Russia: New Book Explores Consequences Of Hiding From History

Dusty and streaked with dirt, an enormous bust of Vladimir Lenin, finished only from the nose up, sits in a desolate courtyard. Its eyes seem to have risen from the ground itself, peering at all who pass by.

Taken in 1992, just months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is the photograph that appears on the cover of the latest book by veteran U.S. journalist and Russia-watcher David Satter.

The choice is fitting, for the main argument of “It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway” is that Russia today is haunted by the specter of unfinished Soviet business — or rather, unfinished emotional processing, on both the level of the state and in the Russian psyche, of the great human tragedy of the Soviet Union.

Satter writes, “In Russia, the idea that tragic history can be absorbed and made part of the national consciousness has not been acknowledged.”

THE FALL: 20 Years After The Collapse Of The U.S.S.R.

Moreover, he argues, the failure to fully acknowledge the root of communism’s crimes — the idea that individuals are inconsequential in the state’s pursuit of its goals — has allowed the same dynamic to take hold in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“I think it would take a psychological change in Russia. I think it would take a change in mentality. I think it would take a commitment on the part of people in Russia to defend the integrity of the individual,” Satter says. “That commitment isn’t there. It’s not that Russians don’t value their own lives or value the lives of those who are close to them, but they’re too willing to write off the deaths, for example, of hostages in hostage situations, the deaths of Russian soldiers from hazing or in training exercises, the deaths in hospitals from mistakes or incompetence, deaths from accidents, suicides, murders. It’s a society that doesn’t do enough to protect life and protect individuals.”

Lost In The Cityscape

Satter argues that the foundation of that attitude was laid in tsarist times and solidified during the unprecedented brutality of the communist period. He writes that the “lack of will to understand the moral significance of what took place” has only deepened that mindset.

​​The memorials that do exist to some of the estimated 20 million who died at the hands of the Soviet regime were mostly created during perestroika and are often lost in the cityscape. The Solovetsky Stone, a boulder from the site of the first Soviet camps for political prisoners, sits today in Moscow’s Lyubyanskaya Square, the home of the former KGB, but is overshadowed by the buildings it is meant to decry.

There is neither a national monument nor a national museum to the victims of the communist terror, Satter notes. And more importantly, there is no national anger about it.

Along with examples from across the country, Satter’s book memorializes in writing some of the hundreds of sites throughout Moscow that remain without plaques or statues — the sites of KGB murders and executions that he says have been too easily resigned to history.

The building at 23 Nikolskaya Street in the capital, where 35,000 people were sentenced to death, will soon become part of an entertainment complex.

“The feeling of revulsion or horror at the actions of the regime is largely absent today,” the author says, adding that “the sites of mass killings are either noted in a haphazard way or not at all.”

“As I mention in the book, if you walk down Bolshaya Dzerzhinskaya Street, past the building on the corner of Varsonofevsky Lane, you see a kind of unwashed, three-story building [with] no indication that there were mass executions carried out there,” Satter says. “And there are many other such examples.”

‘Ship Of Death’

That building, called the “ship of death” by the Muscovites who know its story, lies just steps away from a restaurant called The Shield and Sword, an establishment that celebrates the dreaded security services. Satter recalls a conversation with the restaurant’s manager that captured the forgiving attitude of many Russians.

A city bus is decorated with a portrait of Josef Stalin on a street in St. Petersburg. (file photo)
​​”If you entered the restaurant, the first thing you saw was a white bust of [former KGB chief and Communist Party General Secretary Yury] Andropov festooned with flowers and then statues and portraits of all of the former leaders of the state security, including the most bloodthirsty and the most criminal — [chiefs of the Soviet secret police Lavrenty] Beria, [and Nikolai] Yezhov,” Satter says.

“I went there and I talked to the manager and I asked him if he had any qualms about putting up these portraits, and he gave a reply that’s actually quite typical of a certain segment of Russian opinion. He said, ‘You can’t judge what happened by the standards of today. It was a different historical situation [and] different requirements.'”

The wave of anticommunist sentiment that followed the fall of the Soviet Union was essentially squashed in 2005, Satter argues, when then-President Vladimir Putin infamously declared that the breakup was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

Weight Of The Past

Satter says the failure of Russians to judge the communist era in moral terms fits well into Putin’s designs.

Memorializing these crimes has been discouraged and the celebration of the past has been promoted, he says. Former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzkhov famously advocated returning a statue of the first Soviet secret police director, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, to central Moscow, where it had stood until the 1991 coup. In recent years, the city of Orel has approved rehabilitating statues of Stalin.

As time passes, Russians will find it even harder to feel the weight of their past, Satter says.

“If there’s little incentive now to go to the trouble of marking the burial sites, of commemorating the victims, of in fact passing judgment on the persecutors, how much less interest will there be in five, 10, 15 years, where the rush of events will have put it even further in the past?” he asks.

“It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway” will be published in the United States on December 13. Russian and Ukrainian versions are also being planned.

FOX, lies & the wrong videotape: What’s NOT happening in Moscow

With so much going on in the world today, one can see how easy it would be to get confused. Are those pictures of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan? Poverty in Somalia or Congo? And what’s a news program to do if there aren’t any good pictures?

So producers all over the world search, and talk to their own crews or news agencies who provide feeds for everyone, and find the best shots to grace their air time.

Or – in some cases – ANY shots that look more or less similar to the covered topic. Case in point: protests in Russia and the ever-blundering FOX News.

Yes, there are mass protests in Russia. Have been, since election day on Sunday. Thousands have been gathering to speak their mind and protest the election results. Yes, hundreds have been arrested. For two days in a row, and for various violations. Yes, there are reports of police brutality and no; right now it’s not possible to say whether they are true. It really does depend on the cops – much as it does anywhere else in the world. In New York, for example, some police officers will look the other way when you are filming somewhere you technically shouldn’t be; and others will detain you outside the United Nations building for no reason and refuse you your rights (and yes, all this did happen). Cops in Moscow are the same – some are nicer than others, while some appear to be almost looking for a fight.

