Petersburg Enviromental Rights Center Bellona Declared “Foreign Agent”

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Petersburg Environmental Center Bellona Declared Foreign Agent 
Interfax
January 16, 2017

On Monday, the Russian Federal Justice Ministry placed the Petersburg enviromental organization Bellona on its list of “foreign agents,” according to the ministry’s website.

“The fact that the organization bears the hallmarks of a non-profit organization, performing the functions of a foreign agent, was established during an unscheduled site inspection carried out by the Justice Ministry’s St. Petersburg office,” read the message on the website.

In March 2015, the Justice Ministry placed the non-profit public environmental organization Bellona Murmansk on the list of “foreign agents.” Six months later, the organization closed.

The non-profit public organization Bellona was formed in 1986. Its central office is in Oslo. Two branches of the environmental organization operated in Russia, in Murmansk and St. Petersburg.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader; the emphasis is mine

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Environmental Rights Center Bellona called a ‘foreign agent’ by Russian government
Charles Digges
Bellona
January 16, 2017

In a troubling development for international ecological groups that deal with questions of Russia’s Cold War nuclear legacy, Moscow’s Justice Ministry on Monday named the Environmental Rights Center Bellona as a “foreign agent.”

ERC Bellona, founded by Alexander Nikitin in 1998, became the 158th organization tarred with the foreign agent label since the restrictive 2012 Law on NGOs came into effect.

Nikitin said the group had been undergoing a so-called unplanned check since before the New Year, and had been told it would receive written notification about its status from the Justice Ministry by December 25.

But that date came and went with no notice. Nikitin first learned of the new designation Monday, when Russia’s state newswire TASS began reporting on the organization’s designation as a foreign agent.

bodytextimage_nikitin4833.JPG

ERC Bellona Chairman Alexander Nikitin (Photo: Bellona)

Nikitin was undeterred by the news.

“We expected this decision,” said Nikitin. But he also said it would not impede the organization’s mission.

“This means that we will continue working,” Nikitin said.

“We won’t throw aside our very important work over such small change,” he said. “All of our projects remain, all of our people will remain, and we will find ways to continue our work.”

The group has long had a turbulent relationship with officialdom. When it was founded, Nikitin was on trial for supposedly revealing state secrets in a Bellona report on the decrepit state of Russia’s northern nuclear fleet.

In 2000, Nikitin was fully acquitted by the Russian Supreme Court and became the only individual to ever be cleared of treason charges leveled by Russian or Soviet security services.

The report he and Bellona wrote then became a guidepost document for western governments that wanted to invest in helping Russia secure its Cold War legacy of decommissioned nuclear submarines and military nuclear waste, programs that continue successfully to this day.

ERC Bellona has helped target more than $3 billion worth of international funding to dismantle 200 derelict submarines and other floating nuclear hazards in the Arctic region, like the Lepse nuclear service ship.

The group has also been instrumental in decades-long joint efforts between Norway and Russia to clean up the notorious submarine maintenance base at Andreyeva Bay.

Bellona’s efforts were jeopardized in 2012 when the Russian government passed its NGO law stipulating that non-profits operating in whole or in part on foreign funding must register themselves as “foreign agents” with the Justice Ministry if they engage in broadly defined “political activity.”

The Ministry in 2014 was given broad powers to name foreign agents on its own.

The law has shuttered more than a third of NGOs in the country, one of which was Bellona’s oldest Russian office, Bellona Murmansk.

That group decided to disband itself rather than undertake considerable legal costs to have its name removed from the foreign agent registry.

The decision by the Justice Ministry to list ERC Bellona as a foreign agent dashes considerable recent hopes that the government might cease targeting environmental groups with the foreign agent label.

The Justice Ministry’s report said ERC Bellona was engaged in political activity for “publishing, including via contemporary informational technologies, opinions on decisions taken by the government and policies that it has adopted,” apparently a reference to Bellona’s Russian website, Bellona.ru.

The Justice Ministry also accused ERC Bellona of attempting to “form socio-political opinions and convictions.”

Nikitin has long said ERC Bellona has nothing to do with any kind of political activity. But amendments to the NGO law last year impossibly broadened the notion of political activity.

Those amendments, which were signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June, “maximally restricted” what NGOs could do, said Nikitin.

Among the more exotic interpretations of what political activity is are the popular practice of sending open letters to Russian politicians at any level of government; participating in gatherings or demonstrations; criticizing laws passed by any level of government; using websites to air opinions about any decision made by the government, and any attempts to influence the drafting of legislation.

The police department in St. Petersburg had recently launched a campaign of demanding financial information from the city’s 158 nonprofits that accept some amount of funding from foreign sources.

A Word from Our Sponsor

And now, a word from our sponsor, the common cause.

english-girls

Constructing life, however, is undoubtedly tantamount to producing culture. The life that man constructs consciously is, in fact, culture. Culture is the totality of man’s advances in transfiguring the world. Culture is the world, altered by man according to his mind’s ideals.

But culture, in this case, includes not only theoretical and symbolic endeavors, as encapsulated in science and art. A significant and essential part of culture are those modes of work that really change the world around us, not merely in thought and imagination. They include economics, production, agriculture, engineering, medicine, eugenics, practical biology, education, and so on. Indeed, an overview of all the current research and trends makes plain that culture’s contents are revealed as the things people actually to change reality using these means. Culture is not only pure science and pure art, but definitely consists in applying them to production, the mining and processing industry, labor, and technology. Hence, we can say that culture’s ultimate meaning and goal are actually to improve and transform the world through nature’s rational management.

The new culture of the future involves nothing other than identifying this universal culture, revealing it as the work of transfiguring the world.

It follows that the first task, which precedes all construction and organization, is expanding the common notion of culture and including in it the modes of human endeavor that have previously been regarded as outside its scope. In other words, what must vanish are the current disjunction between culture and life, and the consequent separation of theoretical and symbolic work, which generates expressions of knowledge and ideal patterns, from work that really, by means of action, changes our environment.

To this end, we must first clearly understand the source of this pernicious disjunction. Its roots undoubtedly lie in the ancient division of the world into the supernatural world, accessible only to the mind and imagination, and the earthly, material world where human action takes place.

Due to the limitations of his outlook and the feebleness of his power over nature, man was unable to effect a real, comprehensive transformation of the environment, and so he marked off a special field of endeavor where he found it relatively easier to enact the kingdom of his reason and his moral and aesthetic ideals. This was the realm of pure knowledge and the similar realm of pure art. Here, in a special world generated by the mind and imagination, man produced the ideas and images he wanted while passively contemplating external reality and acting on it only in his own inner world by enriching his intellect and furthering his aesthetic powers. In this segregated realm, he scored victories over unreasoning, vicious nature, but what these successes lacked was the fact they led to no changes in real life except for producing generations of especially sophisticated, accomplished people who were quite remote from the mass of humanity, who continued to languish in the grip of a life that was impoverished, meaningless, and misshapen. Thus did passive contemplation and abstract philosophizing evolve. They were joined by pure science and pure art. Scientists have engaged in pure theory, forgetting their work makes sense only insofar as it really transfigures the world, and that they, accordingly, are not a self-sufficient corporation, but merely a committee of sorts, designated by humanity for a particular goal: drafting a project for the world’s transfiguration. For their part, artists have surrendered to the symbolism of images and forgotten they only make sense insofar as they are linked to reality, and that art’s purpose is to provide people with an ideal of a better world and assist in actually converting the present into such a future. Consequently, culture has become detached from life and enclosed in the narrow confines of pure creativity, remote from reality.

The outcome of the disjunction between symbolic and theoretical endeavors and real cultural work has been equally detrimental to both. Without thought, action is meaningless; thought without movement is ineffective; while knowledge, since it is applied to nothing, degenerates into abstract intellectualizing; science that has no practical end ultimately turns into an exposition of methods that have no purpose; and art that produces only dead likenesses turns into a harmful amusement. On the other hand, lawmaking and economics, as endeavors that change the material world; medicine and eugenics, which change the nature of living beings; and education, which changes their mental nature, are likewise bereft of a particular purpose and come to serve private and individual interests instead of pursuing the task of transfiguring the world.

