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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: February 29, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
How Stalin Returned to Russia's Contemporary Life - Meduza

Ilya Azar, a reporter and photographer for Meduza, a Russian émigré publication in Latvia, published a feature on February 25 illustrating the ways in which Joseph Stalin, Soviet tyrant and mass murderer, has returned to the public eye in Russia.

The most recent display was on February 22 in Pskov Region where a large bust was mounted at a museum in connection with Fatherland Defender's Day on February 23. This day was long celebrated as Soviet Army Day and then morphed into a day to honor Russia's soldiers -- which provides an excuse to revive Stalin for his role in World War II. 
2016-02-29 21:22:45
In the case of Pskov, the curators recalled the "Stalin Line," as it was known in the 1930s, a line of defense stretching from Karelia to the Black Sea. 

"Why should we be ashamed of our history? In France, Napoleon's bust is everywhere, and he committed no less evil," says Pyotr Grinchuk, the Pskov museum director.

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.

Under Medinsky's patronage, in early February, an exhibit was opened of the main artist of the Stalin era, Aleksandr Gerasimov, known for his canonic portraits of Lenin and a famous painting of Stalin and Kliment Voroshilov. Medinsky said at the exhibit opening at Moscow's Historical Museum:

"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."
Museum director Aleksei Levykin, a great lover of the style known as "socialist realism" or sotsrealism from the Soviet area, tried to convince journalists that the exhibit was not about Stalin, but about a great artist, said Meduza.

While it is now recognized that Napoleon committed numerous atrocities in addition to conquering lands (although he invaded and did not take over Russia), Stalin's atrocities are estimated in the tens of millions.

I.V. Stalin and K.E. Voroshilov at the Kremlin, informally known as Two Leaders After the Rain, a title that rhymes in Russian (Dva Vozdhya Posle Dozhdya)
2016-02-29 20:24:02

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.

Izba Museum in Khoroshego where Stalin spent the night in 1943. Photo by Pavel Golovkin/AP
2016-02-29 20:44:19
While local people supported the concept of the museum, human rights activists were aghast. The Tver section of Memorial Society, which is devoted to researching the crimes of Stalin, wrote:

"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.

2016-02-29 21:17:51

"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 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Despite EU Sanctions, Gazprom Signs New Pipeline Projects With Italy's Edison and Greece's Depa

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.

But after Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border last November, relations worsened and Turkstream was halted. As Moscow Times reported today, most Russians are not ready to forgive Turkey.

Nevertheless, Europe remains dependent on Russia for some 30% of its gas, so it was inevitable that other projects would be revived. As Natural Gas Europe writes:

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 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
At FSB Meeting, Putin Urges That Russia Be Closed to Fighters from Middle East and Refugees Controlled
President Vladimir Putin took part in a meeting of the Federal Security Service on February 26 to review the results of work in 2015 and set priorities for 2016, reported.

He made a point of thanking in particular those agents who worked in military counterrintelligence who backed up pilots in Syria, as well as anti-terrorist units within Russia.

Putin said it was imperative to close Russia's territory off from penetration of fighters from the Middle East and other regions and "expose and neutralize" all those involved in terrorist activity abroad.

He described the agreement reached with the US on Syria not as a ceasefire, but as "a cessation of combat actions," and said the path to a peace settlement would be difficult and "contradictory." But he made a point of repeating three times that exclusions to the agreement were ISIS, al-Nursa and "other terrorist groups" -- which puts in context reports claiming that the Russians promised the US not to bomb anti-Assad groups. 

In his second and third mentions, he said that "terrorist groups declared as such by the UN Security Council" were excluded and that a "decisive battle against them, unquestionably, is continued." 

Putin also said that "We must increase control over the flow of refugees coming to Russia as well as by transit to the countries of Europe." He emphasized that the refugee crisis in Europe "emerged long before Russia began its anti-terrorist operation in Syria" and that the reason is "destabilization of entire regions of the world, above all the Middle East" -- a reference to the Kremlin's oft-sited blame of the US for ostensibly causing the "Arab Spring" which led to civil conflicts. In fact, a marked increase in refugees to Europe has been caused by Russian bombing since September 30, 2015, and the refugees themselves say as much.

Putin urged the FSB not only to stop those preparing terrorist attacks but those recruiting into terrorist groups and distributing materials with "extremist ideology."

He noted that "more than 400 staff employees and agents of foreign intelligence" had been exposed, and 23 of these had been prosecuted. At least two of these cases involved Estonians, but the countries of origin of these alleged foreign spies is not known.

Putin also urged that more reliable barriers be placed against leaking of classified information from government offices and military installations as well as defense plants, and the leading science centers of Russia.

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. 

Putin used a folksy expression to describe the issue -- but didn't name the country involved:

"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. "

Putin left for last the battle against organized crime -- which appears to be less of a priority for the FSB than foreign wars, which are ostensibly the responsibility of the defense ministry and the GRU. Putin said 98 gangs had been stopped and 2,200 people tried for organized crime.

While Russia itself is a source of many cyberattacks in the world, Putin also claimed "24 million cyberattacks on official sites and information systems of the government" occurred. He said 1,600 web sites were closed down for causing a danger to national security, "including by terrorist and extremist" activity. But among the sites closed are those such as which are peaceful sites criticizing the authorities.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Officials Say 'Natural Causes' Behind Mine Disaster That Killed 36, But Novaya Gazeta Reports Tampering
Three explosions at the Severnaya Mine in Vorkuta killed a total of 36 people, Interfax reported.

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.

A miner's daughter, Darya Tryasukho, whose father was said to be among those in the published list of victims, said her father had told her that mine officials ordered workers to suppress the methane gauges so the miners could keep working. The monitors were either buried or tampered with, she said. Other relatives at a meeting said they had heard similar complaints from their family members.

But Aleksei Mordashov, general director of Severalstal, the company that owned Severnaya via Vorkutaugol, another company, refuted the claim, saying the gauges send data to a central location in real time, they are sealed and cannot be broken into and if they stop sending data, it is noticed.

He said that both technical and human factors had to be changed to prevent another disaster; noting that while technology is constantly improved, it's a great expense.

Mordashov said Severnaya provided one fourth of the company's most valuable coal and restoring its work was a critical issue.

Rostekhnadzor, the Russian technology oversight agency, said the accident at the Severnaya was due to "natural causes," Interfax reported.

Novaya Gazeta reported, however, that the dangerous conditions were known before the accident but the management suppressed the information.

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

2016-02-29 15:47:42
Last year a local deputy, Valentin Kopasov, had published an open letter to Mordashov protesting the change of the work day from 6 hours to 8 hours and said that some workers on the second shift were remaining overtime to try to earn more; they are paid not in cash but credits of 35,000 to 40,000 rubles a month ($463 to $529). He said that because of poor pay and conditions, the workers themselves would bury the gauges in order to keep working. Neither the workers nor the owner were interested in reading the real numbers because they would lose both pay and profits if they couldn't keep working, he said.

Relatives continue to maintain that the management told them to block the gauges.

Aleksandr Sergeyev, head of the Independent Trade Union of Minsters, told Moskovsky Komsomolets that there were known violations at Severnaya and that complaints had been made about both work conditions and poor safety. 

The victims' families will each receive compensation and the survivors will receive help with job placement, Interfax reported, citing deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich. Later the amount cited was one million rubles ($13,219).

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 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Woman Arrested With Severed Head Of Child At Moscow Metro Station

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