Regardless of all this – yes, there are protests. But this, my friends, is NOT them.

Still shot from FOX news video coverage of “Russian” protests (click to enlarge)

Now, even though FOX news has kindly told us that this is, in fact, Moscow – as a Muscovite, one glance is enough to tell me it’s NOT. First of all, the phone box – ours are a greyish-blue, and are few and between. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I saw a public phone box, let alone anyone using it.

Secondly, the people in the background – the young couple pressed against the building? They’re dressed in jeans and long-sleeved tees.

It’s December. In RUSSIA. No one in their right mind would go to a rally (where most of the time, a lot of standing around is involved) in a tee shirt. People here wear thermals, ski jackets, hats and gloves – the works. Stereotypes are based on fact, you know – and Moscow is very cold in December.

But even if all of this isn’t enough to convince you – and believe me, I do not want you to just take my word for it, here is my final argument.

Close-up of the Greek National Bank sign/still shot from video

You may say ‘Hey, that looks Greek to me” – and you know what, you’ll be spot on. Greek it is – literally.  And that sign? Says “National Bank of Greece” in those big, pretty, gold letters.  FOX, it appears, isn’t satisfied with the REAL Russian rallies. They wanted a BANG! But there were no bangs, so I figure they thought “hey, it’s police running after people and fires and chaos – who on earth will be able to tell the difference?!” So they took videos from Athens, put a ‘’Russia” comment on screen – and voila, stick a fork in ‘em, they’re done.

How unfortunate that their broadcasts can be seen by pretty much anyone, anywhere.

I don’t harbor any hopes that the FOX people will see this and suddenly change their “errant ways”. But for the viewers – there are no palm trees in the streets of Moscow, the Prime Minister is spelled ‘PuTin’, not ‘PuTTin’ and the plural for ‘protester’ is ‘protesterS’. For future references.

Watch original clean AP footage of protests in Athens on December 6, 2011


­Katerina Azarova, RT

Mom shoots children and kills self after being denied food stamps

In a final and violent act of desperation, a 38-year-old mother in Texas bombarded herself in a welfare office on Tuesday after being denied food stamps. She took her own life and shot her two children before the stand-off ceased.

Rachelle Grimmer had recently moved her family to the Lonestar State and attempted to receive federal assistance this summer by applying for food stamps back in July, only to be denied. A spokesperson for the Health and Human Services Commission confirmed to the Daily Mail that Grimmer’s filing was incomplete and left her ineligible for aid.

Grimmer has been apparently continuing to appeal the decision up until Tuesday, when she had enough and brought her two children into the social service office in Laredo, Texas. At 5 p.m. she insisted on speaking with a supervisor before resorting to unleashing a handgun.

Authorities say that Grimmer threatened employees in the building for hours along with her two children. A local SWAT team was eventually able to free 30 hostages from the scene but her children and a departmental supervisor remained in the building for nearly three hours.

Laredo is only the latest home for the Grimmer family. They relocated there eight months earlier and before that had resided in a handful of towns across Texas since coming from Ohio in July. The application for food stamps stretches to 18-pages long, and would have required the mother to provide detailed information about her past residences, complicating the process.

Since the stand-off concluded, authorities have begun investigating her file. Not before, however, the event took a grave turn.

During a seven-hour standoff with authorities, Grimmer’s daughter, Ramie Marie, updated her Facebook with somber messages from the scene of the crime. Just before 11:30 pm, the 12 year old posted “tear gas seriasly” on her wall. Half an hour, earlier her status was simply “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhahhhhhhhh.”

Five hours into the incident, Ramie added “may die 2day” as her place of employment on Facebook.Around four hours later, the stand-off had finally subsided after her mother committed suicide, but not before shooting her daughter and her 10-year-old son.

Joe Baeza of the Laredo Police Department tells reporters that they had been on the phone with the mother until around 11:45 attempting a negotiation, around four hours after the last employee hostage had been freed. Grimmer abandoned attempts at reasoning with the authorities, however, and hung up the phone. Baeza said police on the scene heard three gunshots moments later followed by the sobbing of children. Ramie and her brother were last reported to be in critical condition.

Over 30 arrested at Occupy DC

A crackdown on the Occupy DC encampment in downtown Washington ended with 31 arrests on Sunday following a nine-hour standoff with District police.

The demonstration in downtown Washington DC has been spared from police crackdowns since it began, setting it apart from sites in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities where cops have closed down spaces to protesters as the Occupy movement swells in size. Law enforcement arrived early on Sunday in DC’s McPherson Square, however, and ordered protesters to dissemble a wooden structure that was erected overnight in their encampment. The consensus among demonstrators was to keep the building, a wooden barn-like framework, intact, and police responded by arresting more than two dozen protesters early in the day.

The Washington Post reports that 15 demonstrators were arrested and charged with crossing a police line, with another 16 apprehended for disobeying a lawful police order.

After apprehending the two dozen-plus, however, protesters refused to dismantle the structure, which was built with the intention of creating a house for teach-ins and future General Assembly meetings.

Pentagonal in shape, one of the architects told the Washington City Paper that the structure was created in an effort to “reclaim the geometry,” referring to the headquarters of the US Department of Defense in nearby Arlington, Virginia.

As police barricaded off the scene and cops swarmed the park, several demonstrators climbed the framework of the unit and stayed for hours while law enforcement tried to determine a way to issue arrests on the people that were sitting roughly 20 feet in the air. Police inflated a balloon-like device and encouraged two protesters to voluntarily vacate the building and jump onto the prop for safety, but officers resorted to engaging a cherrypicker to get access to the top of the building to apprehend the others. By 7 p.m., only one protester, identified as an occupier named David, remained and refused to loosen his grip on the structure while no fewer than four cops wrestled with him from above and tried to bring him into custody.