The outcome is humanity’s atomization into a number of warring centers. Culture is no longer produced as the common cause of human efforts, while the latter develop, each in its own field, as self-contained strivings. Hence the birth of the destructive particularism we find at the heart of cultural liberalism, which was proclaimed during the Renaissance and has evolved into modern cultural chaos. In this state, the common conscious action of people, instead of blazing a course for itself through history as a single, powerful stream, has trickled away into a thousand rivulets, which have mostly ended up as standing puddles of fetid water. Each man lives only for his selfish purposes. A number of dead ends arise, discrete lives fenced off from the rest. An idol in the guise of personal prejudice or passion is erected in each such dead end. Mutual bloody war erupts in the name of the idols, tearing humanity apart with strife. However, at the same time, people are united by irrational factors, but this unity is usually based on narrow-mindedness and passivity, and crumbles when it encounters consciousness, even in its primary selfish, individual form.

These phenomena have caused the crisis now experienced by European culture. It is clear it cannot stay in a state of modern individual atomization, and just as clear that the way to past attempts at unification, based on extinguishing consciousness, is forbidden to it due to its hypertrophied modern evolution. The only way left is to produce a culture in which consciousness would not be removed from life but would projectively manage it, moreover, manage it not in the sense of separating people from each other, but, on the contrary, in the sense of uniting them as completely as possible on the basis of a common cause.

That was an excerpt from Valerian Muravyov, “A Universal Productive Mathematics” (1923), in Boris Groys, ed., Russkii kozmism (Moscow: Ad Marginem Press,  2015), 180–184

Translated by the Russian Reader

Agents of H.A.R.V.A.R.D.

Chapayevsk. Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Bochkaryov/Kommersant
Chapayevsk. Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Bochkaryov/Kommersant

Harvard Agents Association
The Justice Ministry Has Fined an NGO for Medical Research
Alexander Chernykh
Kommersant
December 21, 2016

The Chapayevsk Medical Workers Association, an NGO in the Samara Region, has appealed the Justice Ministry’s decision identifying it as a “foreign agent.” The organization was cited for grants it has been receiving from Harvard for over twelve years to study the health of people who live in enivornmental disaster areas. The Justice Ministry additionally cited the work of its doctors in preventing HIV as “contrary to Russian national interests.” The association is on the verge of closure, despite the unprecedented support it has received from town officials, physicians, and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Chapayevsk Medical Workers Association was established in 1999.

“Chapayevsk produced pesticides for many years, which led to increased levels of dioxins,” says Oleg Sergeyev, head of the association and a Ph.D. in medicine. “Increased mortality was recorded in the town. The local hospitals were not coping due to a lack of funds and equipment. So the town’s doctors united into an NGO to try and solve the problem.”

Located 45 kilometers from Samara, the town, whose population is 73,000, was founded in 1909 as a settlement built round an explosives factory. In 1926, a chemical weapons factory went into operation, later converted into a fertilizer plant. In 1999, the State Ecology Committee declared the town an “environmental emergency area.” Chapayevsk received a total of 1.742 billion rubles in federal subsidies, and its status as an environmental emergency area was rescinded in 2005. In 2008, the mayor of Chapayevsk officially proposed resettling the city.

In 2003, the association launched a long-term research study, entitled “Dioxins, Pubertal Growth, and the Development of Boys,” in cooperation with the Harvard School of Public Health and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“With the consent of their parents, we selected 516 boys between the ages of eight and nine, and have been carefully tracking their health every year since then. Now they are young men between the ages of 19 and 22,” says Oleg Sergeyev. “We have seen how the dioxins and pesticides have impacted the growth, development, and especially the reproductive health of the men.”

The researched has been funded by the National Institutes of Health in the US. In 2003, the NIH made a long-term research grant to the project, and in 2010, it extended the grant for another six years.

“During this period, we received 65.2 million rubles,” says Mr. Sergeyev. “34.2 million was spent on the salaries of seventeen staff members, 21.4 million rubles, on equipment and supplies, and 9.6 million rubles, on social benefit payments.”

The association’s second focus has been HIV prevention.

“In the late 1990s, Chapayevsk ranked third in the region in the spread of HIV,” says Mr. Sergeyev. “This was due to injecting drug use. The drugs were easily accessible here.”

Physicans hit the streets to engage in harm reduction work, which has involved them in meeting with drug users, handing out brochures and free condoms, persuading people to get tested for HIV, collecting used syringes, and supplying clean syringes. Harm reduction programs in Chapayevsky have covered around 800 people annually (a little over one percent of the population). According to doctors, this is around a third of the town’s injecting drug users.

In 2014, the Justice Ministry’s regional office audited the association twice, concluding the NGO was not engaged in political activity. In October 2016, these very same officials changed their opinion and demanded the association be added to the list of “foreign agents.” The Justice Ministry’s Samara office failed to respond promptly to our request for information, but Kommersant has obtained a copy of the audit report. Officials deemed it a violation that Oleg Sergeyev sits on the Samara Regional Duma’s NGO Council and has been involved in the hearings of two committees, on physical education and healthy lifestyles, and on providing social services to the populace. In 2013, one commission recommended that regional MPs ban cigarette ads at public transport stops and in shops. In 2015, it recommended that regional MPs add the phrase “citizens are responsible for maintaining their own health” to the law “On Basic Public Healthcare.” The auditors construed this as “political activity financed by foreigners.”

The association’s work in preventing HIV has also not escaped the auditors’ attention. The Justice Ministry dubbed the needle exchange and the distribution of condoms by physicians the “inculcation of practices contrary to Russian national interests.” In the wake of the audit, the officials asked the court to rule the association a “foreign agent.” The court granted the request, additionally fining the NGO 300,000 rubles and Oleg Sergeyev 50,000 rubles for not registering themselves voluntarily.

“I don’t know where to get the money,” says Mr. Sergeyev.

According to him, no grantmaking organization permits the payment of fines out funds allocated for scientific research.

“It’s a matter of scientific reputation,” say Mr. Sergeyev. “If they had labeled us an ‘organization receiving foreign funding,’ then for God’s sake we would have enrolled ourselves in such a registry. But we have been accused of working for another country, although we have always acted in the interests of our town.”

The organization filed an appeal last week. As candidates for “foreign agent” status, the physicians have received unprecedented support from researchers at the Institute of Genetics and the Institute of Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as from the town’s chief narcologist.

Chapayevsk’s Mayor Dmitry Blynsky also wrote an official letter to the Justice Ministry. (He resigned in November 2016, but signed the letter while still in office.) According to Blynsky, the NGO’s collaboration with Harvard “has been of great benefit to the town.”

“The medical and lab equipment that has been procured has been used to treat the populace of Chapayevsk. In view of Chapayevsk’s subsidized budget, another important aspect of attracting foreign financing has been the creation of jobs for medical professionals,” wrote Blynsky.

According to the ex-mayor, the outcomes of the NGO’s long-term research studies have been used to develop public programs for the town’s social and environmental rehabilitation.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Tamara Koganzon for the heads-up

Living Levada Loca

Komar & Melamid, Russia's Most Wanted Painting, 1995. Image courtesy of Dia Art Foundation
Komar & Melamid, Russia’s Most Wanted Painting, 1995. Image courtesy of Dia Art Foundation

The Picture Is Going to Get Prettier
Greg Yudin
Vedomosti
September 6, 2016

The latest attack on the Levada Center (this past Monday, the organization was labeled a “foreign agent”) provoked a justified outcry from people in various parts of the ideological spectrum, from the center’s friends competitors, and opponents. The formal basis of the attack was the insane law that punishes people and organizations for something that should be rewarded. If Russia wants to be strong in academic research, then here were researchers who collaborated with serious foreign partners. (The University of Wisconsin, with whom the Levada Center had been working, has traditionally been a powerhouse in sociology.) Worse, the law construes “political activity” as something unsavory right at a time when Russia really needs to awaken an interest in politics, and any NGO willing to study the dynamics of political life in Russia deserves all the encouragement it can get.

The Russian Ministry of Justice can paralyze the operations of one of the country’s three major public opinion polling factories one and half weeks before national and regional parliamentary elections on September 18. In this case, the elections will be held with a newly configured polling industry, which has not changed for a long time. Putting our emotions aside, however, the assault on the Levada Center seems unexpected. For the past decade, the organization has objectively worked to maintain the current regime’s legitimacy.

