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Why Don't Russians Smile?
The definitive guide to the differences between Russians and Americans.


Why dont russians smile.png
Travis Lee Bailey, Esq.
American Lawyer and Think Tank Consultant in Moscow, Russia
Трэвис Ли Бейли - Американский юрист: Аналитический центр Консультант в Москве, Россия
Email: MoscowAmerican at Gmail Com
Skype: TravBailey
Facebook: Moscowamerican3
LinkedIn: MoscowAmerican
Instagram: MoscowAmerican

Published in July 2021. (1st edition) -

Please write a review!

UPDATE: FEBRUARY 2024: Earlier draft and NEWER information not included in the first edition is found below. Best viewed on a home PC using Google Chrome.

Authors: Travis Lee Bailey, Michael Murrie, Olga Diamant, Akhauri Nitish Kumar.


Why Don't Russians Smile

Prologue: Violently beaten by a Muscovite in 2021

Travis Lee Bailey was violently assaulted and is now physically handicapped, for 2 long years he has tried to get the American a US based charity site, to help him. will NOT support anyone living in Russia or Syria. If you want to help him, please contact him at MoscowAmerican @ Gmail . com.

Mug shot Stanislav Igorevich Zaluzhsky Stan Станислав Игоревич Зальужский.png

Stanislav Igorevich Zaluzhsky, Станислав Игоревич Зальужский (04.09.1981). Moscow Address: Донская улица, 6c2, kb 140 подъезд 7, на 6 этаже Metro Station Oktyabrskaya

Title Page


Travis Lee Bailey

Anna Merkulova

Akhauri Nitish Kumar

Olga Diamant

Irina Manakina

Mike Murrie

Why Don’t Russians Smile?

The definitive guide to the differences between Russians and Americans

Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

— Winston Churchill, October 1939.

I have never met anyone who understood Russians.

—Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhailovich Romanov (1866–1933)[1]

Introduction - “I have never met anyone who understood Russians.” - Collectivism versus Individualism.


“Don't bring your own rules into a strange monastery” (В чужой монастырь со своим уставом не ходят)[2]

MANY AMERICANS have returned from a first visit to Russia exclaiming, "I don’t understand why we have had such difficulties with the Russians. They are just like us." Subsequent visits, and a closer look, will reveal that Russians and Americans do indeed have stark differences. This book will seek to explain those differences and to help Americans understand why Russians behave like Russians. In the process, American readers may also learn why they behave like Americans. After all, as one sociologist explained, “To know one country is to know none”.[3]

The Surface similarities between Russians and Americans

The surface similarities between Russians and Americans are readily apparent:

The majority of Russians are white
The most obvious is Russian appearances. Like America, the majority of Russians are white (called Caucasian in America, called Slavs or a Slavic person in Russia). If you took the average white Russian, fattened him or her up by 50 pounds, and then had them shop for grotesque clothes at a local Wal-Mart, they would look like an average American.
Russians feel a common identity with Americans as citizens of multiethnic, continental great powers.
In history, both nations have been expansionist. Americans moved west from the Atlantic coast across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Russians expanded mostly east across the Ural Mountains and the vast stretches of Siberia to the Pacific shores, and beyond to Alaska in 1741.
Both Russians and Americans tamed a wilderness - a frontier spirit with a messianic mission
As Russian and American historians have noted there is a frontier spirit shared by Siberia and the American West. Both Russians and Americans regard themselves as chosen nations with a messianic mission, destined to bring their own versions of enlightenment to a less fortunate people. America and Russia today are also nuclear powers with the capacity to destroy each other and the rest of the world as well.
Americans and Russians also think big. They are energetic and inventive
Russians appreciate the casual, direct, and often blunt American way of speaking, which they liken to their own — without pretense and different from the West European manner, which they find too formal, indirect, and less sincere. Yet Russians, despite their traditional suspicion of foreigners, show heartfelt hospitality to visitors from abroad, a trait they share with Americans.[4]
The deeper differences between Russians and Americans

In Russia there is the desire “to find the balance between the conflicting outlooks of Europe and Asia, between Western claims to personal freedom and Oriental insistence on the integration of the individual into the community.” --Nicolas Zernov (1898-1980), Russian Orthodox theologian.[5]

Americans are rated as the most individualistic country in the world at 91% Whereas Russians are rated as 39%. The Chinese are rated 20%.[6][7][8]

Many Americans ask, what is the difference between Americans and Russians? The fastest answer is “collectivism”. In contrast to Americans, who are rated the most individualistic country in the world (91%), Russia (39%), straddling Europe and Asia, has a unique mindset which is both East and West.

The topic of collectivism will be discussed in a later chapter.

The cultural map 71vvRtZy+RL.jpg

Cultural differences matter

One reader commented, “Speaking of cultural differences leads us to stereotype and therefore put individuals in boxes with ‘general traits.’ Instead of talking about culture, it is important to judge people as individuals, not just products of their environment.”

At first, this argument sounds valid, even enlightened. Of course individuals, no matter their cultural origins, have varied personality traits. So why not just approach all people with an interest in getting to know them personally, and proceed from there? Unfortunately, this point of view has kept thousands of people from learning what they need to know to meet their objectives. If you go into every interaction assuming that culture doesn’t matter, your default mechanism will be to view others through your own cultural lens and to judge or misjudge them accordingly. Ignore culture, and you can’t help but conclude, “Chen doesn’t speak up—obviously he doesn’t have anything to say! His lack of preparation is ruining this training program!” Or perhaps, “Jake told me everything was great in our performance review, when really he was unhappy with my work—he is a sneaky, dishonest, incompetent boss!”

Yes, every individual is different. And yes, when you work with people from other cultures, you shouldn’t make assumptions about individual traits based on where a person comes from. But this doesn’t mean learning about cultural contexts is unnecessary. If your business success relies on your ability to work successfully with people from around the world, you need to have an appreciation for cultural differences as well as respect for individual differences. Both are essential.

As if this complexity weren’t enough, cultural and individual differences are often wrapped up with differences among organizations, industries, professions, and other groups. But even in the most complex situations, understanding how cultural differences affect the mix may help you discover a new approach. Cultural patterns of behavior and belief frequently impact our perceptions (what we see), cognitions (what we think), and actions (what we do). The goal of this book is to help you improve your ability to decode these three facets of culture and to enhance your effectiveness in dealing with them.[9]

Chapter 1: Russian Coconuts & American Peaches - Why don’t Russians Smile?

Why are Americans like peaches and Russians are like Coconuts?

Laughing for no reason is a sign of stupidity (Смех без причины - признак дурачины) – Common Russian proverb.[10]
If you are a peach person traveling in a coconut culture, be aware of the Russian saying, “If we pass a stranger on the street who is smiling, we know with certainty that that person is crazy . . . or else American.”[9]
Peaches and coconuts with flags.jpg

The best and most memorable way to think of the differences between Russian and America is that America is a “peach” culture and Russia is a “coconut” one. This analogy was created by two culture experts.[11] In peach cultures like the United States or Brazil people tend to be friendly (“soft”) with new acquaintances and strangers. They smile frequently at strangers, move quickly to first-name usage, share information about themselves, and ask personal questions of those they hardly know. Americans tend to be specific and emotional, which translates as enjoying other people, whereas Russians are diffuse and neutral, which translates into respect (esteem) of other people. Culturally speaking, America is like a peach with lots of easily accessible flesh or “public domain” on the outside but a tough, almost impenetrable stone at the core. In contrast, Russians are difficult to penetrate at first but all yours if and when you manage to drill your way through to their core. By the way, a little alcohol helps to lubricate the drill.[12] For a Russian, after a little friendly interaction with a peach, they may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects his real self and the relationship suddenly stops.

In coconut cultures such as Russia and Germany, people are initially more closed off from those they do not have friendships with. They rarely smile at strangers, ask casual acquaintances personal questions, or offer personal information to those they don’t know intimately. But over time, as coconuts get to know you, they become gradually warmer and friendlier. And while relationships are built up slowly, they also tend to last longer.[13]

Coconuts may react to peaches in a couple of ways. Some interpret the friendliness as an offer of friendship and when people don’t follow through on the unintended offer, they conclude that the peaches are disingenuous or hypocritical. Many Russians see the American Smile as disingenuous and fake.

As an American, what should you do if you’re a peach fallen amongst coconuts?
  1. Be authentic; if you try to be someone you are not, it won’t work.
  2. Smile as much as you want and share as much information about your family as you wish.
  3. Just don’t ask personal questions of your counterparts until they bring up the subject themselves.
Advice for Russian coconuts

1. If an American:

a. asks you how you are doing,
b. shows you photos of their family or
c. even invites you over for a barbecue

2. Do not interpret American friendliness as an:

a. overture to develop a deep friendship or a
b. cloak for some hidden agenda,

3. American friendliness is a different cultural norm expression which you need to adjust to.[13]

Cultures such as America, Brazil and Japan[13][14] Cultures such as Russia, Germany, Poland and France[15]

1. They smile frequently at strangers,

2. move quickly to first-name usage,

3. openly share information about themselves,

4. ask personal questions of those they hardly know.

5. After a little friendly interaction with a peach person, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects his real self.

1. Are initially more closed off from those they don’t have friendships with.

2. They rarely smile at strangers,

3. rarely ask casual acquaintances personal questions, or

4. do not offer personal information to those they don’t know intimately.

5. Over time, as coconuts get to know you, they become gradually warmer and friendlier.

6. While relationships are built up slowly, they also tend to last longer...[9]

Beyond Fruit - Why don’t Russians smile?

Guess which astronaut is Russian?

Russians don’t smile much, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. In preparation for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Russian workers were taught how to properly smile at the foreign soccer fans who would soon be visiting their country. In 1990, when McDonalds opened its first franchise in Moscow, workers had to be trained to be polite and smile. Russians will be quick to tell you that in Russia, randomly smiling at strangers is often viewed as a sign of mental illness or inferior intellect. To Americans, it might be easy to assume that this says something about Russians — that they are an unfriendly, callous people. But that’s not true at all. Instead, it may be worth looking at why certain expressions, such as smiling, become a key part of social exchanges in some cultures and not others.[16][17][18]

Some authors have quipped that Russia is a "Bitchy Resting Face Nation". Resting bitch face is a facial expression that makes a person unintentionally appear to be angry, annoyed, irritated, or feeling contempt, especially when the individual is relaxed.[19]

So why are Russians like “coconuts” and Americans like “peaches”? Why do Russians often think Americans are either idiots and insincere? Why do Americans feel that Russians are unfriendly and cold? Thankfully there are many social science theories that have explored this topic. These include immigration and collectivism vs. individualism.



Studies have shown that countries such as America with high levels of immigration historically are forced to learn to rely more on nonverbal cues. Thus, you might have to smile more to build trust and cooperation, since you don’t all speak the same language.

First, picture an American cowboy out on the range coming across a lonely Indian. At the beginning of their encounter he may wave and then smile as he cautiously approaches to show that he has no ill intention. Or one can imagine an immigrant with limited English arriving and desperately looking for work. They quickly come to realize the value of smiling to show their alacrity to work and their new patrons smile to show they approve of their services.

In contrast, in historical homogenous Russian villages (mir), Russians knew the same people and lived among the same people for generations. The village was similar to one big family. A Russian did not have to hide their feelings among the large village family members.[20]

America is the most individualistic nation in the world, whereas Russia has no word for privacy


American culture tends to be more extraverted. Americans are more likely to seek contact with strangers and outsiders as a way of building success. They are more extraverted and adventurous as a nation. Americans, especially in the western states, tend to embrace their connection to their frontier past and idealize the individual exploring their limits and seeking their own fortune. There is a sense that one can rise and fall on their own merits. In a culture that prizes individualism so highly, there are no predetermined social links. In addition 24 percent of Americans move every 5 years, making it one of the most geographically mobile countries.[21] Americans must always be ready to invest in new social ties.

In contrast, Russians have a tendency to function in tight social units. Think of a large family living in close quarters and working together. There is a close association with the welfare of the group and individual well-being. Ethics are largely seen as expressions of loyalty to your family and social network and not to individual ideals (For example, Russians are more likely to cheat or lie for a friend). In close living and cooperation the sense of privacy disappears. In fact, a word for privacy doesn’t even exist in Russian "Untranslatable ideas" section. There is a sense of a shared existence and no need to emphasize a positive attitude or ornament your facial expressions and interactions because much is taken to be understood. There is less of a sense that a smile is needed. However, that does not mean that Russians don’t have a need for individual privacy or protection from unwanted scrutiny. Given that Russians have no expectation of privacy in their homes, apartments, workplace, or in public spaces, their sense of privacy lies closer to their own skin. They feel less obligated to share their personal feelings and may have seemingly impenetrable expressions on their faces.

A century before the virus Covid-19 made the term “social distance” popular, sociologists used the term in a completely different way. Sociologists call a county’s individualist versus collective characteristics as “social distance”.[22][23] Social distance is measured by the expectation of privacy in a country. The lower the social distance, the less privacy in a country. Studies have found that in Russia, social distance is lower relative to the U.S. Russians rely on more mutual understanding and longer shared national history to a much greater extent than Americans. Thus, there’s less pressure to display a positive emotion like smiling to signal friendliness or openness, because it’s generally assumed a fellow Russian is already on the same wavelength.[24][25]

Social Distance
Not to be confused by the Covid-19 term.
United States Us.png Russia Russia.png
High Social Distance <<< >>> Low Social Distance
More privacy <<< >>> Less privacy
Less shared history because a younger country and more immigrants with their own different histories. <<< >>> Longer shared history that creates more mutual understanding between more homogenous (similar) Slavs
Immigrants have different values and views of the world. <<< >>> On the same wavelength with fellow Russians (Slavs)

When there’s greater social distance there is a greater sense that it is up to the individual to seek their own fortune as opposed to the collective group in a nation. There’s more of a live and let live mentality. Americans expect a certain amount of privacy, even in public places; “one needs to mind their own business”. This can also lead to a sense of social anxiety and isolation and strangers can seem more strange or foreign than they are in reality. There may be more wiggle room to get into trouble during a chance new encounter with a stranger. When it does happen, it can be anxiety-inducing. Therefore, the common wisdom when approaching strangers is to smile and express warmth in a way that can help the other person feel at ease.[26]

The American smile is habitual. Americans are commonly required to smile at work. More smiles means more comfortable transactions and happier customers, which translates to more money for the owner.

Nonetheless, when interacting with other cultures, your American smile may be misinterpreted as arrogance. In countries with greater cultural uniformity, people sometimes smile, not to show cooperation, but that they don’t take the other person seriously or that they are superior. If you live in Russia very long you start hearing that American smiles are “fake”. Russians may wonder what is hidden behind a smile. But for the average American, there is nothing behind the American smile. It is a habitual form of communication. However, even in America there are some regional differences in regards to the smile. People from “American heartland” may see a smile differently than a big city urban smile.[27] Americans have a term called "PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE" Пассивно-агрессивное поведение – people from the capital of America – where one of the authors worked for 8 years – are very Пассивно-агрессивное. They will smile as they stab you in the back.

Russians and Americans: A smile on being introduced signals the following:
Americans Us.png Russians Russia.png
1. Pleasure at making a new acquaintance 1. Not serious about the upcoming talk, or
2. Willingness to engage in conversation 2. smiler has a hidden agenda under a superficial and hypocritical smile
3. Have deadpan or frozen expressions on their faces because:
...Use an unsmiling face is a barrier between themselves and the outside world
Russians lack personal space at:
  1. home in their apartments,
  2. on public transportation or
  3. on the job

...this causes them to erect their personal space boundaries.

When Carol, an American, first introduced her Russian husband Pasha to scientists who could be professionally helpful, his face was locked in a scowl. Carol explained to Pasha that his refusal to smile made colleagues think he was being cold and unfriendly.

"Why should I smile at someone I don't know? I'm not a clown. If I'm ready for a serious conversation I have to look serious."[28]

Soviet Propaganda - Americans’ smile hides deceit


In general, the American smile has a terrible reputation in Russia. This campaign started in the early Soviet era. There were sinister smiles on old agitprop (political communist art and literature propaganda) posters of caricature "U.S. imperialists" wearing trademark cylinder hats, smoking cigars, salivating and smiling as they relished their piles of money and power over the world’s exploited classes.

Later, starting from the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras and continuing until the late 1980s, the Soviet print and television media carried regular reports called “Their Customs,” explaining that Americans, a power-hungry people, smiled to deceive others. Soviets were told that behind the superficial American smile is an “imperialist wolf revealing its ferocious teeth.” The seemingly friendly American smile, Soviets were told, is really a trick used to entice trusting Soviet politicians to let their guard down, allowing Americans to deceive them both in business deals and in foreign policy.

An example that Russian conservatives love to quote is when then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in February 1990 reportedly used his “charming, cunning Texas smile” to trick then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev into agreeing to a unified Germany as long as the United States pledged verbally that NATO would not extend “an inch further” to the east.

The image of an insincere, insidious American smile was used in Soviet propaganda mainly to depict U.S. politicians, “warmongers” from the military-industrial complex and other “bourgeois capitalists,” but it also applied to normal Americans, who, Soviets were told, use smiles to betray one another in business and personal relations. The message was clear: Feel fortunate you live in the Soviet Union, which has an honest moral code of conduct, where people trust one another and where there is complete harmony at work and among different nationalities.

Unlike the American smile, the Soviet smile was sincere, according to the official propaganda, because Soviets had so much to be happy about — guaranteed jobs and housing, free education, inexpensive sausage, a nuclear war chest to protect the empire, and Yury Gagarin, who beat the Americans to space.

During the perestroika era of the 1980s, the American smile was a common reference point when the topic of rude Soviet service was discussed. In post-Soviet Russia, business motivational speakers often preach the value of implanting U.S. know-how — the “technique of smiling” — among employees in stores, restaurants and other service-oriented companies. In this spirit, McDonald’s restaurants in the 1990s even included a “smile” on its Russian menu together with the price: “free.”[29][30]

Your American smile may be misinterpreted as arrogance


When interacting with other cultures, your American smile may be misinterpreted as arrogance. In countries with greater cultural uniformity, people sometimes smile, not to show cooperation, but that they don’t take the other person seriously or that they are superior.

Chapter 2: Russians and Americans

Westernizers and Slavophiles


To Russia, in its hunger for civilization, the West seemed “the land of miracles.…”

—Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, The Spirit of Russia. (1919)

Russia’s love-hate relationship with the United States and the West has given rise to two schools of thought: Westernizers (зáпадничество) and Slavophiles (Славянофильство). Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, both can be regarded as Russian patriots, although they have historically held opposing views on Russia’s position in the world. Both groups, recognizing Russia’s backwardness, sought to borrow from the West in order to modernize.

Historically Russian Westernizers sought to borrow from the West to modernize. They felt Russia would benefit from Western enlightenment, rationalism, rule of law, technology, manufacturing, and the growth of a middle class. Among the Westernizers were political reformers, liberals, and socialists.

Slavophiles also sought to borrow from the West, but they were determined to protect and preserve Russia’s unique cultural values and traditions. A more collective group, they rejected individualism and regarded the Church, rather than the state, as Russia’s leading historical and moral force. Slavophiles were admirers of agricultural life and were critical of urban development and industrialization. Slavophiles sought to preserve the mir (Agricultural village communes, see Chapter 3, Collective vs. Individualist) in order to prevent the growth of a Russian working class (proletariat). They opposed socialism as alien to Russia and preferred Russian mysticism to Western rationalism. Among the Slavophiles were philosophical conservatives, nationalists, and the orthodox church.

The controversy between Westernizers and Slavophiles has flared up throughout Russian history. These two schools of thought divided Russian socialism between Marxists and Populists, Russian Marxists between Mensheviks (1903-1921) and Bolsheviks, and Bolsheviks between opponents and followers of Stalin. The controversy has been between those who believed in Europe and those who believed in Russia.[31][32]

Today the conflict continues between supporters and opponents of reform, modernizers and traditionalists, internationalists and nationalists. Today’s conservative Russians who seek to preserve Russia’s faith and harmony are ideological descendants of the Slavophiles. For them, the moral basis of society takes priority over individual rights and material progress, a view held today by many Russians, non-communist as well as communist. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918 – 2008) said from his self-imposed seclusion in Vermont, 15 years after his forced exile from the Soviet Union:

There is technical progress [in the west], but this is not the same thing as the progress of humanity as such. In every civilization this process is very complex. In Western civilizations -- which used to be called Western-Christian but now might better be called Western-Pagan -- along with the development of intellectual life and science, there has been a loss of the serious moral basis of society. During these 300 years of Western civilization, there has been a sweeping away of duties and an expansion of rights. But we have two lungs. You can't breathe with just one lung and not with the other. We must avail ourselves of rights and duties in equal measure. And if this is not established by the law, if the law does not oblige us to do that, then we have to control ourselves. When Western society was established, it was based on the idea that each individual limited his own behavior. Everyone understood what he could do and what he could not do. The law itself did not restrain people. Since then, the only thing we have been developing is rights, rights, rights, at the expense of duty.[33]

This school of thought has given Russia a superiority complex toward the West in things ethereal and an inferiority complex in matters material. The West is seen as spiritually impoverished and decadent, and Russia as morally rich and virtuous.

Chapter 3: Russians’ Unique Culture and Character (Social Etiquette and Expectations)

The Russian is a delightful person till he tucks in his shirt. As an oriental he is charming. It is only when he insists upon being treated as the most easterly of western peoples instead of the most westerly of easterns that he becomes a racial anomaly and extremely difficult to handle. The host never knows which side of his nature is going to turn up next. — Rudyard Kipling, The Man Who Was. (1900).

The Russian Soul


The famous “Russian soul” was to no small extent the product of this agonizing uncertainty regarding Russia’s proper geographical, social, and spiritual position in the world, the awareness of a national personality that was split between East and West. —Tibor Szamuely, The Russian Tradition (1974).

Just because Russians “don't smile” does not mean that inwardly they are soulless drones or secretly conniving. Russians smile when they have a genuine reason. Russian smiles are authentic. Furthermore, although they deeply value intellectualism and education (erudition), they are leery of (antithetical towards) being ruled by logic. In fact, Russians value the ability to fully experience and act on their passions and emotions.

The Russkaya dusha (Russian soul) is well known in the arts, where it manifests itself as emotion, sentimentality, exuberance, energy, the theatre and flamboyant skill. But Russian soul is much more than just the arts. It is the very essence of Russian behavior. The Russian soul can turn up suddenly in the most unexpected places—and just as suddenly disappear. Just when foreigners believe that Russians are about to get down to serious business, they can become decidedly emotional and unbusinesslike.

The Russian soul is a romantic ethos which:

1. appeals to feeling rather than fact,
2. sentiment over certainty,
3. suffering instead of satisfaction, and
4. nostalgia for the past as opposed to the reality of the present.

In a broader sense the Russian Soul is how Russians reaffirm to themselves the purity of proud traditional Russian values against the encroachment of Western enlightenment, nationalism, and secularism, especially in cultural things.

Today, the Russian soul is still deeply felt. Old traditional positive virtues still endure:

1. the importance of hospitality,
2. the importance of true friendship,
3. being more emotional and open with ones true friends,
4. helping other people when they need it,
5. taking hardship and suffering with a pinch of salt,
6. respect for parents,
7. deference to elderly, and
8. regard for learning.

A belief in village virtues is also still strong:

1. self-sacrifice,
2. a sense of duty,
3. compassion,
4. importance of family,
5. a love of nature.

These aspects of the Russian soul are again the themes of “village writers,” as they are known, who glorify peasant life and encourage a renaissance of traditional Russian values.

1. Students hang on the words of their professors.
2. Grateful audiences present flowers to musical and theatrical performers.
3. Before vacating a home where they have lived for some time, Russians will sit quietly for a minute or two, reflecting on the events they have experienced there.

The Russian soul is often derided in the West as a fantasy of artists, composers, and writers. If the Russian soul ever really existed, this argument goes, it was the product of a traditional agricultural society that had very little in material goods to offer. In a modern industrial society the Russian soul is quickly forgotten and Russians become as realistic, practical, materialistic, and unromantic as Westerners.[34][35]

As in many aspects of Russia, the truth is more complex and lies somewhere in between. Russians do have a rich spirituality that does indeed contrast with Western rationalism, materialism, and pragmatism. Russians suffer but based on the amount their popular literature discusses suffering, Russians seem to enjoy this suffering. Obsessed with ideas, their conversations are weighty and lengthy. Russians often reject the American’s rational and pragmatic approach. Instead personal relations, feelings, and traditional values determine their course of action. In contrast, Westerners tend to view themselves as pragmatic, relying on the cold facts.[36][37]

That Slavic soul has many aspects that Westerners can respect and admire. As Northwestern University professor Irwin Weil explains:

Russians maintain their integrity in a way that conforms to their inner notion of what a human being should be, in a manner they consider proper, and with an honesty and decency that I have seldom seen anywhere else in the world. Above all, they have an appreciation for tselnost (wholeness, complete commitment) and faith, no matter what that faith may be related to. To be a real human being, one must maintain that full commitment, and respect it in other people as well.[38]

Tatyana Tolstaya, one of Russia’s leading contemporary writers, says:

Russian writers and thinkers have often called the "Russian soul" female, contrasting it to the rational, clear, dry, active, well-defined soul of the Western man….Logic [is] inapplicable to the soul. But Russian sensitivity, permeating the whole culture, doesn’t want to use logic—logic is seen as dry and evil, logic comes from the devil— the most important thing is sensation, smell, emotion, tears, mist, dreams, and enigma. In Russian culture, emotion is assigned an entirely positive value. The more a person expresses his emotions, the better, more sincere, and more ‘open’ he is. The Russian mentality has penetrated to some degree all corners of the country - often not for the best.

Tolstaya continues that the Russian soul is described as:

sensitivity, reverie, imagination, an inclination to tears, compassion, submission mingled with stubbornness, patience that permits survival in what would seem to be unbearable circumstances, poetry, mysticism, fatalism, a penchant for walking the dark, humid back streets of consciousness, introspection, sudden, unmotivated cruelty, mistrust of rational thought, fascination with the word—the list could go on and on—all these qualities that have frequently been attributed to the “Slavic soul.”[39]

Americans are more depressed than Russians, even though Russians are more self-reflective.

Two University of Michigan psychological scientists found that:

1. Russians were much more likely to be self-reflective: they think more about their fundamental nature and essence than Americans. But this Russian character trait was not linked to depression.

2. Less analytical Americans had more symptoms of depression than Russians,

3. Russians are more detached than while recalling a bad experience.

a. Russians thought about the bad event in a healthier way:
i. keeping more psychological distance from the emotional details.
ii. analyzed their feelings, but with detachment, and this detachment buffered Russians from depression.

4. Like Eastern cultures, Russians embrace sadness and pity instead of trying to block it like Americans tend to do.

5. Russians tend to be more communal, more focused on interpersonal harmony

a. This allows them to see their own personal needs in larger context, from an outsider perspective.

6. Americans come from a tradition of rugged individualism, and tend to focus on the personal.

a. With less of a community perspective, they immerse themselves in the emotional details of negative events, and this self focus leads to distress and depression.

The lesson is clear: If you're going to brood, then brood like a Russian. Just remember to go easy on the vodka.[40][41][42][43][44][45]

Even today emotions and personal feelings still matter to Russians. The future of the Russian soul brother Russians. It has survived centuries of church and state domination and 70 years of communism. Will it also survive, they wonder, the transition to the free market and democracy, and the call of Western culture?[46]

The Russian soul is a way to glorifying an aspect of one's culture that is otherwise actually quite negative[47][48]

Obviously there’s nothing magical about the Russian soul. However, all nationalities do have specific characteristics that set them apart from all other nationalities. The term “Russian soul” is just a way of expressing how very different Russians are from other Europeans.

The Russian Soul is a concept similar in function as British 'Stiff Upper Lip' or 'The American Dream' (to a lesser extent).

The stiff upper lift - is a quality of remaining calm and not letting other people see what they are really feeling in a difficult or unpleasant situation

The Russian soul is a way Russians glorify an aspect of their culture that is otherwise actually quite negative.

The British are incredibly reserved, and have difficulty expressing themselves emotionally. They have the emotional range of a shoe. Rather than look at this emotional reservation as bad, they explain that it helped to build a massive Empire.

The 'American Dream' is a wonderful thing. It propagates the idea that you could overcome the massive social inequality, bigotry, racism and failings if you dream and work hard enough. If you don't make it, it's because you didn't work hard enough or dream hard enough, it has nothing to do with the system being massively unequal and favouring only the very few. The American system is like a casino. The house always wins, but it gives the normal person just enough chance to make them think they might succeed.

And then we come to the 'Russian Soul'.

Dostoyevsky explained, "the most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything"

And he is right, Russians are addicted to suffering. Why? Russians spend most of their life getting f****d in some way. Rather than see it as a bad thing, they, like the British and Americans, glorify it. This suffering makes them better than anyone else!

As Li Mu explains:

Many, many times, I've heard Russians have 'suffering competitions'. They'll brag about how they've suffered more than anyone else. Have a look for the Monty Python 'Yorkshireman Sketch' to get an idea. I once mentioned a time when I had a bad birthday. My two Russian colleagues just couldn't let it lie. They had to beat me and proceeded to explain the myriad of ways that their birthdays were worse than anything I had ever experienced.

In all cases, the glorification of one's inadequacies and failings is a coping mechanism.

Brits: I don't know how to show my emotions. But it's OK because it's the British Stiff Upper Lip.

Americans: I work my ass off with two jobs and still can't afford rent. But it's OK because if I suffer and work even harder I can live the American Dream.

Russians: My life is a tragic mess and I've somehow found myself living in Norlisk (an industrial city located above the Arctic Circle). But it's OK. I have a Russian soul and I eat suffering for breakfast.

There is definitely a set of characteristics, often referred to as “the Russian soul”, that make Russians unique. Expats who say there isn’t, as well as Russians who say foreigners will never be able to understand it (умом Россию не понять), are both wrong.[49]

The mind cannot understand Russia

(умом Россию не понять)

The Great russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev (Фёдор Иванович Тютчев) wrote a beautiful poem, which is very popular in Russia:

You will not grasp her with your mind

Or cover with a common label,

For Russia is one of a kind -

Believe in her, if you are able...

Fyodor Tyutchev.jpg

Collective vs. Individualist


[For Russians] the striving for [group] activity has always prevailed over individualism.

— Russian President Vladimir Putin, First Person (2000).

[Russia has always valued the] communal way of life over the merely individual. Community was seen so near to the ideal of brotherly love, which forms the essence of Christianity and thus represents the higher mission of the people. In this “higher mission” a commune—a triumph of human spirit—was understood as opposing law, formal organizations, and personal interests.

— Nina Khrushcheva, a great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev.[50]

Sobornost (communal spirit, togetherness) distinguishes Russians from Westerners in which individualism and competitiveness are more common characteristics.

American’s frontier spirit vs Russia’s agricultural commune

The contrast between Russian communalism and American individualism can best be seen in the historical differences between Russian peasants (serfs) and American farmers.

America’s settlers were independent farmers and ranchers who owned their own land and lived on it, self-sufficient and distant from their neighbors. In contrast to the Russian peasants of the mir (a medieval agricultural village commune), American farmers lived behind fences that marked the limits of their property. The Americans were entrepreneurs in the sense that they managed their property individually, taking economic risks and self-regulating their own lives, independent of the state and without being dependent on the community. Although the United States also has had its own communes, these communes have existed on the fringes of society rather than at its center. In the United States, the commune is considered alien (except for Native Americans, who also lived a communal lifestyle).

To Russians, the commune is a deep part of their psyche. Individualism is esteemed in the West, but in Russian the word has a negative (pejorative) meaning. Steeped in the heritage of the communal village, Russians think of themselves as members of a community rather than as individuals. Individualism is equated with selfishness or lack of regard for the community.

Russians’ behavior in crowds

Communal culture helps explain many of Russian’s characteristics, for example their behavior in crowds. Physical contact with complete strangers—repellent to Americans and West Europeans— does not bother Russians. When getting onto the subway complete strangers may touch, push, shove, and jostle about like siblings competing for the last morsel of chicken. They may elbow you without serious reflection or fear of resentment.

A crowd of passengers attempting to board a ship in Odessa in the early 1960s caught the attention of South African author Laurens van der Post. The crowd pushed and jostled in a way that would appear uncivil to the traveler, but the ship’s officer collecting tickets seemed completely unbothered by it. Even when passengers shouted at the officer and elbowed him out of the way, he did not appear irritated, nor did yell for them to calm down. A group of French tourists became annoyed by the crowd’s persistent jostling and, taking personal offense, lashed out angrily at everyone within their vicinity. “The Russians were horrified at such lack of traveling manners presumably because it was personal retaliation and not the collective, impersonal pressure they were all applying to get through a bottleneck.”[51]

Foreign visitors who are averse to close contact should avoid the Moscow Metro (subway) especially during rush hours, when trains run every 90 seconds but the metro is generally still crowded the rest of the day.

Americans have a distinct line between work and personal relationships. In contrast, after working together all day, Russian factory and office employees will spend evenings in group excursions to theaters and other cultural events organized by their supervisors or groups, such as in the artel (workers’ cooperatives).

Russians seem compelled to intrude into the private affairs of others. Older Russians admonish young men and women—complete strangers—for perceived wrongdoings, using the term of address molodoy chelovek (young man) or dyevushka (girl). On the streets, older women volunteer advice to young mothers on the care of their children. In a collective society, everybody’s business is also everyone else’s.

Russian History: The Great Russian Plain

Russian communalism was not an invention of communists, although its traditions were utilized under the Soviets. The fondness (affinity) for the group has deep roots in Russian culture, and its origins can be traced to the vastness of the great Russian plain.

In prehistoric times Russians banded together to fell the forest, till the soil, harvest the crops, and protect themselves from invaders and marauders. Tools and weapons were primitive and life was harsh, but those handicaps could be overcome and survival ensured—although just barely—by the collective effort of living and working together.

The zadruga, a clan or greater family commune, served as the nucleus of a tribal society. In time, it evolved into the larger mir, an agricultural village commune (also known as obshchina) based on territory and mutual interests. Member families lived in small hamlets, in huts side by side. The surrounding land was held in common by this commune and was unfenced. Each family, however, had its own hut, maintained a small plot of land for a family garden, and ate their meals at home.

Land cultivation was the mir’s primary purpose and the basis for its survival. The mir determined how much of the common land each family would work, depending on its size and needs. It decided which crops would be grown and when they would be planted and harvested. It collected taxes and settled local disputes. The mir’s authority extended beyond land matters: It also disciplined members, intervened in family disputes, settled issues that affected the community as a whole, and otherwise regulated the affairs of its self-contained and isolated agricultural world.

The word mir, in fact, has three meanings in Russian—village commune, world, and peace—and for its members it symbolized all three. That little world of the Russian peasant—the bulk of the populace—was a world apart from, and at least a century behind, the lifestyles of landowners and city dwellers.

Decisions of the mir were made in a village assembly of heads of households. All members could speak and discussions were lively, but no vote was taken. The objective was to determine the collective will, and after an issue had been thoroughly discussed and opposition to it had ceased, a consensus evolved that became binding on all households. Richard Stites describes the mir meetings as marked by "seemingly immense disorder and chaos, interruptions, and shouting; in fact it achieved business-like results."[52]

When peasants moved to cities as workers and craftsmen, they brought with them their communal way of life and formed workers' cooperatives called artels. Modeled on the mir, artel members hired themselves out for jobs as a group and shared the payments for their work. Some artels rented communal apartments where they would share the rent, buy the food, dine together, and even attend leisure events as a group. Hundreds of thousands of workers lived in this way in the generation or so before the Bolshevik Revolution. In the city, as in the village, security and survival were ensured by a collective effort.[53]

That communal way of life persisted well into the twentieth century, lasting longer in Russia than elsewhere in Europe. Tsarist Russia encouraged the mir because it served as a form of state control over the peasants and facilitated tax collection and military conscription. Because the mir affected so many people, and for such a long time, it played a major role in forming the Russian character. In the late 1950s, for example, when Soviet students began to come to the United States and were assigned in groups to American universities, they would often pool their stipends, live off a small part of their pooled funds, and save as much as they could for later purchases.[54]

As Lev Tikhomirov wrote in 1888, "The Great Russian cannot imagine a life outside his society, outside the mir....The Great Russian says: 'The mir is a fine fellow, I will not desert the mir. Even death is beautiful in common.'"[55]

Serfdom (personal bondage) was imposed on most Russian peasants in the late sixteenth century and lasted for three hundred years before being abolished in 1861 (the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the United States in 1863). The emancipation of serfs was accompanied by a land redistribution that enabled serfs, in principle, to purchase land outside the commune. However, land distributed under the reform was actually given to the mir, which held it in common until its members could make redemption payments.

That freed the serfs but preserved the mir, and peasants once more found themselves bound to the land they worked, since most of them were financially unable to leave the commune. The reform thus continued the mir's power over peasants and their submission to a higher authority that regulated the social order.

The mir endured in various forms until the early 1930s, when it was replaced by the Soviet collective farm. A modern-day effort by the state to tie peasants to the land, the brutally enforced collectivization was strongly opposed by the peasants, especially in Ukraine. The objective was to ensure an adequate supply of food for the cities, which were to grow under the industrialization of the Five-Year Plans. The immediate result, however, was famine and the death of millions in the countryside.[56]

Russian pessimism - A pessimist is an informed optimist


We did the best we could, but it turned out as usual. (Хотели как лучше, а получилось как всегда.)

— Viktor Chernomyrdin, former Russian prime minister (1992–1998)

Russian pessimism is the source of many Russian jokes (anekdoti). According to one, pessimists say, “Things can’t be worse than they are now.” Optimists say, “Yes they can.” Another antidote describes a pessimist as an informed optimist.

It is no secret, of course, that Americans love happy endings -- to the point of childishness, many Russians say. Russian pessimism contrasts with American innocence, naivety, and optimism. Americans expect things to go well, and they become annoyed when they do not. Russians expect things to go poorly and are prepared for disappointments. This can be seen in Russian horoscopes which unlike their American counterparts seem full of gloom and doom. To American astrologers, a dangerous alignment of the planets offers an obstacle to overcome - another opportunity for personal growth. Contrast this with a typical horoscope in the 1994 Kommersant newspaper:

"Today is a largely dangerous day. You may end up broke....This day is entirely unsuitable for undertakings of any sort....The risk of accidents is high....You should not expect anything good from your family life today...It is better not to gamble. On a day like this, whole fortunes are lost."[57]

Similarly, like the ancient Greeks Russian's literature is full of tragedy. Russian history shows that life has indeed been difficult for Russians. Weather, wars, violence, cataclysmic changes, and oppressive rule over centuries have made pessimists out of Russians. Richard Lourie explains that:

"[Russians have a] gloom-and-doom mentality. Both at the kitchen table and in print, they indulge in apocalyptic prophecies.”[58]

Fear is a major element of the Russian psyche, and will be encountered in many places in Russia, especially at the highest levels of government, where there is often fear of an outside enemy determined to destroy Russia. Americans should not be put off by this gloom and doom, nor should they attempt to make optimists of Russians. The best response is to express understanding and sympathy.

