Joshua Yaffa‘s latest in The New Yorker looks at the fascinating history of the House on the Embankment, a massive Moscow apartment complex built in the 1930s to house high-level Soviet officials. Along with apartments, the building was home to theaters, a bank, gyms, a post office, a grocery store, and more — all kinds of community services meant to help tenants bridge from individual apartment life to a communal existence.
Spoiler alert: like a lot of things about the Soviet Union, it didn’t really work out.
The “transition” that the building was meant to bring about never came to pass. Instead, its residents moved further from collectivist ideals, and adopted life styles that looked suspiciously bourgeois. Residents had their laundry pressed and their meals prepared for them, so that they could spend all day and much of the night at work and their children could busy themselves reading Shakespeare and Goethe. There was a large staff, with one employee for every four residents. Slezkine compares the House of Government to the Dakota, in New York City—a palace of capitalism along Central Park, where residents could eat at an on-site restaurant and play tennis and croquet on private courts. A report prepared for the Soviet Union’s Central Committee in 1935 showed that the cost of running the House of Government exceeded the Moscow norm by six hundred and seventy per cent. To the extent that the House of Government facilitated a transition, it was the metamorphosis of a sect of ascetics into a priesthood of pampered élites.
After several years, life took a sharp turn for residents; the purge-ridden building had the “highest per-capita number of arrests and executions of any apartment building in Moscow.”
Before long, the arrests spread from the tenants to their nannies, guards, laundresses, and stairwell cleaners. The commandant of the house was arrested as an enemy of the people, and so was the head of the Communist Party’s housekeeping department. So many enemies of the people were being uncovered that individual apartments were turning over with darkly absurd speed. In April, 1938, the director of the Kuznetsk steel plant, Konstantin Butenko, moved into Apartment 141, which had become vacant after the arrest of its previous tenant, a deputy commissar from the Health Ministry. Butenko occupied the four rooms for six weeks before he himself was arrested, and his family evicted. Matvei Berman, one of the founders of the Gulag, took over the space. Berman was arrested six months later, and shot the next year.
Many apartments are inhabited by descendants of the original tenants; many others now house expats who enjoy its proximity to bars and restaurants. The weight of history sits very differently on the shoulders of these two populations.
As John Ibbitson reports at The Globe and Mail, there’s a new underground railroad to Canada. Through a safe house network, the Canadian government has been spiriting away gay Chechen men who face not only government persecution, but honor killings at the hands of their family. In this conservative Russian republic, the government not only looks away from these heinous crimes, it encourages them.
For three months, the federal government has been secretly spiriting gay Chechen men from Russia to Canada, under a clandestine program unique in the world.
The evacuations, spearheaded by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, fall outside the conventions of international law and could further impair already tense relations between Russia and Canada. But the Liberal government decided to act regardless.
Hamzat, a man in his mid-twenties, is a recent arrival to Canada. (Hamzat is not his real name. The Globe and Mail is protecting his identity because he fears repercussions for friends and family in Chechnya, and because he is concerned that some Chechen-Canadians might wish him ill.) In an interview with The Globe, he was cautious but calm, offering a brief smile from time to time. He described how his ordeals began: One day in March, men wearing green khaki uniforms appeared in his place of work in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. He was handcuffed, placed in the trunk of a car, and taken to a local police headquarters. “I don’t know how to express this. I was in shock,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Hamzat was taken into a room and, still handcuffed, placed on a chair. He was surrounded by men who kicked him with their heavy boots and beat him with the brass nozzles of hoses. In later sessions, he was subjected to electric-shock torture.
The men wanted him to reveal the names of gay men he knew, just as another man under torture had given up his name. “I didn’t give them any information,” he said. “I lied to them.”
Between interrogations, he said, he and other gay men were kept in a cell with drug dealers and users, and confined to a small area because they were considered unclean. The interrogations lasted two or three weeks.
It’s been a heck of a few days after a heck of a few months after approximately 900 years that got squeezed into this mutation of the space-time continuum we’re calling 2017.
Our president’s namesake has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle and the New York Times, as the saying goes, is on it. The first story, published on Saturday, noted how Donald J. Trump, Jr. said in March that he probably met with people that were Russian — who hasn’t, in today’s globalized world? — but no meetings “that were set up” and “certainly none” in which he was representing his father’s presidential campaign.
