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This week's editor

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Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Fear and loathing in the Moscow suburbs

An ethnic Russian is killed at a Moscow street market, supposedly by a migrant from the Caucasus; the ensuing riot by nationalist extremists leaves one dead, twenty people injured and hundreds arrested. Daniil Kislov looks at what lies behind the hostility directed at migrant workers in Russia.

Don’t be afraid to turn on the TV!

Most Russian TV outlets are kept under tight Kremlin control.  TV Rain, an independent cable channel, has navigated many rapids in its short existence, but is nonetheless still operating.  Natalya Sindeyeva describes her vision to Mumin Shakirov and Zygmunt Dzieciolowski.

Under the capital's streets: a guide to ancient Moscow

Moscow, unlike St Petersburg, is an unplanned city that has grown organically over the centuries, and where new developments can still mean the destruction of older buildings of historical interest. A few traces remain, however, from medieval times and even prehistory. Alexander Mozhayev has been investigating them.

Prisoner of Bolotnaya square

The ‘March of Millions’ opposition protests in Moscow on May 6 turned into a bloody standoff between demonstrators and riot police. Regional journalist Leonid Kovyazin was one of many arrested still to be released. Ekaterina Loushnikova travelled to a village in Kirov to speak to Leonid’s family, friends and colleagues.


The end of ‘Liberty’

In Soviet days foreign radio stations were a lifeline for people seeking another point of view. They continued broadcasting after the collapse of the USSR, though the BBC Russian Service programmes went online only in 2009. Now US-funded Radio Liberty is closing its doors. Mumin Shakirov, a special correspondent made redundant by the closure, reflects on the passing of an age. 

Government — the main source of instability in the northern Caucasus

As violence in the north Caucasus hits the headlines again, Alexander Cherkasov sees the roots of the problem in the Russian government’s wilful misunderstanding of local issues and lack of strategy for dealing with them.

Turning the tables on Russia’s power elite — the story behind the Magnitsky Act

The murder of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 looks likely to trigger legislation in the United States which strikes at the heart of Russia’s corrupt elite. Bill Browder, founder of the Hermitage Fund, moving spirit behind the impending Magnitsky Act, tells the story.

‘Pussysteria’, or the awakening of Russia’s conscience

On 10th July a Moscow court extended the pre-trial detention of three members of feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot, charged with hooliganism after they performed a ‘blasphemous’ and anti-Putin song in the city’s main cathedral in February. Vladimir Pastukhov believes there is much the case tells us about the relations between the Putin government and the Russia’s Orthodox Church.

Optimism in diversity? Moscow’s March of Millions

Despite a heavy riot police presence, a spirit of optimism and unity was tangible at Moscow’s ‘March of Millions’ yesterday, says Susanne Sternthal. The self-proclaimed ‘leaders’ of the opposition, on the other hand, were reduced to playing a secondary role.

Why are Pussy Riot girls still in prison?

Reaction inside Russia and further afield to the imprisonment of 3 members of a punk rock girl band after their performance in one of Moscow’s cathedrals has been by turns outraged and baffled. The girls are still on remand, awaiting trial for hooliganism (maximum sentence 7 years). One can only hope they will triumph in the end, says Yelena Fedotova

The weapon of truth: an independent observer’s view of a non-election

The debacle of last December's rigged parliamentary elections convinced many people who had previously been politically unaware to sign up and train as election observers. Sunday’s election saw ten times as many observers turn out. A core of them stuck doggedly to their task despite provocations and numerous attempts to thwart them; for some, like Julia Chegodaikina, life can never be the same again.

An election, or a declaration of war?

Amid growing proof of ‘dirty tricks’ during Sunday’s presidential election, the new Russian government has made it clear that the opposition can expect no concessions. Protesters at rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg have been arrested and subjected to police brutality. Tikhon Dzyadko, a journalist who was at the Moscow rally, looks back at the events of the last few days and considers the future for the protest movement.

Moscow on the eve of the presidential election

Rustem Adagamov, writing under the name Drugoi, is Russia’s most popular political blogger. At one time a fan of President Medvedev, who appeared to embrace the Russian internet and its young, dynamic class of active users, Adagamov was brought into the Kremlin fold and given access to cover important events in Medvedev’s schedule. Here he outlines how his trust in the outgoing president vanished and sums up the mood in Russia’s capital just days ahead of the country’s presidential election.