The public opinion research field, a field once populated by many players, was purged by the Kremlin ten years ago, leaving only three companies standing. Two of them, FOM (Public Opinion Foundation) and VTsIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center) are substantially affiliated with the Kremlin, since they are wholly dependent on the commissions they regularly receive from the presidential administration and other government agencies. The Levada Center, on the contrary, has been financed independently of the Kremlin, and the liberal views of its senior staff have put the company almost in political opposition to the current regime. Yet the outcomes of the Levada Center’s polls have rarely diverged from the data published by its colleagues and competitors. The numbers adduced by all three pollsters have usually generated a sense of broad or overwhelming support for everything the authorities do, however aggressive and irrational it sometimes might appear.

Praise from the enemy is worth twice as much, especially if it is voiced publicly. Vladimir Putin has confessed on several occasions that polls mean a lot to them, and when the Levada Center records public support for him, this is proof the support is undeniable. Look, even our opponents are forced to admit the people are behind us, the regime’s supporters say time and again. These same people sincerely believe research results depend on who pays for the research.

Research studies, however, are much more complicated, and the results of Levada Center’s polls have had nothing to do with the political stance of its executives. Instead, they are stipulated by the way polls are conducted. In daily life, Russians show little interest in politics, so if you deluge them with a wave of news reports about some issue of little importance to them, such as relations with Turkey, and then ask them the next day whether we should be afraid of Turkey, they will respond in good faith based on the information they got the day before. With few exceptions, the Levada Center has humbly tackled the political agenda set by television, and asked the same questions as the other pollsters, questions focused on this agenda, predictably garnering nearly the same outcomes as the other pollsters. However, the center’s alleged oppositional status made the answers more important for the authorities and, at the same time, indirectly increased the credibility of the other companies. The depressive antidemocratic discourse about the stupid, aggressive common people with which the middle classes have been spooking each other nationwide has largely been the product of the Levada Center’s poll numbers, even if the outcome was unintentional.

You need a good reason to shoot the goose that has been laying golden eggs. What compelled the authorities to break off a piece of the rigging propping up its legitimacy? I should explain right off the bat how the Levada Center does actually differ from the other two major Russian pollsters. The difference has nothing to do with honesty or professionalism. The myth that one group of sociologists does honest work, while the two others fake the numbers is not even worth discussing seriously, and yet they all get the same results.

What matters much more is the fact that the Levada Center does not get commissions from the Kremlin. The Kremlin cannot tell it what questions to ask and what results to make public. We should not forget the poll results reported in the Russian media are only the poll results the client has allowed them to publish. The client can impose a temporary or permanent veto on publication of the results. The media’s picture of public opinion thus passes through two powerful filters nowadays. First, the client imposes on the polling organizations the subjects for which he is willing to pay, and then he decides what information he would like to make available to the public. The Kremlin can easily ban publishing results that shatter the image of monolithic public support for its decisions, and it has often done this.  It has no such power over the Levada Center, although in recent times it has not needed it, since the company has not produced polling data that would put the Kremlin in a vulnerable position.

Polling data has been long the main fodder from which Russians shape their notions about the balance of power at election time and decide how to vote. The numbers act like a tranquilizer, persuading voters not to waste time and energy by getting involved in elections whose outcome is clear in any case. Simultaneously, they send a signal up and down the power vertical about how much “slack” needs to be made up at the local voting precincts. The main thing is not diverge to too radically from the polls. If the Kremlin has had to break with this way of doing things on the eve of the elections, it means the independent player had become too dangerous. The mirror reflected something that forced the Kremlin to throw a stone at it.

If the Levada Center is forced to suspend operations, the credibility of poll numbers will drop, and the client will increase pressure on the remaining players. We will have to treat the polling numbers we see before and after the elections with a bigger grain of salt. If before, the public was shown only the pretty half of the picture, while the ugly was hidden from it, now it will see even less of the picture.

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader

Onward and Upward (The HIV Epidemic in Russia)

"HIV Positive." Photo courtesy of Gazeta.ru and Shutterstock
“HIV Positive.” Photo courtesy of Gazeta.ru and Shutterstock

UN Identifies Russia as Epicenter of HIV Epidemic
Takie Dela
July 15, 2016

UNAIDS, the United Nations organization that deals with HIV prevention, has published a report that claims Russia has the largest HIV epidemic in the world, writes Gazeta.ru.

According to UNAIDS, Russia’s regions accounted for approximately 80% of new HIV cases last year. The countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia accounted for another 15%.  The study says that, in terms of the speed with which the number of patients has been increasing, Russia has bypassed such countries as Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, although the numbers of people who are infected are twice as many as in these countries as in the Russian Federation.

According to the Federal AIDS Center, there are currently 824,000 HIV-infected people in Russia. Moreover, the proportion of new cases is 11% or 95,500 people. UNAIDS experts claim the deteriorating situation is due to the fact that Russia lost international support [sic] in the form of HIV programs and has failed to replace it with adequate preventive methods paid for by government funds.

According to data from the Ministry of Health, only 37% of patients under constant medical observation receive the medicines they need, that is, 28% of the total number of patients. On June 12, it came to light that Russia’s regions have begun receiving less money from the federal government for the purchase of drugs for HIV-infected patients. The funding cuts have ranged from 10% to 30%. Due to the fact that funding is insufficient, medicines are prescribed only to patients suffering critical levels of immunosuppression.

Another factor contributing to the spread of HIV in Russia is intravenous drug use. More than half of HIV-infected people were infected in this way.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Relevant excerpts from Prevention Gap Report (UNAIDS, 2016):

Page 174. The scale of prevention programmes for key populations was insufficient to curb the region’s surging epidemics. This was particularly true in the Russian Federation, home to the region’s largest HIV epidemic and largest population of people who inject drugs (1.5 million).

Page 178. On average, 82% of people on antiretroviral therapy have a suppressed viral load. The highest rate was in the Russian Federation (85.2% of people on antiretroviral therapy), followed by Ukraine (77.7% of people on antiretroviral therapy); the lowest rate was in Tajikistan (32%). Given that only 21% of people living with HIV were on treatment, however, the prevention effect of the suppressed viral load would have only a marginal effect on reduction in HIV incidence.

Page 178. Even the limited coverage by prevention programmes was under threat. The Global Fund has been the region’s largest donor for HIV prevention among key populations since 2004. As of July 2013, however, the Russian Federation was classified by the World Bank as a high-income country; 7 of the other 14 countries are classified as lower-middle-income countries. As a result, international support to HIV programmes in the region is decreasing, and new domestic funding for HIV prevention is not keeping pace as the priority of HIV programmes in many countries is to increase coverage of antiretroviral treatment. In the Russian Federation, 30 projects serving some 27,000 people who inject drugs were left without financial support after the Global Fund grant ended in 2014. Although remaining projects in 16 cities continued to provide essential HIV services to people who inject drugs in 2015, their scale is not sufficient to change the trajectory of the HIV epidemic in the Russian Federation.

Page 179.  In the Russian Federation a so-called “law on foreign agents” interrupted the work of community-based organizations that receive international funding to provide HIV prevention services to key population in the absence of domestic funding for these purposes.

Uneven and Combined Development

On this bright Saturday evening, when the sun has finally come out in the former capital of All the Russias after a week of nonstop rain, I want to offer you two tales of two completely different modern Russias, situated unhappily side by side, but God only knows for how long and at what cost.

Both stories have their fictional and literary precedents, as is often the case in this overly verbalized country.

The hero of the first tale, Valery Slesarev, will remind you of the characters and real-life heroes and victims in nineteenth-century writer and human rights activist Vladimir Korolenko’s fictional sketches and muckracking newspaper articles, while the nearly unbelievable promises and high-powered wheeler dealers in the second tale will conjure up Ilf and Petrov’s world of con men and grifters during the NEP period. TRR

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Smack Them Upside the Head
Tired of waiting for a promised natural gas tie-in pipeline from local authorities, the Yegorevsk Urban District in the Moscow Region asked Obama for gas
Ekaterina Fomina
Novaya Gazeta
June 5, 2016


Valery Slesarev. Photo by Ekaterina Fomina

After collecting 531 signatures in support of his effort, pensioner Valery Slesarev called the US Embassy and asked a specific question.

“How can I get a hold of Barack Obama?”

The embassy promised him to call him back and make an appointment.

Lots of people in Yegorevsk know Valery Slesarev. First, he has tuned and fixed TV sets his whole life, and that is deemed a vital service. Second, he has an artificial skull.

