Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: February 25, 2002

25 February 2002, Volume 2, Number 7

"RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" will not appear on 4 March but will return on 11 March.
Russia's president, together with the interior, defense, finance, communications, economic development and trade, industry, science and technology, anti-monopoly, and health ministers, the Federal Security Service director, Federal Securities Commission head, and the new head of the Federation Council are all from St. Petersburg. The influx of immigrants from the northern city into Moscow has inspired a mixture of resentment, alarm, and, of course, humor:

The famous train Krasnaya Strela, which runs between St. Petersburg and Moscow, arrives in Moscow one morning. The loudspeaker greets passengers, stating "Passengers seeking information on transportation in Moscow please go to window number 1. Passengers seeking information on accommodation in Moscow, please go to window number 2. Respected passengers arriving from St. Petersburg and seeking a job in the presidential administration please go to window number 3."

But not everyone is amused. Union of Rightist Forces head Boris Nemtsov has publicly criticized President Vladimir Putin's personnel policy on more than one occasion. Last December, he slammed Putin's formation of a "St. Petersburg-mafioso group" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2001). And during an RFE/RL program broadcast from St. Petersburg in January 2002, Dmitrii Travin, a political observer for the newspaper "Delo," noted that while he, as a St. Petersburger, is not unpleased to see fellow residents of his hometown assuming a higher national profile, he wonders whether the "narrowness" of the current ruling elite is inherently unstable. According to Travin, there is a well-established tenet of political science that the more narrow the circle the president or ruler relies on, the more unstable the elite.

Sergei Mironov, the new head of the Federation Council, when asked by Travin whether he is concerned that Russia's ruling elite might be coming from too small a pool, suggested that he is expecting a number of new national leaders to emerge from the Federation Council. At the same time, when pressed, Mironov admitted that St. Petersburg has probably not yet exhausted all of its "cadre possibilities." He noted that when Tsar Peter I first established St. Petersburg, its residents rose to that challenge. "Petersburgers are talented and love hard work, and I have no doubt that in the future, [more] bright policymakers starting out in St. Petersburg will emerge at the national level," he told RFE/RL.

Mironov's reference to Peter I perhaps illustrates that the tension between residents of the northern capital and the rest of the country is not a new phenomenon. The rivalry between Moscow and St. Petersburg dates back at least 300 years. And, "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" recently asked Ivan Tolstoi, a writer and journalist with RFE/RL's Russian Service, to provide some historical background to the now public tension between Russia's two largest cities. (Julie A. Corwin)

Ivan Tolstoi, who hosts the "Over the Barrier" show on RFE/RL's Russian Service (Radio Svoboda), follows popular and high culture. He was himself born in St. Petersburg, where he taught literature at Leningrad State University. And he comes from one of St. Petersburg's most revered families -- he is a brother of novelist Tatyana Tolstaya, a grandson of Aleksei Tolstoi, and great-grand nephew of Leo Tolstoi.

RFE/RL: As you know, there is some hostility, some resentment now in Moscow of the predominance of St. Petersburgers into Moscow officialdom. What's behind this resentment? What are the historical sources of this rivalry between the two cities?

TOLSTOI: Every city has its myth, its legend. This was also true of Moscow even before St. Petersburg was founded. St. Petersburg, like New York, is only 300 years old -- Moscow is an old city. The core of the myth of Moscow is the idea that Moscow was the third Rome. The first Rome was ancient Rome, the second was Constantinople, and third is Moscow. This is a Russian legend about the existence of the third Rome, of a true Christian, in this case, Orthodox city, which supports, continues, and preserves the great traditions and culture of the ancient past.

Moscow is a genuine Russian city with an authentic Russian tradition. It was small and very wide. Then it expanded and became huge. In ancient times, it was full of wood, and it burned many times. All "Russianness" was concentrated in Moscow -- all religious belief -- and the Orthodox tradition. All Russian tsars and tsarinas were crowned in this ancient capital. Even after St. Petersburg became the official capital, all of the tsars still traveled to Moscow for their coronation. And the two names were preserved, the ancient capital and the new capital, Old Moscow and New Petersburg.

When Petersburg emerged 300 years ago, it appeared -- in its culture and spirit -- not as a Russian city. The site selected for it was artificial. It was dangerous to build a big city there, because the Swedes were nearby. It was too close to the Baltic Sea, and there was a very large river that overflows its banks several times a year. It was [also] not Russian, because it was on the edge of Russia. Half of the city's population were foreigners. We know the Finns [Chukhontsy] had built a large village in this place. Petersburg, as Peter I wished it, was a new artificial city. It was also the first city in Russia to be built without external walls. It is true that that there are some walls around Petersburg but they were not fortress walls. The only fortress in Petersburg is the small fortress, Petrapavlovsk, in the center of the city. Petersburg represents the idea of the foreignness, "non-Russianness," artificiality, "Europeanness," and that which is alien or somewhat hostile. Petersburg is a foreign incrustation on the Russian body.