Young, brilliant and (so far) politically oblivious

The Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) is one of the most prestigious universities in Russia. The School abounds in clever and often rich young students, groomed to be the stars of tomorrow’s elite. Yet this privileged group is also one that has ousted politics from its daily life and — so far at least — has failed to respond to the momentous events currently shaking the country.

Small deeds, no politics

Moscow’s protest movement is gathering momentum, bringing in greater numbers and a wider constituency of supporters. What is as yet unclear, however, is whether it has the organisational clout to become a sustained force for change, write Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov.

The darkness is clearing: Navalny's message to protestors

Anti-corruption blogger and activist was arrested and jailed for 15 days on Dec. 5, during the first day of protests against the fraudulent Duma election. Navalny coined the now eponymous phrase “Party of Crooks and Thieves,” in referring to the ruling party of United Russia. He wrote this letter from jail.

Photostory: Russian civil society re-emerges

On Saturday, almost a week after the Duma elections, Moscow and other Russian cities and regions witnessed the biggest display of popular discontent seen in recent memory. oDR presents a photoreport from the rallies.

People's gala at the Bolshoi

The lengthy and vastly expensive restoration of Moscow’s famous Bolshoi Theatre comes to fruition on 28 October, when there will be an invitation-only gala performance in the presence of President Medvedev. Costs have soared, end dates have been extended and accusations of inefficiency (and corruption) have been rife. The theatre may be opening its doors again, but can it ever be a theatre for all, as it was in Soviet times? Clementine Cecil looks at some of the facts.

Mayor Sobyanin and the defence of Moscow’s architecture

When Sergei Sobyanin was appointed Mayor of Moscow in October last year, many residents had come to loathe his predecessor Yuri Luzhkov’s ability to trade historic architecture for nepotistic building contracts. Sobyanin’s early talk on architectural preservation was tough, reports Clementine Cecil, but is he delivering on his promises?

With eye to US, post-bin Laden Pakistan turns to 'all-weather' friend China

Pakistan and China hail their relationship during a recent state visit of Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Gilani to Beijing. In Sudan, fighting between Northern and Southern armed forces in the contested border region intensifies. India buys transport aircraft from the US in the highest value military contract between the two countries. Russia cancels joint military exercises with India. All in today's Security Briefing.

“Nelegaly”: work and shelter in migrant Moscow

Ten days ago, an “underground town” of migrant workers was discovered below a military factory in Moscow. The discovery played into popular anxieties about migrants and was heavily spun by the national media. For Madeleine Reeves, however, it highlighted the daily struggle migrants face to stay “legal”, and survive.

Sergei Sobyanin: man after Russia’s heart?

As new mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin inherited a hugely wealthy city and a mass of problems. Putin’s vertical of power is collapsing and there are elections ahead. How will Sobyanin manage the inevitable political infighting, wonders Vladimir Pastukhov.

Happy New Year, Russian style

On 31st of all months with as many days a rally in support of freedom of assembly is held in Moscow’s Triumph Square. 31 December was no exception with a massive police presence and many arrests. Ilya Yashin recounts his own story of decent policemen, falsified evidence and a night in the cells.

Putin’s retreat — beginning at the gates of Moscow

President Medvedev recently sacked the longstanding Moscow mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, despite his closeness to Putin. This move, redolent of Soviet politics, won him no points and now the activities of the new mayor are threatening to affect Putin too. Regular changes of government are essential, explains Vladimir Pastukhov

Forget Luzhkov: bulldogs under the carpet again

The struggle between Moscow’s mayor Luzhkov and President Medvedev has gripped Russia. What are those’ bulldogs under the carpet’ really fighting about? There are bigger battles going on, explains Vladimir Pastukhov.

The Battle for Khimki Forest

The plan to construct a section of the new Moscow-St.Petersburg motorway through the legally-protected Khimki Forest Park will destroy a rare eco-system. Dogged local resistance has turned this into a national, even international issue. But it has not derailed the plan The article was first published on March 17, 2010

Flood-ravaged Pakistan faces economic, political and security fall-out

Flood-ravaged Pakistan faces economic, political and security fall-out. Deadly attacks rock Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Afghan’s protest ‘civilian’ deaths. IDF accused of systematic abuse by rights groups. Blast in the Caucasuses. All this and more in today’s security briefing.

The house that Melnikov built

Moscow’s superb legacy of Constructivist architecture has suffered since Neo-Classicism became the official style in the 1930s. But thanks to President Medvedev's intervention, the house of Konstantin Melnikov, one of Russia’s most important architectural masterpieces, looks set to become a State Museum…

Iran warns Russia not to back new nuclear sanctions

Iran warns Russia not to back new nuclear sanctions. Car bomb blast hits outside NATO base in Kandahar. Israel violates Lebanese airspace. Conflict in Jamaica kills 44. Blast kills four in southern Russian city. All this and more in today’s security briefing.