Although the Washington Post reports that no injuries were reported, tweets and other reports on the scene suggested that cops struck David repeatedly with a police baton and appeared to be choking him at the height of the standoff.

Police action in McPherson has been peaceful since the demonstrations began earlier this year, especially in comparison to other large metropolitan cities such as Boston and New York, where crackdowns have gone violent. The DC police have allowed protesters to camp indefinitely with tents, but said that the construction of what appeared to be a permanent-structure would be prohibited since the group did not have a permit.

Police were able to dismantle the “permanent structure” with ease shortly after the standoff ended.

Disabled Russians Stage Protest Rally

IRKUTSK, Russia — Dozens of disabled people in wheelchairs have picketed the regional government administration building in southeastern Siberia, RFE/RL’s Russian Service reports.

Students of the psychology department at the local university took part in the protest to demonstrate solidarity with the protesters. The protesters held placards saying: “I Want to Walk,” “Rehabilitation Means the Right to Live,” and “This Can Happen to Anyone.”

RFE/RL’s correspondent reports that the protesters demanded that the regional authorities open a rehabilitation center for handicapped people in order to help them to return to work.

The protesters explained that treatment in a private clinic costs at least 80,000 rubles (more than $2,500) per month, which most disabled people cannot afford.

The protesters also demanded the restoration of lower utility fees for the disabled and the abolition of a so-called transportation tax for handicapped persons.

The protesters said that they want to know who is addressing their problems and how. They accuse the regional authorities of taking decisions affecting them without consulting with them beforehand. One of the protest slogans was “Everything Done For Us Should Be Done with Us.”

One of the protest organizers, Sergei Makeyev, who is chairman of a local fund to assist disabled people, told RFE/RL that he and his colleagues are currently working to establish a rehabilitation center for disabled citizens, which along with medical assistance will provide local handicapped persons with social support and training to take part in the Paralympic Games.

The protesters say they are ready to start a hunger strike unless the authorities meet their demand for the opening of a rehabilitation center.

Read more in Russian here

South Ossetian KGB Says Situation Could Get Out Of Control

The head of South Ossetia’s state security service, the KGB, has warned that the situation in South Ossetia could get out of control.

Boris Attoyev said there was evidence that some protesters were being “provoked to illegal actions,” but he did not say by whom.

Supporters of disqualified presidential candidate Alla Dzhioyeva marched on the government building earlier on December 1.

Attoyev said some of the protesters were being encouraged to storm the building.

The situation in South Ossetia remains tense after Dzhioyeva appeared to be winning the November 27 presidential runoff in South Ossetia.

Preliminary results announced by the Central Election Commission showed her well ahead of her opponent, Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, who was supported by Moscow.

Bibilov’s Unity party complained about violations during the November 27 poll and South Ossetia’s Supreme Court agreed and declared the election invalid.

The parliament later disqualified Dzhioyeva as a candidate for the repeat presidential election rescheduled for March.

Dzhioyeva has declared that she won the election and has filed a complaint for the Supreme Court to overturn its decision.

Meanwhile, Georgian Interior Ministry official Shota Utiashvili has called South Ossetian accusations of Georgian interference in these events “absolute rubbish.”

South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in a war in the 1990s.

Russia recognized South Ossetia’s independence after a brief war with Georgia in 2008 but since then only a few other countries have followed the Kremlin’s lead.

compiled from agency reports

Has South Ossetian Leader Outfoxed Moscow?

Caucasus Report

Disqualified presidential candidate Alla Dzhioyeva speaks to the media outside the Central Election Commision building in Tskhinvali on November 30.

Tensions are rising in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia following a clumsy attempt by de facto President Eduard Kokoity to thwart Moscow’s attempt to install its preferred candidate to succeed him and simultaneously prolong his term in office by having the republic’s Supreme Court annul the outcome of the November 27 presidential election runoff.

But the apparent winner of that runoff vote, opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva, refuses to accept the Supreme Court ruling. She has set about forming a government, and met earlier on November 30 with Kokoity to try to  persuade him to acknowledge her as president and cede power. When he refused, she released an appeal to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene to restore “constitutional order and stability.”  

In the first round of voting on November 13, the three candidates backed by Kokoity each polled less than 10 percent of the vote. South Ossetian Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, who is backed by Moscow, and former Education Minister Dzhioyeva finished neck and neck with between 24-25 percent of the vote.

Incomplete results made public the morning after the runoff from 74 of the total 85 polling stations gave Dzhioyeva 56.74 percent of the vote compared with 40 percent for Bibilov. Bibilov responded by publicly alleging that Dzhioyeva’s supporters engaged in intimidating and bribing voters to cast their ballots for her.

Acting on those allegations, the Unity party that backed Bibilov’s candidacy appealed to the Supreme Court to annul the outcome of the vote, which it duly did.

The Supreme Court also ruled that because the final election results were invalid, they should not be made public, and that in light of the purported “violations” by her supporters Dzhioyeva is not eligible to participate in the repeat ballot. It did not specify which article of the election law that latter ruling was based on. Meeting in emergency session later on November 29, the South Ossetian parliament, in which only four pro-Kokoity parties are represented, scheduled that vote for March 25, 2012.

Who Would Run Again?

Bibilov’s allegations of malpractice by Dzhioyeva’s campaign staff lack credibility, however. As Dzhioyeva pointed out, they were made only after the Central Election Commission released the preliminary results on November 28 showing that she had a clear lead. She stressed that none of Bibilov’s campaign staff reported anything untoward or illegal while the vote was in process or after polling stations closed late on November 27. Moreover, election observers, including those deployed by the Russian State Duma, unanimously declared that the vote was free, fair, and transparent, with no violations.

