Kolyma—Birthplace of our Fear

This is a stunning full-length documentary (two hours and seventeen minutes) about the Soviet prison camps (Gulag) of the Stalin era.  The filmmakers follow the road through Siberia built by slave labour and visit the sites of camps, many abandoned, which produced much of the gold which funded Lend-Lease purchases of weapons in the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany (this is the claim in the film; I have not independently verified it).

The video is in Russian, with English sub-titles.  Depending on how you view it, it you may have to twiddle with settings to display the sub-titles and make them legible.  Click the “CC” and “Gear” buttons and fiddle around until you have something satisfactory.... [Read More]

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Do Video Productions Give Flickering Insight into Modern Russia?

My wife, a great video fan, largely selects our programming from among DirecTV (soon to be shed due to high cost and emerging streaming alternatives), Netflix and Prime Video. For years, BBC has been a go-to source, usually via Prime. Alas, she is someone who usually multi-tasks with her laptop while watching TV, which has ruled out watching foreign language videos with English subtitles. Until about a week ago…

…when she discovered several Russian language video series, which came as an enormous surprise. Each consists of 8 – 10 episodes of around 50 minutes. First came Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great. Then we watched Rasputin. We are now into Sophia – the story Sophia Palaiologina, daughter of the brother of the last Byzantine emperor, who had been defeated by Ottoman Turks. Sophia was taken under Papal protection to Rome, where she was raised (ostensibly Catholic despite her having been Eastern Orthodox as a young child) and later offered by Pope Sixtus IV in marriage to Ivan III of Muscovy. This was a cynical attempt to capture the Orthodox Prince to Roman Catholicism, and much intrigue is on display in several dimensions.... [Read More]

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Soyuz MS-10 Launch Failure

At 08:40 UTC on 2018-10-11, Soyuz MS-10 launched toward the International Space Station with a crew of two on board: Commander Aleksey Ovchinin of the Russian Space Agency and Flight Engineer Nick Hague of NASA.

Shortly after the separation of the four first stage boosters, around two minutes into the flight, Russian mission control began to report “failure”.  The animation shown on NASA TV continued to show a nominal mission.  There were several additional reports of failure, including the time.... [Read More]

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Vlast

Vlast is a documentary, made in 2010, about Russia in the late 1990s and 2000s. It centers on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the erstwhile head of Yukos (the Russian oil and gas company) and his close associates. Khodorkovsky was one of the Russian oligarchs who acquired his wealth during the 1990s as the Russian government was divesting itself of state-owned enterprises under Yeltsin. He was subsequently arrested, tried, and imprisoned for a decade until being pardoned by Putin, whereupon he gained residency in Switzerland. Yukos was sold, via a sham auction, to connected members of the nomenklatura.

The film allows that Khodorkovsky may have used some unsavory and possibly illegal means to obtain his wealth, it also makes clear that Putin was threatened by Khodorkovsky’s political activism, which led to his prosecution. A number of his associates were also caught up in the sweep. According to his lawyer (interviewed in the film), he was well aware of the danger of being arrested on false charges but refused to flee the country.... [Read More]

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