Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.
He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.
His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.
If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.
“Russia is ready to respond to any provocation, but the last thing the Russians want is another war. And that, if you like good news, is the best news you are going to hear.”
A whiff of World War III hangs in the air. In the US, Cold War 2.0 is on, and the anti-Russian rhetoric emanating from the Clinton campaign, echoed by the mass media, hearkens back to McCarthyism and the red scare. In response, many people are starting to think that Armageddon might be nigh—an all-out nuclear exchange, followed by nuclear winter and human extinction. It seems that many people in the US like to think that way. Goodness gracious!
We also know how painful it is to realize that the US is damaged beyond repair, or to acquiesce to the fact that most of the damage is self-inflicted: the endless, useless wars, the limitless corruption of money politics, the toxic culture and gender wars, and the imperial hubris and willful ignorance that underlies it all… This level of disconnect between the expected and the observed certainly hurts, but the pain can be avoided, for a time, through mass delusion.
This sort of downward spiral does not automatically spell “Apocalypse,” but the specifics of the state cult of the US—an old-time religiosity overlaid with the secular religion of progress—are such that there can be no other options: either we are on our way up to build colonies on Mars, or we perish in a ball of flame. Since the humiliation of having to ask the Russians for permission to fly the Soyuz to the International Space Station makes the prospect of American space colonies seem dubious, it’s Plan B: balls of flame here we come!
And so, most of the recent American warmongering toward Russia can be explained by the desire to find anyone but oneself to blame for one’s unfolding demise. This is a well-understood psychological move—projecting the shadow—where one takes everything one hates but can’t admit to about oneself and projects it onto another. On a subconscious level (and, in the case of some very stupid people, even a conscious one) the Americans would like to nuke Russia until it glows, but can’t do so because Russia would nuke them right back. But the Americans can project that same desire onto Russia, and since they have to believe that they are good while Russia is evil, this makes the Armageddon scenario appear much more likely.
But this way of thinking involves a break with reality. There is exactly one nation in the world that nukes other countries, and that would be the United States. It gratuitously nuked Japan, which was ready to surrender anyway, just because it could. It prepared to nuke Russia at the start of the Cold War, but was prevented from doing so by a lack of a sufficiently large number of nuclear bombs at the time. And it attempted to render Russia defenseless against nuclear attack, abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, but has been prevented from doing so by Russia’s new weapons. These include, among others, long-range supersonic cruise missiles (Kalibr), and suborbital intercontinental missiles carrying multiple nuclear payloads capable of evasive maneuvers as they approach their targets (Sarmat). All of these new weapons are impossible to intercept using any conceivable defensive technology. At the same time, Russia has also developed its own defensive capabilities, and its latest S-500 system will effectively seal off Russia’s airspace, being able to intercept targets both close to the ground and in low Earth orbit.
In the meantime, the US has squandered a fantastic sum of money fattening up its notoriously corrupt defense establishment with various versions of “Star Wars,” but none of that money has been particularly well spent. The two installations in Europe of Aegis Ashore (completed in Romania, planned in Poland) won’t help against Kalibr missiles launched from submarines or small ships in the Pacific or the Atlantic, close to US shores, or against intercontinental missiles that can fly around them. The THAAD installation currently going into South Korea (which the locals are currently protesting by shaving their heads) won’t change the picture either.
There is exactly one nuclear aggressor nation on the planet, and it isn’t Russia. But this shouldn’t matter. In spite of American efforts to undermine it, the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) remains in effect. The probability of a nuclear exchange is determined not by anyone’s policy but by the likelihood of it happening by accident. Since there is no winning strategy in a nuclear war, nobody has any reason to try to start one. Under no circumstances is the US ever going to be able to dictate its terms to Russia by threatening it with nuclear annihilation.
If a nuclear war is not in the cards, how about a conventional one? The US has been sabre-rattling by stationing troops and holding drills in the Baltics, right on Russia’s western border, installing ABM systems in Romania, Poland and South Korea, supporting anti-Russian Ukrainian Nazis, etc. All of this seems quite provocative; can it result in a war? And what would that war look like?
Here, we have to look at how Russia has responded to previous provocations. These are all the facts that we know, and can use to predict what will happen, as opposed to purely fictional, conjectural statements unrelated to known facts.
When the US or its proxies attack an enclave of Russian citizens outside of Russia’s borders, here are the types of responses that we have been able to observe so far:
1. The example of Georgia. During the Summer Olympics in Beijing (a traditional time of peace), the Georgian military, armed and trained by the US and Israel, invaded South Ossetia. This region was part of Georgia in name only, being mostly inhabited by Russian speakers and passport-holders. Georgian troops started shelling its capital, Tskhinval, killing some Russian peacekeeping troops stationed in the region and causing civilian casualties. In response, Russian troops rolled into Georgia, within hours completely eliminating Georgia’s war-making capability. They announced that South Ossetia was de facto no longer part of Georgia, throwing in Abkhazia (another disputed Russian enclave) for good measure, and withdrew. Georgia’s warmongering president Saakashvili was pronounced a “political corpse” and left to molder in place. Eventually he was forced to flee Georgia, where he has been declared a fugitive from justice. The US State Department recently gave him a new job, as Governor of Odessa in the Ukraine. Recently, Russian-Georgian relations have been on the mend.