Security forces watch over Dzhioyeva supporters outside the Central Election Commision building in Tskhinvali on November 30.
​​Hundreds of Dzhioyeva supporters congregated outside the government building in Tskhinvali on November 30 to await the outcome of her talks with Kokoity. Expressing widespread distrust and rancor toward the current authorities, one woman told the website that “if this criminal ruling remains in force, we shall storm the building where the tyrant is holed up with his gang.” The crowd has apparently ignored Dzhioyeva’s appeal to disperse. 

Meanwhile, South Ossetian Deputy Prosecutor-General Eldar Kokoyev has construed Dzhioyeva’s formation of a cabinet as an attempted “colored revolution” that, he warned, was impermissible.

Kokoity, who affirmed the day after the first round that it was unthinkable that a woman should be elected to head a Caucasus republic, appears ready to resort to violence against Dzhioyeva’s supporters. reported that security forces have opened fire at least once over the heads of the crowds gathered outside the government building. Whether the police would side with Kokoity or Dzhioyeva remains unclear: Interior Minister Valery Valiyev met with her on November 29 and they both pledged to ensure the situation did not spiral out of control

​​Bibilov, meanwhile, is maintaining a low profile, and it is not clear whether he will participate in the repeat vote in March. The Russian daily “Izvestia” quoted him as saying he hadn’t yet decided whether to participate in the repeat vote and would not make that decision on his own. Translated into plain English, that means he is waiting to be informed whether Moscow now considers him irrevocably damaged goods. On the other hand, it is not clear who else the Kremlin might back in the repeat vote.

Barring massive, blatant falsification, which could trigger mass protests, the chances of one of Kokoity’s preferred successors getting elected is close to zero. By contrast, the protest electorate who voted for Dzhioyeva in the second round would almost certainly vote next time around for whichever independent candidate she chooses to support. She would, however, have to keep that decision a secret until the last minute to avoid compromising that candidate’s chances of registering for the vote.


South Ossetia

Baltic Pearl Construction Pushes Forward

Baltic Pearl Construction Pushes Forward

Published: November 30, 2011 (Issue # 1685)


A bird’s-eye view of the Duderhof Club residential complex project, part of the Baltic Pearl multi-functional complex.

An inauguration ceremony dedicated to the opening and sale of the premium-class residential property Duderhof Club, part of the Baltic Pearl multi-functional complex, was held in St. Petersburg last week.

“Duderhof Club is the third residential and first premium-class structure in the Baltic Pearl project,” said Lee Bo, first deputy director general of Baltic Pearl company.

“The construction of the first building, Pearl Premiere, was completed last year and 97 percent of the apartments have already been rented and are currently being lived in. Pearl Symphony, the second building whose construction is planned to be finished next year, has already sold 30 percent of its apartments.

“Duderhof Club will only enhance the market prospects of the Baltic Pearl project,” he added.

The construction of residential areas in the Duderhof Club is to be conducted in two stages. Within the first stage, which will be completed in the third quarter of 2013, the building of nine low-rise sections of 98 apartments and four townhouses will be completed. The second stage of construction is planned to start next year. The total area of the Duderhof Club residential premises will be 63,000 square meters.

According to Baltic Pearl executives, the Duderhof Club will be built in a Scandinavian style and with the use of high technology and innovative building materials.

Baltic Pearl company, the creator of the project, is an affiliate of Shanghai Overseas United Investment Company.

As a result of a tender to find a contractor for the project in which Russian companies also participated, Shanghai Construction Group — a state-owned company — was named the main contractor.

According to Sergei Dobrodeyev, assistant director general of Baltic Pearl, the company was looking for a contractor with the ability to take complete control of construction and the JIT (Just in Time) building material supply process in which no storage room is needed for the materials, as they are used and new ones brought as and when they are needed.

The general planner of the Duderhof Club is the St. Petersburg-based firm Tsytsin Architectural Studio.

Cooperation with Sberbank on loan financing for the project is also planned to continue.

“In 2010, the amount of loans was some 300 million rubles ($9.6 million), this year the amount exceeded this sum,” said Sergei Shamkov, director of the Krasnoselsky district division of Sberbank Northwest.

“One of the main competitive advantages of Duderhof Club is the reasonable price for premium class real estate,” said Lee.

“The prices are some 110,000 rubles ($3,500) for a square meter in apartments and 90,000 ($2,880) in townhouses,” said Dobrodeyev. “We haven’t calculated the payback period precisely yet, but we hope it will be about five years,” he added.

“The economic crisis didn’t influence the implementation of the project because the budget to fund the project was planned in advance,” said Dobrodeyev. “The primary requirement for the project investor was the ability to maintain a balanced budget and monitor it.”

“The essential amount of investment for the first stage of construction has been completely arranged,” Lee added.

Baltic Pearl is a multi-functional complex of residential, commercial and public areas located on the southwestern shore of the Gulf of Finland, on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.

The Pearl Plaza trade and entertainment complex is planned to open as part of the Baltic Pearl in 2013.

Schools and kindergartens built on Baltic Pearl territory will become city property. The first kindergarten was opened on the Baltic Pearl territory in 2010. The area is planned to contain all of the necessary facilities for various levels of society and to significantly improve the infrastructure of the district.

Olympic Building on Track

Olympic Building on Track

Published: November 30, 2011 (Issue # 1685)

SOCHI — International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge praised Russian organizers for making significant progress in preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Rogge was given a tour of the venues last week by Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of Sochi’s local organizing committee.

Rogge said he had witnessed remarkable changes to the venues since his previous visit to Sochi 18 months ago.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said construction of all facilities at Sochi’s mountain cluster will be completed this year and will host international ski, freestyle, snowboard and biathlon events next February and March.

“These national and international competitions will allow us to taste the greatness of the future grandiose event and at the same time test the personnel and main Olympic facilities,” he said.

France starts building first warship for Russia

French shipbuilder DCNS has received advance payment from Moscow under a $1.2-billion contract and will start the construction of the first warship for the Russian Navy, the DCNS press service said on Wednesday.

