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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




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.


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.


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. 


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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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch



One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:

To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation



Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:

Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.





Via RT…

If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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