As a child, Slesarev was involved in Pavel Popovich’s Young Cosmonauts Club. One of the activities at the club was parachute jumping from towers. During one such jump, the carabiner from a pull rope slammed Slesarev hard in the head. A year later, a tumor was discovered in his brain, and it was decided to operate. Popovich himself got involved by asking for help from America, where an artificial bone was grown personally for the sixteen-year-old boy. The doctors told his mother he would not survive, but the bone up and took hold.

As the years passed, it transpired that, along with the bone, the doctors had implanted something Soviet people were not supposed to have: a faith in justice and the strength to fight for it.

Initially, the life of the young cosmonaut with the artificial skull rolled down different tracks than it might have, like in a small town in West Virginia: steady, nothing out of the ordinary.

“Maybe the Lord in fact saved me then. Eighty percent of my group at the Young Cosmonauts Club died in Afghanistan. We were all combat ready, you see, and those boys were sent straight to the front,” he says today.

Slesarev studied to be a radio technician, but went to work as a TV repairman. The celestial expanses no longer appealed to him, and he had enough to do down on earth as it was. He drove from village to village fixing TV sets and occasionally chopping firewood for old women.

In the nineties, the business where Slesarev worked fell apart, and he started a small business of his own, a tire repair shop. He called it Autocupola, and indeed the blue, two-storey building housing his shop is crowned by conical metal cupolas. The cupolas, he explains, are in honor of his artificial skull. He is proud of the black swans, carved from tires, out in front of the shop and a gingerbread boy with a painted mug.

Slesarev lives in amazing house, also topped with cupolas, only they are in the shape of little bulbs. The local council has even hung a sign on the house designating it a cultural landmark.

For a time, then, Slesarev was an amusing local landmark. In 2005, however, the Moscow Region began installing natural gas mains in the villages of Yegorevsk. The mains were quickly installed in all public buildings, but ordinary people, those selfsame old women for whose sake the whole program was undertaken, were left without gas. Slesarev says he simply could not look at old women swinging wood mauls anymore. Thus began his fight.

Vladychino
Only twenty-eight people are officially registered in Vladychino, a village in the Yegorevsk Urban District, but around a hundred people live there permanently, most of them people the natives have contemptuously dubbed “summerfolk.” Slesarev is one of the summerfolk too. He has land there, inherited from forebear, and his grandmother’s house, which he has managed to restore and preserve. The entire village stopped by to admire it.

As in the neighboring villages, people in Vladychino buy natural gas in cylinders. A fifty-liter cylinder, which costs a thousand rubles to refill, lasts a month. Arranging privately to have a gas line connected to your house costs at least 500,000 rubles [approx. 7,000 euros].

A spontaneous assembly of local residents has been taking place on the bench in front of Slesarev’s house. You might say he mobilized them.

Grandma Valentina, Grandpa Nikolai, Kolya, who has no front teeth and wears a leather jacket, Nikolai Alexandrovich, and Tatyana have formed a semi-circle. They occasionally get sidetracked and swat a mosquito. It is the height of the season.

“Please forgive my appearance. I came from the garden,” says Tatyana, apologizing as it were for her apron.

“TV Rain came to film, and we all dressed like peasants,” says Valentina, dangling her rubber-slippered feet by way of proof.

“Why are we appealing to Obama? We hope that, if not Obama, some other president will respond,” says Valentina.

“I’ll tell you why,” says Nikolai Alexandrovich, who steps forward, dressed in builder’s overalls. “He is a winner of the Nobel Peace Price, and he is on his way out of office in any case. Let him do one good deed at the end of his term by getting gas installed for us.”

The locals gossip. The village of Rakhmanovo got gas when an MP from the Moscow Regional Duma and a member of the Yegorevsk Board of Deputies moved there. Actually, according to the paperwork, gas lines have been laid to Vladychino and all the other villages too: 300 million rubles [approx. 4 million euros at current exchange rates] from the regional budget was spent on the program. A presidential commission even came looking for the gas, but they did not find it.  To be hooked up to gas lines under the regional program, a village must have no less than one hundred residents, so Vladychino was lumped together with neighboring Parykino. Now, according to the schedule for gasification, Vladychino and Parykino should get gas lines no later than 2018. But no one believes it will happen, because dates for gasification of the villages have been postponed annually since 2005. Last year, the residents of Vladychino wrote a letter to Putin, but half has many people signed it as did the letter to the US president.

“He’s not going to help. His term is never going to end. He’s president for life,” says Nikolai Alexandrovich.

“God willing he will be president for life!” responds Valentina. “He lifted the country up! As for gas, well, we need it. Maybe he just has not been told about us. Our board of deputies should be the ones helping us, but they don’t do anything for us. This year, they didn’t even spray the bushes for ticks.”

“This writing to Obama thing is all a joke, a way of getting us riled up and forcing us to think,” explained Nikolai Alexandrovich. “But what do you think? Is America Russia’s enemy? I knew you’d say that! I’m not going to try and educate you or persuade you. Who is threatened by Russia? The Americans, however, are already in Estonia. Those are facts, Katya, facts!”

By local standards, Nikolai Alexandrovich is also one of the summerfolk, although he has lived in Vladychino for four years, since retiring. He worked for twenty-six years in security at the Kremlin. Nowadays, he is an elder at Nativity of Christ Church.

“They’ll never unleash a war on us, but they are trying to squeeze us economically on the sly,” concluded Kolya, who worked as a plumber at Slavyanka, Ltd., during the heyday of Yevgenia Vasilyeva, but has now retired.

“That is war,” continues Nikolai Alexandrovich. “Was it necessary to drop the bombs on Japan? This is a continuation, just as today’s Russia is a continuation of Soviet life in many ways. Your colleagues from TV Rain were spooked. They were worried lest we go to jail for what we said. We won’t go to jail: we speak the truth!”

“The mosquitoes have already devoured us,” a bored Valentina chips in.

“It’s time for me to milk the cows,” says Kolya.

“Why was she caterwauling yesterday from lunchtime on? She was probably thirsty?”

“She has been yelling because of the bull. I haven’t been putting the pull in with her. He’s been laid low. I called the vet, and he told me over the phone to give the bull vodka. I gave him vodka. Then he told me to give it sunflower oil. I did it: same damn nonsense! Now he tells me to go and buy lactic acid.”


Slesarev outside his Autocupola tire repair shop. Photo by Ekaterina Fomina

“Sufferings, Trials, and Humiliations”
Since 2005, when Valery Slesarev began his fight to have the villages gasified, he has kept a list entitled “My Sufferings, Trials, and Humiliations.” It includes such entries as “Arrest, searches of homes and shops. Bombing of Autocupola. Arson at Autocupola.”

In 2010, unknown men in masks armed with crowbars broke into his tire shop. They methodically and cold-bloodedly beat up Slesarev and his daughter. A criminal case was opened, of course, but to no avail. The police wrote off the incident as a “workplace fight.”

Slesarev wrote to Vladimir Zhirinovsky that he was being prevented from doing business. Zhirinovsky promised to look into the case. Apparently, he is still looking.

Moscow Region Governor Boris Gromov once visited Yegorevsk. Slesarev was going to the meeting when he was pulled over by traffic cops, allegedly, for driving with dirty license plates. He spent the whole day in the detention center and was released without having to pay any fines.

Governors have come and gone, but the story has not changed. Slesarev had to fight his way into a meeting with current Moscow Region Governor Andrei Vorobyov at the House of Culture. In the auditorium, he was surrounded by police officers in plain clothes.

“When I stood up to ask a question, they made me sit down. They actually grabbed me by the pants and pulled me down, and everyone was laughing,” Slesarev recalls.

Governor Vorobyov noticed the strange man and asked to speak with him personally after the meeting. As Slesarev tells it now, the governor was so outraged that he promised to dismiss the head of the district the very next day. And he did, in fact, dismiss him. Only, at the next elections, Mikhail Lavrov, ex-head of the district, was elected chair of the Yegorevsk Board of Deputies, a position he occupies to this day.

“Vorobyov left, and the bathhouse we guys in the village had built for the gals burnt down. There was a criminal investigation, of course. But they didn’t catch anyone.”

