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Petersburg, the city with a split personality

Today’s Russia is like a huge ice floe — broken off from contemporary life and drifting further and further from Europe into a dank and gloomy past. St Petersburg, or ‘Peter’, epitomises this duality most of all.

Georgia through a glass, darkly

Since the break-up of the USSR, the South Caucasus has trodden a chequered path, both political and economic. Is democracy really what the people want? Or just what Western donors and investors think they should have? Stephen F Jones reflects

The writing on the wall?

On Friday, a Russian news agency had its publishing licence revoked, supposedly for publishing two ‘profane’ Youtube clips. For Daniil Kotsyubinsky, however, the episode was but the latest example of a 'summary execution' — intended as a warning to any would-be political independents.

'Dreams of freedom? They undermine the fortitude of prisoners'

Today, 25th October, marks the tenth anniversary of the arrest of Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky, now Russia's most famous political prisoner. A short while ago, Ben Judah wrote to him asking about the circumstances of his imprisonment, and how that experience has changed him. This is what he said. 

The indiscreet charm of the Russian cynic

Russia’s foremost historian of culture reflects on the cultural functions of cynicism in Soviet and post-Soviet society. He ruefully concludes that Russia has yet to escape the Soviet paradigm: the Pussy Rioters, in their demonstrations against official cynicism, were merely the latest incarnation of a familiar character – the Soviet trickster. 

Cynicism as a ruling ideology

Is cynicism the glue that keeps Russia's regime from falling apart? Alexei Levinson introduces a new series on openDemocracy Russia. 


Russia's anti-gay own goal

Russia’s law outlawing ‘gay propaganda’ has brought into the open a subject that was almost unmentionable before. And ordinary Russians have turned out to be less homophobic than anyone imagined, says Sergey Khazov. 

Russia needs its own Stonewall: see Igor Yasin's contribution here

‘Delai Sam’ - Russian community DIY

‘Delai Sam’ is Russian for ‘Do it yourself,’ a concept supposedly alien to the average Russian, who is used to having other people take decisions for him or her. But, as Tatyana Kargina reports, herself a ‘Delia Sam’ believer, more and more people are becoming civic grassroots activists.

Have the September elections changed anything?

Recent regional elections in Russia provoked more interest than usual, mainly because charismatic and controversial opposition leader Alexei Navalny was standing in the Moscow mayoral election. Some results were dramatic, but Grigorii Golosov wonders whether they will make a lasting difference to the political landscape

A villa abroad is fine, but close your bank account

Well-off Russian bureaucrats have got used to having a second home abroad, whether it’s a cottage in Ukraine or a castle in Spain. But these are now under threat from Vladimir Putin’s latest intervention – a ban on foreign bank accounts. Mikhail Loginov reports.

Canvassing for the vegetable vote

While Muscovites decide whether Aleksei Navalny or Sergei Sobyanin will be their next mayor, their compatriots will largely be denied a choice in Sunday’s local elections. A rigged system means ruling party United Russia has little to fear — though, as Mikhail Loginov reports, that isn't stopping them using a variety of carrots and sticks, just in case …

Dear David

Russia is hosting the G20 Summit in St Petersburg on 5-6 September. What is it for? What is Russia trying to achieve? Is the G20 anything more than a talking shop with soiled goods? Jeremy Noble in St Petersburg has been keeping his ear to the ground….

From protests to pogroms

As the level of inter-ethnic violence reaches disturbing proportions, Emil Pain asks if Russia’s protest moment has turned nasty. 


Taken from Chita, Made in China

Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake on the planet, is part of Russia’s DNA, and many romantic ballads sing of its size and beauty. Beyond the lake is a different story. Do Trans-Baikal Territory and its capital Chita have a future or is this a godforsaken backwater? Mikhail Loginov investigates

Scenes from an election campaign

The upcoming Moscow mayoral election is much in the news because one of the candidates, Alexei Navalny, is appealing against a prison sentence. Anastasia Valeeva gives a snapshot of some of the campaign days thus far...

Messiah or false prophet?

For the past month, Moscow has been following the fortunes of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny — trial, imprisonment, implausible release and continuing Mayoral ambitions. But can all really be as it seems? Daniil Kotsyubinsky presents an alternative view.

Aleksei Navalny takes on ‘the fools and the roads’

As the saying goes: ‘Russia has two misfortunes: the fools and the roads.’ Aleksei Navalny is just about still standing for election as Mayor of Moscow, but, in the proverbial way, he is also raising his profile in the provinces by offering people practical help with everyday problems.


