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Moscow in Winter: a vibrant city of beauty and elegance (PHOTOS)

Personal impression of Moscow as Russia exits recession is a thriving, beautiful and increasingly elegant city.

Alexander Mercouris

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As followers of The Duran will have noticed, I recently spent a week in Moscow.

Most of my time there inevitably was taken up with work on The Duran.  It was thrilling to meet my colleagues there.  This is the first time since The Duran was founded that all four of us – Alex Christoforou, Peter Lavelle, Vladimir Rodzianko and myself – were all gathered together in one place.  It was my first opportunity to meet Sergey Gladysh, our managing editor.

The highlight of the visit was The Duran’s launch party, followed swiftly after by our first live Q&A session. 

Both were hugely stimulating and exciting events.  It was wonderful to see the interest and support The Duran has generated in the few months since we started.  It was especially thrilling to meet with our readers and – during the Q&A session – to respond to their questions.

Time constraints – including a flying visit to Greece directly after my trip to Moscow – made it impossible for me to follow up – and properly thank – all the people I met in Moscow.  Rest assured that it is now my priority.

Though the trip to Moscow was first and foremost a business visit, it also gave me a good opportunity to get a feel of the state of the city as winter approaches and as Russia comes out of recession.

The word “elegant” is not one that is generally associated with Moscow, and yet in my opinion it is the one that best matches the direction in which the city is evolving.

If one’s taste – like mine – runs to art deco, then Moscow is the art deco capital par excellence.  I say this because in my opinion what is generally called ‘Stalinist architecture’ – which actually lasted for several years after Stalin’s death – is more properly called Russian art deco. 

Moreover it is art deco done with extraordinary conviction and flair.  The centre of Moscow is full of it.   The seven great Stalinist skyscrapers (“the Seven Sisters”) and the Moscow Metro are internationally the most famous examples, but by no means the only ones or even necessarily the best.  Indeed if I had to say what I think is perhaps the most remarkable example of Russian art deco, then it would be the great exhibition area VDNKh – complete with Vera Mukhina’s iconic statue of a worker and farmer holding aloft the hammer and sickle – which is currently in the last stages of a major renovation.

vdnkh_fountain_pavilionWhat however gives Moscow such a strong art deco flavour is not that it is the style used for some of the great buildings.  Rather it is that it is the architectural style chosen for so many of the great apartment buildings not just in the city’s centre but in its inner suburbs. 

dsc_2066-4b4ca16c-largeThese apartment buildings – with their fine apartments with their amazingly tall ceilings, and with their leafy courtyards with their parking and their ample children’s play areas – are some of the most handsome apartment buildings in the world, and there seem to be thousands of them.  A suburb I visited – Sokol – seemed to be composed entirely of them.

Interspersed amongst these art deco apartment buildings are parks – of which Moscow seems to have a prodigious number – certain quarters towards the centre which still retain a distinctly nineteenth century character (especially in the area close to the Kremlin), and a surprisingly large number of very fine art nouveau and modernist buildings from the period just before the First World War and from the 1920s. 

Gorky House

Gorky House

The large number of 1920s modernist (“Constructivist”) buildings – of which the most famous is Lenin’s tomb – is especially surprising, though many of them are in poor condition.  Moscow compares very well in this respect with other European cities.  By way of example, very close to my hotel in the Arbat there was a remarkable cylindrical Constructivist town house built by the architect Konstantin Melnikov.

Cylindrical Constructivist townhouse

Cylindrical Constructivist townhouse

“Renovation” is perhaps the best word to describe what is currently happening to Moscow, and it is being conducted at a frenetic pace that to someone used to the infinitely slower pace now common in the West is quite dizzying.

Since the summer most of the sidewalks in the centre of the city have been widened – making the city far friendlier and more accessible to pedestrians – and there seems to have been a blizzard of tree planting, making what will be an already very green city even greener.

I use the future tense because when I arrived Moscow was covered by its first snow, and one day the temperature fell to -8 degrees centigrade.  That meant that there was little green, but one is more than compensated by the snow, which at this early stage in winter gives Moscow its beautiful winter coat.

At this point I should say that people who have never been to Moscow and who have heard frightening stories of the cold should put those fears aside.  Not only are the heating systems exceptionally efficient, but the dry climate makes the cold and the snow not just bearable but actually stimulating – rather like drinking champagne.  Suffice to say that I find that London’s damp and humid climate makes the cold there far more difficult to bear, even though the thermometer in London rarely falls below zero.

The combination of pristine art deco architecture and sparkling snow is magical, and the extraordinary colour of much of the architecture – especially of the churches of which there are scores – adds to the beautiful picture.

