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Moscow: Russia’s capital and symbol

Russia’s capital is both the founder city and the symbol of Russia. It has been also been the ideological capital of world Communism. Today it is free for the first time to be not just a symbol but the capital of modern Russia.

Catherine Brown

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Russia doesn’t do towns. There are no Russian Granthams, Great Yarmouths, or Leighton Buzzards. Its vastness prohibits such chirpy, middling, interconnected entities. Instead, its farmers live in villages whilst everyone else huddles in metropolises. Despite the unlimited, dirt-cheap land across which they might spread themselves, the Russians pile in their hundreds of thousands in tower blocks, like stakes in a metal paling guarding an older, wooden centre and its kremlin from the near-empty expanses near-infinitely around.

For all their apparent isolated independence, these cities have an undisputed tsar: Maskvà. Since it replaced Kiev as the capital of the Russians in the thirteenth century, Moscow has directed the expansion of its people. Most of Russia’s cities owe their existence to it, and all remain culturally, politically and economically subordinate to it. In the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, Moscow was metonymic of Russia, and symbolic of dictatorial rule.

Yet there was an interlude. After Peter I trumped Louis XIV’s moving of his court to a new palace fourteen miles outside Paris, by moving his court to a new capital four hundred and fifty miles outside Moscow, the latter city was left behind. Sankt Peterburg, as young as New York and more ambitious, represented Germany, Europe, neoclassicism, modernity, multiculturalism, multilingualism, the military, money, and the Petrine aristocracy. Moscow became a backwater, whilst remaining the home of Russia’s oldest families, kremlin, churches, monasteries, and beliefs. It was Russian; St Petersburg was cosmopolitan. St Petersburg was the head; Moscow was the heart. St Petersburg had been built with forced labour in a cold swamp where no metropolis had any business to exist; Moscow had developed organically over centuries.

No wonder that Russia’s conservative-patriotic nineteenth-century novelists gave St Petersburg a bad rap (slum-riddled and psychically-threatening in Dostoevsky; corruptly glamorous, frivolous and faithless in Tolstoy). How different Moscow’s reputation in those two demoted centuries to what it had been and would become. It was quiet, pacific, of ontological rather than pragmatic importance. When Napoleon came and – according to Tolstoy – looked down on Moscow from the hills South of the city, he saw it as a woman waiting to be raped:

At ten o’clock on the 2nd of September the morning light was full of the beauty of fairyland. From Poklonnaya Hill Moscow lay stretching wide below with her river, her gardens, and her churches, and seemed to be living a life of her own, her cupolas twinkling like stars in the sunlight.

At the sight of the strange town, with its new forms of unfamiliar architecture, Napoleon felt something of that envious and uneasy curiosity that men feel at the sight of the aspects of a strange life, knowing nothing of them. […] Every Russian gazing at Moscow feels she is the mother; every foreigner gazing at her, and ignorant of her significance as the mother city, must be aware of the feminine character of the town, and Napoleon felt it. This Asiatic city with the innumerable churches, Moscow the holy. Here it is at last, the famous city! It was high time.

[War and Peace, trans. Constance Garnett]

The mother was soon to be burnt by its own inhabitants in their tactical retreat from the French army. The rebuilt ‘old’ Moscow that the nineteenth-century writers knew was architecturally younger than St Petersburg. Yet its place in the body of the country remained unchanged. Romanticism projected through the Russian prism gave Moscow the aspect of antiquity, and its ‘Soul’ the aspect of mysterious profundity. When Alexander II was assassinated by anarchists in 1881, the Church of the Spilt Blood on the bloody spot in St Petersburg imitated Red Square’s St Basil’s, in order to assert Russianness in the face of Western ideologies that inspired murder.