“The Gas Has Come”
This time, it was the head of the Yegorevsk District and his deputies who were meeting with constituents. Slesarev did not know about the meeting, and so we arrive in the village of Yurtsovo a bit late: the event has ended. But we do find Nina Morsh, head of Yurtsovo Area, surrounded by female assistants, next to the Soviet war memorial. Slesarev knows everyone by sight, all the more so because Morsh was previously head of the Yurtsovo Rural Settlement. But late last year, all the municipalities were abolished when when the Yegorevsky District was redesignated as an urban district. The now-abolished Yurtsovo Rural Settlement included thirty-eight villages. Last year, only four of them had gas mains.

Morsh’s assistants immediately cut us off.

“You’re a little late. The head of the district was at the meeting, and he answered everyone’s questions. Residents who wanted to ask questions got definitive answers. You can ask them yourselves.”

Dressed in a suit with a rose on the chest, Morsh drags me along with her.

“Since 2005, a lot of work has been done on gasification,” she tells me, as if she were reading a report. “First, the central village of Yurtsovo and the main municipal institutions, then, in 2010, the entire residential sector.”

She speaks of natural gas affectionately.

“The gas has come,” she says.

The gas has come to Pochinki, Barsuki, Leonovo, and Polbino. And so it will arrive in Vladychino and Parykino, too, Morsh reassures me. The design plans and specifications are already being drafted.

“You cannot jump higher than the budget lets you,” says Morsh by way of explaining why gasification has taken so long. “This has been explained repeatedly to that man, who doesn’t even live in our area. Whatever emotions he may or may not be experiencing, the program has been well implemented. Just look at our governor.”

It is clear as day the village needs gas, but people have been living without it, getting by with cylinders. Some people even stoke wood stoves. Ninety-year-old Grandma Panya, another resident of Vladychino, signed the petition to Obama, but she is afraid of gas.

“That one woman of ours in Moscow, the one who left to be with her lover, was home alone once, but forget to turn off the gas. She died from carbon monoxide poisoning!”

If it had not been for Slesarev, no one would have the heard the voice of the people of Yegorevsk. But that is how his brain operates under his American skull. If the law says people are supposed to have gas piped into their homes, then that is the way it should be, even it means his having to fight hopelessly for it on his lonesome. Slesarev has lived his whole life this way.

Translated by the Russian Reader

___________________

Will Russia Be First to Build Elon Musk’s Hyperloop?
Peter Hobson
The Moscow Times
July 6, 2016

In mid June, Shervin Pishevar, co-founder of Hyperloop One, sat under the high, decorated ceiling of a palace in St. Petersburg.

Men in suits lined the large, rectangular table.

“Eighteen heads of sovereign [wealth] funds and President [Vladimir] Putin. $10 trillion in the room,” Pishevar wrote alongside a photo posted on Facebook. “Then Putin called on me.”

So Pishevar, a burly, bearded Silicon Valley entrepreneur, began to speak. He talked about the Hyperloop trains his company plans to build: Transportation pods levitated by magnets inside an airless tube that could travel at speeds 300 kilometers per hour faster than a passenger aircraft, thanks to the low air resistance. Pods that could whisk goods through Russia from China to Europe in the space of hours, or turn St. Petersburg into a suburb of Moscow.

Putin listened attentively. Then, according to Pishevar, he said, “Hyperloop will fundamentally change the global economy.”

By the time Pishevar left Russia, Hyperloop One had signed its first deal with a foreign government, a partnership with Moscow’s City Hall. It had also been asked by Russia’s transport minister to design a 70-kilometer Hyperloop track in the Russian Far East.

With that kind of support, perhaps the first Hyperloop won’t be built in California, but in Russia.

Dreaming of Innovation

At first sight, all that seems strange. Russia, after all, is suffering its deepest economic crisis for nearly two decades. Much of its infrastructure is hopelessly backward. It is a country in which passengers in slippers shuffle between bunk beds in overnight trains that travel at average speeds of just over 50 kilometers an hour. Freight trains, meanwhile, move at a little over 10 kilometers per hour.

But there are a few things working in Hyperloop’s favor.

First, innovation has once again become a buzzword in government. Officials are, at least in theory, keen to diversify away from the oil and gas industry on which the country currently relies. And they are paranoid that Russia could fall so far behind the technological innovation happening elsewhere that it will never catch up.

That fear has sprouted strategic plans for major infrastructure investment and research into the technology of the future. These plans think big: On the agenda are things like quantum computing, neural interfaces and teleportation. Hyperloop, with its science-fiction-movie tube trains, fits perfectly into that vision.

From Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1.5 Hours

Source: Hyperloop One. View in higher resolution here.

Second, Hyperloop has a powerful Russian investor lobbying its interests, a Dagestani tycoon called Ziyavudin Magomedov.

Tall, handsome and worth $900 million, Magomedov is a true techie. According to Forbes, for his 47th birthday party last year, he hosted a robot-themed ball and gifted each guest a book about Elon Musk, the billionaire inventor who in 2013 launched the Hyperloop concept.

Like Putin, he is emphatically excited about the idea.

“It will kill truck and air transportation at a minimum,” he told Forbes.

Magomedov is also supremely well connected. His investment company, Summa Group, spans businesses from real estate to logistics and has handled orders from state companies worth billions of dollars. He has advised the president and allegedly paid for Putin’s press secretary to honeymoon last year on a super yacht in the Mediterranean. One of Russia’s deputy prime minsters, Arkady Dvorkovich, is an old university friend and, conveniently, oversees the country’s policy on transport, innovation and industry policy, though the two deny any favoritism.

Magomedov invested in Hyperloop One through his $300 million venture capital fund, Caspian VC Partners, and set about bringing it to Russia. Bill Shor, the Russian-speaking American who runs Caspian for him, describes him as “very hands on.”

Magomedov has played the role of Hyperloop One’s deal broker. His Summa Group was a co-signatory on the agreement between Hyperloop One and the Moscow Government, which will create a working group aimed at fitting Hyperloop technology into Moscow’s transport system.

He likely also played a major role in pushing for a Hyperloop to span the 70 kilometers between the Chinese industrial center of Jilin and Zarubino, south of Russia’s Vladivostok, where Summa is investing in port facilities.

Both projects have been billed as revolutionary. In heavily congested Moscow, which is currently ploughing huge sums into expanding its transport infrastructure, Hyperloop One says its technology could potentially “give capital region commuters weeks of their lives back.”

The link with Jilin, meanwhile, would carry 10 million tons of cargo a year, zipping containers to port in minutes, says Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov. He wants Hyperloop One to present a design for the track at an investment forum in Vladivostok in September.

Tapping Into China

The third thing playing in Hyperloop’s favor in Russia is that it could unlock vast amounts of Chinese investment.

The Jilin-Zarubino spur is just the beginning. In the longer term, Hyperloop could create “the heart of the transport infrastructure for the Eurasian landmass,” says Shor. The technology will likely be used for freight before it begins to transport passengers. And the route between China and Europe is one of the world’s busiest trade arteries.

The distance between China’s eastern edge and Central Europe is some 7,000 kilometers. Freight currently navigates that distance by train in around three weeks and by sea in roughly two months. In theory, a Hyperloop could span it in six hours.

Beijing has committed tens of billions of dollars to its “One Belt-One Road” plan to create new infrastructure between it and Europe. Russian authorities have their eyes on some of that money.

“It’s like a tube with an air-hockey table. It’s just a low-pressure tube, with a pod in it that runs on air bearings […] I swear it’s not that hard,” said Elon Musk in 2015. Photo: Patricj T. Fallon / Reuters

Sokolov says he will discuss the Jilin Hyperloop with China’s transport minister at a meeting in August and hopes “we’ll take the next step [in this project] together with our Chinese partners.”

Also, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), a $10 billion state-backed investment vehicle, invested in Hyperloop One earlier this year. The amount was “very modest,” according to its chief, Kirill Dmitriev. But the RDIF also happens to run a joint investment fund with China worth $2 billion.

China is already helping to pay for a planned trans-Siberian high-speed rail line that could cost more than $200 billion. Hyperloop’s advocates say their technology be cheaper. According to Sokolov, the Jilin-Zarubino line will cost around 30 billion rubles ($450 million)—almost one-third less than a high-speed rail equivalent.

“We must be serious about this idea,” he insists.

Where’s the Money?

But for all the enthusiasm, few in Russia are prepared to put down real investment just yet.

Hyperloop One is working “very closely” with the Transport Ministry, as well as local governments and “some of the largest Russian corporates,” says Shor. These reportedly include Russian Railways and Gazprom, two giant state corporations. But these partners are contributing expertise and access, not money. All the cash is coming from Hyperloop One and Magomedov’s Summa, which Shor says has “invested quite a bit of resources, financial and otherwise.”

