December 29, 2018

AI could fix science's greatest modern time waster

Razi, a Persian scientist, 10th century. Drawing: Louis Figuer's 'Vies des Savants Moyen Age,' 1867. Photo: Hulton/Getty

Ever since science became a formal discipline some five centuries ago, academic research — a fundamental driver of innovation — has, on and off, seemed broken: Scientists have cranked out too many incremental advances, fallen behind on the best research in their field and produced unreplicable work.

Driving the news: Now, some are again rethinking the process, hoping that artificial intelligence could be the long-sought highway to faster and more reliable scientific discovery.

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Why it matters: The U.S. government spends billions on academic research each year — and companies toss in billions more. Yet science can appear to be treading water, turning out a similar scale of breakthroughs as when funding was lower and the number of researchers smaller.

One problem: A combination of factors — higher funding, faster computers and far more data — results in researchers spending much precious time sorting through a relentless avalanche of scholarship.

They can't read everything that is out there or attend every conference. It’s easy to miss a solution that’s already borne fruit in another field, or even an adjacent sub-discipline.In order to connect the dots and come up with the best possible research path, they can only hope that they have read the rightarticles or heard the right public speaker."We need automatic techniques to see what’s missing," said Hannaneh Hajishirzi, an AI expert at the University of Washington.

Language is the core of the problem.Papers are ostensibly written for other scientists to read and understand, but the sheer volume of information means the scientists are in serious need of help.

The answer, some think, is simply to do a better job of sorting, cataloging and assessing papers as they are published.

We’ve reported on efforts to monitor social media activity to boost the best papers — but the next step is to engage with the text itself.Several databases already link papers based on citations. Now, some are using natural language processing to extract actual meaning from research — a remarkably difficult task.

A first step is to automatically check facts and compare results against previous work.

Scite, a new website that catalogs academic papers, uses machine learning to understand the context in which research is cited. For each paper, Scite lists other work that mentions it neutrally, supports it or contradicts its findings.Josh Nicholson, Scite’s co-founder, says he hopes the system incentivizes greater replication of original findings. When AI highlights corroborating or contradicting research, it should create feedback loops that encourage accuracy and reproducibility, he tells Axios.Companies are also using language understanding in the laborious peer review process that precedes publication, reports Douglas Heaven for Nature.

Between the lines: This is the tip of the arrowhead.

Scientists imagine a future where research results are fed into a unified database that is constantly being updated with the latest work.Rather than printing numbers in a table, results would go straight into this database — formatted for computers, not people, to read — and immediately be checked against other researchers’ findings.

"The model of referring to a text-based paper for the purpose of communicating experimental results will probably disappear."

— Robert Murphy, professor of computational biology, Carnegie Mellon

But, but, but: This automated utopia is a long way off. Natural language processing is still hard for computers, and a system trained to understand papers in a particular field might fail when reading another field’s work.

Academic journals are still kingmakers, and possessive researchers may not be willing to share their work freely.But some fields’ early stabs at solving intractable research issues have convinced experts like CMU’s Murphy that they won’t exist in 10 years.

Go deeper: AI is helping automate science

December 28, 2018

Central Asia Digest: Ananta Center

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar
Advisor, Central Asia, Ananta Centre
Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and LatviaDecember 2018| VOL 03 ISSUE 12| MONTHLY 
H I G H L I G H T S 
 Political Developments 

● Economic Developments

● India-Central Asia Relations 
Political Developments

Discussions on divesting former presidents of Kyrgyzstan of their immunity, potentially opening the path for prosecution of former President Almazbek Atambaev, are advancing in the parliament committee for constitutional law.

A group of ethnic Kyrgyz originally from north-western Chinese region of Xinjiang have urged Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to seek release of their relatives from "re-education camps" in China. Kyrgyzstan’s first reaction to reports that ethnic Kyrgyz had been detained en masse as part of a giant crackdown in China’s Xinjiang region suggested that Kyrgyzstan was unwilling to rock the boat. A UN panel has determined that over one million people from ethnic minority communities, mostly Uighurs, may be interned in the camps. Survivors say these facilities, which China has likened breezily to vocational training centers, are little more than jails. Testimonies from victims suggest Beijing is targeting all Muslim minorities there as part of its Strike Hard campaign to bring Xinjiang to heel.

The Kazakh government has been nudged into a reluctant dialogue with Beijing on re-education camps in which Chinese nationals of Kazakh origin are incarcerated.

A preparatory meeting between EU and foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries was held in Brussels to define EU strategy for Central Asia in early 2019. China’s Belt and Road initiative has prompted EU to come up with its own blueprint for how to increase connectivity with Central Asia, on the basis of a rules-based approach.

Kazakh President Nazarbayev has warned of a risk to post-World War II order and proposed that his country host a conference of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2020 with the purpose of “updating” the 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the then CSCE. Kazakhstan has good relations with all major world players and a track record of organising conferences to promote peace and disarmament.

The Trump administration has acknowledged Uzbekistan’s progress in implementation of crucial political, economic and social reforms but also highlighted problems related to human rights. US-Uzbekistan Relations soared to new heights with the meeting earlier this year between President Trump and Uzbek President Mirziyoev, a first since 2002. 

Economic Developments

IMF has forecast that Kazakhstan will see a GDP growth of 3.7% in 2018. Economic growth will be driven by higher oil production as well as increased activities in trade and manufacturing industry. Kazakhstan’s economic growth accelerated in 2017 due to measures taken by Government, including budget support, flexible exchange rate, use of inflation targeting as well as strengthening banking sector and implementation of structural reforms. Economic growth is expected to continue although some risks such as hydrocarbon prices do exist.

GDP growth in Kazakhstan in 2019 is expected to be 3.8%, while average annual growth during 2019-2023 will be 4.1%. Per capita GDP is expected to be US $9,400 in 2019 increasing to US$12,100 in 2023. Processing and mining industries will see 4.1% and 3% growth respectively. Stable growth rate will be retained in agriculture - 6.4%, in construction sector - 4.1%, and in trade - 4.4%. Exports will amount to US$ 54.1 billion and will increase to US$ 65.7 billion in 2023. Imports will amount to US$ 32.9 billion in 2019 and will increase to US$ 39.6 billion in 2023. Volume of oil output will be preserved at 88 million tonnes in 2019 and will increase to 99 million tonnes in 2023. Inflation is expected at 4-6% in 2019 with further decrease to 3.4% in 2020-2023. 

In first half of 2018, Chinese investments in Kazakhstan amounted to US$ 15.6 billion, compared to US$ 14.8 billion in 2017. In last three years, there has been a 6.6% increase in investment flows from China to Kazakhstan. The 5 most attractive Kazakh sectors for Chinese investors are transportation and warehousing (US$4.9 billion), mining (US$2.6 billion), financial and insurance activities (US$2.2 billion), construction (US$2.1 billion) and manufacturing (US$2.1 billion). These industries accounted for 88.9% (US$14 billion) of the total Chinese investments in January-June 2018. Total number of Kazakh-Chinese investment projects is 51, and total investment is estimated at more than US$27 billion. In 2018-2019, eleven more projects worth more than US$ 4.4 billion investment will be launched.

It is planned to implement 30 investment projects worth US$36.5 billion in Uzbekistan in geological exploration, production and deep processing of hydrocarbons for further development of the oil and gas sector until 2030. If specific measures are not taken to increase hydrocarbon reserves, the existing reserves will shrink to half over the next 10-15 years. Most gas pipelines and gas distribution system were built in the last century and are in need of repair. In order to guarantee supply of natural gas to consumers, a project worth US$1.6 billion will be implemented to modernize the trunk gas transmission system and control gas flows.

Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Bakytzhan Sagintayev paid a state visit to China and met with President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Both leaders agreed to enhance policy synergy between the two countries by aligning China’s Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) with Kazakhstan’s Nurly Zhol (Bright Path) economic program. Sagintaev said that China is Kazakhstan’s friendly neighbour, close friend, and strategic partner. Kazakhstan has been fully supportive of Chinese SREB initiative since it was proposed by President Xi five years ago. Top exports of Kazakhstan are crude petroleum, refined copper and gas among others. The Kazakh government is keen to increase its gas exports to China next year.

Russia is working on designing a satellite for Kazakhstan, and has invited Uzbekistan to cooperate. The new spacecraft will replace the currently functioning KazSat-2 satellite. The new satellite will be called KazSat-2R, and will be a much more modern and powerful device. 

Russian state-run gas company Gazprom will resume natural gas imports from Turkmenistan for the first time in three years in 2019 seeking to project itself back into a more prominent role in a country tethered to Chinese debt. Russia used to control Turkmenistan’s natural gas export routes, cheaply purchasing the fuel and shipping it to Europe. But Turkmenistan shifted away from Moscow in 2009 when it opened a pipeline connecting it with China. In 2016, Russia stopped importing natural gas from Turkmenistan after the country refused to lower prices. China has since been the sole buyer of Turkmenistan's gas. Turkmenistan, which relies on natural gas exports for 70% of its revenue, has become worse off financially amid a mounting debt owed to China.