Less in control of their lives than other Europeans and Americans, Russians feel caught up in the big sweeps of history where the individual is insignificant and does not count. Translators Richard Lourie and Aleksei Mikhalev explain:

"The difference between Russia and America is simple and dramatic. For [Russians], history is a subject, a black-and-white newsreel; for them it is a tank on their street, a search of their apartment by strangers with power. In the Soviet Union nearly every life has been touched directly, branded, by the great historical spasms of revolution, war and terror. For a Russian, repression always comes from the outside world."[59]

Glasnost and perestroika were exciting for foreigners to observe from a distance, but to Russians they were yet another historical spasm with uncertainties about the future in which outsiders, this time America, betrayed many promises.

The best and brightest Russians have traditionally been banished. In old Russia independent thinkers were exiled to Siberia. Hollywood was created by Jews escaping Russia. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the cream of Russia’s elite was liquidated. Stalin’s purges of the 1930s further decimated the intelligentsia, and today many of Russia’s best and brightest have been lost through brain drain emigration.

One of those who emigrated was Vladimir Voinovich, a human rights advocate who was forced to leave for the West in 1975 after the KGB threatened that his future in the Soviet Union would be “unbearable.” Voinovich wrote:

“Russians and American read my books in very different ways. Americans usually say they are funny. Russians say....they are very gloomy, dark.”[60]

This gloomy and dark side of the Russian character explains the bittersweet humor that is native to Russia and the “good news, bad news” jokes. Russian pessimism can also be infectious, and Americans who have worked with them for many years are vulnerable to the virus. Llewellyn Thompson, twice American ambassador to Moscow, was asked on his retirement in 1968 to name his greatest accomplishment, “That I didn’t make things any worse.” [61]

Despite their pessimism and complaining, there is an admirable durability about Russians, a hardy people who have more than proven their ability to endure severe deprivation and suffer lengthy hardships. Tibor Szamuely wrote of “the astonishing durability of certain key social and political institutions, traditions, habits, and attitudes, their staying power, their essential stability amidst the turbulent currents of violent change, chaotic upheaval, and sudden innovation.”[62]

Russians Lie

Among our Russian intellectual classes the very existence of a non-liar is an impossibility, the reason being that in Russia even honest men can lie.[63]
Yes, the Russian is incapable of telling downright lies; but seems equally incapable of telling the truth. The intermediate phenomenon for which he feels the utmost love and tenderness resembles neither truth nor lozh [lie]. It is vranyo. Like our native aspen, it pops up uninvited everywhere, choking other varieties; like the aspen it is no use for firewood or carpentry; and, again like the aspen, it is sometimes beautiful.
— Leonid Andreyev.[64]
[Russians] lie out of necessity. We lie when it’s convenient. And we lie just to keep in shape.
- Vadim Medish.[65]
This is a sentiment I have heard expressed by some Russians and actually some foreigners living in Russia who said it would be easier to understand Russians if they were just purple, because it was in fact confusing to Westerns, to Europeans and to Americans, to deal with Russians who look European, who look white, and you expect them to act like Westerners, like white Western Europeans, when in fact they are quite different and wired quite differently and have quite different cultural expectations and wiring, and that...that created quite a few misunderstandings.
I lived in Russia at the time, and what I could never get across to Russians was that Americans really are that idealistic, and they really believe what they’re saying about democracy, about freedom, about human rights; that this isn’t just cynical lying; that this isn’t just a cynical fig leaf in trying to take over oil wells in the Middle East.
And Russians, even the most liberal Russians, often wouldn’t believe me. They would think—they would equate idealism with stupidity, and this would fit their stereotype of Americans as stupid.
And then I would come back to the U.S., and Americans couldn’t understand how cynical Russians were; that they really didn’t believe pretty much anything they said; that there was always a lot of machinations going on and that there was just—that they really were that comfortable lying to you, to your face.
And no matter how long these parties dealt with each other—in government, through diplomacy — they still never understood this fundamental thing about each other. The Russians thought the Americans were as cynical as they are, and the Americans couldn’t understand that the Russians were always lying.[66]

Russians lie, a national characteristic called "vranyo". Dictionaries translate vranyo as “lies, fibs, nonsense, idle talk,” but like many Russian terms, it is really untranslatable. Americans might call it “tall talk” or “white lies,” but “fib” perhaps comes closest because vranyo. To these words may be added the Irish "blarney", which comes nearer than any of the others, but still falls pretty wide of the mark. As Russian writer Leonid Andreyev noted, is somewhere between the truth and a lie. Vranyo is indeed an art form, beautiful perhaps to Russians but annoying to Westerners and others who value the unvarnished truth.[67]

In its most common form today, vranyo is an inability to face the facts, particularly when the facts do not reflect favorably on Russia. Tourist guides are masters of vranyo, as are Russians who represent their country abroad. When ideology or politics dictate a particular position, they are likely to evade, twist, or misstate facts in order to put the best possible spin on a potentially embarrassing situation. As Boris Fyodorov, the 1998 deputy prime minister of Russia explained, "There are several layers of truth in Russia. Nothing is black or white, fortunately or unfortunately."[68]

Russians, however, do not consider vranyo to be dishonest, nor should foreign visitors. As the famous Fyodor Dostoyevsky explained:

"Not long ago I was suddenly struck by the thought that among our Russian intellectual classes the existence of, the reason being that in Russia even honest men can lie...I am convinced that in other nations, for the great majority, it is only scoundrels who lie; they lie for practical advantage, that is, with directly criminal aims."[69]

When using vranyo, Russians know that they are fibbing and expect that their listeners will also know. But it is considered bad manners to directly challenge the fibber. As one Russian specialist suggest advises, the victim of vranyo should "convey subtly, almost telepathically, that he is aware of what is going on, that he appreciates the performance and does not despise simply because the conditions of the latter’s office obliged him to put it on."[70][71]

Verification - Trust but Verify


Trust, but verify. (Доверяй, но проверяй).

—US President Ronald Reagan (after an old Russian proverb)

Can Russians be trusted to honor commitments? The prudent response to this question is “Yes, but. …”

According to Zbigniew Brzezinski, US Former National Security Advisor, Anglo-Saxons and Russians have different concepts of trust:

"The Anglo-Saxons approach...issues like negotiated, legal agreements. It might be called a litigational approach. To the Russians, a commitment is binding as long as it is historically valid, so to speak. And its historical validity depends on the degree to which that commitment is either self-enforcing or still mutually advantageous. If it ceases to be self-enforcing or mutually advantageous, it obviously has lapsed."[72]

Related to verification are accountability and reporting, particularly where the expenditure of funds is involved. Russians can be notoriously lax about accounting for expended funds and using them effectively, a problem recognized by Mikhail Gorbachev.

A problem is accountability of funds. American donors to Russian philanthropic institutions have reported difficulties in obtaining prompt and detailed reporting on how their funds are being expended. Some new Russian foundations have scoffed at the standard regulatory and accounting procedures required by American donors. As one Russian foundation official put it, "We are all fine Christian men, and our [Russian] donors don’t question what we do with their money."[73]

Such a response should not be seen as an intent to deceive but rather as an intercultural difference. Americans understand the need for accountability, annual financial reports, and audits by certified public accountants. But requesting such procedures from Russians may be seen as questioning their good faith and honesty. When encountering indignation over reporting requirements, Americans may wish to emulate Ronald Reagan by responding, “Trust, but verify.”

Cheating in Universities


“First whip to the informer” (Доносчику первый кнут.)

- Russian Proverb (In Russian)

Any teacher who has taught in Moscow knows that if the teacher is giving an exam the teacher cannot walk out of the room for even one minute because all of the kids will cheat; whether they're elementary school students or university students.

Tolerance of dishonesty is high in the University system. With few exceptions, Russian universities do not address the issues of academic cheating (plagiarism, falsification of term papers or even various forms of gratification in return for the good grade) at institutional level. As a result, cheating is blossoming both among students and faculty and reinforcing corruption practices outside academia.

1 in 7 Russian students readily admits to cheating in university exams.

1 in 25 students admits to having paid for someone else to write at least one mid-term or final-year paper.

50% of students in economics and management, state that cheaters should receive no more than a warning if caught.

Possible explanations of cheating:

  • Cheating has become a response to boring and meaninglessly redundant education: “students cheat when they feel cheated”.
  • The vast Russian students hate informers. There is a common Russian saying: “First whip to the informer” appears to prevail.
  • Collective and individualistic values differ between countries. In the United States and Russia, two cultural differences appear to relate directly to cheating.

In the United States, in contrast to Russia, competition among students is seen as an important intrinsic value of the educational system, a value that affects interaction between students. Thus, cheating is condemned because it is considered an unfair instrument of competition.

In Contrast in Russia, the attitude to the law and to officials differ between the two countries. In the former USSR, the judicial system served as an instrument of the party, and a common view was that officials are enemies. This attitude existed toward policemen, civil servants, train conductors, and also toward teachers, and may explain the strong negative attitude toward informers among Russian students.

The larger the number of students in a collective that is cheating and tolerant toward cheating, the more often the students will cheat, the more tolerant they are, and the less costly it is for every student to cheat and to be tolerant toward cheating. This is the coordination effect: the more consistently a behavioral norm is observed by members of society, the greater the costs to an individual who don’t follow this behavior.

Since cheating is widespread and group loyalty a deeply held value, informants and those seeking reform can be seen in a negative light. As an old Russian proverb goes, “First whip to the informer.” In addition, there remains a lot of social pressure to be a team player, even in a corrupt environment.

Friends - the key to getting anything done in Russia


Better to have one hundred friends than one hundred rubles (Не имей сто рублей, а имей сто друзей).

— русская поговорка

The value of the Russian ruble may increase or decrease but not the value of Russian friends. Friends and familiar faces are the key to getting things done in Russia, and foreigners who cultivate close relationships will have a big advantage in doing business there.

Sol Hurok, the legendary American impresario who pioneered North American tours by Soviet dance and music groups, would visit the Soviet Union periodically to audition performing artists and to select those he would sign for performances abroad. Traveling alone, Hurok would negotiate and sign contracts for extensive U.S. coast-to-coast tours by such large ensembles as the Bolshoi Ballet and the Moscow Philharmonic.

In Moscow in 1969 author Yale Richmond asked Hurok how he could sign contracts for such large and costly undertakings without lawyers and others to advise him. “I have been coming here for many years and doing business with the Russians. I simply write out a contract by hand on a piece of paper, and we both sign it. They know and trust me.”[74]

William McCulloch is an American whose business activities in Russia include housing construction and telecommunications. The key to doing business in Russia, says McCulloch, is finding the right partner—one with whom a basis of trust is established over time. “You cannot bring in an army of New York lawyers and have an ironclad deal. You have to have a clear understanding with the right partner about what you are doing.” Such an understanding, he adds, makes it possible to negotiate one’s way through the Russian political, economic, and banking systems.[75]

Russians rely on a close network of family, friends, and coworkers as protection against the risks and unpredictability of daily life. In the village commune, Russians felt safe and secure in the company of family and neighbors. Today, in the city, they continue to value familiar faces and mistrust those they do not know.

Visitors who know a Russian from a previous encounter will have a big advantage. First-time travelers to Russia are advised to ask friends who already know the people they will be meeting to put in a good word for them in advance of their visits. And ideally the same traveler should return for subsequent visits and not be replaced by someone else from the firm or organization whose turn has come for a trip to Russia.

Despite its vast size, or perhaps because of it, Russia is run on the basis of personal connections. In both the workplace and in private life, Russians depend on those they know—friends who owe them favors, former classmates, fellow military veterans, and others whom they trust. The bureaucracy is not expected to respond equitably to a citizen’s request. Instead, Russians will call friends and ask for their help.

The friendship network also extends to the business world. Business managers, short of essential parts or materials, will use their personal contacts to obtain the necessary items. Provide a spare part or commodity for someone, and receive something in return. Without such contacts, production would grind to a halt.

Westerners who want something from their government will approach the responsible official, state their case, and assume that law and logic will prevail. Russians in the same situation, mistrustful of the state and its laws, will approach friends and acquaintances and ask them to put in a good word with the official who will decide. The process is reciprocal: those who do favors for Russians can expect favors in return.

The word Friend

The word friend, however, must be used carefully in Russia. An American can become acquainted with a complete stranger and in the next breath will describe that person as a friend. American friendships, however, are compartmentalized, often centering around colleagues in an office, neighbors in a residential community, or participants in recreational activities. This reflects the American reluctance to get too deeply involved with the personal problems of others. An American is more likely to refer a needy friend to a professional for help rather than become involved in the friend’s personal troubles.

Not so with Russians, for whom friendship is all encompassing and connotes a special relationship. Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, when asked about the difference between Russian and American friendships, replied:

"In Russia, because the society has been so closed, you’re sharing your inside with your friends. Your views on society. Political points of view. It’s a small circle of people whom you trust. And you get so attached. Talking with friends becomes your second nature. A need. Like at 4 o’clock in the morning, without a phone call, your friend can come to your house, and you’re up and putting the teapot on. That kind of friendship."[76]

The Russian language has different words for friend (drug, pronounced “droog”) and acquaintance (znakomy), and these words should not be misused. A drug is more like a “bosom buddy,” someone to trust, confide in, and treat like a member of the family. Such friendships are not made easily or quickly. They take time to develop, but when they are made and nurtured, a Russian friendship will embrace the entire person. Russians will ask friends for time and favors that most Americans would regard as impositions.

Friendship with a Russian is not to be treated lightly. One American describes it as smothering, and some will find that it is more than they can handle. As one Russian explained, “Between Russian friends, what’s theirs is yours and what’s yours is theirs, especially if it’s in the refrigerator.”

Americans tend to be informal in their speech—candid, direct, and without the rituals, polite forms, and indirect language common to many other cultures. Russians welcome and appreciate such informal talk, but usually only after a certain stage in the relationship has been reached.

The preferred form of address among Russians and the one most likely to be used in the initial stage of a relationship, is the first name and patronymic (father’s name plus an affix).

For example:

a man named Boris, whose father was Nikolai, is addressed as: Boris Nikolayevich (Boris, son of Nicholas).
a woman named Mariya whose father was Fyodor (Theodore), would be Mariya Fyodorovna (with the feminine ending -a).

With the friendship stage comes the use of the first name by itself, or a nickname. But first-name usage with a foreigner does not necessarily indicate that the friendship stage has been reached, as it would with another Russian. It does signify, however, the next stage in a developing relationship.

Like most European languages, Russian has two forms of you. The more formal vi is used between strangers, acquaintances, and in addressing people of higher position. The informal ti, akin to the old English thou and the French tu or German du, is reserved for friends, family members, and children; it is also used in talking down to someone and addressing animals. Readers will surely appreciate the need for care in using the familiar form.[77]

Information is Power

"Heaven is a Chinese cook, a British house, an American job, and a Russian wife. Hell is a British cook, a Chinese house, a Russian job, and an American wife."


Russia is a collectivist culture. Russians individuals feel a moral obligation towards other Russians such as family members, distant relatives, co-workers, and members of political and/or religious groups who have common interests and a concern for each other’s welfare. Russians have a lack of interest towards those who are considered out-group members. Due to Russia’s communist history people have learned to keep things to themselves in the fear of being misinterpreted.

Trust and control are essential in manager-employee, teacher-student, religious leader-congregation relationships, but how they are achieved varies in different cultures. A 2021 academic study examined Russian subsidiaries in a Finnish multinational corporation. The social scientists interviewed 86 Russian managers and employees and 13 Finnish expatriates. These researchers found that Russian managers simultaneously nurture trust and exercise control over their employees.[78]

The Finnish expatriates naively didn't see the nuances in the Russian high-context communication. They were not aware of the employee support that was provided through constant informal communication to nurture trust between Russian managers and employees. The Finns did not mention the communication between Russian employees with their employers as expressions of a need for support and nurturing of trust. Instead, the Finns naively perceived Russian communication as a way to control the employees work. They felt that control was a replacement for trust. They did not see the mutually beneficial nature of communication between the Russian managers and their employees.


The Russian managers and their employees emphasized the importance of both trust and control in the relationship. Even though the Russians managers emphasized the importance of trust in the working relationship, that employee trust can never be complete. Russian managers only trust their closest networks, mainly relatives and old friends; subordinates are not usually included in this group and therefore require more control. Managers emphasised discussing not only work-related but also personal issues in nurturing trust with his subordinates. However, it appeared that informal discussions were also a way for managers to exercise control over their employees. Russian managers check on their employees often.

Surprisingly, employees largely mirrored the managers’ view. Harmonious understanding across managers and subordinates that trust plays a significant role as the foundation of working relationships. Employees seemed to take for granted the intense control by their Russian managers.

In Russia, a low degree of trust requires a high degree of control and, vice versa, a high degree of trust allows for a limited degree of control (called the substitution perspective). Russia is a high-context culture.[79]


By contrast, in Finland, trust and control build upon each other because they both are seen to contribute to the development of cooperative relationships between parties. Finland is a low-context culture.[80]

In HIGH-CONTEXT CULTURES such as Russia, China, India, Korea, Japan, South Africa, Argentina, and Spain communication is less-direct. Also countries in the Middle East as well as in South-East Asia and the Mediterranean countries are high-context cultures. There is much more nonverbal communication.

In contrast, LOW-CONTEXT CULTURES such as Finland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland, communication is mostly verbal with less focus on body language.

In a workplace in low-context cultures, direct communication is used, which is accurate, precise, clear and understandable. Repetitions, additional questions and clarifications are appreciated and common.

In high-context cultures, direct communication is considered immature and infantile. An adult is expected to speak in a veiled and cautious manner. High-context cultures require an in-depth knowledge of the circumstances and details of the situation in order to understand the message. Information is largely contained in the context, so in order to understand the message, a foreigner needs to know the context well. In these cultures, good education requires speaking in a veiled, "roundabout" way. A direct message is interpreted as a sign of bad behaviour.

The interpretation of messages takes place not so much at the level of the meaning of words as through a tone of voice, gestures, silence or presumed understanding and the context of the whole situation. People often use body language: gestures and facial expressions. Verbal communication is less important than non-verbal communication. Instead, situational context and mutual relations are more important. Discussed issues are often exposed from different sides and communicated in circle. Communication is considered an art. This causes problems for outsiders, because in order to understand the intentions of the other person, one needs to know the context or cultural norms.


Low-context cultures are usually individualistic, while high-context cultures are collectivist. Therefore, in low-context culture, the content is expressed individually and the representatives of this culture are individualists – they are dependent on themselves and responsible for themselves.

High context cultures, on the other hand, have the cultural content written in the customs of a group, they clearly separate themselves from strangers, and there is also an obligation to follow the rules of conduct adopted by the group – “losing face” by an individual is at the same time compromising the group. Communication is largely based on intuition.[81]


During the Soviet era, personal networking and social connections were important for organisational survival. Managers of industrial enterprises tried to achieve the goals set by government ministries through unofficial inter-organisational bartering and cooperative exchange to reallocate limited resources. This approach to gaining influence, making connections, and relying on personal contacts with people in influential positions is still widely practiced in Russia and known as ‘blat’. Furthermore, control has always been an inherent part of the Russian society, which has been governed by an authoritarian style of leadership for centuries.[82]

The transition period from the Soviet era to a market economy resulted in weak formal institutions, economic instability and profound societal changes. Russian individuals and organizations did not develop a Western-type of trust in government, regulatory agencies, and the judicial system. Today, most state and public organizations are viewed as unpredictable, unreliable and failing to provide support. This has resulted in even stronger trust at the personal level to mitigate the risks associated with turbulent economic and political changes. Scholars stress that ‘relationship trust’ is a very important concept in the Russian context and applies both to personal and organizational settings.

The importance of trust in Russia

Excerpt from The Culture Map, by Erin Meyer:

The Culture Map, by Erin Meyer figure 6 point 1 trusting.png

As you look at the Trusting scale you see the United States positioned far to the left while all BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) fall far to the right. When it comes to building trust, the center of gravity in the global business world has fundamentally shifted over the past fifteen years. Previously, managers working in global business may have felt themselves pulled toward working in a more American manner, because the United States dominated most world markets. Building trust in a task-based fashion was therefore one of the keys to international success. But in today’s business environment, the BRIC cultures are rising and expanding their reach. At the same time, countries in the southern hemisphere such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are growing in global weight. All of these countries lie markedly toward the relationship-based end of the Trusting scale.

Today if you are a manager aiming for success at an international level and your work brings you to the BRIC cultures or really anywhere in the southern hemisphere, you must learn how to build relationship-based trust with your clients and colleagues in order to be successful.

On the other hand, for those who work frequently in North America, you may be skeptical about the accuracy of the United States on the left-hand side of the Trusting scale. Are Americans really so task-based? What about the client breakfasts, the golf outings, and the team-building activities and icebreaker exercises featured at so many American-style training programs or conferences? Don’t these suggest that Americans are just as relationship-based as the Brazilians or the Chinese?

Not really. Think back to those icebreaker activities—those two-to-three-minute exchanges designed to “build a relationship” between complete strangers. What happens when the exercise is completed? Once the relationship is built, the participants check it off the list and get down to business—and at the end of the program, the relationships that were so quickly built are usually just as quickly dropped.

What’s true in the training or conference center is true outside of it. In task-based societies like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, relationships are defined by functionality and practicality. It is relatively easy to move in and out of networks, and if a business relationship proves to be unsatisfactory to either party, it’s a simple matter to close the door on that relationship and move into another.

By contrast, icebreaker exercises in relationship-based societies are rare. Relationships are built up slowly, founded not just on professional credibility but also on deeper emotional connections—and after the relationship is built, it is not dropped easily.

As an example, consider what happens when the boss fires someone on your team. Will you continue your relationship with the person who has been fired even though he is no longer part of your company? Responses to this question vary dramatically from one culture to another. A Spanish executive working in an American firm stated:

"I couldn’t believe the way my American colleagues reacted when one of our team members lost his job. That guy was our friend one day and out of our lives the next. I asked my teammates—all of whom I respect deeply—“When are we going to have a party for him, meet him for drinks, tell him he is on our minds?” They looked at me as if I was a little crazy. They seemed to feel, since he was underperforming, we could just push him off the boat and pretend we never cared about him. For a Spaniard, this is not an easy thing to accept."

But in America, coworkers aare often quickly forgotten. There is a clear difference between work friends and personal friends, whereas in Russia these two spheres are less distinct.[9]

The Importance of Equality


The interests of distribution and egalitarianism always predominated over those of production and creativity in the minds and emotions of the Russian intelligentsia.

— Nikolai Berdiaev. 1909. Vekhi

Americans are raised on the success ethic: work hard, get ahead, be successful in whatever you do. The success ethic, however, is alien to many Russians, who believe that it may be morally wrong to get ahead, particularly at the expense of others. Russians will not mind if their American acquaintances are successful, but they are likely to resent fellow Russians who “succeed.” Belief in communism has eroded, but the egalitarian ethic still survives.

Nina Khrushcheva wrote: "In Russia equality of outcomes,” a belief that material conditions in society should not vary too greatly among individual and classes, wins out over Western "equality of opportunities," which tends to tolerate and even encourage the open flourishing of class distinctions. Therefore, working for money, for example, a virtue so respected in the West, was not a “good way” in Russia. Russians can be great workers, as long as labor is done not for profit but for some spiritual or personal reason or is done as a heroic deed, performing wonders, knowing no limits.[83]

Equality is a social philosophy that advocates the removal of inequities among persons and a more equal distribution of benefits. In its Russian form egalitarianism is not an invention of communists but has its roots in the culture of the mir which, as we have seen, represented village democracy, Russian-style.

The mir’s governing body was an assembly composed of heads of households, including widowed women, and presided over by a starosta (elder). Before the introduction of currency, mir members were economically equal, and equality for members was considered more important than personal freedom. Those agricultural communes, with their egalitarian lifestyle and distribution of material benefits, were seen by Russian intellectuals as necessary to protect the peasants from the harsh competition of Western individualism. Individual rights, it was feared, would enable the strong to prosper but cause the weak to suffer. Others saw the mir as a form of agrarian socialism, the answer to Russia’s striving for egalitarianism.

For much of Russian history, peasants numbered close to 90 percent of the population. By 1990, however, due to industrialization, the figure had dropped to about 30 percent. But while the other 70 percent of the population live in urban areas, most of today’s city dwellers are only one, two, or three generations removed from their ancestral villages. Despite their urbanization and education, the peasant past is still very much with them, and many of them still think in the egalitarian terms of the mir.

The Soviet Union also thought in egalitarian terms. Communism aimed to make a complete break with the past and create a new society, but its leaders could not escape the heritage of the past, and their leveling of society revived the communal ethic of the mir on a national scale. As British scholar Geoffrey Hosking observed:

In some ways....the Soviet state has perpetuated the attitudes of the pre-1930 Russian village community. The expectation is still prevalent that the community will guarantee essentials in a context of comradely indigence just above the poverty line.[84]

Many aspects of Russian communism may indeed be traced to the mir. The meetings of the village assembly were lively, but decisions were usually unanimous and binding on all members. This provided a precedent for the communism’s “democratic centralism,” under which issues were debated, decisions were made that all Party members were obliged to support, and opposition was prohibited.

Peasants could not leave the mir without an internal passport issued only with permission of their household head. This requirement was a precursor not only of Soviet (and tsarist) regulations denying citizens freedom of movement and resettlement within the country, but also of the practice of denying emigration to those who did not have parental permission. Under communism, the tapping of telephones and the perusal of private mail by the KGB must have seemed natural to leaders whose ancestors lived in a mir where the community was privy to the personal affairs of its members. And in a society where the bulk of the population was tied to the land and restricted in movement, defections by Soviet citizens abroad were seen as treasonous.

Despite its egalitarian ethic, old Russia also had an entrepreneurial tradition based in a small merchant class called kupyechestvo. Russian merchants established medieval trading centers, such as the city-state of Novgorod, which were independent and self-governing until absorbed by Muscovy in the late fifteenth century. Merchants explored and developed Siberia and played a key role in Russia’s industrialization of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Merchants were also Westernizers in the years between the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, endorsing social and legal reform, the rule of law, civil liberties, and broader educational opportunities. However, they rejected economic liberalism, with its emphasis on free trade in international exchange and free competition in the domestic economy, and advocated instead state planning. And as an additional link in the chain of continuity between the old and new Russia, as Ruth Roosa has pointed out, merchants in the years prior to 1917 called for state plans of 5, 10, and even 15 years’ duration that would embrace all aspects of economic life.[85]

Agriculture in old Russia also had its entrepreneurs. Most of the land was held in large estates by the crown, aristocracy, and landed gentry, but after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, a small class of independent farmers emerged. By 1917, on the eve of the Revolution, some 10 percent of the peasants were independent farmers. The more enterprising and prosperous among them were called kulaks (fists) by their less successful and envious brethren who had remained in the mir. But the kulaks were ruthlessly exterminated and their land forcibly collectivized by the communists in the early 1930s. Millions of peasants left the land they had farmed, production was disrupted, and more than five million died in the resulting famine. The forced collectivization contributed to the eventual failure of Soviet agriculture.

Private farming returned to Russia in the late 1980s and grew steadily over the following years, encouraged by Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, legislation passed by the Russian parliament, and decrees issued by Boris Yeltsin. The legal underpinning for agricultural reform was provided by Article 36 of the new Russian constitution, approved by the electorate in December 1993, which affirmed that “Citizens and their associations shall be entitled to have land in private ownership.” Parliament, however, reflecting historic attitudes on communal ownership of land, balked at passing legislation that would have put that article into effect. The opposition in parliament was led by the Communist and Agrarian Parties, and most land remained government property, as it was during Soviet times when Communist ideology required that the state own the means of production.[86]

That changed on October 26, 2001, when Vladimir Putin, drawing to close a decade of efforts by Russia’s leadership to ease Soviet-era land sale restrictions, put his pen to legislation giving Russians the right to purchase land. However, the new land code affected only some 2 percent of Russian land, and it covered purchases only for industrial, urban housing, and recreational purposes, but not for farmland. Another law, passed in 2003, finally granted rights to private ownership of land and the possibility for sale and purchase of agricultural land.

However, opposition to private land ownership is still strong. Opponents of farmland sales, in addition to their ideological misgivings, believe that such sales will open the way for wealthy Russians and foreign investors to buy up large tracts of land. Foreigners have the right to buy commercial and residential land but not farmland, although long-term leases by foreigners are permitted. Supporters of farmland sales believe this will further Russia’s transition to a market economy, encourage foreign investment, improve agricultural productivity, promote growth of a property-owning class, provide revenue by taxing privately owned land, and curb the corruption that has facilitated illegal land transactions.

Despite all the supportive legislation and decrees, private agriculture is still not widely accepted by Russian peasants, most of whom oppose reform and are reluctant to leave the security of the former collective and state farms for the risks of the free market. Impediments to private farming include difficulties in acquiring enough land and equipment to start a farm, a general lack of credit, the reluctance of peasants to give up the broad range of social services provided by the collective and state farms, and a fear that if land reform is reversed they will once more be branded as kulaks and will lose their land.[87]

Despite its large size, Russia has relatively little area suited for agriculture because of its arid climate and inconsistent rainfall. Northern areas concentrate mainly on livestock, and southern parts and western Siberia produce grain. Restructuring of former state farms has been a slow process. Nevertheless, private farms and individual garden plots account for over one-half of all agricultural production.[88]

Economic reforms have also been slow to gain support among the general public, particularly with the older generation. While there is a streak of individualism in many Russians, the entrepreneurial spirit of the businessperson and independent farmer runs counter to Russian egalitarianism. For many Russians, selling goods for profit is regarded as dishonest and is called spekulatsiya (speculation).

Russians, it has been said, would rather bring other people down to their level than try to rise higher, a mentality known as uravnilovka (leveling). As Vladimir Shlapentokh, a professor at Michigan State University, points out:

...the traditional political culture and Orthodox religion were always hostile toward rich people. Ever since the time of Alexander Radishchev, one would be hard pressed to find a single Russian writer who imparted sentiments with even an inkling of admiration for wealth and the privileged lifestyle. It suffices to mention the giants of the Russian literary tradition, such as Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and, of course, Maxim Gorky.[89][90]

Russia’s “American Dream”


Russia has a less known "American dream" themselves, referred to as the "Russian idea". Russian government officials have made repeated appeals for a renewal of moral values and the search for a new “Russian idea” to embody them. President Vladimir Putin repeatedly stated that Russia’s renewal depends not only on economic success or correct state policies but on a revival of moral values and national spirit, and he has called for a new "Russian idea" that emphasizes patriotism, social protections, a strong state, and great-power status. As Georgy Poltavchenko, governor of Saint Petersburg from 2011-2018 explained:

The country must have a Russian ideology! Since the Lord ordained our special path, we must also have our own ideology. The most important thing is to primarily instill patriotism and love for the motherland. Then it is the business and right of each person to have their own political views, but you must be a patriot of your own state.[91]

That idea presumes a unique Russian way, with values superior to those of the materialist, individualistic, and decadent West, an idea that has also been embraced by various nationalist and communist political parties.

Among those taking up the "Russian idea" are the neo-Eurasianists (неоевразийство), who trace their roots to a movement that originated among Russian exiles in Western Europe in the early 1920s. Economic geographer Pyotr Savitsky, wrote in 1925:

The idea of a Europe that combines Western and Eastern Europe is absurd. [Eurasia] is a world apart, distinct from the countries situated on the West and on those situated on the South and the South-East. Russia occupies the greatest part of the Eurasian landmass; it is not divided between two continents but forms a third, independent geographic entity.[92]

Today’s Eurasianists also reject the West and see Russia’s future in the East. They advocate a union of the three Slavic peoples—Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians—and a federation of the Slavic peoples with their Turkic neighbors to the south and east in a political union that looks strikingly similar to the former Soviet Union—and with the Russians in charge. Among the more prominent Eurasianists are Gennadi Zyuganov, leader of the Russian Communist Party, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.

The main components of the Russian idea are:

1. Unity and liberty through love for others. ("sobornost")
2. The best features of the Russian national character, which is the essence of the Russian nation ("narodnost")

The “American Dream” roots are:

  • In its democratic constitution

The “Russian idea” roots are:

  • Monarchy history and socialist ideals.

Russians are cautious and deeply conservative


The slower you go, the further you’ll get.

— Russian proverb

During the socialist Soviet Union, Russians were assumed by the West to be radicals and to challenge the established order. In reality, Russians are more likely to be cautious and conservative defenders of the status quo — and for good reason. Their cruel climate, harsh history, and skeptical outlook on life have caused Russians to value stability, security, social order, and predictability and to avoid risk. Big changes are feared, and the tried and tested is preferred over the new and unknown.

Caution and conservatism are also legacies of the peasant past. Barely eking out a living in small isolated villages, peasants had to contend not only with the vagaries of nature but also with the strictures of communal life, authoritarian fathers, all-powerful officials, and reproachful religious leaders. In a traditional agricultural society, stability was valued and change came slowly. As Marshall Shulman of Columbia University once put it, "Russians feel obliged to defend their traditional values against the onslaught of the modern world."[93]

The experience of the twentieth century has given Russians no cause to discard their caution:

The entire Soviet historical experience with its particular combination of majestic achievements and mountainous misfortunes. Man-made catastrophes have repeatedly victimized millions of ordinary citizens and officials alike—the first European war, revolution, civil war, two great famines, forcible collectivization, Stalin's terror, World War II, [Gorbachev failed market reforms and Yeltsin’s chaos in the 1990s]. Out of that experience, which for many people is still...deeply felt, have come the joint pillars of today's Soviet conservatism: a towering pride in the nation's modernizing, war-time, and great-power achievements, together with an abiding anxiety that another disaster forever looms and that any significant change is therefore "some sinister Beethoven knock of fate at the door."' Such a conservatism is at once prideful and fearful and thus doubly powerful. It influences most segments of the Soviet populace, even many dissidents. It is a real bond between state and society—and thus the main obstacle to change.

Caution and conservatism can also be seen at the highest levels of government, where most of the leadership has been of peasant origin. Reflecting their peasant past, Russia’s leaders will take advantage of every opportunity to advance their cause but will be careful to avoid undue risk.

The cautious approach was recommended by Mikhail Gorbachev in a talk in Washington during his June 1990 summit meeting with President George H.W. Bush. Noting that he preferred not to act precipitously in resolving international differences, Gorbachev advocated an approach that "is more humane. That is, to be very cautious, to consider a matter seven times, or even 100 times before one makes a decision."[94]

Boris Yeltsin was also overly cautious when it was in his interest and Russia’s to be bold and daring. In June 1991, when he enjoyed high prestige and popularity after his election as president, and in August of that year after he foiled an attempted coup, Yeltsin’s caution prevented him from instituting the broad reforms that Russia required. As for Putin, if there is one word to describe him it is cautious. Andrew Jack, former Moscow bureau chief of London’s Financial Times, describes Putin as a cautious president who is very hard to categorize:

A Teflon personality designed to draw out his interlocutors without revealing much about himself, saying what they wanted to hear and promising what they sought, while not necessarily believing or planning to implement it.[95]

Some speak of a hereditary Russian inertia. As an old Russian proverb puts it, “The Russian won’t budge until the roasted rooster pecks him in the rear.”

Americans will have their patience tested by Russian caution. A nation of risk takers, most Americans are descendants of immigrants who dared to leave the known of the Old World for the unknown of the New. In the United States, risk takers have had the opportunity to succeed or to fail in the attempt. Indeed, risk is the quintessence of a market economy. The opportunities of the New World, with its social mobility and stability, have helped Americans to accentuate the positive. For Russians, geography and history have caused them to anticipate the negative.[96]

Russians Extremes and Contradictions


The American mind will not apprehend Russia until it is prepared philosophically to accept the validity of contradiction. Soberly viewed, there is little possibility that enough Americans will ever accomplish...philosophical evolutions to permit...any general understanding of Russia on the part of our Government or our people. It would imply a measure of intellectual humility and a readiness to reserve judgment about ourselves and our institutions, of which few of us would be capable. For the foreseeable future the American, individually and collectively, will continue to wander about in the maze of contradiction and the confusion which is Russia, with feelings not dissimilar to those of Alice in Wonderland, and with scarcely greater effectiveness. He will be alternately repelled or attracted by one astonishing phenomenon after another, until he finally succumbs to one or the other of the forces involved or until, dimly apprehending the depth of his confusion, he flees the field in horror. Distance, necessity, self-interest, and common-sense may enable us, thank God, to continue that precarious and troubled but peaceful co-existence which we have managed to lead with the Russians up to this time. But if so, it will not be due to any understanding on our part.

"West and East, Pacific and Atlantic, Arctic and tropics, extreme cold and extreme heat, prolonged sloth and sudden feats of energy, exaggerated cruelty and exaggerated kindness, ostentatious wealth and dismal squalor, violent xenophobia and uncontrollable yearning for contact with the foreign world, vast power and the most abject slavery, simultaneous love and hate for the same objects...the Russian does not reject these contradictions. He has learned to live with them, and in them. To him, they are the spice of life."

— George F. Kennan, Memoirs 1925-1950.

President Harry Truman once quipped that he was looking for a one-armed economist because all his economic advisers concluded their advice by saying, “But, on the other hand...” Americans, with their proclivity for rational consistency seek clear and precise responses, but they usually end up by falling back to a middle position that avoids contradictions and extremes.

Russians, by contrast, have a well-deserved reputation for extremes. When emotions are displayed, they are spontaneous and strong. Russian hospitality can be overwhelming, friendship all encompassing, compassion deep, loyalty long lasting, drinking heavy, celebrations boisterous, obsession with security paranoid, and violence vicious. With Russians, it is often all or nothing. Halfway measures simply do not suffice.

George F. Kennan, the U.S. diplomat and the "Father of Russian Containment" wrote:

"We are incapable...of understanding the role of contradiction in Russian life. The Anglo-Saxon instinct is to attempt to smooth away contradictions, to reconcile opposing elements, to achieve something in the nature of an acceptable middle-ground as a basis for life. The Russian tends to deal only in extremes, and he is not particularly concerned to reconcile them. To [Russians], contradiction is a familiar thing. It is the essence of Russia:

1. west and east,

2. Pacific and Atlantic,

3. arctic and tropics,

4. extreme cold and extreme heat,

5. pro-longed sloth and sudden feats of energy,

6. exaggerated cruelty and exaggerated kindness,

7. ostentatious wealth and dismal squalor,

8. violent xenophobia and uncontrollable yearning for contact with the foreign world,

9. vast power and the most abject slavery,

10: simultaneous love and hate for the same objects: ...these are only some of the contradictions which dominate the life of the Russian people. The Russian does not reject these contradictions. He has learned to live with them, and in them. To him, they are the spice of life. He likes to dangle them before him, to play with them philosophically...for the moment, he is content to move in them with that same sense of adventure and experience which supports a young person in the first contradictions of love. The American mind will not apprehend Russia until it is prepared philosophically to accept the validity of contradiction. It must accept the possibility that just because a proposition is true, the opposite of that proposition is not false....It must learn to understand that Russian life at any given moment is not the common expression of harmonious, integrated elements, but a, precarious and ever shifting equilibrium between numbers of conflicting forces.