2. The example of Crimea. During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, in Russia (a traditional time of peace) there occurred an illegal, violent overthrow of the elected, constitutional government of the Ukraine, followed by the installation of a US-picked puppet administration. In response, the overwhelmingly Russian population of the autonomous region of Crimea held a referendum. Some 95% of them voted to secede from the Ukraine and to once again become part of Russia, which they had been for centuries and until very recently. The Russians then used their troops already stationed in the region under an international agreement to make sure that the results of the referendum were duly enacted. Not a single shot was fired during this perfectly peaceful exercise in direct democracy.
3. The example of Crimea again. During the Summer Olympics in Rio (a traditional time of peace) a number of Ukrainian operatives stormed the Crimean border and were swiftly apprehended by Russia’s Federal Security Service, together with a cache of weapons and explosives. A number of them were killed in the process, along with two Russians. The survivors immediately confessed to planning to organize terrorist attacks at the ferry terminal that links Crimea with the Russian mainland and a railway station. The ringleader of the group confessed to being promised the princely sum of $140 for carrying out these attacks. All of them are very much looking forward to a warm, dry bunk and three square meals of day, care of the Russian government, which must seem like a slice of heaven compared to the violence, chaos, destitution and desolation that characterizes life in present-day Ukraine. In response, the government in Kiev protested against “Russian provocation,” and put its troops on alert to prepare against “Russian invasion.” Perhaps the next shipment of US aid to the Ukraine should include a supply of chlorpromazine or some other high-potency antipsychotic medication.
Note the constant refrain of “during the Olympics.” This is not a coincidence but is indicative of a certain American modus operandi. Yes, waging war during a traditional time of peace is both cynical and stupid. But the American motto seems to be “If we try something repeatedly and it still doesn’t work, then we just aren’t trying hard enough.” In the minds of those who plan these events, the reason they never work right can’t possibly have anything to do with it being stupid. This is known as “Level III Stupid”: stupidity so profound that it is unable to comprehend its own stupidity.
4. The example of Donbass. After the events described in point 2 above, this populous, industrialized region, which was part of Russia until well into the 20th century and is linguistically and culturally Russian, went into political turmoil, because most of the locals wanted nothing to do with the government that had been installed in Kiev, which they saw as illegitimate. The Kiev government proceeded to make things worse, first by enacting laws infringing on the rights of Russian-speakers, then by actually attacking the region with the army, which they continue to do to this day, with three unsuccessful invasions and continuous shelling of both residential and industrial areas, in the course of which over ten thousand civilians have been murdered and many more wounded. In response, Russia assisted with establishing a local resistance movement supported by a capable military contingent formed of local volunteers. This was done by Russian volunteers, acting in an unofficial capacity, and by Russian private citizens donating money to the cause. In spite of Western hysteria over “Russian invasion” and “Russian aggression,” no evidence of it exists. Instead, the Russian government has done just three things: it refused to interfere with the work of its citizens coming to the aid of Donbass; it pursued a diplomatic strategy for resolving the conflict; and it has provided numerous convoys of humanitarian aid to the residents of Donbass. Russia’s diplomatic initiative resulted in two international agreements—Minsk I and Minsk II—which compelled both Kiev and Donbass to pursue a strategy of political resolution of the conflict through cessation of hostilities and the granting to Donbass of full autonomy. Kiev has steadfastly refused to fulfill its obligations under these agreements. The conflict is now frozen, but continuing to bleed because of Ukrainian shelling, waiting for the Ukrainian puppet government to collapse.
To complete the picture, let us include Russia’s recent military action in Syria, where it came to the defense of the embattled Syrian government and quickly demolished a large part of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Islamic Caliphate, along with various other terrorist organizations active in the region. The rationale for this action is that Russia saw a foreign-funded terrorist nest in Syria as a direct threat to Russia’s security. Two other notable facts here are that Russia acted in accordance with international law, having been invited by Syria’s legitimate, internationally recognized government and that the military action was scaled back as soon as it seemed possible for all of the legitimate (non-terrorist) parties to the conflict to return to the negotiating table. These three elements—using military force as a reactive security measure, scrupulous adherence to international law, and seeing military action as being in the service of diplomacy—are very important to understanding Russia’s methods and ambitions.
Turning now to US military/diplomatic adventures, we see a situation that is quite different. US military spending is responsible for over half of all federal discretionary spending, dwarfing most other vitally important sectors, such as infrastructure, public medicine and public education. It serves several objectives. Most importantly, it is a public jobs program: a way of employing people who are not employable in any actually productive capacity due to lack of intelligence, education and training. Second, it is a way for politicians and defense contractors to synergistically enrich themselves and each other at the public’s expense. Third, it is an advertising program for weapons sales, the US being the top purveyor of lethal technology in the world. Last of all, it is a way of projecting force around the world, bombing into submission any country that dares oppose Washington’s global hegemonic ambitions, often in total disregard of international law. Nowhere on this list is the actual goal of defending the US.