Turkmenistan has decided to end its generous subsidies for natural gas, water, and electricity because of its economic problems. Residents will be experiencing this shock after enjoying the benefits for 25 years. Decision announced amid an ongoing economic crisis is rattling more than citizens' psyches. Household budgets, too, will be hit as people are required to pay both for utilities and necessary equipment. Under the subsidies introduced in 1993, every person was entitled to 35 kilowatt hours of electricity and 50 cubic meters of natural gas each month. Subsidies also included 250 liters of water per day per person.

Kazakh President Nazarbayev has said that Astana Hub is to become Kazakhstan’s centre of innovation. Users of the hub’s technopark will enjoy a simplified visa regime, greater labour mobility, tax benefits and expert mentorship on their start-ups. He said that Kazakhstan needs to create a new generation of IT talents, and the government’s main task is to help the country’s smart and capable youth. 

President of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) stated that successful diversification is the way forward for economies of Central Asia as the region reassumes its ancient role as a bridge joining Europe with the Far East. EBRD is the largest single investor in Central Asia with a total investment of US$ 14 billion. 

Bilateral trade between Russia and Kazakhstan reached US$11 billion in first eight months of 2018 and is projected to reach US$18 billion by end of the year. Russia is Kazakhstan’s largest export partner and Kazakh exports of processed goods to Russia grew 82% in the first eight months of 2018. The two countries have traditionally cooperated in oil and gas, mining and metallurgy, agriculture and chemical production and now want to increase tourism cooperation. 

After more than 40 years, billions of dollars, and countless tons of concrete, the first phase of Tajikistan's Roghun hydropower plant was inaugurated by President Emomali Rahmon. Currently standing at 75 meters, enough to begin generating electricity, the dam will ultimately reach a height of 335 meters and be the world's tallest dam. The US$3.9 billion hydro-electric power plant will enable Tajikistan to eliminate domestic energy shortages and export electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to annual World Bank Ease of Doing Business report, Kazakhstan registered an improvement of 8 positions as compared to last year by coming on rank 28.  This is proof that the economic and regulatory reforms, targeted state- and private- sector investments, and President Nazarbayev's clear modernization agenda have had measurable results. Foreign and domestic corporations, investors, SMEs and entrepreneurs have benefited.


India-Central Asia Relations 

For the first-time, troops of a foreign army are serving under command of an Indian Army battalion at a United Nation mission. A company comprising 120 soldiers of Kazakh army were inducted with the 11 Jat infantry battalion of the Indian Army in Lebanon. With a total strength of 850 troops, Indian and Kazakh army are co-deployed in a mountainous, tough terrain along the Blue Line that demarcates Lebanon and Israel. While 90 soldiers from the Kazakh army will be deployed in the area under control of the Indian Army battalion, 30 of them will be placed at the battalion headquarter. Last year, two teams of the Indian Army went to Kazakhstan to make an assessment of the training requirements of their troops for common operational needs. Thereafter 30 troops from the Kazakh Army were trained in Delhi alongside 11 Jat soldiers to prepare for the UN mission.

Foreign Office Consultations between India and Tajikistan took place in New Delhi. Both sides exchanged views on topical issues of regional and international agenda.

In an Article titled “Seven Facets of the Great Steppe”, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has written: ’Ancient India with its rich polyethnic culture and the modern Indian people are naturally considered as one unique civilization, continuing its development in an uninterrupted stream of history. And this is the right approach, allowing you to understand your origins, and indeed the entire national history in all its depth and complexity.’’

International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM), one of India's leading chains of hospitality management institutes will open its ninth centre in Samarkand, Uzbekistan in collaboration with Samarkand Institute of Economics and Services. Faculty will be a mix of Indian and Uzbek professionals. Tourism is important for Uzbekistan and training students in hospitality will help promote tourism to the country.

The five Central Asian economies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, hold nearly 31.26 billion barrels and 415.4 trillion cubic feet of oil and gas reserves respectively. Given the enormous and ever-increasing energy demand of India and the significance of Central Asia in connecting India to Russia and Eastern Europe countries, the region is a natural geo-strategic partner for India. 

India and Kazakhstan propose to take their bilateral trade to US$ 5 billion from the current US$ 1 billion. During a bilateral Investment Forum held in Delhi, the two sides discussed potential of Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran-India multi-modal connectivity corridor which can be further linked to Russia. More than 50 Indian companies attended the forum. Indian businessmen expressed interest in agricultural, ore-mining, engineering, telecommunications, healthcare and other projects.

Indian students in Kazakhstan appear to be shaken after some of them were subjected to muggings and assaults. Latest case in this was a 23-year-old medical student who was recently found dead under mysterious circumstances.

(The views expressed are personal)

INTERVIEW: Balochistan is a strategic center of gravity - Colonel Lawrence Sellin

Interview with Retired U.S. Army colonel Lawrence Sellin

He is a retired American Colonel, a war veteran of Afghanistan, Iraq and a mission to West Africa. He is also an expert of Kurdish and Arabic languages. He has a keen interest in the AfPak region and is also a harsh critic of the lenient USA policy towards Pakistan and China.
Sangar Media Group took the opportunity to hold an interview with Retired USA Army Colonel Lawrence Sellin. We are thankful to Mr. Sellin for taking his time out for this interview.

Q1.      The US has begun to withdraw from Afghanistan. What USA has achieved in the nearly two decades spent in Pak-Afghan region?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:
After an initial victory deposing the Taliban regime, attempting to rebuild the country and establish democratic institutions, Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a major strategic defeat for the United States. We were unwilling to take the fight to the real enemy, Pakistan, without whom the Taliban would never have reemerged and the al Qaeda leadership would not have survived.

Q2.      Despite the temporary setbacks received by Islamic radicals in Afghanistan, there has been an explosion of Islamic radicalism in Pakistan partly at the expense of the US taxpayers who generously funded Rawalpindi. What are the international implications of the hasty US pullout from AfPak?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:

I have little doubt that Pakistan has encouraged the Taliban to step up attacks on Afghanistan to increase pressure on the Kabul government to seek alternatives and to hasten the withdrawal of Western forces. President Trump’s announcement of a drawdown of half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan has triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity, fronted by Pakistan, joined by Russia and Iran, but orchestrated by China. Their immediate goal is the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan followed by a precipitous reduction of U.S. influence in South Asia.

A hasty U.S. pullout will flood Afghanistan with Taliban from sanctuaries in Pakistan. The current government in Kabul will fall within months, if not sooner. Unless immediate steps are taken to prevent it, some type of bloody civil war could ensue, then followed by international intervention by the same regional powers that collaborated to remove U.S. forces from Afghanistan and, again, led by China and Pakistan. A coalition government will likely be initially formed that is subservient to China and Pakistan. The Taliban will eventually be eased out on the insistence of the Chinese, who fear Islamic militancy spreading to China and inhibiting China’s plan to incorporate Afghanistan into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and other Beijing-led diplomatic and military organizations. Nevertheless, the turmoil will fester due to national, ethnic and religious conflicts inherent in the region. Those will have a significant impact on any potential outcome.

Q3.      The US has turned off the tap, but its closest allies in the region Saudi Arabia and the UAE are bailing out Pakistan. Does this mean that the US is left with no leverage in Pakistan?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:
Pakistan is an ally of China and has never been a friend of the United States, only a useful source of financial support, which has provided only a modest amount of leverage. Withdrawal of U.S. financial support was never enough to stop Pakistan from supporting the Taliban in its proxy war against Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have recently propped up Pakistan’s crumbing economy by infusing billions of dollars. The Saudis and the Emiratis see their investment as a reward for Pakistan bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and as insurance against Iran. They will be disappointed on both counts.

Q4.      Similarly, the US might have scaled down military support to Pakistan, but the latter can now count upon China and, possibly, even Russia. How will the US deal with Pakistan when its friends and foes alike are flocking to Pakistan?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:

American carrots did not work with Pakistan. The U.S. has only sticks left to use against Pakistan. It's most significant pain points are the economy and ethnic separatism.

Q5.      Balochistan is crucial for stabilising Afghanistan. But AfPak is no longer a priority for the US. What interest, if any, does the U.S. have in Balochistan?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:

Balochistan is strategic because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is the flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese military facilities, in particular, naval bases on the Balochistan coast are key to China’s plan to control the vital sea lanes in the Arabian Sea and access to the Persian Gulf. It is the link connecting Chinese military bases in the South China Sea and its Djibouti base at the mouth of the Red Sea and the entrance to the Suez Canal, all of which are important to Chinese domination of South Asia and isolating India.

Q6.      Do you think the dream of a free Balochistan is compatible with the US-led world order?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:

Yes. An independent and secular Balochistan could prevent Afghanistan from becoming a puppet state of China and Pakistan, thwart Chinese hegemony in South Asia, undermine the terrorist-sponsoring regime in Iran and drive a stake into the heart of radical Islam.

