March 01, 2019

In Putin's Footsteps



In Putin's Footsteps
Aerial view on Holy Trinity Monastery, Tyumen. Church of Saints Peter and Paul and Holy Trinity Cathedral. Sergei Butorin | Dreamstime.com

Nikita Khrushchev’s great granddaughter, Nina Khrushcheva, and an expat living and reporting on Russia and the Soviet Union since 1993, Jeffrey Tayler, offer a poignant exploration of the largest country on earth through their recreation of Vladimir Putin’s fabled New Year’s Eve speech, which he aspired to deliver at midnight in all eleven time zones.

On a warm, clear July morning after a five-hour journey by rail through ragged deciduous forest and marshy clearings, our train slowed and stopped by the platform. The brilliant afternoon sun reflected of the metal-and-glass station festooned with a sign proudly announcing, WELCOME TO TYUMEN. The building, one of the major stops on the Trans-Siberian railroad, had been recently renovated, as was apparent in its ever-changing electronic tableaux announcing arrivals and departures, its spotless, mostly white modern interior. The Russian Railways have become a billion-dollar business with competitive prices; clean and comfortable cars; efficient services; and modern, well-kept stations. The station and service to Tyumen were no exception.

Founded in 1586, Tyumen, the current hub of the Russian oil industry, has had an even shinier look than most. After all, 64 percent of the region’s oil reserves, as well as nine-tenths of its natural gas, lie nearby. The Antipinsky Refinery alone, for example, processed almost eight thousand tons of oil in 2016. Moreover, Tyumen, population 750,000, is the capital of the vast Tyumen Oblast stretching from the border with Kazakhstan to the north, all the way to the Arctic Ocean. Compared with much of the world’s vision of oil in the deserts, Russia is different once again—its oil country is nestled in the mountains and steppes of western Siberia.


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