Grigory Pasko: New New Vasyuki

New New Vasyuki By Grigory Pasko, journalist Vladivostok met us with sunny, frosty weather – and an announcement about the arrival of Russian president Putin: he was returning to Moscow from India through Russia’s Far East. The simple and innocent headline in one of the local newspapers read “The magician unexpectedly flew in…”. vlad1.jpg Vladivostok, photo by G. Pasko The “magician” spoke a whole bunch about the development of the distant fringes of the fatherland and noted that the main task is the construction of… an oceanarium. Only not in that place where the Patroclus cove has spread and into which hundreds of thousands of rubles have already been thrown, but in another – on Russky Island, to which a kilometer-and-a-half-long bridge will need to be built. Also mentioned was the possible holding of an APEC summit in the capital of Primorsky Kray in 2012. And that means we have to start getting ready, create the infrastructure, hotels, roads… All in all, the president promised to allocate 100 billion rubles from the state budget for everything. (Local officials had already started to divvy up this money-pie in their minds, but minister [of the economy] Gref brought them down to earth with his Muscovite commentary: this sum will be earmarked in the budget no earlier than 2010. Which begs the question: when is this money going to be spent, if the summit is supposed to take place in 2012 already?). It should be noted that together with Putin, the glorious city of Vladivostok was visited by ministers Lavrov, Ivanov, and Levitin, plenipotentiary representative of the president in the Far Eastern District Iskhakov, and Rosneft president Bogdanchikov. Each of them also spoke about something. Minister of defense Ivanov, for example, promised that apartments would be built for military personnel in precisely that place where it was initially planned to build the oceanarium. (I know this place well; my brother, a serviceman, used to live there a long time. It would be difficult to find a more disgusting place to live: the road is bad, it’s far from the center of town, there are constant winds and fogs…). In addition, Ivanov declared the readiness of the ministry of defense to remove all military units from Russky Island. Why specifically an oceanarium on the island? – nobody had any explanation. Here’s what I think: Putin has decided to build himself his latest new residence there. He’ll come by, to inspect the oil pipeline (Bogdanchikov wasn’t traveling with him by chance) that it has already been decided to run all the way to the Kozmino cove, and while he’s here, he’ll also take a nice rest from his heavy labors on Russky Island. Of course, the place is currently heavily infested with military types. Truda cove alone is a fetid pool filled with ships containing oil and fuel that had been sunk in it. vlad2.jpg Vladivostok, photo by G. Pasko What else did the officials under the leadership of the “magician” talk about? About the need to reconstruct (how many times have we heard this one!) the airport; build a bridge across the Golden Horn cove (I’ve been hearing about this for 25 years already!); build roads and hotels; a nuclear power station, an aluminum plant, and an oil refinery; an LNG plant; light commercial-type planes; a new university… All these vast plans reminded me of Ilf and Petrov’s classic book “The Twelve Chairs”, in which the hero, Ostap Bender, has pie-in-the-sky dreams of creating a world chess capital in the sleepy village of New Vasyuki. Ever since, the term “New Vasyuki” has become shorthand for any hot-air pipe-dream thrown to the winds with words. I also recalled a session of the security council under the leadership of Putin in December of last year, which happened to have been devoted to problems of the development of Russia’s Far East. They adopted a decision then to create a “commission for the deciding of questions”. There are already dozens of such commissions, but people continue fleeing the Far East as before. It is noteworthy that the next day after the arrival of Putin & Co., it snowed in Vladivostok. A snowstorm covered all the roads, and life in the city became severely paralyzed. “New New Vasyuki” ground to a halt: none of the stores were open for business, there were constant automobile accidents and traffic jams on the roads, the ferry to Russky Island wasn’t running, and all the planes were grounded. The only thing that moved were all-wheel-drive Japanese cars, the import of which into the country the Putin government is attempting to prohibit permanently. I asked a local taxi driver what he thought about the construction of bridges to Russky Island. “Morons!”, he replied without hesitation. “Better they should do the road along the Amur inlet and let trucks go on it”. By the way, I’d already heard about the reconstruction of this road from former mayor of Vladivostok Viktor Cherepkov. He’s earned a place for himself in the city’s history by having built several vitally needed roads in the city, which have ever since been known as “the Cherepovsky roads”. From the latest news in Vladivostok I was told the following: soon there won’t be any Chinese in the city and trade in their goods in the city’s markets and bazaars may cease completely. This has to do with the entry into force of an Edict of “magician” Putin’s on the priority of native vendors at markets. Actually, it’s the Chinese who are the native vendors at Vladivostok’s markets. Since pre-tsarist times, in fact. But in Putin’s times they have become outlaws. The second news was about the arrests of several businessmen of the city, who were being called everything from “authorities” [a high Russian underworld rank—Trans.] to “bandits” to “mafiosi”. This despite the fact that they still hadn’t gone on trial and nobody had yet proven their guilt. They say that this also has something to do with the oil pipeline: Putin is “clearing the field” for his people from the FSB. There’s simply no place for former local “authorities” in this scheme. At yet another recent instalment of The Putin Show – his press conference in Moscow – the Vladivostok press asked the president about how he intends to fight the thieves and bandits in Vladivostok. vlad3.jpg Vladivostok, photo by G. Pasko Putin’s reply was so original that I will cite it partially here:

“I think that we nevertheless must – if we want the citizens of the country as a whole and the population of individual regions to feel that they are a part of the life of their country, their Oblast, Kray, or City – we nevertheless must do this together… Of course, we must intensify and we will intensify various instruments of control, prosecution including criminal prosecution, for unlawful acts. But this will never be enough, if you and we don’t realize, don’t direct society itself into the struggle with this evil. So in this sense, of course, a great deal depends on you”.

I swear to God, Ostap Bender was more convincing about New Vasyuki! …I flew out from Vladivostok from that same airport that they’re planning to reconstruct. The fact is that repairs there have been going on there permanently for around 20 years already. My flight for Moscow left after a six hour delay. Yet nobody even bothered to announce the reason for the delay, to say nothing of a hot dinner and apologies. It’s not about throwing money at some kind of needs. It’s about mindset and way of life. If there’s nothing around but vulgar louts and sycophantic minions, state gangsters and a corrupt power, then no amount of money is going to make life in this region any better. The literary hero Ostap Bender understood this. But does the “magician” Putin understand it? Somehow I highly doubt it…