Even Putin, who in St. Petersburg promised support to Hyperloop One, wasn’t talking about financial support, his spokesman later clarified.

The problem is that while the Hyperloop concept is compelling, no one has yet worked out how to build one. Russia seems content to wait for the technology to prove itself with other people’s money.

The Local Contender

It might come as a surprise to discover that one of those working on the technology is Russian. Indeed, it turns out that Russian scientists were on to Hyperloop long before Elon Musk.

A century ago, before it was derailed by World War I, scientists in Siberia began working on a similar scheme, says Sokolov. Now, at St. Petersburg’s University of Transport and Communications, the project has been reborn.

Anatoly Zaitsev is an engineer who was briefly transport minister in the 1990s. At his lab on the Baltic coast, his team of around 20 people have equipment that can levitate transport containers. He says he could “absolutely” build a levitation track to Moscow, 650 kilometers away, if you give him $12-13 billion—significantly less than the cost of high-speed rail.

The only part of Musk’s plan Zaitsev says he hasn’t figured out is how to put his levitating pods in a tube. But that’s the simple part, he insists, “like dressing [the train] in a dinner jacket.”

Zaitsev thinks his technology is more developed than that of his rivals, whose plans remain mostly on paper. Both Shor and Sokolov praise his work. But despite that, Zaitsev is largely ignored by the ministers and local governments now courting Hyperloop One.

The reason why ultimately comes down to money. Hyperloop One has raised more than $100 million to fund research, pilot projects and investor outreach.

Another California company, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, is also rubbing shoulders with big investors. One of its executives has said it is talking with a Russian private investor and is looking at Hyperloop projects in Russia. Its chief, Dirk Ahlborn, also met Putin in St. Petersburg in June.

Elon Musk proposed the Hyperloop concept in 2013 as a mode of transportation between Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

These companies can fund relentless global expansion, and they benefit from Silicon Valley’s sheen of success. Russian officials can engage with them at no cost to themselves. No wonder, Zaitsev laughs, that “when a foreigner shows up in Russia at the invitation of a resident billionaire, the music and dances start.”

“The Americans are better at getting money,” he says. “I tip my hat to Musk and his followers who so boldly and aggressively offer the world unfinished technology.” By contrast, Zaitsev has enough money to keep his lab operational, and not much more. If Hyperloop is eventually built, it is unlikely to be Russian-made.

Revolution?

But if Hyperloop really is the future of transport, and Putin jumps on board early, it could be a visionary move.

“Russia has a very good chance [of being the first place to develop Hyperloop],” says Shor. If the government acts quickly on regulation, he says it could happen in the next few years. That could put the country at the forefront of a transport revolution.

On the other hand, the whole thing could be a pipe dream. No one knows if the technology can be made cheaply enough to implement.

Russia, meanwhile, still lacks both money and many basics of a modern transport system, says Mikhail Blinkin, head of the transport institute at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics and an advisor to the Transport Ministry.

Fifteen years discussing high-speed rail has led to a single line between Moscow and St. Petersburg that travels less than 200 kilometers per hour. The country has only 5,000 kilometers of modern expressways, says Blinkin—less than tiny South Korea and not even enough to span Russia from east to west.

The government should focus more on practical improvements to the transport infrastructure and less on visions of Hyperloop tubes criss-crossing the country, says Blinkin. Otherwise, he adds, the officials cheerleading Hyperloop are just the latest versions of Marie Antoinette, the aristocrat who saw French peasants without bread, and supposedly said, “Let them eat cake.”

Two Hours in an Empty Tank

I am an anti-fascist anti-Faust . . .

40g_smooth_rock_build_1_940x506

Nothing Russian about AIDS
Moscow City Duma Proposes Fighting HIV Epidemic with Heterosexual Monogamous Family
Alexander Chernykh
Kommersant
May 31, 2016

Yesterday [May 30, 2016], the Moscow City Duma discussed the spread of HIV in Moscow. Virtually no physicians spoke at the hearing. Instead, the deputies chatted with experts from the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISS), who told the MPs that HIV was part of the west’s information war against Russia and that, rather than preventing HIV, condoms were, on the contrary, an indirect cause of the epidemic. The deputies were thus led to conclude it was not HIV that needed to be combated, but the populace’s moral laxity.

Lyudmila Stebenkova, chair of the Moscow City Duma’s health care committee, opened the hearing. She reminded the MPs that, a year ago, they had discussed HIV “because there had been all sorts of insinuations in the press that we, allegedly, had a huge number of HIV-infected people.”

In May of last year, Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal AIDS Center, said that Russia had an HIV epidemic and called the situation a “national catastrophe.”

It was then Moscow MPs asked to verify the data and ordered a “well-grounded report on HIV infections.” To prepare the report, Moscow authorities turned not to doctors but to RISS, a government think thank founded by presidential decree in 1992. According to RISS’s website, the institute deals with “issues of national security provision” and “prevents the falsification of history.”

As Stebenkova explained, “Previously, they produced a stunning report on various NGOs funded by the west.”

RISS took nearly a year to produce the report. Yesterday, the institute’s deputy director, [Tamara] Guzenkova, presented it to Moscow MPs. According to RISS’s website, Ms. Guzenkova has nothing to do with medicine. She has a doctoral degree in history. In her publications, she has criticized the new Ukrainian authorities and spoken out on the “EU’s decline.”

She approached HIV from a familiar angle, arguing that “the problem of HIV/AIDS has been employed as part of the information war against Russia.”

In its report, RISS claims there are two models for fighting HIV. The western model includes “neoliberal ideological content, insensitivity to national idiosyncrasies, and the total priority given to high-risk groups such as drug addicts and LGBT.”

In turn, the Moscow model “takes into account the cultural, historical, and psychological idiosyncrasies of the Russian populace, and is based on a conservative ideology and traditional values.”

According to Ms. Guzenkova, when the international community proposes that Russia should employ western approaches to fighting the disease, it turns the epidemic into a “political issue” by “opposing Russia as country that permits itself to pursue an independent foreign and domestic policy.”

RISS’s deputy head Oksana Petrovskaya, who also has a doctoral degree in history and is a specialist on the history of the southern and western Slavs, continued comparing the two concepts. The institute’s website features her articles on the “fate of Russian cemeteries abroad” and the “identity crisis in Poland.”

Ms. Petrovskaya explained that Moscow was doing a better job of fighting HIV than Saint Petersburg, and then offered her own explanation why this was the case.

“The reasons are not only geographical and regional but also have to do with a focus on traditional values,” she said. “We can regard Moscow as a symbol of native Russian values, and Saint Petersburg as a symbol of Western European cultural values.”

RISS’s report is even more specific on this point.

“The earthy primordiality of the spontaneously emergent holy lands of Moscow is opposed to artificially and rationally organized Petersburg, the main component of whose myth has been the apocalyptics of the doomed city. Formed in the wake of perestroika, the counterculture of Petersburgers is based on a conception of personal freedom as freedom from contradiction.”

The report’s third co-author, Igor Beloborodov, a Ph.D. in sociology, heads RISS’s department of demographics, migration, and ethnic and religious issues. He listed the sources of HIV transmission.

“It is the contraceptive industry, which has a stake in pushing their products and, thus, in getting as many juveniles as possible to engage in early sex. The pornography industry: despite all our laws, you can get all the stuff you want in two clicks.”

Mr. Beloborodov also roundly criticized the sex products industry, dubbing them “lobbyists who have a direct stake in perverting the populace.”

He even argued the idea of sexual education for children had been imposed by the west in order to “demographically deter countries regarded as geopolitical competitors.”

But Mr. Beloborodov nevertheless believes condoms are the main enemy. He recounted his conversation with Spanish [epidemiologist] Jokin de Irala.

“He argues that contraceptives eliminate the self-preserving role of personal behavior. And that five [sexual] contacts involving a condom during adolescence are the equivalent of one unprotected contact.”

“Either way, no one has come up with a better means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and, in particular, AIDs, than the monogamous family—the heterosexual monogamous family, I should underscore—who are faithful to one another,” said Mr. Beloborodov. “And I hope no one will ever come up with anything better.”

It is worth noting that Mr. Beloborodov rather loosely recounted the stance taken by Professor de Irala. In interviews and articles, the epidemiologist has said that abstinence alone does not help, and he promotes the concept of “abstinence and condoms.”