None of these justifications works vis-à-vis Russia. In dollar terms, the US outspends Russia on defense hands down. However, viewed in terms of purchasing parity, Russia manages to buy as much as ten times more defensive capability per unit national wealth than the US, largely negating this advantage. Also, what the US gets for its money is inferior: the Russian military gets the weapons it wants; the US military gets what the corrupt political establishment and their accomplices in the military-industrial complex want in order to enrich themselves. In terms of being an advertising campaign for weapons sales, watching Russian weaponry in action in Syria, effectively wiping out terrorists in short order through a relentless bombing campaign using scant resources, then seeing US weaponry used by the Saudis in Yemen, with much support and advice from the US, being continuously defeated by lightly armed insurgents, is unlikely to generate too many additional sales leads. Lastly, the project of maintaining US global hegemony seems to be on the rocks as well. Russia and China are now in a de facto military union. Russia’s superior weaponry, coupled with China’s almost infinitely huge infantry, make it an undefeatable combination. Russia now has a permanent air base in Syria, has made a deal with Iran to use Iranian military bases, and is in the process of prying Turkey away from NATO. As the US military, with its numerous useless bases around the world and piles of useless gadgets, turns into an international embarrassment, it remains, for the time being, a public jobs program for employing incompetents, and a rich source of graft.
In all, it is important to understand how actually circumscribed American military capabilities are. The US is very good at attacking vastly inferior adversaries. The action against Nazi Germany only succeeded because it was by then effectively defeated by the Red Army—all except for the final mop-up, which is when the US came out of its timid isolation and joined the fray. Even North Korea and Vietnam proved too tough for it, and even there its poor performance would have been much poorer were it not for the draft, which had the effect of adding non-incompetents to the ranks, but produced the unpleasant side-effect of enlisted men shooting their incompetent officers—a much underreported chapter of American military history. And now, with the addition of LGBTQ people to the ranks, the US military is on its way to becoming an international laughing stock. Previously, terms like “faggot” and “pussy” were in widespread use in the US military’s basic training. Drill sergeants used such terminology to exhort the “numb-nuts” placed in their charge to start acting like men. I wonder what words drill sergeants use now that they’ve been tasked with training those they previously referred to as “faggots” and “pussies”? The comedic potential of this nuance isn’t lost on Russia’s military men.
This comedy can continue as long as the US military continues to shy away from attacking any serious adversary, because if it did, comedy would turn to tragedy rather quickly.
If, for instance, US forces tried to attack Russian territory by lobbing missiles across the border, they would be neutralized in instantaneous retaliation by Russia’s vastly superior artillery.
If Americans or their proxies provoked Russians living outside of Russia (and there are millions of them) to the point of open rebellion, Russian volunteers, acting in an unofficial capacity and using private funds, would quickly train, outfit and arm them, creating a popular insurgency that would continue for years, if necessary, until Americans and their proxies capitulate.
If the Americans do the ultimately foolish thing and invade Russian territory, they would be kettled and annihilated, as repeatedly happened to the Ukrainian forces in Donbass.
Any attempt to attack Russia using the US aircraft carrier fleet would result in its instantaneous sinking using any of several weapons: ballistic anti-ship missiles, supercavitating torpedos or supersonic cruise missiles.
Strategic bombers, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles would be eliminated by Russia’s advanced new air defense systems.
So much for attack; but what about defense? Well it turns out that there is an entire separate dimension to engaging Russia militarily. You see, Russia lost a huge number of civilian lives while fighting off Nazi Germany. Many people, including old people, women and children, died of starvation and disease, or from German shelling, or from the abuse they suffered at the hands of German soldiers. On the other hand, Soviet military casualties were on par with those of the Germans. This incredible calamity befell Russia because it had been invaded, and it has conditioned Russian military thinking ever since. The next large-scale war, if there ever is one, will be fought on enemy territory. Thus, if the US attacks Russia, Russia will counterattack the US mainland. Keeping in mind that the US hasn’t fought a war on its own territory in over 150 years, this would come as quite a shock.
Of course, this would be done in ways that are consistent with Russian military thinking. Most importantly, the attack must be such that the possibility of triggering a nuclear exchange remains minimized. Second, the use of force would be kept to the minimum required to secure a cessation of hostilities and a return to the negotiating table on terms favorable to Russia. Third, every effort would be made to make good use of internal popular revolts to create long-lasting insurgencies, letting volunteers provide the necessary arms and training. Lastly, winning the peace is just as important as winning the war, and every effort would be made to inform the American public that what they are experiencing is just retribution for certain illegal acts. From a diplomatic perspective, it would be much more tidy to treat the problem of war criminals running the US as an internal, American political problem, to be solved by Americans themselves, with an absolute minimum of outside help. This would best be accomplished through a bit of friendly, neighborly intelligence-sharing, letting all interested parties within the US know who exactly should be held responsible for these war crimes, what they and their family members look like, and where they live.
