January 01, 2020

News and Views

News and Views
Still from Lev Yashin. Kremlinfilms

Hit-or-Miss Flick

Goalkeeper biopic gets mixed reviews

A new Russian film about legendary Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin that was commissioned by President Vladimir Putin is now in cinemas, and it is getting mixed reviews.

The movie Lev Yashin, Goalkeeper of My Dreams,” stars rookie actor Alexander Fokin in the leading role. The film was originally supposed to be released during the 2018 World Cup, but it was delayed due to financing problems. The action spans the footballer’s adult life, from his debut on the field with Moscow’s Dinamo to his falling out of favor with Soviet authorities after the 1962 World Championships, when the Soviet national team lost spectacularly. Strangely, the film makes no mention of the highlight of Yashin’s career, namely becoming the first and only goalkeeper awarded the highly prestigious Ballon d’Or award in 1963.

State newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta praised the movie for capturing the atmosphere of the time and called the young Fokin a Russian Jake Gyllenhaal. But sports media were less enthused. Sports.ru said the film turned Yashin into a “soulless machine for deflecting kicks,” while comparing the plot to Yashin’s Wikipedia entry. Sportsdaily.ru called the film “yet another nonsense sports movie” done only because the authorities ordered filmmakers to honor a great sports figure.

Museum Access

Moscow’s Polytechnic Museum is leading the way in making sure its space is accessible to visitors with various disabilities and mobility issues. The museum employs several people who are blind and has created an “accessibility council” that includes some people with disabilities as well as representatives of specialized NGOs.

The museum is also hosting an “inclusivity festival” lasting several months and taking place in various locations around Moscow. The program aims to spark a conversation about accessibility ahead of the museum’s grand re-opening in the fall of 2020, after a long renovation.


Drive Across the Amur

Russia and China have finally opened a bridge across the Amur River linking Blagoveshchensk with Heihe, China. The bridge took three years to build and will be open to automotive traffic in the spring.

The bridge is one kilometer long and is the first-ever bridge between Russia and China. It will be a toll bridge with a capacity of 4 million tons of cargo and 2 million passengers per year, according to Amur Oblast’s governor. A second bridge with China – for trains – is being constructed in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.

Memories of Kolchak

White admiral’s archives sold

The French auction house Drouot sparked interest among Russia historians when it put the archive of Admiral Alexander Kolchak on the block late last year.

As the leader of White forces during the Russian Civil War, executed by the Bolsheviks in 1920, Kolchak was vilified during the Soviet era, but is a less divisive figure today. A 2008 biopic starring Konstantin Khabensky painted a romantic and noble portrait of the admiral.

For the past century, Kolchak’s archive has been in France, held by the family of his widow Sophia. After the death of Sophia’s and Alexander’s grandson, the archive was auctioned off. It included nearly 400 items, including the couple’s correspondence, official documents, photographs, books and personal belongings. One item is Kolchak’s hand-written declaration establishing the anti-Bolshevik government.

The items were mostly purchased by Russian patrons, who then transferred their ownership to Russia’s state archives and the Museum of Russian Expatriates in Moscow.

Filling the Pipeline

Power of Siberia to China

Russia has launched a huge gas pipeline to China, a very tangible reorientation of its economic sights eastward, after decades of focusing its energy exports on Europe. The Power of Siberia pipeline is some 3,000 kilometers long, stretching from the Kovykta gas field to the Chinese border, near Blagoveshchensk. In a deal valued at $400 billion, Gazprom will supply 38 billion cubic meters of gas to China through this pipeline over the next 30 years. But China wants still more. Even as the Power of Siberia was being unveiled, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were discussing yet another pipeline to pass through Mongolia.

The Power of Siberia pipeline
The Power of Siberia Pipeline / KHU KHAMGABA KITAP

Azerbaijan Rising

Moscow’s VDNKh complex of Soviet pavilions has opened up the Azerbaijan Pavilion, which had been hidden from view since the 1960s. The ornate pavilion was built in 1939 and decorated with ceramic tiles and stained glass, but was later redesignated as a Computer Engineering Pavilion and covered up with panels. The restoration removed the panels, and the building is rented by the country of Azerbaijan. It houses a library, gift shop and art exhibitions.

Azerbaijan Pavillion at VDNKh
The newly renovated Azerbaijan pavilion at VDNKh / Courtesy Azerbaijan Pavilion - VDNKh

Volga Prison

Visitors to Nizhny Novgorod can now sign up to take a tour of the city’s old prison or ostrog. The 1820 building served as a jail for men convicted in the city’s courts, and those in transit to Siberian prisons. Famous inmates in the Volga city facility include the writers Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Korolenko.