RFE/RL: Foreign, how precisely?

TOLSTOI: Dutch. British, Italian, French, and of course German also. There were very few German architects. Basically, the architecture was Italian and French. By culture, it was mostly Dutch. The Germans were most influential slightly later on under Peter's successors. At this period, it was still predominantly Italian, French, and Dutch. So completely foreign. It was Protestant or Italian or what have you, but the spirit of Orthodoxy in the city was simply absent. And therefore it was not seen as a truly Russian city. When you arrived in the city, you don't see Russian houses. First of all, they are made of stone. And second, its dwellers were literally foreigners as well.

And -- furthermore -- how many people lost their lives while building the city? A huge number of people. There was a bad climate. They were all poor. And they were ruled by feudal law, in other words, slavery. They built the city day and night, and they had no right to refuse. As decreed by Tsar Peter I, everyone who entered the city had to carry a stone. It was the law because there was no granite in the city -- no stone at all. All the stones had to be brought either from Finland or from other places. So, from start to finish, it's an artificial city.

And therefore, from the very first moment, Moscow was alienated from Petersburg. None of the Russian tsars or tsarinas acknowledged Peter I as a genuine Russian tsar. And therefore the spirit of hatred toward Petersburg was like something insane. And both the people and the authorities shared this hatred. All those who lived in Russia were united by their refusal to recognize Petersburg. Who recognized Petersburg? Only those people who lived in the city. During the course of 300 years, the greatest figures of Russian culture were born and lived in this city. And in this way, Petersburg culture was created, but it was not totally the same as other Russian culture and traditions. So, not only the city, not only its spirit, not only its architecture, not only its Westernness, but also the art which was born there -- all of this -- was not accepted by the rest of Russia.

And it is Petersburg, which gave birth to the concept of the Russian "intelligent." What is an "intelligent?" I agree with the well-known 20th-century Russian philosopher Georgii Fedotov. He said that the Russian intelligentsia is a group of people who are proud, who are characterized by and unified by ideas [ideinost] -- in other words, by ideas of how one should live, by what is ethical, moral, or right. But these ideas remain in their heads. These ideas are not in the spirit or in the hearts of the people. Fedotov said that the intelligentsia is alien to the Russian people. And that is true. The Russian educated class is split off from its own people. The people are primitive, dark, and do not live by laws. The intelligentsia, meanwhile, are enlightened, educated, and have an awareness of laws, but they have crossed out a huge area of ethics -- and do not apply these ethical standards to themselves. And this phenomenon was also born in Petersburg.

These are the sources of the mutual non-acceptance between Moscow and St. Petersburg. But new times came on the scene -- the 20th century. The first action taken by Lenin and the Bolsheviks was to move the capital to Moscow. Why did that happen? There really was only one reason. Because Moscow was further from the borders, and that was it. And if you have to move the capital somewhere, the decision was made to move it back to the ancient capital, the site of the new Bolshevik Soviet government. There was no idea to move the new Russian capital into the heart of the Russian heartland -- on the contrary. The Bolsheviks wanted to break Russian traditions. It was only a military issue, because the war was in progress. So the entire idea consisted of moving the city away from the borders.

So, what happened next? Petersburg, which later becomes Leningrad, became an offended city. It was deprived of its status of being a capital city. It was an solitary, artificial castle from which life was departing. An unhealthy climate, bad weather, it was subject to floods, a city of cold granite with an imperial spirit that has never been accepted by the Russian heart. And now in addition to all that, all the life of the city was gone. And the city became provincial. Without events, it became a non-newsworthy city, as journalists say, because there was no life. And art died there as well.

And now Moscow is filled with new life, illuminated by a new light, and money starts coming into the city. And now Moscow laughs at that city, which lives entirely by its own artificial laws, because they are all that is left for Petersburgers, their memories and traditions which they had at some point. They have their wonderful architects, Russian poets, literature, the music, which arose in St. Petersburg, their sense of being a pocket-sized Europe. This is all that Petersburgers have. And in our own times, under Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and then Putin, Petersburg dares to have an opinion of itself. But Muscovites and others continue to say and think that this is a funny city, a museum city.

And suddenly Putin! He summoned from Petersburg all these Petersburgers who can't understand anything of our Moscow life. That's what the Muscovites say. Here are two truths. There is the truth of being natural, Muscovite, and because being of Moscow is connected to being natural. Moscow is the authentic Russia, even though this quality is very concentrated. In Russia, one lives poorly in other cities, while in Moscow it is more comfortable. There are jobs, but, nevertheless, Moscow represents the state of being natural and Petersburg represents artificiality. If Moscow lives in the present day and amuses itself the way the merchants once did, by spending lavish amounts of money insanely, then in Petersburg there is none of that. It lives only through its history, recollections, its sentiments, preserving these things.

