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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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Is this man the puppet master of Ukraine’s new president or an overhyped bogeyman?

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

RT

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Via RT…


It doesn’t actually matter if Ukrainian-Israeli billionaire Igor Kolomoisky is the real power behind Volodymyr Zelensky – the president elect has to get rid of the oligarch if he is to make a break with the country’s corrupt past.

The plots, deceits and conflicts of interest in Ukrainian politics are so transparent and hyperbolic, that to say that novice politician Zelensky was a protégé of his long-time employer was not something that required months of local investigative journalism – it was just out there.

Zelensky’s comedy troupe has been on Kolomoisky’s top-rated channel for the past eight years, and his media asset spent every possible resource promoting the contender against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, a personal enemy of the tycoon, who hasn’t even risked entering Ukraine in the past months.

Similarly, the millions and the nous needed to run a presidential campaign in a country of nearly 50 million people had to come from somewhere, and Kolomoisky’s lieutenants were said to be in all key posts. The two issued half-hearted denials that one was a frontman for the other, insisting that they were business partners with a cordial working relationship, but voters had to take their word for it.

Now that the supposed scheme has paid off with Zelensky’s spectacular victory in Sunday’s run-off, Ukrainian voters are asking: what does Kolomoisky want now, and will he be allowed to run the show?

‘One-of-a-kind chancer’

Born in 1963, in a family of two Jewish engineers, Kolomoisky is the type of businessman that was once the staple of the post-Soviet public sphere, but represents a dying breed.

That is, he is not an entrepreneur in the established Western sense at all – he did not go from a Soviet bloc apartment to Lake Geneva villas by inventing a new product, or even setting up an efficient business structure in an existing field.

Rather he is an opportunist who got wealthy by skilfully reading trends as the Soviet economy opened up – selling Western-made computers in the late 1980s – and later when independent Ukraine transitioned to a market economy and Kolomoisky managed to get his hands on a large amount of privatisation vouchers that put many of the juiciest local metals and energy concerns into his hands, which he then modernised.

What he possesses is a chutzpah and unscrupulousness that is rare even among his peers. Vladimir Putin once called him a “one-of-a-kind chancer” who managed to “swindle [Chelsea owner] Roman Abramovich himself.” In the perma-chaos of Ukrainian law and politics, where all moves are always on the table, his tactical acumen has got him ahead.

Kolomoisky’s lifeblood is connections and power rather than any pure profit on the balance sheet, though no one actually knows how that would read, as the Privat Group he part-owns is reported to own over 100 businesses in dozens of Ukrainian spheres through a complex network of offshore companies and obscure intermediaries (“There is no Privat Group, it is a media confection,” the oligarch himself says, straight-faced.)

Unsurprisingly, he has been dabbling in politics for decades, particularly following the first Orange Revolution in 2004. Though the vehicles for his support have not been noted for a particular ideological consistency – in reportedly backing Viktor Yushchenko, then Yulia Tymoshenko, he was merely putting his millions on what he thought would be a winning horse.

Grasp exceeds reach

But at some point in the post-Maidan euphoria, Kolomoisky’s narcissism got the better of him, and he accepted a post as the governor of his home region of Dnepropetrovsk, in 2014.

The qualities that might have made him a tolerable rogue on TV, began to grate in a more official role. From his penchant for using the political arena to settle his business disputes, to creating his own paramilitary force by sponsoring anti-Russian battalions out of his own pocket, to his somewhat charmless habit of grilling and threatening to put in prison those less powerful than him in fits of pique (“You wait for me out here like a wife for a cheating husband,” begins a viral expletive-strewn rant against an overwhelmed Radio Free Europe reporter).

There is a temptation here for a comparison with a Donald Trump given a developing country to play with, but for all of the shenanigans, his ideological views have always been relatively straightforward. Despite his Russia-loathing patriotism, not even his fans know what Kolomoisky stands for.

The oligarch fell out with fellow billionaire Poroshenko in early 2015, following a battle over the control of a large oil transport company between the state and the governor. The following year, his Privat Bank, which at one point handled one in four financial transactions in the country was nationalized, though the government said that Kolomoisky had turned it into a mere shell by giving $5 billion of its savings to Privat Group companies.

Other significant assets were seized, the government took to London to launch a case against his international companies, and though never banished, Kolomoisky himself decided it would be safer if he spent as long as necessary jetting between his adopted homes in Switzerland and Tel Aviv, with the occasional trip to London for the foreseeable future.

But the adventurer falls – and rises again. The London case has been dropped due to lack of jurisdiction, and only last week a ruling came shockingly overturning the three-year-old nationalization of Privat Bank.

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

Own man

Zelensky must disabuse him of that notion.

It doesn’t matter that they are friends. Or what handshake agreements they made beforehand. Or that he travelled to Geneva and Tel-Aviv 13 times in the past two years. Or what kompromat Kolomoisky may or may not have on him. It doesn’t matter that his head of security is the man who, for years, guarded the oligarch, and that he may quite genuinely fear for his own safety (it’s not like nothing bad has ever happened to Ukrainian presidents).

Volodymyr Zelensky is now the leader of a large country, with the backing of 13.5 million voters. It is to them that he promised a break with past bribery, graft and cronyism. Even by tolerating one man – and one who makes Poroshenko look wholesome – next to him, he discredits all of that. He will have the support of the people if he pits himself against the puppet master – no one would have elected Kolomoisky in his stead.