The jail was shut in 1914 and briefly served as a hospital during WWII. The prison was later handed over to the Nizhny Novgorod museum complex, but closed in 2009 for restoration, after which it began to be used as office space. Fortunately, last year local enthusiasts began to once again host tours around its premises, regaling visitors with tales of tsarist era prison traditions, such as shaving half of the convicts’ heads to mark them in case of escape.

Tours cost R215, and the schedule is posted on VK:


Prisons and Pot Kings

Russia cracks down on foreigners with marijuana

Moscow is sending a message: even as marijuana becomes legal in many localities and countries around the world, the Russian state is having none of it.

Recently, several foreigners were sentenced to long prison terms after being caught possessing pot when passing through Moscow. The harshest example is Israeli-American Naama Issachar, who received a seven-and-a-half-year sentence for having 9.5 grams of marijuana in her luggage during a layover in Sheremetyevo Airport on her way to Israel on vacation. She never crossed into Russian territory, and her punishment greatly surpasses what a Russian would face for a similar infraction.

Then there is the case of US teenager Audrey Lorber, who had 19 grams of marijuana on her as she was traveling around Russia with her mother. She had a document stipulating her right to medicinal marijuana usage, but Russian officials dismissed her declaration and slapped her with a fine for possession and several weeks in jail.

Ironically, Russian businessmen are among top international investors in marijuana. Bloomberg News labeled banker and former Russian TV executive Boris Jordan “America’s pot king,” as his company Curaleaf is the largest player in the growing pot market.

Museum With a Heart

Russia’s cardiology society has opened a new museum in St. Petersburg. The museum in the city center brands itself as an educational space for school-age kids and focuses on teaching good health habits. Some of the exhibits include glasses that, when worn, simulate a sense of drunkenness in the wearer, lectures by heart surgeons, and trivia games about sugar and cigarette smoke. To visit, call ahead; the museum forms groups of 10 to 30 children for tours.


Georgia Beckons

In Georgia’s three international airports, border guards have been handing out small wine bottles to foreigners to make them feel welcome. The bottle’s label explains that Georgia is the “birthplace of wine” and a “gastronomic heaven” full of friendly locals. The country’s tourism officials are certain this will increase repeat tourism.

In other Georgia news, Wyndham Hotels has announced its rapid expansion in the country, where it will open seven new hotels in the next two years at various price levels, from Super 8 to Ramada.

The Spy Who Tweeted Me

Russia expands controversial ‘foreign agent’ law

Russia has severely toughened its legislation on “foreign agents,” in place since 2012 to punish non-governmental organizations that receive money from non-Russian donors.

Other new laws passed late last year make it possible to label a foreign media outlet or even any individual a “foreign agent.” All Russians and foreigners who work for foreign media outlets as “foreign agents” will be added to a registry. Those judged to be “foreign agents” will have to brand all of their content as such, including their personal Facebook page. Individuals failing to do so will face hefty fines of up to R5 million (over $78,000) or even a brief stint in jail.

The list of “foreign agent” media outlets currently number ten – mostly Russian-language websites associated with the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. By this new definition, any Russian receiving funding from abroad who retweets or posts content of any of these outlets is marked as a “foreign agent.”

The law was a tit-for-tat measure in response to the state channel RT being forced to register as a “foreign agent” under US legislation in 2017. RT chief Margarita Simonyan openly gloated at the law’s passage, inviting journalists working for the US-funded media on the register to “drop this dark and thankless business” and switch sides, because “it will only get worse.”

Good Dog

Swedish archaeologists unearthed an 18,000-year-old puppy in Siberia. They’ve been trying to determine if it is a wolf or a dog, but increasingly they are suspecting that the puppy is from an even more ancient population: the ancestor population of both dogs and wolves. Naturally, this makes this cool dog just that much cooler, and it also means that Russians might have domesticated the first dog. Accordingly, the archaeologists let their Russian colleagues name the puppy. He now goes by the name Dogor (not a pun — “dogor” means “friend” in Yakut).



Mariss Jansons, a legendary Latvian-Russian conductor who studied in Leningrad and lived in Russia late in life, passed away at 76.

Jansons’ career started when he was an assistant conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic. Then, in 1979, he was inexplicably allowed to work in Norway, where he headed the Oslo Philharmonic. He stayed there until 2000, recording all of the Tchaikovsky symphonies to critical acclaim. He also collaborated with orchestras in Pittsburgh, London, Munich, and Amsterdam, only slowing his schedule after a 1996 heart attack.

Jansons was born in Riga, where his father Arvids was also a conductor. Jansons was trained on the violin but showed exceptional talent as a conductor and won an international prize in Berlin in 1971. Aside from his interpretations of Russian classical music, he was also known and loved for his incredible commitment to his orchestras, having led campaigns to raise musicians’ salaries in Oslo, and to secure a new concert hall in Munich for the Bavarian Radio Symphony, where he was working at the time of his death.


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