Q7.      The radicalization and militarization of the Baloch society has happened on the United States’ watch. The US intelligence agencies have until recently worked very closely with their Pakistani counterparts. It is safe to assume that they are fully aware of the unlawful detention and torture of Baloch nationalists and the use of Islamic radicals, drugs and the army to suppress our people. Does the US and its European allies have a moral obligation to stop the state-sponsored genocide of the Baloch people?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:

The human rights violations occurring in Balochistan are tragic, but as important as they are, nations are primarily driven by strategic interests rather than moral obligations. Pakistan is an artificial state cobbled together after the partition of British India by joining together ethic regions that never substantially interacted. Pakistan is the Yugoslavia of South Asia. Its existence depends upon stamping out ethnic self-determination. That policy is unsustainable and self-defeating.

Q8.      Supporting the Baloch means openly opposing Pakistan, a rogue nuclear power presently in the good books of an equally rogue permanent member of the Security Council. Can the US change half a century old policy? Can the US afford to support the Baloch and open a new front in its ongoing cold war with China?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:

Opposing Chinese domination is not the only issue confronting the United States in South Asia. There is Iran, the future of Afghanistan, the growing extremism in Pakistan, the isolation of India, to all of them the Baloch could contribute.

Q 9.   As someone who has seen conflict for a long time including in Afghanistan where Pakistan is involved what advice do you have, if any, for our struggle for independence from Pakistan?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:

The struggle for independence is a marathon not a sprint. The Baloch need to maintain their ethnic identity, their language and culture and resist oppression when possible. The case will be made for Balochistan independence by focusing on its strategic importance. Human rights are also important, but the world suffers from “compassion fatigue,“ overwhelmed by too many human rights violations occurring in too many places at the same time. It is tragic, but, unfortunately, it is the reality.

Q10.   Soon after the US decides to withdraw Pakistan feels emboldened to strike in Afghanistan. Do you think volatility on the Baloch front WILL draw the US once again into the region?

Mr.Lawrence Sellin:

I think Balochistan is a strategic center of gravity. Volatility will draw significant attention, which the U.S. cannot and should not ignore.

Russian Analytical Digest No 228: Cultural Politics

18 Dec 2018

By Ulrich Schmid, Peter Rollberg and Andey Makarychev for Center for Security Studies (CSS)

This edition of the Russian Analytical Digest considers the politics of culture in contemporary Russia. Firstly, Ulrich Schmid focuses on the reactions to the house arrest of acclaimed director Kirill Serebrennikov. Secondly, Peter Rollberg considers the contested legacy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in Russia, outlining how Solzhenitsyn has become a useful authority legitimizing Putin’s statist agenda. Thirdly, Andrey Makarychev notes that, from a cultural standpoint, the strong Russian roots of the Estonian city of Narva represent an opportunity for, rather than a threat to the efforts aimed at Europeanization.

The articles featured here were orignally published by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) in the Russian Analytical Digest on 30 November 2018. Image courtesy of (CC BY 4.0)

Kirill Serebrennikov and the Changing Russian Politics of Culture

By Ulrich Schmid, University of St. Gallen

DOI: <10.3929/ethz-b-000309181>



The house arrest of the acclaimed theatre and cinema director Kirill Serebrennikov provoked a wave of protest and solidarity among Russian as well as foreign artists. Serebrennikov is accused of embezzlement and misallocation of state funds. To be sure, irregular accounting practices at theaters throughout Russia are quite common; yet, Serebrennikov credibly denies any personal misconduct. The Serebrennikov case illustrates most aptly the volatility of Russian cultural politics over the last ten years.


Once Strong Connections to the State

Kirill Serebrennikov (born 1969) is a maverick in theRussian theater scene. His unorthodox education places him outside existing traditional structures. Serebrennikov staged amateur spectacles already in high school, and later-on during his education in physics at the University of Rostov-on-Don. At the same time, he began to work as a film director. In 2000, he moved from his native Rostov to Moscow. Here, he successfully staged contemporary plays by Vassily Sigarev (born 1977) and the brothers Presnyakov (Oleg, born 1969, and Mikhail, born 1974). He was soon reputed to be the most innovative theater director in Russia.

The government kept an eye on him as well. Vladislav Surkov, the “grey cardinal” of the Kremlin, was highly impressed with Serebrennikov’s achievements. Surkov held a nominally modest governmental post, serving as the deputy chief of the presidential administration. His main task consisted of raising acceptance for Putin’s rule among the younger, urban generation. He coined the term “sovereign democracy”, and developed an ambitious project to turn Russia into a modern, efficient, and attractive state. To achieve this objective, he initiated a dialogue with leading rock bands in2005.Surkov controlled large funds for cultural projects and eventually decided to involve Serebrennikov in his activities. In 2011, Serebrennikov was offered the leadership of a large state project under the title “Platforma”.The main goal of “Platforma” consisted of developing and disseminating contemporary art. Four branches were established: dance, music, theater, and multimedia. “Platforma” organized and staged 320 events between2011 and 2014. In 2012, Serebrennikov was promoted to artistic director of the Gogol Center in Moscow. Not without noise and protests from the former ensemble of actors, he turned the Gogol Center into one of the hotbeds of contemporary dramaturgy. Surkov’s injection of state funds considerably facilitated Serebrennikov’s rise to fame. At the same time, Surkov’s personal vanity played a role in his backing of Serebrennikov. In2011, Serebrennikov agreed to stage Surkov’s own controversial novel Near Zero in one of Moscow’s theaters. During the political protests in the winter 2011/2012in Moscow, Surkov temporarily fell from grace and was removed from his position. Of course, Serebrennikov knew he was treading on thin ice. Nevertheless, he continued to collaborate with the state in the field of cultural production. In a column for the September 2014Russian Esquire, he confessed: “We have to visit every government and to initiate talks. We have to say: Government, listen, I know that you are mendacious and selfish, but you have to support the theater and art by virtue of the law, so please fulfill your obligations. For the sake of theater, I am not ashamed to do so.” 2

This ambivalent attitude towards the state proved to have painful consequences for Serebrennikov. Close relations with the authorities worked fine during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency, but turned disastrous during President Putin’s third term in office. While Medvedev championed the slogan of “modernization” for Russia, Putin changed the political leitmotif to “securitization”.

By 2012, Serebrennikov’s cinematographic and theatrical art was no longer deemed “innovative” or “daring”, but an undesirable expression of a decadent, post-modernist, global, and therefore “un-Russian” aesthetic. The Russian ministry of culture played an important role in this shift towards conservatism. Immediately following his inauguration in May 2012, President Putin appointed the conservative historian Vladimir Medinsky as minister of culture. Medinsky pursues an unabashedly nationalistic course in his approach to the arts. In his 2011 doctoral dissertation, Medinsky dealt with the allegedly false or condescending representations of Russia by Western historiographers. In the preface to his dissertation, he scandalously stated “the national interests of Russia” create an “absolute standard for the truth and reliability of the historical work.”3

Medinsky also presides over the Russian Association for Military History, which turned into one of the most active players in the patriotic reshaping of the public space since its foundation in 2013. Medinsky understands culture as an “integral part of the Russian national security strategy” and openly advocates conservative tastes. The official document “Foundations of the cultural policy of the Russian Federation” from 2015 highlights the principle of the freedom of artistic creativity. However, the document continues, the state should not blindly support every creative effort: “No formal experiment may justify the production of content that is at odds with the traditional values of our society or the absence of any content at all.”4

The Taboo of Homosexuality

Apart from this shift in the official cultural policy, homosexuality became an important zone of conflict between the state and the artist. Serebrennikov is openly gay and does not bother to hide his sexual orientation, including frequently wearing extravagant outfits. In 2012, he planned a biopic about Piotr Tchaikovsky who struggled his entire life with his homosexuality. Serebrennikov planned to address this strain, but the minister of culture Medinsky opposed the plan and maintained that Tschaikovsky’s music had nothing in common with his private life. After this falling out, Serebrennikov returned a first installment of a governmental grant, and announced that he would look for sponsors abroad.5 In 2013, the Russian debate around homosexuality acquired a legal dimension. The Duma passed a bill that prohibits the propaganda of homosexuality among minors. This new law practically banned the topic of homosexuality from the Russian public sphere. Nevertheless, Serebrennikov continued to present artistic elaborations of homosexuality in his works, most notably in his ballet “Nureyev”(2017). The premiere of the show was postponed by half a year because the production was allegedly not yet ready. The true reason was, of course, the ongoing investigation in the Sererbrennikov case. Ironically enough, prominent members of the cultural establishment, including Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and the general director of the influential First Channel of Russian TV Konstantin Ernst, eventually showed up at the premiere and admittedly enjoyed the ballet.