And then this beauty of a standalone single-sentence paragraph:
Asked at that time whether he had ever discussed government policies related to Russia, the younger Mr. Trump replied, “A hundred percent no.”
But then the Times tells Junior — and Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, the young son-in-law with the security clearance and the mandate to fix the Middle East — that they know about a meeting.
How do they know about it? Well, that security clearance-wielding son-in-law’s lawyer went ahead and told them Junior invited his brother-in-law to it.
So back on Saturday, approximately 16 lifetimes ago, Junior says the meeting, with Krelim-connected Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, was just about adoption.
On Sunday, the Times publishes another story, this time citing five anonymous sources, two of whom are identified as advisors to the White House, saying Junior went to the meeting after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
This time, Junior says, OK, yes, we talked about Clinton — but it’s not what you think!
“After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton.”
Russia was helping Clinton. Also, for what it’s worth, this Russian lady lawyer “made no sense,” Junior tells the Times.
On Monday, the Times has a new story. This one says there’s an email that explicitly told Junior the Russian lawyer had information on Hillary Clinton that “was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy.”
Yikes. What say you now, Junior?
Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen. https://t.co/ccUjL1KDEa
Other tweets that day include a New York Post story calling the Times’ work “a big yawn,” a Fox host claiming that calling the meeting a “nothing burger” is an “insult to nothing burgers,” and a retweet of Dad’s biggest fan, Laura Ingraham, re-upping a Politico story from January about Ukrainian efforts to help Clinton.
(In case you, like Ingraham, are too busy to click on the story, it says that Ukraine’s efforts “were far less concerted or centrally directed than Russia’s alleged hacking and dissemination of Democratic emails. Russia’s effort was personally directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, involved the country’s military and foreign intelligence services, according to U.S. intelligence officials.”)
Guys. Guys! Never give them more time to comment. This is the greatest lesson I ever learned from Andrew Cuomo’s press office. You politely say, “We’ll be happy to add in your comment whenever you send it!” and hit publish.
Russian Dirt on Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said
Whomever wrote this headline is having a great day.
Less good day for the person who wrote the email to Junior that explicitly stated they wanted to provide information on Clinton that “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
To which Junior responded with a line that will make Carly Rae Jepsen weep missed-opportunity tears when she reads it:
He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
This is LFO meets Icona Pop. This is a line from a perhaps too-perfect summer banger, the likes of which we’ve never heard. Junior, you have a calling.
The rest of the Times story includes incredible reporting, but more impressive is how it is written as a straight news story, but with the driest, most next-level shade investigative journalism has ever seen.
As part of their explanation of one of the characters involved, Emin Agalarov, whose father “boasts close ties to Mr. Putin,” they embed a music video featuring young Emin and our current U.S. president.
After quoting an email in which lawyer Rob Goldstone mentions “the Crown prosecutor of Russia,” the Times notes “there is no such title as Crown Prosecutor in Russia.” Another sentence refers to the damning Junior email (or future summer banger) as “his ‘love it’ reply.”
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
While all of this is obviously bad for Junior, it’s also not great for Kushner, whose lawyers have gone to lengths to emphasize his obliviousness to his surroundings before, during and potentially even after this meeting. And for Manafort, who said in February, “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.'”
Both men were forwarded the email that promised Russian state-sponsored dirt on Clinton. And even if they didn’t open it, the subject line was, I kid you not, “FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”
At 12:03p June 8, day before the meeting, Kushner & Manafort were informed of a time change to "Meeting"—suggesting they already knew of it. pic.twitter.com/bVO40pe2L1
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to testify in an open hearing today as part of the congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Some believe he may be more truthful this time than he was at his last public hearing, when he falsely claimed he never communicated with Russian entities. (Sessions met with the Russian ambassador twice, and will likely be asked about a possible third meeting.)
Others are concerned President Donald Trump may try to block Sessions’ testimony at the eleventh hour. He has until 2:30pm to make his decision.
Much has been made of Comey asking Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump, which came up in Comey’s testimony. Comey also indicated the FBI knew that Sessions’ involvement in the investigation would have been “problematic” well before the attorney general recused himself:
He was … inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make [Sessions’s] continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.
