LIVE UPDATES: Thirty-six people, including both miners and rescuers were killed in 2 methane explosions at the Severnaya mine in Vorkuta. A three-day period of morning has been declared in Vorkuta.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
– How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Investigation by Novaya Gazeta
–The Non-Hybrid War
–Kashin Explains His âLetter to Leadersâ on âFontanka Officeâ
–TV Rain Interviews Volunteer Fighter Back from Donbass
An Austrian news site noted that the bust of Stalin in Pskov was near the Latvian border, which prompted the Russian-language Baltnews in Riga to sarcastically quip that they should turn to NATO over the issue.
Lev Shlosberg, Pskov’s best known opposition member, commented that the placement of the bust was “part of the process of the Stalinization of society and the rehabilitation of repression” and urged the prosecutor’s office to remove it.
But it’s unlikely this will happen, says Meduza, as the bust was placed with funds from the Russian Military Historical Society whose chair is Vladimimr Medinsky, minister of culture. A military patriotic complex is scheduled to open on the “Stalin Line” on May 9, Victory Day.
“When you look at these canvases, you understand that it is not only a question of communist propaganda but about the fact that people really believed in what they were doing, they tried to change the world, they strove for perfection. Perhaps not everything worked out for them but they had faith, multiplied by talent, which transformed into wonderful works of art. They must be studied and displayed.”
We note that on the Tretyakov Gallery’s web site, a description of Gerasimov as “the personification of the totalitarian regime in art” still survives despite the recent change in attitude.
Visitors at an exhibit of Aleksandr Gerasimov view his painting “Artists at Stalin’s Dacha.” Photo by Vitaly Belousov/Sputnik/Scanpix
Recently there were two exhibits devoted to Stalin and other Soviet leaders, one at the Historical Museum in 2014 called “The Myth of the Beloved Leader” and one in 2015 at the Manezh Exhibition hall titled “Romantic Realism.”
Busts of Stalin have appeared in Yakutsk, Lipetsk, Chita, Vladimir and Novosibirsk, to mention just some of the cities. But in the Republic of Mari-El, a full-length statue — the first in modern Russia — appeared in the village of Shelanger. It was mounted across from an existing Lenin statute at the entrance to the Svenigovsky meat-packing plant with the support of the local branch of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, said Meduza. At the unveiling ceremony, the first secretary of the Mari-El CPRF referenced Western sanctions and said:
“For 25 years we have been destroying Russia — and now likely we have to once again appeal to Comrade Stalin and see how to act in this situation.”
Dmitry Novikov, the deputy chair of the CPRF, was present at the ceremony and remarked:
“No flood of filth of Russophobes and anti-Soviet activists can change the fact that Stalin was and remains an outstanding state figure, one of the central figures of world history.”
‘A conservative blogger wrote: “Liberals quake and spit poison. But the people remember a Man.”
In the village of Khoroshevo, where Stalin once spent the night near the front in 1943, there is ostensibly a war museum but it is mainly devoted to Stalin, says Meduza. Once again the Moscow-based Russian Military Historical Museum helped develop the concept of this local shrine in an izba, or old-fashioned wooden home.
“This is a question of creating a little museum, like a precedent, like a place d’armes, which can be turned into a place of pilgrimage, ideological solidarity for the lovers of the “firm hand,” so that by their efforts they can try to turn back the course of history…The Museum of Stalin iun the form that it is presented by its initiators should have no place not only in Tver, but anywhere in the world. People should not sing praises to Evil as something deserving respect and imitation.”
Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, said hundreds of thousands of museums of Stalin’s crimes should be opened wherever there were graves of victims of political oppression. But Vladislav Kononov, deputy director of the Russian Military Historical Society, once again invoked Napoleon by contrast.
“At Les Invalides [in Paris] would there really be an exhibition telling about Napoleon’s plans to create an empire and subordinate the whole world?”