The question then is, What is the absolute minimum of military action—what I am calling “a thousand balls of fire,” named after George Bush Senior’s “a thousand points of light”—to restore peace on terms favorable to Russia? It seems to me that 1000 “balls of fire” is just about the right number. These would be smallish explosions—enough to demolish a building or an industrial installation, with almost no casualties. This last point is extremely important, because the goal is to destroy the system without actually directly hurting any of the people. It wouldn’t be anyone else’s fault if people in the US suffer because they refuse to do as their own FEMA asks them to do: stockpile a month’s worth of food and water and put together an emergency evacuation plan. In addition, given the direction in which the US is heading, getting a second passport, expatriating your savings, and getting some firearms training just in case you end up sticking around are all good ideas.
The reason it is very important for this military action to not kill anyone is this: there are some three million Russians currently residing in the US, and killing any of them is definitely not on strategy. There is an even larger number of people from populous countries friendly to Russia, such as China and India, who should also remain unharmed. Thus, a strategy that would result in massive loss of life would simply not be acceptable. A much better scenario would involve producing a crisis that would quickly convince the Russians living in the US (along with all the other foreign nationals and first-generation immigrants, and quite a few of the second-generation immigrants too) that the US is no longer a good place to live. Then all of these people could be repatriated—a process that would no doubt take a few years. Currently, Russia is the number three destination worldwide for people looking for a better place to live, after the US and Germany. Germany is now on the verge of open revolt against Angela Merkel’s insane pro-immigration policies. The US is not far behind, and won’t remain an attractive destination for much longer. And that leaves Russia as the number one go-to place on the whole planet. That’s a lot of pressure, even for a country that is 11 time zones wide and has plenty of everything except tropical fruit and people.
We must also keep in mind that Israel—which is, let’s face it, a US protectorate temporarily parked on Palestinian land—wouldn’t last long without massive US support. Fully a third of Israeli population happens to be Russian. The moment Project Israel starts looking defunct, most of these Russian Jews, clever people that they are, will no doubt decide to stage an exodus and go right back to Russia, as is their right. This will create quite a headache for Russia’s Federal Migration Service, because it will have to sift through them all, letting in all the normal Russian Jews while keeping out the Zionist zealots, the war criminals and the ultra-religious nutcases. This will also take considerable time.
But actions that risk major loss of life also turn out to be entirely unnecessary, because an effective alternative strategy is available: destroy key pieces of government and corporate infrastructure, then fold your arms and wait for the other side to crawl back to the negotiating table waving a white rag. You see, there are just a few magic ingredients that allow the US to continue to exist as a stable, developed country capable of projecting military force overseas. They are: the electric grid; the financial system; the interstate highway system; rail and ocean freight; the airlines; and oil and gas pipelines. Disable all of the above, and it’s pretty much game over. How many “balls of flame” would that take? Probably well under a thousand.
Disabling the electric grid is almost ridiculously easy, because the system is very highly integrated and interdependent, consisting of just three sub-grids, called “interconnects”: western, eastern and Texas. The most vulnerable parts of the system are the Large Power Transformers (LPTs) which step up voltages to millions of volts for transmission, and step them down again for distribution. These units are big as houses, custom-built, cost millions of dollars and a few years to replace, and are mostly manufactured outside the US. Also, along with the rest of the infrastructure in the US, most of them are quite old and prone to failure. There are several thousand of these key pieces of equipment, but because the electric grid in the US is working at close to capacity, with several critical choke points, it would be completely disabled if even a handful of the particularly strategic LPTs were destroyed. In the US, any extended power outage in any of the larger urban centers automatically triggers large-scale looting and mayhem. Some estimate that just a two week long outage would push the situation to a point of no return, where the damage would become too extensive to ever be repaired.
Disabling the financial system is likewise relatively trivial. There are just a few choke points, including the Federal Reserve, a few major banks, debit and credit card company data centers, etc. They can be disabled using a variety of methods, such as a cruise missile strike, a cyberattack, electric supply disruption or even civil unrest. It bears noting that the financial system in the US is rigged to blow even without foreign intervention. The combination of runaway debt, a gigantic bond bubble, the Federal Reserve trapped into ever-lower interest rates, underfunded pensions and other obligations, hugely overpriced real estate and a ridiculously frothy stock market will eventually detonate it from the inside.
A few more surgical strikes can take out the oil and gas pipelines, import terminals, highway bridges and tunnels, railroads and airlines. A few months without access to money and financial services, electricity, gasoline, diesel, natural gas, air transport or imported spare parts needed to repair the damage should be enough to force the US to capitulate. If it makes any efforts to restore any of these services, an additional strike or two would quickly negate them.
The number of “balls of flame” can be optimized by taking advantage of destructive synergies: a GPS jammer deployed near the site of an attack can prevent responders from navigating to it; taking out a supply depot together with the facility it serves, coupled with transportation system disruptions, can delay repairs by many months; a simple bomb threat can immobilize a transportation hub, making it a sitting duck instead of a large number of moving targets; etc.