Whether the oligarch is told to stay away, whether Ukraine enables the financial fraud investigation into him that has been opened by the FBI, or if he is just treated to the letter of the law, all will be good enough. This is the first and main test, and millions who were prepared to accept the legal fiction of the independent candidate two months ago, will now want to see reality to match. Zelensky’s TV president protagonist in Servant of the People – also broadcast by Kolomoisky’s channel, obviously, would never have compromised like that.

What hinges on this is not just the fate of Zelensky’s presidency, but the chance for Ukraine to restore battered faith in its democracy shaken by a succession of compromised failures at the helm.

Igor Ogorodnev

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Roger Waters – The People’s Champion for Freedom

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there.

Richard Galustian

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Submitted by Richard Galustian 

Roger Waters is one of Britain’s most successful and talented musicians and composers but more importantly is an outstanding champion for freedom in the world, beyond compare to any other artist turned political activist.

By way of background, he co-founded the rock band Pink Floyd in 1965.

A landmark turning point of his political activism occurred in 1990, when Waters staged probably the largest rock concert in history, ‘The Wall – Live in Berlin’, with an attendance of nearly half a million people.

In more recent years Waters famously narrated the 2016 documentary ‘The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States’ about the insidious influence of Zionist Israel to shape American public opinion.

Waters has been an outspoken critic of America’s Neocons and particularly Donald Trump and his policies.

In 2017, Waters condemned Trump’s plan to build a wall separating the United States and Mexico, saying that his band’s iconic famous song, ‘The Wall’ is as he put it “very relevant now with Mr. Trump and all of this talk of building walls and creating as much enmity as possible between races and religions.”

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there, or any place else for that matter.

Here below is a must see recent Roger Waters interview, via satellite from New York, where he speaks brilliantly, succinctly and honestly, unlike no other celebrity, about FREEDOM and the related issues of the day.

The only other artist turned activist, but purely for human rights reasons, as she is apolitical, is the incredible Carla Ortiz.

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ISIS Says Behind Sri Lanka Bombings; Was ‘Retaliation’ For New Zealand Mosque Massacre

ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. 

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Via Zerohedge…


Shortly after the death toll from Sunday’s Easter bombings in Sri Lanka climbed above the 300 mark, ISIS validated the Sri Lankan government’s suspicions that a domestic jihadi organization had help from an international terror network while planning the bombings were validated when ISIS took credit for the attacks.

The claim was made via a report from ISIS’s Amaq news agency. Though the group has lost almost all of the territory that was once part of its transnational caliphate, ISIS now boasts cells across the Muslim world, including in North Africa and elsewhere. Before ISIS took credit for the attack, a Sri Lankan official revealed that Sunday’s attacks were intended as retaliation for the killing of 50 Muslims during last month’s mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

However, the Sri Lankan government didn’t offer any evidence for that claim, or the claim that Sunday’s attacks were planned by two Islamic groups (though that now appears to have been substantiated by ISIS’s claim of responsibility). The group is believed to have worked with the National Tawheed Jamaath, according to the NYT.

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told the Parliament.

Meanwhile, the number of suspects arrested in connection with the attacks had increased to 40 from 24 as of Tuesday. The government had declared a national emergency that allowed it sweeping powers to interrogate and detain suspects.

On Monday, the FBI pledged to send agents to Sri Lanka and provide laboratory support for the investigation.

As the death toll in Sri Lanka climbs, the attack is cementing its position as the deadliest terror attack in the region.

  • 321 (as of now): Sri Lanka bombings, 2019
  • 257 Mumbai attacks, 1993
  • 189 Mumbai train blasts, 2006 166 Mumbai attacks, 2008
  • 151 APS/Peshawar school attack, 2014
  • 149 Mastung/Balochistan election rally attack, 2018

Meanwhile, funeral services for some of the bombing victims began on Tuesday.

Even before ISIS took credit for the attack, analysts told the Washington Post that its unprecedented violence suggested that a well-financed international organization was likely involved.

The bombings on Sunday, however, came with little precedent. Sri Lanka may have endured a ghastly civil war and suicide bombings in the past – some credit the Tamil Tigers with pioneering the tactic – but nothing of this scale. Analysts were stunned by the apparent level of coordination behind the strikes, which occurred around the same time on both sides of the country, and suggested the attacks carried the hallmarks of a more international plot.

“Sri Lanka has never seen this sort of attack – coordinated, multiple, high-casualty – ever before, even with the Tamil Tigers during the course of a brutal civil war,” Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka expert at the International Crisis Group, told the Financial Times. “I’m not really convinced this is a Sri Lankan thing. I think the dynamics are global, not driven by some indigenous debate. It seems to me to be a different kind of ballgame.”

Hinting at possible ISIS involvement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a Monday press conference that “radical Islamic terror” remained a threat even after ISIS’s defeats in Syria.

Of course, ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. The extremist group said the attacks were targeting Christians and “coalition countries” and were carried out by fighters from its organization.

Speculation that the government had advanced warning of the attacks, but failed to act amid a power struggle between the country’s president and prime minister, unnerved citizens and contributed to a brewing backlash. Following the bombings, schools and mass had been canceled until at least Monday, with masses called off “until further notice.”

 

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