Images of the Soviet Past

An additionally significant shift took place with the official image of the Soviet Union. In his famous “Millennium Manifesto” from 1999, Putin had presented a grim view of Russia’s Soviet past: “Communism and the power of Soviets did not make Russia a prosperous country with a dynamically developing society and free people. […] It was a road to a blind alley, which is far away from the mainstream of civilization.”6 Around the end of the first decade of the 2000’s, a slow but steady rehabilitation of the Soviet Union began. Even Stalin was given credit for “effectively managing the country”. Putin’s administration turned the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany into a spectacle for the masses in 2005. In 2009, the Moscow station “Kurskaya” was renovated and, without much ado, Stalin’s name reappeared in full readability on the stone pillars. To be sure, Putin observed a cautious distance towards the bloody tyrant until 2015. And yet, in his interviews with Oliver Stone, Putin spoke about Stalin and compared him to Western dictators like Napoleon or Cromwell. He pointed to the public veneration of these figures in France and Britain, and warned against the demonization of Stalin that led to the rise of Russophobe sentiments in the West.

The newest chapter in the positive assessment of the Soviet past is the controversy about Solzhenitsyn’s100th birthday in December 2018 (see related article in this issue of the RAD). In 2000 and 2007, Putin had courted Solzhenitsyn and paid him personal visits in his Moscow flat. Already in 2014, Putin signed a decree ordering preparations for celebrating Solzhenitsyn’s birthday. By now, the enthusiasm has shrunk considerably. The main reason for this shifting attitude is the reassessment of Solzhenitsyn’s exile in the USA, and his relentless fight against the Soviet government. For the Kremlin’s current perspective, the Soviet Union serves as an incarnation of the 1000-year-old tradition of Russian statehood, however imperfect it may have been. Serebrennikov’s latest film “Summer” about the Rock legend Viktor Tsoi (1962–1990) is guilty of the same sin. Set in expressive black and white, this movie insinuates that real artistic life in the Soviet Union was only possible in the underground, far away from any state structures.

Yevgeny Fyodorov: Instigator of the Serebrennikov Case

It would be too simplistic to see the persecution of Serebrennikov as the sole reaction of an increasingly repressive state against artistic provocations. As such, it seems rather improbable that the center of Russia’s political power ordered the attacks on Serebrennikov. The relatively mild punishment, consisting of house arrest, indicates special treatment for the famous director. By contrast, the former minister of economic development Aleksei Uliukaev was swiftly sentenced to eight years in a labor camp and a fine of 130 million rubles in a similar case of alleged embezzlement. The main difference between Uliukaev and Serebrennikov lies in who stands behind the legal actions against them. Igor Sechin, the almighty head of Rosneft and Putin’s close ally is likely behind the Uliukaiev case, whereas the ultra-conservative deputy of the Duma Yevgeny Fyodorov pulls the strings in Serebrennikov’s confinement. Fyodorov is the infamous founder of the patriotic “National Liberation Movement” who seeks for Russia to regain its “cultural sovereignty”. This claim is mainly directed against Western popular culture. Against this background, it comes as no surprise that it was Fyodorov who asked the Investigative Committee to look into the financial details of Serebrennikov’s Gogol Center in 2013. Sechin probably acted at least with the tacit approval of the Kremlin. Fyodorov’s case is different. He belongs to the enthusiastic followers of Putin’s aggressive turn in both his domestic and international politics since 2012. These enthusiasts may pose a problem for the Kremlin who may perceive their radical claims a nuisance over time. Another case in point would be the former Crimean state attorney Natalia Poklonskaia, who is now a hardliner among the deputies from “United Russia” in the Duma. In two incidents, Poklonskaia overtook the patriotic Kremlin on the right: After Putin’s public debunking of Lenin, she compared Lenin to Hitler. Moreover, she heavily criticized the historical film “Matilda” (2017), which narrates the romance between future Tsar Nicholas II and a Polish ballerina. To be sure, both the film and the director are fully in line with the official patriotic culture of politics: The Tsar eventually leaves his concubine for the throne, and the director joined an open letter signed by more than 500 loyal intellectuals in support of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014.

Both Fyodorov and Poklonskaya are ambivalent phenomena for the Kremlin. On the one hand, the Kremlin is embarrassed by such radical positions, but at the same time it may not discipline its most fervent supporters too harshly. On the other hand, people like Fyodorov and Poklonskaya allow the Kremlin to present itself as a moderate player in the field of Russian culture. In contrast with the claims of extreme nationalists, the general public will perceive the Ministry of Culture as taking a “middle ground”. In a certain sense, Peskov’s and Ernst’s presence at the premiere of the “Nureyev” ballet may symbolize a mild reprimand of cultural extremists like Fyodorov.

As usual in such cases, President Putin distanced himself from the investigations against Serebrennikov. In May 2017, he commented on the razzia in the Gogol Center with the phrase “Idiots”. Later, he explained that the Serebrennikov affair was exclusively a criminal case without political implications. During a meeting of the “Council on Culture and the Arts” in December 2017,he called the investigation against Serebrennikov not “a persecution, but a prosecution”. At the same time, he proposed to draft a new law on culture, indicating the rising importance of culture in the political design of the Russian Federation.7


1 David-Emil Wickström, Yngvar B. Steinholt, Visions of the (Holy) Motherland in Contemporary Russian Popular Music: Nostalgia, Patriotism, Religion and Russkii Rok. In: Popular Music and Society 32 (2009), 313–330, S. 321.

2 Pravila zhizni Kirilla Serebrennikova. In: Esquire (24 Sept. 2014). <>

3 V.R. Medinsky: Problemy ob-ektivnosti v osveshchenii rossiiskoi istorii vtoroi poloviny XV–XVII vv. Moskva 2011 <>

4 Osnovy gosudarstvennoj kul'turnoi politiki. Moskva 2015, 3, 28. <>

5 Ulrich Schmid: Technologien der Seele. Vom Verfertigen der Wahrheit in der russischen Gegenwartskultur. Berlin 2015, 351f.

6 Vladimir Putin: Russia at the Turn of the Millenium. In: Richard Sakwa: Putin. Russia’s Choice. London 2008, 317–328.

7 Putin o dele Serebrennikova. Eto ne presledovanie, a rassledovanie. (21.12.2017). <>

About the Author

Ulrich Schmid is a Professor of Russian Culture and Society at the University of St. Gallen.



Russian Public Opinion About the Case of Kirill Serebrennikov

Figure 1: Have You Heard That Kirill Serebrennikov, Director and Artistic Administrator of the Theater “Gogol-Tsentr”, Was Arrested and Placed Under House Arrest?


Source: representative opinion poll by Levada Center, 15 –19 September 2017, <>, published
2 October 2017

Figure 2: In Your Opinion, Why Were Criminal Charges Actually Brought Against Kirill Serebrennikov? (this question was posed only to respondents who answered “You attentively follow current developments in this case” and “You have heard something about this case”)


Source: representative opinion poll by Levada Center, 15 –19 September 2017, <>, published
2 October 2017

Solzhenitsyn’s Embattled Legacy

By Peter Rollberg, George Washington University

DOI: <10.3929/ethz-b-000309181> 



Russian president Vladimir Putin’s praise for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn raised eyebrows; Solzhenitsyn’s public agreement with Putin’s domestic and foreign policy caused widespread dismay. Despite strong opposition, Russia’s establishment has remained firm in its endorsement of the Nobel laureate’s literary and political legacy. Ten years after his passing, Solzhenitsyn has become a useful authority legitimizing Putin’s statist agenda. 


Remembering Solzhenitsyn

The government of the Russian Federation has declared 2018 the “Year of Solzhenitsyn.” In August, numerous cultural events were dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the writer’s death, and many more are to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth on December 11, including several documentaries produced for these occasions and already screened on TV. At the Bolshoi Theater, the opera One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Tchaikovsky will premiere; Vladimir Spivakov’s “Soloists of Moscow” will perform Solzhenitsyn’s “Russia’s Prayer,” set to music by Yuri Falik; as part of that concert, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, the writer’s son, will play one of Beethoven’s piano concertos. The Central Academic Theater of the Russian Army is putting on a dramatization of Solzhenitsyn’s epic The Red Wheel. Rostov-on-Don, where the writer grew up, will hold a documentary and feature film festival, and students at the local university have created a virtual Solzhenitsyn museum. Natalya Dmitrievna, Solzhenitsyn’s widow, tirelessly acts as the authorized spokesperson for her late husband, enjoying the status of a premier celebrity in Russian society.

Not everybody is celebrating, however.

Will the Real Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Please Stand Up?

During an election forum with one of the candidates for mayor of Moscow, several participants asked that the planned construction of a Solzhenitsyn monument in central Moscow be halted. The Solzhenitsyn monument in Vladivostok, the city from whence the writer’s return from exile began in 1994, is regularly vandalized by hanging a cardboard placard with the inscription “Judas” around the sculpture’s neck. While newspapers such as the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta celebrate Solzhenitsyn’s legacy as a writer and political thinker, other publications point to the government’s hypocrisy in embracing one prominent victim of Stalinism while persecuting Memorial and other efforts to keep the memory of communist oppression alive.