Russian extremes and contradictions have also been described by poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko:

I am thus and not thus, I am industrious and lazy, determined and shiftless. I am … shy and impudent, wicked and good; in me is a mixture of everything from the west to the east, from enthusiasm to envy...[97]

Human feelings count for much in Russia, and those who do not share the depth of those feelings will be considered cold and distant. When Russians open their souls to someone, it is a sign of acceptance and sharing. Westerners will have to learn to drop their stiff upper lips and also open their souls.[98]

11 Time Zones - The largest country on Earth


In its grandiose schemes, which were always on a worldwide scale, communism makes use of the Russian disposition for making plans and castle-building, which had hitherto no scope for practical application.

— Nikolai Berdiaev, The Origin of Russian Communism

"Sire, everything is done on a large scale in this country — everything is colossal."[99] Said the Marquis de Custine, addressing Tsar Nicholas in St. Petersburg in 1839 at the start of his travels through Russia. The French aristocrat was moved by the grand scale of “this colossal empire,” as he described it in his four-volume Russia in 1839.

Modern-day travelers to Russia will also encounter colossal sights. In Moscow’s Kremlin, tour guides point with pride to the Tsar Cannon—cast in 1586, with a bore of 36 inches and weight of 44 tons. Nearby is the Tsar Bell—20 feet high and, at 200 tons, the heaviest bell in the world.

Soviet leaders continued that “colossalism.” When they industrialized, centralizing production to achieve economies of scale, they built gigantic industrial complexes employing up to 100,000 workers. Gigantomania is the term used by Western economists to describe that phenomenon. The Palace of Soviets, a Stalin project of the 1930s, was to have been the tallest building in the world, dwarfing the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower, and be topped by a 230-foot statue of Lenin. The Kremlin’s Palace of Congresses, the huge hall known to Western TV viewers as the site of mass meetings, seats 6,000 and is one of the world’s largest conference halls. Its snack bar can feed 3,000 people in 10 minutes.

In Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), the site of a decisive battle with Germany in World War II, a victorious Mother Russia, the largest full-figure statue in the world, towers 282 feet over the battlefield. And Russia’s victory monument to World War II, completed in 1995, is 465 feet high and topped by a 27-ton Nike, the goddess of victory.

Aeroflot was by far the world’s largest airlines, flying abroad as well as to the far corners of the Soviet Union. Its supersonic transport (SST), the world’s first, was considerably larger than the Anglo-French Concorde.

Russians are impressed with size and numbers, and much that they do is on a grandiose scale. That is not unusual for a vast country. Russians think and act big, and they do not do things in a half-hearted way. Nor are these traits uniquely Russian. Americans, accustomed to wide open spaces and with an expansive outlook on life, also are known to think big.

Big also describes the Russian military. Even after large reductions, the Russian military in 2008 had more than one million personnel under arms. It also had the biggest missiles, submarines, and aircraft.

Russia’s grandiose plans have at times been realized but at other times not. The Tsar Bell was too heavy and was neither hung nor rung. The Tsar Cannon was too big to fire. The Palace of Soviets was abandoned after the foundation proved incapable of supporting the huge structure, and the site was used for an outdoor swimming pool—one of the largest in Europe, of course. The Soviet SST had major design problems and was shelved after several crashes, including one at the prestigious Paris Air Show. Aeroflot’s extensive domestic network was broken up into nearly 400 separate companies, with a drastic decline in safety standards. Russia’s huge industrial plants have proven to be highly inefficient and noncompetitive, and the large state subsidies they require to avoid bankruptcy are an obstacle to their privatization. The Russian army’s combat capabilities, as confirmed in the Chechnya war, have dramatically declined. And the Kursk, pride of the Russian navy and one of the largest submarines ever built, suffered an unexplained explosion in August 2000, and sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea with the loss of its entire crew of 118.

Russians still have grand designs. In April 2007, Russia announced the revival of an old plan from its tsarist years to build a tunnel under the Bering Sea that would link Siberia with Alaska. And what should be said of Moscow’s current politics, the most recent of many attempts to reform Russia? The objective this time is to modernize Russia, to make it more competitive with the West, and to regain its superpower status.

Will the sweeping reforms succeed or are they merely the latest example of Russians thinking too big? History tells us to believe the latter. As Anton Chekhov put it over 100 years ago, “A Russian is particularly given to exalted ideas, but why is it he always falls so short in life? Why?”[100]

Russians superiority complex (Messianism)


All Russians have a superiority complex, that we're still equal to the United States.

- Elena Petrova. How To Find And Marry A Girl Like Me.[101]

The [Westerners] disappear, everything collapses….the papacy of Rome and all the kingdoms of the West, Catholicism and Protestantism, faith long lost and reason reduced to absurdity. Order becomes henceforth impossible, freedom becomes henceforth impossible, and [Westernern] civilization commits suicide on top of all the ruins accumulated by it. … And when we see rise above this immense wreck this even more immense Eastern Empire like the Ark of the Covenant, who could doubt its mission...

— Fyodor Tyutchev, The Rock of Refuge

Fyodor Tyutchev, a Russian diplomat and poet, wrote those words in 1848 in response to the liberal revolutions sweeping Western Europe in that year. He saw Western civilization as disintegrating while Russian civilization, morally and spiritually superior, was rising.

Russian Orthodox Christianity with its mystical and otherworldly perspective is believed to have imparted on Russian politics a grand image of Russia's spiritual destiny to guide mankind.[102]

Messianism is still alive in Russia today particularly among intellectuals on the left as well as the right, who share a belief and pride in Russia as a great power with a special mission in the world. Economist Mikhail F. Antonov, for example, in an interview with The New York Times Magazine, stated:

"Let other countries surpass us in the technology of computer production, but only we can provide an answer to the question: Why? For whose sake? We are the only legitimate heirs to the great, spiritual Russian culture. The saving of the world will come from Soviet Russia."[103]

Russian thinkers past and present seek to excuse Russia's material backwardness by acclaiming her correctness of cause, spiritual superiority, and messianic mission.

Serge Schmemann of The New York Times writes:

"The notion of ‘Holy Russia’ runs deep of a people lacking the German’s industriousness or the American’s entrepreneurship, but endowed with unique spirituality and mission."[104]

A similar view was espoused by a contemporary Russian philosopher when author Yale Richardson asked him about Russia’s role in the world. “Russia is European on the surface, but deep inside it is Asian, and our link between Europe and Asia is the Russian soul. Russia’s mission is to unite Europe and Asia.”[105]

Such messianic missions are common throughout the history of America, who have always believed that they have something special to bring to the less fortunate — Christianity to heathens, democracy to dictatorships, and the free market to state-run economies.

Americans who believe in their own mission should be sensitive to Russian messianism and fears for the future. Without great-power status, Russians fear that other countries will no longer give them the respect they are due and Russia will lose its influence in the world.

Along with messianism, there is also a Russian tendency to blame others for their misfortunes, which has a certain logic. If Russians are indeed the chosen people and have a monopoly on truth, then others must be the cause of their misfortunes. Freemasons and Jews, among others, have often been blamed in the past for Russia’s troubles.

Russians’ rebellious spirit


Не приведи Бог видеть русский бунт, бессмысленный и беспощадный!

— А.С. Пушкин, "Капитанская Дочка"

The Russians’ patience sometimes wears thin and they rebel. History is replete with rebellions of serfs against masters, peasants against gentry, Cossacks against lords, nobles against princes, and communists against commissars — usually with mindless destruction and wanton cruelty. There is also a record of revolt from within — palace revolutions — in the time of general secretaries and presidents as well as tsars, as Mikhail Gorbachev learned in August 1991 when a junta attempted to seize power in Moscow, and as Boris Yeltsin learned in 1993 when a similar attempt was made by hard-liners in the Russian parliament.

Conspiracies, coups, insurrections, ethnic warfare, and national independence movements all reflect the instabilities and inequities of Russian society and its resistance to change. When peaceful evolution is not viable, revolution becomes inevitable.

Russians have long been seen as submissive to authority, politically passive, and unswerving in policy. But when the breaking point is reached, the submissive citizen spurns authority, the docile worker strikes, the passive person becomes politically active, and rigid policies are reversed almost overnight.

Such a point was reached in the late 1980s when the Soviet Union experienced food shortages, crippling strikes, a deteriorating economy, nationality unrest, ethnic warfare, movements for sovereignty or independence by the republics, inept government responses to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and Armenian earthquake, and revelations of widespread environmental devastation.

In reaction to these events, voters of the Russian Federation rebelled in June 1991. Given a choice, they rejected the candidates of communism and chose as their president Boris Yeltsin and his program of decentralization, democracy, and economic reform. Yeltsin thus became the first freely elected leader in Russian history.

In August 1991, Russians rebelled again, taking to the streets of Moscow in a massive protest that helped bring down the old guard junta that had attempted to seize power. And in December 1995, disillusioned with reform, corruption, and a deep decline in their standard of living, Russians repudiated the Yeltsin administration by electing a parliament that was deeply divided between opponents and supporters of democratic and economic reforms, and between Westernizers and Slavophiles (Russians determined to protect and preserve Russia’s unique cultural values and traditions).[106]

Alcoholism - Russia’s Scourge


More people are drowned in a glass than in the ocean. (В стакане тонет больше людей, чем в море.)

— русская поговорка

To all the other “-isms” that help one to understand Russians, alcoholism must unfortunately be added.

For Karl Marx, religion was the opiate of the people. For Russians, the opiate has been alcohol.

The Russian affinity for alcohol was described by the French aristocrat Marquis de Custine in 1839:

"The greatest pleasure of these people is drunkenness; in other words, forgetfulness. Unfortunate beings! they must dream, if they would be happy. As proof of the good temper of the Russians, when the Muzhiks [peasants] get tipsy, these men, brutalized as they are, become softened, instead of infuriated. Unlike the drunkards of our country, who quarrel and fight, they weep and embrace each other. Curious and interesting nation!"[107]

In 1965, the distinguished Russian novelist Andrei Sinyavsky has described drunkenness as:

"The Russian people drink not from need and not from grief, but from an age-old requirement for the miraculous and the extraordinary—drink, if you will mystically, striving to transport the soul beyond earth’s gravity and return it to its sacred noncorporeal state. Vodka is the Russian muzhik’s [peasant’s] White Magic; he decidedly prefers it to Black Magic— the female."[108]

Per capita consumption of alcohol in Russia and the United States is not very different. Americans, however, drink more wine and beer, Russians more hard liquor, mainly vodka. And like their North European neighbors from Ireland to Finland, Russians drink their distilled spirits “neat,” without a mixer, and in one gulp.

Vodka is described by Hedrick Smith as "one of the indispensable lubricants and escape mechanisms of Russian life. … Russians drink to blot out the tedium of life, to warm themselves from the chilling winters, and they eagerly embrace the escapism it offers."[109]

To take the measure of a man, Russians will want to drink with him, and the drinking will be serious. Americans should not attempt to match their hosts in drinking. This is one competition Russians should be allowed to win, as they surely will.

Vodka is also a prelude to business transactions. As one Western financier explains:

"Business is done differently everywhere. In Russia … any negotiation is preceded by an arranged dinner that is extremely boozy. … You can’t expect to go in there with a stiff upper lip and a pressed suit. It’s a test. The trick is to play the game, but not get distracted by it."[110]

Vodka is drunk straight, ice-cold in small glasses in one “bottoms-up” gulp.

What should a visitor do when confronted with vodka and the obligatory toasts at a dinner where the visitor is guest of honor? If the guest knows when to stop, then by all means drink and enjoy it. Guests who fear they will not know their limit can abstain, pleading doctor’s orders or religious reasons. Or they can down their first drink and slowly nurse subsequent rounds through the evening.

Russians prefer to drink while seated, and the stand-up cocktail party, a Western innovation, is consequently alien. Anyone invited to a Russian home should expect to be seated, fed a substantial repast, and drink during the meal. When invited to an American home, Russians will expect more than chips or cheese and crackers.

A night on the town usually consists of an evening with friends at a restaurant—eating, drinking, and dancing for several hours to very loud music. The eating will also be serious. Older Russians recall the difficult days when food was scarce, and they relish a good meal with many courses that can last several hours. Toward the end of the evening there may be a bloody brawl among the more serious drinkers, which ends only when the police arrives.

“Demon vodka,” as the Russians call it, is the national vice. Excessive vodka consumption is a major cause of absenteeism, low productivity, industrial accidents, wife beating, divorce and other family problems, birth defects, and a declining longevity. Tens of thousands of Russians die each year of alcohol poisoning from bootleg alcohol or alcohol-based substitutes. Alcohol also plays a major role in road accidents, homicides, suicides, and violent crime. It is also a contributing factor to Russia’s very high rate of deaths from fires — more than 17,000 deaths in 2006, more than 10 times rates typical of Western Europe and the United States — because intoxicated people inadvertently set or are unable to escape fires.[111]

With the economic, social, and physical ills that alcohol causes, it was not surprising that the first published decree after Gorbachev took office in 1985 signaled a state campaign against it. The intent was to limit consumption, but the immediate result was a sugar shortage because Russians purchased more sugar to increase their production of samogon (home brew). Consumption of products with alcoholic content also increased—industrial alcohol, jet fuel, insecticide, perfume, shoe polish, and toothpaste—thus creating additional shortages. Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign also resulted in a 10 to 20 percent reduction in tax revenues.[112] A complete failure, the program was scrapped after three years. The anti-alcohol campaign, however, did have one virtue. At the peak of the campaign, violent crime dropped and life expectancy for men immediately increased, but these trends reversed when the campaign ended.

Alcohol continues to take its toll, contributing heavily to the mortality rate for Russian males who imbibe toxic samogon and other alcohol-based substances, although the number of such deaths has been declining due to the imposition of taxes on industrial alcohols. Particularly alarming has been the spread of alcoholism among teenagers and children, which often leads to suicide.[113] [114]

Of the alcohol consumed in Russia, one bottle in every three is believed to be made clandestinely.[115]

Vodka is a basic ingredient of Russian life and will not be easily eliminated. During the height of the anti-alcohol campaign, author Yale Richmond attended several official lunches in Moscow where wine was the strongest drink served. But as a reminder of our own Prohibition days, bottles of vodka were passed under the table.

Vodka does have one virtue. While it can produce a hangover when drunk to excess, it seldom causes a headache or nausea. And with zakuski, in moderation, it is the ideal drink.[116]

Russian’s Deep Distrust of Government


Who serves the Tsar cannot serve the people.

— Russian proverb

Russians have a deep and abiding suspicion of government. Public opinion polls show that the vast majority of Russians are convinced that most of their leaders hold public office only for personal gain and do not care about the concerns of the common person. This government mistrust is very high and is based, in part, on past experience.

In the past, Russian governments have served rulers rather than the ruled, so why should the populace believe things will be different now? Until Russia’s free elections of 1991, democratic governance was experienced only once, in 1917, during the brief period between the democratic February revolution and the Bolshevik October Revolution. With those exceptions, authoritarianism has been the rule in Russian governance.

American journalist Robert G. Kaiser explains, “There is little in the country’s past that has prepared it to become a modern, tolerant, and efficient democracy. Russians have no real experience with independent civic institutions, checks and balances, or even the restrained use of power. Russian citizens have been estranged from the state for many centuries....”[117]

For centuries, Russia was an absolute monarchy, ruled as a paramilitary garrison state to guard against threats both internal and external. George Vernadsky, Yale University professor of Russian history explained:

"In the Tsardom of Moscow of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries we find an entirely new concept of society and its relation to the state. All the classes of the nation, from top to bottom, except the slaves, were bound to the service of the state..."[118]

That state was ruled by hereditary tsars who held absolute power, issuing decrees that had the force of law. The Russian ukaz (decree) has come into English as ukase, a decree having force of law. In the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin also ruled by decree, as tsars and commissars had done before him; Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s successor, also had extraordinary powers, even under the Constitution of 1993. As Yuri Afanasyev, a leading reformer in the 1980s, explained:

It was characteristic of Russia to have the people at the “bottom” harshly subordinated to the people at the “top,” and for people generally to be subordinated to the state; such relations were formed back in the twelfth century. The eternal oppression in Russia created a reaction against it of intolerance, aggression, and hostility; and it is this oppression and the reaction to it that create cruelty and mass violence.[119]

Russia’s rulers, perceiving domestic unrest and political dissent as threats to their ability to govern a vast empire, have not hesitated to use force to maintain their authority. They saw Russia surrounded by hostile or unstable powers, and they took advantage of any weakness or instability along their state’s periphery to secure its borders and extend its territorial reach.

With power concentrated at the center, the influence of the state on Russian society has been pervasive. In old Russia, the largest landholders were the crown, the church, and the aristocracy. Many sectors of the economy were controlled or subsidized by the state. For both rulers and the ruled, service to the state was the primary duty.

In the Soviet era, the state played an even larger role. Moscow’s heavy hand was found in the economy, culture, education, the media, religion, and citizens’ private lives—planning, directing, instructing, and stifling initiative in the process. Big Brother—or rather Big Daddy, in a paternalistic society—was everywhere.

Paradoxically, Russians have often idolized their leaders. The tsar was seen as the tsar-batyushka (tsar-father). Stalin was similarly adored as a father figure. And Putin, unknown prior to being named by Yeltsin as his successor, has regularly received approval ratings of more than 70 percent. Many Americans wonder if these approval ratings are real and not fudged. These opinion polls are often conducted by legitimate Western organizations and are legitimate.

Commenting on Russian governance, American diplomat George F. Kennan wrote:

"Forms of government and the habits of governments tend over the long run to reflect the understandings and expectations of their peoples. The Russian people...have never known democracy as we understand it. They have experienced next to nothing of the centuries-long development of the discipline of self-government out of which our own political culture has evolved."[120]

The result has been a submissive citizenry, accustomed to—indeed expecting— direction from above, being told what to do and what to think. As an example of this passivity, in 2000 a fire broke out in the iconic landmark Ostankino television and radio tower in Moscow. The fire trucks arrived at the scene and waited for hours at the base for directions from the newly installed President Putin on what to do next, causing untold damage and potentially more loss of life.

A Russian psychologist explained to the author Yale Richmond: "It is difficult for us to make decisions. We are so used to being told what to do that we cannot take the initiative and decide for ourselves." Such an attitude helps to explain the reluctance of individual Russians to become involved in issues that they believe are the responsibility of government and where the role of the individual citizen seems insignificant.

Another centuries-old tradition is a state-sanctioned ideology that serves as a moral guide, determining what is right and wrong. In the tsarist era, the ideology was Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion. In the Soviet period, the Communist Party imposed its own standards of cultural, moral, and political behavior. Today, Russia is searching for a new ideology—a “Russian idea” to serve as a moral guide.

The contrasts between Russia and the United States are again apparent. In the United States, state power has been limited and diffused, both within the federal government and between federal and state authorities. Free elections and a multiparty system have ensured representation of the popular will. A government role in culture and the media has been avoided. Church and state have been separate and the rights of religious minorities protected. The development of moral and cultural values has been left to private institutions independent of government—the churches, the media, universities, and that typically American institution, the private voluntary organization. An economy based on private property and the free market, although at times assisted and regulated by the government, has remained free from state control.[121]

Time and Patience


Punctuality has been exceedingly difficult to instill into a population unused to regular hours.

— Margaret Mead, Soviet Attitudes Toward Authority (1951)

Time is money to Americans, and punctuality is a virtue. Meetings are expected to start on time, and work under pressure of the clock is a challenge routinely accepted. To Russians, however, with their agricultural heritage, time is like the seasons—a time to reap and a time to sow, and a time for doing little in between.

Seychas budyit (it will be done right away) is an expression heard often in Russia, from waiters in restaurants, clerks in stores, and officials in offices. Be assured, however, that whatever has been promised will not be done right away but will more likely take some time. Being late seems to be part of the Russian makeup. The anthropologist Edward Hall has described two types of time, monochronous and polychronous, each true for one culture but not for another. The United States goes by monochronous time, meaning that an American gives his undivided attention to one event before proceeding to the next. He takes deadlines seriously, values promptness, and attaches importance to short-term relationships. Russians basically live in polychronous time, in which a person deals simultaneously with multiple events and is very flexible about appointments. He is always ready to change his schedule at a moment's notice to accommodate a friend or relative, since he attaches more importance to long-term relationships than to short-term ones.

Muriel would make lunch appointments with magazine editors three weeks ahead. Sergei would call up a busy executive in the morning hoping to see him that afternoon. Who knew what might happen three weeks hence? Fyodor thought it was ridiculous for Carol to invite guests to dinner two weeks in advance; Carol found it odd when his Russian friends called up late Friday night to invite them to dinner the next evening. As Ronald Hingley observed, "To the excessively time-geared Westerner, Russia still seems to operate in an atmosphere relatively emancipated from the clock."' Fyodor hardly ever wore a watch unless Carol reminded him that he had a very important appointment. He canceled a promising job interview because his best friend from Russia, whom he had been seeing almost every day during the man's month-long visit to America, called up that morning and said he needed to talk. If a friend or family member needs something, appointments and business commitments go by the board. Such an attitude does not go over well in American offices. Fyodor's boss threatened to fire him because of his chronic tardiness, and only an alarm clock set forty-five minutes ahead forced him to change his behavior.

Americans naturally quantify time. They will meet a friend in ten minutes, finish a project in five months, and apologize if they are more than five minutes late." The Russian concept of time is porous. Joyce finally figured out that when Pyotr said "I'll be ready in an hour" he meant two hours; "in twenty minutes" translated into forty-five; "right away" or "immediately" meant in fifteen minutes. The vagueness of Russian time expressions can drive American spouses crazy. "He'll come during the second half of the day" means anytime between 1 P.M. and 6 P.M., while "around seven o'clock" covers the period from 6:10 to 7:50.[122]

Communism reinforced the native Russian disrespect for time, since workers could not be fired and there was no incentive to do things on time. Moreover, in a country where time is not a vital commodity, people become more sanguine about accepting delays. When something very important must be done, it will be done, and time and cost will not be obstacles. But time for Russians is not yet an economic commodity to be measured in rubles or dollars.

Being on time is consequently alien. Russians are notoriously late, and they think nothing of arriving long after the appointed hour, which is not considered as being late. (Concerts and theater performances, however, do start on time, and latecomers will not be seated until the first intermission.)

When Russians do arrive, there are a number of rituals that must be played out before the business part of a meeting can start. First, the small talk, a necessary part of all personal encounters; then, the customary tea or other drink, followed perhaps by talk about family and personal problems; and finally, the business of the day. All this takes time and usually does not start before ten o’clock in the morning.

The business part of the talk will also be lengthy, because important issues are approached in a roundabout rather than in a direct manner. Impatient foreign business people will wonder when the key issues of the meeting will be discussed. And after the meeting has concluded and the visitor believes he has agreement to proceed, nothing may happen for weeks, or months, or ever.

For Russians, time is not measured in minutes or hours but more likely in days, weeks, and months. The venerated virtue is not punctuality but patience. As a student from India who had spent four years in Moscow advised me, “Be patient, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Everything here takes time, and sometimes never gets done.”

Americans and many other nationalities are oriented toward doing; Russians, toward contemplating. As a Russian psychiatrist explained to Yale Richmond, "Russians can look at an object all day and reflect on it but take no action." When faced with an issue to be resolved, they will first think through the historical, philosophical, and ideological considerations as well as the consequences of whatever is to be decided. In contrast, Americans and other “doers” will first consider the practical points, the obstacles to be overcome, the details, and how to get from here to there.

A Russian conference interpreter, recalling her experience with Russians and Americans in the evenings after their formal meetings had adjourned, told Yale Richmond, “The Russians would sit all night drinking tea, discussing and reflecting, while the Americans would be thinking about what they had to do the next day and preparing to do it.”

Such divergent views of time can create difficulties in cooperative efforts and joint ventures. Americans will want to negotiate an agreement expeditiously, schedule an early start on the venture, begin on time, meet production deadlines, complete the work as promptly as possible, and show early results or profit. Russians will need more time to get organized, and there will be frequent delays and postponements. They will be less concerned with immediate results, and profit is a concept that they are just now beginning to understand. The job may be completed, but only after considerable prodding from the American side.

What to do? Persist patiently, and speak softly but carry a big prod. Once prodded and made to understand that a deadline must be met, Russians can show prodigious bursts of energy and will work around the clock to complete the job.[123]

Communication Differences

Russians interpret the question of “How are you?” and strangers asking personal questions very differently than Americans


Americans are:

1. more likely than those from many cultures to smile at strangers,

2. to ask “how are you?” (which is a form of “hello” to Americans)

3. to ask several personal discussions with people they hardly know.

Kak dela?

Russians like to ask about your mood: How do you feel today? How is everything? In American culture, however, it is not accepted to respond to these questions in detail. In contrast, when a Russian asks about your mood, he’s ready to hear the full story.

If you know the Russian who asked you “How are you?” well they may consider an answer such as “fine” as insincere, or think that you’re hiding something. When they ask what exactly is “fine,” you should add something. You don't need to make a full confession; you can just say, “fine, I feel cold today,” or add an emotion.

Russians are a rather emotional people, and they always share their feelings with everyone. An answer such as: “Fine” plus an emotion will be the same short polite answer that you can use in order to respond to “How are you?” In Russia, it’s normal to share private emotions with friends and to find a way to solve the problem together.

Sometimes, even strangers in Russia can act like Americans and ask personal questions, especially if they will be spending a long time together. For example, absolutely unknown people on an overnight train may share their food and ask why a person is not married or have no kids.[124]

Russians who know each other well may answer the questions “how are you” i.e. kak dela with humorous answers that might make no sense to foreign friends. Russians don’t use these informal phrases with people who they don’t know very well.

“Poka ne rodila” (“I have not given birth yet”) – a woman may jokingly respond this way, meaning that everything is ok (this rhymes with the word “dela” in Russian).

“Kak sazha bela” (“Things are all right as soot is white”) – also a joking rhyme used mostly by seniors.

“Vsyo v shokolade” (“Everything is in chocolate”) – everything is super and you want to show it.

“Vsyo puchkom” (“Everything is in the form of a bunch”) – means you’re fine and feel like a bunch of dill; Russians love dill and it’s good when your things are like a bunch.

“Ne dozhdyotes” (“Don’t expect”) – meaning "If you think things will go bad for me, don't hold your breath".[124]

Americans Ask Strangers Personal Questions

Russians may interpret personal questions from a stranger as “friendliness” and as an offer of friendship. Later, when the Americans don’t follow through on their unintended offer, Russians often accuse them of being “fake” or “hypocritical.”

Igor Agapova...tells this story about his first trip to the United States:

I sat down next to a stranger on the airplane for a nine-hour flight to New York. This American began asking me very personal questions: did I have any children, was it my first trip to the U.S., what was I leaving behind in Russia? And he began to also share very personal information about himself. He showed me pictures of his children, told me he was a bass player, and talked about how difficult his frequent traveling was for his wife, who was with his newborn child right now in Florida.
In response, Agapova started to do something that was unnatural for him and unusual in Russian culture—he shared his personal story quite openly with this friendly stranger, thinking they had built an unusually deep friendship in a short period of time. The sequel was quite disappointing:
I thought that after this type of connection, we would be friends for a very long time. When the airplane landed, imagine my surprise when, as I reached for a piece of paper in order to write down my phone number, my new friend stood up and with a friendly wave of his hand said, “Nice to meet you! Have a great trip!” And that was it. I never saw him again. I felt he had purposely tricked me into opening up when he had no intention of following through on the relationship he had instigated.[125]

Language - different shades of meaning


The Russian language surpasses all European languages, since it has the magnificence of Spanish, the liveliness of French, the strength of German, the delicacy of Italian, as well as the richness and conciseness of Greek and Latin.

— M. V. Lomonosov

Foreigners most successful in understanding the Russians, as readers will have noted by now, are those who speak some Russian. Speakers of Russian—be they businesspeople, journalists, scholars and scientists, professional or citizen diplomats—have a significant advantage. Communication may be possible with smiles, hand signals, body language, and interpreters, but the ability to carry on a conversation in Russian raises the relationship to a more meaningful level.

Those who are put off by the challenge of studying Russian should know that it is far easier to learn than many other languages such as Chinese, Arabic, or Finnish. Russians, moreover, are not offended by foreigners with an inadequate command of Russian. Many of their own citizens also speak Russian poorly.

Russian is a Slavic language, as are Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, and several other related tongues. They are all Indo-European languages, a group that includes, among others, the Germanic, Romance, and English languages, all of which have common roots.

It takes about 10 to 15 percent longer to say something in Russian than in English, and experienced translators say that they will often need three or more Russian words for one English word. Add to this the Russian tendency to be long-winded—a characteristic of agricultural societies, the old American South included—and you have another reason for Russian verbosity.

Another difficulty with Russian results from the shifting accentuation of words. There is no general rule on where the stress falls in a word or sentence, as there is in most European languages, but a Russian word placed at the beginning of a sentence will have more importance than when placed at the end.

The Cyrillic alphabet, named after St. Cyril, the apostle to the Slavs who devised the Glagolithic alphabet on which Cyrillic is based, may also faze some students. Russian, however, is mostly pronounced as it is written. If you can read Cyrillic, you can pronounce it. This makes Russian pronunciation easier than English, where words are seldom pronounced as they are written.

Russian has acquired numerous words from Western languages. Many mechanical, medical, and technical terms are from German; artistic and cultural words from French; and business and modern scientific terms from English. More recently, many English words previously unknown in Russia have also come into common usage—kserokopiya (Xerox copy), faks (fax), mikser (mixer), forvardy (forward), optsiony (options), dzhinsy (jeans), and biznesmeni (businessmen)—although they are given a Russian pronunciation and often a Slavic ending.

Words are inflected, as in Latin and German, to denote such distinctions as case, gender, number, tense, person, and mood. And Russian verbs have two aspects—the imperfective for repeated actions and the perfective for completed actions. The grammar sounds complex, and it is, but there are a few rules that explain it all.

Although Russian can be learned cold, it helps to know another inflected European language.

Russian is also replete with negatives, and positive ideas are often expressed negatively. An object will be “not big” rather than “small.” A Russian will describe his or her feelings as “not bad” rather than “good.” And a double negative in Russian does not make an affirmative as in English; instead, it emphasizes the negative. The more negatives in a sentence, the more negative the meaning.

Younger Russians with access to computers are starting to use the universal Internet language. This is a development that bothers the “purists,” much as the introduction of Anglicism in France bothered the French Academy in the years following World War II. To protect against what they see as an assault on the Russian language, the government declared 2007 as the “Year of the Russian Language in Russia and the World,” and it has taken steps to promote the study of Russian abroad.

While Russian has its share of earthy and vulgar expressions, they are not used in polite society.[126]

Untranslatable ideas

There are two ways you can tell when a man is lying. One is when he says he can drink champagne all night and not get drunk. The other is when he says he understands Russians.
— Charles E. Bohlen, former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, 1953 to 1957.[127]

Russian is a very rich language. In English one word may suffice to convey an idea, while Russian will have several words to choose from, each with a slightly different shade of meaning. This presents problems for interpreters and translators, as well as possibilities for misunderstandings.

Many words and expressions in one language simply do not exist in the other. Aleksei Mikhalev, a Russian translator of American literature, said that differences in language and literature — two significant products of a nation’s thought and psychology—demonstrate that English speakers and Russians are not very much alike. He cites the impossibility of finding precise Russian equivalents for the simple English word privacy, a concept that does not exist in Russian (nor in many other languages as well). Other untranslatables from English to Russian listed include "take care", "have fun", "make love", "efficiency", and "challenge".[128]

Russians are long winded


Russia has an oral rather than a written tradition—understandable in a country where most of the people were illiterate until less than a century ago—and talking comes naturally to its people. Every Russian seems to be a born orator. Conversations begin easily between complete strangers as well as between men and women. The complexities of the language notwithstanding, it can be a pleasure to listen to Russian speech. Delivery is unhurried, often eloquent, and without pretense. But Russians can also talk around a difficult issue without addressing it directly. Listeners should pay close attention to what is left unsaid in addition to what is said. As Lyudmila Putin, ex-wife of the president, once told a German friend, “You must always listen between the words and read between the lines.”170

Don’t expect short responses to simple questions. The question-and-answer approach simply will not do. Rather than respond with a brief yes or no, Russians are more likely to give a lengthy explanation that will leave the listener wondering whether the answer is indeed yes or no. Former Washington Post correspondent David Remnick recalls how, in an interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, “I asked a question, and he finished his answer forty minutes later. …”171

Then there are differences in conversational style. Russians tend to talk in lengthy, uninterrupted monologues, and find the American style of short answers and repartee brusque and rude. Americans normally talk about their activities and experiences what they have done, where they have gone, whom they have seen. For Russians, anything and everything is grist for the mill: people, ideas, politics, books, movies. "They can even analyze a borshch," American Muriel commented, "as though it were a theoretical problem, like the existence of God."

When answering a question, Americans get straight to the point. Russians tend to go back to the beginning of time. "Every time someone asks Fyodor how he likes America, all he has to do is say 'fine,"' American wife Carol sighed. "Instead out comes a doctoral thesis on the history of the United States and what's wrong with the country." "When my aunt asked Russian husband Pyotr how his mother was, he gave her the woman's entire medical history," American wife Joyce said. The Russian feels it is discourteous to give a short answer. The American resents being held captive to a long monologue. Americans feel that simplicity and brevity are the soul of wit and wisdom. For Russians, a valuable idea is a complex idea. Muriel phoned a friend for some information and spent only a minute or two on pleasantries before getting down to business. In Moscow there would first have been a long conversation about the family, the weather, and so on. Starting off with a request, or responding with "What can I do for you?" would be rude.

To American spouses and friends, the endless Russian stories that are a staple of Russian get togethers can be boring and pompous. Americans like to save time and get to the point. The Russian prefers to go around in circles, lacing his speech with literary, mythological or historical allusions. As the cultural anthropologist Edward Hall noted,

"Americans are often uncomfortable with indirectness . . . Most Americans keep their social conversations light, rather than engaging in serious, intellectual or philosophical discussions, a trait which especially bothers Europeans."

"I'm wasting my time with your friends," Sergei grumbled at Muriel. "I keep trying to tell them something interesting, and they sit there fidgeting and interrupting."

Years of living in fear of the secret police make Russians hesitant to state their ideas explicitly Years of living in fear of the secret police make Russians hesitant to state their ideas explicitly, and they often seek a veiled or subtle way of conveying a thought. If the listener is intelligent, he should understand what is meant, and it is insulting to spoonfeed him. For the American, speaking intelligently means speaking directly and clearly. "I feel like they're talking in code," Joyce complained of Pyotr and his friends. "Why can't they just say what they mean?" Many Russians see their [American] mates as childish and unsophisticated.' "I can see my American friends' eyes glaze over when Sergei gets going on one of his half-hour philosophical diatribes," Muriel said. "That just convinces him even more of how superior he and his friends are to all of us."

Straight Talk

Straight talk is appreciated, even when it leads to disagreement. But when disagreement does occur, Russians appreciate honesty rather than attempts to paper over differences. It is far better to level with them and to be certain that they fully understand your position. They respect adversaries who are straightforward and sincere in expressing views that diverge from their own.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, en route to a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, recalled his long record of interactions with Russian leaders over the years as national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the first Bush administration. “If one speaks openly and candidly,” said Powell, “you can make progress as long as you don’t shy away from the tough issues and as long as you don’t forget that there are many areas of interest that we have in common.”174

But confrontations over differences of views can often be avoided by letting Russians talk themselves out. After they have expressed their righteousness and indignation and have unburdened themselves, their opposition may moderate and the differences may turn out to be less than originally believed. In fact, after talking themselves out, Russians and Americans may even find that they have a unanimity of views.

No (Nyet) Nyet is a simple Russian word that is often misunderstood, and it seems to be an almost automatic response by Russians when asked if something can be done. Clerks, doormen, officials, and others seem to prefer the easy response, “Nyet.”

There can be several reasons for the automatic nyet. One common explanation is “We don’t do it that way here.” Or the item requested in a store or restaurant may not be available. Or the clerk may not care whether it is available, or may not be at all interested in helping the customer. In any event, Russians do not routinely accept a nyet, and neither should you. Continue talking, keep your cool, don’t raise your voice, smile, and keep repeating your request. As noted before, a good interpersonal relationship can often overcome the obstacle, whatever it may be, and beat the system.

A nyet, however, when expressed in a manner indicating that the real response is “perhaps,” may indicate that a little incentive is needed. In such cases, a few dollars discreetly brought into view may produce the desired effect.

Intimate touch between friends


Physical contact by Russians—touching another person — is a sign that things are going well and that a degree of rapport has been reached. The degree of physical contact will indicate how well things are going. Placing a hand on another person's arm, for example, or embracing, are good signs. Closeness and physical contact with other persons are much more common in Russia than in the West, a heritage of the village past when people lived in close proximity in small huts. Russians also stand very close when conversing, often less than twelve inches, which is closer than most Americans will find comfortable. They do not hesitate to make physical contact and invade the other person’s space.

American Muriel had to explain to her girlfriends that when Russian Sergei moved very close to them during a conversation, he was not making passes. He would stand eight inches away, much closer than the distance at which Americans feel comfortable: it's the Russian way. Nor was he trying to look soulfully and romantically into their eyes.

Russians are in the habit of looking directly and unblinkingly at the person they are addressing. Fred had to tell Irina not to "stare" at his American friends, who were uncomfortable when she concentrated her gaze on them.

Body language situations are particularly tricky because the problem remains unstated; the American does not say "You're standing so close I feel uncomfortable," and a Russian does not ask "Why are you looking away from me?"

On meeting and parting there is far more embracing, kissing and holding hands among Russians than among Americans. Carol explained to her girlfriend that Fyodor was not trying to flirt when he took her arm while escorting her to a cab after dinner; he was being a gentleman.

She, in turn, could not get used to the way the Russian wives of her American friends took her arm in the street.

Accustomed to close physical contact, Russian men, as well as women, touch when talking. Women dance with other women if there are not enough men to go around or if not asked by a man for a dance.

Russian men embrace and kiss each other, on the lips as well as cheeks. As author Yale Richmond recounted, he once had a male kiss planted on my lips, much to his surprise, at the end of a long and festive evening.

Americans are advised, however, not to initiate such spontaneous displays of affection, as President Jimmy Carter learned when he kissed Leonid Brezhnev (on the cheek) at their Vienna summit meeting, much to Brezhnev’s surprise and embarrassment.