The two countries signed a contract in June on two French-built Mistral class amphibious assault ships including the transfer of sensitive technology.

“The advance payment was received several weeks ago and work on the first ship is getting underway,” the service said. “The first ship will be delivered in 2014 and the second in 2015.

Construction of the second ship should start in several months and will proceed simultaneously with the first, but will depend on when the full payment for the first ship is made, a DCNS source said.

A Mistral-class ship is capable of carrying 16 helicopters, four landing vessels, 70 armored vehicles, and 450 personnel.


A number of Russia’s neighbors have expressed concern over the deal, in particular Georgia and Lithuania.

The Russian military has said it plans to use Mistral ships in its Northern and Pacific fleets.

Many Russian military and industry experts have questioned the financial and military sense of the purchase, and some believe that Russia simply wants to gain access to advanced naval technology that could be used in the future in potential conflicts with NATO and its allies.


Cairo’s bloody saga: Protester crushed by army vehicle

A demonstrator was crushed to death by a military vehicle in Cairo on Saturday and another four injured when protesters tried to stop Kamal Al-Ganzouri, the new prime minister appointed by Egypt’s military regime, from entering a government building.

­RT’s correspondent Paula Slier reported from the Egyptian capital that eyewitnesses had told her they had seen a man being run over and killed by a military vehicle.

Reports on the victim’s identity are scanty and conflicting. What is known, however, is that  Egyptian officials have apologized to the dead person’s family.

“We issued a statement of apology for the death and expressed our condolences,” Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Marwan was quoted by CNN as saying.

The protests in Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square intensified on Friday as people gathering for prayers  got wind of the government’s decision to appoint a new prime minister.

Kamal Al-Ganzouri served as premier from 1996 to 1999 under the now-deposed president, Hosni Mubarak – a fact that was sufficient to infuriate protesters.

Hundreds had gathered to prevent him from entering the cabinet building and clashed with security forces who tried to disperse them. Three police troop carriers and an armored vehicle were chased off by rock-throwing protesters before security forces fired tear gas in return, Sky News reported.

Similar reports of security forces using tear gas have come from Alexandria, where protests continued outside the security building. The situation has caused leading human rights activists to start pointing fingers to try to bring international attention to the security forces’ use of what they say is an illegal substance.

­‘Civil salvation government’

­Cairo’s Tahrir Square remains a sea of protesters this weekend, with tens of thousands having rallied overnight against Egypt’s military rulers. More than 40 people have been killed since clashes broke out a week ago.

Sixteen Egyptian political groups issued a statement on Saturday saying that they have formed in Tahrir Square what they are calling “a civil salvation government”. They have named the former chief of the IAEA, Mohamed El-Baradei, as the head of this new government. El-Baradei is seen as a front-runner for the office of president, and as someone the army might approach with a request to become prime minister. A number of other high-profile people have been named by the new grouping  his potential deputies.

A somewhat unusual situation is currently developing in Cairo, with one government having been declared on Tahrir Square and another one having been formed by the country’s military. It is worth mentioning that the influential Muslim Brotherhood is not supporting Mohamed El-Baradei in any way, adding into an already intense political rivalry among the anti-government factions.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s military regime is pressing ahead with parliamentary elections on Monday and says it will hold the presidential poll by next June.

However, the government’s concessions have not been enough to satisfy the people, whose fundamental demand remains the same – that the present regime be removed from power immediately.

Regional Russian Protest Turns Political

KIROV, Russia — A protest against social conditions in the Russian city of Kirov turned into a political demonstration after local authorities refused to allow the rally, RFE/RL’s Russian Service reports.

Dozens of young parents in the central city of Kirov decided to hold a protest in front of the city administration building on November 23 to demand social allowances for young couples and more kindergartens.

The municipal authorities rejected their application, saying supporters of the ruling United Russia party planned to gather on the same location on the same day.

The young parents decided to hold the protest today despite the ban. Dozens of them brought placards saying “Vote for Any Party Except United Russia!”

Dozens of supporters of United Russia also showed up.

RFE/RL’s correspondent asked a United Russia supporter whether she was paid for taking part in the gathering.

The protester, who refused to give her name, said that each participant received 225 rubles ($7) for taking part in the 90-minute rally.

About a dozen police were present monitoring the situation. No clashes were reported.

Read more in Russian here

Assad defiant as Syrian party HQ hit by RPGs

The headquarters of the Syrian ruling party in Damascus has been shelled with propelled grenades on Sunday. The new violence erupted just hours after the Arab League ultimatum for the Syrian leadership to stop the crackdown on protesters expired.

­At least two rocket propelled grenades were fired at the Baath Party headquarters in Damascus early on Sunday. There have been no reports of deaths or injuries, however. According to local media the building was mostly empty at the time of the attack.

“The attack was just before dawn and the building was mostly empty. It seems to have been intended as a message to the regime,” confirmed a witness, as cited by Reuters.

It was the first insurgent attack reported in Damascus since the uprising against the Assad regime began in mid-March.

The attack came hours after the deadline for Bashar al-Assad to put an end to the violence and accept the Arab League’s peace plan expired at 2200 GMT on Saturday.

In its ultimatum, the Arab League had requested a pullout of military force from Syrian cities and an immediate end to violence against the protesters. The league has already suspended Syria from the bloc and threatened more sanctions if the regime continues the bloodshed.

On Friday, Syria agreed in principle to allow Arab observers into the country to oversee a peace plan, though the agreement in writing was not concluded. Some critics accused Assad of stalling the situation after the Syrian government suggested amendments to the plan.

According to the plan, some 500 observers were expected to come to Syria, including representatives of human rights organizations, journalists, doctors, lawyers and civilian experts. The Syrian government agreed to secure a free movement across the country for the observers.