Comey also said that Sessions “lingered” when Trump ordered him to leave the room before pressuring Comey to drop his investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn. “My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn’t be leaving, which is why he was lingering.” Comey was also asked about Sessions’ involvement in his own firing, which the former FBI director deemed “a reasonable question.”
If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know, and so I don’t have an answer for the question.
Sessions has dodged testifying at least three times already, and Washington Post has published 40 questions they would ask the attorney general. It’s possible Sessions will be asked not only about Trump’s firing of Comey, but of his firing of U.S. Attorneys, after Preet Bharara gave an interview to ABC on Sunday in which he said Comey’s firing felt like “déjà vu,” and maintained there is sufficient evidence to launch an investigation into obstruction of justice by the president.
The New York Times reported last week that Trump is “discontented” with Sessions, and that Sessions had “offered to resign in recent weeks, as he told President Trump he needed the freedom to do his job.” It remains to be seen whether Sessions will show Trump the loyalty that the president so badly wants.
At The New York Times Magazine, Robert F. Worth reports from Aleppo, a city in ruins. Speaking with residents about the current state of existence, Worth also examines the social and political seeds of the Syrian War, now in its sixth year. The war has been supported by a cast of foreign sponsors on both sides. Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah have backed the Assad regime, which dropped bombs and chemical weapons on its own citizens, while Saudi Arabia and Turkey have aided the rebels attempting to overthrow Assad. With Aleppo firmly back into the hands of the Assad regime, Syrians and exiled expats are starting to wonder whether backing Assad is their best chance at ending the war so they can begin to rebuild their lives.
I wanted to wind back the clock and make sense of how a city that seemed so averse to politics — of any kind — had been torn apart.
Even Syrians have trouble answering that question. In March, I met a lawyer named Anas Joudeh, who took part in some of the 2011 protests. Joudeh no longer considers himself a member of the opposition. I asked him why. “No one is 100 percent with the regime, but mostly these people are unified by their resistance to the opposition,” Joudeh told me. “They know what they don’t want, not what they want.” In December, he said, “Syrians abroad who believe in the revolution would call me and say, ‘We lost Aleppo.’ And I would say, ‘What do you mean?’ It was only a Turkish card guarded by jihadis.” For these exiled Syrians, he said, the specter of Assad’s crimes looms so large that they cannot see anything else. They refuse to acknowledge the realities of a rebellion that is corrupt, brutal and compromised by foreign sponsors.
All the same, Aleppo was a turning point, and in some ways an emblem of the wider war. Its fall appears to have persuaded many ordinary Syrians that the regime, for all its appalling cruelty and corruption, is their best shot at something close to normality.
All this may sound awfully precarious for Assad. But in a sense, it is just a more extreme form of the game Assad and his father have played for decades. The Assad regime arose after an unstable period during the 1950s and ’60s, when Syria was shaken by coups and countercoups. Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, triumphed in part by managing a constellation of rivals who hated one another but were all dependent on him. They knew that without him at the center, chaos would return, and that would be bad for business. This is truer than ever today. And it has a secondary effect, not unimportant: Many ordinary people now see Assad as their only hedge against a far more toxic kind of chaos.
At Gizmodo, Josephine Hüetlin (writing under the pseudonym Emma Lantreev) reports on how Russia’s aversion to harm reduction as a strategy to combat drug addiction has led to an HIV epidemic. In Yekaterinburg — the fourth largest city in Russia, with a population of 1.5 million people — one in 50 are HIV positive. In Russia, addiction is considered a “moral sickness” and methadone is illegal, “a despised ‘narcoliberal’ idea.” The country has gone so far as to assert that drug addiction and homosexuality are notions imported from the West in a bid to corrupt ‘Russia’s “conservative ideology and traditional values.”’ For those who are suffering, the prospects are grim.
The government’s primary strategy for dealing with people struggling with addiction is “making them feel miserable,” Sarang says. “As if the social pressure will make them stop using drugs.”
In a country with the largest population of injection drug users, methadone therapy is illegal. Methadone distribution is punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Heroin addicts— “anti-social elements,” as they’re called—are expected to quit cold-turkey, perhaps in one of the jail-like “treatment” centers.