Female suicide bombers hit Moscow Metro

Moscow Metro blasts kill 37. Israel closes the West Bank as U.S.-Israeli relations worsen. President Obama makes surprise visit to Afghanistan. Violence in Iraq as coalition talks begin. Thai protests continue as protest leaders meet with PM. All this and more, in today’s security update.

Moscow protests: Groundhog Day in Triumfalnaya Square

Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher for Human Rights Watch, attended a recent demonstration in her professional capacity and was detained by the police three times in thirty minutes. She gives a graphic description of the evening’s events.

Leaked intelligence says Iran developing nuclear weapon

Secret document shows Iran working on key nuclear bomb component. Car bomb kills eight near Kabul hotel. Japan postpones decision on US Okinawa base. Sri Lanka general denies surrendered Tamil rebels shot. All this and much more in today’s security update.

Obama outlines eighteen-month, 30000 troop surge in Afghanistan

Obama announces 30,000 troop build-up in Afghanistan. Sri Lanka must help refugees leaving camps, say UN and rights groups. Chechen rebels claim responsibility for Russian train bomb. Iran releases five British sailors. Bhopal water sill toxic 25 years after deadly gas leak. Suicide bomber hits Islamabad navy HQ. All this and more in today’s security briefing.

Moscow traffic: jam today and more jams tomorrow

"Russia has two problems: fools and roads", the writer Nikolai Gogol said of his country almost two centuries ago. Russians tend to object that there are fools the world over, but when it comes to roads... This is indeed Russia's Achilles heel, they agree with Gogol, a calamity from which there is no salvation.

Moscow traffic jams have become as much a dubious feature of the Russian capital as Lenin in his mausoleum, prostitutes on Leningradskoe shosse and illegal taxi drivers from the ‘'stans' who drive round the city in clapped-out Russian bangers.

Moscow's roads aren't just congested at rush hour, but even during the day. However much the roads are widened, however many new interchanges are built, the speed of traffic drops from year to year. At the moment it is 22 km per hour. In comparison with Moscow, big cities in developed countries ‘move' one and a half times to twice as fast, according to the director of the Institute for Scientific Research into Traffic Management, Alexander Sarychev LINK(, in his study "The Fruits of Enlightenment" on the site

In New York, there are 910 cars per 1,000 residents, and just 340 cars per 1,000 residents in Moscow. This flies in the face of the popular belief that the main problem in Moscow is that there are too many cars in the city. According to the State Road Safety Inspectorate, there are just over 3 million drivers registered in Moscow at the moment. Every day, around 400,000 vehicles drive into Moscow from the Moscow Oblast and other regions of Moscow.

There are 18 cars per one hectare of land in New York, and 34 in the Russian capital. So despite its modest level of car ownership, the Russian capital is facing a severe shortage of space. Because of the density of residential housing, office blocks and shops traffic is pretty well gridlocked, according to Alexander Sarychev. In winter the congestion is even worse, as the snow is not removed and covers not just roads, but footpaths, where drivers often park.

People coming to Moscow find it amazing that the city, with its thousands and thousands of offices has become such a magnet, drawing cars in on weekdays not just from the suburbs, but from far further out. Some 1.25 million people commute to Moscow every day from oneighbouring regions. Just over 2 million jobs, or 38%, are concentrated on 6.5% of the city territory, in a five kilometer radius from the Kremlin. Every morning, a massive tide of people engulfs the "historic" city centre, and in the evening the tide goes out again beyond the Garden ring. The metro and above-ground transport is just as overcrowded at these times. You can spend up to five hours in Moscow sitting in traffic jams these days.

Nikolai Pereslegin, the advisor to the chairman of the committee of the cultural heritage of Moscow complain s that today "the area round the Kremlin is one great office. There is little real life there. If you walk round the city centre at night, you see few windows with the lights on, where people live. It would be more sensible to build offices along the Moscow ring road, to decentralize the city, and create job sites on the outskirts. But there's been no planning. So it's the people who have to keep moving in and out'.