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov was able to get Medinsky’s support to open a Stalin Center in Penza in December 2015 — which was compared to the Yeltsin Center opened in Yekaterinbug in November 2015. Communists said they should receive no less funding for a Stalin Center than the Yeltsin admirers received.
The purpose of the Stalin Center is to “popularize and actualize the practices applied in the Stalin times which are relevant today.” The center will conduct educational round tables and public discussions on Stalin’s work.
The Communists have declared 2016 to be the “Year of Stalin” and plan a number of events related to Stalin in the region.
Because he was Georgian, Stalin was particularly beloved in the Caucasus; there are private museums devoted to Stalin in Makhachkala and Nalchik and the most monuments to Stalin can be found in Northern Ossetia. There are 15 streets named after Stalin in Dagestan and 15 in Northern Ossetia.
When Stalin Avenue was opened up in 2002, Galim Galimov, mayor of Makhachkala said “This was done at my personal initiative, for me, Stalin is a great individual in the history of humankind.” Yet Galimov is also on the record as admitting that many people in Dagestan were victims of Stalin — as an explanation as to why it was premature to mount a statute of Stalin.
In Moscow, in 2009, a line from the old Soviet national anthem mentioning Stalin appeared chiseled in stone as part of the renovated Kurskaya subway station. Human rights activists objected; Memorial Human Rights Center director Aleksandr Cherkasov asked whether swastikas were placed again in Berlin in the name of restoring buildings.
While all these manifestations of Stalin still fell within the realm of historical contexts, in 2011 in Novosibirsk, a hip new restaurant opened named “Koba,” which was Stalin’s nickname, replete with paintings and busts of Stalin. The manager, Yelena Larionova, said that she wanted to “go against the flow and release a new interesting project.” Local reaction was mixed. One commenter said that no one named a restaurant after the infamous Russian mass killer Chikatilo, but maybe because he only killed 50 people and not millions like Stalin. The restaurant closed after a few years.
Aleksandr Prokhanov, head of the conservative Izborsky Club, dedicated an icon with a depiction of Stalin for a monastery in Bryansk in honor of Victory Day. Prokhanov was unfazed by the fact that Stalin had executed priests and demolished churches, says Meduza.
“They were later restored,” he said. The patriarchs of Rome also hounded the Christians but later converted, he noted.
Last year, Prokhanov brought the Stalin icon to a literary ceremony in Belgorod Region and a religious service was held with it, although the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church disassociated himself from the work saying “some of those depicted in this painting were open persecutors of the Church.” He did not refer to it as an “icon.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
As relations worsened with the European Union due to sanctions over annexation of Crimea, Russia abandoned its long-sought South Stream pipeline project that was supposed to deliver gas under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and further to other southeast European countries.
Moscow then proposed a new pipeline called TurkStream to connect Russia to Turkey.
After ditching two Black sea pipeline projects for delivering gas to southern Europe – South Stream and Turk Stream – Russia’s monopoly Gazprom has come up with a new-ish plan.
It signed an MOU with Italy’s Edison and Greece’s Depa to “supply natural gas from Russia under the Black Sea through third countries to Greece and from Greece to Italy,” it said.
The MOU was signed in Rome February 24 by Gazprom’s CEO Alexei Miller, Edison’s CEO Marc Benayoun and Depa’s CEO Theodoros Kitsakos.
According to Gazprom, the new deal proposes to “organize the southern route for supplying Russian natural gas to Europe.”
The new scheme will involve an Interconnector Greece-Italy (ITGI Poseidon), a project proposed some years ago for shipping gas from the second phase of the Shah Deniz gas field in the Caspian to Europe. In the event it was, like Nabucco, rejected by the Shah Deniz consortium in favour of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline.
Italy is often cited by the Russian state media as advocating an end to the EU’s sanctions over Ukraine and delayed the debate in December, and Greece has been tilting toward Moscow as Russia has courted Green Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Today, the Kremlin foreign propaganda outlet Sputnik International reported that Italy lost 24% of its exports or $3.7 billion to Russia due to the EU’s sanctions, mainly of cars and textiles.