In current Russian discourses, Solzhenitsyn is interpreted and quoted with deliberate selectiveness, causing widespread confusion about the writer’s real positions. Was he a Russia-hater (“Russophobe”) or an ethnic nationalist? Did he side with the West or yearn for a strong Russian state, beyond his militant anti-Soviet rhetoric? And was he a genuine literary genius— a legitimate heir to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky— or a mediocre megalomaniac whose verbose narratives have negligible aesthetic value? The spectrum of responses is wide and multifaceted. Remarkably, opinions are not always in sync with the political positions of those voicing them.

At no time did Solzhenitsyn’s star shine brighter than in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970 and being forcibly expelled from his homeland in 1974 transformed the erstwhile math teacher into a writer-cum-martyr, revered as an international moral and political institution. His works enjoyed an unparalleled status in academia and were debated not only by Slavic specialists, but also by historians and political scientists, while his statements about global issues were eagerly quoted by the international mass media and feared by Soviet watchdogs. This hype ended when it became obvious that Solzhenitsyn was far from advocating Western values. His Harvard graduation speech in June 1978 signaled that this victim of totalitarianism was not a liberal democrat at all. The question of what exactly he was became the topic of intense discussions, with labels ranging from “fascist” to “saint.” Then, safely self-isolated from U.S. society (which he never understood nor cared to study), Solzhenitsyn fell into oblivion. By the mid-1980s, the recluse from Vermont had lost most of his influence.

In hindsight, Solzhenitsyn’s main accomplishment was the permanent damage he inflicted on the image of communism. After One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The First Circle, and especially The Gulag Archipelago, Soviet communism was forever associated with its gigantic network of concentration camps. Just as the writer had predicted in his autobiographical The Oak and the Calf, one man managed to discredit an entire empire and the ideology sustaining it.

A Star Reborn

Solzhenitsyn’s return to Russia in 1994, rendered with effective mise-en-scene, was intended to establish him as a permanent institution in the post-Soviet nation. That strategy failed miserably. The writer’s personal television show was cancelled in September 1995 after only five months, due to either low ratings or too many ruffled feathers; his relationship with Boris Yeltsin went sour; and readers were no longer interested in his fiction, which had lost its sensational edge. Solzhenitsyn’s 80th birthday in 1998 was more a private than a public affair; his angry rejection of the Order of Andrei Pervozvannyi— the highest honor of the Russian Federation— bestowed on him by Yeltsin was a barely noticed gesture of protest against a morally bankrupt kleptocracy that no longer needed a self-appointed sage speaking truth to power.

Then came Putin, and everything changed. Russia’s new president immediately made advances toward the marginalized author, honoring him as a “living classic,” visiting him at home as early as 2000, and even seeking his political advice. Solzhenitsyn was awarded a State Prize of Russia in 2007 and accepted; the president of Russia once again visited him at his estate and had one last, very long, off-the-record conversation with him. The writer repeatedly spoke out in support of the Russian president, stating that he “brought Russia a slow and steady rebirth.” Simultaneously, Putin’s continued attention fostered the rebirth of Solzhenitsyn’s influence. The apparent alliance between the two was so pronounced that Solzhenitsyn’s sharpest critic, the journalist and Soviet loyalist Vladimir Bushin, pointed to the writer as the conceptualizer leading Putin from behind—one of his books is titled Solzhenitsyn’s Total Project: How Putin Will Reconstruct Russia (2013). French author Mathieu Slama analyzed the similarities between Solzhenitsyn’s worldview and the ideological framework conveyed in Putin’s speeches, identifying state sovereignty, conservatism, and Christian morality as points of consensus.

With Putin’s presidency, the writer’s pamphlets, such as How We Can Reconstruct Russia (1990), which had been ridiculed and then forgotten, suddenly gained in status and were consulted for insights into Putin’s strategy. Indeed, during one of his visits to the writer’s home, Putin pointed out that large parts of his program for Russia’s future were in accordance with Solzhenitsyn’s ideas. More recently, the annexation of Crimea was legitimized with Solzhenitsyn quotes: government loyalists cited the latter’s view that the peninsula should never have been part of Ukraine and should be returned to the Russian Federation.

Endorsement and Subversion

The more Putin’s presidency solidified, the more Solzhenitsyn once again became a public figure of the highest order, only this time endorsed by the Russian establishment and criticized by Western observers. The Solzhenitsyn Prize, awarded by the Solzhenitsyn Foundation, regularly honored geopolitical nationalists such as Aleksandr Panarin. Despite countless attacks launched against him by liberal intellectuals such as Vladimir Voinovich, Solzhenitsyn ultimately succeeded in securing his status as an officially approved classic of Russian culture and thought. Conspicuously, his grave at Donskoi monastery is situated next to those of the émigré philosopher Ivan Ilyin and the historian Vasilii Kliuchevsky.

For Putin, incorporating Solzhenitsyn into the architecture of his Russian reconstruction project had two main functions: firstly, to assure the West that Russia had broken with its communist past for good; and secondly, to assure the Russian citizenry that post-Soviet Russia possessed moral and cultural legitimacy. However, because Solzhenitsyn’s reputation in the West had already declined substantially in the 1980s and 1990s, the first effect was limited. Likewise, the liberal segments of the Russian intelligentsia no longer viewed Solzhenitsyn as the standard-bearer for anti-totalitarianism, but rather as a neo-nationalist to be watched with suspicion. They were particularly disturbed by the fact that Putin’s increasingly illiberal domestic policies did not seem to disturb the writer in the least—a fact that further alienated him from those intellectuals who were critical of the direction that Russia had taken in the new millennium.

Nonetheless, the Putin establishment has remained firm in its endorsement of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as one of its patron saints. The writer’s funeral in August 2008 was staged as an event of national significance, with both the president and the prime minister in attendance. In 2009, several works by Solzhenitsyn were incorporated into textbooks for Russian high school students, an initiative that was personally proposed by Putin and implemented by then-president Medvedev. Thus, Russia’s youth reads The Gulag Archipelago, albeit in an abridged version composed by the writer’s widow. In 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (!) proposed marking 2018 as the “Year of Solzhenitsyn.”

Russia’s communists are outraged and frustrated by this massive promotion of Solzhenitsyn, and they are not alone. Critics refer to the disingenuous idealization of the writer’s official image, citing, among other examples, the exclusion of his positive view of the Hitlerite Vlasov Army from the truncated Archipelago tome. Symbolic acts honoring Solzhenitsyn become particular points of contention. Thus, inhabitants of Moscow’s Taganka district passionately protested when Dmitri Medvedev announced the renaming of Grand Communist Street (Bol'shaia Kommunisticheskaia ulitsa, the name it had borne since 1924) into Solzhenitsyn Street just a few months after the writer’s passing. To communists and their sympathizers, such renaming was a provocation. Advocates against Solzhenitsyn correctly described the move as a violation of Russian law, which only allows the naming of a street after an individual a minimum of ten years after the honoree’s passing (the law has since been changed). Although the anti-Solzhenitsyn crowd lost their lawsuit against the city, acts of vandalism, including torn-down street signs, continue to make news. Given the current aggravated mood in Russian society, it is easy to envision that the soon-to-be dedicated Solzhenitsyn monument on Solzhenitsyn Street will likewise become an object of political discontent.

Old Clichés and New Controversies

The statist-militarist segment of Russian society, whose views are most vocally expressed by the weekly Zavtra, maintains a generally hostile view of Solzhenitsyn’s legacy. The two notable exceptions are the editor-in-chief, Aleksandr Prokhanov, and the literary critic Vladimir Bondarenko, both of whom deviate from the paper’s conspiratorial mainstream. Prokhanov, who never ceases to surprise, admits that Solzhenitsyn “heroically fought communism” and that the “red empire was not defeated by the West in battles fought with tanks or rockets but in a competition of meanings (v sostiazanii smyslov).” In that competition, Prokhanov wrote, The Gulag Archipelago was victorious, not The Young Guard and How the Steel Was Tempered.” However, Prokhanov’s generosity with respect to Solzhenitsyn is an anomaly among Russian militarists. More typical among his newspaper’s clientele is the notion of “the agent from Vermont” whose end goal was the destruction of Russia. A major source of Solzhenitsyn’s historical concepts was, according to Zavtra, the YMCA and its publishing arm YMCA Press (including its Russian-language branch, Vestnik RSKhD, and the journal of the same title). Zavtra’s Andrei Fefelov wrote, apparently alluding to his own extravagant editor-in-chief, that “those who believe that during the Cold War (…) there was some loner, a romantic hero who fought the system (…) either don’t understand anything, or they are complete… romantics.” This internal dissent in an otherwise ideologically homogenous newspaper highlights the unease that Solzhenitsyn’s legacy inspires in all levels of Russian society.