Frighten and be frightened

The uncompromising sentences passed down today to Aleksey Navalny and co-defendant Petr Ofitserov demonstrate that the Putin regime has crossed over to the twilight phase. The only thing it can offer Russia now is fear, and that is not much of a programme, says Kirill Rogov

Defending the indefensible

Favourite lawyer of the Russian far right, Dmitry Bakharyev is developing a network of 'sports' clubs for like-minded nationalists — teaching knife, rather than ball, skills. He hopes the clubs will form the basis of a movement, perhaps even a political party. Grigory Tumanov considers the prospect.  

Do Russians give a damn about homosexuality?

Popular support is usually one of the reasons offered in support of Russia’s new anti-gay laws. To what extent does polling actually support such assertions? Alexander Kondakov presents the latest research data. 

The alpha tragedy of the beta male

The announcement of the Putin divorce was unexpected and unprecedented for a Russian leader. What made him decide to do it now, when the marriage apparently broke down years ago? Was it an act of alpha courage or a politically disastrous beta move? Daniil Kotsyubinsky looks at the ramifications.

Rainbow Russia

What is life like for gay men and women in Russia? Sergey Khazov looks at the country's gay infrastructure, and discovers a very fragmented picture.

On disillusionment

Discontent may soon be the norm across all sections of Russian society. But it's unlikely to benefit the opposition or professional classes, says Dmitry Travin. 

Prison or presidency for 'Russia’s Kennedy'?

Charismatic opposition leader Aleksey Navalny is on trial in the provincial capital of Kirov, 900km from Moscow. He is controversially accused of stealing timber worth 16 million roubles in 2009; if found guilty, he will spend his next few years behind bars. Local journalist Ekaterina Loushnikova met some of his supporters and opponents.

Recycling old Soviet chestnuts

However much the regime might try to plot a new political trajectory, its only success is in intensifying a feeling of drift and improvisation. Unforced errors are typical for the end of authoritarian regimes, says Daniel Treisman, so the Kremlin should be extremely careful.

From shadows to darkness

After being sidelined since December 2011, the Kremlin's once-mighty propagandist Vladislav Surkov was today ousted from government. Mikhail Loginov looks back at the career of the former 'grey cardinal', and defines the man who has replaced him, Vyacheslav Volodin.

Nickel and dimes

The fertile territories around Voronezh have long been referred to as Russia’s ‘breadbasket’. They also hold the last major nickel reserves in Europe, and the mining companies are about to move in...

Down, boy!

Broadcaster Vladimir Posner’s ‘slip of the tongue’, calling Russia’s parliament the Dura (fool) instead of the Duma, added yet another slur to the already emasculated body. A lapdog parliament is exactly what Putin wants running behind him, writes Mikhail Loginov. 

Investigator Bastrykin and the search for enemies

Alexandr Bastrykin, head of Russia’s influential Investigative Committee, is one of the most powerful individuals in the Putinite power system, but his biography is relatively unknown. Richard Sakwa has, however, been tracking the rise of this shadowy figure.

Russia for the Russians – a putative policy

THE CEELBAS DEBATE // There have been tensions between native Russians and ethnic minorities since the Tatar Yoke of the 13th century. Successive rulers either tried to keep an uneasy peace or fanned the flames of division. Federica Prina discusses the Russian Government’s latest strategies for creating an identity that embraces all of Russia’s citizens. 

Stavropol — frontline between Russia and the North Caucasus

THE CEELBAS DEBATE// Stavropol is the only one of seven North Caucasus territories with a majority Russian population. Andrew Foxall explores the implications of interethnic conflict on this increasingly fraught political frontline.

All dissidents now: Russia's protests and the mirror of history

THE CEELBAS DEBATE // How far does the current clash between the opposition and authorities reflect Russia's history of dissidence?  Tom Rowley considers the importance of the similarities and differences. 

Russia: a teenage suicide epidemic?

Russia has the highest underage suicide rate in Europe. Yelena Vorobyova reports from the Bryansk region, where 10 children have taken their own lives in as many months.

Knock, knock: the return of the propiska?

Reports from Moscow of door-to-door passport checks and a proposed new bill criminalising registration infringements are rekindling uncomfortable memories of the Soviet past. Mikhail Loginov reflects on the history. 

Holocaust – is that wallpaper paste?

Last year two student sisters appearing on a Russian TV quiz show gained instant notoriety when asked to define the word ‘Holocaust’. A trip to Auschwitz with journalist Mumin Shakirov dispelled their ignorance, but, as he reflects, it was hardly surprising, given the subject is so rarely mentioned in Russia today.

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