MP Stebenkova stressed she was not opposed to condoms as a means of preventing pregnancy, but did not believe in their efficacy against HIV. She recounted how she had recently been told the story of a young woman who had protected sex and yet had still tested positive for HIV.

“The risk is still reduced,” Alexei Mazus, head of the Moscow AIDS Center, who attended the hearing, suddenly noted.

“But condoms do not provide total protection,” the MP snapped back.

Mazus did not bother to object.

In summary, Stebenkova told the audience that “this report will play a very large role in further action.”

“In the long run, it is not AIDS we must fight, but drugs and promiscuity,” she said.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Vivarium Works

P.S. This horrorshow reminds me of a completely anonymous TV “documentary” I saw on one of the then-new and possibly now-defunct local channels in the mid nineties while channel surfing late at night. The documentary claimed in no uncertain terms, but without producing a shred of real evidence, that Russia’s rampant drug addiction problem was a plot by the CIA. Since back in those halcyon days you could not find “documentaries” of this sort on the main channels and broadcast in prime time, it occurred to me that the “documentary,” consisting only of a montage of any vaguely relevant or suggestive footage the filmmakers could get their hands on, backed by an ominous voiceover narrative, was the handiwork of a group of disgruntled veterans from some recently disbanded KGB sub-directorate. Now all of those disbanded sub-directorates have reformed with names like the Russian Institute for Strategic Research and the Kremlin. They are literally on the verge of running the country into the dirt, alas. TRR

La vie de l’esprit en Russie

eviter-avec-les-russes

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
March 27, 2016

A really well-known Russian scholar receives a monthly salary of eighteen thousand rubles ($270) at an academic institute. It goes without saying that he is able to earn money on the side in different ways. The only question is the meaning of such salaries. What do they signify? What does the state say to the scholar by paying him a salary like this?

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photograph courtesy of New Point de View

Sergey Yermakov: Revolution or Chernobyl!

Sergey Yermakov
Facebook
December 19, 2015

Back in her day, we recall, Rosa Luxemberg proposed the slogan “Socialism or barbarism!” While not obvious at first glance, the slogan is profoundly and functionally religious, albeit secularized, since it deals with salvation, with socialism as a project of salvation from the consequences of capitalism. In 1916, in the midst of a monstrous imperialist war, it was a secular take on soteriology, the doctrine of salvation.

The “or” is telltale. Although “barbarism” implies the entire subject matter of nineteenth-century Hegelianism and positivism, the theme of progress, as opposed to barbarism, the subject of progress as Bildung, the slogan is, nevertheless, anti-Hegelian. Nothing vouchsafes the Spirit’s final pleroma; the victory of progress is not obvious. Nor is it obvious that the arrow of history is generally pointed towards an increase of the good, and that a “higher” formation will inevitably come to replace the “lower” formation. But because salvation is not vouchsafed, we must work on its behalf and advocate for it. (Whereas, in the Hegelian universe, Self-Development of the Spirit, Ltd., and Progress, Inc., issue you a guarantee in writing, a futures contract for salvation.)

So, dear missionaries and itinerant preachers, boldly introduce the subject of salvation into your sermonizing. When the laymen groan, as they usually do, that the outcome will be bloody and so forth, you tell them, “Revolution or Chernobyl!” (I am serious.)

A regime incapable of maintaining a functioning technosphere, for which it bears responsibility, legitimates its own overthrow. Revolution does not guarantee the emergence of a new technosphere, of course. Politics and science and technics (and even governance and science) hardly run in parallel lines, just as revolution does not guarantee a regime more capable of governance. As a manifestation of the demos, however, revolution, at least for some time, generates a collectively responsible subject, a subject capable of deliberating on its own collective future, including the technosphere.

By the way, for those who find such things crucial, I do not fully understand the meaning of the term “sovereignty” in 2015, but perhaps only revolution is capable of preserving it, simply by generating the dimension of collective responsibility, the sense that “regular dudes are in charge here.” As it is, one ninth of the earth’s land mass has begun to present an excessive danger, given its unpredictability and irresponsibility, toward the other eight ninths, even taking in account the disasters with oil rigs that happen there and monstrously smoky China. God forbid that external management should be required.

P.S. We have to think over whether Luxemberug’s slogan—and the line of campaigning proposed—suggest that revolution (an apocalyptic event towards which the messianic subject is directed) is the katechon, that which holds back (in this case, a technological disaster), because there is an obvious paradox here: the katechon is anti-apocalyptical figure.

__________

Emergency Shutdown of Second Unit at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant 
www.greenworld.org.ru
December 19, 2015

An emergency shutdown of the second unit at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant took place on Friday, December 18, at 1:50 p.m. local time. The cause of the shutdown and emergency cooling of the reactor was a sudden influx of radioactive steam from a faulty pipe into one of the rooms in the turbine section.

Both of the turbines servicing the reactor were shut down.

During the cooling down, the steam generated in the reactor was ejected into the environment through a pipe. A south-southeasterly wind blowing at five meters per second (such a wind is atypical for this locale) carried the radioactive steam toward the Gulf of Finland in the direction of Zelenogorsk and Vyborg. Green World recorded a background radiation of 20 mR/h at five p.m. local time in downtown Sosnovy Bor, five kilometers away from the affected unit.

Saint Petersburg, a city of five million people people that is situated forty kilometers to the east of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, was thus fortunate this time round. According to some sources, the background radiation increased only severalfold in the vicinity of the plant.

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In the photo, radioactive steam from the unit drifts towards Vyborg as the unit is cooled down.

The second unit at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant has been operating for forty years, although it has a projected operating life of thirty years. Its operating life was extended without the legally required public hearings and environmental impact assessment.

At present, all four units at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant are operating beyond their projected lifetimes. The oldest of the Chernobyl series reactors at Sosnovy Bor is scheduled to be shut down only in 2018 after forty-five years in operation.

The eastern part of the Gulf of Finland is entering into a ten-year period of heightened risk of accidents at nuclear sites. On the one hand, during this period (lasting until 2026), the service life of the RMBK-1000 reactors at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant will be extended and there will be a greater likelihood of accidents. During this same period, the new (VVER-1200-powered) units at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant II are scheduled to come online, and there will be an increased risk of accidents due to errors by designers, builders, and inexperienced personnel.

So we are faced with a headline-making increase in the probability of accidents at the Sosnovy Bor nuclear cluster.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Penguins Can Fend for Themselves

vechorka-penguin

“There will be no global warming. Russian expedition continues to uncover the secrets of Antarctica.” Front page of the March 13, 2015, edition of Vechernyi Petersburg newspaper.

Earlier today, my comrade Louis Proyect posted a link on his Facebook wall to a Reuters article on the crazy extent of official and grassroots climate change skepticism and ignorance in the world’s biggest country. Here is a short excerpt:

Wildfires crackled across Siberia this summer, turning skies ochre and sending up enough smoke from burning pines to blot out satellite views of the 400-mile-long Lake Baikal.

To many climate scientists, the worsening fires are a consequence of Siberia getting hotter, the carbon unleashed from its burning forests and tundra only adding to man-made fossil fuel emissions. Siberia’s wildfire season has lengthened in recent years and the 2015 blazes were among the biggest yet, caking the lake, the “Pearl of Siberia”, in ash and scorching the surrounding permafrost.

But the Russian public heard little mention of climate change, because media coverage across state-controlled television stations and print media all but ignored it. On national TV, the villains were locals who routinely but carelessly burn off tall grasses every year, and the sometimes incompetent crews struggling to put the fires out.

While Western media have examined the role of rising temperatures and drought in this year’s record wildfires in North America, Russian media continue to pay little attention to an issue that animates so much of the world.

The indifference reflects widespread public doubt that human activities play a significant role in global warming, a tone set by President Vladimir Putin, who has offered only vague and modest pledges of emissions cuts ahead of December’s U.N. climate summit in Paris.

Russia’s official view appears to have changed little since 2003, when Putin told an international climate conference that warmer temperatures would mean Russians “spend less on fur coats” while “agricultural specialists say our grain production will increase, and thank God for that”.

The president believes that “there is no global warming, that this is a fraud to restrain the industrial development of several countries including Russia,” says Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst and critic of Putin. “That is why this subject is not topical for the majority of the Russian mass media and society in general.”