Petersburgers are proud that the Bolsheviks never managed to desecrate or destroy [their culture]. They never managed to build too many of those horrid, Soviet architectural monuments because St. Petersburg was not the Soviet capital. But Moscow is still offended by the destruction of its spirit, its tradition, and ancient character. Therefore, I repeat, Petersburg is artificiality, and Moscow is authenticity. And when people are brought from an artificial city to rule an entire country, it is unacceptable. Who are these people? We have our own specialists. Why aren't they being looked at it?

RFE/RL: I have the impression that Muscovites believe that in their city, the "creme de la creme" of Russia resides. And if you want to be a success in any meaningful sense of the word, you simply have to live in Moscow.

TOLSTOI: Of course, and money is the reason for this. Money and opportunities to do things. For example, if I want to publish a book, I go to a Moscow publisher -- not one in Petersburg, because the printing houses and papers and distributors and everything are the same, but in Moscow, they can do it right away, and it will be distributed and sold. And I will get the money. In Petersburg it will be published but not as fast. The print run will be smaller, distribution will be worse, and I will earn less money. Everything is on a smaller scale, because there is less money. And if Moscow has attracted a large number of talented, colorful people, then others like them also keep coming.

RFE/RL: Your initial remarks reminded me of [Andrei] Belyi's image at the beginning of his novel "Petersburg." He talks about how St. Petersburg was a grid-like structure imposed on top of a swamp while Moscow grew organically, in circular rings. Does that image sort of illustrate what you're saying?

TOLSTOI: Yes, of course. Except Belyi was looking at the two cities from his vantage point at the beginning of the [last] century while I am looking at the entire history. Also, Belyi couldn't have imagined Putin.

(Translation assistance provided by Cathy Cosman.)

The four groups comprising the so-called presidential coalition in the State Duma split on 15 February over a proposal by the People's Deputy group and the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction to adopt an appeal to President Putin asking him to cancel Russia's moratorium on the death penalty. At the same time, the deputy head of Unity's faction, Vladislav Reznik, spoke against the measure, noting that his faction's position on the issue coincides with President Putin's. According to, Putin has publicly stated twice that Russia cannot restore the death penalty. Twenty-nine of the 47 members of the Russian Regions group, the fourth member of the so-called presidential coalition in the Duma, voted for the measure. Of Unity's members, 44 didn't vote, 36 voted no, and one member voted in favor of the measure. The measure passed with some 266 votes in favor. JAC

However, the following week on 20 February, Unity, People's Deputy, and OVR voted almost unanimously in favor of a bill on citizenship in its second reading. Only one member of OVR voted against the measure, according to Interfax. In Russian Regions, 33 supported the bill, while nine voted against and five abstained. The bill passed with just enough votes, 235 in favor. The bill establishes a new procedure for persons seeking Russian citizenship, reported. The bill was approved in its first reading last October and since then some 204 amendments were proposed, of which the Committee for State Construction recommended adopting 92, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 22 October 2001). Under the bill, persons are eligible to apply for citizenship if they have lived in Russia for more than five years and have relatives in Russia. If they have no relatives, then they must live in Russia for 10 years before applying. In addition, potential citizens must speak the Russian language and be familiar with the Russian Constitution. During the debate over the bill, Duma deputy (Russian Regions) Viktor Alksnis accused his colleagues of "betraying" millions of former Soviet citizens by not giving them a special status and easier requirements for citizenship, while Vadim Bulavinov (People's Deputy) cautioned that Russia should not be turned into a "vacuum cleaner that sucks up criminals, scoundrels, and bums," the website reported. JAC

Duma deputies approved on 15 February in the third and final reading a law on judicial associations, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 February 2002). Under the law, the highest organ of judges is the All-Russia Congress of Judges. It is subordinate to the Council of Judges which selects judges for membership in the Higher Qualifications Collegium. According to, under the bill, judges will lose three seats on the collegium, and instead three representatives of the legal community will be appointed by the president. These appointees will have to be confirmed by the Duma. JAC


Name of Law____________Date Approved_________# of reading

On citizenship in Russian_____20 February____________2nd

On organs of judicial________15 February____________3rd

DOWN: President Putin signed a decree on 18 February relieving Ilya Klebanov from his position as deputy prime minister, but leaving him in charge of the Ministry for Industry, Science, and Technology. The next day, "Vedomosti" described the action as a "victory" for Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who will now personally oversee not only the Ministry for Atomic Energy, the Emergency Situations Ministry, and the Communications Ministry, but also issues related to military-technological cooperation. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that this was the first loss for the so-called St. Petersburg team.