You may think that executing such a fine-tuned attack would require a great deal of intelligence, which would be difficult to gather, but this is not the case. First, a great deal of tactically useful information is constantly being leaked by insiders, who often consider themselves “patriots.” Second, what hasn’t been leaked can be hacked, because of the pitiable state of cybersecurity in the US. Remember, Russia is where anti-virus software is made—and a few of the viruses too. The National Security Agency was recently hacked, and its crown jewels stolen; if it can be hacked, what about all those whose security it supposedly protects?
You might also think that the US, if attacked in this manner, could effectively retaliate in kind, but this scenario is rather difficult to imagine. Many Russians don’t find English too difficult, are generally familiar with the US through exposure to US media, and the specialists among them, especially those who have studied or taught at universities in the US, can navigate their field of expertise in the US almost as easily as in Russia. Most Americans, on the other hand, can barely find Russia on a map, can’t get past the Cyrillic alphabet and find Russian utterly incomprehensible.
Also consider that Russia’s defense establishment is mainly focused on… defense. Offending people in foreign lands is not generally seen as strategically important. “A hundred friends is better than a hundred rubles” is a popular saying. And so Russia manages to be friends with India and Pakistan at the same time, and with China and Vietnam. In the Middle East, it maintains cordial relations with Turkey, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Iran, also all at the same time. Russian diplomats are required to keep channels of communication open with friends and adversaries alike, at all times. Yes, being inexplicably adversarial toward Russia can be excruciatingly painful, but you can make it stop any time! All it takes is a phone call.
Add to this the fact that the vicissitudes of Russian history have conditioned Russia’s population to expect the worst, and simply deal with it. “They can’t kill us all!” is another favorite saying. If Americans manage to make them suffer, the Russian people would no doubt find great solace in the fact they are making the Americans suffer even worse, and many among them would think that this achievement, in itself, is already a victory. Nor will they remain without help; it is no accident that Russia’s Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, previously ran the Emergencies Ministry, and his performance at his job there won him much adulation and praise. In short, if attacked, the Russians will simply take their lumps—as they always have—and then go on to conquer and win, as they always have.
It doesn’t help matters that most of what little Americans have been told about Russia by their political leaders and mass media is almost entirely wrong. They keep hearing about Putin and the “Russian bear,” and so they are probably imagining Russia to be a vast wasteland where Vladimir Putin keeps company with a chess-playing, internet server-hacking, nuclear physicist, rocket scientist, Ebola vaccine-inventing, polyglot, polymath bear. Bears are wonderful, Russians love bears, but let’s not overstate things. Yes, Russian bears can ride bicycles and are sometimes even good with children, but they are still just wild animals and/or pets (many Russians can’t draw that distinction). And so when the Americans growl about the “Russian bear,” the Russians wonder, Which one?
In short, Russia is to most Americans a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and there simply isn’t a large enough pool of intelligent Americans with good knowledge of Russia to draw upon, whereas to many Russians the US is an open book. As far as the actual American “intelligence” and “security” services, they are all bloated bureaucratic boondoggles mired in political opportunism and groupthink that excel at just two things: unquestioningly following idiotic procedures, and creatively fitting the facts to the politics du jour. “Proving” that Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction”—no problem! Telling Islamist terrorists apart from elderly midwestern grandmothers at an airport security checkpoint—no can do!
Russia will not resort to military measures against the US unless sorely provoked. Time and patience are on Russia’s side. With each passing year, the US grows weaker and loses friends and allies, while Russia grows stronger and gains friends and allies. The US, with its political dysfunction, runaway debt, decaying infrastructure and spreading civil unrest, is a dead nation walking. It will take time for each of the United States to neatly demolish themselves into their own footprints, like those three New York skyscrapers did on 9/11 (WTC #1, #2 and #7) but Russia is very patient. Russia is ready to respond to any provocation, but the last thing the Russians want is another war. And that, if you like good news, is the best news you are going to hear. But if you still think that there is going to be a war with Russia, don’t think “Armageddon”; think “a thousand balls of flame,” and then—crickets!
Prehistoric art in Spain: The 27,000-year-old cave art found under graffiti in Spain’s Basque Country | Culture
Diego Garate, doctor of prehistory at the University of Cantabria and a specialist in Paleolithic art, was surprised when he came across a 27,000-year-old painting of a bison a meter and a half long, hidden under graffiti, in one of the Aizpitarte caves in the Basque Country. The discovery of the artwork, obscured by the word “exit” and an arrow indicating the way out of the cave, took place in September 2015. Now, following years of research, investigators claim it indicates the existence of a shared artistic culture in ancient Europe.
According to Garate, the bison painting was found when he and a team of speleologists explored the cave in search of cave art. “We went through a small, very low arch about 50 centimeters high, that led into a passageway and when I raised my head I saw an impressive bison covered by graffiti on the rock,” he says. “Its characteristics were similar to those of other bison found in at least 17 caves in different parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Central Europe.” Garate and his team’s research, which was published last week in the journal PLOS One, also includes studies of paintings found in three caves in the area of bison, horses and a bird in an artistic style previously unseen in the Iberian peninsula.