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The renovation I spoke of has however played a major part in bringing these qualities out. Compared to the Moscow of the 1990s and the early 2000s, which I remember only too well, the transformation has been astonishing. 

The ugly advertisements which had proliferated have disappeared – including completely from the Metro.   The tacky kiosks have gone.  There is barely any graffiti, and the streets are not only entirely free of litter but seem almost polished.

Some areas like Novy Arbat – which in the 1990s had become a profoundly horrible gambling district – have been transformed, becoming an actually very pleasant entertainment district with dozens of fine bars, cafes, shops (including book and electronic shops) and restaurants.

20130927_novyarbatstreet_russia_pink

Novy Arbat Street at night

Our contributor James Bradley recently wrote a piece for The Duran in which he spoke with wonder of the beautiful orderliness of Moscow and of the absence of potholes there. 

Not only do I agree with this picture but as a brief visitor James Bradley was of course unable to see what a pleasant – as opposed to a merely beautiful – city Moscow has become.

The days when Moscow and indeed Russia were a byword for bad food and slovenly service are long gone.  The place has proliferated with cafes, restaurants and bars, and it is now even possible to talk of places that actually offer fine dining for those who want it, whilst the service I experienced in every place I went was excellent. 

image1

Interestingly in one place the waiter was careful to warn me (in English) that the price on the menu (in Russian) of the steak I had ordered was its price according to weight.  An actual portion would weigh three times as much and would therefore cost three times more.  I had already worked it out but I was nonetheless impressed that the waiter thought fit to tell me about it.  I can think of many other places where a waiter would not have done so.

To those incidentally brought up with stories of Russian food being only boiled cabbage and meatballs, I would say that it is actually one of the most distinctive cuisines of Europe, and there are now plenty of places in Moscow where one can sample it in all its variety – from the traditional, to the form which would once have been familiar in Moscow restaurants just before the Revolution, to the ultra-modern of today.

In addition to Russian food there is also an abundance of other cuisines to choose from, from the ubiquitous sushi, to Caucasian and Central Asian cuisines which are barely known in the West, to excellent Indian and Chinese food, and of course to every conceivable variety of Western food including German, Italian and French. 

The Duran’s launch party incidentally was held in a Lebanese restaurant where the food was excellent.

As for the notorious Soviet “bifsteks” (actually a meatball) Moscow is now currently in the throes of a ferocious ‘burger war’ between competing chains (some of them very good), and there is now excellent home grown steak in many places.

One feature of dining in Moscow which has not changed is that one is still far more likely to have live music in a Moscow restaurant than for example in London, and this music is often not just a quiet piano but a singer with a group.  I rather enjoy the experience but for those who don’t there are plenty of quieter places to choose from.

If the bar, cafe and restaurant scene is transformed, then Moscow still retains its colossal legacy of theatres, concert halls, ballet and opera houses etc, to an extent possibly unmatched by any other capital.  Lovers (like me) of classical music should know that it is taken more seriously in Moscow – with more concerts, venues, advertising and performance – than in any other capital I know (except possibly Vienna) and that the standard of performance is outstanding.

Over and above these activities and the enormous number of fine museums and art galleries one can visit, some of which like the Tretyakov and the Pushkin can compare with the best in the world, Moscow by all accounts continues to have a vibrant nightlife, though one which I am no longer fully up to partaking in.

For those interested in experiencing the full life of Moscow I would add that the best time to visit Moscow is in the autumn and winter months, since it is then that its various scenes (including by the way the Bolshoi) are most busy.

I of course do not want to deny the continuing problems. 

Traffic congestion remains appalling, and caused me to be an hour and a half late for a dinner appointment on the day of my arrival. 

Retail activity in the shops is still well below where it was before the start of the recession, and that fact is reflected in the statistics.

However overall, not only has Moscow come through the recession well, but as a properly managed recession should be this one has been beneficial, clearing out some of the uglier and less sustainable manifestations of life that were previously there.

In summary, as Moscow along with the rest of Russia comes out of recession, I have never seen it look so well.

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John Bolton discusses US reasons for INF withdrawal

Despite fears about the US withdrawing from the INF, John Bolton suggests that this is to make way for a more relevant multilateral treaty.

Seraphim Hanisch

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John Bolton, the US National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, is in Moscow this week. The main topic of concern to many Russians was the stated intention by President Trump to withdraw the US from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (or INF) Treaty with Russia. With the current record of American hostile and unprovoked actions taken against the Russian Federation over the last two years especially, this move caused a good deal of alarm in Russia.