Conspicuously, the one aspect of Solzhenitsyn’s legacy never mentioned in the current controversies is his last major work, the monograph 200 Years Together (Dvesti let vmeste). The writer’s attempt to bring clarity to the history of Russian-Jewish relations initially raised eyebrows, even more so than had his political pamphlets of the 1990s. The émigré historian Semen Reznik devoted an entire volume to a thorough analysis of the book and drew a profoundly negative conclusion, charging that not only did Solzhenitsyn fail to discover anything new, but his two-volume opus, with its “lackluster style [and] incohesive composition,” was based on secondary sources that were tendentially and superficially interpreted. Had this unoriginal work appeared under another author’s name, Reznik opined, few people would have paid any attention at all. The fact that the book, with its many formulations that smacked of anti- Semitic clichés, had been written by Solzhenitsyn, however, seriously tainted the writer’s name. As this aspect of his legacy is certainly of no use to the current Russian establishment, the entire causa has simply been ignored during the current commemorations.

Consequences, Intended and Unintended

Solzhenitsyn’s emphatic endorsement of, and by, Vladimir Putin will tie the writer’s reputation to the Russian state for a long time. Due to the profound politicization of his legacy and the impossibility of making a reasonable distinction between the genuinely artistic qualities of his oeuvre (which are the focus of another ongoing controversy) and the effects of his political activism, an objective assessment of Solzhenitsyn—the man and the writer—will remain hard to come by. A related problem is the textological analysis of his legacy: Solzhenitsyn maintained strict control over this process, claiming that the changes he made to his works, for example the novel The First Circle, were de facto reconstructions of the original texts, which had been adjusted to render them publishable and evade censorship. Only a critical historical edition produced by truly independent specialists, without the interference of family members or state authorities, can bring us closer to a future objective assessment of Solzhenitsyn’s oeuvre. Indeed, only a thorough textological analysis will provide answers about the extent to which Solzhenitsyn’s views underwent transformations from the 1950s to the 2000s. (The writer himself carefully avoided that question, claiming that his worldview had fully emerged from the time of his imprisonment.) Without this, the textual basis for any discussion of Solzhenitsyn will remain blurred, enabling representatives of opposing worldviews to take from his fiction and non-fiction whatever suits them.

As for the current Russian administration, it has been instrumentalizing the name and the legacy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for a variety of purposes and will continue to do so. Among these purposes are to claim that Russia has irreversibly abandoned the totalitarian communist system; that the Russian state is developing and defending a unique civilization different from all others, especially from Western liberalism; and that the values of this new Russia have been endorsed by the universally recognized heir to Russia’s cultural greatness. These purposes will continue to be activated, regardless of the status of literature proper in Russia’s contemporary culture and education system. Indeed, Solzhenitsyn has become more valuable as a symbolic figure than as an author to be read, with the consequence that the proximity of the writer’s persona and legacy to the Putin establishment will continue to make him a prime object of both official adoration and intellectual disdain.

About the Author

Peter Rollberg is the director the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He is Professor of Slavic Languages, Film Studies, and International Affairs. 



Narva as a Cultural Borderland: Estonian, European, Russophone

By Andrey Makarychev, University of Tartu

DOI: <10.3929/ethz-b-000309181> 



Looking at Narva, the Estonian city with strong Russian roots, through the lens of culture allows us to see it less as a threat and more as an opportunity. Current Estonian policy seeks to Europeanize Narva, making it cool rather than alien. This effort, instead of pushing Russia aside, provides a platform for Russian artists to perform on an European stage and reach an international audience.


From Geopolitics to Culture

From 1991 when Estonia regained independence, the predominantly Russian-speaking Narva earned a reputation as a borderland city detached from the Estonian political and cultural mainstream. Economic deprivation added a lot to this problematic image. Narva connoted peripherality (both within Estonia and the EU) and was largely perceived in the dominant discourses as Estonian’s “internal other”, often Orientalized due to its cultural connections with Russia. In Russia itself, Narva is referred to as a city with a strong Russian cultural legacy, which, in particular, was verbalized by the presidential candidate Ksenya Sobchak’s controversial statement on the “Russian World” allegedly “stretching from Vladivostok to Narva”.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Narva became a security flashpoint with strong military and strategic connotations (Dokladnaya…2016). Based on analogies with eastern Ukraine in spring 2014, multiple alarmist scenarios envisioned that the Kremlin might incite disobedience among Russian speakers, provoke disorder, and infiltrate its “little green men” (Mackinnon 2015). “The main reason for Crimea’s reincorporation into Russia was the inaction of the Ukrainian authorities when it comes to regional development. From this perspective, Ida-Virumaa1 is similar to Crimea… Some say that it is sufficient to make local people cross the bridge and have a look at dilapidated Ivangorod to persuade them not to think about Russia… But we need to create internal magnets within Estonia, rather than persuade people by the claim that our neighbors live worse.” (Denisov 2016).

In the following analysis, I discuss Narva beyond the dominant frameworks of securitization and marginalization (Tiido 2018) and look at this city as a “meeting/ connecting point”, “bridge”, and “hybrid space”. More specifically, I wish to see how performative arts and cultural practices contribute to this transformation of the dominant attitudes to Narva in Estonia. Therefore, I propose to refocus from geopolitics and security studies to cultural semiotics (a discipline that studies signs, cultural representations, and symbols) and cultural governance as a set of tools for fostering social integration and inclusion. The sub-discipline of popular geopolitics— which studies home-grown, vernacular, grass-roots cultural forms and discursive genres—might also be helpful in this regard.

Narva: From ‘A City in Estonia’ to ‘Estonian City’

The official Estonian discourse avoids exceptionalizing Narva and drawing parallels with Donbas or Crimea. Many Russian speakers agree with that approach (Smirnov 2015). “People who live in Narva and who didn’t see the state of the Russian provinces, might believe in a glamour image of Russia created by TV… But I don’t think that Moscow would succeed in utilizing the Russophone diaspora in Estonia the way it did in Donbas”, the former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves assumed (Donbasskiy… 2017). As the current President Kersti Kaljulaid noted, “I have not noticed any troubles with the ‘Russian question’ in Estonian society… In Narva I’ve met with many people striving to act. And language is of secondary importance for that, particularly when I see how well Russian school graduates speak Estonian” (Prezident…, 2017). In the words of the Estonian Interior Minister, “the sunrise from Narva moves to Rakvere and Tartu, Tallinn and Kuresaare, Pärnu and Valga. Estonia starts with Narva” (Stepanov 2018). The view of Narva as a city with a strong Estonian legacy, where many fighters for independence and Second World War prisoners were buried, is lucidly expressed in the EstDoc film festival prize-winning short documentary “Narva 2018: The National Debt” (dir. Maarja Lohmus and Marina Koreshkova).

There were many attempts to rebrand Narva by developing transportation projects, spa and sport facilities, or environmental tourism (Denisov 2015). Symbolically important was that the Estonian President moved her office to Narva for one month in Fall 2018. As a part of the centenary celebration of Estonian independence, she awarded state medals in Narva. It is these attitudes to Narva as a normal Estonian city that stand behind and explain the new cultural policy of the central government that became particularly prominent after the eruption of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. As I will argue further, this policy of Estonization and Europeanization of Narva is not detrimental to Russian cultural identity; on the contrary, it contains new chances for Russian culture to reinstall itself in Estonia and Europe.

Culture Matters

Until recently, cultural life in Narva remained relatively scarce. In the exposition exploring the 1990s which opened in Fall 2018 in the Estonian National Museum in Tartu, Narva is represented as a city where youngsters were mainly interested in alcohol and boxing, with minimal contacts with the rest of Estonia. As other towns of the Ida-Virumaa county, Narva had to deal with the legacy of Soviet industrialization, and struggle with the prospect of peripheralization and transformation into a ‘hollow” and “empty” land devoid of importance for the country. Yet it was a series of politically meaningful cultural projects initiated from Tallinn that raised Narva’s visibility and credentials, and attracted lots of attention to the city.

One of the first steps in the direction of more closely integrating Narva into the Estonian polity was a 2016 photo and video exhibition “How Narva remained with Estonia” dedicated to the 1993 referendum on autonomy in this city. Initially the exhibit was shown in Tallinn’s Museum of Occupation, and then moved to Narva’s city museum. The context of the exposition was implicitly related to the occupation of Crimea and the ensuing debate about the Russian World doctrine. In the words of Katri Raik, the rector of the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences, Narva’s push for greater autonomy was comparable with similar trends towards disintegration in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine (Kak Narva… 2016). Yet today’s lesson of the 1993 referendum—which was ultimately annulled by the Estonian government— is that “here in Estonia we solved all the issues without bloodshed, and nowadays we should be grateful for that to both Russians and Estonians” (Raik 2017).

In 2016 Narva co-hosted an annual Opinions Festival (Festival… 2016), an open forum to publicly address issues of national importance to Estonia. The openness of the discussions inspired some commentators to articulate visible distinctions between Estonia and Russia: “All these free debates take place only 100 meters away from Russia. Yet here the mentality is different: participants listened to drastically dissimilar voices and nobody was afraid of any accusations” (Shtepa 2015).