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This reminded me of a dismal interview I had read this past spring in Vechernyi Petersburg, a now-defunct local rag. (The front page of that particular issue of “Vechorka” is depicted at the top of this post.) I had thought about translating it at the time, but since I prefer to push stories that, however bleak, have a positive hook (meaning they feature an underdog or underdogs fighting the powers that be, whatever the odds), I thought better of it.

Now, however, that the official line seems to be run the country into the dirt as quickly as possible, I am kicking out the jams (at least, tonight). After all, somebody out there might be wondering why a country that should have everything going for it in terms of human and natural resources is trying so hard to become a failed state. Interviews like the one that follows—with a gentleman not only purporting to be a scientist, but a scientist charged with running the Russian Antarctic Expedition—might give you a clue.

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Global warming is a topic that bears no relation to reality
Valery Lukin, head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, says Antarctica still holds many secrets
Sergei Prudnikov
March 13, 2015
Vechernyi Peterburg

The summer season of the Sixtieth Antarctic Expedition is coming to an end. The scientific research vessel Akademik Fyodorov is now making the rounds of the stations, supplying them with food, fuel, and materials for the coming eight or nine months. In early March, the ship left Progress Station. Its next stops are Molodyozhnaya Station, Novolazarevskaya Station, and Bellingshausen Station. In April, the Akademik Fyodorov will sail for the shores of South America, and on May 15, it will return to Petersburg. In anticipation of the completion of the latest stage of work, Vechernyi Peterburg met with Valery Lukin, head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition (RAE).

Valery Vladimirovich, what are the results of the 2014–2015 season? 

I must say right off the bat that employees of thirty-one organizations, representing ten federal agenices, are involved in the RAE. They include Roshydromet, Rosrybolovstvo (Federal Agency for Fishery), Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency), Rosatom, the Ministry of Defense, and so. Work is underway on sixty-four projects, and each of them is significant. Nevertheless, I would note the drilling of a second borehole into the subglacial Lake Vostok and laying the foundations for installing new ground-based monitoring equipment for the GLONASS satellite navigation system. Interesting work has been done in the oasis of dry valleys,near the American McMurdo Station on the shore of the Ross Sea. They contain the most ancient varieties of permafrost on earth, thirty to forty million years old. Such polar caps exist in similar conditions on Mars. This gives us a unique opportunity for developing the technology to sample this material in the future. I should also note that the Russian Federal Ministry of Culture has implemented several of its own projects in Antarctica for the first time. One of them is the creation of the latest (the third) in a series of virtual branches of the Russian Museum for RAE personnel. The first was unveiled on board the Akademik Fyodorov; the second, at Novolazarevskaya Station; the latest, at Bellingshausen Station.

One of the priorities in Antarctica is the study of climate change. Why is it important? And how do things stand with global warming?

Indeed, it is extremely important. After all, what is the ice of Antarctica? It is compacted precipitation. By carrying out isotopic studies on it, we can track changes in temperature on earth, as well as the levels of methane and carbon dioxide that were in the atmosphere many years ago. Based on the research done on the ice core at Vostok Station, we have assembled a picture of climate change over the last 420,000 years. This included four complete climatic cycles: glaciation and warming with an average period of 100,00 years. We are now in an interglacial period, between peaks of cooling. But it is unclear how long this period will continue and whether it has reached its maximum. No one knows where we are headed. As for global warming, in my opinion, it is only a topic for speculation that is advantageous to businessmen, politicians, and journalists, and which bears no relation to reality.

But what about the movement of glaciers, which are, allegedly, melting furiously?

Glaciers are always moving. Near the Geographic South Pole, at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, they move at a speed of 11.5 meters a year. Near Vostok Station, they move at a speed of two meters a year. This is ordinary aerography: new ice forms, old ice flows. Now if it stopped moving, that would be something worthy of immediate attention. In the 1960s, Sovet scientists and their colleagues from Dresden took measurements of the glacier on a 100-kilometer segment of the track from Mirny Station to Vostok Station. Forty-four years later, the measurements were repeated. The ice had grown by forty-two meters! What melting are we talking about here?! As for speculation around a topic, let me remind you that, twenty years ago, all the media suddenly wrote about the growing hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica and the catastrophe it threatened. It was the owner of the large chemical company DuPont who had raised the issue. It was he who paid scientists to study the phenomenon. The scientists concluded that the reduction of the ozone layer had to do with Freon entering the upper atmosphere. Ultimately, this substance was banned. But Mr. DuPont created a new substance, Freon-141, which, by the way, is two and a half times more expensive than the “old” Freon. The problem of the hole in the ozone layer did not go away. But it has been forgotten: people with a stake in the matter performed the task assigned to them. The same thing is sure to happen with the topic of global warming.

Antarctica is an icy, barren continent. What is the practical benefit of researching it?

National security. The economic effects. Strengthening international prestige. With regard to safety, we are talking about ground support in the Southern Hemisphere for our space program. In Soviet times, this problem was solved by a special space fleet. A whole series of craft was built. Then they were scrapped. Using radar stations located in southern Russian, we can look into near-Earth space no farther than thirty degrees latitude south. If we talk about the economic effect, we could talk about developing fisheries in the Southern Ocean. One of the most valuable commercial fish in the world, the Patagonian toothfish, is found in these waters. It dwells at a depth of 600 to 1,200 meters, grows to a length of two meters, and weighs up 160 kilograms. The cost of one kilogram of this fish on the wholesale markets is sixty dollars. It is selling like hot cakes in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the US. From the 1960s to the 1980s, we were the leaders in catching it. In the 1990s, we virtually abandoned this field. The challenge now is to return. Finally, estimating the mineral reserves [in Antarctica] is an important taks. Our country’s economy is resource dependent. And if we do not keep up with the prospects of mining on earth, we have a lot to lose. We have to have our finger on the pulse.

The media periodically reports incredible events that are observed on the sixth continent. Either people disappear with enviable regularity or strange magnetic phenomena occur. What can you say about this?

These UFO publications cannot be taken seriously, of course. People have definitely not disappeared. Although there are a lot of mysteries. And we are going to encounter them again and again. Subglacial lakes, for example, were discovered a mere twenty years ago, and by chance. We were able to identify Lake Vostok due to a combination of seismic research, radar observations, and satellite measurements. It turned out that in the vicinity of Vostok Station the ice sheet was fairly smooth. There were hills all around, but here there was a flat slab, 250 kilometers long, 70 kilometers wide. Where does that happen? That is right: only on the water.

Valery Vladimorovich, many scientific programs are now feeling the pinch due to the difficult economic situation in the country. How has this affected the RAE?

Budget cuts to the expedition this year will amount to 10%. However, given the need to use foreign aircraft, sail into foreign ports, and pay with foreign currency, the real reduction in the budget will be 35%. Unfortunately, certain programs will have to be wound down. For example, we are planning no research and drilling work at Vostok Station. It is just too expensive. Boring into the subglacial lake and collecting water from it, something we have been so looking forward to doing, is not going to happen next season. In most other areas, research will continue.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Valery Lukin, as it turned out, was much too sanguine about the effect of budget cuts on the RAE.

Russian Antarctic Expedition Halts Research Due to Lack of Funds
October 14, 2015
The Moscow Times

Russia’s state-funded Antarctic expedition has had to halt its research due to a lack of funding, the TASS news agency reported Wednesday, citing one of the scientists involved in the expedition.

“It’s not yet clear how long the research will be suspended for,” Ruslan Kolunin told TASS. He said that work on drilling a borehole in the ancient Lake Vostok has also been suspended. “The borehole is frozen at the moment, no work is under way there right now,” he was cited as saying.

The only research being carried out in the Antarctic as part of the expedition this year is a meteorite project by the Ural Federal University, Kolunin said. “That is financed by sponsors and the university, though,” he added.

Earlier this year, the expedition’s head Valery Lukin said that scientists wouldn’t be able to continue researching Lake Vostok during the next season, which lasts from December 2015 to February 2016, due to decreased funding, TASS reported.

The expedition, Lukin said, is financed directly from the federal budget. In 2015 it was allocated 1.18 billion rubles ($18 million), but in 2016 that will decrease to 1.061 billion rubles ($16 million), which he said was not enough to continue work at the lake.

Lake Vostok lies buried beneath a 3,769-meter layer of ice. Locating it and accessing its relict waters is considered one of the main discoveries of the expedition so far, the report said.