So as has long been the case, those European countries that depend on both exports and imports from Russia drive a wedge in the unity of resolve to continue sanctions against Moscow. Even so, the EU voted to extend the sanctions in December until July 31, 2016.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Regarding the fall elections to the parliament, Putin said (translation by The Interpreter):
“All constructive forces, parties want the elections to proceed in full accordance with the law, in the spirit of honest and open competition, and for their results to be objective, reflecting the real opinions and sentiments of the citizens of our country.”
This means that non-system opposition outside of parliament or even dissenters within would be dubbed “non-constructive” and hampering fairness. He urged the FSB to intercept all activity that would exploit “nationalist, xenophobic, radical slogans aimed at the split of our society,” adding:
“And of course any external attempts to interfere in the course of the elections, in our internal political life has to be intercepted, of course. And you know such technologies exist and have been used repeatedly in a whole number of countries: I repeat: this is a direct threat to our sovereignty and we will react to it in the relevant fashion.”
Earlier the parliament tried to get factions to agree not to use nationalist slogans in the elections, but both the ill-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the Just Russia faction refused to participate.
Hundreds of NGOs have been dubbed “foreign agents,” and notably Golos, a group monitoring elections, was among the first to be so characterized. Despite promises by the Russian ombudsperson to reverse the charge and the suspension of the group’s activity, authorities nevertheless persued the designation.
“I’ve read your documents which are regularly prepared, in a summarized form, and your specific indications on what, unfortunately, is being prepared for these elections and our enemies ‘over the hill,’ as the folk saying has it. So you should all know that we will work to defend our interests persistently, in accordance with our law. “
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Four miners died in a series of two explosions and a fire on February 25 due to high methane levels, while 26 miners were trapped underground in the cave-in. Then another miner died in a third explosion on February 28, along with 5 rescuers. The 26 who were trapped were ultimately declared dead.
A total of 80 miners were able to escape. Three days of mourning have been declared by authorities in Vorkuta. The Investigative Committee has opened up a case.
Novaya Gazeta published screenshots of a gauge taken by a miner on February 11 at three different times, which shows the concentration of methane within 15 minutes was twice the standard limit, at 2.55%; explosions occur at the level of 5%. The electricity in the mine is supposed to turn off at dangerous levels and miners are supposed to leave the area when the levels are that high.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russia has suffered hundreds of mining disasters in the last 15 years; the worst in recent history occurred in Kemero in 2007 where 110 people were killed. Multiple mine disasters have occurred in Vorkuta mines; 5 people died in 2002 in Severnaya due to a methane explosion, and another 19 in 2013.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
A woman has been arrested at Moscow’s Oktyabrskoye Pole metro station after turning up with the severed head of an infant and, RBK reports, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest).
Yulia Ivanova, a spokesperson for the Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee told the Moscow City News Agency that the woman is a nanny and has been arrested on suspicion of murder.
The body of a child was found after fire fighters were called to a burning apartment on a nearby street.
LifeNews, which has close links to Russia’s state security services, claims to have identified the woman and obtained details of statements given by her to the police after her arrest.
According to the report, the detainee is Uzbekistan-born Gulchechra Bobokulova, aged 39.
The report says that Bobokulova told police that she had been driven to kill the child because of her husband’s cheating. Nothing is yet known of the relationship between the killer and the family of the child, referred to by LifeNews as “four-year-old Nastya M.”
Police were approaching Bobokulova to check her documents when she suddenly produced the severed head and began shouting that she had killed a child and would now blow herself up. There is no evidence so far that she actually possessed an explosive device.
Ivanova told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency that the detainee would undergo psychiatric examination.
— Pierre Vaux
– Vice Speaker of Perm Legislature Found Dead After Hit and Run
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick