Nov/Dec 2018 Current Moscow Time: 07:46:44
18 November 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.


by The Editors

Russia vs. Telegram

Moscow battles messaging app

After a long standoff between the messaging app Telegram and Russian authorities, the Roskomnadzor internet watchdog blocked the service in Russia.

The messenger still works for many Russian users, because it constantly switches its IP address. This leaves Roskomnadzor playing internet Whack-A-Mole with the service, and has led to the inadvertent blockage of unsuspecting websites and services that have nothing to do with Telegram. 

One investment company, Investory, sued Roskomnadzor after its clients could not use the company’s online investment tools due to the blockage. The government’s move has also inspired thousands to come out in protest against internet censorship, both in Moscow and other Russian cities. 

Ironically, many Russian government officials and agencies continue to use the popular service, with many governors (Chechen strongman and social media heavyweight Ramzan Kadyrov, for one), as well as agencies, maintaining their own channels. At press time, the Russian Foreign Ministry was still posting to its Telegram channel.

In late May, Telegram founder Pavel Durov (who cofounded the popular VKontakte site, and fled Russia in 2014 after butting heads with the authorities who took over VK) accused Apple of blocking the app’s software updates, following an order by the Russian government to remove Telegram from Apple’s App Store. He later wrote that Apple decided not to carry out Russian orders, and thanked Tim Cook.

Russians in Cannes

Migrant drama makes waves in France

Russian-Kazakh director Sergei Dvortsevoy wowed audiences in Cannes, exposing the difficult living conditions of Central Asian migrant workers in Moscow. His movie, Ayka, tells of a young Kyrgyz woman living illegally in Moscow who gives birth but then abandons her baby in the hospital, only to later change her mind. This sets her on a quest to find the child. 

Dvortsevoy said he has read about hundreds of women from Central Asia resorting to this measure in Moscow, because their lives and work make it impossible to raise a child in the capital.

The title role of Ayka is played by Kazakh actress Samal Eslyamova, who received the Cannes award for best female role. The director hired migrants who were not professional actors to play some roles. One was deported mid-production.

The film is Dvortsevoy’s second to be shown in Cannes. His movie Tulpanis about the life of sheep herders in the barren steppes of southern Kazakhstan. Eslyamova also played the leading role in that film. Tulpanreceived an Un Certain Regardprize in Cannes.

To accurately portray a woman who has just given birth, Eslyamova said in interviews she ran long distances and even jogged with a kettlebell in order to become physically fatigued.

In another Cannes triumph, Roman Zver (real name Roman Bilyk) of the Russian band Zveri (Animals) received the award for best soundtrack, for his work on the film Leto, about Soviet rock legend Viktor Tsoi. That film was directed by arrested director Kirill Serebrennikov.

New names

Salnikov takes NatsBest prize

This year’s winner of Russia’s prestigious National Bestseller Prize is Alexei Salnikov, a Yekaterinburg-based author hitherto ignored by publishers. The novel that scored Salnikov the award, The Petrovs in Various States of the Flu (Петровы в гриппе и вокруг него), has been hailed as a fresh take on seemingly ordinary lives in Russia – specifically those of the auto mechanic Petrov and his family. The Petrovswas Salnikov’s first novel, and he has already published his second, The Department (Отдел) – a dark parody of Russia’s security services.

His first novel is available to download in Russian on the website BookMate:

Russian Bentley

Putin makes entrance in national limo

After taking flak for years for using a German-made Mercedes as his official mode of transportation, Vladimir Putin rode to his fourth presidential inauguration in a domestically-manufactured limousine. The Aurus automobile brand was developed by Russia’s NAMI (Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engines Institute), which partnered with engineers from Porsche and Bosch. The so-called Motorcade (Кортеж) Project began development in 2014, possibly as a result of the imposition of economic sanctions over Russian actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. 

Besides the limo, the Aurus brand line will include minivans and business-class models, which are slated to sell for “about 20 percent less than Rolls-Royce and Bentley,” according to former industry minister Denis Manturov.

Penalty Kick?

Visa-less businessman moves to Israel

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich ran into trouble in May, when Britain unexpectedly refused to renew his investor visa. Although he quickly obtained Israeli citizenship, which allows him to reside in Britain for six months each year, not having a visa makes it difficult for him to run his business in the country, which includes ownership of the Chelsea Football Club.

Abramovich has put development of the team’s new Stamford Bridge stadium on hold, and British authorities have refused to comment on their action. It is notable that the decision comes amid a deep souring in relations between Moscow and London, in the wake of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, which Britain has blamed on Russia.

Student Uprising

University protests World Cup plans

Russia’s most prominent university, Moscow State University, has rebelled against plans to transform a portion of its grounds into a fan zone during this summer’s World Cup. Thousands of students have demanded that the fan zone, which will host some 40,000 Fan Fest guests, be moved to a different location, so as not to disturb students’ preparing for exams or the wildlife in nearby Vorobyovy Gory Park. 

Fourteen thousand people signed a petition sent to President Putin protesting the fan zone, and several hundred staged a protest outside the university’s iconic main building. At press time, police had opened a vandalism case against a student accused of spray painting protest slogans on a World Cup information pillar.

Theater Falling

Experimental Teatr.Doc in trouble

Moscow’s independent Teatr.Doc theater, which has staged politically-charged plays and run into countless problems due to tensions with city authorities, has hit its roughest patch yet.

This spring the tiny theater lost both its artistic director, Mikhail Ugarov, and director, Yelena Gre­mina, the husband and wife team that founded Teatr.Doc, when both passed away within weeks of each other. 

Both Ugarov and Gremina were playwrights and together they staged productions about migrants, political opposition, prisoners, opposition activists and various Russian subcultures. The theater was forced to move several times during the past four years and was raided by police when it showed a film about the Ukrainian Maidan uprising.

At press time, the theater was once again looking to move into a new building, and its leaderless troupe has declared that it will continue its work.

Retirement Nyet

First hike since the 1930s

The Russian government has raised the official retirement age. The unpopular measure to be discussed in parliament this summer sets the retirement age to 63 years for women and 65 years for men, the first hike since the 1930s, from 55 and 60 years, respectively. Although Russian pensions tend to be very small, many healthy pensioners continue working after retiring, supplementing their incomes, so the new law could impact the quality of life of millions of people. The change would be phased in starting in 2019.

Let's Do This!
From the Editor
By Paul E. Richardson

After much planning and scheming, twe are unleashing a new Kickstarter project. Its goal is nothing short of creating the most valued, authoritative online resource on Russia in English. Period.

War on Art
By The Editors

In what is only the latest twist in an ongoing cultural debate about the role of Ivan the Terrible in Russian history, a man visiting Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery vandalized the well-known painting by Ilya Repin, Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan.

By The Editors

The Kremlin battles Telegram, the UK battles an oligarch and students battle the World Cup  just a few of the items in our news roundup.

Sour Cherry Vareniki
By Marina Pustilnik

Long before seasonal eating (or kombucha, or kimchi, etc.) became popular in the US, it was the norm in Russia. 

Those Lyin' Eyes
Survival Russian
By Michele Berdy

If you need help determining how bad a lie is, here’s a short primer in The Art of Not Telling the Truth.

Musical Chairs and Clones
By The Editors

Some notes on Russia's not so new cabinet and a new breakthrough in cloning of governors.

Awful Augusts
By Tamara Eidelman

All around the world, August is a time for vacations, travel, and resorts, a time of school breaks, picnics, and swimming. But somehow, in Russia, August has seen more than its fair share of mayhem and disaster over the past hundred years. 

Walking the Volga
By Dmitry Nizhegorodsky

An office worker gives up his job to walk all 3,645 kilometers of Europe’s longest river. This is his story.

By The Editors

Notable quotes from around the Russiasphere.

House on the Embankment
By Nadya Grebennikova

If these walls could talk. The history and horror of one of the most epic construction projects of the Soviet era.