Yet after the Revolution had exploded in, and renamed, St Petersburg, Moscow became the world’s capital of an internationalist ideology written by a German. It simultaneously reinvented the autocracy for which nineteenth-century Russia had been notorious, whilst St Petersburg in its turn sank into a backwater, its hypnotising neoclassical facades slowly decaying, its pace of life gradually slowing. It was gripped by a sudden nine hundred days of pain during the Second World War; then the process resumed. The very historicism with which the tsarist summer palaces, destroyed by the retreating Germans, were respectfully reconstructed, confirmed the city’s place in the past.

Soviet Communism was directed from and exemplified by Moscow. There the metro was at its oldest, deepest, and most chandeliered; the Terror claimed the most victims; the Lubyanka tortured the most people; education was the best; living standards were the highest. It is a little-known fact, though recorded by the novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, that the devil and his retinue visited Moscow in 1937; but the Communists, being rationalists, have always denied this.

The Ostankinskaya television and radio tower broadcast the Communist message to all in the world who – to absorb or fight it – would listen. East Berlin’s Fernseherturm, huge though it was, was only two thirds of the height and a fraction of the authority of the Ostankinskaya needle, from which it took its message.

Moscow remained the promised land for Russians: a hugely exciting place to visit, and highly desirable place to live, but for many – as for Chekhov’s three sisters – hard to get to; distant; unaffordable; requiring a permit; a once-in-a-lifetime place for a holiday. Most people knew two metropolises: the one they lived in, and a semi-mythologised Moscow.

Then came the collapse. Communism crashed and Goldman Sachs arrived. Capitalism rocked up with its gloves decidedly off. Western products and ideologies sold for many times the Western price. Western cars arrived, with native oligarchs and mini-garchs to drive or be driven in them. Anti-Western Communist propaganda had never rung truer than when it was silenced. The death rate soared. The birth rate collapsed. Unemployment exploded, especially for women, who starved themselves into attractiveness to potential foreign husbands or paying johns. Food markets were taken over by Caucasian gangsters. Literally legless Afghan vets dragged their torsos around on skateboards to beg. Professional musicians busking in subways. Professional ballerinas stripped in nightclubs.

Moscow became the interwar Weimar of the nineties and early naughties: devastated, exhilarated, febrile, unstable, unequal, racy. Its nightclubs popped up and popped down, with feis-control to select sexy women and rich men, paid dwarfs in leopard-print thongs, male and female strippers, girls from the provinces looking for loaded lovers, semi-lit unisex toilets, strenuous imitation of a pornographically-imagined West. Western men discovered that sex was on tap, and would stay for a few years before – as novelist A.D. Miller put it – ‘they retreated to service more reputable crooks in London or New York, sometimes as a partner in Shyster and Shyster or wherever, taking with them a handy offshore bank balance and some tits-and-Kalashnikov Wild East stories to console their live-long commutes’.

Then, mercifully, the post-Soviet period became the post-post-Soviet one. Capitalism found its gloves and put them back on. A younger generation of musicians found its way back into the Bolshoi, and the ballerinas dropped their second jobs as strippers. The business culture and night-clubs became more civilized and less inter-connected.

Middle-aged men no longer drank themselves to death out of heartbreak as once they did, nor are ‘snowdrops’ – frozen corpses – discovered in each spring’s snowmelt as once they were. The birth rate and life expectancy have risen every year in this millennium. Beggars are not visible in Moscow any more.

Moscow is no longer a cipher for anything. Despite recent Western attempts to generate a phoney neo-Macarthyism, it is now a complex, not a simple, signifier. It no longer represents Orthodoxy, autocracy, serfdom, Communism, ‘diky’ (wild) capitalism, or any other single or simple ideology or phenomenon, either in Russia or the world at large. Its government is rightly complained at in the regions for not lifting provincial living standards faster closer to its own, and for not allowing the regions more power. Yet Moscow itself is still loved, in simple and unsimple ways.