OUT: Oleg Dobrodeev, head of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), told reporters on 20 February that Russian Television (RTR) General Director Aleksandr Akopov is resigning from this position and will be replaced by Anton Zlatopolskii, who is currently first deputy director of VGTRK, a position that he will keep, reported. Akopov will officially leave the station on 4 March, according to

IN: Viktor Cheremukhin, former head of the press service for the State Duma, will now head the press service for the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 February. Yurii Algunov, former head of the council's press service, resigned last month (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 16 January 2002).

25 February: A non-working day on which Russians will celebrate the new state holiday honoring "Defenders of the Fatherland" of 23 February, which this year falls on a Saturday

26 February: All-Russia conference on the Russian Regions and the WTO to be held in Moscow

26-27 February: International conference on the Caspian Sea to take place in Moscow

27 February: Plenary session in the Federation Council

28 February: A court hearing for the lawsuit filed by TV-6 against the Moscow court bailiffs service, which issued a resolution on 21 January stopping all the station's economic activities

28 February: Cabinet will consider a package of laws regarding reform of Russia's electricity sector, according to Interfax

end of February: Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah will visit Moscow, according to Interfax

March: State Duma will consider the law imposing a temporary ban on cloning of humans in the second reading and a bill amending the law on the Central Bank in its first reading, according to Interfax on 22 February

early March: Hamid Karzai, head of Afghanistan's interim government, to visit Russia, according to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 4 February

1 March: Informal CIS summit to take place in Almaty, Kazakhstan

3-5 March: OPEC Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez Araque will visit Moscow, according to Interfax-ANI on 6 February

4 March: Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to visit Northern Fleet headquarters in Murmansk

6 March: Closing date to submit applications for tender for TV-6's television and radio frequencies

8 March: International Women's Day

13-15 March: International forum on "Russia: Oil, Energy, Progress" will take place in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug

15 March: Gas prices will be indexed by 20 percent

mid-March: The first draft of a report on Russia's efforts to join the WTO by the task force devoted to this quest will be ready

17 March: Tuva Republic will hold presidential elections

24 March: By-elections to be held in single-mandate district in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug for State Duma seat vacated by Aleksandr Ryazanov, who went to work for Gazprom

27 March: Tender for TV-6's broadcasting license

27-28 March: International conference on combating terrorism to be held in St. Petersburg, according to Interfax on 24 January

March-April: Russia will issue up to $2 billion in Eurobonds, according to Vneshekonombank head Andrei Kostin on 15 November

end of March: CIS Interparliamentary Assembly will hold its 19th plenary session

April: Norwegian Energy Minister Einar Steensnes will visit Russia, according to ITAR-TASS on 19 February

April: Unified party of Unity and Fatherland to officially register as a political party

April: The St. Petersburg Dialogue, a Russian-German forum, will hold its second conference in Weimar, Germany, according to ITAR-TASS

April: Gubernatorial elections in Penza Oblast

April: Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman will visit Russia, according to Foreign Minister Ivanov on 24 January

7 April: Presidential elections in Ingushetia

14 April: Gubernatorial elections in Lipetsk Oblast

22 April: State Duma will hold a hearing on the buying and selling of agricultural land, according to Interfax on 17 January

late April: Summit of five Caspian states to be held in Ashgabat, according to First Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kaluzhnii on 24 January

28 April: Presidential elections to be held in the Republic of Karelia

14-15 May: Foreign ministers of NATO countries and Russia will meet in Reykjavik

May: U.S. President George W. Bush to visit Russia

19 May: By-elections to be held in Altai Republic for State Duma seat left vacant by newly elected Altai Republic President Mikhail Lapshin

19 May: Gubernatorial elections in Smolensk Oblast

28 May: Russia-EU summit to be held

31 May: CIS summit to be held in Chisinau, Moldova

June: Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit to take place in St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported

June: Baltic State Council meeting to be held in St. Petersburg

June: Government will have drafted a federal program for putting Russia's armed forces on a professional basis, according to Prime Minister Kasyanov on 7 December

June: Russia and the U.S. will have drafted an agreement on radical cuts in strategic offensive weapons, according to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 18 December

9 June: Repeat elections for legislature of Primorskii Krai

23 June: Presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for Buryatia

26-28 June: Group of Seven summit to be held in Canada

12 August: Second anniversary of the sinking of the "Kursk" submarine

September: Symposium and investment fair for atomic power plants to take place in Vladivostok

10-11 September: The fourth annual conference of the regional administrations of countries in Northeast Asia will take place in Khabarovsk

9-16 October: All-Russia census

26-27 October: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held in Las Cabos, Mexico

7 November: Day of Reconciliation and Agreement.