School discipline

An American teacher of Russian recalls how, while studying at Moscow State University, a Russian instructor playfully rapped the knuckles of some Americans in his class as a sign of displeasure over their inadequate preparation for the day’s lesson:

The American men, in an uproar at both the teacher’s invasion of their space and his use of body contact to enforce his wishes, went immediately after class to the director to complain about the instructor’s behavior. … As a result, the instructor was reprimanded and told to maintain “a proper distance” from his students and to refrain from all physical contact with Americans, “who do not understand these things.”[129]

There are times, however, when Russian knuckles should be rapped. George F. Kennan wrote:

"The Russian is never more agreeable than after his knuckles have been sharply rapped...The Russian governing class respects only the strong. To them, shyness in dispute is a form of weakness."[130][131][132]

American’s infatuation with mental health


The American infatuation with "professional help" and "mental health" puts most Russians off. Russians do not like to engage in detailed analysis of their feelings towards each other with their spouse or lover. Russians believe that people should solve problems and conflicts on their own, or with help from friends. A Russian journalist was surprised by the widespread role of therapists in the United States:

"And I want to emphasize a specific trait-the aspiration of Americans to total candor. To unveil everything secret, to talk through everything."

For Russians, true intimacy lies in the silence of a couple who understand each other by a look or a gesture. Victor Ripp wrote: "The American habit of parading personal detail startles Russians. Our fascination with intimacies is more than bad taste; it suggests an utterly alien way of looking at life."[133]

American's habit of self-analysis and "letting it all hang out" strikes Russians as mostly superficial: when it comes to a real opening up, Russians find Americans quite closed.[134]

As one Russian argued, Russians feel that admitting depression, and other mental health problems is a sign of weakness. So even if a Russian feels emotionally unhealthy, they don't say admit it. It's okay to get drunk, it's okay to commit suicide, but it's not okay to say "I feel depressed", which is only permissible through art.

Americans find Russian rude because they hardly ever say please or thank you


In Russian, polite requests are expressed primarily through a rise and fall in intonation, or through expressions such as "be so kind." This can cause cultural misunderstandings. In one example, American friends of an American wives found their Russian husbands rude because they hardly ever said "please" and "thank you." The Russian was very polite, but "Give me this" or "Pass the bread" sounded extremely rude to the American wife's American friends.

Nor do Russians write thank you notes. One Russian bride had to be pushed by her American mother-in-law to write thank you notes for the wedding gifts. "Russians don't write them," she said in exasperation.

This Russian husband was offended when people he had just met addressed him by his first name. So were his Russian friends when his American wife addressed them by their first names instead of by the first name and patronymic. "I can't remember everybody's father's name!" she wailed. "It's hard enough remembering all the first names in this impossible language!"

Body Language: Russians tend to gesture more


Body language is important. Russians use hands and facial expressions to express ideas and emotions, in contrast to Anglo-Saxons who consider such demeanor distracting if not unmannerly. Through body language, a person’s intent can be determined without even understanding the words. Facial expressions are also clues to behavior. Americans are taught to open conversations with a smile and to keep smiling. Russians tend to start out with grim faces, but when they do smile, it reflects relaxation and progress in developing a good relationship. Winks and nods are also good signs, but if a stony look continues, you are not getting through and are in trouble.

Russians tend to gesture far more than Americans. American wife Muriel thought her Russian husband Sergei was upset when he waved his arm or hammered his fist on the table, but this was merely nonverbal punctuation. Russian husband Pyotr's habit of shaking his index finger at her, as though scolding a naughty child, infuriated American wife Joyce. "Cut it out and stop lecturing me!" she snapped. "I'm not lecturing you. I'm just saying be sure you lock the door when you leave."

Chapter 4 - Visiting a Russian’s home

Visiting a Russian’s home


At home do as you wish, but in public as you are told.

— Russian proverb

Russians live two separate and distinct lives—one at work and the other at home. At work they can be brusque and discourteous but will watch what they say. At home, within the intimate circle of family and friends, they feel secure and are relaxed, warm, and hospitable, are sharing and caring, and speak their own minds.

As Morath and Miller describe it:

There is still a homeliness about many Russians that has the scent of the country in it, a capacity for welcoming strangers with open, unabashed curiosity, a willingness to show feeling, and above all a carelessness about the passing of time.[135]

When asked what Russians were thinking during the many decades of political repression, legal scholar Nina Belyaeva explained:

People did not connect themselves with the power of the state. On the one hand, they seemed from outside not to care, so they seemed submissive. But inside, they said, “Inside, I am me. They can’t touch me. When I’m in my kitchen with my friends, I am free.”[136]

The kitchen is indeed the center of social life, and visitors should not pass up opportunities to get into those kitchens and see Russians at home. There is no better way to get to know Russians than over food and drink or merely sitting around a kitchen table sipping tea. And when hosting Russians in your own home, bear in mind that Russians will appreciate dining in the kitchen, which gives them the feeling they are being treated as “family” rather than as guests in a formal dining room.

Richard Stites, states that, "The secret of social life in Russia is conviviality around a table, drinking, telling jokes, laughing. When you get to that point, the battle is half won."[137]

Describing conversations with Russians, Geoffrey Hosking writes, “the exchange and exploration of ideas proceeds [sic] with utter spontaneity and at the same time concentration. In my experience, the art of conversation is pursued in Moscow at a higher level than anywhere else in the world.”[138]

How visitors live is also of great interest to Russians. Bring photos of family, home, and recreational activities, which will all be of interest. Russians are curious about the lifestyles of others in professions and occupations similar to their own, and they will not hesitate to inquire about a visitor’s salary or the cost of a home and how many rooms it has. When a celebrated Soviet writer visited AUTHORS home in the United States, he expected the conversation to be about life and literature. Instead, the world-renowned author requested a tour of the house and had a series of questions about the heating, air conditioning, and insulation, how much everything cost, and whether the house was my year-round home or my weekend dacha.

Russians welcome inquiries about family and children, and they will be interested in learning about a visitor’s family. Such interest is genuine and should not be seen as merely making small talk. The fastest way to a Russian host’s heart is to speak frankly about personal matters—joys and sorrows, successes and failures—which show that you are a warm human being and not just another cold Westerner.

Family and children are important in Russian life, although society’s current ills—housing, high prices, lack of privacy, crime, alcoholism, and divorce—have taken their toll. In cities, families with one child are the norm.

Visiting a Russians Home

Russians do not hesitate to visit a friend’s home without advance notice, even dropping in unexpectedly late at night as long as a light can be seen in a window. They routinely offer overnight accommodations to friends who are visiting their cities, a gesture based not only on their tradition of hospitality to travelers but also on the shortage of affordable hotel accommodations. Americans who are accepted as friends by Russians will find that they too may receive unexpected visits and requests for lodging from their new friends.

Due to the rising incidence of crime in the 1990s, Russians triple- and quadruple-locking their apartment doors, and they are reluctant to open them without knowing who is standing outside. To be sure they know who you are, call beforehand and tell them you will be there shortly. Guests to a Russian home should observe an old custom and bring a gift.

Handshaking is required practice in Russia, both on arrival and taking leave, with eye contact maintained during the handshake. Men do not shake hands with a woman unless she extends hers first, and women should not be surprised if their hands are kissed rather than shaken. Shaking hands in a doorway is an omen of bad luck and should never be done. If you are a man, physical signs of affection toward your host (embracing or touching) are good, but show reserve toward his wife. She will not appreciate hugs and kisses but will welcome flowers—in odd numbers only, though, but not thirteen. Old superstitions survive, and an even number of flowers is considered unlucky.

Remove your shoes. The host will likely offer slippers.

Be cautious about expressing admiration for an object in a Russian home. In a spontaneous gesture of hospitality, the host may present the admired object to the guest, and the offer will be difficult to refuse.

Hospitality is spontaneous and intrinsic to the culture. Russians will share what they have and make their guests feel at home. Dinner may be served in the kitchen or in a parlor that doubles as a bedroom. The dishes may not match and the table service will be informal, but the visitor will be made to feel welcome. Food will be tasty, and guests will wonder how the hosts could afford the many delicacies. Friends and relatives may drop in unexpectedly and join the table. Spirits will flow, and the talk will be lively and natural. Conversation is a very important part of social life, and over food and drink Russians open up and reveal their innermost thoughts.

Tea is the favorite nonalcoholic drink of Russians. On a per capita basis, Russia is second only to Great Britain in tea consumption, and half of all Russians are believed to drink at least five cups a day. Traditionally, tea is brewed in a samovar (self-boiler), where the water is heated in a metal vessel with an inner cylinder filled with burning coals. Another novelty for foreign visitors may be the podstakannik (literally, an “under-glass”), a metal glass holder with a handle on one side.

Russian ice cream is very good, and the favorite flavor, as in the United States, is vanilla.

Table manners

At dinner the Russians did not wait for the hostess to start eating before starting to eat.

Russia summer cottages

A dacha, literally a summer cottage, is something every Russian, reflecting their attachment to the land, seems to have or want, and where they spend weekends, weather permitting. Dachas used to be little more than a small shack without electricity or running water but with a garden plot for growing vegetables, which sustained entire families when food was scarce. But they have gradually grown in size, depending on the resources of the owner and the availability of transport from the city. Today, for Russia’s privileged a dacha may also be a substantial brick or masonry home with all the “conveniences” in a gated community surrounded by a fence and protected by armed guards.

The Toast


Za vashe zdorovye (To your health).

— A short Russian toast

Visitors should be prepared to raise their glasses in a toast, as toasting in Russia is serious business.

Toasts are usually made at the beginning of a meal when vodka is consumed with the first course, or at the end of the meal after the sweet wine or champagne that is served with dessert, and often throughout the meal as well. Hosts toast first, and the ranking guest is expected to follow with a return toast. With each toast, glasses are clinked with those of other guests while looking at each guest directly and making eye contact. The person being toasted also drinks.

In contrast to the laconic American or British “cheers” or “bottoms up,” a toast in Russia is a short speech. For starters, there are the obligatory thanks to the hosts for their hospitality. This may be followed by references to the purpose of the visit, to international cooperation, peace and friendship, and the better world we hope to leave to our children as a result of our cooperation. Be poetic and dramatic when making a toast, and let your “soul” show. Russians appreciate a show of emotion and imagination. Make the most of your toast and don’t hesitate to exaggerate. Humor may be used, but the substance of the toast should be serious. Russians will judge a toast as an indication of the seriousness of a visitor’s purpose. Prudent travelers will have a few toasts prepared in advance; they will surely be needed.

Women, by tradition, do not toast in Russia, but more and more Russian women are now doing so, and Russians will not be surprised if a foreign woman raises her glass and gives a toast. And if a hostess is present, she gets a separate toast, complimenting her on her home, food, and hospitality, but never on her looks, as pretty as she may be.[139]

Chapter 5 - Sex and dating


Russian people marry early -- by the age of 22 more than 50% of people are already married. By the age of 25 about 80% of people are married. Since there are less men than women in Russia (10 million more women of marriageable ages than men, according to the latest census), and even less men who are worthy, the competition for eligible men is extremely harsh. As a result, the men become spoiled and promiscuous.[140]

Attractive women in Russia do get many dating offers from Russian men. But those men are seeking only casual sex. They are either already married, unwilling to commit, or they are not worthy of marriage because they cannot provide for a family. A normal man who has a stable job (being able to solely provide for his family), is career and health conscious, and willing to commit are rare. Guys like this are scarce in Russia and not available for long.

In contrast, good-looking women are in abundance in Russia, since the tough competition drives women to perfect their looks.

Historically, during the 20th century, Russia has had many wars, with World War II alone taking 20 million lives, along with another 20 million people dying in Stalin's concentration camps. Nearly 90% of those victims were men. After the war, simply having a man was a blessing. Then there was the 14-year Afghani conflict, in which hundreds of thousands of young Russian men died. Throughout the entire 20th century Russian women had to compete to ensure they had a husband. Now they've got Chechnya - since 1993, just a few years after Russian troops left Afghanistan.

It is scientifically proven that where there are many more women in society than men, men tend to pursue short-term sexual strategies and are unwilling to commit.[141][142]

Generally, most women prefer their husbands to be 5 to 10 years older than themselves, but the younger the woman is, the less of an issue a wider age difference will matter to her.

Many Russian women seeking marriage abroad have advanced careers and live well even according to western standards. The conditions of life in a major Russian city such as Moscow or St. Petersburg are comparable to any European capital. The pace of life in Moscow is similar to the one of New York City.[143]

Dating rules

The man is in charge


The man may ask a date suggestions, but only in the way, "I know there is this attraction, would you like to see it? Or would you like to go somewhere else?"

The man should be the leader. Once you accept this assertive position, your personal communications will go much more smoothly with her. This might be not the style you are accustomed to, but this is the style that works with Russian women.

If the suiter is in the Russian woman's home city, the woman will be looking after them, after all, he is her guest. She will look after the suitor, even if she does not like the suitor, just because he is a guest. In Russia, every guest is precious and will be treated with the utmost respect. From the suitor's side, they will be expected to agree to her suggestions, even if he is e not very excited about them.[144]

Gift giving


A man must always bring gifts when visiting their girlfriend for the first time, and not just for her but for her family as well. Gifts are very important in Russian courting etiquette. Gifts show that the man is "generous". It is not only about spending money on a girl. Gift giving shows the quality of the soul. It shows a person who is not selfish, a man who enjoys giving and receiving.

Giving generously, without expecting anything in return, was the traditional quality that was the pride of Russian character. Historically, Russians were always proud of their non-materialistic nature, and this included giving generously (if you had something to share). Since the man is financially secure, it would be perceived as stinginess, if they did not make occasional gifts when dating a woman. It would mean that the man is not generous and is selfish.[145]

Talking about money


The biggest turn off for Russian women is when men talk about money. Money talks are a big "no-no" in Russian courting etiquette.

Talking about money in the Russian courting stage is as bad as chewing with your mouth open. She just cannot help feeling disgusted. Being frugal when a man is dating equals being cheap. The man might accidentally say, "Wow, that's expensive!" the man will be labeled as stingy and greedy.

According to Russian courting etiquette, men should pay for everything on a date - and do it with a smile. Even if this means he must spend to his last ruble.

If you say that something is expensive, what your woman hears is that the suitor doesn't think she is worth this money! For example, if the suitor say, "Wow, $5 for a glass of Coke, that's expensive!"; what she hears is that the suitor doesn't consider her worthy of those $5.

In Russian, the meaning of the word expensive is rather absolute, it means "I cannot afford to buy this item", as opposed to the relative meaning, "this item is overpriced".

Sometimes, men erroneously start explaining the details of their travel arrangements to their woman. An example would be that they need to book tickets at least two months in advance because it is 10% less. For Russian women, this sounds cheap. Of course, one would assume that if she is making $100 a month, for her saving 10% from $1,000 ticket would be equivalent to her monthly salary, which is a lot of money. But women don't think that way.

Put it simpler, remember as the rule of thumb: mentioning money matters is taboo in the Russian courting etiquette. The suitor pays or doesn't pay, and that's it. The suitor should NEVER tell her that they are not buying something because it is "expensive".

A suitor should Never, EVER tell the woman how much money they have spent on her.[146]



Russians have a glaring contrast between a kind of puritanism that avoids the slightest mention of sex and a tolerance for obscene jokes and language that shocks even sophisticated Westerners.

A recent survey of sexual activity in fifteen countries shows Americans as the most active nationality, engaging in sex 135 times per year, with Russians in second place with 133 acts annually.

When Joyce told Pyotr that she was getting up from bed to insert her diaphragm he was shocked. "That female stuff-go do it and don't talk about it!" he snapped. He insisted that she always jump up and "wash" immediately after sex since, like many Russian men, he was convinced that "washing" was an effective means of contraception-and besides, he felt that after sex a woman was "dirty." Joyce would have much preferred to fall asleep in his arms, but he saw her reluctance as yet another proof of her poor hygiene.

Russian mothers rarely talk about sex or contraception to their daughters, and, even though most Russian doctors are women, many young women are too embarrassed to speak to them.

Seventy percent of Soviet women say they have never experienced orgasm. This is partly because many Russian men don't know, or don't care, what satisfies a woman, but another common reason is the fear of pregnancy and a widespread belief that female orgasm increases chances of conception.

In Russia talking about sex - which many Americans take for granted - was for perverts and prostitutes. Russian women’s silence appears to have been a blessing for many American men, tired of being told what to do during every minute of lovemaking. Unless he were hurting her, a Russian would be horrified by his wife's telling him she did not like what he was doing, and would be even more shocked were she to tell him what he should do. One Muscovite whose marriage ended in divorce was repelled by his American wife's behavior. "She was unbelievably aggressive in bed," he recalled. "Always telling me what she liked and what she didn't, put my hand here and my tongue there, trying to program me as though I were a computer. And she never shut up. It was like being at a horizontal seminar, not like making love."

In Russia, a woman who initiates sex is considered extremely forward. It is the man who calls the shots. Even though Muriel had to get up early, Sergei insisted on having sex whenever he wanted, even at five in the morning after an all-night drinking bout. A man does not expect his initiatives to be rejected. "

Despite this "chauvinist" attitude, Russians can seem very romantic to American women who have talked themselves hoarse about sex inside and outside the bedroom. apart from vulgar "men's language" there is no "erotic language" in Russian, and that the language barely has the linguistic tools with which to talk about sex. "Even married couples," writes Kon, "find themselves in terrible straits because they have no acceptable words to express their specific desires or explain their problems, even to each other."

Since Russian women have been brought up to think that displaying an interest in sex is indecent, many never dared say anything if a man ignored foreplay.[147]

Promiscuity is common but exists side by side with extreme modesty. While the 1980s glasnost lowered official barriers to nudity and sexually explicit scenes in films, television, and theater, most Russians of the older generations feel uncomfortable with those new liberties, and sex is not a subject for public discussion. Prudery also prevails.

A Russian woman will never ask a man for directions to the ladies’ room; if this happened the man would be even more embarrassed than the woman.

Chapter 6 - Marrying and Divorcing a Russian – Why do Russians cheat on their spouses so much?

A warning


Americans considering marriage to a Russian should heed this advice:

While Americans are attracted by the emotional intensity, close relationships, and cultural richness of Russian life, Russians are captivated by free and easy Americans and the wide range of opportunities held out by the United States. Where Russian women look for strong, caring, and sober American husbands, American women seek romantic, passionate Russian spouses. And while American men are attracted to feminine, “old-fashioned” Russian women, Russians are intrigued by the energetic and independent American working wives. … For better or worse, in the years to come, more and more Russians and Americans are likely to become involved in the most exciting and permanent of bilateral exchanges—marriage. The risks are great, and the losses can be enormous. So can the rewards.[148]

Psychotherapist and sexologist professor Aleksandr Poleyev states:

“The Russian woman—and this is proven by research—is more capable of love than Europeans and Americans. Passions of Russian women last longer, and dependence on love is a characteristic of Russian women.” But he adds that patriarchal prejudice and taboo affect the sex life of Russian women. 33 percent of women report that they are not satisfied with their sex life.[149]

Both male and female foreign visitors may find that they are objects of considerable interest from the opposite sex, especially outside of cosmopolitan Moscow. Before a westerner becomes romantically involved they should understand that it may be their passport rather than their person that is the principal attraction. There is a Russian joke that a foreigner is not just a future spouse but also a means of transportation (from Russia).

Oh, Russian women, draft horses of the nation!
— Andrei Sinyavsky, Goodnight! (1989)

There is a reason why older women are called the "workhorses" of Russia. As one person quipped, "If you were to put to have a Russian woman and an American woman fight in a boxing ring, I would put money down on the Russian, every time. Russian women are strong willed, compared to prudish Americans and they have sex like wild horses. Adultery in Russia is extremely more socially acceptable then in America. Old wives have turned nagging their husband into an artform."

Women—the Stronger Sex


Oh, Russian women, draft horses of the nation!

— Andrei Sinyavsky, Goodnight! (1989)

Some countries are called a fatherland, others a motherland. Russia is clearly a motherland. Rodina, the Russian word for “homeland,” is feminine, and Mother Russia is the symbol of the nation. In this motherland, women are strong, hardworking, nurturing, long suffering, and the true heroes of Russia. They hold the country together.

There is a paradox with Russian women, that of the beautiful, feminine creature who turns out to be psychologically stronger than her husband. Once her man is hooked, a sweet young thing begins to show her claws, and an American husband may only then realize what a strong woman he has acquired. The stereotype of the feminine, romantic Russian girl makes the strong, dominant nature of so many of these women come as a shock to a foreign husband. The Russian femininity which so captivates American men is coupled with a toughness American feminists could envy.

Although Russian culture is very male-chauvinistic, usually the women of the society are the responsible ones. Research done by Co-Mission in 1994 indicated that there was a tendency for Russian men to feel an inner guilt for being irresponsible, in both family and social roles. Russian women contribute to the situation by be excellent naggers. Rather than working through the problems, men often retreat to hanging around together smoking and drinking vodka late into the night, perpetuating the irresponsibility. Women are forced to take hold of the responsibilities, but not given the authority in family or society.

Russian women have been obliged for so long to cope on all fronts that they have become rather cynical about Russian men, who, in turn, resent these domineering but capable females. This is because in Russia there is the cult of the mother who does everything for her son, attends to his every need and passes him on to a wife from whom he expects the same attention.

This developed because nearly an entire postwar generation was raised without a man in the house. The demographic imbalance created in Russia by 70 years of purges, famines and war produced strong women used to fending for themselves at home and at work. Yet these same women were expected to retain their femininity and looks or have their spouse wander off to one of the many single women who would be only too happy to have him, even on a part-time basis.

As the British scholar Ronald Hingley (1920-2010) observed, "The modern Russian woman seems both morally and physically equipped to stand up for herself. She often looks well capable of husband-beating if necessary; and, even if physically weaker than the male, is likely to possess greater stamina and force of character...Russia [has] evolved a corps of formidable...matrons. [Women] now constitute a bulwark of a system which might conceivably fall apart were it left in the exclusive custodianship of the relatively easy-going Russian male." Russian women can tolerate extremely difficult conditions, and empathize with and understand suffering.[150]

Russian women simply assume that men are generally incompetent, and that when the chips are down they can only rely on other women. As two Swedish women journalists who interviewed a wide range of Russian women concluded, they "yearn for men who are strong, protective, and good fathers, and find instead men who drink heavily, refuse to share housework, and have limited interest in children."[151]

Leningrad - Not a Paris - The long suffering patience of the Russian woman is comedically portrayed in this music video. The wife is a superhero, at the end of the video the bumbling husband, says "I did the dishes" and the wife responds, "Your my hero!".



"The biggest fear of a Russian girl is not to be married by the age of 30."

-- Elena Petrova, (2006) How To Find And Marry A Girl Like Me.[152]

Ninety percent of women are married by the time they are 30, and few had children after that age.[153]

With Russians suddenly free to emigrate after the fall of the Soviet Union, foreign men offered another route to prosperity. Love was optional. An American who taught English in Moscow tells me that during a class presentation a young woman recounted how her friend Maria married an American man, had a child with him, then turned around and divorced him. In the class discussion that followed, the storyteller’s classmates praised Maria for her “cleverness” and castigated the American husband for allowing himself to be duped.[154]

Since it is a part of Russian culture, all Russian women want children in their marriages. So, Russian women seek men who will be able to support their family while they are unable to work during the child caring years. Most women in Russia will take full care of their children through age three. This tradition was inherited from the Soviet times when their work position was preserved for 3 years after childbirth, with fully paid maternity leave for 18 months and unpaid leave for an additional 18 months. Nowadays, maternity leave is not paid, but women believe it is proper to stay home with their baby while it is small, and seek men who are able to provide for their families.[155]

In 1992, there were 20 percent to 30 percent fewer new marriages concluded in Russia than in 1990. In the same period, the number of divorces has risen by 15 percent.[156][157]

Fidelity and Adultery - Russians cheat A LOT whereas Americans act like Puritans


The shortage of men in Russia provides considerable opportunities for short and long-term adulterous affairs. Since the 1980s the average life expectancy for Russian men has fallen from 65 to 58. They die of alcoholism, cigarettes, job injuries, and car accidents. By the time men and women reach sixty-five there are just 46 Russian men left for every 100 women (compared with 72 men for every 100 women of that age in the United States).

These skewed demographics infect romance. For Russian men infidelity is the rule rather than the exception.

In Moscow, women in their forties told a New York Times author that, by necessity, they only date married men. It is clear that Russian men flaunted this demographic advantage. With the exception of a pastor (who was sitting with his wife at the time), Pamela Druckerman didn't meet a single married man in Russia who admitted to being monogamous. A family psychologist whom Druckerman had intended to interview as an "expert" boasted about her own extramarital relationships and insisted that given Russia's endemic alcoholism, violent crime, and tiny apartments, affairs are "obligatory.

Journalist Pamela Druckerman had lunch with a well-off single woman in her forties who tells her that if she didn’t go out with married men she would have almost no one to date. In fact this woman doesn’t know any single women who don’t date married men. And none of them try to hide this. For Russian women in their thirties and forties, let alone older ones, a man who is not married or an alcoholic is as rare as a Faberge egg.

Druckerman explains if there’s a 50 percent affair rate for men, then presumably the other half of men don’t cheat. So where are these missing men? Druckerman couldn't find them. The whole time she was in Moscow, she didn’t meet a single person who admits to being monogamous.

Since men are at a premium, a wife may have to put up with her husband's having a permanent mistress and even an out-of-wedlock child. Such a "second family" is quite common, and a man is not criticized for it; in fact, he may be praised for keeping both women happy by not abandoning either of them. A man is expected to be discrete, and to spare his wife's feelings by keeping his dalliances from her. The ideal of total honesty that is professed in many American marriages is alien to the Russian mentality.[158]

A Russian woman will not be criticized for leaving a husband who beats her or who is an habitual drunkard, but unlike America, male adultery is not assumed to be automatic grounds for the wife walking out and filing for divorce.[159]

Extramarital sex, both casual and long-term, is quite common:

  • More than three quarters of the people surveyed had extramarital contacts in 1989,
  • in 1969, the figure was less than half.

But public opinion is critical of extramarital sex.

  • In a 1992 survey 23 percent agreed that it is okay to have a lover as well as a husband or wife
  • 50 percent disagreed that it is okay to have a lover as well as a husband or wife

Extramarital affairs seem to be morally more acceptable for men than for women.[160]

Artyom Troitsky, editor of Playboy's Russian edition, explains that during the Soviet Union, “Sex was the last thing they couldn’t take away from us, and that’s why we did it so much. Everyone had affairs with everyone. Moscow was the most erotic city in the world.”[161]

Women "need to accept [men cheating], because he feeds her, her children, everybody. She needs a strong man, but a strong man can leave for one or two nights.”[162][163]

Eighteen year old Katya is tall and skinny, with a strong command of English. She describes what she wants in a husband: someone who doesn’t drink or beat her. She says she will be lucky if she finds someone like this. She is just a few years shy of marrying age. Though she has the occasional fling, there are no significant prospects on the horizon. Boys her age are "very cruel, and they drink." The few serious ones are more focused on their careers than on relationships, and there’s a lot of competition for them.

“For me, of course I would like my husband to be faithful, and I will do the same, but I don’t know, it depends on the situation. But if we have a good relationship as family partners, we have children, then if he has someone on the side, I have someone on the side, it’s okay, so that the child will grow up in a family with both parents.”

In the Russian edition of Cosmopolitan, Russia’s best selling magazine, is running a primer for women on how to hide their lovers from their husbands.

Outside Russia’s big cities some husbands don’t even bother hiding their affairs.[164][165]

Soviet policies which encouraged adultery


After the Soviet Revolution, the Bolsheviks intervened more directly in domestic life. The new Code on Marriage and the Family (1918) established a legislative framework that clearly aimed to breakdown the traditional family. It removed the influence of the Church from marriage and divorce, making both a process of simple registration with the state. It granted the same legal rights to de facto marriages (couples living together) as it gave to legal marriages. The Code turned divorce from a luxury for the rich to something that was easy and affordable for all. The result was a huge increase in casual marriages and the highest rate of divorce in the world – three times higher than in France or Germany and twenty-six times higher than in England by 1926 – as the collapse of the Christian patriarchal order and the chaos of the revolutionary years loosened sexual morals along with family and communal ties.[166][167]

In the early years of Soviet power, family breakdown was so common among revolutionary activists that it almost constituted an occupational hazard. Casual relationships were practically the norm in Bolshevik circles during the Civil War, when any comrade could be sent at a moment’s notice to some distant sector of the front. Such relaxed attitudes remained common throughout the 1920s, as Party activists and their young emulators in the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) were taught to put their commitment to the proletariat before romantic love or family. Sexual promiscuity was more pronounced in the Party’s youthful ranks than among Soviet youth in general. Many Bolsheviks regarded sexual license as a form of liberation from bourgeois moral conventions and as a sign of ‘Soviet modernity’. Some even advocated promiscuity as a way to counteract the formation of coupling relationships that separated lovers from the collective and detracted from their loyalty to the Party.[168]

It was a commonplace that the Bolshevik made a bad husband and father because the demands of the Party took him away from the home. ‘We Communists don’t know our own families,’ remarked one Moscow Bolshevik. ‘You leave early and come home late. You seldom see your wife and almost never see your children.’ At Party congresses, where the issue was discussed throughout the 1920s, it was recognized that Bolsheviks were far more likely than non-Party husbands to abandon wives and families, and that this had much to do with the primacy of Party loyalties over sexual fidelity. But in fact the problem of absent wives and mothers was almost as acute in Party circles, as indeed it was in the broader circles of the Soviet intelligentsia, where most women were involved in the public sphere.15[169][170][171]

Soviet Khrushchev administration policies encourages infidelity


For decades in the Soviet Union had been trying, and failing, to recover from the catastrophic population loss caused by the Second World War and the Gulag extermination system. The thrust of the population policies initiated by Khrushchev was to get as many women as possible to have children by the comparatively few surviving men. The policies dictated that men who fathered children out of wedlock would not be held responsible for child support but the state would help the single mother both with financial subsidies and with childcare: she could even leave the child at an orphanage for any length of time, as many times as she needed, without forfeiting her parental rights. The state endeavored to remove any stigma associated with resorting to the help of orphanages, or with single motherhood and having children out of wedlock. Women could put down a fictitious man as the father on the child’s birth certificate—or even name the actual father, without his having to fear being burdened with responsibility. “The new project was designed to encourage both men and women to have non-conjugal sexual relationships that would result in procreation,” writes historian Mie Nakachi.[172]

Russians are willing to cheat on there spouses more than 24 other countries


In 1998, a study showed that Russian men and women led their peers in 24 other countries in their willingness to engage in and approve of extramarital affairs. Faithfulness in marriage is seen as something that is nice but unrealistic. If women don't really expect it of their husbands, they can pre-empt feelings of shock and betrayal.[173]

Americans expect total honesty in marriage


The ideal of total honesty that is professed in many American marriages is alien to the Russian mentality. Muriel and Joyce were surprised that their Russian husbands did not tell them about their former girlfriends, and did not want to hear about their wives' previous experiences. "Those things are private," Sergei explained. "If you're married and you're attracted to someone else, you keep it to yourself. Otherwise you only hurt your spouse's feelings." Muriel's arguments about honesty got nowhere. "I'm not going to tell you what I do outside the house," Sergei retorted. "All this blathering Americans think is honesty only winds up offending everyone."[174]



Attitudes on birth control stem from traditional Russian conservatism as well as the views of a male-dominated leadership, which has sought to stabilize the family and increase the birthrate. Most families, however, avoid having a second child due to limited housing (especially in the cities), a decline in state-subsidized day care, the collapse of the state welfare system, and the deterioration of health care, as well as the increased cost of living. The use of contraceptives, now more available, has been rising slowly, but they are still not widely used, and family planning information is not readily available.

Abortion, legal and free in Russia since 1920, is still the common form of birth control, as it was in the Soviet period. Although the rate has been declining in recent years, more than two million abortions are registered each year (not including unreported ones), and 10 percent of women who undergo the procedure are left sterile. According to U.S. demographer Murray Feshbach, two of every three pregnancies in Russia end in abortion, and women, on average, have six to eight abortions during their lifetime; at least 80 percent of all women have a pathology (abnormality) during pregnancy; and only 30 percent of all children are born healthy.[175][176]

  • Women have, on average, four abortions in their lifetime.[177][178]
  • Lifetime abortions per woman: Average number of abortions a Russian woman has during her reproductive years.
    • 1990: 3.0,
    • 2006: 1.2,
    • 2010: 1.0.[179]
  • In 1920....the Soviet Union became the first state in the world to legalize abortion... (it was banned once before — for a 20-year period beginning with Josef Stalin in 1936)...official figures show almost 930,000 women terminate a pregnancy each year. That number is half of what it was in 1995, and one seventh what it was for the Soviet Union in 1965, when abortions nearly tripled the number of births.[180]



In the 1990s, approximately one marriage in three ended in divorce, with the rate increasing 20 percent in the early 1990s after the break up of the Soviet Union. About 60 percent of Russian marriages now end in divorce.[181]

Forty million Soviet men died in the three cataclysmic events of the USSR — the collectivization of agriculture, the political purges, and World War II. This created a severe shortage of men for two generations of women. Moreover, the mortality rate for Russian men today is four times that of women in all age groups over twenty due to alcoholism and related accidents and illnesses, and women outlive men, on average, by thirteen years. This explains why there are so many babushki (grandmothers) in Russia and so few dyedushki (grandfathers).[182]

A few more facts helps explain women's status in Russia. One of every two marriages ends in divorce, and the number of single mothers and single women continues to rise. Nearly one-third of all babies born in Russia in the year 2000 were born to unwed mothers, double the percentage of a decade earlier, and 40 percent of those babies were born to teenagers.[183]

Like many other movements originating in the West, feminism has been late in reaching Russia. Grassroots women’s groups are springing up around the country, but feminism is not yet a mass movement. The equality that Russian women want differs from that of Western women. Russian women see themselves as far more traditional in their dealings with men and their views on domestic life. In dress and style, for example, they prefer glamor to comfort, femininity to practicality. Russian women are duly recognized on March 8 Women’s Day, a Russian version of Valentine’s Day. In communist years the festival was used to emphasize the equality of sexes lacking in the capitalist West, but it remains popular today.[184]

To cope with their hardships, women depend on and support each other to a remarkable degree. Through networks of trusted and lifelong friends, they help one another with the daily hassles of life and provide moral support in times of crisis.[185]

Chapter 7 - Living with a Russian – Russian Home life



Women actually work two shifts—one at the workplace and the other at home, where they put in another full workweek performing the duties of wife, mother, and homemaker. Most wives in Russia wind up doing all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Even if a Russian wife works, the man looks on himself as the breadwinner and on her as responsible for the housework and child care. Russian men...are thrown off by the unwillingness of "liberated" American women to take on the role of homemaker. Moreover, as Russian society becomes more consumer-oriented, men work longer hours to earn more and now do an even smaller share of the household tasks than before.[186]

Domestic Abuse


Wife beating at home is common in Russia. According to official statistics, 14,000 Russian women are killed each year by their husbands and boyfriends, and 38,000 are beaten daily. Police generally take a hands-off attitude, and women do not know their rights in a country that still seems to believe a popular Russian adage, “If he beats you, it means that he loves you.”[187][188]

Lee Harvey Oswald household's first house in America was shabbily furnished and decrepit, but Marina was enchanted by the privacy and space.' Even a woman as sophisticated as Raissa Gorbachev was amazed by the spaciousness of the home of the American family with whom she had tea during her visit to the United States, and by the fact that each of the four children had his own bedroom.'

When everything is available, Russians can become incredibly demanding. Nothing but the best will do. A new house or apartment is treated as a home for life, for in Russia if you were lucky enough to find a nice place to live, moving again was furthest from your thoughts.

When married couple Carol and Fyodor wanted to buy an apartment they saw at least eighty places before Fyodor was satisfied. The rooms were too small or the lobby was unattractive, or there was no view. When it comes to wallpaper, furniture, and china, the Russian spouse is likely to opt for the most colorful, extravagant, and expensive items.

The memory of hundreds of virtually identical Soviet interiors is engraved on Russians' minds. The standard set of glossy dark wood furniture, a couch doubling as a bed, a rug hanging on the wall, glass-enclosed bookcases, a large television set and a sideboard with china and crystal-all this is transferred like a decal to the new American home. Svetlana could not imagine doing without a hall with a large mirror for the ritual hair-combing that takes place the minute a Russian enters, or a rack for the boots and shoes that are exchanged for slippers when coming in from snowy streets.

"Mary keeps saying Russian furniture is gloomy," husband Boris complained about his American wife. "But I don't really like that rug that looks as if it's from the Museum of Modern Art." "I didn't want the place to look like a Russian souvenir store," Mary recalled. "Boris had all these clumsy wooden figures and nesting dolls, and cheap reproductions of Impressionist landscapes.[189]

Clothing and public appearance


Carol could not make Fyodor wear a tie-which, like so many Russian men, he detested-to anything other than a wedding or a funeral. In Russia men often wear boxer shorts and tank top undershirts at home, but Carol could not stand Fyodor sitting around the house in his underwear. Many American wives were surprised to discover that undershirts and boxer shorts doubled for their husbands as night clothes, since men's pajamas are virtually nonexistent in Russia.

Nor do most Russian men use deodorant or change their underwear. Several Russian women commented that they had originally been attracted to their American spouses because they were so incredibly "clean" compared to Russians.

Russian women spend hours primping in front of the mirror, styling their hair and freshening their makeup.

Today much has changed, but high prices mean that many Russians still have relatively few clothes. Laundry and dry cleaning facilities are still poor, expensive and inconveniently located, and Americans are often surprised to see their Russian business associates wearing the same clothes day after day.

When the laundry lost an old and ragged undershirt, Pyotr was convinced that this cherished piece of clothing had been deliberately stolen. Russians often find American women badly dressed. "With all the stores bursting with clothes, they run around in torn jeans and T-shirts with those silly advertisements on them!" Svetlana exclaimed. "I don't understand them."

Regardless of the pressures of housework, jobs and standing in line, Russian men expect their wives to be well groomed, their hair perfectly set, their nails manicured and polished.

“All you American females yapping about liberation, always in a rush-you look as if you came off the garbage heap! No wonder you couldn't find an American husband!"

Fyodor could not understand why Carol refused to paint her toenails bright red the way many Russian women do. "It makes me look like a whore," she said.[190]

Walking barefoot and sitting on the floor


Sergei and Pyotr disliked their wives' habits of kicking off their shoes, walking around barefoot, and sitting on the floor. Aside from being "unaesthetic," walking barefoot meant catching cold, and sitting on the floor was guaranteed to produce all kinds of feminine pelvic problems alluded to in somber whispers.[191]

Chapter 8 - Russians in business

Women in the workforce

Women in Soviet History

The Bolsheviks professed to liberate women and give them full equality with men, and in the 1920s Soviet women enjoyed an equality under law unequaled anywhere else in the world. On this point Soviet law was explicit. As Article 35 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution declared:

Women and men have equal rights in the USSR … ensured by according women equal access with men to education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration and promotion, and in social and political and cultural activity.[192]

In practice, however, women were recognized but unrewarded. A state that claimed to have given all power to the people did in fact give power to only a few, and almost all of them were men. During the entire Soviet era, only three women were named to the ruling Politburo of the Communist Party, and almost none were appointed to high positions in the military and diplomatic corps. To be sure, the first woman ambassador of any country was an early Bolshevik, Aleksandra Kollontai, who was named Soviet Minister to Norway in 1923—but only after her ardent feminism and advocacy of free love put her on a collision course with Party leaders at home.