Garate began searching for Paleolithic paintings in Spain’s Basque Country a decade ago. “Very little was known about the cave art in this region compared with neighboring areas such as Cantabria, which has the Altamira cave; or the central Pyrenees, which is full of decorated caves; or the French Dordogne, which is famous for its paintings of bison and mammoths,” says Garate.
In the center of that geographical triangle is Basque Country, which then – like now – was a transit area for people crossing between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe. “It was paradoxical that there was so little cave art considering it was the only pass available to the men and women of that period,” says Garate. In 2011, when he began his research, only six caves with artwork were recorded in the entire Basque Country. Now that number has risen to 28.
Manuel González Morales, a researcher at the International Institute of Prehistoric Research in Cantabria, says that Garate’s work is “extraordinarily” significant both archaeologically and historically as it has revealed more locations containing Paleolithic art in an area that, until several years ago, appeared relatively empty of this kind of historical evidence. Beyond purely aesthetic considerations, González says these paintings represent “new examples of how underground spaces, including some difficult to access, were used for the development of artistic activity.”
Garate claims that the discovery of the bison paintings in that region of Spain proves that its inhabitants exchanged ideas, shared graphic expressions and had similar and recurring motifs. “We have discovered that human groups in the area communicated with each other,” says Garate. “For example, they used the same tools fashioned from bone to sculpt the stone. We found the remains of those tools in the same caves where we found the paintings.”
The research also points to the existence of exchange networks rather than the same groups of humans moving or migrating from one place to another. “These bison are proof of what would be the first instance of globalization on a continental scale, from Central Europe to the Iberian Peninsula, something like the first European Union 27,000 years ago,” says González, who adds that Garate’s findings show that Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer groups made contact with other groups and exchanged technical and stylistic ideas.
One of the most notable features of these paintings is their perspective, which is very different from what we use today. “The type of art that was developed on the continent 27,000 years ago was expressionist,” explains Garate. “The artists did not try to depict reality, but to offer their own interpretation of it.” Consequently, the animals in these paintings appear disproportionate – their faces are grotesque while their legs and horns are two dimensional, like the art found in Egyptian temples.
Garate explains that the style of the paintings is difficult to appreciate today, not because the artists could not portray the subject of their art as they saw them, but because there was an established painting technique. “It gives us the feeling that the art was controlled; subject to rules imposed from a place of power,” says Garate. “The artist would be more like a craftsman. Rather than doing what occurred to them, they could only do what they were ordered to do. It was a collective rather than an individual form of art.”
But experts still don’t know the purpose or meaning of these paintings. “There are multiple interpretations and perhaps there is more than one answer,” Garate acknowledges. “We know that for 30,000 years, animals rather than plants, humans or stars were depicted. Over that period of time, there were several different human groups, but the art is limited to the same motif. We also know that they [the paintings] did not depict the animals that were hunted and eaten, which makes us think that these paintings have a very strong message, perhaps related to social cohesion; to that need to keep the group together in order to survive.”
English version by Heather Galloway.
See For Yourself, 30 of the New, Modern, Amazing Airports of ‘Stagnating Russia’ (Great Pictures)
The author is CEO of the Awara Group, which offers consulting, accounting, tax, and legal services. He is the author of several books on politics and philosophy, as well as Putin’s New Russia. He speaks fluent English, Russian, Finnish, and Swedish, and German, French, and Spanish less fluently. He resides in Moscow.
What prompted me to write this Awara Accounting report on the impressive development of Russia’s airports was to produce a cure for the but-beyond-the-MKAD syndrome. The MKAD is the 110 kilometer outer ring road around Moscow. And this syndrome refers to the habit of the detractors of Putin’s Russia to claim that any visible development of Russia, if any, has happened only within the limits of Moscow city – “just go outside the Ring Road and you’ll see there’s nothing but poverty and ruin.”
Many of those who suffer from this syndrome live in a deep-seated cognitive dissonance where they just refuse to trust their lying eyes, while some of them are just peddlers of pure propaganda or victims of the latter.
So, let’s see what actually happens beyond the MKAD. Amazing airports have been built or reconstructed both in Moscow and across the vast country and many other impressive projects have been presented.
And it is not just airports, it is roads and bridges, too. Those Awara has covered in other reports in the series on Putin’s incredible infrastructure investments. You can read about the amazing new bridges at this link: Putin the Pontiff – Bridge maker and the great development of Russia’s roads here.
What’s remarkable is also the efficiency and speed of the construction of the new airport terminals. Most of them have been built in three years and some in two or even less. The Simferopol airport (above) was built in two years and was up and running within three years from the decision to initiate the project. Krasnoyarsk (below) needed only1.5 years to complete the construction.
Russia’s 79 international airports
Our method was to review all the airports in a list of all of Russia’s international airports. (An international airport is one into which a plane can fly directly from a foreign country as it runs a passport control). There were 79 airports in our list. From what I had registered from the news and in my travels, I expected that there would be some 10 or 15 cool new airports to present. But no. The task proved much more overwhelming as it turned out that almost every one of the listed airports had been reconstructed or was due for reconstruction.