­Assad vows to continue ‘enforcing law and order’

­Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad said he would continue to fight against the militants, despite the increasing international pressure on Syria.

“The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue,” he said in an interview with Sunday Times newspaper. “However, I assure you that Syria will not bow down and that it will continue to resist the pressure being imposed on it.”

Assad also commented the Arab League’s demand to pull the military out of the cities, saying that plan would not stop the violence.

“The only way is to search for the armed people, chase the armed gangs, prevent the entry of arms and weapons from neighboring countries, prevent sabotage and enforce law and order,” he said.

Assad still insists that his country is under constant attacks by groups of armed terrorists, who pretend to be peaceful protesters and infuse the violence.

The president, however, acknowledged some mistakes and the use of excessive force were taking place, but assured that those who were guilty in firing at unarmed protesters or giving orders to do so have been detained.

“We, as a state, do not have a policy to be cruel with citizens,” Assad said.

The Syrian leader also pointed out that the opposition exaggerates the number of people, who were killed since the uprising began, and said that the real figures are far from the 3,500 deaths reported by the UN.

According to the Assad, the official number of civilian deaths is 619, with most of them occurring during the crossfire between the military and armed gangs. Assad also said that the anti-regime riots across the country had taken the lives of many of his supporters among the civilians and more than 800 police officers and soldiers.

Meanwhile the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees claims the regime’s latest attacks on opposition groups occurred early Saturday, a day after 16 civilians, including two children, were reportedly killed by government forces.

Four Seasons Prepares to Open

Four Seasons Prepares to Open

Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)


The front of the restored Lobanov-Rostovsky mansion, soon to open as a hotel.

The Four Seasons Lion Palace Hotel, set to open in the historic Lobanov-Rostovsky mansion, has entered the final stages of preparation for its opening in St. Petersburg early next year.

Tristar Investment Holdings, in charge of carrying out capital repairs and construction to transform the celebrated Lion Palace building into a hotel, and Uralsib Financial Corporation, the projects’ financial partner, have announced they have entered the final stages of construction and begun the gradual handover of the hotel to the operator, Four Seasons Hotels Resorts.

Four Seasons will soon begin recruiting and training personnel. The commissioning of the building is projected to create more than 300 jobs.

Isadore Sharp, founder of Four Seasons Hotels Resorts, expressed his enthusiasm for the project during a recent visit to St. Petersburg.

“From the beginning we shared the vision of transforming this grand building, with its 200-year history, into a modern hotel that meets all of the Four Seasons’ standards,” said Sharp. “We’re very proud to be associated with this unique and outstanding project, working alongside the developer, the financial partner and the owner.”

The property is owned by the Department of Presidential Affairs of the Russian Federation. Vladimir Kozhin, head of the Department of Presidential Affairs of the Russian Federation, said the reconstruction of the Lion Palace was “a fine example of a successfully implemented project, when the developer, investors and partners all contributed to preserving the cultural heritage and historical appearance of the city.”

During the restoration process, archived documents were used to recreate historical details as accurately as possible. Architect Auguste de Montferrand’s grand staircase has been returned to its original condition, requiring the marble, stucco and gilding to be restored. Sculptural moldings were reconstructed, and the paintings on the ceiling of the main entrance were recreated to match the originals. Two white marble lions, carved by architect and sculptor Paolo Triscorni, have been repaired and placed once again by the front entrance.

Completed in 1820 as Princess Lobanova-Rostovskaya’s residence, the palace was the work of Montferrand — who also designed the neighboring St. Isaac’s Cathedral — assisted by the Italian sculptor and architect Triscorni. The building has always been known as the Lion Palace, in honor of the two white marble lions guarding its main entrance.

The St. Petersburg landmark has been depicted in many period paintings and literary works, most famously, in Alexander Pushkin’s celebrated 1833 poem “The Bronze Horseman.”

Evolving with the various eras of Russian history, the palace has housed government offices, a hostel, a telephone exchange, a school and a design institute.

The new hotel will have 183 rooms, as well as two restaurants, a bar and a tea lounge in a glass-roofed winter garden. There will also be a spa, a fitness center and a pool.

For large-scale receptions and business conferences, the hotel is equipped with a ballroom, six meeting rooms and a formal boardroom.

Chechen Antiseparatist Poet Gunned Down In Moscow

A Chechen poet with antiseparatist views was gunned down in Moscow in what Russian investigators say was a contract killing.

Ruslan Akhtakhanov was getting out of his car near his apartment building in Moscow when an unidentified gunman fired several shots at him.

The attacker fled the scene in a car.

Akhtakhanov, 58, was best known for a book of poems called “I Am Proud of Chechnya, Which Gave Heroes to the World.”

He had said he began writing poems while held in a dungeon by separatists.

According to Russian media reports, Akhtakhanov was held for ransom in 1998.

He will be buried in his native village in Chechnya.

compiled from agency reports

Mariinsky Complex Expansion Totals $629 Million

Mariinsky Complex Expansion Totals $629 Million

Published: November 9, 2011 (Issue # 1682)


The Canadian architects who took over the project in 2009 expect the complex to look like this when completed.

Moscow took center stage for the arts when the Bolshoi Theater opened on Oct. 28, but St. Petersburg, the historical cultural capital, will quickly answer Moscow’s challenge with an entire cultural complex set to open in fall 2012.

The complex will consist of the historic Mariinsky Theater founded in 1860, a new concert hall opened in 2007 and the Mariinsky second stage, which construction company Metrostroi promised to finish by fall 2012.

“These pieces … when put together will add up to more than the sum of their parts into a cultural complex that is unrivaled,” said Jack Diamond, designer of the new Mariinsky Theater.

Diamond told The St. Petersburg Times in an interview that he is proposing that all three structures rest on the same plane, connected by cobblestone, granite setts or some other paving material. Streets will remain flush with all the pedestrian paths and small light pillars will demarcate lanes for traffic.