Women worked in factories and on farms to help build the Soviet economy, and they fought in World War II. The Soviet air force had three air groups “manned” entirely by women, flying bombers by night, dive bombers by day, and even fighter planes. Together, they flew more than 30,000 combat missions during World War II.

Today in the new Russia, equal rights for women and men have been reaffirmed by Article 19 of the Constitution of 1993, which asserts, “The state shall guarantee equal human and civil rights and freedoms without regard to sex. … Men and women shall have equal rights and freedoms and equal opportunities to exercise them.” In practice, however, the results differ.

Some 62 percent of Russian women are college graduates, compared to 50 percent of men, but the average woman’s salary is one-third smaller than that of men.[193] The majority of middle and high-ranking professionals are women, and Russia has one of the highest rates of women bosses. But while more than 80 percent of school principals are women, they comprise only 6 percent of rectors (presidents) of universities and other higher schools, and women make up only 8 percent of high-ranking officials. In cutbacks, women are the first to be fired, but they are quick learners of new professions and bolder in business, and they head about 30 percent of medium-sized businesses and 10 percent of big businesses.

Women, who outnumber men by 10 million, are active today in all professions and occupations, but they are especially strong in medicine where, reflecting an old Russian tradition, three-fourths of all medical doctors are women. They also predominate in teaching and in the textile, food, and social service industries. But while few women occupy high government positions, they have been active in recent years in establishing a broad range of public and political organizations in the new civil society of Russia. Women are also becoming more active in business, founding and directing their own firms, and in journalism.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is common.

Unemployment is much higher for women. During Yeltin’s destabilizing tenure as president many of them looked for marriage abroad. Others, mostly young women, turned to prostitution; literally thousands of them could be found on the main streets and in hotels, clubs, and casinos in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Others were lured abroad by promises of employment but then find themselves prisoners in foreign bordellos.

Western women

Western women warn that Russian men will turn on the charm, but their basic attitude toward a female visitor will be patronizing. Her professional qualifications will be regarded initially with some skepticism, and the Western woman will have to prove herself before she will be taken seriously. But as one Russian advised, “We judge women as we judge everyone else, according to their poise, personal strength of character, and whether they demonstrate an air of authority.” Indeed, Western women, as well as men, will be judged by their professional expertise, seriousness of purpose, cultural level, and knowledge of Russia and its history.[194]

Negotiating with a Russian



Business Negotiations Between Americans and Russians

Louneva, Tanya, "Business Negotiations Between Americans and Russians" (2010). Wharton Research Scholars. 57.

Both Americans and Russians value:

  1. Negotiation goals
  2. time sensitivity
  3. agreement building,
  4. agreement form,
  5. communications and
  6. personal styles.

There are some differences between the negotiating styles of Russians and Americans. For instance, Russians may rely more on interpersonal relationships and indirect communications. Russians are emotionally-driven in negotiations.

Russia has a low-trust environment, because it is a high context culture. This could be due to a weak regulatory environment, historical constraints, and rising disposable income levels. Therefore, the key in negotiations in Russia is to built trust. After this is done, a competitive advantage is gained since it will take a long time to build a level of trust with another partner.

Americans have a high-trust environment, because it is a low-context culture, as there is a strong regulatory framework and a history of law enforcement. Therefore, building trust is easier, and it is not viewed as a competitive advantage; instead, counterparties often rely more on the signed contracts than on mutual trust.

In Russia, the establishment of trust is exhibited through five behaviors:

(1) putting the relationship first,
(2) having a low sensitivity to time so that trust can be patiently established,
(3) forming relationships “outside the boardroom”,
(4) focusing on top-down decision making while disregarding the details, and
(5) employing high emotions.[195]

Focus on building a relationship first

As a general rule of thumb, investing extra time developing a relationship-based approach will pay dividends when working with Russians. This is true even if you both come from task-based cultures, such as the United States and Germany. Once an affective relationship is established, the forgiveness for any cultural missteps you make comes a lot easier. So when you work internationally, no matter who you are working with, investing more time in building affective trust is a good idea. But knowing exactly how to build affective trust may not always be so obvious.

One productive way to start putting trust deposits in the bank is by building on common interests.

An Austrian used this simple way of connecting with people to great success during two decades of work in Russia.

“When I retired and left Moscow. I was replaced by a younger Austrian colleague, who had an extraordinary track record in Austria but knew nothing about how people outside of Austria work. His task-based approach was effective for Austria, but not at all suited for Russia.”

The younger man worked diligently for months to close an attractive deal with a potential client. He invested countless hours in making his presentation outstanding, his brochures polished, and his offer generous and transparent. Yet the client dragged his feet, and, six months into the process, his interest seemed to be dwindling. At this point, the younger man called the elder Austrian up and asked for advice, given the latter’s success during all those years in Russia.

The Austiran came to Moscow and met directly with the client:

The first thing I noticed when I saw him was that he was about my age—we both have white hair. So I spoke of my family, and we spent the first half hour talking about our grandchildren. Then I noticed he had a model of a fighter plane on his desk. I also flew planes in the military, and I saw this as an incredible opportunity. We spent the next hour talking about the differences between various military planes.
At this point, the Russian client signaled that he had to leave. But he invited me to go with him to the ballet that evening. Now, in truth, I dislike the ballet. But I’m not stupid. When an opportunity this good comes along, I jump on it. The evening went beautifully and ended in a drink with the client and his wife.

At 10:00 a.m. the next day, the elder Austrian met again with the client, who said, “I’ve looked through your proposal, I understand your situation, and I agree with your terms. I have to get someone else to sign the contract, but if you would like to take the plane back to Austria today I will fax you the signed contract this afternoon.” When the elder Austrian arrived at his office in Austria the next Monday morning, the €2 million down payment was already in his account. He was able to accomplish more in twenty-four hours with a relationship-based approach than his task-based colleague was able to accomplish in six months.

You might protest that this Austrian was remarkably lucky. Just by chance, he happened to have several things in common with his Russian client, from grandchildren to fighter planes, and in fact, The older Austrian did end his account by exclaiming, “It was my white hair that saved me!” But he found these similarities because he was looking for them.

If you are working with someone from a relationship-based culture and opportunities for a personal connection don’t jump out at you, it is worth the investment to look a little harder.[9]

Russian Business Meeting Characteristics

Russian Business Meeting Characteristics

There are a few ground rules you should be aware of about a Russian business meeting:

1. Timeliness: While Russians are not as prompt as Germans, Russians are rather prompt. So being 5 minutes late is ok, anything later needs an excuse. Preferably by calling ahead. For example, "We are stuck in traffic". Being 30-40 or more minutes late without a very good reason, such as the Italians or Spaniards tend to do, is considered very bad manners.

Note: If during the meeting you agree to set due dates or deadlines, be sure to accomplish them by the agreed upon date. Everything during the meeting will be set down in writing in the Minutes of Meeting and not meeting due dates is a major blow to one's credibility and reliability in Russia.

2. Inclusiveness

It is considered very rude to turn your back on someone while continuing your conversation with another person in the to remember for non-Russians who have no such issues. This additionally means, turning to your co-workers, and beginning a conversation in a separate language not understood by everyone. This is also considered very rude. If the need arises to have such a discussion, request some time alone, a break from the meeting and maybe a separate room to do so in.

3. Emotions:

While getting into an emotionally "hot" discussion can happen, never over do it. Never get personal and never ever ever throw a temper tantrum and walk out. The author had an Engineering - Procurement - Construction (EPC) project manager who would do this. He had zero respect from the other side who had to beg him to return. This is viewed as unmanly and childish.

4. Shaking Hands:

Shake hands with everyone and anyone who enters the room after the start and before you hand out or receive business cards individually. When leaving also shake everyone's hand. Walking by some person who stops to talk to someone in your party? Shake his hand. And make it a firm hand shake. Additionally, women shake hands also, so not to shake the hand of a woman is a grave insult.

5. If a woman enters the room to join the meeting?

Get up and show respect, as if it was a senior person, and since 42% of Russian executives are women (twice that of the "progressive" West) it just may be. Additionally, if there are no more seats, surrender yours to the woman.

6. Bargain Hard

Russian price negotiations used to be described as something between a mugging and a bar fight. Its gotten a bit more civilized but....The author recalls remembering fighting a supplier over each 0.01$ of a price on forgings. The 2 groupsfinally agreed to limit it to just full round dollars or they would never get it done. This resulted in a 15% savings from already low prices which saved the author's company several million dollars.

7. Never take an initial response of "NO IT CANT BE DONE" as the final answer.

If the junior or secondary management says no, go straight to the senior leadership. If they say yes it will be yes. Equally, since Russian culture is conservative, use your persuasion skills to sell the idea, either by its merits or by its profitability.

8. Figure out who the trusted lieutenant of the general director is.

Russian chain of commands are linier except for that special lieutenant who has the ear of the boss.

9. Meetings must come to some decisions...

....why else are you in a meeting (except if its just an introductory meeting). People around the equator like to have meetings for the sake of meetings and no decisions are reached, this is very infuriating to Russians. Most meetings usually have a set agenda and the agenda is set to come to a decision.

10. All meetings will end in a Minutes of the Meeting (MoM) with all parties involved signing. Sometimes getting the MoM done takes longer than the whole meeting and all parties most definitely must sign it, so be careful what actually goes in to it, as this is a legal document.

Working in a Russian company


Russia among the worst countries for expats

In 2021, Russia received some of the worst results for expats. Out of 59 countries in the "Expat Insider 2021" survey, Russia (56th) lands in the bottom 5 — only ahead of South Africa (57th), Italy (58th), and Kuwait (59th). It performs worst in the Working Abroad Index (52nd), with 24% of expats rating the state of the local economy negatively (vs. 19% globally). A quarter of respondents (25%) are also unhappy with their job security in Russia (vs. 20% globally), and just 63% are satisfied with their job in general (vs. 68% globally). A large share of working expats in Russia do so in the fields of education (20% vs. 12% globally) and construction (12% vs. 3% globally).

On average, expats with full-time employment in Russia work 43.0 hours per week, just about the same as the global average (43.2 hours per week). However, one in five respondents in Russia (20%) still rates their working hours negatively (vs. 16% globally). Additionally, more than a quarter (26%) are unsatisfied with their work-life balance (vs. 17% globally).

A Low Quality of Life

Narrowly escaping the bottom 10 in the Quality of Life Index (49th), Russia performs especially poorly in the Quality of the Environment subcategory (49th). Many expats are unhappy with the air quality (31% vs. 20% globally), the water and sanitation infrastructure (21% vs. 12% globally), and the natural environment (14% vs. 8% globally). “I do not like the lack of any meaningful efforts or policies to reduce environmental pollution and to support basic recycling,” shares a US American expat.

Another factor that lowers the quality of life for expats in Russia is the climate and weather (53rd), which 40% of expats rate negatively, compared to just 17% globally.

Challenging Culture

With Russia coming in 48th place in the "Ease of Settling In Index", 29% of respondents find it difficult to settle down in this country (vs. 22% globally). Just 57% feel at home in the local culture (vs. 63% globally), and 22% describe the population as generally unfriendly (vs. 16% globally). What is more, Russia ends up in the bottom 3 of the Language subcategory (58th), only ahead of Japan (59th). Nearly half the expats (48%) find it difficult to live in Russia’s cities without speaking the local language (vs. 29% globally), and two-thirds (67%) find it difficult to learn Russian (vs. 42% globally).

Low Income, Mediocre Cost of Living

The country also does poorly in the "Personal Finance Index" (47th), with 27% of expats dissatisfied with their financial situation (vs. 19% globally). Indeed, 34% of expats in Russia have a yearly income of less than 12,000 USD — more than twice the global average (15%). And just 21% earn between 25,000 and 75,000 USD a year (vs. 37% globally). More than a quarter of respondents (27%) say their disposable household income is not enough to cover expenses (vs. 23% globally). A Canadian expat shares, “I do not like the income discrepancies.” Nonetheless, Russia receives its best result in the Cost of Living Index (25th): 49% of expats rate the cost of living positively, which is, however, still just one percentage point above the global average (48%).[196]

Working with a Russian coworker

Excerpts from "The Culture Map" by Erin Meyer:

The French, Spanish, and Russians are generally stereotyped as being indirect communicators because of their high-context, implicit communication style, despite the fact that they give negative feedback more directly. In fact, most European countries are direct, with Russians, Dutch, and Germans as particularly prone to offering frank criticism.

Americans are stereotyped as direct by most of the world, yet when they give negative feedback they are less direct than many European cultures.

Russia is a puzzlingly complex culture that have finessed the ability to speak and listen between the lines yet give negative feedback that is sharp and direct. Russians often pass messages between the lines, but when it comes to criticism they have a directness that can startle their international colleagues.

If you are walking through the street without a jacket, little old Russian ladies may stop and chastise you for poor judgment. . . . In Russia there is no reservations about expressing your negative criticism openly. For instance, if you are displeased with the service in a shop or restaurant you can tell the shop assistant or waiter exactly what you think of him, his relatives, his in-laws, his habits, and his sexual bias.[197]

Erin Meyer thought about this observation a few weeks later when she received a call from a British colleague. She explained to Meyer that a young Russian woman named Anna Golov had recently joined her team and was upsetting a lot of people whose help she needed to get her job done.

"I’m calling you, Erin," Golov said, "because I wondered if the problem might be cultural. This is the fourth Russian coordinator we have had in the group, and with three of them there were similar types of complaints about harsh criticism or what has been perceived as speaking to others inconsiderately."

A few days later, Meyer had the opportunity to witness the problem in action. While Meyer prepared to teach one morning, Golov herself was in the room with Meyer setting up the classroom. Meyer was going through stacks of handouts, counting pages to make sure they had enough photocopies, while Golov was carefully checking the IT equipment, which, to their annoyance, was not working properly. Meyer appreciated the fact that Golov was handling the problem with such tenacity and that Meyer did not have to get involved.

But then Meyer heard Golov on the phone with someone in the IT department. "I’ve called IT three times this week, and every time you are slow to get here and the solution doesn’t last," she complained. "The solutions you have given me are entirely unacceptable." Golov went on scolding the IT manager, each sentence a bit harsher than the one before. Meyer held her breath.

Later, the British colleague asked Meyer, as the cross-cultural specialist, whether Meyer would accompany her when she spoke with Golov about the problem. Meyer was not thrilled at the request. She certainly did not look forward to witnessing Golov learn what her new colleagues were saying about her behind her back. But at Carlson’s insistence, Meyer agreed.

They met in the British colleague’s office, and the British woman person tried to explain the reputation that Golov had unknowingly developed across the campus, citing specific complaints not just from the IT department but also from the photocopying staff. Golov shifted uncomfortably in her chair while the British woman explained that she had wondered whether the problem was cultural.

At first Golov did not really understand the feedback. She protested, "But we Russians are very subtle communicators. We use irony and subtext. You British and Americans speak so transparently."

“Yes,” Meyer interjected. "But if a Russian has negative feedback to give, it seems that often that feedback is perceived to be harsh or direct to people from other cultures. Does that make sense?"

"Yes, well...that depends who we are speaking with, of course. One point is that we tend to be a very hierarchical culture. If you are a boss speaking to your subordinate, you may be very frank. And if you are a subordinate speaking to your boss, you had better be very diplomatic with criticism." The British woman smiled, perhaps realizing why she had never personally experienced any of Golov’s frankness.

Golov went on:

"If we are speaking with strangers, we often speak very forcefully. This is true. These IT guys, I don’t know them. They are the voices of strangers on the other end of the phone. Under Communism, the stranger was the enemy. We didn’t know who we could trust, who would turn us in to the authorities, who would betray us. So we kept strangers at a forceful distance. Maybe I brought a little too much of my Russian-ness into the job without realizing it."

Meyer noticed that Golov was now beginning to laugh a little as she continued to consider the situation. “We are also very direct with people we are close to. My British friends here complain that I voice my opinions so strongly, while I feel like I never know how they really feel about the situation. I am always saying: 'But how do you feel about it?' And they are always responding: 'Why are you always judging everything?'!"

“Now that I’m aware of this,” Golov concluded, “I’ll be more careful when I communicate dissatisfaction.”

The French have a saying, “Quand on connait sa maladie, on est à moitié guéri” — “When you know your sickness, you are halfway cured.” It applies to most cross-cultural confusions. Just building your own awareness and the awareness of your team goes a long way to improving collaboration. Now that British colleague is aware of the cultural tendencies impacting the situation, she can talk to Golov and her team about it, and Golov can take steps to give less direct criticism.

An explicit, low-context communication style gives Americans the reputation of lacking subtlety. Leave it to the Americans to point out the elephant in the room when the rest of us were working through our interpersonal issues nicely without calling attention to it. But foreigners are often surprised to find Americans softening negative criticism with positive messages.

Before moving to France, Meyer, having been raised, educated, and employed in the United States, believed that giving three positives for every negative and beginning a feedback session with the words of explicit appreciation before discussing what needs to be improved were universally effective techniques. If they worked well in America, then surely they should work just as well in France, Brazil, China and, well, everywhere.

But after living in Europe for a while Meyer learned to see this style from a completely different perspective. To the French, Spanish, Russians, Dutch, and Germans, the American mode of giving feedback comes across as false and confusing. Meyer's friend, who works frequently with Americans, said:

To a Dutchman, it is all a lot of hogwash. All that positive feedback just strikes us as fake and not in the least bit motivating. I was on a conference call with an American group yesterday, and the organizer began, “I am absolutely thrilled to be with you this morning.” Only an American would begin a meeting like this. Let’s face it, everyone in the room knows that she is not truly, honestly thrilled. Thrilled to win the lottery—yes. Thrilled to find out that you have won a free trip to the Caribbean—yes. Thrilled to be the leader of a conference call — highly doubtful. When my American colleagues begin a communication with all of their “excellents” and “greats,” it feels so exaggerated that I find it demeaning. We are adults, here to do our jobs and to do them well. We don’t need our colleagues to be cheerleaders.
The problem is that we can’t tell when the feedback is supposed to register to us as excellent, okay, or really poor. For a Dutchman, the word “excellent” is saved for a rare occasion and “okay” is . . . well, neutral. But with the Americans, the grid is different. “Excellent” is used all the time. “Okay” seems to mean “not okay.” “Good” is only a mild compliment. And when the message was intended to be bad, you can pretty much assume that, if an American is speaking and the listener is Dutch, the real meaning of the message will be lost all together.

Going to school or college in Russia

Meyer explains:

The same difference is reflected in the ways children are treated in schools. My children are in the French school system during the academic year and spend the summer in American academic programs in the Minneapolis area. In the United States, my eight-year-old son, Ethan, gets his homework assignments back covered with gold stars and comments like “Keep it up!” “Excellent work!” and, at worst, “Almost there...give it another try!”
But studying in Madame Durand’s class requires thicker skin. After a recent Monday morning spelling test, Ethan’s notebook page was covered sorrowfully in red lines and fat Xs, along with seven simple words from Madame Durand: “8 errors. Skills not acquired. Apply yourself!”

Working as an English teacher in Russia

In Russia, learning starts with understanding the grammatical principles underpinning the language structure. Once a person has a solid initial grasp of the grammar and vocabulary, you begin to practice using the language. Ironically, Russians knowledge of English grammar is far superior to that of many Americans. The disadvantage is that students spend less time practicing the language, which may mean they write it better than they speak it. As a result, potential teachers are often judged solely on their ability to understand grammar.

In principles-first cultures such as Russia, France and Belgium, people want to understand the why behind their boss’s request before they move to action. Meanwhile, applications-first learners tend to focus less on the why and more on the how.

One of the most common frustrations among Russian employees with American bosses, and students of American teachers' is that the American tells them what to do without explaining why they need to do it. From the Russian perspective, this can feel demotivating, even disrespectful. By contrast, American bosses may feel that Russian workers are uncooperative because, instead of acting quickly, they always ask “Why?” and are not ready to act until they have received a suitable response.

Why do so few Russians speak good English?
Few Russians travel abroad.
Living in Russia without knowing English isn’t much of a problem. All foreign films shown in the country are dubbed, and most books are translated. For most Russians, the matter of speaking English only comes up if they travel abroad. But this doesn't even apply to many people since 72 percent of Russians don't even have a passport for foreign travel, and 59 percent of them have never traveled beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union.
Soviet school.
Historical reasons.
Difficult and terrifying language.
Domestic market.[198]

Supervising Russians

Meyer explains, the fifth promotion put Jepsen in charge of the company’s recently acquired Russian operation, his first international leadership position.

Relocated to a small town outside of Saint Petersburg, Jepsen was surprised by the difficulties he encountered in managing his team. After four months in his new job, he e-mailed me this list of complaints about his Russian staff:

  1. They call me Mr. President
  2. They defer to my opinions
  3. They are reluctant to take initiative
  4. They ask for my constant approval
  5. They treat me like I am king

Jepsen explained:

“Week two into the job, our IT director e-mailed me to outline in detail a problem we were having with the e-mail process and describing various solutions. He ended his e-mail, ‘Mr. President, kindly explain how you would like me to handle this.’ This was the first of many such e-mails from various directors to fill my inbox. All problems are pushed up, up, up, and I do my best to nudge them way back down.” After all, as Jepsen told the IT manager, “You know the situation better than I do. You are the expert, not me.”

Meanwhile, the members of Jepsen’s Russian management team were equally annoyed at Jepsen’s apparent lack of competence as a leader. Here are some of the complaints they offered during focus group interviews:

  1. He is a weak, ineffective leader
  2. He doesn’t know how to manage
  3. He gave up his corner office on the top floor, suggesting to the company that our team is of no importance
  4. He is incompetent

While Jepsen was groaning that his team members took no initiative, they were wringing their hands about Jepsen’s lack of leadership: “We are just waiting for a little bit of direction!”

How about you? Do you prefer an egalitarian or a hierarchical management approach? No matter what your nationality, the answer is probably the same. Most people throughout the world claim to prefer an egalitarian style, and a large majority of managers say that they use an egalitarian approach


But evidence from the cross-cultural trenches shows another story. When people begin managing internationally, their day-to-day work reveals quite different preferences—and these unexpected, unconscious differences can make leading across cultures surprisingly difficult.

Chapter 9: Muscovites are Shit

"Muscovites are shit....They are mean, arrogant and proud....the capital is inhabited by rather unpleasant people who are ready sell you, their friends and their mother if they see something to gain in it."
-- A Russian, in the article "Why People Hate Muscovites"[199]

America is unique in that it has 3 Moscows: New York City, Hollywood, and Washington DC. The vast majority of countries, especially in the third world, have one central hub in which all business, politics, and soft power (the film industry) is located. Moscow is no different. If a Russian wants to be the best of the best in movies, politics, business, or crime in Russia, they move or have a base of operations in Moscow.

During the Soviet Union moving to another city was extremely restricted within the vast country. Every citizen had one passport, which was a central passport for travel inside the Soviet Union (Российский паспорт). International passports (Загранпаспорт) were rare and prized. Only the very best, brightest, ambitious, and in some cases, ruthless, would be allowed the opportunity to live in Moscow.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, the entire country was besieged by what Naomi Klien calls "The Shock Doctrine".[200] Naïve isolated Russians believed the sophisticated American "soft power" propaganda (still today 20 years ahead of any other country) and promises of America: No expansion of NATO on a handshake deal, etc. (see the Russian business section) This planned shock destroyed the country and laid Russia to waste with the help of powerful corrupt Russian oligarchs. Drunkard former President Yeltsin was kept in power as an American puppet.

When President Putin came to power in 1999, 2/3rds of the country was in poverty and many cities were controlled by mafia factions. In 1999 President Putin created a level of stability and began to rebuild Russia. Today, 80% of the economy flows through Moscow. This means the most ambitious and greedy people move to Moscow, competing for scarce resources against hardened Muscovites who survived the purges of Stalin and the Moscow crime spree of the 1990s.

Today Moscow is a beautiful façade with a very dark underbelly. As a tourist you will love Moscow. People are friendly, the tourist police are helpful, and the city is much much safer than any American city. But try and stay and make a life in this breathtaking dystopia, you will inevitably see the deeper darker side.

Chapter 10: Soviet Mentality and Russian Leadership Today


Dust pan why dont russians smile.png

"Suvok" is translated as "dustpan" (dustbin) in Russian.

In its simplest form, "Suvok" means to be a Soviet Citizen. The Soviet Union "Советский Союз" is "Советский Grajidin (?)" is what dedicated Soviets used to say, and a lot of old Russians took pride in that.

Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the "old mentality" Russians today say:

"Look what is going on, everyone is at everyone's throats, the Ukrainians, the Kazakhs, the Russians. In the former Soviet Union we were all together, we were all in one boat, maybe it wasn't all that rich, but we were all in one boat."

This is a classic line by the elderly.

Origin of the Russian word "dust bin"

There were two concepts that emerged from Советский Grajidin (Soviet Citizen).

One is the intelligentsia. This is the somewhat contentious book "Homo Sovieticus", written by dissident author Aleksandr Zinovyev. Homo Sovieticus is an effort to define a certain type of person. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Stalin said he was going to be the "engineer of human souls" to justify the deaths of millions. In large part he was successful. Stalin created a certain type of man.

Later on with a touch of bitter humor, Homo Sovieticus came to be known in a wider circle outside of the intelligentsia as "Subor" - which is a potter.

Subor was a group of people united with one goal, a collective mentality wrapped around a particular idea of a Soviet citizen. Troskti said "we will all be in the dustbin of history"

The most obvious and simple historical reason behind the Suvok mentality is this:

This suspicious mentality is understandable because most of the Soviet period everyone was against everyone. A Soviet citizen couldn't say anything in front of your children because they would blurt it out in school and that would be at best 25 years in the Gulag.
Dust pan leadership personalities today

Although currently not used by the general Russian population, "Suvok" can explain heartless Muscovites today, the majority of those who have economic (oligarchs) and political power.

These "Suvok" will never say:

  • I am sorry,
  • they will never admit they are wrong.
...They can't because it is a sign of weakness.
  • They don't smile. Because there is nothing to smile about.
  • There is Endless suspicion. To a Suvok there is the sense that nothing is what it seems. You have to keep digging until you find out where the person's real interest is.

This Moscow attitude has infected (permeated) international relations. This attitude is small part of the reason that the West is so hostile to Russia today.


The average American reading the above description of Russia, probably feels a deep habitual pride about America's system of government. What social scientist call "American Civil Religion". In addition, they probably feel sorry for the Russian government, dominated by Russia's oligarchs....

American "Democracy" is a hoax, according to social scientists.
Social scientist have determined that the United States is not a democracy, but it is an oligarchy. As the BBC quoted an academic study:
Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.[201]

Chapter 11 - Conclusion


Much of the popular Russian literature and many Russian movies today end in a rather depressing tone, which is alien to Americans. In that spirit, we will end this guide on Russia with the famous George F. Kennan:

There is little possibility that enough Americans will ever accomplish...any general understanding of Russia.. It would imply a measure of intellectual humility and a readiness to reserve judgment about ourselves and our institutions, of which few of us would be capable.🙷

For the foreseeable future the American, individually and collectively, will continue to wander about in the maze of contradiction and the confusion which is Russia, with feelings not dissimilar to those of Alice in Wonderland, and with scarcely greater effectiveness. He will be alternately repelled or attracted by one astonishing phenomenon after another, until he finally succumbs to one or the other of the forces involved or until, dimly apprehending the depth of his confusion, he flees the field in horror.....

Distance, necessity, self-interest, and common-sense....may enable us [Americans], thank God, to continue that precarious and troubled but peaceful co-existence which we have managed to lead with the Russians up to this time. But if so, it will not be due to any understanding on our part.

-- Memorandum by the Counselor of Embassy in the Soviet Union (George F. Kennan), September 1944

Chapter 12 - The Values Americans Live By



_Shared by Olga Diamant & Russian values were summarized by Oleg Bogomolov._

American flag american values 21cowie-articleLarge.jpg


Most Americans would have a difficult time telling you, specifically, what the values are which Americans live by. They have never given the matter any thought.

Even if Americans had considered this question, they would probably, in the end, decide not to answer in terms of a definitive list of values. The reason for this decision is itself one very American value -- their belief that every individual is so unique that the same list of values could never be applied to all, or even most, of their fellow citizens.

Although Americans may think of themselves as being more varied and unpredictable than they actually are, it is significant that they think they are. Americans tend to think they have been only slightly influenced by family, church or schools. In the end, each believes, “I personally chose which values I want to live my own life by.”

Despite this self-evaluation, a foreign anthropologist could observe Americans and produce a list of common values which would fit most Americans. The list of typically American values would stand in sharp contrast to the values commonly held by the people of many other countries.

We, the staff of the Washington International Center, have been introducing thousands of international visitors to life in the United States for more than a third of a century. This has caused us to try to look at Americans through the eyes of our visitors. We feel confident that the values listed in this booklet describe most (but not all) Americans.

Furthermore, we can say that if the foreign visitor really understood how deeply ingrained these 13 values are in Americans, he or she would then be able to understand 95% of American actions -- actions which might otherwise appear strange, confusing, or unbelievable when evaluated from the perspective of the foreigner’s own society and its values.

The different behaviors of a people or a culture make sense only when seen through the basic beliefs, assumptions and values of that particular group. When you encounter an action, or hear a statement in the United States which surprises you, try to see it as an expression of one or more of the values listed in this booklet. For example, when you ask Americans for directions to get to a particular address in their own city, they may explain, in great detail, how you can get there on your own, but may never even consider walking two city blocks with you to lead you to the place. Some foreign visitors have interpreted this sort of action as showing Americans ’“unfriendliness”. We would suggest, instead, that the self-help concept (value number 6 on our list), is so strong in Americans that they firmly believe that no adult would ever want, even temporarily, to be dependent on another. Also, their future orientation (value 8) makes Americans think it is better to prepare you to find other addresses on your own in the future.

Before proceeding to the list itself, we should also point out that Americans see all of these values as very positive ones. They are not aware, for example, that the people of many Third World countries view change (value 2) negative or threatening. In fact, all of these American values are judged by many of the world’s citizens as negative and undesirable. Therefore, it is not enough simply to familiarize yourself with these values. You must also, so far as possible, consider them without the negative or derogatory connotation which they might have for you, based on your own experience and cultural identity.

It is important to state emphatically that our purpose in providing you with this list of the most important American values is not to convert you, the foreign visitor, to our values. We couldn’t achieve that goal even if we wanted to, and we don’t want to. We simply want to help you understand the Americans with whom you will be relating -- from their own value system rather than from yours.[202]


American Civil Religion is the theory developed by sociologist Robert Bellah in 1967 in the article, "Civil Religion in America". According to Bellah, Americans embrace a common civil religion with certain fundamental beliefs, values, holidays, and rituals in parallel to, or independent of, their chosen religion.[203] This belief includes Manifest destiny, which was a cultural belief in the 19th-century United States that White American settlers were destined to expand across North America, which, since the 1898 Spanish–American War, expanded internationally and still continues presently in the minds of most Americans.

1. Personal Control over the Environment

Americans no longer believe in the power of Fate, and they have come to look at people who do as being backward, primitive, or hopelessly naive.To be called“fatalistic” is one of the worst criticisms one can receive in the American context; to an American, it means one is superstitious and lazy, unwilling to take any initiative in bringing about improvements.

In the United States people consider it normal and right that Man should control Nature, rather than the other way around. More Americans find it impossible to accept that there are some things which lie beyond the power of humans to achieve. And Americans have literally gone to the moon, because they refused to accept earthly limitations.

Americans seem to be challenged, even compelled, to do, by one means or another (and often at great cost) what seven-eighths of the world is certain cannot be done.

2. Change Seen as Natural and Positive

In the American mind, change is seen as an indisputably good condition. Change is strongly linked to development, improvement, progress, and growth.

Many older, more traditional cultures consider change as a disruptive, destructive force, to be avoided if at all possible. Instead of change, such societies value stability, continuity, tradition, and a rich and ancient heritage -- none of which are valued very much in the United States.

These first two values -- the belief that we can do anything and the belief that any change is good -- together with an American belief in the virtue of hard work and the belief that each individual has a responsibility to do the best he or she can do have helped Americans achieve some great accomplishments. So whether these beliefs are “true” is really irrelevant; what is important is that Americans have considered them to be true and have acted as if they were, thus, in effect, causing them to happen.

3. Time and Its Control

Time is, for the average American, of utmost importance. To the foreign visitor, Americans seem to be more concerned with getting things accomplished on time (according to a predetermined schedule) than they are with developing deep interpersonal relations. Schedules, for the American, are meant to be planned and then followed in the smallest detail.

It may seem to you that most Americans are completely controlled by the little machines they wear on their wrists, cutting their discussions off abruptly to make it to their next appointment on time.

Americans’ language is filled with references to time, giving a clear indication of how much it is valued. Time is something to be “on,” to be “kept,” “filled,” “saved,” “used,” “spent,” “wasted,” “lost,” “gained,” “planned,” “given,” “made the most of,” even “killed.”

The international visitor soon learns that it is considered very rude to be late -- even by 10 minutes -- for an appointment in the United States. (Whenever it is absolutely impossible to be on time, you should phone ahead and tell the person you have been unavoidably detained and will be a half hour -- or whatever -- late.) Time is so valued in America, because by considering time to be important one can clearly accomplish more than if one “wastes” time and does not keep busy.This philosophy has proven its worth. It has enabled Americans to be extremely productive, and productivity itself is highly valued in the United States. Many American proverbs stress the value in guarding our time, using it wisely, setting and working toward specific goals, and even expending our time and energy today so that the fruits of our labor may be enjoyed at a later time.(This latter concept is called “delayed gratification.”)

4. Equality and Fairness

Equality is, for Americans, one of their most cherished values. This concept is so important for Americans that they have even given it a religious basis. They say all people have been “created equal.” Most Americans believe that God views all humans alike without regard to intelligence, physical condition or economic status. In secular terms this belief is translated into the assertion that all people have an equal opportunity to succeed in life. Americans differ in opinion about how to make this ideal into a reality. Yet virtually all agree that equality is an important civic and social goal.

The equality concept often makes Americans seem strange to foreign visitors. Seven-eighths of the world feels quite differently. To them, rank and status and authority are seen as much more desirable considerations -- even if they personally happen to find themselves near the bottom of the social order. Class and authority seem to give people in those other societies a sense of security and certainty. People outside the United States consider it reassuring to know, from birth, who they are and where they fit into the complex system called “society.”

Many highly-placed foreign visitors to the United States are insulted by the way they are treated by service personnel (such as waiters in restaurants, clerks in stores, taxi drivers, etc.) Americans have an aversion to treating people of high position in a deferential manner, and conversely, often treat lower class people as if they were very important. Newcomers to the United States should realize that no insult or personal indignity is intended by this lack of deference to rank or position in society. A foreigner should be prepared to be considered “just like anybody else” while in the country.

5. Individualism and Privacy

The individualism that has been developed in the Western world since the Renaissance, beginning in the late 15th century, has taken its most exaggerated form in 20th century United States. Here, each individual is seen as completely and marvelously unique, that is, totally different from all other individuals and, therefore, particularly precious and wonderful.

Americans think they are more individualist in their thoughts and actions than, in fact, they are. They resist being thought of as representatives of a homogenous group, whatever the group. They may, and do, join groups—in fact many groups—but somehow believe they’re just a little different, just a little unique, just a little special, from other members of the same group. And they tend to leave groups as easily as they enter them.

Privacy, the ultimate result of individualism is perhaps even more difficult for the foreigner to comprehend. The word "privacy" does not even exist in many languages. If it does, it is likely to have a strongly negative connotation, suggesting loneliness or isolation from the group. In the United States, privacy is not only seen as a very positive condition, but it is also viewed as a requirement that all humans would find equally necessary, desirable and satisfying. It is not uncommon for Americans to say—and believe—such statements as "If I don’t have at least half an hour a day to myself, I will go stark raving mad."

Individualism, as it exists in the United States, does mean that you will find a much greater variety of opinions (along with the absolute freedom to express them anywhere and anytime) here. Yet, in spite of this wide range of personal opinion, almost all Americans will ultimately vote for one of the two major political parties. That is what was meant by the statement made earlier that Americans take pride in crediting themselves with claiming more individualism than, in fact, they really have.

6. Self-Help/Initiative

In the United States, a person can take credit only for what he or she has accomplished by himself or herself. Americans get no credit whatsoever for having been born into a rich family. (In the United States, that would be considered "an accident of birth.") Americans pride themselves in having been born poor and, through their own sacrifice and hard work, having climbed the difficult ladder of success to whatever level they have achieved—all by themselves. The American social system has, of course, made it possible for Americans to move, relatively easily, up the social ladder.

Take a look in an English-language dictionary at the composite words that have "self" as a prefix. In the average desk dictionary, there will be more than 100 such words, words like self-confidence, self-conscious, self-control, self-criticism, self-deception, self-defeating, self-denial, self-discipline, self-esteem, self-expression, self-importance, self-improvement, self-interest, self-reliance, self-respect, self-restraint, self-sacrifice—the list goes on and on. The equivalent of these words cannot be found in most other languages. The list is perhaps the best indication of how seriously Americans take doing things for one’s self. The "self-made man or women" is still very much the ideal in 20th-century America.

7. Competition and Free Enterprise

Americans believe that competition brings out the best in any individual. They assert that it challenges or forces each person to produce the very best that is humanly possible. Consequently, the foreign visitor will see competition being fostered in the American home and in the American classroom, even on the youngest age level. Very young children, for instance, are encouraged to answer questions for which their classmates do not know the answer.

You may find the competitive value disagreeable, especially if you come from a society that promotes cooperation rather than competition. But many U.S. Peace Corps volunteers teaching in Third World countries found the lack of competitiveness in a classroom situation equally distressing. They soon learned that what they thought to be one of the universal human characteristics represented only a peculiarly American (or Western) value.

Americans, valuing competition, have devised an economic system to go with it—free enterprise. Americans feel strongly that a highly competitive economy will bring out the best in its people and, ultimately, that the society that fosters competition will progress most rapidly. If you look for it, you will see evidence in all areas—even in fields as diverse as medicine, the arts, education, and sports—that free enterprise is the approach most often preferred in America.

8. Future Orientation

Valuing the future and the improvements Americans are sure the future will bring means that they devalue that past and are, to a large extent, unconscious of the present. Even a happy present goes largely unnoticed because, happy as it may be, Americans have traditionally been hopeful that the future would bring even greater happiness. Almost all energy is directed toward realizing that better future. At best, the present condition is seen as preparatory to a latter and greater event, which will eventually culminate in something even more worthwhile.

Since Americans have been taught (in value 1) to believe that Man, and not Fate, can and should be the one who controls the environment, this has made them very good at planning and executing short-term projects. This ability, in turn, has caused Americans to be invited to all corners of the earth to plan and achieve the miracles that their goal-setting can produce.