Red Square remains a place of national pilgrimage. The Alexander Garden on the Kremlin’s West wall is still the place where the country’s couples want to kiss, and Gorky Park is still where the country wants to ice-skate. The Sparrow Hills remain a place from which to gaze at the city on arrival (like Napoleon), or departure (like Bulgakov’s Satan and his retinue).

Moscow is at the heart of ‘European Russia’. It had to be located in the West of the country for the same reason that Washington had to lie in the East of the US; ethnic Russians are Europeans who spread East, just as European Americans, largely at the same time, spread West. But Russians refer to Europe as somewhere else, and it is fitting that Moscow does not lie as far West as Smolensk.

The four hundred miles that today separate Moscow from NATO represent a psychological distance. The country that Moscow rules and represents is its own thing – interactive with but not to be reduced to Europe or China. The nineteenth-century anguish over the question of whether Russia is European or Asian has now disappeared, and with it the fetishisation of Moscow as the guarantor of Russianness; globalisation has undermined the very sense of the question.

That loss of urgency gives the Russians a breathing space, and Moscow – still physically heavy with Soviet and tsarist symbols – is now free, for the first time in its history, to be not a symbol, but to finds its way as the complex heart and head of a complex country.

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BREXIT chaos, as May’s cabinet crumbles (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 18.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the various scenarios now facing a crumbling May government, as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is forcing cabinet members to resign in rapid succession. The weekend ahead is fraught with uncertainty for the UK and its position within, or outside, the European Union.

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If Theresa May’s ill-fated Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is eventually rejected this could trigger a vote of no confidence, snap elections or even a new referendum…

Here are six possible scenarios facing Theresa May and the UK (via The Guardian)

1 Parliament blocks Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement and political declarations

May faces an enormous task to win parliamentary approval, given that Labour, the SNP, the DUP and 51 Tories have said they will not vote for it.

If the remaining 27 EU member states sign off the draft agreement on 25 November, the government will have to win over MPs at a crucial vote in early December.

If May loses the vote, she has 21 days to put forward a new plan. If she wins, she is safe for now.

2 May withdraws the current draft agreement

The prime minister could decide that she will not get the draft agreement through parliament and could seek to renegotiate with the EU.

This would anger Tory backbenchers and Brussels and would be seen as a humiliation for her government. It might spark a leadership contest too.

3 Extend article 50

May could ask the European council to extend article 50, giving her more time to come up with a deal that could be passed by parliament – at present, the UK will leave on 29 March 2019.

Such a request would not necessarily be granted. Some EU governments are under pressure from populist parties to get the UK out of the EU as soon as possible.

4 Conservative MPs trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister

If Conservative MPs believe May is no longer fit for office, they could trigger a no-confidence vote.

Members of the European Research Group claim that Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, will receive the necessary 48 letters this week.

A vote could be held as soon as early next week. All Tory MPs would be asked to vote for or against their leader. If May wins, she cannot be challenged for at least 12 months. If she loses, there would be a leadership contest to decide who will become prime minister.

5 General election – three possible routes

If May fails to get support for the current deal, she could call a snap general election.

She would table a parliamentary vote for a general election that would have to be passed by two thirds of MPs. She would then set an election date, which could be by the end of January.

This is an unlikely option. May’s political credibility was severely damaged when she called a snap election in 2017, leading to the loss of the Conservative party’s majority.

Alternatively, a general election could be called if a simple majority of MPs vote that they have no confidence in the government. Seven Tory MPs, or all of the DUP MPs, would have to turn against the government for it to lose the vote, triggering a two-week cooling-off period. May would remain in office while MPs negotiate a new government.

Another route to a general election would be for the government to repeal or amend the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which creates a five-year period between general elections. A new act would have to be passed through both the Commons and the Lords – an unlikely scenario.

6 Second referendum

May could decide it is impossible to find a possible draft deal that will be approved by parliament and go for a people’s vote.

The meaningful vote could be amended to allow MPs to vote on whether the country holds a second referendum. It is unclear whether enough MPs would back a second referendum and May has ruled it out.

 

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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

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Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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