Bolton had meetings with several leaders in the Russian government, including Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, and President Vladimir Putin, himself.

Kommersant.ru interviewed Mr. Bolton extensively after some of his meetings had concluded, and asked him about this situation. The interviewer, Elena Chernenko, was very direct in her questioning, and Mr. Bolton was very direct in his answers. What follows is the translation of some of her pertinent questions and Mr. Bolton’s answers:

Elena Chernenko (EC): How did your negotiations with Nikolai Patrushev go? Is it true that you came to Moscow primarily to terminate the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF)?

John Bolton (JB): (Laughs.) Today was my second meeting with Nikolai Patrushev and the staff of the Russian Security Council. The first time I met them was before the summit in Helsinki. I came to prepare the ground for a meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin. Patrushev at the time was understood to be in South Africa. So I met with his deputy [Yuri Averyanov – Kommersant] and other colleagues. Patrushev and I first met in Geneva in August.

In any case, this is the second meeting after Helsinki, and it was scheduled about six weeks ago. Now was simply the right time to meet. We arrived with a broad agenda. Many issues – for example, arms control and all related topics – were discussed in Geneva in August. We discussed them then and planned to do it again in Moscow. And we had these plans before the President’s Saturday statement [on the US intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty. “Kommersant”].

EC: Can you explain [this decision] to us? What are the reasons for this decision?

JB: Five or even more years ago, during the presidency of Barack Obama, the United States concluded that Russia committed substantial violations of the INF Treaty; [that Russia] was involved in the production and deployment of missiles that do not comply with the terms of the agreement. The Obama administration called on Russia to return to fulfilling its obligations. The Trump administration called for the same. But based on Russian statements, it became clear that they [the authorities of the Russian Federation— Kommersant] do not at all believe that any kind of violation occurred. And today, during the talks, my Russian interlocutors very clearly expressed their position – that it is not Russia that is in violation of the INF Treaty, but the United States.

However, rather than devolve the negotiations into a tit-for-tat issue, Mr. Bolton noted the real nature of the problem. He understood that simply asking for Russia to resume compliance with the treaty would not be enough – in fact, for Bolton, and really, for President Trump, whom he represents in this matter – the issue is not just an argument between the US and Russia at all. He continued:

JB: Now, some say: “This is just a negotiating move by President Trump, and if we could force Russia to return to the fulfillment of obligations, the treaty would be saved.” But this is impossible from the point of view of logic.

This is the reality we face. As the president said, Russia is doing what we think is considered a violation of the agreement, and we will not tolerate it without being able to respond. We do not think that withdrawal from the agreement is what creates the problem. We think that what Russia is doing in violation of the INF Treaty is the problem.

There is a second point: No one except us in the world is bound by this treaty. Although this is technically incorrect: lawyers will tell you that the former USSR countries (with the exception of the three Baltic republics, which the US never recognized as part of the USSR), were also bound by the treaty when the USSR collapsed. But the remaining 11 countries do not have any ballistic missiles. That is, only two countries in the world are bound by the INF Treaty. One of these countries violates the agreement. Thus, there is only one country in the world bound by the terms of the document – the USA. And this is unacceptable.

At the same time, we see that China, Iran, the DPRK – they all strengthen their potential with methods that would violate the INF Treaty, if these countries were its signatories. Fifteen years ago, it was possible that the agreement could be extended and made multilateral. But today it is already impracticable in practice. And the threat from China is real – you can ask countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan or Australia what they think about the Chinese [missile. – Kommersant] potential. They are nervous about this. Many in Europe and the Middle East are nervous about Iran’s potential.

As the President explained on Saturday, this puts the United States in an unacceptable position. And that is why he promulgated the decision [to withdraw from the INF Treaty. – Kommersant].

So, here, the President’s point of view is that the treaty as it presently stands has two problems: Russia is in violation (and a very good point was conceded by Bolton of how the American side also becomes in violation as well), but the INF treaty only applies to these two countries when the emerging great and regional powers China, North Korea, and Iran, also have these types of missiles.

For President Trump, an effective measure would be to create a multilateral treaty.

This is a very interesting point of discussion. Politically for President Trump, this immediate decision to withdraw from the INF looks like a show of toughness against Russia. Before the midterms this is probably an important optic for him to have.

However, the real problem appears to be the irrelevance of a treaty that applies to only two of the at least five nations that possess such armaments, and if Russia and the US were limiting only their missiles, how does that prevent any other power from doing the same?

While it could be argued that North Korea is no longer a threat because of its progress towards denuclearization, and Iran maintains that it has no nuclear weapons anyway, this leaves China. Although China is not expressing any military threats at this time, the country has shown some increased assertiveness over territories in the South China Sea, and Japan and China have historically bad relations so there is some worry about this matter.