If you come from a culture such as those in the traditional Moslem world, where talking about or actively planning the future is felt to be a futile, even sinful, activity, you will have not only philosophical problems with this very American characteristic but religious objections as well. Yet it is something you will have to learn to live with, for all around you Americans will be looking toward the future and what it will bring.

9. Action/Work Orientation

"Don’t just stand there," goes a typical bit of American advice, "do something!" This expression is normally used in a crisis situation, yet, in a sense, it describes most American’s entire waking life, where action—any action—is seen to be superior to inaction.

Americans routinely plan and schedule an extremely active day. Any relaxation must be limited in time, pre-planned, and aimed at "recreating" their ability to work harder and more productively once the recreation is over. Americans believe leisure activities should assume a relatively small portion of one’s total life. People think that it is "sinful" to "waste one’s time," "to sit around doing nothing," or just to "daydream."

Such a "no nonsense" attitude toward life has created many people who have come to be known as "workaholics," or people who are addicted to their work, who think constantly about their jobs and who are frustrated if they are kept away from them, even during their evening hours and weekends.

The workaholic syndrome, in turn, causes Americans to identify themselves wholly with their professions. The first question one American will ask another American when meeting for the first time is related to his or her work: "Where do you work?," or "Who (what company) are you with?"

And when such a person finally goes on vacation, even the vacation will be carefully planned, very busy and active.

America may be one of the few countries in the world where it seems reasonable to speak about the "dignity of human labor," meaning by that, hard, physical labor. In America, even corporation presidents will engage in physical labor from time to time and gain, rather than lose, respect from others for such action.

10. Informality

If you come from a more formal society, you will likely find Americans to be extremely informal, and will probably feel that they are even disrespectful of those in authority. Americans are one of the most informal and casual people in the world, even when compared to their near relative—the Western European.

As one example of this informality, American bosses often urge their employees to call them by their first names and even feel uncomfortable if they are called by the title "Mr." or "Mrs."

Dress is another area where American informality will be most noticeable, perhaps even shocking. One can go to a symphony performance, for example, in any large American city nowadays and find some people in the audience dressed in blue jeans and tieless, short-sleeved shirts.

Informality is also apparent in American’s greetings. The more formal "How are you?" has largely been replaced with an informal "Hi." This is as likely to be used to one’s superior as to one’s best friend.

If you are a highly placed official in your own country, you will probably, at first, find such informality to be very unsettling. American, on the other hand, would consider such informality as a compliment! Certainly it is not intended as an insult and should not be taken as such.

11. Directness/Openness/Honesty

Many other countries have developed subtle, sometimes highly ritualistic, ways of informing other people of unpleasant information. Americans, however, have always preferred the first approach. They are likely to be completely honest in delivering their negative evaluations. If you come from a society that uses the indirect manner of conveying bad news or uncomplimentary evaluations, you will be shocked at Americans’ bluntness.

If you come from a country where saving face is important, be assured that Americans are not trying to make you lose face with their directness. It is important to realize that an American would not, in such case, lose face. The burden of adjustment, in all cases while you are in this country, will be on you. There is no way to soften the blow of such directness and openness if you are not used to it except to tell you that the rules have changed while you are here. Indeed, Americans are trying to urge their fellow countrymen to become even more open and direct. The large number of "assertiveness" training courses that appeared in the United States in the late 1970s reflects such a commitment.

Americans consider anything other than the most direct and open approach to be dishonest and insincere and will quickly lose confidence in and distrust anyone who hints at what is intended rather than saying it outright. Anyone who, in the United States, chooses to use an intermediary to deliver that message will also be considered manipulative and untrustworthy.

12. Practicality/Efficiency

Americans have a reputation of being an extremely realistic, practical and efficient people. The practical consideration is likely to be given highest priority in making any important decision in the United States. Americans pride themselves in not being very philosophically or theoretically oriented. If Americans would even admit to having a philosophy, it would probably be that of pragmatism.

Will it make any money? Will it "pay its own way?" What can I gain from this activity? These are the kinds of questions that Americans are likely to ask in their practical pursuit, not such questions as: Is it aesthetically pleasing? Will it be enjoyable?, or Will it advance the cause of knowledge?

This practical, pragmatic orientation has caused Americans to contribute more inventions to the world than any other country in human history. The love of "practicality" has also caused Americans to view some professions more favorably than others. Management and economics, for example, are much more popular in the United States than philosophy or anthropology, law and medicine more valued than the arts.

Another way in which this favoring of the practical makes itself felt in the United States, is a belittling of "emotional" and "subjective" evaluations in favor of "rational" and "objective" assessments. Americans try to avoid being too sentimental in making their decisions. They judge every situation "on its merits." The popular American "trial-and-error" approach to problem solving also reflects the practical. The approach suggests listing several possible solutions to any given problem, then trying them out, one-by-one, to see which is most effective.

13. Materialism/Acquisitiveness

Foreigners generally consider Americans much more materialistic than Americans are likely to consider themselves. Americans would like to think that their material objects are just the natural benefits that always result from hard work and serious intent—a reward, they think, that all people could enjoy were they as industrious and hard-working as Americans.

But by any standard, Americans are materialistic. This means that they value and collect more material objects than most people would ever dream of owning. It also means they give higher priority to obtaining, maintaining and protecting their material objects than they do in developing and enjoying interpersonal relationships.

The modern American typically owns:

1. one or more color television sets,

2. an electric hair dryer,

3. an electronic calculator,

4. a tape recorder and a record player,

5. a clothes-washer and dryer,

6. a vacuum cleaner,

7. a powered lawn mower (for cutting grass),

8. a refrigerator, a stove, and a dishwasher,

9. one or more automobiles,

10. and a telephone.

11. Many also own a personal computer.

Since Americans value newness and innovation, they sell or throw away their possessions frequently and replace them with newer ones. A car may be kept for only two or three years, a house for five or six before trading it in for another one.


Now that we have discussed each of these 13 values separately, if all too briefly, let us look at them in list form (on the left) and then consider them paired with the counterpart values from a more traditional country (on the right):

U.S. Values Some Other Country’s Values
1 Personal Control over the Environment Fate
2 Change Tradition
3 Time & Its Control Human Interaction
4 Equality Hierarchy/Rank/Status
5 Individualism/Privacy Group’s Welfare
6 Self-Help Birthright Inheritance
7 Competition Cooperation
8 Future Orientation Past Orientation
9 Action/Work Orientation "Being" Orientation
10 Informality Formality
11 Directness / Openness / Honesty Indirectness/Ritual/"Face"
12 Practicality/Efficiency Idealism
12 Materialism/Acquisitiveness Spiritualism/Detachment

Which list more nearly represents the values of your native country?


Before leaving this discussion of the values Americans live by, consider how knowledge of these values explains many things about Americans.

One can, for example, see America’s impressive record of scientific and technological achievement as a natural result of these 13 values.

First of all, it was necessary to believe:

(1) these things could be achieved, that Man does not have to simply sit and wait for Fate to bestow them or not to bestow them, and that Man does have control over his own environment, if he is willing to take it. Other values that have contributed to this record of achievement include

(2) an expectation of positive results to come from change (and the acceptance of an ever-faster rate of change as "normal");

(3) the necessity to schedule and plan ones’ time;

(6) the self-help concept;

(7) competition;

(8) future orientation;

(9) action work orientation;

(12) practicality; and

(13) materialism.

You can do the same sort of exercise as you consider other aspects of American society and analyze them to see which of the 13 values described here apply. By using this approach you will soon begin to understand Americans and their actions. And as you come to understand them, they will seem less "strange" than they did at first.


<pdf>File:THE VALUES AMERICANS LIVE BY L. Robert Kohls AmericanValues.pdf</pdf>

Further Reading and Links


Russian English Vocabulary

Chapter one

- Stark differences – жесткие разграничения …stark discipline…stark realities of life

- Enlightenment – просвещение

- Blunt American way of speaking – грубоватый, резкий, тупой…blunt angle – тупой угол, scissors with blunt ends – ножницы с тупыми

- Callous – грубый, бессердечный, нечувственный, мозолистый, огрубевший (о коже)

- концами, a blunt answer – прямой ответ, the blunt facts – упрямые фактб rude and blunt people – грубые и резкие люди

- A trait Russians share with Americans – характерная черта, особенность. The chief traits of a person’s character – главные черты характера

- Life is compartmentalized – жизнь делится на отсеки/ячейки

- Impenetrable – непробиваемый. Impenetrable armor. Cloth impenetrable to water - не пропускающая воду.

- Impenetrable jungle – непроходимые джунгли.

- Russians are difficult to penetrate at first – просочиться, прорываться, постигать-понимать.

- To penetrate into secrets of nature – постигать тайны природы.

- American smile is disingenuous – неискренняя

- A counterpart – двойник (a double, a twin). She is a counterpart of her twin sister.

- To quip – саркастически подмечать

- Alacrity – готовность. He accepted an invitation with alacrity.

- Willingness- готовность

- Scowl (аu) – to look at somebody with a scowl – грозно посмотреть на кого-то, to scowl at somebody – грозно смотреть на кого-то

- Sinister – дурной, мрачный, темный. Sinister face, sinister influence, intentions

- Agitrop – пропаганда, агитация



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Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Lansley

‘There are no barriers to a rich man’ - Russian proverb


The Man Who Knew Too Much

‘I have dug myself into a hole and I am in too deep. I am not sure that I can dig myself out’ - STEPHEN CURTIS, January 2004

6.56 P.M., WEDNESDAY, 3 MARCH 2004. A brand-new white six-seater £.5-million Agusta A109E helicopter lands under an overcast sky at Battersea heliport in south-west London. Waiting impatiently on the tarmac and clutching his two unregistered mobile phones is a broad-shouldered 45-year-old British lawyer named Stephen Curtis. He is not in the best of moods. Three minutes earlier he had called Nigel Brown, Managing Director of ISC Global Ltd, which provided security for him, regarding disputed invoices sent to a Russian client. ‘This is causing problems!’ he shouted and then paused. ‘Look, I have to go now. The helicopter is here.’

Curtis climbs aboard the helicopter and maneuvers his bulky frame into the passenger cabin’s left rear seat. A member of the ground staff places his three pieces of hand luggage on the seat in front of him and the pilot is given departure clearance. At 6.59 p.m. the chopper lifts off into the gloomy London sky. It is cold and misty with broken cloud at 3,800 feet, but conditions are reasonable for flying with visibility of 7 kilometers.

The lawyer turns off his mobile phones and sits back. After a day of endless and stressful phone calls from his £4 million luxury penthouse apartment at Waterside Point in nearby Battersea, he is looking forward to a relaxing evening at home at Pennsylvania Castle, his eighteenth- century retreat on the island of Portland off the Dorset coast. By the time the helicopter approaches Bournemouth Airport, after a flight of less than one hour, it is raining lightly and the runway is obscured by cloud. The Agusta is cleared to land and descends via Stoney Cross to the north- east where, despite the gloom, the lights of the cars on the A27 are now visible in the early evening darkness. The pilot, Captain Max Radford, an experienced 34-year-old local man who regularly flies Curtis to and from London, radios air traffic control for permission to land on runway twenty-six. ‘Echo Romeo,’ replies Kirsty Holtan, the air traffic controller. ‘Just check that you are visual with the field.’ ‘Er, negative. Not this time. Echo Romeo.’ The air traffic controller can only see the helicopter on her remote radar monitor. Concerned, she increases the runway lighting to maximum intensity. This has the required effect and a mile from the airport the pilot radios: ‘Just becoming visual this time.’ ‘Golf Echo Romeo. Do you require radar?’ asks Holtan. ‘Yes, yes,’ replies Radford, his voice now strained; he repeats the word no less than eleven times in quick succession. Suddenly, the chopper descends sharply to the left. It then swings around almost out of control. Within seconds it has fallen 400 feet. ‘Golf Echo Romeo. Is everything O.K.?’ asks a concerned Holtan. ‘Negative, negative,’ replies Radford.

They are just 1.5 kilometres east of the threshold of runway twenty-six when the height readout is lost on the radar. For the next fifty-six seconds the pilot confirms that he has power but then suddenly, frantically, radios: ‘We have a problem, we have a problem.’ As the chopper loses power, at 7.41 p.m. Radford shouts down the open mike: ‘O.K., I need a climb, I need a climb.’ Radford hears a low horn, warning that the speed of the main rotor blades has dropped. He keeps his finger on the radio button and can be heard struggling to turn out of a dive, but he has lost control. ‘No. No!’ he shouts in a panic. They are his last words. The helicopter, now in free fall, nose dives into a field at high speed and explodes on impact, sending a fireball 30 feet into the air. The aircraft is engulfed in flames, with the debris of the wreckage strewn across a quarter of a mile. ‘I heard a massive bang and rushed up to the window and just saw this big firewall in front of me,’ recalled Sarah Price, who lives beneath the flight path. ‘The whole field appeared to be on fire. It was horrific.’ Some thirty-five firefighters rush to the scene, but the two men aboard – Stephen Curtis and Max Radford – die instantly. Later that night their charred bodies are taken to the mortuary at Boscombe, Dorset, where an autopsy is performed the following day. Their corpses are so badly burnt that they can only be identified using DNA samples taken by Wing Commander Maidment at the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine at Henlow in Bedfordshire.

The news of Curtis’s dramatic death was not only deeply traumatic to his wife and daughter, it also sent shock waves through the sinister world of the Russian oligarchs, the Kremlin, and a group of bankers and accountants working in the murky offshore world where billions of pounds are

regularly moved and hidden across multiple continents. That was not all. Alarm bells were also ringing in the offices of Britain’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies, for Stephen Curtis was no ordinary lawyer. Since the 1990s he had been the covert custodian of some of the vast personal fortunes made from the controversial privatization of the country’s giant state enterprises. Two of his billionaire clients – Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky – had entrusted Curtis to protect and firewall their wealth from scrutiny by the Russian authorities. The Russians liked and trusted the highly intelligent, gregarious Curtis. Generous, a heavy drinker, loyal, amusing, and extravagant, he slipped naturally into their world. Also impatient, ruthless, and aggressive when required, he restructured their companies, moved their funds between a bewildering series of bank accounts lodged in obscure island tax havens, established complex trusts, and set up an elaborate offshore ownership of their assets. On their arrival in London he found them properties, introduced them to the most powerful bankers, entertained them late into the night, and recommended private schools for their children and even Savile Row tailors for their suits. By early 2004, Curtis had not only introduced his wealthy new Russian clients to many aspects of British life, but he was also the guardian of many of their secrets. He was the only person who could identify and unravel the opaque ownership of their assets – property, yachts, art, cars, jewellery, and private jets as well as their bank accounts, shareholdings, companies, and trusts. ‘Stephen knew everything because he set up their whole infrastructure,’ said a close friend. He salted away billions of pounds in an intricate, sophisticated financial maze, which the Russian government later tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to unravel.

Operating from his office in a narrow, four-storey Mayfair house at 94 Park Lane, Curtis found that working for oligarchs was also lucrative. The product of a relatively modest upbringing himself, Curtis amassed a sizeable personal fortune from his new clients, enough to enable him to acquire his own helicopter, a private aircraft, and a penthouse apartment in London, as well as Pennsylvania Castle. He donated substantial sums to charity, entertained his friends at the castle, and hosted expensive holidays in the Caribbean. But Stephen Curtis was a lawyer who knew too much. Although he loved flirting with risk and thrived on the pressure and excitement of working with the Russians, he also became increasingly nervous about his own vulnerability and the safety of his family. At the time of his death he was caught in the middle of an epic power struggle, one of the highest-stakes contests between state and business ascendancy in the world – between the most powerful man in Russia, President Vladimir Putin, and its wealthiest businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. By October 2003, Curtis had been working for Khodorkovsky for six years when his billionaire client was arrested at gunpoint in central Siberia for alleged massive tax evasion and fraud. A month later the Mayfair lawyer found himself further embroiled in the conflict when he was appointed chairman of the Gibraltar-based Menatep, the bank that controlled Yukos, Khodorkovsky’s $15 billion oil company. Russian newspapers suddenly began referring to a ‘mystery man’ in Gibraltar who controlled Russia’s second-biggest oil producer. Billions of pounds were at stake, the political survival of Putin was in the balance, and Curtis was billed to play a pivotal role in the forthcoming court drama. In March 2004 the trial of Khodorkovsky was imminent and the pressure on Curtis was intense. On the morning after his death on 3 March, the offices of two Swiss

companies connected to Yukos were raided by Swiss police at the request of the Russian prosecutors. Documents were seized, suspects were interviewed in Geneva, Zurich, and Freiberg, and Swiss bank accounts containing $5 billion were frozen. Moreover, just a few weeks earlier Curtis had taken another critical and high-risk decision: to cooperate covertly with British police officials. Until only recently a back-room lawyer (secretive, low profile, discreet), he found himself suddenly thrust into the spotlight as chairman of a highly controversial Russian company. Sensitive and highly strung at the best of times, he felt increasingly exposed in this new role. Sooner or later he feared the Russian authorities would come knocking on his door asking questions about his own role in alleged tax avoidance and the filtering of cash out of the country. As he was legally obliged, Curtis had been scrupulous in reporting ‘suspicious transactions’, or the merest hint of criminal activity, to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) at Scotland Yard, which investigates money laundering and organized crime. In May 2003, for example, he had filed a suspicious transaction report about one of his Russian clients. Now he needed protection for another reason: he feared that he might become the target of commercial enemies – rival oil companies and minority investors of Yukos who claimed that they were being defrauded. He also knew that contract killings in Russia were commonplace. ‘I have dug myself into a hole and I am in too deep,’ he told a colleague. ‘I am not sure that I can dig myself out.’ In the last few weeks of his life Curtis was under constant surveillance by commercial and Russian state investigators and was considering moving offices. His telephones were tapped and in early 2004 his security consultants discovered a small magnet used to secure a listening device at his country home in Dorset. According to

Eric Jenkins, an uncle who often visited him in Gibraltar, where his nephew lived for most of the year, Curtis received numerous anonymous threats and intimidating phone calls. He took them seriously enough to hire a bodyguard. ‘There certainly were death threats against Stephen,’ confirmed Nigel Brown, whose company also provided security for Curtis’s clients Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky. ‘The timing of his death was very suspicious and there were people out there who had a motive to kill him. He just knew too much.’ At first Curtis dismissed the threats, but when one phone call mentioned his wife and 13-year-old daughter, he decided to act. In mid-February 2004, deeply worried, he approached the Foreign Office and NCIS and offered full but covert cooperation. He would provide information about Russian commercial activities in Britain and the oligarchs’ assets, in return for protection for himself and his family. Up to that point his relationship with NCIS had been a limited, almost standard form of cooperation, a role many solicitors play. For NCIS Curtis was a potentially prized informant with insider knowledge of controversial Russian business activity in London. He was immediately assigned a controller, but after only two meetings the NCIS officer was transferred to another operation. Curtis asked to be assigned another controller but before this was done, he was dead. A week before the fatal crash Curtis had told a close friend at his apartment at Waterside Point, ‘If anything happens to me in the next few weeks, it will not be an accident.’ He had laughed nervously but he was not joking. He had played the messages left on his mobile phone to colleagues at his law firm. ‘Curtis, where are you?’ asked a voice with a Russian accent. ‘We are here. We are behind you. We follow you.’ At the inquest his uncle, Eric Jenkins, testified that his nephew had repeated the same words of warning to him.

The frequent threats convinced some of Curtis’s colleagues and relations that he was murdered. ‘Definitely’, one former employee of his law firm claimed. ‘It was done by remote control. They knew about his flight plans in advance because they were tapping his phones.’ Dennis Radford, the father of the pilot, told the subsequent inquest that he did not think that the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) had properly investigated the possibility of foul play. ‘The lack of security at Bournemouth Airport is such that, had anybody wished to sabotage the aircraft, they would have unchallenged and unrestricted access for that purpose,’ he said. Witnesses say that they heard an unexplained and incredibly loud bang just before the crash. ‘I heard a kind of thump noise and the dog started barking, so I came outside and I heard another couple of bangs. It made a particularly harsh noise, as if the engine was malfunctioning,’ Jack Malt, who lives near the crash site, testified at the inquest. ‘There was a period of silence in the moments before the explosion so I guess the engines must have cut out,’ said Sarah Price, who lives 300 yards from the site of the crash. She also heard a massive bang just before the explosion. And Gavin Foxwell, another local resident, told the inquest that the helicopter made ‘a stuttering, unusual sound, as if it was struggling to stay aloft’. The death of Stephen Curtis remains a mystery to this day. However, no credible evidence of sabotage or murder has ever been discovered. The investigation by the AAIB concluded: The possibilities of unauthorised interference were considered. An improvised explosive device could have been positioned in the cabin or the baggage hold. All cabin doors at the undamaged skin of the baggage door were, however, recovered from the accident site. No

evidence of damage other than consistent with ground impact was found on any of them. In particular no high velocity particle impacts were noted in any of these door components. At the inquest Paul Hannant, the Senior Inspector of the AAIB, said, ‘If you are going to bring an aircraft like this down, you have either got to destroy the main rotor system or interfere with the main gearbox. The only other real way is to interfere with the controls. If you disconnect the controls, that would be immediately apparent to the pilot… Any attempt to use a corrosive device or a remote control device would also have been apparent to Captain Radford.’ Ultimately, deteriorating weather conditions and pilot inexperience were blamed for the crash. According to the AAIB inspector, ‘The most likely cause of the accident was that Captain Radford became disorientated during the final stages of the approach to Bournemouth Airport.’ Yet, while the weather on the fateful night of 3 March 2004 was poor – light drizzle, broken cloud, and overcast sky – flying conditions were not especially hazardous. As his father Dennis later claimed, ‘Max had flown many, many times in considerably worse conditions than that. And if he became disorientated, why was he on the radio describing the runway and talking to the control tower twenty-nine seconds before the crash?’ At the inquest assessments of Radford’s experience and competence were mixed. He had been a pilot since 1993, had recorded 3,500 flying hours, and had been flying Curtis regularly. During his operational training for flying the new, upgraded Agusta A109E, Radford consulted two flight instructors. ‘I felt his confidence exceeded his competence,’ testified Alan Davis, but Richard Poppy concluded that Radford was ‘competent’ to fly the Agusta A109E. While the AAIB found that he had not used instrument flying since 2000, they accepted that he was very familiar with

the route and had ‘already achieved seventy-eight hours’ over the previous two months. The inquest jury at Bournemouth Town Hall took just over one hour to reach a verdict of ‘accidental death’. Despite the verdict, however, some close relations remain sceptical to this day. They point out that Radford was a responsible, cautious pilot who had refused to fly Curtis in the past when the weather was poor, notably for a New Year’s Eve party at Pennsylvania Castle. Curtis’s former security advisers remain suspicious, too. Nigel Brown is adamant that it was an assassination and is highly critical of the police. ‘What I cannot understand is why there has never been a proper murder investigation’, he has said. ‘There was a just cause of suspicion because Stephen had received death threats, there was a motive because of what he knew, and there were suspicious circumstances. But the police did not interview me or my colleagues or Stephen’s clients or his employees. Usually, the police would interview the last person to speak to him and I was that person. We may not know for sure what happened to Stephen but I think there could have been a more thorough inquiry.’ While Curtis’s wife Sarah has never believed that her husband was murdered, she has reflected on why it was a Russian businessman who first informed her about the death of her husband. ‘I am sorry that Stephen is dead,’ he told her. The police did not telephone until an hour later to say that ‘there has been an accident’. It is a measure of the accuracy of the premonitions Curtis had about a premature death that he left detailed instructions for his funeral. This was partly influenced by his superstitious, almost fatalistic nature. He believed in ghosts and in the afterlife and always thought that he would die young. ‘I will never make old bones’, he once said, well before he met the Russians.

But Curtis had also been diagnosed with leukemia and a rare blood disease. This manifested itself in bizarre ways. During a sailing trip he once hit his head heavily on the boom of the boat and a friend was stunned to see his bloody flesh wound apparently heal before his very eyes. Curtis needed regular blood transfusions to stabilize him and took Warfarin to thin his blood and prevent clotting. He also wore surgical stockings to inhibit deep-vein thrombosis. After two operations at a private clinic, he was told that he could no longer travel by airplane because this would worsen his condition. But he could fly by helicopter, which was why, just three months before his death, he upgraded to the Agusta A109E. Typical of his flamboyant and irreverent personality, he requested that his funeral should not be a mournful event but a ‘celebration of his life’ and that mourners were ‘not obliged to wear traditional black’. On Wednesday, 7 April 2004 some 350 relations, friends, and business associates gathered inside All Saints Church in Easton on the Isle of Portland near the Curtis family home at Pennsylvania Castle. Such was the lawyer’s popularity that a further 100 stood outside and loudspeakers were installed to broadcast the proceedings. At 1.50 p.m. a glass carriage bearing Curtis’s coffin arrived, drawn by two blackplumed horses and adorned with flowers that spelt the word ‘Daddy’. The carriage was followed by a Rolls-Royce Phantom, carrying his widow Sarah and his daughter Louise, and two Bentleys and a Ferrari, ferrying other relations and close friends. Preceded by a Scottish piper who played the ‘Skye Boat Song’, the coffin was carried by six bearers into the church, followed by a tearful Sarah and Louise, both wearing pink coats and dresses. As they slowly walked down the aisle, Sarah noticed the intense, brooding figure of Boris Berezovsky, dressed in black, in the congregation with his girlfriend, two bodyguards, and a Russian entourage. Most of Curtis’s clients attended. Notable absentees were

representatives of his clients IKEA, which did not want to be associated with his controversial Russian clients, as well as most Yukos executives. Indeed, the only Yukos executive to attend was Vasily Alexanyan, a close friend of Curtis and the oil company’s former legal director. Alexanyan was furious that his colleagues had boycotted the funeral despite the risky operations Curtis had conducted for their company. At 2.00 p.m. the service began with traditional hymns, followed by a piano solo by Louise. It was evident that Curtis was well loved. One speaker described him as epitomizing a line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, which reads: ‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue/or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch’. His closest friend, Rod Davidson, told the congregation, ‘In business he was in a league of his own. He would start off with an earthquake, build it up to a crescendo and [was] always setting his sights beyond the stars… He was the most generous of men and I think of him now at the pearly gates giving St Peter a red Ferrari and providing Playstations for the cherubs.’ But there was also palpable tension in the air because of the conspicuous and, to some, menacing presence of the Russian contingent, who attracted frequent nervous glances. When Berezovsky and his colleagues left their seats at the end of the service, the remainder of the congregation moved out of the way to let them pass first. The local mourners and Sarah’s friends were mostly conventional, middle-class English people who lived quiet, rural lives in the pristine Dorset village of Easton. They were hardly used to the hard Russian faces or the battery of television cameras, photographers, and police that greeted them as they left the church that bright spring afternoon. To the local villagers it must have looked like the cast of The Godfather or The Sopranos had arrived.

Sarah was devastated by her husband’s death, but she was also confused by and concerned about the media attention. ‘Why are there so many cameras here?’ she asked outside the church. ‘I don’t understand.’ A former secretary, Sarah’s life was family, music, friends, the castle, and the English countryside. Stephen had told her nothing about his secret life in London, Gibraltar, and Russia. A lover of James Bond films, Curtis revelled in this covert existence. He compartmentalized his life, mainly to protect Sarah. ‘I don’t want to know,’ she once remarked and would have recoiled from the dark, cut-throat world of the Russian super-rich. Sarah recognized none of the Russian mourners.‘Who’s this? Who’s that?’ she asked one of Stephen’s colleagues in a state of increasing bewilderment. ‘What on earth was my husband doing with those Russians?’ she asked another friend. Not wanting to worry her, they declined to answer. After the service the procession escorting Curtis’s body was accompanied by the song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, with Sarah’s soprano voice ringing out the final words as she followed her husband’s coffin. The burial took place in the gardens of Pennsylvania Castle, attended only by family and close friends. Curtis was laid to rest to the strains of the bagpipe melody ‘Highland Cathedral’. As the guests mingled in the marquee after the burial the atmosphere was tense and apprehensive. Many former clients were anxious to know the identities of the other guests and whom they worked for. ‘It was a weird situation for a wake,’ said a former employee of Curtis’s law firm. ‘People were looking over their shoulders to see who was talking to who. The strange thing was that I knew some of our clients knew each other, but they would not acknowledge each other at the funeral in case they were photographed or associated with other clients. It was very bizarre, almost comical.’ At 9.45 p.m. a spectacular fireworks display erupted over the English Channel.

The funeral of Stephen Langford Curtis brought together an uneasy, unsettling gathering of two cultures: the conventional, light-hearted, understated English middle class and the dark, intense, stern-faced, focused Russian business elite. Little more than a decade earlier the Russian presence in Britain had been barely noticeable. It would have been rare to hear a Russian accent in a Knightsbridge boutique, a Mayfair restaurant, or even on the London underground, let alone at the funeral of a mysterious, even obscure, British lawyer. There was no sign then of what was to come: the arrival in Britain of a wave of middle-class, affluent Russians. The influx that followed the collapse of communism in 1991 started slowly but by the end of that decade the Russian desire to move to London had reached what one insider has described as ‘fever pitch’. Although there are no official figures for the size of the London-based Russian and former-Soviet community, it is widely accepted that by 2008 it numbered well in excess of 300,000. This was large enough to spawn four Russian- language newspapers, the glossy magazine New Style, a plethora of Russian networking clubs and internet sites, and a host of Russian social events. Although by then the Russian community was diverse, most of its members were ordinary professionals who had chosen to live, work, and settle in London. Many had British husbands or wives. It is this group, rather than the oligarchs, who jokingly referred to London as ‘Moscow-on- Thames’. Some worked for international organizations or Russian companies based in London while others had set up their own businesses. Some found jobs as estate agents, in the City, and in retail to target or cater for Russian clients. They mostly came to Britain to escape the crime, political uncertainty, and economic turbulence and were a

very select middle-class group compared with the wider Russian population. Some still commuted back and forth from Moscow, by commercial rather than by private jet. Flight SU247 from Moscow touched down at Heathrow on Friday evenings, carrying what its Aeroflot crew called ‘voskresnuy muzh’, which translates as ‘Sunday husbands’. These were transcontinental commuters, a mix of oil executives, bankers, and importers and exporters who had homes and families in London but who worked in Moscow. For them it was a weekly ritual: Friday and Sunday nights on a four- hour flight, weekends in London, and the week in their Moscow office. Dominating this steady stream of migrants was a tiny but much more high-profile group – the oligarchs, a tiny cadre of privileged insiders who had acquired Russia’s state-owned natural resources and, by the end of the 1990s, had come from nowhere to join the ranks of the world’s super-rich. While some of Russia’s nouveaux riches – billionaires and multi-million-aires – have remained in Russia, most have moved or built a base abroad, shifting their mountain of assets with them. While a few have selected Israel, New York, or Switzerland, most have chosen London. From the millennium, this group scattered its new-found wealth like confetti, helping to transform London into the world’s leading playground of the super- rich, contributing to runaway property prices, soaring profits for luxury goods retailers, and bringing displays of opulence not seen since the 1920s. Some of the Russian ultra-rich were, through fear of arrest, driven out of Russia and took up residence in London. Others became international super-nomads, living partly in London, partly in Russia, while travelling the globe in their private jets and luxury yachts. Many kept a discreet foot in both camps. Along with the next tier of the Russian rich, the oligarchs were lured by London’s

accommodating tax laws, compliant banking system, relaxed lifestyle, unobtrusive City regulations, elite schools, and independent judicial system.

This book tells the story of four Russian oligarchs: Boris Berezovsky, the intense, extrovert fugitive who has plotted against Putin’s Russia from his gilded London base; Roman Abramovich, the wily, reserved owner of Chelsea Football Club whose multi-billion-pound oil fortune came from outmanoeuvring his former friend and now bitter enemy Berezovsky; Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the intellectual who naively believed that he was more powerful than the state and ended up in a Siberian jail; and Oleg Deripaska, the ruthless young pretender and aluminium magnate who rose to become the richest of all of them, helped along by his cosy relationship with Vladimir Putin. During the course of the 1990s these four men built huge fortunes at electric speed by exploiting the flawed post-Soviet scramble to build a Western-style market economy. Though it was Russia itself that was the source of their personal wealth, it was London that provided the backdrop to the next phase in their meteoric climb up the global rich lists. For Abramovich, London has helped to satisfy his apparently insatiable appetite for conspicuous consumption. For Deripaska, banned from entering the United States, the capital has been a crucial base for building his diverse and colossal global business empire. Before his incarceration, Khodorkovsky used London to woo the British political and business establishment in his international campaign to transform his tarnished global reputation. For Berezovsky, who has been fighting extradition since 2001, London has provided a refuge from

Russian prosecutors who have accused him of alleged tax evasion and fraud, charges that he has strenuously denied. In contrast to the corrupt, politicized judiciary in Russia, London has also offered legal sanctuary and a fair due process of law. While indicted Russian businessmen have been arrested and detained in Spain, France, Italy, and the United States, Britain has refused to accept any of the dozens of extradition attempts by the Russian authorities, souring diplomatic relations in the process. ‘I think they [Russians] feel that this is a country of law,’ said Berezovsky. ‘They feel that they are well protected here.’[1] London has long attracted the extravagantly rich, but the post-millennium wave of foreign wealth was unprecedented. In the decade up to 2008, trillions of pounds of foreign capital settled in the UK. For those who make money out of money, it was a golden decade for tax lawyers, accountants, and bankers. ‘The British have found a new vocation,’ said William Cash, the well-connected publisher who founded Spear’s Wealth Management Survey, the glossy quarterly that chronicles the activities of the super-rich. ‘That is being the financial bag-carriers of the world. Britain’s ruling classes used to own the wealth. Now they’ve become the fee-earning servants, servicing the global financial elite.’[2] By 2007, before the devastating impact of the global economic meltdown of the following year, London had displaced New York as the financial capital of the world. It did so by providing an unrivalled tax avoidance industry and a much lighter regulatory touch. After 9/11 and a series of highprofile financial scandals on Wall Street, the US Government passed a new law – the Sarbanes-Oxley Act – which imposed much tougher corporate requirements on the disclosure of information, accountancy procedures, and the process of listing on the New York Stock Exchange. This made New York less attractive to the world’s business

rich and London seized its chance. The United States also introduced much tighter visa restrictions for foreign businessmen, which did not compare favourably with the more open UK border controls. For moneyed Russians London also provides logistical advantages: the flight from Moscow is just four hours, while south-east England enjoys a ring of airports with facilities for private jets. According to James Harding, editor of The Times, ‘From London it is possible to work a normal day and talk to Tokyo in the morning and Los Angeles in the afternoon. A businessman can get on a plane from Moscow and be in central London in five hours, from Bombay in seven, even from Beijing in nine. This is one of the reasons why over the past twenty-five years London has turned itself into an international marketplace while New York has remained essentially a domestic financial capital.’[3] However, tax remains the primary factor. ‘New York is obviously very stable, but most of the other big centres of wealth management would have questions over them’, said David Harvey of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners whose members unashamedly help wealthy families pay as little tax as is legally possible.‘Tokyo’s gone through a period of depression, Singapore is relatively new, and Germany was until recently a tax-heavy jurisdiction. If you’re looking to avoid tax legally, you’re as well going to London as anywhere else.’[4] The UK boasts an unrivalled tax-avoidance industry – and an abundance of highly paid accountants able to devise complex ways of hiding an individual’s wealth. In 2007 the International Monetary Fund ranked London alongside Switzerland, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands as ‘an offshore financial centre’. Most countries have required their residents – including wealthy foreigners – to pay domestic taxes on their

worldwide income and capital gains. In the UK foreigners can claim they are ‘domiciled’ abroad even though they may have lived in Britain for years and have British passports. Under this rule, ‘non-domiciles’ would only pay tax on their UK income and not on overseas income, usually the bulk of their earnings. Furthermore, by purchasing property through offshore trusts, foreign buyers could avoid both capital gains tax when they sell and most of the stamp duty usually paid at the initial purchase. For a Russian billionaire living in London, his earnings from his homeland have been tax-free in the UK.‘There is one reason above all why these people are coming to London and that is the tax law,’ said Natasha Chouvaeva, a London-based Russian journalist. Although this advantage was partially reduced in 2008 when, following a mounting media and public outcry, the government introduced a £30,000 annual levy on non-domi-ciled residents, it was an inconsequential sum for the superrich. The origins of the oligarchical influx lie in the privatization of Russia’s vast and valuable state assets in the 1990s, an explosive process that enriched the few, opened up a huge gulf between rich and poor, and enraged the Russian people. A World Bank report in 2004 showed that, in effect, thirty individuals controlled 40 per cent of the $225 billion output of the Russian economy in its most important sectors, notably in natural resources and automotives. The study concluded: ‘Ownership concentration in modern Russia is much higher than in any country in continental Europe and higher than any country for which data is available.’[5] Little of this unprecedented accumulation of wealth has been invested in Russia in business or charity. Rather, most of the money has been secreted abroad, with billions of dollars hidden in a labyrinth of offshore bank accounts in an array of tax havens, from Switzerland and Jersey to the

British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar. Much has ended up being deposited in and managed by British banks. Stashed away, it has been almost impossible to trace. Despite attempts by Russian and British law enforcement agencies, little of it has been recovered and requisitioned back to Russia. Russia is where the money originated, but it has not been a comfortable place to spend it – too many people pointing fingers in Moscow restaurants, too much scrutiny by the tax police, and the constant fear of assassination. The Russian rich cannot go anywhere without bodyguards and bullet- and bomb-proof cars. Even wearing bespoke suits attracts attention. But in the UK or Europe they have been able to go mostly unrecognized and can relax, spending their gains without fear of censure or of being called to account. After buying their multi-million pound town houses and country estates, they have indulged their sybaritic lifestyles, cruising in St Barts, skiing in Gstaad, and shopping in Knightsbridge. For their wives it has been heaven. ‘London is a metropolis,’ said Olga Sirenko, who edits a website for Russian expatriates. ‘It is fashionable. It has all the boutiques and the culture. Moscow doesn’t have that kind of chic.’ Aliona Muchinskaya, who has lived in Britain since 1991 and runs her own PR company, says that Russians now dismiss Paris as being ‘too dowdy and villagey’. London, by contrast, is ‘bustling and busy with its restaurants and nightclubs. Russians can hire Rolls-Royces and private jets more easily here.’ On arrival in London the first port of call for the affluent, socially aspiring Russian was to the estate agent, notably Savills, Knight Frank, or Aylesford. Deals were cut at high speed: no mortgages, just cash. In 2006 one-fifth of all houses sold for over £8 million went to Russians. For properties over £12 million, the figure was higher still. But Russians have been extremely selective in location, not

merely restricting themselves to the golden postcodes – SW1, SW3, W1, and W8 – but only to certain streets and squares within them. Owning a British country property is also prestigious. Again, their choice of location has been very specific: St George’s Hill and Weybridge and Wentworth Park, both in Surrey. The next decision for the oligarch seeking to emulate the British aristocracy was which top boarding school to send their offspring to, for a British education is another motivating factor for moving to the UK. Public schools generally offer high academic standards and a secure, friendly environment. In Moscow, by contrast, kidnapping is a constant and real fear. While London’s elite estate agents set up offices in Moscow and St Petersburg to woo ultra-rich buyers, British public schools, colleges, and universities have also sent their senior teaching staff to Russia on recruitment drives. By 2008, it was no longer surprising to find Russian students at British schools and top universities, whether it was Abramovich’s teenage daughter at an independent all- girls’ school in London or foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s daughter at the London School of Economics. School numbers soared from 2000 and some Russian parents started to seek schools where there were no other Russians. The fees – up to £30,000 a year – may not have been a problem, but old habits died hard. A headmistress of one top girls’ public school told the story of a Russian whose daughter had failed the entrance exam and who offered her a suitcase full of cash. He promised to pay for anything – a new gym, classrooms, a swimming pool. ‘Things don’t work like that over here,’ said the bemused headmistress. At another top school a parent asked permission to land his helicopter on the cricket field when visiting his child. While most Russian children eventually return home, an English education is regarded as a commercial benefit. ‘I

know that some oligarchs only hire students with a Western education,’ said Boris Yarishevsky, president of the Russian Society at the London School of Economics.[6] This also extends to politicians. ‘I know people whose fathers occupy really high positions in the Russian government and I know they study in London,’ he added. ‘I don’t think that they would want me to give out their names, though.’[7] It is quite possible that one day Russia – like many African and Middle Eastern states – will elect a President who has been educated at a British private school.