Since 2016 an important locus for new cultural practices was formed around Narva’s Art Residency,2 a program that started inviting young international artists to spend some time in the city that had a reputation as a small borderland place “in the middle of nowhere”, where there was strong nostalgia for the Soviet past, but an equally strong demand for translating historical memories into the present. In August 2018 the Residency hosted panels of the “Narva – Detroit Urban Lab”, a discussion club seeking to use Western experiences of transforming formerly industrial cities into post-industrial spaces of new lifestyles and cultural practices.

Another salient cultural point in Narva is the territory of Krenholm Manufacture, one of the largest textile producers in Europe in the past. As an industrial enterprise, Krenholm nowadays is technically dead, but its territory can be rejuvenated through new art projects. Recently Krenholm inspired a number of artists who re-imagined it as a space in-between the past and the future, as well as Russia and Europe. The bilingual musical “Kremlin’s Nightingales”—staged by the Tartu-based Uus Teater—in summer 2018 became a highly successful spectacle about the Estonian pop star Jaak Joala, who was a top singer in the late USSR. The show engaged with the Soviet cultural legacy rather than rejecting it, and offered a depoliticized narrative of memory politics that is of particular traction for Narva with its cultural roots in the Soviet past.

In October 2018 Krenholm hosted another theatrical piece named ‘Omen’ and staged “Poetics of a Workers’ Punch”, a production by avant-garde socialist author Aleksei Gastev on the basis of a 1923 poem. This interactive (and bilingual, Russian and Estonian) spectacle deconstructed the glorious image of the industrial age and represented the Krenholm textile plant as an oppressive machine exploiting human beings, and comparable to the repressive apparatus of the Stalinist state.

When it comes to popular culture, a landmark event in 2018 was the Baltic Sun festival that, according to its organizers, in the future might transform into a Europe wide cultural event modeled after the Montreux jazz festival (Vikulov 2018). However, this orientation to Europe created chances for Russian musicians—such as, for instance, the “The Crossroads” and “Bravo” bands— to promote themselves among their European peers.

A similar event that Narva hosted in September 2018 was Station Narva, a festival of contemporary rock and pop music, which also included a number of Russian language public discussions. Again, the festival gave the floor to several performers from Russia (for example, the singer Grechka and the “PSAQ”, “Shortparis” and “Elektroforez” bands) to share the stage with European stars and sing for an international audience. Due to these endeavors “Narva has become hip in Estonia… The abandoned factory buildings, cheap living space and the frisson of sitting on a cultural front line between Russia and the West will attract trendsetters…. Making Narva cool is part of Estonia’s new strategy to integrate Russian-speakers” (Estonia gets… 2018).

The idea of cultural hybridity inspired the local rap singer Yevgeniy Liapin, whose bilingual composition “I am Russian but Love Estonia” (Stuf 2017) became a hit in 2017. Lyapin, a Narva resident and holder of a Russian passport, himself personifies the possibilities of the Russian youth culture to become part of the Estonian cultural milieu and be accepted in this capacity.

By the same token, Narva became a place for a series of cultural projects striving to discuss issues pertinent to the Russophone community. In particular, the exposition “Reflection: a Glance from Inside” (Reflektsioonid … 2016)—first took place in Tallinn and then in Narva— offered an artistic problematization of the hardship of Russian-Estonian linguistic communication. The Estonian artist Evi Pärn in her ‘Manifesto’ issued on the occasion of the exhibit, argued: “I want the media to stop portraying us, speaking different languages, as enemies to each other… Language learning should have nothing to do with coercion and violation of civic rights” (Pärn 2016). In 2018 Pärn was a co-organizer of an ecological art festival titled “Grow and Rot” in Narva’s suburbs, where a major headliner was Max Stropov from the art group “Rodina” known for its performative protest actions in Russia.

The cultural promotion of Narva reached its peak in the application for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2024. It is Tallinn that stands behind Narva’s bid, promoting this cultural project with the strategic political aim of overcoming a deep-seated inferiority complex embedded in Narva’s collective mentality and representing the aspirations of a culturally unified Estonia. The competition for the European Capital of Culture is a core element in the larger project of Europeanizing Narva, yet in the meantime it can also become a springboard for Russian cultural producers to get a stronger foothold in Europe (Kallas 2017).

Some Conclusions

Narva, the most Russian of all cities in the EU, is developing as a cultural space replete with hybrid cultural practices, which creates fertile ground for projecting Russian culture beyond Russia’s national borders. The geographically peripheral Narva is becoming central to Estonia in the sense that the new cultural and political dynamic will define what Estonia is likely to be in the future. Perhaps in the near future Narva can become a laboratory where some post-modern and post-national approaches to language, citizenship and territoriality might be tested. Russian culture might become an integral part of Narva’s rebranding as an Estonian and European city, with a hybrid identity that in the long run might build an alternative to the Kremlin-patronized “Russian World”.


1 The Estonian region where Narva is located.

2 <>


Denisov, Rodion. Privivka ot separatizma na severo-vostoke, Postimees, April 10, 2015, available at <>Denisov, Rodion. Ruiny Ida-Virumaa ne ukrashayut, May 27, 2016, available at <>Dokladnaya pravite'stvu: Estonia teryaet Ida-Virumaa, Delfi, September 14, 2016, available at <>Donbasskiy stsenariy v stranakh Baltii ne proidiot – eks-prezident Estonii, Krym. Realii, July 10, 2017, available at <>Estonia gets creative about integrating local Russian-speakers, The Economist, May 10, 2018, available at <>Festival mneniy v Narve: likha beda nachalo. Tvoi Vecher, May 23, 2016. Youtube, available at <>Kak Narva ne stala estonskim Pridnestroviem. Otkrytaya Rossiya, YouTube, May 13, 2016, available at <>Kallas, Kristina. Kakoi zhe eschio gorod, kak ne nasha Narva, mozhet stat' v 2024 godu kul'turnoi stolitsei Evropy? Tema, December 15, 2017, available at <>Maciknnon, Mark. In Estonia, a glimpse into the reach of the Russian World, The Globe and Mail, March 6, 2015, available at <>Pärn, Evi. Ruumimängud – lojaalsus ja ühiskond, 2016, available at <>Prezident Kersti Kaljulaid: Ya veriu v nashikh russkikh, Arvamus Festival, August 12, 2017, available at <>Raik, Katri. Narva – estonskiy gorod. Ya rada, chto znayu russkiy. Original TV, YouTube, January 18, 2017, available at <>Reflektsioonid: sissevaade / väljavaade. Vol II, available at <>Shtepa, Vadim. Narva daliokaya Iiblizkaya. Rufabula, June 9, 2015, available at <>Smirnov, Ilya. Molodye narvitiane: Kukhonnye razgovory, Postimess, November 6, 2015, available at <>Stepanov, Sergey. Stala li Narva Estonskim gorodom? ETV Pluus, February 25, 2018, available at <>Stuf. Olen venelane, YouTube, January 12, 2017, available at <>Tiido, Anna. Where Does Russia End and the West Start? Russia and Estonia, May 14, 2018, available at <>Vikulov, Roman. Letom v Narve proidiot muzykal'niy festival, Delfi, April 7, 2018, available at < muzykalnyj-festival-baltic-sun-kotoryj-hotyat-sdelat-odnim-izsamyh-izvestnyh-v-evrope?id=81696275>

About the Author

Andrey Makarychev is a Visiting Professor at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu. 

For more information on issues and events that shape our world, please visit the CSS Blog Network or browse our Digital Library

Russia’s Approach to the Development of Intermediate-Range Missiles

By Marcin Andrzej Piotrowski

Image courtesy of Jacob Smith/DVIDS

This article was originally published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM)on 14 November 2018.

Russia will present the expected withdrawal of the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Elimination Treaty (INF) as a step forcing a military response from Moscow. Even if the Russian Federation were to violate the INF by deploying new cruise missiles with a range greater than 500 km, the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty createsopportunity to blur responsibility. In the event of divided opinions within NATO, Russia’s position in arms control might be stronger vis-à-vis Europe and, indirectly, the United States. Moreover, Russia will continue expansion of its arsenal of ground-launched missiles.

Russia’s Approach in 1991–2007

The INF Treaty, signed in 1987, marked the end of confrontation between the Warsaw Pact and NATO and the beginning of a new security architecture in Europe as part of the process of limiting the offensive capabilities of members of both blocs. Both the U.S. and the USSR fully eliminated ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 km. Among other things, the INF eliminated Soviet RSD-10 Pioneer (SS-20) ballistic missiles, which, with a range up to 5,500 km could reach strategic targets across Eurasia. The Russian Federation, successor to the USSR, honoured the INF limits for more than a decade. However, the elimination of medium and intermediate-range missiles was questioned by the Russian military. In their strategic plans, which still assumed the possibility of conflict with NATO, a huge gap in capabilities emerged, only partially to be filled by tactical weapons. On the one hand, the Russian government gave assurances of its readiness to negotiate further, including in terms of the short-range nuclear arsenal, but on the other hand research continued into new missiles which could succeed those eliminated by the INF. This treaty permitted research but not tests, production or deployment of missiles. Even in the context of growing concerns about the proliferation of intermediate-range missiles in the Middle and Far East (especially the arsenals of Iran and the North Korea), the U.S. was not conducting research on the Russian scale, instead working on the development of various missile defence systems which became contentious in bilateral relations with Russia. At the same time, Russia proposed to the U.S. concept of a “global” INF. This was presented at the United Nations in 2007 but was not supported by countries already advanced in their intermediate-range missile arsenals.