He also hopes a tree line will unite the buildings. The narrow park just north of where the conservatory is situated will extend past the existing Mariinsky Theater and end at the door of the new building. A new footbridge will also connect the two theaters split only by the Kryukov Canal.


The new Mariinsky had reached this stage of construction by September.

Diamond proposed two glass columns of light seated at the entrance and exit to act as gateways marking the cultural precinct. They would then be connected by a necklace of pedestrian-level lights to multiply the architectural effect, unifying the area. Neither the gateway nor the ring of lights has yet to be officially confirmed or budgeted, but Diamond believes that the concept is gaining favor.

According to Toronto-based Diamond and Schmitt Architects, the Mariinsky’s new stage will add 1,800 seats, span 70,000 square meters, reach up to eight stories high and cost 325 million euros ($446 million). It also offers a roof theater for events during the White Nights for a panoramic view of the monuments in a city where houses are limited to a six-story height.

“I have watched people climb all the way up to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, a massive effort to get above and look across at the city. Well, we’re going to make it easy and celebrate that,” Diamond said.

The project, however, has been anything but easy, wrought with setbacks, inflated costs and controversy.

In September, the state agency Northwest Directorate for Construction, Reconstruction and Restoration switched construction companies overseeing the aboveground work. Metrostroi won the tender, promising a 30 percent discount and to finish the project by fall 2012. But ballet critic and expert Igor Stupnikov did not believe this, saying “it is a far-fetched idea.”


This is the finished product St. Petersburgers have to look forward to.

Designs were swapped in 2007 when the Northwest Directorate annulled its contract with Dominique Perrault, allegedly because the roof was not designed for St. Petersburg’s arctic climate. Stupnikov told The St. Petersburg Times that four years after approving the designs, a building committee from Moscow declared that the building also violated height restrictions. The Urban Toronto web site reported that by that time $20 million had already been spent on construction. The state agency was not available Monday to provide a comment.

Diamond and Schmitt were then chosen to rework the plans, and in 2009 they began construction incorporating the features already in place. The completion date has since been projected as late as 2015, and general director of the Mariinsky Theater Valery Gergiev gave a news conference in August to dispel the rumors.

The cost of the project has also sharply increased, rising from an estimated $100 million in 2003 to May 2011 when the government confirmed a total cost of 19.17 billion rubles ($629 million) — to be paid for by the Federal Treasury.

Despite all of the drama, Diamond flatly told The St. Petersburg Times that he would never have given up the opportunity to design the Mariinsky.

When asked how the residents of St. Petersburg were receiving the new facility, Stupnikov said, “For them, it is just another building.”

Russia to build up submarine task force along Northern Sea Route

Russia will increase its submarine task force in the area around the Northern Sea Route, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

“We will, of course, be building up our [submarine] task force, ensuring the country’s security in the northern region,” he said.

New submarines are entering service with the Russian Navy, he said, adding that the Northern Sea Route is one of Russia’s priority transport lanes.

“We will be setting up a network of support bases along the entire Northern Sea Route where Emergency Ministry officers will be deployed to respond promptly and efficiently to any unexpected developments along the Northern Sea Route,” Putin said.

The Russian Federal Border Agency said in March it planned to establish a monitoring network in the Arctic, from Novaya Zemlya to Wrangel Island, to ensure effective control over the Arctic.











The Northern Sea Route is a shipping lane from the Atlantic to the Pacific running along the Russian Arctic coast from Murmansk on the Barents Sea, along Siberia, to the Bering Strait and Far East.


The Canadian National Newspaper: World War III: Bomb Iran, Russia and China will retaliate…

The Canadian National Newspaper: World War III: Bomb Iran, Russia and China will retaliate.

Russia’s Vladmir Putin has already warned of retaliation if the American axis bombs Iran, and that’s exactly what will happen: World War III.

The idea of America bombing Iran, is like Russia threatening to bomb Mexico or Canada, because it was “supicious of Mexicans or Canadians are pursuing the building of an nuclear bomb.”  Wouldn’t that sound ludicrous to you?  Well, the current scenario, likewise, sounds ludicrous to most Iranians.

Windows to Russia!

Tsar quality: Bolshoi theatre reopens after six-year overhaul

It has been a renovation marred by endless delays and allegations of corruption, but on Friday the Bolshoi theatre finally opens its doors after a six-year overhaul to restore it to its pre-Soviet glory.

The grand theatre in Moscow, stripped of much of its opulence in Soviet times, now stands bathed in red Italian fabric and newly gilded mouldings, harking back to its tsarist-era splendour. But the most important changes are those unseen – namely, an overhaul of the theatre’s acoustics, which were severely damaged during ill-planned Soviet-era changes.

“This pushed the theatre below the 50th position in the world opera house rankings. Now we’ve returned to the theatre its original 19th-century acoustics,” said Mikhail Sidorov, a spokesperson for Summa, the company in charge of the renovation since 2009.

Russia‘s ruling duo, President Dmitry Medvedev and prime minister Vladimir Putin, will preside over a grand invitation-only gala at the theatre on Friday. Details of everything from guests to the performance have been kept secret. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is among the rumoured guests, while foreign opera stars from Placido Domingo to Natalie Dessay and Violeta Urmana are expected to perform.

“This will be a truly national celebration,” the Bolshoi’s general director, Anatoly Iksanov, said.

The opening performance will be aired in cinemas around the world, and live on Russian state-run television and YouTube. The theatre will set up screens outside its renovated facade for those Russians unable to snag a Kremlin invite to the exclusive event.

The Bolshoi’s history encapsulates Russia’s troubled past.

The theatre was founded by Catherine the Great in 1776, and its current home was built in 1825 after fire gutted a previous site. Two more fires would damage the building later in the 19th century. Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Modest Mussorgsky held premieres there, creating its reputation as one of the world’s leading cultural jewels.

