Yuri Gagarin's Baikonur - Exclusive Photo Essay of a Town Frozen in Time
The bed where Yuri Gagarin spent his last night before the flight.
(Photos by Anton Verstakov, special to Russia Blog)
Anton Verstakov, a Russian national and the founder and principal of AVProductions recently visited Baikonur during one of his filming trips. Anton wrote:
"Baikonur is located in the middle of nowhere, very far from civilization. It is currently in Kazakhstan, but the town belongs to Russia. And not only foreigners need a Russian visa to get there, but they also need a special accreditation from Roscosmos and FSB. Baikonur is considered a military town."
The photos are unique, as the above criteria ensures that most of Russia Blog readers will not get a chane to travel to Kazakhstan with a Russian visa and the papers from Russia's Space Agency and FSB. Please enjoy this unique peek into Yuri's Gagarin's life.
Russia's War on Corruption Successful! The Result? Nothing Works.
If you bought a car in Russia a year or longer ago, you may remember that getting the "tehosmotr" was nearly impossible. (Tehosmotr is a government certificate verifying that a vehicle is up-to-date in its maintenance, technical, and safety features). Absurdly enough, the brand new cars must receive the certificate as well, which, logically, makes you wonder - what is the job of the federal commission that allows the supposedly unsafe, poorly designed vehicles to the market. Logic aside, the easiest way to get a card was to find online (or by phone via friends) a traffic police officer who could "take care" of the problem for $100-200. The little card saying that your car is just fine would've been delivered to your office.
Medvedev's fight against the corruption changed the playing field. He won; corruption (and people) lost. My relative who recently bought a car, tried to get the government certificate via the old method. Apparently, the corrupt way was not an option anymore, and he had to get his documents the legal way. Sure enough, Medvedev, who raves about modernization and innovation, inspired the traffic inspection to allow drivers register for an appointment on a website. With one caveat - an appointment is allocated to a driver at a random time and day out of any of 30 days in the system. No problem. The relative drove to the inspection's physical office. There were 30 cars waiting to be inspected, the line was two days long.
Russia's Ruling Party "United Russia" Endorsed Vladimir Putin's Presidential Candidacy. Boy, Did He Get Lucky Again!
This news can be interpreted in many ways. Here are some possibilities:
- it is an "I told you!" moment for many older American anti-Russian Russia experts. Putin is back. "I told you so!"
- it is a "crap, is this really happening?" moment for young intellectual Russians and progressively thinking U.S.-Russia experts (like myself).
- it is a "what else did you expect?" moment of irrelevance for the entire Russian population. There is no other leadership option. Period.
WikiLeaks has quoted American dispatches saying that Putin has become progressively lazy, and does not work as hard or passionately anymore as he used too. If there were a strong potential leadership - he might have very well stepped aside. Putin's problem is not Putin, it's the fact that the only viable option to him are Russian fascists. And even they do not have a unified capable leader. Dmitry Medvedev will, most likely, run as well; he will lose to Putin. One may say that Putin does not have opposition because he suppressed all of it, but the reality is that Communists are the viable opposition, and their voters are literally dying out. Liberals are not in the parliament, as they have not been able to gain more than 0.5% of the Russians votes. They lost their trust in the 90-s, when Russia slid to the state of poverty and irrelevance.
As British children, we read grimly embroidered stories of Russia's intolerable cold, starving wolves, and polluted wasteland. Many of us still have yet to discover that, in reality, Russia's wilderness is gloriously untouched, and vast enough to offer many diverse environments.
To many Western visitors, Russia means Moscow, St Petersburg. Some might cruise the Volga, or stay in Black Sea resorts. But it's still rare to meet a non-Russian who's seen much of Russia's vast wilderness, unless perhaps through a Trans-Siberian carriage window.
Yet this uninterrupted expanse offers endless outdoors adventure, from guided mountain hikes to skiing, white-water rafting, & full-on survival training courses. Factor in Russia's patchwork of world class UNESCO sites & you have a top-notch, relatively undiscovered destination.
Ignorance Is Not a Virtue. Terrorist Attack in Belarus May Have Serious Consequences for the Region and the World
I get it. Belarus is far away, has no oil, nuclear missiles, or world-famous tourist destinations. However, this barely should be a reason why the news agencies in Northern America completely missed the April 11th attack in Minsk subway that claimed 12 lives and left 149 people injured. The same day, top news on CNN and other agencies were budget discussion in Washington, D.C., and a controversy about the book about gay penguins raising a baby-penguin. Politics aside, putting the news about the gay penguins at least 20 lines above an attack that killed people is just wrong.