Under President Vladimir Putin’s leadership, Russia started to finance research and development of new missiles. By the 1990s, the  KBM company had developed the new 9K723 Iskander-M (SS-26) short-range ballistic missile with a range up to 500 km. It was foreseen as successor of the operational-tactical Elbrus (SS-1 Scud) and tactical Tochka (SS-21) missiles. However, before Iskander was deployed and commissioned, the Russian military demanded adaptation of its launcher as a platform for cruise missiles from the Novator company. This solution would expand options and give the opportunity for simultaneous attacks by missiles of different flight paths. Novator was already producing its Klub and Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles for the Russian navy, so was quickly able to adapt the Klub with a 500 km range as a ground-launched missile. This was adopted by Russian Ground Forces as the 9M728 missile (also designated Iskander-K and R-500 and, by NATO, SSC-7). The first signs of Russia’s readiness to abandon the INF as a limitation on military capabilities against target in Eurasia emerged in 2007. In the same year, Russia suggested the possible transfer of one Iskander missile brigade to Belarus.

Russia’s Approach in 2008–2018

After the war in Georgia in 2008, decisions were taken about the deep transformation of the Armed Forces of Russia. One element of this was the plan to rearm 10 to 11 missile brigades (12 launchers in each) with the Iskander platform, finished in 2018. In parallel, and along with deployment of the 9M728 cruise missile, Russia has also tested its new 9M729 (SSC-8) missile. This is the ground version of the navy’s Kalibr, with a range up to 2,500 km. In 2014, the U.S. publically accused Russia of violating the INF in this way, which initiated another bilateral debate. Russia demanded that the U.S. reveal and share all intelligence information on the tests of 9M729. The U.S. focused mainly on diplomatic efforts and sanctioning the Novator company. At the same time, many Republicans and some experts recommended stronger U.S. pressure on Russia, including making the New START treaty extension conditional on the INF. Within NATO, issues of the INF were pushed aside, and only at the Brussels summit in 2018 was a final, strong and clearly worded communique issued to Russia, demanding that Moscow honour the treaty obligations. Russia, seeing the lack of a unified position in the U.S. and within NATO, also ignored the American internal debates and demands, as well as some signals from Washington, D.C. that the Trump administration might pull the U.S. out of the INF.

Some elements of Russia’s approach to the INF have been consistent since 2014. In military terms, Russia approved the key role of its non-strategic nuclear forces. This is based on the undeclared doctrine that “de-escalatory strikes” will quickly force an enemy to end conflict on Russian political terms. In the propaganda sphere, Russia justifies deployment of its new missiles as a necessary response to the NATO Aegis Ashore missile defence system in Romania and Poland. At the same time, Russia is claiming that container-launchers for SM-3 interceptors in Central Europe will in fact house Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of attacking strategic targets in Russia. This same claim is currently used by Russia against Japan, which is working on its own missile defence system. All these propaganda actions by Russia also provide a foundation for more frequent nuclear threats against countries hosting or building Aegis Ashore systems.

Russia’s Options after INF

Russia will use the expected decision by the U.S. on withdrawal from the INF as an opportunity to deepen divisions within NATO. Russian calculations will take into account the wider context, including preservation of New START after 2021. Russia will blur its responsibility for INF violations and, operating outside the treaty limits, will increase production of 9M729 missiles. That would complicate defence planning for the United States, NATO, Finland and Sweden. The cheapest option for Russia until 2019 would be to expand its arsenal of Iskander brigades with more ballistic and cruise missiles with various warheads, and to boost the capacity of Belarus with 9K723 and 9M728 missiles with conventional warheads.

In the medium-term perspective (from 2019 to 2023), Russia might also renew development and research on the RS-26 Rubezh (SS-X-31) ballistic missile with a range up to 5,500 km, until recently declared only as an intercontinental missile. The Rubezh missile might also be  adapted and deployed with a hypersonic Avangard-type vehicle. This could give Russia options for penetrating classical missile defence systems and reaching military targets in Europe from bases in Asia, exerting credible political pressure on Western European states. A new missile with a hypersonic vehicle and a range below 5,500 km would not be within the limits of New START or other bilateral treaty limiting the strategic arsenals of Russia and the U.S. However, the Rubezh-Avangard systems would be very expensive to develop, produce, and deploy.

Military Implications

The expected U.S. withdrawal from the INF is creating a political challenge for NATO in preserving its unity in the arms control area. After termination of this treaty by the United States, NATO’s efforts should focus on the integration of national missile defence systems in the context of Russia’s growing offensive capabilities. After finalising the Aegis Ashore systems in Romania and Poland (configured against Iranian missiles), another goal for NATO should be integrated missile defence capabilities against all types of Russian missiles launched from the Iskander launcher-platform. This should be based on national air and missile defence systems in Central and Northern Europe. However, in the short term it is not necessary to move quickly on the deployment of existing U.S. cruise missiles (air and sea-launched) to bases in Europe. This step would make it much easier for Russia to use additional divisions within NATO in the context of its additional offensive capabilities. Any decisions by the Allies on new missiles should be conditioned by Russian steps, and by the development of totally new and more advanced U.S. hypersonic and cruise missiles. As a temporary step, the U.S. could balance Russia’s intermediate-range arsenal with cruise missiles on air and naval platforms, which are not permanently operating from European NATO countries. In the long term, and in the event that Russia does deploy Rubezh missiles, NATO should create a system able to intercept these weapons.

About the Author

Marcin Andrzej Piotrowski is a Senior Analyst for the European Security and Defence Economics Project at PISM and hold a Ph.D in political science from Warsaw University. @Ajatollah_MAP

Dharmawiki – unified knowledge resource platform of Bharatavarsha

Dharmawiki is dedicated to promote holistic approaches of Dharmika Jivana Vidhana


 Team PGurus


December 28, 2018

Dharmawiki is a unified knowledge resource platform to present traditional viewpoints of Sanatana Dharma

‘Dharmawiki ‘ is a unified knowledge resource platform to present traditional viewpoints of Sanatana Dharma as well as the rich and diverse research heritage of Bharatavarsha.

Dharmawiki is dedicated to promote holistic approaches of Dharmika Jivana Vidhana. Our goal is to build narratives on the innumerable angles of Bharatiya Samskrtika Parampara, to leave behind a legacy for the generations to come.

Dharmawiki is slated to be a repository for Dharmika concepts and guidelines, that will contain crisp yet comprehensive articles freefrom western interpretations, psychoanalysis, and extrapolations.

The goal of Dharmawiki is to dispel myths created by western indoctrination and bring back Shastriya Samalochana Paddati (Shashtra based thinking process).

The key ideas are:

We should have the Adhikara to control narratives on our tradition.Bharat should become Content creator and not merely a consumer of content prepared by Western “academicians”.Dharmawiki articles will not compromise on rigour. The articles have to be in depth and well researched.The article has to be scholarly with due referencing. The references should be from Primary Samskrit sources.Dharmawiki articles will use original Samskrit non-translatables.

Following Dharmawiki articles highlight “Why do we need Dharmawiki”

Sanatana Dharma (सनातनधर्मः)Bharatiya Samskrtika Parampara (भारतीयसांस्कृतिकपरम्परा)Dharmika Jivana Vidhana (धार्मिकजीवनविधानम्)Dharma Point of View

The crux of Dharmawiki project is to engage our scholarly community in coming together to strengthen the Rishi Parampara and present points of agreement as our mainstay and points of differences only strengthened by the points of agreement.

Following are some sample articles illustrating these points:

Veda Vargeekarana (वेदवर्गीकरणम्)Vaidika Vangmaya (वैदिकवाङ्मयम्)

Articles to present Scholarly perspectives of Indian shastras are:

Shad Darshanas (षड्दर्शनानि)Vedic Language (वैदिकभाषा)

Articles delving into deep philosophical concepts with primary references from traditional texts include

Yama Nachiketa Samvada (यमनचिकेतसोः संवादः)Narada Sanatkumara Samvada (नारदसनत्कुमारयोः संवादः)

Articles on lesser-known topics which reflect the depth of knowledge of our ancient people in following scientific methodologies are:

Tantrayukti (तन्त्रयुक्तिः)Shastra Rachana Paddhati (शास्त्ररचनापद्धतिः)

Unique Concept based articles include

Pramana (प्रमाणम्)Pranavidya (प्राणविद्या)

Articles based on ancient technology include

Nagara VinyasaNagara Vinyasa tattvasKautiliya Nagara Vyavastha

1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.