Instead of writing up an easy piece with nice pics, I ended up spending weeks on identifying and digesting all the information. The investigation showed that practically each one of the 79 airports had either been modernized or about to be so. I identified less than 10 airports on the list of international airports which were not brought up to modern quality standards since 2000 or on the way to it. And of those half were either remote outposts or military airfields. I am confident, that all the passenger airports in the major Russian cities (defined as having some 150 thousand or more inhabitants) will be totally modernized within the next 6 years.
Practically all the development of the international airports has been funded by both public and private money, where the infrastructure like runways and flight controls have been recipients of public funds whereas the terminals have been mostly built by public funds.
In addition to the 79 international airports there are some 60 regional airports with more or less regular traffic. These will all also be upgraded according to a multibillion government program on development of regional airports running up to 2024. This forms part of a broader strategic program ordered by President Putin to improve the Russian economy, demographics and infrastructure with public and private funding amounting to a total of $400 billion.
An important goal with the development of the airports is to help decentralize the economy by way of increasing direct interconnectivity of Russian cities instead of people having to fly transit through Moscow, which has in the past really hampered the overall development of the country.
The new airport facilities are really needed to keep up with the passenger boom
The new enlarged and reconstructed airports cater to a growing number of passengers. In 2000, when Putin first took office, the Russian airports served 35.5 million passengers, but by 2018 the number had grown sixfold to 205 million. That surpasses the 135 million passengers of the USSR in the 1980s. The growth has been huge and accelerating, just in five years from 2014 to 2018 the number grew by one third.
In the meanwhile, the Moscow air cluster with 97 million passengers (2018) has become Europe’s third largest air hub after London (126 mln) and Paris (104 mln). Sheremetyevo – Europe’s fastest growing airport – alone has grown 4.5 times since 2000 to present 46 million. At the same time, Moscow’s second airport Domodedovo grew from handling 2.8 million passengers in in 2000 to 30 million in 2017.
Air travel is a very solid indicator for economic activity, these figures then show that there is much going on that does not catch the eye of the GDP.
When I first came to Moscow by air in 1993, the city did not have a single modern airport. Actually, back then the Sheremetyevo international airport, present day Terminal F, should have formally counted as a modern one as it was built only about a decade earlier in 1980 in time for the Moscow Olympics. But the airport – built by a West German company – was terribly outdated in design and functionality from the start. Both the façade and the interior design was informed by a dark and gloomy style prevailing in Russia during the 1970s. My impression as a passenger was that that the terminal must have been in operational neglect at least three decades by then.
I used to hate having to travel through that airport and each time I would wish they’d remove the heavy copper circles which were misdecorating the ceilings and literally weighing over the heads of the passengers. One day sometime in the early 2000s it did happen; the copper was gone and a white suspended ceiling was there instead. Somebody told me that the reason was that the commodity price of copper had surged. Whatever, I was happy for it. In the 1990s the restrooms where stinky and you’d be lucky if they were furnished with paper. And then there was the strong kerosene fumes wafting around the whole airport. An odor which you would connect with Russia in good and bad. For me it actually became so characteristic of Russia, that I later found myself upon arrival inhaling that fume, like one would mountain air, happy as I had returned to Russia from the increasingly oppressive West.
But today all has changed, if Sheremetyevo Terminal F was probably the worst of all the world’s major airports, I considered the new Terminal D as one of the best when it opened in 2009. Presently the terminal is overcrowded as it operates way over its planned capacity, but that should ease when the domestic traffic is fully transferred to the new Terminal B, which opened in 2018.
If Sheremetyevo Terminal G was depressing, then the domestic terminal then called Sheremetyevo 1 was like a parody of all that was wrong with the later stages of the USSR just before its demise. Moscow’s second airport, Domodedovo, at that time was very much the same, but today Domodedovo along with Sheremetyevo are modern international airports meeting the highest global standards. There is a third major Moscow airport as well, the Vnukovo airport. And a smaller, fourth Moscow cluster international airport, Zhukovsky (Ramenskoe) opened in 2018.
In 2018, in time for the FIFA World Cup, Moscow’s Sheremetyevo got the new Terminal B for domestic flights. This one will be merged with present Terminal C, after the renovation of the latter, to form a hub for domestic flights, while Terminals D, E and F will serve international flights. An underground shuttle train opened in 2018 already connects the domestic and international terminals.
The old Domodedovo terminal in Moscow
A waiting lounge at the old Domodedovo
The new Domodedovo (above and below)
New, in 2012 (above) and old, in 2000 (below) Vnukovo, Moscow’s 3rd airport.
Let’s now go beyond the MKAD and look at the other new amazing airport complexes around the country. This is just a selection, there is much more.
Saint Petersburg was really in a need of a modern airport, and it was therefore such a relief when it finally opened in 2013
Belgorod a city of 350 thousand inhabitants close to the Ukrainian border got this new beautiful terminal in 2013.
Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East got a new airport terminal in 2012 as part of the preparations for the APEC 2012 summit.
Yekaterinburg, Russia’s third largest city on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains received a new terminal in 2009.
