Putin, Nemtsov & Democracy in Russia

If you’ve been following our blog, then you’re likely aware that we spent the month of February, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, dedicated to exploring “All Things Russia.”

While we had originally wrapped “things” up last week, the news of Boris Nemtsov’s murder and Putin’s prominence in the international media has inspired us to continue “exploring” Russia just a bit longer.

Boris Nemtsov's murder
Photo Courtesy of Meghan Houser

Naturally, questions have arisen as to the motives behind 55-year-old Nemtsov’s death. As a Russian democracy activist, he was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin, and served as a co-chair of the Republican Party of Russia-People’s Freedom Party. (He rose to national prominence in the 1990s during his six-year governship of the Nizhny Novgorod region and was once seen as a possible successor to former President Boris Yeltsin after being named first deputy prime minister in 1997-98).

Interestingly, Nemtsov didn’t receive much favor from the general Russian public and never built a substantial following; a 2013 poll found that only 6 percent of Russians approved his actions, while 48 percent disapproved and 46 percent claimed to know nothing about him.

The below essay may provide some insight into why the Russians didn’t approve of Nemtsov – and why Nemtsov’s “Western-style liberalism” failed to attract the support of the Russian populace. Read more

“Putinology”: Decoding the Russian President’s Mind

PutinologyAs we wrap up our month of featuring “All Things Russia,”* we note with due attention, and perhaps a bit foreboding, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled: “Putin the Improviser” (Feb. 20, 2015).

Boldly declaring that “the Ukraine crisis is even scarier than you think”, WSJ reporter Andrew Weiss reports that Western leaders are struggling to “get inside the head of” Mr. Putin in an attempt to understand a man who seems set on “dragging much of the West into a new Cold War.” Read more

The Colorful, Contradictory, Crazy Comrade Khrushchev

Khrushchev The Man and His Era ReviewWith President Obama turning toward the mirror in the White House and Russian President Vladimir Putin turning toward Ukraine, in an apparent attempt to reinstate Russia’s “sphere of influence”, we at ATG turn to the book, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (2003), an entertaining historical account of one of Putin’s earlier, yet equally unpredictable and erratic predecessors: Nikita Khrushchev.

Written by William Taubman, it won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2004 and has been referred to as “one of the best books ever written on the Soviet Union” (Ian Thomson, Irish Times). It is a book that has retained a prominent position on our bookshelf, not only for the light it sheds on the fascinatingly complex character of Nikita Khrushchev, but for its easily accessible insight into the Bolshevik ideology and depiction of a communist society. Read more

Vodka: The Russian Spirit

Russian vodka stolichnayaSocial commentator Will Rogers once said, “Nobody in the world knows what vodka is made out of, and the reason I tell you this is that the story of vodka is the story of Russia. Nobody knows what Russia is made of, or what it is liable to cause its inhabitants to do next.”

How fitting that the national drink of Russia – a country famously deemed “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” – is also a mystery, defying any concrete understanding.

Indeed, the origin of vodka – which comes from the Russian word “voda”, meaning “water” – is highly disputed. While some believe that it was first mass-produced by the Muscovite monks in the 14th or 15th centuries, others claim it originated in Poland around the 8th century. Still others say it comes from Sweden. Read more

A Glimpse Into Russia’s Imperial Romanov Family

The Romanov Sisters Helen Rappaport Book ReviewAs part of our celebration of “all things Russia” for Valentine’s Day, be sure to read our post in Rose’s Ridge, “From Russia With Love,” and try our recipes of Russian dishes from Around The Table. Also learn some interesting facts and view beautiful pictures here.

The subject matter of Helen Rappaport’s new work, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra (2014)*, is not a new topic. There are few families who are more well known or who have been the subject of more speculation, conspiracy, intrigue, and lore than the ill-fated Romanov family, the last imperial family of the tsarist autocracy in Russia.

There have been documentaries, films, books, and even children’s movies created around the hapless family and their untimely demise. The amount of interest in the topic is not surprising given that the narrative surrounding the Romanovs includes: an unstable mystic, a hemophilic heir, a royal family, a world war, a mass execution, and a potential secret survivor. Read more

I Can See Russia From Here!

Map of RussiaAs part of our celebration of “all things Russia” for Valentine’s Day, be sure to read our post in Rose’s Ridge, “From Russia With Love,” and try our recipes for Russian dishes from Around The Table.

“I am Russian. Russian by heart and soul, profoundly devoted to my land.”
– Fyodor Tyutchev (Russian poet 1803-1873)
Quick, interesting facts on Russia*:
  • The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world, covering more than one ninth of the earth’s land area
  • Russia spans nine time zones
  • Russia contains one fourth of the world’s fresh water
  • Russia is one of the top producers of natural gas and oil in the world
  • Russia borders with more countries than any other country in the world; 14 countries and 2 with maritime boundaries (USA and Japan)
  • Russia and America are less than 4km apart at the nearest point (near Sarah Palin’s Alaska)
  • There are 9 million more women than men in Russia (Happy Valentine’s Day!)
  • 70 percent of Russia is made up of Siberia, defined as a region of central and eastern Russia stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean
  • Lake Baikal in Siberia is the deepest and oldest lake in the world (it would take all the rivers of the world – Volga, Don, Dnepr and Yenisei, Ural and Ob, Ganges and Orinoko, Amazon and Thames, Seine and Oder – nearly one year to fill lake Baikal’s basin)
  • Russia is the only country in the world washed by 12 seas
  • The word “vodka” comes from the Russian word “voda” which means “water.”

Read more

Peace, Love and War

Leo Tolstoy War and PeaceAs part of our celebration of “all things Russia” for Valentine’s Day, be sure to read our post in Rose’s Ridge, “From Russia With Love,” and try our recipes of Russian dishes from Around The Table. Also learn some interesting facts and view beautiful pictures here.

“What makes the 19th century Russian writers so distinctive” writes Francine Prose in New York Times’Bookends’ from November 25, 2014, “is the force, the directness, the honesty and accuracy with which they depicted the most essential aspects of human experience – childbirth, childhood, death, first love, marriage, happiness, loneliness, betrayal, poverty, wealth, war and peace…”

Born to a prominent family in the Russian nobility, Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was regarded as a “virtually untouchable genius” whose two great works, War and Peace (1865-1869) and Anna Karenina (1875-1877) “combine unprecedented depth of characterization and keenness of observation with a profound interest in the philosophical underpinnings of everyday life.”* Read more

From Russia With Love

Leo Tolstoy Russia“Love,” Leo Tolstoy once said, “is life.” And love, like life, is multifaceted – it can be both beautiful and tragic in its complexity and mysteriousness.

As we approach this Valentine’s Day, with New England buried in Siberia-like snow, we can’t help but turn to Russia – a country whose complexity and mystery is just as vast and profound as the intricacy of love.

Winston Churchill, in a 1939 radio address, described it best when he said: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…”

And Fyodor Tyutcheve (1803-1873), one of Russia’s greatest 19th century poets, said: “Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone…” Read more