with English transliterated into Cyrillic.

Watch and learn:

h/t Ilya Krasilshchik

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