Behind this all, or perhaps more properly said, in concurrence with it, is the expressed intention of Presidents Putin and Trump to meet again for another summit in Paris on November 11. There are further invitations on both sides for the American and Russian presidents to visit one another on home grounds.

This brings up speculation also that President Trump has some level of confidence in the outcome of the US Congressional midterm elections, to be held in two weeks. It appears that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin also will not be thwarted any longer by opinions and scandal over allegations that bear no semblance to reality.

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‘Meme-killing’ EU regulation could end YouTube as we know it, CEO warns

The proposed amendments to the EU Copyright Directive would require the automatic removal of any user-created content suspected of violating intellectual property law.

The Duran

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Via RT


YouTube’s CEO has urged creators on the popular video site to organize against a proposed EU internet regulation, reinforcing fears that the infamous Article 13 could lead to content-killing, meme-maiming restrictions on the web.

The proposed amendments to the EU Copyright Directive would require the automatic removal of any user-created content suspected of violating intellectual property law – with platforms being liable for any alleged copyright infringement. If enacted, the legislation would threaten “both your livelihood and your ability to share your voice with the world,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki warned the site’s content creators in a blog post on Monday.

The regulation would endanger “hundreds of thousands of job,” Wojcicki said, predicting that it would likely force platforms such as YouTube to allow only content from a hand-picked group of companies.

“It would be too risky for platforms to host content from smaller original content creators, because the platforms would now be directly liable for that content,” Wojcicki wrote.

While acknowledging that it was important to properly compensate all rights holders, the YouTube chief lamented that the “unintended consequences of Article 13 will put this ecosystem at risk.”

She encouraged YouTubers to use the #SaveYourInternet hashtag to tell the world how the proposed legislation would impact them personally.

“RIP YOUTUBE..IT WAS FUN,” read one rather fatalistic reply to the post. Another comment worried that Article 13 would do “immense damage … particularly to smaller creators.”

The proposal has stirred considerable controversy in Europe and abroad, with critics claiming that the legislation would essentially ban any kind of creative content, ranging from memes to parody videos, that would normally fall under fair use.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, has opposed Article 13 for months. The measure was advanced in June by the European Parliament. A final vote on the proposed regulation is expected to take place sometime next year.

World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have also spoken out against Article 13.

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WSJ Op-Ed Cracks The Code: Why Liberal Intellectuals Hate Trump

WSJ: The Real Reason They Hate Trump

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Via Zerohedge


As pundits continue to scratch their heads over the disruptive phenomenon known as Donald Trump, Yale computer science professor and chief scientist at Dittach, David Gelernter, has penned a refreshingly straightforward and blunt Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal explaining why Trump has been so successful at winning hearts and minds, and why the left – especially those snarky ivory-tower intellectuals, hate him.

Gelernter argues that Trump – despite being a filthy rich “parody of the average American,” is is a regular guy who has successfully resonated with America’s underpinnings.

Mr. Trump reminds us who the average American really is. Not the average male American, or the average white American,” writes Gelernter. “We know for sure that, come 2020, intellectuals will be dumbfounded at the number of women and blacks who will vote for Mr. Trump. He might be realigning the political map: plain average Americans of every type vs. fancy ones.”

He never learned to keep his real opinions to himself because he never had to. He never learned to be embarrassed that he is male, with ordinary male proclivities. Sometimes he has treated women disgracefully, for which Americans, left and right, are ashamed of him—as they are of JFK and Bill Clinton. –WSJ

Gelernter then suggests: “This all leads to an important question—one that will be dismissed indignantly today, but not by historians in the long run: Is it possible to hate Donald Trump but not the average American?“.

***

The Real Reason They Hate Trump via the Wall Street Journal.

He’s the average American in exaggerated form—blunt, simple, willing to fight, mistrustful of intellectuals.

Every big U.S. election is interesting, but the coming midterms are fascinating for a reason most commentators forget to mention: The Democrats have no issues. The economy is booming and America’s international position is strong. In foreign affairs, the U.S. has remembered in the nick of time what Machiavelli advised princes five centuries ago: Don’t seek to be loved, seek to be feared.

The contrast with the Obama years must be painful for any honest leftist. For future generations, the Kavanaugh fight will stand as a marker of the Democratic Party’s intellectual bankruptcy, the flashing red light on the dashboard that says “Empty.” The left is beaten.

