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Big Politics In A Small Russian Village

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (left) and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (left) and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov
The guys in the village where I live can’t decide whether to name a street after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. Each proposal has its pluses and minuses, so there is plenty to discuss.

The problem is made worse by the fact that our village only has one street.

Sashka Tyulkin proposed quickly making a street out of the path that leads to the communal straw field. People trudge along that path during the night -- some looking for soil, some going to fetch bedding for their livestock. It is a well-worn path, but naming it after someone would probably be taken more as an insult than an honor.

And our village doesn’t need any enemies.

The story starts exactly a year ago when Nastyona’s Boris came up with the idea of building a gas pipeline. Boris isn’t really related to Nastyona -- he is the former beau of her late niece.

But he didn’t have anywhere to live and over time he became the brains and conscience of the village. Because of his insomnia. You see, he doesn’t sleep at night -- he thinks. He thinks and he watches television. That’s why we call him Boris the Restless.

When the aggressors from Tbilisi marched their jackboots into the holy motherland, Boris the Restless came up with a response: our village urgently needed a gas pipeline.

After all, why were we liberating South Ossetia? Because of their potatoes? No, ours are better. Their cucumbers? Ours are fresher. No matter how you look at it, Boris reasoned, we are fighting in South Ossetia in order to build a pipeline there. The Americans, he said, bring their type of democracy on their bayonets. And we -- bring our gas on our pipelines.

At this point I should mention that Sashka Tyulkin isn’t really much of a Tyulkin. That’s actually his wife’s name. In reality, his name is Parovoznikov (from the word “parovoz” meaning “locomotive”), which may explain why he rarely agrees with anyone.

And in this case too he immediately erupted with his usual rumblings. South Ossetia already has a pipeline, he says. It runs from the town where the Great Stalin was born and isn’t really all that worn out yet.

Boris was so angry he almost had a heart attack. “We don’t need gas from a tyrant,” he said with flashing eyes. “Instead of some scrap metal in a pathetic Georgian ditch, we’ll build a new pipeline! We’ll conquer the Caucasian mountains with our pipelines! We will erect concrete supports on their peaks. We will decorate their valleys with our lacy, welded constructions. No longer will ‘King’ Tamara - a monarch of questionable orientation - be the symbol of the Caucasus! From now on, it will be Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller.”

“But what’s in it for us,” asked another Sashka Tyulkin, who was a real Tyulkin and not just married to one. His words sounded a little uncouth, and maybe even hostile, but they basically reflected the general attitude of all present. But Boris had an answer.

“There is a crisis going on,” he said triumphantly. “Demand for gas is falling everywhere. Pretty soon Europe isn’t going to need any at all. South Ossetia is being sucked dry from both sides. Even Ukraine will stop stealing the stuff soon. Our village alone will be an island of economic stability for the whole world. There may be no more consumers for our gas out there, but we have plenty here! And pipes too!

"Imagine how many pipes will be left over from the Caucasus! If we agree to take them, Gazprom will be happy and the whole project will cost nothing. Or practically nothing. I’m sure we’ll have to take a collection and pitch in a couple thousand rubles. But we’ll never get it so cheap. Crisis and war -- it is the perfect time for long-term capital investment.”

'We Russians Love Natural Gas'

Well, not counting the eternal skepticism of Sashka Tyulkin (the one who used to be called Parovoznikov), the entire village found itself caught up in Boris’s enthusiasm. Especially when subsequent events demonstrated how correct and insightful he was.

Our reborn army quickly broke the spine of Georgian militarism. The Tskhinvali pipeline was quickly (and generously) extended over the spine of the Caucasus, under the spine, along the spine.

And the request to supply gas to our village of Slotino was welcomed with open arms. But not for free. Under the state plan, the country would undertake two grandiose gas-related construction projects. Russia would pay for the pipeline over the spine of the Caucasus to Tskhinvali, and the people of Slotino would pay for the pipeline across the Morosyuchka stream. Half a million rubles per house. But NATO had barely managed to show its moral support for the unpopular Saakashvili regime before the money had been collected. We Russians love natural gas.

But by the end of summer it became clear that Russia didn’t have what it took to cross the Morosyuchka. Either there weren’t enough pipes, or enough will, or enough gas. The village fell into despair. Sashka Tyulkin made the rounds in neighboring Voronino, Marino, and Deryuzino. “If we unite,” he told residents there over beers, “we might win our independence from Sergiev Posad. Nicaragua will recognize us.”

During the night, he even worked out the so-called Tyulkin-Sarkozy peace plan which established new borders and called for the completion of the gasification project and the return of the village’s money. The last point nearly led to war. Military preparations were well under way when Nastyona suddenly intervened. “What are you up,” she shouted at the conspirators, and the war was pushed aside. As was, by the way, our dream of gas.

But there is a reason that Gazprom has the slogan: “Dreams do come true.” One morning Boris emerged from his house -- tired, but happy. “Why do they have a Luzhkov Street in Tskhinvali,” he asked Seryozhka Tyulkin, who was out early gathering eggs.

“Because Luzhkov has money. He has his own, of course, but he needs that so there is no point in asking for it. But he also has Moscow’s money! And a lot of it. If there is enough for Tskhinvali, there is enough for Slotino. All we have to do is let him hear that some 72 kilometers north of him there is a street named after him!”

“Incidentally, there is a street named for Putin in Grozny,” Seryozhka said while sniffing at an egg.

Reports of this conversation soon spread throughout the village. The opinions of the villagers swung back and forth between the Big Boss and the Little Boss. Which was the shorter route to the gas? Such a difficult problem and winter is around the corner. If Nicaragua won’t help, that means Putin, no? Or maybe Luzhkov after all…. That could work too.

So you see our problem: We only have one street.

Vladimir Nadein is a contributor to RFE/RL’s Russian Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.