Then came the Soviet era. With culture given the mission of promoting national glory, the Bolshoi’s ballet troupe flourished, producing stars like Galina Ulanova and Maria Plisetskaya. The building was hit by a bomb during the second world war, but quickly repaired.

More damaging were the changes implemented by the Bolshoi’s Soviet overlords, who also used the theatre to officially confirm the creation of the Soviet Union, host party congresses and announce important events like the death of Vladimir Lenin.

Like so many opulent tsarist-era buildings, the Bolshoi was stripped of its gold in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. The loss of the sound-reflecting decoration harmed the theatre’s acoustics, which were further degraded by a decision to fill the hollow underneath the orchestra with cement, as it was seen as “impractical”.

Decades of neglect followed and when the theatre was shut in July 2005 for its biggest renovation in 150 years, it was on the verge of collapse.

“By the time we closed the theatre for renovation, there was a 70% chance of the building collapsing,” said Iksanov. “We had reached a critical point.”

More than 3,600 engineers, designers, construction workers and artists were called in to work on the renovation. The theatre now boasts a modern stage and changeable floor – with a sound-absorbing coating for ballet performances, and a sound-reflecting one for opera. The Soviets, in a populist move, had expanded the number of seats from 1,720 to 2,200. The new theatre boasts the original design, with larger chairs outfitted in Italian fabric designed to enhance the acoustics.

“When I walked in, I stopped and couldn’t believe what was happening,” Sergei Filin, artistic director of the Bolshoi’s ballet troupe, told Russian television this week. “I felt nothing but admiration.”

The theatre was initially due to reopen in 2008, but the date was pushed back several times amid spiralling costs and allegations of poor work.

The budget eventually soared to 21bn roubles (£435m) and in September 2009 prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into alleged misuse of funds.

No charges were brought and the Bolshoi denied any wrongdoing, but the main contractor on the project was replaced later that year.

Russians are already struggling to get tickets for the theatre’s public premiere, a performance of Mikhail Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila to be held on 2 November. The top price for tickets is set at 3,000 roubles (£62) but there have been reports of online retailers offering them for as much as 2m roubles.

Newborn Child Pulled From Turkish Rubble

Newborn Child Pulled From Turkish Rubble

Published: October 26, 2011 (Issue # 1680)


A two-week-old baby girl is rescued from the collapsed building where she was trapped with her mother for 48 hours.

ERCIS, Turkey — A two-week-old baby girl, her mother and grandmother were pulled alive from the rubble of an apartment building Tuesday in a dramatic rescue, 48 hours after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake toppled some 2,000 buildings in eastern Turkey.

Television footage showed rescuers in orange jumpsuits applauding as the baby, Azra Karaduman, was removed from the hulk of crushed concrete and metal. A rescuer cradled the naked infant, who was wrapped in a blanket and handed over to a medic amid a scrum of emergency workers and media. The state-run Anatolia news agency said the baby was in good health but was flown to a hospital in Ankara.

Authorities said the death toll had risen to 370 as rescuers in Ercis and the provincial capital, Van, raced against time to free dozens of people trapped inside mounds of concrete, twisted steel and construction debris. At least nine people were rescued on Tuesday, although many more bodies were discovered.

Authorities have warned survivors not to enter damaged buildings and thousands spent a second night outdoors in cars or tents in near-freezing conditions, afraid to return to their homes. Some 1,300 people were injured

The baby’s mother, Semiha, and grandmother, Gulsaadet, were huddled together, with the baby clinging to her mother’s shoulder when rescuers found them, emergency worker Kadir Direk said. There was a bakery on the first floor of the building, which may have kept them warm, he said.

Hours after the infant was freed, the others were pulled from the half-flattened building and rushed to ambulances as onlookers clapped and cheered. The mother had been semiconscious, but woke up when rescuers arrived, Direk said.

“Bringing them out is such happiness. I wouldn’t be happier if they gave me tons of money,” said rescuer Oytun Gulpinar.

Workers could not find the baby’s father and there were no other signs of life in the shattered building, he said.

The Hurriyet newspaper reported the family live in Sivas, central Turkey, but were visiting the girl’s grandmother and grandfather.

Firefighters and rescuers ordered silence while they listened for noise from other possible survivors in the large five-story apartment block, parts of which were being supported by a crane.

Nine-year-old Oguz Isler was rescued along with his sister and cousin, but on Tuesday he was waiting at the foot of the same pile of debris that was his aunt’s apartment block for news of his parents and of other relatives who remain buried inside.

Turkish rescue workers in bright orange overalls and Azerbaijani military rescuers in camouflage uniforms searched through the debris, using excavators, picks and shovels to look for Oguz’s mother and father and other relatives still inside.

Dogs sniffed for possible survivors in gaps that opened up as their work progressed.

“They should send more people,” Oguz said as he and other family members watched the rescuers. An elder cousin comforted him.

Mehmet Ali Hekimoglu, a medic, said the dogs indicated that there were three or four people inside the building, but it was not known if they were alive.

The boy, his sister and a cousin were trapped in the building’s third-floor stairway as they tried to escape when the quake hit. A steel door fell over him.

“I fell on the ground face down. When I tried to move my head, it hit the door,” he said. “I tried to get out and was able to open a gap with my fists in the wall but could not move my body further. The wall crumbled quickly when I hit it.”

“We started shouting: ‘Help! We’re here,’” he said. “They found us a few hours later, they took me out about 8 1/2 hours later. … I was OK but felt very bad, lonely. … I still have a headache, but the doctor said I was fine.”

“They took me out last because I was in good shape and the door was protecting me. I was hearing stones falling on it,” the boy said.

The government’s response to the quake appeared to be well-coordinated because of the country’s vast experience in dealing with killer quakes and their aftermaths. Turkey lies in one of the world’s most active seismic zones and is crossed by numerous fault lines. In 1999, two earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 7 struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.