The UK has long been a haven for Russian exiles and dissidents. Anti-tsarist radicals flocked to London in the early twentieth century and Revolutionary Congresses were held here every two years. At the 1907 Social Democratic Congress the New York Times reported that an arrest warrant had been issued for one notable attendant, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: ‘A Famous Rebel in London. Lenin Will Be Arrested if he Returns to Russia – Real Name Ulianoff ’ ran its headline. Lenin was not a permanent exile but visited the city six times between 1902 and 1911. At Seven Sisters Church in Holloway, north London, he met workers whom he described as ‘bursting with socialism’, while the area around Whitechapel and other parts of the East End swarmed with radicals. During one of his trips Lenin saw Hamlet at the Old Vic and visited Speaker’s Corner and the National Gallery. It was at the British Museum in 1902 that he first met Leon Trotsky, who had just escaped from Siberia. After the 1917 Revolution, relatively few affluent Russians fled to London – only 15,000 by 1919. Far more moved to the Slavic states, to Berlin, and to a lesser extent to France and China, particularly Shanghai. Those who did arrive in Britain were a mix of aristocrats and middle-class

liberal intellectuals, notably the family of the philosopher Isaiah Berlin who arrived in 1919 and settled in the Surrey town of Surbiton. ‘I am an Anglophile, I love England,’ Berlin once reflected. ‘I have been very well treated in this country, but I remain a Russian Jew.’[8] Other descendants of this first wave of Russian immigration include the actress Dame Helen Mirren (born Ileyna Vasilievna Mironov), winner of an Oscar for The Queen, and the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. During the Cold War there was always a sprinkling of new Russians coming to London. Some were dissidents fleeing the gulags; others were high-level KGB defectors who ended up rubbing shoulders in London with White Russians – mostly the offspring of those who had fled Russia after 1917. The latter lived mostly quiet lives, spoke good English, and were largely Anglicized. The 1991 Census recorded 27,011 residents living in the UK while claiming the former Soviet Union as their place of birth. Most of them would have been Russian. The collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s had a dramatic impact on the pace of Russian arrivals, unleashing a new and unprecedented wave of migration from Russia and former Soviet and East European states. In 1991 the British Embassy in Moscow issued barely 100 visas – to a mixture of those working for Russian companies, students, and Russians who had married Britons – while only one Russian living in the UK was granted citizenship. Even by the mid-1990s, Londoners would have started to become aware of the occasional unrecognizable foreign accent in a shop or in the street – those Russians who did come congregated in a few favourite restaurants and nightclubs – but otherwise the early arrivals remained largely anonymous. Gradually that trickle turned into a flood. By 2006, the number of Russian visas issued had soared to 250,000, while the number granted citizenship in that same

year had risen to 1,830. Berezovsky has likened the twenty- first-century Russian wave to the influx of nineteenth- century Russians to Paris. ‘It used to be that Russian aristocrats spoke French and went to France,’ he said. ‘The modern Russian speaks English and feels more comfortable in England.’[9] The early Russian migrants – mostly professional middle class but by no means wealthy – were joined within two or three years by a quite different stratum of Russian society. These were what their countrymen dubbed ‘the new Russians’, and they started to arrive between 1993 and 1994. This is the group that was beginning to make money, though not on the same subsequent scale, out of Boris Yeltsin’s economic reforms, the easing of restrictions on private enterprise, and the first wave of privatization. They were a mix of state bureaucrats, entrepreneurial hustlers, Kremlin insiders, and former KGB officials; others were members of emerging Russian-based criminal gangs. This group of ‘new Russians’, who were always outnumbered by ‘ordinary’ Russian migrants, were by and large not coming to London to settle down. They came on short-term tourist or business visas, to attend a conference or a business meeting, or on shopping and spending trips. As one Russian already living here who knew some of them put it, ‘At this time there was no real dream to come and settle in London. It was difficult to get a permanent visa except illegally, work permits were scarce, and most of this group could make much more money in Moscow than in London. They had money and came here for a week or two at a time to burn it.’ During the 1990s, Britain gradually eased its entry regulations. Tourist and business visas became easier to acquire. Especially welcomed by the authorities were those with money. Anxious to encourage investment from abroad, the government bent the rules to encourage the arrival of

the super-rich. ‘Essentially, if you are coming to the country with money to spend, you’re very much welcomed with open arms,’ said John Tincey, Vice-Chairman of the Immigration Service Union, in 2007.[10]

In 1996 the Conservative government of John Major introduced a new ‘investor visa’ for those wanting to make the UK their main home and able to invest at least £1 million in the country. Of this at least £750,000 had to be invested in either government bonds or UK-registered companies. Those investing in this way were, after five years, allowed to apply for permanent residency and eventually UK citizenship. Only one other country in the world – the United States – operated such a scheme (though with a much lower entry fee) and a number of wealthy Russians took advantage of the rule. All they needed to do was meet the investment cash criterion. The process of seduction worked. The Russians, along with the super-rich of other nations, poured into Britain. As Forbes magazine described it in 2006: ‘London attracts the elite of the world’s rich and successful. It can lay claim unchallenged to one title: it is the magnet for the world’s billionaires.’[11] Once here, the newly enriched Russians were not shy about spending their way through the capital. They quickly became addicted to high living the British way. In London, history, culture, and the attractions of consumer spending often come together in classic British brands that seem to have a special appeal. The more traditional, the more alluring: shopping at Fortnum & Mason and Burberry, buying a £900 bottle of port at the St James’s wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, tea at Claridge’s, and dinner at Rules. The Russians also took to two other British institutions, London’s leading auctioneers Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Here, at the height of the art boom of the mid- noughties, they could be found outbidding other collectors and leading international dealers for the works of French Impressionists and contemporary British artists. But the staggering spending of Russians is not based just on a crude materialistic desire for luxury goods; it also

stems from a fatalistic mindset and generally pessimistic approach to life. For centuries the Russian people have suffered enormous hardship, poverty, starvation, and brutal repression: an estimated 20 million died during Stalin’s regime, and another 1.1 million perished during the siege of Stalingrad alone during 1942-3. Even after the collapse of the Soviet empire, millions continued to live in a state of permanent insecurity and anxiety exacerbated by a harsh winter climate, economic instability, and a corrupt rule of law. Even the new billionaires and their families believe that they could lose everything tomorrow. A favourite Russian saying goes: ‘Never say never to poverty or prison. Both could happen tomorrow.’ This is why they spend. And they also believe in another Russian adage: ‘That which does not grow and expand will expire and will then die.’ For the Russian male the addiction to spending has manifested itself in the acquisition of yachts, jets, and cars. ‘We have a positive attitude towards the English car culture,’ said Alexander Pikulenko, motoring correspondent for the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy.[12] In 2007 an estimated 40 per cent of Mercedes-Benz sold at their central London showroom went to Russians. The Russians also brought the good times to the UK’s fledgling private aviation industry and helped turn scores of Britain’s own home-grown entrepreneurs, such as the young property tycoons Candy and Candy, into multi-millionaires almost overnight. For Russian women London’s luxury shops became the magnet for this ‘rouble revolution’, with Harrods the favourite. Many Russian wives – and probably their daughters as well – would no doubt love their husbands to buy it. There is a joke that Russian émigrés like to tell. On his deathbed a wealthy Russian summons his wife to his side. ‘Olga, when I die, will you promise that you will do something for me? Promise that you will bury me in

Harrods.’ Shocked, his tearful wife begs him to reconsider, telling him that he is rich enough to build his own mausoleum in Moscow. ‘No, no, no,’ he interrupts. ‘Don’t you see, if I am buried in Harrods, at least I know you will visit me at least once a week.’ A close second to Harrods is Harvey Nichols, just up the road, where, at the height of the London boom, they employed six Russian-speaking assistants on its five shop floors. For specialized jewellery the oligarchs’ wives and mistresses would move closer to the West End. Almost every shop in Old Bond Street started to employ a Russian speaker, while top jewellers like Asprey and Theo Fennell attributed their increase in profits from the late 1990s to their expanding Russian client base and their taste for expensive one-off designer pieces. Russian wives would think nothing of buying a £5,000 alligatorskin bag and a £90,000 diamond ring. ‘They are like children in a sweet shop,’ observed one employee. After a morning being chauffeured around their favourite fashion stores, the wives and daughters would retreat for lunch to Roka in Charlotte Street, the Russian- style tearoom and restaurant, Troika, in Primrose Hill, or Harvey Nichols’ Fifth Floor Restaurant. Their husbands preferred the bars at the Dorchester and Lanesborough hotels for early evening drinks. Then it was dinner at the most expensive, exclusive restaurants, notably Le Gavroche and Cipriani in Mayfair. Even being halfway across the world was not a problem. Late one afternoon Roman Abramovich was in Baku in Azerbaijan and told his aide that he wanted sushi for dinner. The aide ordered £1,200 worth of sushi from Ubon in Canary Wharf, the sister restaurant of Nobu, the fashionable Japanese Park Lane restaurant. It was then collected by limousine, driven to Luton Airport, and flown 3,000 miles by private jet to Abramovich in Azerbaijan.[13] At an estimated total cost of

£40,000, it must rank as the most expensive takeaway in history. Behind the glitz, the glamour, and the wealth lies another side of the Russian invasion. Their arrival may have transformed London financially, but it has also turned Britain’s capital into a murky outpost of Moscow. While the tycoons have been applauded by the City, luxury goods manufacturers, and property magnates, they hardly represent a harmonious community. Behind the mass spending sprees lies a much more sinister world of bitter personal feuds. Many of the Russians are at war with each other as well as with the Russian state. As a result, former friends and business partners have become sworn public enemies. At issue is the ownership of billions of pounds’ worth of assets.‘They are ruthless,’ said one who has had regular business dealings with the wealthiest Russians. ‘Their word means nothing. They will shaft you if they are given half a chance. It is the law of the jungle. Many of them owe huge sums of money to others.’ Their presence, then, has also introduced to Britain some of the uglier elements of the Russian state. ‘As soon as the oligarchs arrived, so the politics followed them. That is why they all take such elaborate and expensive security precautions,’ another businessman explained. The cut-throat political and business battles being fought for control of the nation’s vast oil, gas, and mineral resources were once confined to Russia itself. Gradually, however, those bitter corporate and personal wars spilt over into Britain. For a while they went unnoticed, at least by the press and the public, if not by the security services. It was only in December 2006, after the former Russian state security officer turned dissident, Alexander Litvinenko, died a long, painful, and public death in a London hospital as a result of polonium-210 poisoning that the implications of Britain’s wooing of Russian billionaires

and dissidents became fully apparent. The British government wanted their money but only if they kept their acrimonious internal battles at the border. Litvinenko’s murder exposed the frailty of this strategy of benign tolerance. As one Russian who personally knows several oligarchs put it, ‘The UK government may not care how these guys made their money or what they get up to as long as they don’t bring their dubious activities into Britain. But we can’t have it both ways. We can’t let them in and expect the seedy elements to stop short of the English Channel.’ The country’s leading expert on Russian history, Professor Robert Service of St Antony’s College, Oxford, agrees: ‘The British government has collaborated with the City of London in offering a haven for businessmen from Russia who need to expatriate their money. More circumspect, New York and Stuttgart have failed to compete in pursuit of Russian capital. Britain asks few questions about the provenance of new Russian wealth. Hence the hitmen who keep on arriving on our shores to settle accounts by violent means.’[14]


The Russian Billionaires’ Club

‘What is hard to dispute is that, while hundreds of people became seriously rich, 150 million Russians now live in a country which sold its mineral wealth for a mess of pottage’[1] - DOMINIC MIDGLEY and CHRIS HUTCHINS, 2005

IN 2002 THE RUSSIAN FILM Oligarkh was released. Its main character, Platon Makovsky (Platon is the Russian name for Plato), was a young, idealistic academic who abandoned his studies for the shady world of post-Soviet- era business. Platon devised a series of questionable deals by which he outfoxed his opponents: the Russian secret service. First, he rapidly became the richest man in Russia with financial and political power equal to the state. Then he ended up as the government’s rival and sworn enemy.

Set during the economic convulsions that followed the collapse of communism, Oligarkh was a graphic, if fictional, account of a small group of businessmen who acquired the nation’s wealth. But the film also presented the characters as visionaries who provided the lifeblood of a country paralyzed by fear of change. As the New Yorker noted: Once a freedom-loving idealist, Platon used his genius to become a monster, unhesitatingly sacrificing his ideals

and his closest friends. This is the tragedy of this super- talented individual who embodies all that is most creative in the new Russia and, at the same time, all which is worst for the country that he privatised for his own profit. [2]

Based on the novel Bolshaya Paika (The Lion’s Share) written by Yuli Dubov, who went on to work for Berezovsky, the film broke Russian box-office records and drew gasps from the audience at the scenes of obscene private opulence. It has been broadly compared to the early years of one of the country’s most notorious oligarchs: Boris Berezovsky. Played by Russian sex symbol Vladimir Mashkov, the leading character was portrayed sympathetically as a freedom-loving patriot who proclaimed at one point that he would rather go to jail than leave Russia. Although there were scenes of armed standoffs, the plot mostly glossed over the methods by which such a small clique made such huge fortunes so quickly. Berezovsky accepted that the film was based – if somewhat loosely – on his own early life. He invited the director to his London home for a viewing of the film and told the BBC, ‘As a work of art I think it is primitive. But I appreciate the effort to understand people like me. It is the first attempt in recent Russian cinema to understand the motivations of those at the peak of power, who drive reforms and make changes rather than cope with them.’[3] As they started to beat a path to London, and as their reputations grew, so the new breed of super-rich Russians began to intrigue the British public: ‘We like to follow them because we are astonished at how people who not that long ago were queuing for bread are now able to outbid the rest of the world’s super-rich for Britain’s finest houses,’ one Mayfair property agent told us.

In his early sixties, Berezovsky is old enough to remember the bread queues in his own country, but such a modest lifestyle did not extend into his adult years. The man once known as the ‘Grey Cardinal’ because of his dominating influence at the Kremlin was not shy when it came to spending his fortune. In 1995 he bought himself a palatial residence outside Moscow, complete with servants, and accumulated a fleet of sports cars. He acquired an interest in fine wine and smoked only the best cigars. His brazen lifestyle soon became the stuff of legend. Here was a man with a way of life that had once been the province only of the Russian aristocracy before the Revolution. With an estimated fortune of £1.5 billion at the time, he epitomized the term ‘Russian oligarch’. His power was such that by the autumn of 1996 he could boast that he and six other individuals controlled 50 per cent of the Russian economy.[4] Berezovsky was exaggerating, but from the early 1990s Russia was quickly transformed from a highly centralized economy to one in which some thirty or so individuals owned and controlled the commanding heights: its vast natural resources and manufacturing. Russia moved at high speed from being a political dictatorship to a society not just heavily owned by a tiny, super-wealthy elite, but one wielding, for a while, enormous political power.

The word ‘oligarch’ was first used in Russia on 13 October 1992, when Khodorkovsky’s Bank Menatep announced plans to provide banking services for what it called ‘the financial and industrial oligarchy’. This was for clients with private means of at least $10 million. By the mid-1990s, the word was common parlance across Russia. The origins of the word lie in Classical Greek political philosophy. Both Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics describe rule by an elite rather than by the democratic will of the people. Historically, ‘oligarch’ was a word used to describe active opponents of Athenian democracy during

the fifth century bc, when Greece was ruled on several occasions by brutal oligarch regimes that butchered their democratic opponents. Like their ancient Greek counterparts, few of the modern Russian oligarchs became mega-rich by creating new wealth but rather by insider political intrigue and by exploiting the weakness of the rule of law. Driven by a lust for money and power, they secured much of the country’s natural and historic wealth through the manipulation of the post-Soviet-era process of privatization. When Boris Yeltsin succeeded Mikhail Gorbachev as President in 1991, Russia had reached another precarious stage in its complex history. It had difficulty trading its vast resources and was short of food, while its banking system suffered from a severe lack of liquidity. Its former foe the United States – in Russia referred to as glavni vrag (the main enemy) – was watching events eagerly. Within weeks, advisers from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank teamed up with powerful Russian reformist economists close to the Kremlin to persuade Yeltsin to introduce an unbridled free-market economy involving the mass privatization of state assets. It was a dramatic process of ‘reverse Marxism’ implemented at speed.

This was to become Russia’s second full-scale revolution – though this time from communism to capitalism – in three generations. ‘Russia was broke. There was grave doubt in late 1991 that they could feed their population in the coming year,’ explained James Collins, former US Ambassador to Russia.’The government had lost control over its currency because people were printing it in other republics. The policy of what became known as “shock therapy” was discussed internally [in the US government] and nobody stood up and said “no, don’t do that”. The whole system was falling apart and was best summed up by my predecessor Ambassador Robert Strauss who said, “It’s

like two pissants on a big log in a middle of a river going downstream and arguing about who was steering”.’ The first wave of privatization came in the form of a mass voucher scheme launched in late 1992 – just nine months after Yeltsin assumed the presidency. All Russians were to be offered vouchers to the value of 10,000 roubles (then worth about $30, the equivalent of the average monthly wage). These could, over time, be exchanged for shares either in companies that employed them or in any other state enterprise that was being privatized. To acquire the vouchers, citizens had to pay a mere 25 roubles per voucher, at the time the equivalent of about 7 pence. In the four months from October 1992, a remarkable 144 million vouchers were bought, mainly in agricultural and service firms. The Kremlin presented this ambitious scheme as offering everyone a share in the nation’s wealth. Yeltsin promised it would produce ‘millions of owners rather than a handful of millionaires’. It may have been a great vision but it never materialized. Russia’s citizens were poor, often unpaid, and many had lost their savings as inflation soared and the rouble collapsed. Moreover, after seventy years of communism, most Russians had no concept of the idea of share ownership. There wasn’t even a Russian word for privatization. There were, however, plenty of people who understood only too well what privatization meant and the value of the vouchers. They started buying them up in blocks from workers. Among those cashing in was Mikhail Khodorkovsky – who would later become the richest man in Russia. Street kiosks selling vodka and cigarettes began doing a brisk trade in vouchers. Stalls began to appear outside farms and factories offering to buy them from workers. Hustlers started going from door to door. Even though holders were being offered far less than the vouchers were worth, most exchanged them for cash to pay for immediate necessities. Russia became a giant

unregulated stock exchange as purchasers were persuaded to trade their vouchers for prices that were nearly always well below their true value. They would exchange them for a bottle of vodka, a handful of US dollars, or a few more roubles than they had paid for them. It proved a mass bonanza for those prepared to prey on a country suffering from mass deprivation. Hundreds of thousands also lost their vouchers in ‘voucher saving funds’. Some funds were little more than covert attempts by companies to buy up their own shares for a song. Members of the old KGB power elite often laid claim to mines and enterprises in what became known as ‘smash-and-grab’ operations. For a nation ignorant of the concept of shares and unable to appreciate the potential value of their vouchers, people were easily encouraged to part with their stakes. For the winners it was easy and big money. Instead of a share-owning democracy, a newspaper poll in July 1994 revealed that only 8 per cent of Russians had exchanged their vouchers for shares in enterprises in which they worked. Moreover, because the assets being sold were massively undervalued, the successful purchasers obtained the companies for well below their real value. Indeed, the 144 million vouchers issued have been estimated to have valued the assets at a mere $12 billion. In other words, much of the country’s industrial and agricultural wealth was being sold for a sum equivalent to the value of a single British company such as Marks & Spencer. In just two years, by the beginning of 1995, around half the economy, mostly in the shape of small- and medium- sized businesses, had been privatized. The next crucial issue in the ‘second Russian Revolution’ was how to privatize the remaining giant state-owned oil, metallurgical, and telecommunications industries that were still operated by former Soviet managers – the ‘red

directors’, the Soviet-era bosses renowned for their corruption and incompetence who had managed the state firms – many of whom were laundering money and stashing away revenue abroad. Russia was still mired in a severe economic crisis with plunging share prices and rampant inflation. The indecisive and capricious Yeltsin was ill, often drunk and rarely in control, while the state was running out of money to pay pensions and salaries. Taking advantage of the growing crisis, a handful of businessmen dreamed up a clever ruse that appeared to offer a solution. This was a group that had already become rich by taking advantage of the early days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika (restructuring), which, for the first time in the Soviet Union, allowed small private enterprises to operate. Led by a leading insider, Vladimir Potanin, the cabal offered Yeltsin a backroom deal known in the West as ‘loans for shares’. This was an arrangement (coming at the end of the voucher privatization scheme) whereby they would lend the government the cash it so desperately needed in return for the right to buy shares in the remaining state enterprises. In effect, Yeltsin was auctioning off the state’s most desirable assets. If the government subsequently defaulted on repaying the loans – which the scheme’s architects knew was inevitable – the lenders would keep the shares by way of compensation. For Yeltsin, the plan provided much needed cash while on paper it did not look like the mass giveaway it turned out to be. Between 1995 and 1997, more than twenty giant state-owned enterprises, accounting for a huge share of the country’s national wealth, were offloaded in this way. In return, the government received a total of some 9.1 trillion roubles, about £1.2 billion at the time. One of the main beneficiaries of this deal was Boris Berezovsky. Boris Abramovich Berezovsky was born in Moscow in January 1946 to a Jewish family. An only child, his father was a construction engineer and his mother a paediatric

nurse. Berezovsky’s family were not members of the Communist Party and his upbringing was modest and for a time – when his father was unemployed for two years – he experienced poverty. ‘I wasn’t a member of the political elite,’ he later said. ‘I am a Jew. There were massive limitations. I understand that perfectly well,’ he told an audience of journalists at London’s Frontline Club in London in June 2007. A mathematics whizz kid, Berezovsky graduated with honours from Moscow State University. In early 1969 he joined the Institute of Control Sciences, where he gained a PhD and worked for more than twenty years. Intelligent, precocious, and energetic, he is also remembered for being intensely ambitious. ‘He always raised the bar to the highest notch and went for it,’ a close colleague recalled. ‘He was always in motion, always racing towards the goal, never knowing or fearing obstacles… His mind was always restless, his emotions ever changing, and he often lost interest in what he had started.’ Another friend from this period said, ‘He has this attitude which he has maintained all his life – never stop attacking.’ This was corroborated by a fellow student, ‘He was a compressed ball of energy… Constantly in motion, he was burning with plans and ideas and impatient to make them happen. He had an insistent charm and a fierce burning desire and he usually got what he wanted.’ As a scientist, Berezovsky wrote more than a hundred research papers on such subjects as optimization theory and decision-making. He was a director of a laboratory that researched automation and computer systems for industry. The young mathematician craved prestige and focused his energy on winning prizes to get it. He was awarded the prestigious Lenin Komsomol Prize (an annual Soviet award for the best works by young writers in science, engineering, literature, and the arts) and then tried but failed to win the even more illustrious State Prize.

According to Leonid Boguslavsky, a former colleague at the Institute, his dream was to win the Nobel Prize. In 1991 Berezovsky left academia and was appointed a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, an achievement he remains proud of to this day. He later boasted that there were only eight hundred members of the Russian Academy of Sciences and that even Leonid Brezhnev had wanted to be among that number. Berezovsky married Nina Vassilievna when he was twenty-three. Within three years the couple had two daughters – Elizaveta and Ekaterina, both now in their thirties. Despite his academic achievements, Berezovsky initially had to scrimp to buy winter tights and school exercise books for his children. Perestroika offered him escape from his straitened circumstances. His first scheme involved selling software he had developed to the State Committee on Science and Technology. ‘We convinced them that it was a good product, and we sold tens of thousands of copies of this software. And those were the first millions of roubles that we earned, and a million roubles was a whole lot,’ he told his audience at the Frontline Club. In 1989 Berezovsky turned to the automobile industry. ‘They stopped paying my salary, so I started a business,’ he recalled. ‘Every Russian had two wishes – for an apartment and a car. The women generally had the last say on the apartment; so I went into cars.’[5] Initially, this involved selling second-hand Mercedes imported from East Germany. Then, taking advantage of the new freedom to travel, he went to West Germany. There he bought a used Mercedes, drove it back through almost non-existent customs, and sold it for three times what he had paid for it. But the real source of Berezovsky’s early wealth came from exploiting his connections, gained through his academic work, with the Soviet Union’s largest car manufacturer and producer of the Lada, the AvtoVaz

factory based in the industrial city of Togliatti. Off the back of his friendship with the factory’s Director, Vladimir Kadannikov, Berezovsky founded a company called LogoVaz, which took over responsibility for selling the Ladas. The effect was to separate production from sales in a way that maximized the profits from the business for Berezovsky and his partners. It was perfectly legal and it was a strategy widely deployed by directors of state companies and the new entrepreneurs at the time. Berezovsky also went on to establish the country’s first chain of dealerships for Mercedes, Fiat, and Volvo, which he later referred to as ‘a complete service, with workshops, showrooms, and credit facilities. Really, we created the country’s car market. There was no market then; people won cars in lotteries or for being “best worker” or they applied and stayed on a waiting list for years.’[6] In relation to that waiting list, Russians have a joke about the long delays of the period. Vladimir has been waiting for six years to buy his own car, when he is suddenly summoned to the local ministry office. ‘I have good news for you,’ says the clerk. ‘Your car will be delivered to you in five years from today.’ ‘Wonderful,’ says Vladimir. ‘Will it come in the morning or the afternoon?’ ‘Why, what difference does it make?’ responds the perplexed clerk. ‘Well,’ answers Vladimir, ‘I have already arranged for a plumber to come that morning.’ The dealership chain was created at a time when the automobile industry was rife with organized crime and protection rackets. Berezovsky’s Moscow dealership was targeted by Chechen gangs, which also controlled the production lines at AvtoVaz. Berezovsky, at times personally a target of the gangs, has always denied any mafia connection. In September 1993 his LogoVaz car parks were

attacked three times and his showrooms bombed with grenades. When his Mercedes 600 sedan was blown up nine months later, with Berezovsky in the back and his chauffeur killed, LogoVaz issued a statement blaming ‘forces in society that are actively trying, by barbarically criminal means, to keep civilian entrepreneurship from developing in this country.’ I can tell you right here and now that not a single oligarch has bowed to the Mafia. Oligarchs themselves are stronger than any mafia, and stronger than the government, to which they have also refused to bow. If we are talking of the visible tip of the iceberg, not the part of the iceberg concealed behind the surface or in the dark, I haven’t bowed to the government either.[7] By 1993 Berezovsky had already built an extensive business empire. One of his new enterprises was the All- Russian Automobile Alliance. Owned by various companies but headed by Berezovsky, ARAA promised the production of a ‘people’s car’, to be produced by AvtoVaz in collaboration with General Motors in the United States. On the back of a huge advertising campaign, it offered bonds in the scheme and the promise of cheaper cars, cash redemption, and a free lottery once the new production line was up and running. Wooed by the ‘get-rich-quick’ promise, more than 100,000 Russians bought $50 million of shares in the project. But when General Motors backed out of the scheme and it collapsed, thousands lost their money. By now Berezovsky had acquired a younger, second wife, Galina Becharova. They lived together for several years before being married at a civil ceremony in Russia in 1991. They had a son, Artem, and a daughter, Anastasia. Although they separated three years later, they never divorced. Berezovsky sent his two daughters from his first marriage – Elizaveta and Ekaterina – to Cambridge University.

By 1995 AvtoVaz had terminated the LogoVaz contract. The ambitious oligarch turned his attention from cars to planes, lobbying to install his business associates in key managerial positions in the state-owned airline, Aeroflot. Thanks to his growing influence at the Kremlin, he ensured that two of his intermediary companies based in Switzerland – Andava and Forus – provided Aeroflot with financial services. This gave Berezovsky huge influence over the company. Much of Berezovsky’s business ascendancy was based on his Kremlin connections and personal friendship with President Yeltsin. Since coming to power as Russia’s first democratically elected leader following his resistance against the hardliners’ putsch of 1991 (it had toppled Gorbachev and was bent on restoring a Soviet-style dictatorship), Yeltsin seemed to relax. But gradually he became increasingly impatient, drank more, and appeared ever vulnerable to the solicitations of sycophants and businessmen, especially as he distrusted the old KGB machine. Berezovsky’s relationship with Yeltsin was cemented by his shrewd offer to finance the publication of the President’s second volume of memoirs, Notes of a President, in 1994, arranging for royalties to be paid into a Barclays bank account in London. According to one account, before long, the President was complaining that the royalties were too low. ‘They [the ghostwriter, Valentin Yumashev, and Berezovsky] understood that they had to fix their mistake,’ claimed General Aleksandr Korzhakov, former KGB officer and Yeltsin’s closest friend and one-time bodyguard. ‘They started filling Yeltsin’s personal bank account in London, explaining that this was income from the book. By the end of 1994, Yeltsin’s account already had a balance of about $3 million.’[8]

A grateful Yeltsin ensured that Berezovsky became part of the Kremlin inner circle. Already a multi-millionaire, he was now well placed to benefit from the next wave of state sell-offs. In December 1994 Yeltsin signed a decree that handed over a 49 per cent stake in ORT, the main state- owned television station and broadcaster of Channel One, primarily to Berezovsky, without the auction required by law. The remaining 51 per cent remained in state hands. Berezovsky paid a mere $320,000 for the station. As most Russians get their news from the television, this also provided Berezovsky with a vital propaganda base for dealing with the Kremlin. But perhaps Berezovsky’s biggest prize was in oil. In December 1995 he acquired a claim, via the ‘loans for shares’ scheme, to the state-owned oil conglomerate Sibneft (Siberian Oil) – then Russia’s sixth-largest oil company – for a cut price of $100 million, a tiny fraction of its true value. The deal was done with two associates. One was his closest business partner, the ruthlessly sharp Arkady ‘Badri’ Patarkatsishvili, the other was the then unknown Roman Abramovich, twenty years younger than Berezovsky but canny enough to find $50 million for a 50 per cent stake. It was from this moment that Abramovich, at first under his mentor’s tutelage but then through his own business acumen, manipulated his way to a billion dollar fortune founded on cunning negotiating skills and political patronage. It was a relationship that Berezovsky would later bitterly regret.

If there is a key to Abramovich’s relentless drive, it is the orphan in him. He was born in 1966 to Irena and Arkady, Jewish Ukrainians living in Syktyvkar, the forbidding capital of the Komi republic in northern Siberia. He lost both parents before the age of three: his mother

died of blood poisoning following an abortion and his father was felled by an errant crane on a building site. Roman was adopted by his Uncle Leib and his wife Ludmilla, a former beauty queen. The family lived in the industrial city of Ukhta, where Leib was responsible for the supply of essentials to the state-owned timber business. Roman enjoyed a relatively comfortable upbringing and was, it is said, the first boy in his area to have a modern cassette player. In 1974 Roman moved to Moscow and lived with his uncle Abram, a construction boss, who would become his surrogate father. Although they lived in a tiny two-room apartment, it lay in the heart of the capital on Tsvetnoi Boulevard, just across from the Central Market and the Moscow Circus. The young Roman did not excel at school and in 1983 was called up for national service in the Red Army and posted to an artillery unit in Kirzach, 50 miles north-east of Moscow. On his return to the big city, Abramovich was guided and protected by his uncle in the ways of the grey market economy of perestroika. It was not unusual for ordinary Russians to indulge in smuggling and black marketeering and, despite his shyness, the young Abramovich did not hold back. He had honed his skill in the army. ‘Roman was head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to entrepreneurship,’ recalled Nikolai Panteleimonov, a former army friend. ‘He could make money out of thin air.’ When Abramovich was discharged from the army, he studied highway engineering and then returned to the secondary economy: transporting luxury consumer goods like Marlboro cigarettes, Chanel perfume, and Levi and Wrangler jeans from Moscow back to Ukhta. In 1987 the budding entrepreneur met his first wife, Olga Lysova, the daughter of a high-ranking government diplomat. The couple married that December in a Moscow registry office in the presence of fifteen family and friends.

The following year Abramovich established a company that made toys – including plastic ducks – and sold them in the Moscow markets. He also bought and sold retreaded tyres. An intuitive negotiator, he was able to put customers at ease. He was soon earning three to four thousand roubles a month – more than twenty times the salary of a state worker – and could afford to buy a Lada. In 1989 Abramovich and his first wife divorced. Olga says her husband persuaded her that they should divorce so that they could emigrate to Canada together, claiming that the immigration laws made it easier for him to go there if he was not married. Once he was a Canadian citizen, he would come back for Olga and her daughter from a previous relationship. Instead, Abramovich left Olga and gave her enough money to live on for two years, although she later claimed that all she got was the ‘crummy flat’.[9] A year later Abramovich married Irina Malandina, an air hostess with Aeroflot. They met on one of his business flights and in 1992 their first child, Anna, was born. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Abramovich, who had attended the Gubkin Institute of Oil and Gas in Moscow, established an oil-trading firm called ABK, based in Omsk, the centre of the Siberian oil business. In post-communist Russia it was possible to make enormous profits by buying oil at controlled domestic prices and selling it on in the unregulated international market. All that was needed was an export licence, which Abramovich acquired through his connection with a customs official. It was his friendship with Boris Berezovsky that transformed Abramovich from a hustler and mid-level oil trader into a billionaire. The two men first met at a New Year’s Eve party in 1994 on board the luxury yacht belonging to Petr Aven, a wealthy banker and former state minister. The select gathering of guests had been invited on

a cruise to the Caribbean island of St Barts. Berezovsky was impressed by Abramovich’s technical know-how and his unassuming manner that belied a calculating intelligence. Casually dressed and often with a few days’ growth of beard, his understated, gentle demeanour and apparently unthreatening manner often resulted in fellow businessmen underestimating him. In stark contrast to his mentor, with his hyperactive, restless personality, Abramovich comes across as a chess player, thinking deeply through all the possible permutations on the board. Berezovsky later acknowledged that, of all the businessmen he had met, Abramovich was the best at ‘person-to-person relations’.[10] Spotting the young oil trader’s commercial nous, Berezovsky recruited him as a key partner in the Sibneft deal. This conglomerate had been created from four state- owned enterprises: an oil and gas production plant, Noyabrskneftegas; an oil exploration arm, Noyabrskneftegas Geophysica; a marketing company called Omsknefteproduckt; and, most important of all, Russia’s largest and most modern oil refinery at Omsk. The three partners responsible for the acquisition of Sibneft all played different but key roles. Abramovich assessed Sibneft’s business potential, Berezovsky smoothed the privatization with the Yeltsin administration, and Badri Patarkatsishvili organized half the financing. In late 1995, 49 per cent of the company was sold at auction to the three men through their Petroleum Financial Company, known as NFK. The majority 51 per cent stake was to be held by the state for three years while the lenders were allowed to manage the assets. Under the plan, if the loan was not repaid within three years, legal ownership would transfer to the lenders. In the event, most of the remaining 49 per cent was auctioned a short while later, in January 1996, with control going to Berezovsky and his associates.

When ownership of Sibneft was secured, Berezovsky was already consumed by Kremlin politics and Patarkatsishvili was running ORT. It was thus agreed that Abramovich would manage the new company. According to Berezovsky Abramovich was in essence holding their shares in trust for both the other partners. October of 1998 saw the deadline for the state’s repayment of the loan; as expected, it was not met. Ownership of Sibneft therefore passed to NFK. By now, Abramovich held, on paper, the lion’s share of the oil giant through various companies. At thirty-two, he was well on his way to becoming one of Russia’s richest men. All decisions during the process of acquisition by the three partners in the deal – Abramovich, Berezovsky, and Patarkatsishvili – were made mostly at meetings at which only the three men were present and no minutes were taken. Nothing was ever formally put in writing and there was little or no documentation. The absence of a paper trail was deliberate – as was so often the way with many of the power-broking deals of the period – and it was partly for this reason that who actually owned what was later to become the subject of a bitter feud between Berezovsky and Abramovich. Many of the deals that forged the transfer of Russia’s wealth were concluded in this way – in shady rooms with no independent witnesses, tape recorders, or documentation, all done on the basis of a handshake. Unsurprisingly, many of these remarkable agreements started to unravel, as the former business allies later became bitter rivals and enemies.