This new airport complex was erected in 2012 in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia’s sixth most populous city. It was built in the run up to the 2013 Summer Universiade and enlarged for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
This new airport in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave at the Baltic Sea, opened in 2017
The new airport in Nizhny Novgorod was also built as part of Russia’s infrastructure upgrade in preparation for the 2018 football World Cup.
The new airport in Novosibirsk is from 2015. Novosibirsk with 1.5 million is a city in Siberia at the Ob River. The Trans-Siberian Railway fueled much of the city’s growth in the 19th century.
The new terminal in Perm from 2017 is a real architectural gem. Perm has a population over one million and is located in the, Urals 300 kilometers north-west of Yekaterinburg and 400 kilometers north of Ufa.
Rostov-on-Don is one more of the cities which got a new airport terminal (opened 2017) in preparation for the FIFA 2018 World Cup. In fact, this was a brand new airport built on virgin field, whereas the other airports in this survey represent development and enlargements of previously existing airports.
SABETA, YAMAL PENINSULA
Sabetta on the Yamal peninsula got an airport in 2014 in connection with Russia’s push to develop its Arctic regions and in this case especially the Yamal LNG project and the Yuzhno-Tambeyskoye gas field.
In 2014 opened the new airport in Samara in the southeastern part of European Russia on the east bank of the river Volga.
Simferopol airport in Russian Crimea is probably the nicest airport in the world. Built in 2018, four years after Crimea’s liberation from Ukrainian occupation.
It was an amazing feeling travelling through that airport. The architect has really managed to do what is most important in places like that, to neutralize the stress factor. Everything is so spacy, harmonious and green that you get a feeling that you are in a giant spa instead of an airport. The Simferopol airport really calmed my nerves on a busy travelling day.
The Sochi airport was built in 2009 and enlarged in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
This airport in Talakan in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) opened in 2012.
The new international terminal in Tyumen was opened in 2017. Tyumen was the first Russian settlement in Siberia and now has an estimated population of 750 thousand.
Ufa, the capital city of Bashkortostan at the Urals received this new air terminal in 2015.
This is the airport in Volgograd, the WWII name of which was Stalingrad. A new international terminal was constructed in 2016 and in 2018 another terminal for domestic flights was opened to accommodate football fans for FIFA 2018.
The newly constructed airport in Krasnoyarsk opened in December 2017. Krasnoyarsk is located at the Yenisei River in Siberia. With a population over one million it is the third largest Siberian city after Novosibirsk and Omsk. Novosibirsk got a new airport in 2015 and Omsk will get one before 2022.
Those were some of the airports built and upgraded within the last decade, now let’s look on some airport projects underway.
The Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov presented in May 2018 this bold project for the new airport in the Chechen capital Grozny. The construction is expected to commence in 2020.
The projected new terminal at the Saratov airport is one more of the new Russian airports with daring architecture, not only functionality but beauty, too. Saratov on the Volga River and with a population of some 850 thousand will have this airport up and running in 2019.
The Irkutsk airport will be modernized with this new terminal in 2020. Irkutsk is a city of 600 thousand people near the Lake Baikal.
Krasnodar, Russia’s fastest growing city, in the South of the country will get a new airport and air city hub by 2023.
This new terminal in Nalchik is due by 2020. Nalchik is a city of 300 thousand situated at an altitude of 550 meters (1,800 ft) in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is Russia’s easternmost big city situated on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Interestingly, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is actually situated quite a bit eastward from Tokyo if you go by the latitude of geographic coordinates. That should really give you an idea how huge Russia is. This new airport terminal will be erected there by 2021.
As part of Putin’s drive to develop Russia’s Far East, Khabarovsk will get a new modern airport terminal by 2019. Further the airport will be developed into a logistic hub with an air city consisting of business centers, hotels and an exposition center. Khabarovsk, a city of more than half a million people, is located at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers about 800 kilometers north of Vladivostok and only 30 kilometers from the Chinese border.
Chelyabinsk is just to the east of the Ural Mountains and 210 kilometers south of Yekaterinburg. This city with more than 1 million inhabitants will soon get this new airport terminal which is due in 2019. The construction was spurred by the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits to be held in Chelyabinsk in 2020.
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk with a population of 200 thousand is on the Sakhalin island, one thousand kilometer west from the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their new airport terminal is due by end of 2019 so as to accommodate growing needs of tourism and business.
We will round off this survey with this impressive new airport terminal which will be erected in Gelendzhik. Gelendzhik is a Black Sea resort 250 kilometer west from Sochi. In fact, between Sochi and Anapa on the whole coast, there are no high quality resorts except for Gelendzhik, but this one is truly a gem. The new terminal will be built by 2021. Gelendzhik is the only one in our survey which does not presently have the status of international airport, but that should be taken care of by the time this new airport is done. With Gelendzhik completed, Russia’s Black Sea region will have six modern large airports – Sochi, Gelendzhik, Anapa, Simferopol, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don – in a matrix of roughly 300 kilometers between airport. That is an impressive density in itself and doubly remarkable considering there was not a single decent airport there before 2009. Considering also the road building happening in the region, the area is on its way to develop into a Russian Provence, with which it already shares the climate and nature.
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