This has happened before, in the 1980s and ’90s and early 2000s, but then the financial crisis arrived to save liberalism from certain destruction. Today leftists pray that Robert Mueller will put on his Superman outfit and save them again.

For now, though, the left’s only issue is “We hate Trump.” This is an instructive hatred, because what the left hates about Donald Trump is precisely what it hates about America. The implications are important, and painful.

Not that every leftist hates America. But the leftists I know do hate Mr. Trump’s vulgarity, his unwillingness to walk away from a fight, his bluntness, his certainty that America is exceptional, his mistrust of intellectuals, his love of simple ideas that work, and his refusal to believe that men and women are interchangeable. Worst of all, he has no ideology except getting the job done. His goals are to do the task before him, not be pushed around, and otherwise to enjoy life. In short, he is a typical American—except exaggerated, because he has no constraints to cramp his style except the ones he himself invents.

Mr. Trump lacks constraints because he is filthy rich and always has been and, unlike other rich men, he revels in wealth and feels no need to apologize—ever. He never learned to keep his real opinions to himself because he never had to. He never learned to be embarrassed that he is male, with ordinary male proclivities. Sometimes he has treated women disgracefully, for which Americans, left and right, are ashamed of him—as they are of JFK and Bill Clinton.

But my job as a voter is to choose the candidate who will do best for America. I am sorry about the coarseness of the unconstrained average American that Mr. Trump conveys. That coarseness is unpresidential and makes us look bad to other nations. On the other hand, many of his opponents worry too much about what other people think. I would love the esteem of France, Germany and Japan. But I don’t find myself losing sleep over it.

The difference between citizens who hate Mr. Trump and those who can live with him—whether they love or merely tolerate him—comes down to their views of the typical American: the farmer, factory hand, auto mechanic, machinist, teamster, shop owner, clerk, software engineer, infantryman, truck driver, housewife. The leftist intellectuals I know say they dislike such people insofar as they tend to be conservative Republicans.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama know their real sins. They know how appalling such people are, with their stupid guns and loathsome churches. They have no money or permanent grievances to make them interesting and no Twitter followers to speak of. They skip Davos every year and watch Fox News. Not even the very best has the dazzling brilliance of a Chuck Schumer, not to mention a Michelle Obama. In truth they are dumb as sheep.

Mr. Trump reminds us who the average American really is. Not the average male American, or the average white American. We know for sure that, come 2020, intellectuals will be dumbfounded at the number of women and blacks who will vote for Mr. Trump. He might be realigning the political map: plain average Americans of every type vs. fancy ones.

Many left-wing intellectuals are counting on technology to do away with the jobs that sustain all those old-fashioned truck-driver-type people, but they are laughably wide of the mark. It is impossible to transport food and clothing, or hug your wife or girl or child, or sit silently with your best friend, over the internet. Perhaps that’s obvious, but to be an intellectual means nothing is obvious. Mr. Trump is no genius, but if you have mastered the obvious and add common sense, you are nine-tenths of the way home. (Scholarship is fine, but the typical modern intellectual cheapens his learning with politics, and is proud to vary his teaching with broken-down left-wing junk.)

This all leads to an important question—one that will be dismissed indignantly today, but not by historians in the long run: Is it possible to hate Donald Trump but not the average American?

True, Mr. Trump is the unconstrained average citizen. Obviously you can hate some of his major characteristics—the infantile lack of self-control in his Twitter babble, his hitting back like a spiteful child bully—without hating the average American, who has no such tendencies. (Mr. Trump is improving in these two categories.) You might dislike the whole package. I wouldn’t choose him as a friend, nor would he choose me. But what I see on the left is often plain, unconditional hatred of which the hater—God forgive him—is proud. It’s discouraging, even disgusting. And it does mean, I believe, that the Trump-hater truly does hate the average American—male or female, black or white. Often he hates America, too.

Granted, Mr. Trump is a parody of the average American, not the thing itself. To turn away is fair. But to hate him from your heart is revealing. Many Americans were ashamed when Ronald Reagan was elected. A movie actor? But the new direction he chose for America was a big success on balance, and Reagan turned into a great president. Evidently this country was intended to be run by amateurs after all—by plain citizens, not only lawyers and bureaucrats.

Those who voted for Mr. Trump, and will vote for his candidates this November, worry about the nation, not its image. The president deserves our respect because Americans deserve it—not such fancy-pants extras as network commentators, socialist high-school teachers and eminent professors, but the basic human stuff that has made America great, and is making us greater all the time.

Mr. Gelernter is computer science professor at Yale and chief scientist at Dittach LLC. His most recent book is “Tides of Mind.”

Appeared in the October 22, 2018, print edition.

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