Those suffering from both addiction and HIV complications face a torturous dead end. According to several reports by the Rylkov Foundation, doctors have often refused to treat HIV patients who use heroin, on the grounds that they won’t be able to follow their treatment regime.
The City Without Drugs organization is still active, as is their YouTube channel. It features hundreds of videos of drug addicts being dragged half-conscious through the street, their faces not blurred, or confessing their alleged worthlessness, their hopelessness, their shame.
The Russian presidential election is a year away, but protests have already begun. Last week, images of Russians being carried and even dragged from Moscow’s Red Square spread throughout the Western media. Then came the crackdown—blocked access to web pages and social media showing the photos, and a criminal case against the protesters. Earlier this week, the square was nearly empty despite another planned action.
The protests demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and objected to widespread corruption, but they also served as a rare moment of rebellion in a country that rarely dares defy its leader, President Vladimir Putin.
But when BuzzFeed News went to Krivov’s address, listed in the NYPD’s files, at 11 E. 90th St., it wasn’t a residence. It’s a Smithsonian-owned office building for its neighboring Cooper Hewitt design museum. It’s located a block behind the Russian Consulate, which is at 9 E. 91st St. One of the consulate’s public entrances is 11 E. 91st St.
Asked about the discrepancy, the NYPD insisted that 11 E. 90th St. was the address they had been given for Krivov, apparently by Russian consular officials.
“No one is living here — this is where my desk is right now,” a Smithsonian employee at the address said when BuzzFeed News called.
Most geographical definitions of Europe do, in fact, exclude Georgia. A modified version of the border that Herodotus’ contemporaries agreed on—along the Tanais River, today’s Don—is still the most commonly accepted version of the Europe-Asia border, following the Don, Kuma, and Manych rivers from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Other geographers put it along the ridge of the Caucasus Mountains, which separate Russia from Georgia—a particularly cruel irony, given that Georgia’s embrace of a European identity is focused largely on distinguishing itself from Russia.
In the 1950s, Soviet geographers undertook an effort to finally eliminate confusion about where the border between Europe and Asia lie, and as part of that they solicited opinions from the geographical societies of the three “Transcaucasus” republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The first two argued that they should be placed in Asia, with only the Georgian opinion dissenting, on “historical-cultural” grounds, that the southern border of the Soviet Union, separating it from Iran and Turkey, was the proper border with Asia. But Moscow disagreed: “That sort of radical decision would hardly be accepted by the scientific community either in the USSR, or outside its borders. In geographical, historical-ethnographic terms the Transcaucasus belongs to Asia,” wrote geographer Eduard Murzaev, summarizing the debate in a Soviet journal.
And so Georgians since then have preferred to demur on the question of where exactly the border of Europe lies. Even Georgian textbooks don’t argue that Georgia is geographically in Europe, instead offering varying definitions of “political” Europe, “geographical” Europe, and so on. “In Georgia, there’s no interest in discussing this,” Gverdtsiteli tells me.
In Roads & Kingdoms, Joshua Kucera travels to the nation of Georgia, along the border of Russia and Europe, to examine the longstanding debate about whether it belongs to Asia, Europe or the Middle East, and why it matters.
These days the museum has no ticket office, schedule, or employees. An elderly Georgian man named Soso, who introduced himself as a former KGB colonel, guides the tours. Soso said that when he returned to Tbilisi from Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he was unable to obtain a pension or an apartment, so he moved into the museum. He survives on donations from tourists.
“There are sometimes no tourists for two weeks,” he complained.
While we were talking, kids from the neighboring houses dashed into the museum. They said it was the first time they had seen the museum’s gates open, and they wanted to see what was inside. They looked at the numerous portraits and busts of Stalin and Lenin.
“Do you know who that is?” I asked, pointing to a bust of Lenin.
They said they didn’t know.
n+1 publishes an excerpt, with illustrations, from Victoria Lomasko’s 2015 book, A Trip to Tbilisi. Journalist and illustrator Lomasko was first noticed in the West for her graphic reportage from the Pussy Riot trial. In Tbilisi, Georgia, she spoke with historians, artists, journalists, activists, squatters, and local clergy about the political and cultural climate in a former Soviet republic that continues to have a tense relationship with Russia.