Now, emotions aside, why the explosion in Belarus matters. First of all, it could have been (it is not, but on April 11 it absolutely could have been) an Islamic terrorist attack. Something for Western intelligence agencies to think about. What it really is--as phrased by the Belarusian officials--"an act of extremism." Lukashenko blames the opposition parties for staging the attack. Common people in Belarus and media analysts in Russia call the attack an "inside job." In the climate of sliding currency, produce shipment shortages, and shrinking economy, the only person to benefit from tightening the grip on the regime is president Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for nearly two decades. (Two more decades, and think "Gaddafi"). One way or the other--terrorists going wild in Eastern Europe or a man who's been in power forever and is tightening his grip on it--is a bad news, and more newsworthy than readers' complaints about homosexual penguins.
View the photo essay of the tragedy in the extended post.
April 12 - the 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's First Flight in Space, Release of New Film
Today, thousands of news agencies and millions (if not billions) of people around the planet are taking a moment to reflect on the number "50." It has been half a century since Russian-Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin conducted the first-ever manned flight to space in human history. Reports from Fox News, CNN, The Telegraph and thousands of other news agencies do not focus on Yuri's nationality or the Cold War which U.S. and Russia were fighting at the moment. Seems like today, 50 years later, Yuri Gagarin brought the entire planet together in awe of human race's scientific and technological achievement. Gagarin lived a legendary life and died as a hero in 1968 when a MiG 15 training jet he was piloting crashed. Years later, Gagarin continues to mesmerize and inspire.
A real-time recreation of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering first orbit was shot entirely in space from on board the International Space Station. The film combines this new footage with Gagarin's original mission audio, Soviet video archives, and a new musical score by composer Philip Sheppard. Enjoy the show, and for more information about the movie visit http://www.firstorbit.org
Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak (right) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russell (left) at the World Russia Forum 2011 in Washington D.C. on March 29, 2011 (photo by Yuri Mamchur, Executive Director of the World Russia Forum)
It is never boring at the World Russia Forum (WRF), a two-day conference of politicians, business people, and scholars from Russia and the U.S. who have been meeting annually since 1981 with the intent of improving U.S.-Russia relations. WRF was created by Edward Lozansky, a former Soviet nuclear physicist and dissident who emigrated to the U.S. during the Cold War and is now a U. S. citizen. Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., he has been running the American University in Moscow (AUM) which co-sponsors the Forum. Discovery Institute of Seattle and the Eurasia Center of Washington joined Lozansky's effort in people's diplomacy.
Having attended several such forums, I can say that this one, the 30th was as remarkable as any. As usual, the first day's proceedings, on March 29, took place in Hart Senate Office Building and ended with a reception at the Russian Embassy dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first manned flight. On the second day, the Forum moved to George Washington University Business School and the Russian Cultural Center.
The Forum featured a number of high-caliber speakers: Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russell, U.S. Congressmen Tom Price and Dana Rohrabacher, as well as Sergei Markov, Deputy of the Russian Duma. Business was represented by such people as Edward Verona, President, U.S.-Russia Business Council, and Dmitry Akhanov, President, Rusnano. Among prominent scholars were Andrew Kuchins, Director of the Russia and Eurasia Programs, CSIS, Robert Legvold, Columbia University, and Sergey Rogov, Director, Institute of the USA and Canada.
Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs (left), and Edward Lozansky watch Richard Perle address the World Russia Forum on March 29, 2011 in U.S. Senate Hart Building in Washington D.C. (Photo by W George Krasnow)
It is like a broken record. Each time a U.S. dignitary comes to Moscow, he promises Russian officials that the Jackson-Vanik amendment will be repealed soon. This game has been played for 20 years or more, while the amendment itself is 36 years old, having been passed unanimously by the U.S. Congress in 1974 and signed into law by President Gerald Ford on Jan. 3, 1975.
Few leaders miss the opportunity to repeat the standard phrases that the Jackson-Vanik amendment is a relic of the Cold War that is completely irrelevant in the post-Soviet era and contradicts reason and common sense.
Then Richard Perle entered the arena. Perle, who served as deputy defense secretary in the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and before that as the top adviser to Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson -- the Jackson of Jackson-Vanik -- spoke at the World Russia Forum in Washington two weeks ago and made two interesting points.