The trouble is that the capital's streets and peripheral ring roads were planned in the 1970s-1080s and have two (at best four) lanes. The main radial highways become narrower as they get nearer to the centre, and at the exit points out of Moscow. These places become narrow bottlenecks where the dense traffic piles up. The only exceptions are Kashirskoe Shosse  and Leninsky Prospekt, the longest road in Moscow, which starts one kilometre from the Kremlin. Leninsky Prospekt, often called the "presidential" road", smoothly flows into another highway, the Kievskoe Shosse. Putin and Medvedev often take this direct route to the presidential airport Vnukovo-2. No expense was spared on the construction of this road five years ago, and there is virtually no traffic congestion on the way out of the city. The Kashirskoe Shosse, which leads to the country's largest airport, Domodedovo also works well, thanks to the Germans, who built a modern road there 20 years ago. And that's it! All the other radial roads leading out of the city from the Kremlin are blocked with traffic. There are traffic lights, exhaust fumes, and road rage, where people often resort to using weapons. These conflicts often end tragically, as you can learn from the crime reports. And this is in a country  where some 30,000 people die in car accidents every year. "That's the population of a small town", as the head of the Federation Council Sergei Mironov pointed out when presenting these dire statistics at the Senate.

Although there are no perfect answers as to how to save Moscow from its traffic problems, fantastic theories abound and unpopular measures have been discussed by officials, experts and traffic police. The traffic police propose to introduce a toll for driving in the center, as in London. They would divide drivers into two groups, those with odd-numbered and those with even-numbered number plates. One group would drive on odd-numbered dates, the other on even-numbered dates. These proposals were promptly rejected as unacceptable by officials and drivers.

A couple of years ago, Moscow deputies proposed to build more roads 12 meters off the ground, as in Japan. But the economic crisis put an end to this futuristic project, and it is unlikely that it would have been supported by architects and ecologists. Officials also floated the idea of making drivers from outside the city take public transport and leave their cars at car parks at the end of metro lines. But this project never got off the ground either. There is no room to park thousands and thousands of cars by the metro station, and there is no spare land available.

Officials and traffic police also gave up on another apparently sensible idea, to allocate a special lane for public transport, as is they do in London and other European cities. But since Moscow drivers behave like "gladiators", buses and trolleybuses would be unlikely to be able to protect their special lane.

Although the reconstruction of the city's road network has started, it has been considerably delayed, according to Alexander Sarychev. Instead of increasing the network of small and medium roads, the city authorities began by building short road and bridge projects which do not always solve the problems. But how can one build road networks when every spare patch of land in Moscow is being fought over by the developers?

The building sites in the city centre, which block the streets and increase the parking problem, are another problem. Even unique projects like that of ‘Moscow City', officials and architects failed to address the issue of road junctions properly. Even before the tower-blocks have been finished, it is clear that are too few parking spaces, let alone enough roads connecting it to the third ring road which runs round the outskirts of the city. Thank goodness the crisis stopped the investors and at least partly sobered up the builders.

Alexander Sarychev has LINK no revolutionary proposals to make. But he proposes that you have to build the Moscow's road system first. There is also nothing new about the idea of  extending the metro beyond the Moscow ring road. The only question is where to find the funding. Money has been splashed about carelessly, as many people have pointed out. This is what opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov concluded, in their recent shocking report "Luzhkov. Results": "The average cost of the Moscow ring road is $100 million per km. The cost of building the third ring road is $117 million per km. In comparison with western building norms, this is an exorbitant price. In the USA the cost of building one kilometer of a four-lane road comes to $4-6 million. A high-class autobahn in Germany cost 8 million Euros per km. One kilometre of a four-lane highway in China costs $3 million, and $3.6 million in Brazil. So the price of building roads in Moscow is at least 10 times higher than elsewhere in the world".  

Some transport experts and ecologists have proposed moving the capital to the far side of the Volga, or in the last resort to St. Petersburg. Then over-populated Moscow (over 10 million people) could revert to its status as Russia's cultural capital. This idea has been proposed at various times by the mayors of Russian cities and regions, State Duma deputies, analysts and journalists. They all say the same: Moscow is not elastic. It is becoming increasingly difficult to cram the offices of the administration, law courts and military , the centres of business, culture and sport into the boundaries of the Moscow ring road. But no leader is likely to act on this in the near future, as those who run Russia are not enthusiastic about the notion of a mass relocation of officials and businessmen.

The only solution is to build new bridges, tunnels and road junctions, and to widen roads if possible, at the expense of the yards, squares and footpaths. City dwellers will be able to breathe freely only when they get out of the city, where there are still forests, trees and lakes, the vast expanses of Russia, and enough fresh air for everyone.

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