Meanwhile, one of Berezovsky’s oligarchic rivals was an earnest, geeky former mathematician named Mikhail Khodorkovsky. As early as 1989, he was wealthy enough to found his own bank and would also become a billionaire

through the privatization of state assets. Mikhail (’Misha’) Borisovich Khodorkovsky, an only child, was born in Moscow in June 1963 to a lower-middle-class family with a Jewish father and a Christian mother. In his early years the family lived in cramped communal housing, though circumstances later improved when his father was promoted. Khodorkovsky’s nursery school was next door to the factory where his father worked and he remembers climbing the fence with his friends to steal pieces of metal. It was Misha’s dream from an early age to become a director of a factory and the other children at his nursery school accordingly nicknamed him ‘Director’. Khodorkovsky left school in 1981 and read chemistry at the Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology in Moscow, specializing in the study of rocket fuel. He supported his studies by working as a carpenter in a housing cooperative and it was at university that he met his first wife Elena, a fellow student. Their first son, Pavlik, was born in 1985 and the young scientist grimly recalls going out at six o’clock every morning with ration coupons to buy baby food. Khodorkovsky graduated from the Mendeleev Institute at the top of his year in 1996. Although his earliest ambitions to work in defence were thwarted by the fact that he was a Jew, he became the Deputy Secretary of Moscow’s Frunze district Komsomol – the Young Communist League. Like many Komsomol leaders, he used the organization’s real- estate holdings and political connections to profit from perestroika. In 1986 Khodorkovsky met his second wife Inna and set up the Centre for Scientific and Technical Youth. Purportedly a youth group, the Centre was merely a front for their commercial activities. ‘He dealt in everything: blue jeans, brandy, and computers – whatever could make

money,’ recalled a former senior Yukos executive.[11] Khodorkovsky and his colleagues peddled new technologies to Soviet factories, imported personal computers, and sold French brandy. Leonid Nevzlin, who became his closest business associate, recalls that all this was done with the backing of the Communist Party: ‘To a certain extent, Khodorkovsky was sent by the Komsomol and the party [into the private sector].’[12] By 1987 Khodorkovsky’s enterprises boasted many Soviet ministries as clients, employed 5,000 people, and enjoyed annual revenue of eighty million roubles. Later that year the Komsomol’s central committee gave its organizations the authority to set up bank accounts and raise and spend their own money. Pouncing on this opportunity, the perspicacious Khodorkovsky set up Bank Menatep. The bank soon expanded and by 1990, a year before the fall of communism, it was even setting up offshore accounts, seven years before he hired the lawyer Stephen Curtis. After Yeltsin came to power, Khodorkovsky soon came to appreciate the value of connections. He started courting senior bureaucrats and politicians, holding lavish receptions for high-level guests at top clubs in Moscow as well as at smart dachas owned by Menatep on the Rublevskoye Highway, the exclusive residential area to the west of the capital. By 1991, he was an adviser to the Russian Prime Minister Ivan Silaev. For a brief spell, he was a deputy fuel and energy minister. One of Yeltsin’s early market reforms was to end the Central Bank’s monopoly of banking for government institutions. Those entrepreneurs who had already set up banks were well placed to take advantage of this relaxation of the rules. Russia then, as now, was a country where little happened unless a bribe was paid – vzyat or kapusta as it is called in Russian. In the case of the transfer of deposits, it

was widely alleged that the banks that paid the biggest bribes to high-level politicians and state officials would receive the wealthiest new clients. And the payments were often deposited offshore. According to Bill Browder, an American banker who set up Hermitage Capital Management, one of the largest funds investing in Russia, ‘These entrepreneurs would set up banks and in many cases would go to government ministers and say, you put the ministries on deposit in my bank and I’ll put five or ten million bucks in a Swiss bank account with your name on it.’[13] The paybacks offered entry into the highly lucrative business of handling state money. By 1994, Menatep was responsible for funds collected for the victims of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 as well as the finances of Moscow’s city government and the Ministry of Finance itself. At thirty-one and by now a multi-national tycoon, Khodorkovsky hired the accountancy firm Arthur Andersen to audit his books and spent $1 million on advertisements in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. His office was an imposing Victorianstyle castle in central Moscow with huge bronze letters announcing its presence and surrounded by a tall wrought-iron fence with sharp spikes. The grounds swarmed with armed security guards, some in well-tailored suits, others in black uniforms and boots. Flush with cash, Khodorkovsky was now able to target the industrial enterprises next in line to be sold off. It was the sale of the vast Siberian oil company Yukos, in what was a remarkably profitable deal that was to turn Khodorkovsky into a super-rich international tycoon. The process of transfer of vast state industries via the ‘loans for shares’ scheme was supposed to be handled by open auctions. In reality they were nothing of the sort. Only select bidders were invited to tender, and in many cases

the auctions were actually controlled by the very people making the bids – sometimes using companies to disguise their identity. In the case of Yukos, it was Khodorkovsky’s Menatep that was in charge of processing the bids in the auction. In a hotly contested auction, higher bids were disqualified on ‘technical grounds’ and Khodorkovsky won the auction. In this way he and his partners acquired a 78 per cent stake in Yukos and 2 per cent of the world’s oil reserves for a mere $309 million. When the shares began trading two years later in 1997, Yukos’s market capitalization was worth thirty times that figure. One by one, the state’s industrial conglomerates were being sold off at ‘liquidation- sale prices’ according to Strobe Talbott, former US Assistant Secretary of State.[14] It was a pattern repeated in the other auctions. The Sibneft auction for example, was managed by NFK. In most cases there was ultimately only one bidder. In some instances the auction was not even won by the highest bidder. The ‘loans for shares’ scheme turned many of the buyers from rouble multi-millionaires into dollar billionaires almost overnight. Initially, the lenders acquired only a proportion of the assets, but over the next couple of years the government also sold off the remaining tranches of shares in a series of lots, again without the competitive bids and auctions promised, and with the original lenders securing the remaining shares for themselves. By now ordinary Russians had lost patience with the process of privatization. The economy was in tatters, few had benefited from the voucher fiasco, while many had ploughed their savings into schemes that had simply swallowed up their money. There was widespread disbelief that a few dozen political and business insiders were walking off with Russia’s industrial and mineral wealth at

cut prices. Disillusioned with the President and his policies, ordinary Russians began to exhibit a yearning for what they saw as the security and stability of communism. There was suddenly a real prospect that the shambolic, drunken Yeltsin would lose the forthcoming election in 1996 to the revitalized Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov. Opinion polls recorded Yeltsin’s popularity at a derisory 6 per cent. ‘It’s all over,’ said one American diplomat in Moscow. ‘I’m getting ready for Yeltsin to go.’[15] Promising to stop the auctions for the remaining shares, Zyuganov fully intended to pursue the oligarchs. At the time the international investor and philanthropist George Soros, now one of the oligarchs’ greatest critics, warned Berezovsky somewhat acidly that if the communists were to win, ‘you are going to hang from a lamppost’.[16] Berezovsky was only too aware that he had enemies among the communists. At a secret meeting in Davos in the Swiss Alps during the World Economic Forum in February 1996, he galvanized the wealthiest businessmen known in Russia as ‘the Group of Seven’. They agreed to bankroll Yeltsin’s election campaign in return for the offer of shares and management positions in the state industries yet to be privatized. The seven parties privy to the ‘Davos Pact’ were mainly bankers – Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Vladimir Potanin, Alexander Smolensky, and Petr Aven, as well as media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, industrialist Mikhail Fridman, and, of course, Berezovsky himself. Television was the key to the election campaign. The campaign was bankrolled through a secret fund known as the Black Treasury. Money was spent cultivating journalists and local political bosses. But most was used to pay for flattering documentaries of Yeltsin shown on private TV stations, billboards put up by local mayors, and even on pro-Yeltsin rock concerts. And Berezovsky brazenly used

his ownership of Channel One, Russia’s most powerful television network, to lionize Yeltsin and attack his communist opponent. Central to the campaign were Western spin doctors. Tim (now Lord) Bell, the media guru who had helped Margaret Thatcher win three elections in Great Britain between 1979 and 1990, was hired. Bell had also worked closely with the campaign team responsible for California Governor Pete Wilson’s remarkable comeback election victory in 1994, just two years earlier. In conditions of secrecy likened to protecting nuclear secrets, the American image consultants Dresner-Wickers moved into Suite 120 of the President Hotel in Moscow. ‘Secrecy was paramount,’ recalled Felix Braynin, a Yeltsin aide. ‘Everyone realized that if the Communists knew about this before the election, they would attack Yeltsin as an American tool. We badly needed the team, but having them was a big risk.’[17] Working closely with Yeltsin’s influential daughter Tatyana (Tanya) Dyachenko, who was based next door in Room 119, the Americans were treated like royalty. They were paid $250,000 plus expenses and enjoyed an unlimited budget for polling, focus groups, and research. They were told that their rooms and phones were bugged and that they should leave the hotel as infrequently as possible. The Americans suggested employing dirty tricks such as trailing Zyuganov with ‘truth squads’, which would heckle him and provoke him into losing his temper, but mostly they campaigned in a politically orthodox style. Photo opportunities and TV appearances were organized so as to appear spontaneous. Focus groups, direct mailing, and opinion polls were also widely employed, and the election message was hammered home repeatedly: ‘Whatever it is that we are going to say and do, we have to repeat it

between eight and twelve times,’ said one of the American political consultants.[18] Yeltsin proved to be an adept, populist campaigner. He smiled more and was even inspired to get on stage at a rock concert and do a few moves. From facing the political abyss, Yeltsin was re-elected with a 13 per cent lead. It was a staggering result and with it the newly enriched oligarchs had protected their fortunes and their power base. ‘It was a battle for our blood interests,’ acknowledged Berezovsky. [19] The now all-powerful Berezovsky had proved a master manipulator. When asked about his influences, he rejected Machiavelli in preference to Lenin. ‘Not as an ideologue,’ he remarked, ‘but as a tactician in political struggle. Nobody had better perception of what was possible… Lenin understood the psychology of society.’[20] It was now payback time and Yeltsin kept his part of the deal: some oligarchs received huge new government accounts, bought more state assets on the cheap, and paid only minimal taxes. In his memoirs, Strobe Talbott described the deal in the run-up to the presidential elections as a ‘Faustian bargain in which Yeltsin sold the soul of reform’. But the Russians replied that the favour they were doing the oligarchs was nowhere near as bad as the communist victory it helped to avert. As they saw it, unlike Dr Faustus who made a pact with the Devil that guaranteed his damnation, Yeltsin had made an accommodation with what he was convinced was the lesser of two evils – a deal that would help Russia avoid the real damnation of a return to power by the communists.’[21] Some of the oligarchs, notably Abramovich and Berezovsky, formed a coterie around Yeltsin that became known as the ‘family’. The leading member of the ‘family’ – and the gatekeeper to the President – was Yeltsin’s youngest and much loved daughter, Tatyana. Despite

having no knowledge of business or political affairs, she was his most influential adviser, could secure special favours from the state, and became very rich in her own right. The friendship between the two oligarchs and the President’s daughter blossomed. According to Aleksandr Korzhakov, Berezovsky lavished Tatyana with presents of jewellery and cars, notably a Niva (a Russian version of a Jeep). ‘The vehicle was customized to include a special stereo system, air-conditioning and alarm system, and luxury interior. When the Niva broke down, Berezovsky immediately gave her a Chevrolet Blazer [a sports utility vehicle then worth $50,000].’[22]

According to Strobe Talbott, ‘Berezovsky’s close ties to Yeltsin’s daughter Tatyana earned him a reputation as a modern-day Rasputin… At the height of Berezovsky’s influence, when his name came up in people’s offices in Moscow – including near the Kremlin – my hosts would sometimes point to the walls and start whispering or even, in a couple of cases, scribble notes to me. This was a practice I had not seen since the Brezhnev era in furtive encounters with dissident intellectuals.’[23] If Berezovsky was the dominant uncle of the ‘family’, Abramovich was the quiet but precocious nephew who had a talent for charming the most important member – Tatyana. One TV executive, Igor Malashenko, was stunned by the young oil trader’s access: ‘I arrived one night at Tanya’s dacha and here was this young guy, unshaven and in jeans, unloading French wine, very good wine, from his car, stocking the fridge, making shashlik. I thought to myself, “They’ve got a new cook”. But when I asked Yumashev [Tanya’s husband], he laughed and said, “Oh no, that’s Roman”. He’s living with us while his dacha is being renovated.’[24] In October 1996 Berezovsky was at the height of his power and was made Deputy Secretary of the country’s National Security Council – with responsibility for resolving the Chechnya conflict. (The first Chechen war began in 1994 when Chechnya tried to break away from the Russian Federation. Yeltsin’s government argued forcibly that Chechnya had never been an independent entity within the Soviet Union. The ensuing bitter struggle was disastrous for both sides.) A whirlwind of energy, Berezovsky was a frequent visitor to the cabinet offices of the Kremlin, clutching a worn leather briefcase in one hand and a new huge grey Motorola mobile phone in the other. While he waited to see Yeltsin, his phone would constantly ring. ‘Cannot talk. In Kremlin’, he would respond in his rapid-fire

speech. Berezovsky wore officials down with his ceaseless networking and lobbying. When government ATS hotlines were installed in the guesthouse of his office at LogoVaz and his dacha at Alexandrovka, the telephone calls became even more frenzied. In many ways such crony capitalism had much in common with the worst features of the Soviet era. For a while Berezovsky and his colleagues functioned like a politburo: conducting backroom deals behind the scenes, secretly conspiring with and against each other, just as the senior apparatchiks had done under communism. As one prime minister was replaced with another, Berezovsky would hand the incoming leader pieces of paper bearing the names of the ministers he wanted in the new government. The oligarchs now viewed the world through the prism of their personal interests. ‘It is my fundamental belief that, leaving aside the abstract concept of the interests of the people, government should represent the interests of business,’ he admitted.[25] Nevertheless, Yeltsin’s circle was not immune from outside pressure. At one point the independent prosecutor- general, Yuri Skuratov, started an investigation within the Kremlin itself. Yeltsin promptly sacked him, but Skuratov refused to quit and the Russian Federation Council twice refused to ratify his dismissal. Some years later, in 1999, the FSB was tasked with discrediting him. In a classic KGB- style entrapment, ORT broadcast a short, grainy video of ‘a man resembling’ Skuratov apparently romping with two prostitutes. It was never clear if it was Skuratov or not but, nonetheless, that was the end of him.[26] By 1998, Russia was bankrupt. Shares nose dived, interest rates had reached 150 per cent, and bankruptcies soared. By August of that year, one analyst noted: ‘Russia’s credit rating is below Indonesia’s. The size of its economy

is smaller than Switzerland’s. And its stock market is worth less than the UK water industry.’[27] Throughout this turmoil, the genuine political influence of the business elite was forever being exaggerated, not least by themselves. They had become so rich so quickly that they were suffering from what Stalin used to call ‘dizziness with success’. Their influence quickly began to wane after 1997.[28] Berezovsky was dismissed from the Security Council, although a few months later he returned as the Executive Secretary of the Confederation of Independent States, which involved coordinating the individual parts of the Russian Federation. None of this either undermined his personal fortune or prevented him from continuing to plot the future of Russia. The oligarchs and their associates were not the only Russians making a killing out of the transition from communism to capitalism and who later started showering London with money. Among the other winners were the ‘red directors’. The property agent who ran the Russian desk at the London estate agents Savills, remembers an older Russian client, aged about sixty-five, who owned a chemicals factory. One of the ‘red directors’, he was looking to spend several million pounds on a property in London in 2002. Despite his wealth, he was still nostalgic for the communist system that had once served people like him so well. Having been shown around an apartment, he asked, quite out of the blue, where Karl Marx was buried. A short time later he visited Highgate Cemetery. He clearly had much to thank the intellectual father of the Soviet state for. During the 1990s, Russia was a place where shrewd business operators played fast and loose with the country’s fledgling market economy. With no regulatory infrastructure to ensure a smooth, efficient – and legal – transition, it was a goldmine for clever, aggressive operators.

Nothing illustrates the forces at work more graphically than the case of aluminium. The control for this lucrative mineral became the subject of a seven-year long bitter and deadly struggle that became known as the aluminium wars. It left a trail of bloodshed that gave Siberia its reputation as the ‘Wild East’. One of those to emerge triumphant in the battle for aluminium was Oleg Deripaska, although his route to wealth differed from that of the other oligarchs. He was a 23-year-old student when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but by 1994 had made big money from trading in metal. Unlike the other oligarchs, Deripaska did not acquire his fortune through the privatization auctions or via political connections. His control of the aluminium industry was largely due to the way in which he outmuscled and outwitted his competitors and his prowess with the hostile takeover. Deripaska was a post-Soviet corporate raider, borrowing from techniques pioneered by American and British tycoons, notably Sir James Goldsmith. In person, Deripaska, tall with cropped blond hair and deep blue eyes, is deceptive, a man of few words. Negotiations were more like poker or chess than orthodox business deals. He shared many of the characteristics of his friend Roman Abramovich – externally reserved and even more boyish-looking. Despite appearances, however, Deripaska was a serious operator with nerves of steel. The editor of Russia’s Finans business magazine once described him as ‘A very harsh person. Without that quality it would have been impossible to build up so much wealth.’[29] Like Abramovich, Deripaska also became a member of the Yeltsin ‘family’ – but more directly. In 2001 he married Polina Yumashev, daughter of Yeltsin’s chief of staff, who was himself married to Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana. Deripaska first met Polina at Abramovich’s house. Their wedding was the social event of the year in Russia and they

soon had two children. Like Abramovich, Deripaska arranged for one of the children to be born in London and employed a British nanny. It was a smart, some say strategic, marriage because, after Yeltsin left office in 2000, President Putin’s first Presidential Decree granted immunity from criminal prosecution to Yeltsin and all his relatives, a move seen by many as a quid pro quo for his backing.

Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska was born on 2 January 1968 in Dzerzhinsk, 400 kilometres east of Moscow and at the heart of the Russian chemicals industry (the city was named in honour of the first head of the Soviet secret police). His father died when he was only four and he was brought up by his grandparents on a traditional Cossack family farm in Krasnodar, south-western Russia. Although Deripaska’s parents were Jewish, he was more conscious of his Cossack heritage. ‘We are Cossacks of the Russian Federation,’ he later said. ‘We are always prepared for war. This is a question of being able to deal with problems and any situation. It is the case that difficulties are not a catastrophe.’[30] A serious and studious teenager, he was accepted, despite his humble origins, into Moscow State University to study quantum physics. However, before he started his course, he was called up to serve in the army and was stationed on a barren steppe on the border with China. Despite his raw intelligence, times were hard for the young student. Following national service, he returned home to find the country on the brink of collapse and he worked on building sites across Russia. There seemed to be little future in quantum physics and so he abandoned his studies. His first job was in 1992 as a director of a company that sold military hardware following the withdrawal of

Russian forces from East Germany. He then worked as a metals trader in Moscow, before deciding to concentrate on the aluminium industry. At the time the industry was dominated by the brothers Mikhail and Lev Cherney. Born in Tashkent, the brothers grew up in Uzbekistan and, through exploiting the opportunities created by the introduction of a free market, had, by the early 1990s, already built up a substantial business manufacturing and exporting coal and metal. By late 1993, the businessmen held majority stakes in Russia’s largest aluminium smelters, but then Mikhail Cherney’s name was tarnished by allegations in the Russian press of controversial business methods, claims that he strongly denied as smears peddled by his business and political enemies. Despite a series of allegations by international law enforcement agencies, Mikhail Cherney has never been convicted of any crime. By 1994, he had settled in Israel and ran his business empire from there. That year Mikhail Cherney – now calling himself Michael – gave the then 26-year-old Deripaska his first big break, hiring him to run one of his giant smelters – the Sayanogorsky aluminium plant, the largest in the republic of Khakassia. Dedicated and technically brilliant, Deripaska increased production and somehow persuaded the impoverished workforce not to strike. But he was also a neurotic, paranoid manager and trusted no one. He suffered from hypertension and his brain rarely switched off. He hardly slept and, when he did, would wake in the early hours and visit factories and work on some new technology or other. He loved concentrating on the tiny, often petty, technical details of the business and on commercial contracts. In the endless political and business power struggles of the time, Deripaska soon came into conflict with the local mafia. The Sayanogorsky plant was threatened by raids by armed gangs determined to seize control, and he received

constant death threats, on more than one occasion coming within a whisker of being a victim of the bloodshed himself. Sometimes he even slept by his furnaces on the factory floor to protect them from being taken over by mobsters. He survived, and saw off the criminal syndicates at work within the industry. During this period, Deripaska showed remarkable acumen, some say genius, in wresting control from the gangs of mercenary local officials and brutal competitors. This earned him a certain legitimacy and respect among his peers. By 1999 – in less than five years – he had risen from being one of Cherney’s lowly subordinates to being his business equal. Over the next three years, Deripaska bought out all his remaining rivals, including Cherney himself, to emerge as the sole owner of Rusal, the giant aluminium corporation. In less than a decade, Deripaska, the student of quantum physics and former manager of a smelting works, had risen to control the entire aluminium industry. Even by the standards of 1990s Russia, his was a meteoric rise, but one dogged by bitter division and dispute.

Russia in the 1990s witnessed a transfer of wealth of epic proportions. What happened there could be seen as the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher deciding to sell all Britain’s nationalized industries, from British Gas to British Telecom, for a fraction of their real value to a handful of her favourite tycoons who had donated money to the Conservative Party. Some of the beneficiaries liked to defend their activities by comparing themselves to the nineteenth-century industrial and financial tycoons such as John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built massive fortunes out of oil, finance, and the railroads in the United

States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rockefeller, Morgan, and Vanderbilt were dubbed the ‘robber barons’ for their ruthless and exploitative tactics. Khodorkovsky once described his hero, ‘if he had one’, as John D. Rockefeller, the founding father of the American oil industry and the world’s first billionaire. But Rockefeller’s business methods also became so unpopular that towards the end of his life he was known by his staff as the ‘most hated man in America’. Many of the oligarchs evoked similar reactions among the Russian people. Whatever their business records, the American robber barons devoted their lives to building their giant monopolies in oil, railroads, and steel from scratch. The modern Russian oligarchs have no such defence. Few of them laid the pipelines, built the factories, assembled the rigs, or even took the necessary financial and commercial risks. Few created new wealth. Few of them knew much about the industries that landed in their laps. When Khodorkovsky acquired Yukos and went to visit one of its main sites, his host was astonished to discover that he had never seen an oil field before. The oligarchs acquired their fortunes by manipulating the system with a mixture of bare-knuckle tactics and political patronage. While the robber barons reinvested their money at home, the oligarchs moved much of their acquired wealth out of the country. Successive studies have confirmed the impact of the scale of personal enrichment on the concentration of economic ownership in Russia. One found that in 2001 Russia’s top-twelve privatized companies had revenues that were the equivalent of the entire federal budget. Of Russia’s sixty-four largest private companies, just eight oligarch groups controlled 85 per cent of their revenues.[31] There were alternatives. It was Western leaders and financial institutions that rejected a Marshall Plan for

Russia, such as the one for a social cushion advocated by George Soros. Jeffrey Sachs, the influential American economist and one of the key architects of the push for the ‘big bang’ approach – the privatization of the economy at speed – later admitted that when he suggested such a plan to the White House, ‘there was absolutely no interest at all. None, and the IMF just stared me down like I was crazy.’[32] Instead, the Yeltsin government was pressed to move forward with ‘big bang’ regardless of its economic and human consequences. Those in power at the time argue that all the options for political and economic transition from communism carried high risks. But then the West’s top priority was to create a malleable and compliant country offering cheap oil and no return to its past Soviet system. Other considerations were secondary. The Western advisers knew that such a long-standing form of government based on corruption and authoritarianism could not be reformed overnight, not least in a country where the ownership of private property had been a crime for the past seventy-five years. But as Professor Michael Hudson, a Wall Street financial economist, observed: ‘Was there really not a middle ground? Did Russia have no choice between “wild capitalism” at one extreme and the old Soviet bureaucracy at the other? Both systems were beginning to look suspiciously similar. Both had their black-market economies and respective dynamics of economic polarization.’[33] Some commentators argue that the emergence of an oligarchic class was inevitable, others that the creation of an economic elite was necessary for a quick transition to capitalism. Yet others claim that in replacing the old corrupt and incompetent command and control system it was even desirable. Berezovsky later defended his own activities as the inevitable result of capitalism. ‘I don’t know any example where property is split in a fair way,’ he

said. ‘It doesn’t matter how property is split. Everyone will not be happy.’ But he also admitted making ‘billions’ out of privatization and that Yeltsin ‘gave us the chance to be rich’.[34] Inevitable or desirable, the social cost to Russia was immense. The broad consensus is that the privatization process was one of the most flawed economic reforms in modern history. Industrial production declined by some 60 per cent during the 1990s, vast swathes of the economy were wiped out, and much of the population was plunged into poverty. The vast amount of money that poured out of Russia to be hidden away in offshore bank accounts accentuated the dramatic economic crisis of 1998. During the 1990s, what was known as ‘capital flight’ became one of the country’s most debilitating economic problems. According to economists at Florida International University, ‘It erodes the country’s tax base, increases the public deficit, reduces domestic investment and destabilises financial markets.’[35] The investment fund Hermitage Capital has estimated that between 1998 and 2004, £56 billion in capital flowed out of Russia, most ending up offshore. Although some of this was legitimate, with investors looking for a safer home than a Russian bank, most was not. Russia’s Economic Development and Trade Ministry says that between $210 and $230 billion left Russia during the reforms, approximately half of which was ‘dirty’ money, linked to money laundering or organized crime. The IMF’s estimate is that $170 billion escaped the country in the seven years leading up to 2001. Other sources suggest that around $300 billion of assets in the West belong to Russian citizens, almost half from ‘uncertain’ sources.[36] This was money that could have been used to rebuild factories, start new businesses at home, and invest in infrastructure. In effect, Russia lost the equivalent of one-

third of its gross foreign debt in this way. Although there was legislation designed to prevent such capital flight, it was largely ignored. By 2000, privatization had rendered a once mighty country, which spans eleven time zones, rotten to the core, according to the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman: ‘At every level, different ministries, department heads, agencies and mayoralties have gone into partnership with private businesses, local oligarchs or criminal elements, creating a kind of 21st-century Russian feudalism.’ Friedman quoted the Russian political analyst Sergei Markov: ‘The Russian state looks like a big Charles Atlas, full of muscles. But as you get closer you realize that this Atlas is actually dead. Inside, this huge body is full of worms who are eating the body and feeding off it.’[37] As well as the oligarchs and the ‘red directors’, others were moving their money abroad during the 1990s. Though some of them were small players who simply didn’t trust the banks, most were wealthy, criminal, or members of the KBG – renamed the FSB (the Federal Security Service) in 1992. Some of the proceeds of crime were laundered through purchasing buildings, bars, and restaurants in Eastern Europe, but much of it ended up swirling around London’s nightclubs and casinos. Some passed through British banks.[38] The money often arrived in the form of hard cash, and stories of recent émigrés turning up with suitcases full of banknotes in the 1990s are legion within the Russian community in London. One small-time British property agent who used to socialize in a nightclub frequented by the Russians told of how he had been introduced to a young woman who happened to be the daughter of a senior FSB official. When she discovered he dealt in property, she asked if she could come and see him the next day. When she arrived at his office, he noticed that the woman was carrying a revolver in her coat pocket. When he asked how

she would be paying, she explained that it would be by cash, literally. She opened up a large case stuffed with banknotes. The agent thanked her and politely asked her to take her business elsewhere. Whether they were buying property, jewellery, or cars, payment was often by cash. Mikhail Ignatief, who arrived in London in 1991 at the age of twenty-one with his English fiancée, set up a successful travel business and used to help and advise Russians on shopping or business trips. He remembered one client asking his help to buy a Range Rover and arranged for one of his team to take him to the nearest showrooms. The client was shown around and said he wanted three cars, all to be shipped back to Russia. He then opened up a large leather bag stuffed with banknotes. A somewhat concerned manager called the police and the matter was only settled when the man was persuaded to go to a bank, deposit the money, and then pay by cheque.

The privatization process of the 1990s that led to London being awash with Russian money had no shortage of critics in and outside of Russia. Chrystia Freeland, the former Moscow bureau chief of the Financial Times, described the events as ‘a cynical manipulation of a weakened state… Yet as I watched them plot and profit, I couldn’t help asking myself how different the Russians really were from our own hero-entrepreneurs… our society so fawningly lauds for producing an era of unprecedented prosperity… The future oligarchs did what any red-blooded businessman would do. The real problem was that the state allowed them to get away with it.’[39] In his influential book, Failed Crusade, Stephen F. Cohen, Professor of Russian Studies at New York University, called US policy towards Russia in the 1990s ‘the worst American foreign policy disaster since Vietnam’.[40]

One of the architects of privatization, Vladimir Potanin, later accepted its flawed nature: ‘Although I do not deny I was the author, I would like to point out that the concept was changed to a great extent as a result of political pressure on government from the red directors… The government allowed no access to foreign investors and other measures. This was later criticised and rightly so.’[41] In October 1993 a reflective Khodorkovsky told Frontline, the American news programme: ‘Russian law allowed us to do things that were unthinkable in the Western business world.’ Even at the time advocates of privatization accepted that huge mistakes were made. In 1998 Boris Nemtsov, one of the young reformers who was once seen as a potential successor to Yeltsin, said, ‘The country is built as a freakish, oligarchic capitalist state. Its characteristics are the concentration of property in the hands of a narrow group of financiers, the oligarchs. Many of them operate inefficiently, having a parasitic relationship to the industries they control.’[42] By 1999, the oligarchs’ priority was to protect their power and wealth and to ensure a successor to Yeltsin who would be as compliant as he had been. ‘The problem was that a lot of the people who had the potential to lead Russia were themselves up to their necks in relationships with these people,’ observed William Wechsler, a US National Security Council and Treasury official. ‘The fear was that Russia would become like a nuclear-armed Colombia. That prospect was terrifying but to me it was real… Then along comes Putin from the KGB, which was obviously not clean. In the subsequent fight between Putin and the oligarchs, everyone was saying it was a good-guy-bad-guy situation. To me, this was a bad-guy-bad-guy situation.’


... IN 1722, IN ORDER to transform the country from a disparate medieval society into a centralized autocratic state, Peter the Great set about purging the corruption that was endemic in Russian society. This included the elimination of everyone who took bribes. One of those targeted was Aleksandr Menshikov, his most successful general and the most powerful man after the Tsar himself. Menshikov was horrified. ‘If you do, Your Majesty, you risk not having a single subject left’, he told his monarch.[2]

When Vladimir Putin became President in 2000, he had less latitude than Peter the Great, who simply executed his more recalcitrant subjects. Even modern Russia’s arbitrary judicial system would not sanction summary executions of avaricious businessmen. Putin, who knew his history, would therefore have to come up with a different strategy to deal with a group he viewed as a major obstacle to his ambitions for the reshaping of Russia.

While there were whispers of a clampdown, the oligarchs believed they would retain their power and luxurious lifestyles and remain a protected species. After all, theirs was a cabal of the business elite who had engineered the new President’s ascendancy. Just as the oligarchs had connived and conspired to re-elect Yeltsin in 1996, so a group of them manipulated Putin into the Kremlin. In return for their backing, they expected Putin to be as malleable as his predecessor, allowing them to continue to exert influence, accumulate wealth, and be immune from prosecution. They badly misjudged him.

While Putin was Acting President and Prime Minister in 1999, there were signs of trouble to come, when the Prosecutor-General reviewed the way in which Vladimir Potanin, one of the architects of privatization, had acquired Norilsk Nickel, the giant state-owned mining group. ‘They were certainly feeling uncomfortable,’ said one government official. And with good reason. Within two months of becoming President, on the baking hot day of 28 July 2000, Putin summoned twenty-one oligarchs to the Kremlin. ‘It was more like a gathering ordered by Don Corleone than a meeting summoned by a leader of the Western world,’ noted one who was present.[3]

Khodorkovsky and Deripaska were both at the gathering but Berezovsky, now himself under investigation by the prosecutors, was not invited.

Before those assembled in the cabinet room, Putin effectively read Russia’s richest and most powerful business clique the riot act. He would not review the privatizations but they would no longer enjoy special privileges inside the Kremlin. During the meeting, Putin insisted that Potanin pay the $140 million he was alleged to owe on the purchase of Norilsk Nickel. At times the meeting became heated and at one stage the President pointed at a well-known tycoon and accused him of being guilty of ‘oligophrenia’ (which means ‘mental retardation’). The plutocrats were stunned. It was not the script they had been expecting.

The new confrontational President concluded the meeting – which lasted two hours and forty minutes – by setting up a permanent mechanism for consultations between businessmen and the state. The days of cliques and coteries were gone, he warned. Now the relationship was to be institutionalized. Access to Putin would be restricted through quarterly meetings with the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs – in effect, the oligarchs’ trade union.

Putin’s message to the shocked gathering was simple: they could keep their ill-gotten gains provided they kept out of politics and paid their taxes. The details of the meeting were promptly leaked so that in a poll a week later 57 per cent of Russians said they already knew about it. Berezovsky, omitted from the gathering, accused those present of being cowardly. ‘They are as timid as rabbits,’ he sniffed after the meeting.[4]

This was a watershed moment in the story of the oligarchs and an event that was to prompt the steady exodus to London of one wave of super-rich Russians after another. Those present knew only too well that the tide had turned. In case they were in any doubt, Putin used his State of the Nation address on July 8 to condemn the ambitious tycoons and especially the way they controlled the media. ‘They want to influence the masses and show the political leadership that we need them, that they have us hooked, that we should be afraid of them,’ he declared. ‘Russia can no longer tolerate shadowy groups that divert money abroad and hire their own dubious security services.’ He later added, ‘We have a category of people who have become billionaires overnight. The state appointed them as billionaires. It simply gave out a huge amount of property, practically for free. They said it themselves: “I was appointed a billionaire.” They get the impression that the gods themselves slept on their heads, that everything is permitted to them.’[5]

The oligarchs, blinded by their own power and influence, had greatly underestimated the sardonic but humorless Putin. In public the new President was a cold, unsmiling bureaucrat. Apart from periodic outbursts of aggression, he rarely displayed emotion. Russian journalist Elena Tregubova says that when she first interviewed Putin in May 1997, she found him a ‘barely noticeable, boring little grey man… who seemed to disappear, artfully merging with the colors of his office’.[6] As is so often the case with autocrats, people seemed to be preoccupied with his eyes, ‘No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin’s,’ reported Time magazine. ‘The Russian President’s pale blue eyes are so cool, so devoid of emotion that the stare must have begun as an effect, the gesture of someone who understood that power might be achieved by the suppression of ordinary needs…’[7]

In private his aides say that the intense and brooding Putin is intelligent, honest, intensely loyal, and patriotic. ‘He smiled a lot, his body language was relaxed and informal, his eyes were soft, and his speech quiet,’ reflected British author John Laugh-land.[8] In stark contrast to his predecessor, he drinks Diet Coke and works out regularly. He is also able to relax, notably by listening to classical composers such as Brahms, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. His favourite Beatles song is Yesterday. He has never sent an e-mail in his life, and, while he grew up in an officially atheist country, he believes in God.

When Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born in 1952, his 41-year-old mother Maria, a devout Orthodox Christian, defied the official state atheism and had him baptized. She had little education and did menial jobs – from a night- security guard to a glass washer in a laboratory. His father Vladimir fought in the Second World War and was badly wounded in one leg. After the war, he worked as a lathe operator in a car factory and was ferociously strict with his son. Putin’s only forebear of any note was his paternal grandfather, who had served as a cook to both Lenin and Stalin. The family lived in a fifth-floor communal apartment at 15 Baskov Lane in central St Petersburg, where the young Putin had to step over the rats in the entrance to the apartment block on his way to school. Universally known as ‘Volodya’, he was a serious, hard-working, but often angry child. His former school friends and teachers describe him as a frail but temperamental boy who never hesitated to challenge stronger kids. He has described himself as having been a poor student and a hooligan. ‘I was educated on the street,’ he told a biographer. ‘To live and be educated on the street is just like living in the jungle. I was disobedient and didn’t follow school rules.’[9]

Putin found discipline by learning ‘sambo’, a Soviet-era combination of judo and wrestling, at the age of twelve. It places a premium on quick moves, a calm demeanor, and an ability to not show any emotion or make a sound. A black belt, he won several inter-city competitions. Initially, he practiced the sport so as to build up his slender physique and to be able to stand up for himself in fights, but his developing obsession with the sport not only kept him out of trouble, it also made him somewhat reclusive.

Meanwhile, the teenage Putin dreamed of becoming a KGB spy like the Soviet heroes portrayed in books and films. His favorite television program was Seventeen Moments of Spring, a series about a Soviet spy operating in Nazi Germany. In his ninth year at school he visited the KGB headquarters in Leningrad. Told that the best way to get into the service was to obtain a law degree, in 1970 the aspiring agent enrolled at Leningrad State University, where he studied law and German and practiced judo.

In 1975, his final year at university, he was recruited by the KGB. Posted to Leningrad, he spent seven uneventful years in counter-intelligence. At the age of thirty, he married Lyudmila Aleksandrovna, then twenty-two, an outspoken, energetic air stewardess, and the couple had two daughters. He was next posted to Dresden in East Germany, where he worked closely with the Stasi, the secret police, in political intelligence and counter- espionage. It was an isolated life and not a prestigious posting. More favoured agents worked in Western capitals, or at least in East Berlin. But his perseverance brought him the nickname ‘Nachalnik’ (Russian for boss or chief). When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Putin and his KGB colleagues destroyed files in the KGB’s Dresden HQ. He remembers calling Moscow for orders. ‘Moscow kept silent,’ he said later. ‘It was as if the country no longer existed.’ In 1990 Lieutenant Colonel Putin retired from active KGB service and became Assistant Rector in charge of foreign relations at Leningrad State University, a significant reduction in status. ‘It was even less important than working for Intourist,’ said Oleg Kalugin, a former official in the Leningrad KGB. ‘This was a KGB cover rather than a career move. Putin was demobilized into the KGB reserve.’[10]

By this time, his former judo tutor Anatoly Sobchak had become the first democratically elected mayor of St Petersburg and he immediately recruited Putin as Chairman of the City Council’s International Relations Committee. By 1994, a year after his wife suffered a serious spinal injury in a car crash, Putin became First Deputy Mayor, gaining a reputation for probity and an ascetic lifestyle. Even his bitter enemy Berezovsky admits that his future nemesis was not corrupt: ‘He was the first bureaucrat that I met who did not ask for some money and he was absolutely professional.’[11]

In June 1996 Mayor Sobchak, having failed to address the economic crisis and rising levels of crime, lost his bid for reelection. His successor offered to keep Putin on but he declined and resigned out of loyalty to his former boss. Now unemployed in St Petersberg, he moved to Moscow where he became Deputy Chief of the presidential staff, overseeing the work of the provincial governments. Tough, aloof, and relentlessly focused, he was renowned for his industriousness and severity. In contrast to the wild, erratic Yeltsin, Putin was the solid, reliable apparatchik. Impressed by his honesty, diligence, and loyalty, by June 1998 Yeltsin was beginning to see him as a potential FSB Director. The following month the current incumbent Nikolai Kovalev was forced to resign over an internal scandal, whereupon Putin received a sudden summons to meet Prime Minister Kirienko at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. After they shook hands, Kirienko offered Putin his congratulations. When Putin asked why, he replied, ‘The decree is signed. You have been appointed director of the FSB.’[12]

Within days, Putin had purged the FSB of potential enemies, firing nearly a dozen senior officials and replacing them with loyal subordinates. Many of these came from the ‘Chekists’, the clan of agents based in St Petersburg when Putin was the director there, and named after the brutal early Soviet-era ‘Cheka’, or secret police. One man who welcomed his appointment was Berezovsky. At this point their interests coincided: Putin needed political allies and the oligarch was rid of at least one enemy, the spymaster Kovalev, who had been leaking damaging stories about his business methods. By 1998, Berezovsky had lost his post at the National Security Council and much of his former influence at the centre of power and saw the security apparatus – which mostly resented the rise of the oligarchs – as a real threat. To survive in the feral atmosphere of Russian politics, Berezovsky needed new, powerful allies and was delighted when Putin was appointed over more senior KGB figures. ‘I support him 100 per cent,’ he said. [13]

But within a few months, another cloud appeared on Berezovsky’s horizon: the appointment of a new hardline Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, former head of foreign intelligence. The timing was especially bad for Berezovsky. Ordinary citizens blamed the oligarchs for bankrupting the economy, Yeltsin was mentally and physically in decline, and, amid the tensions and continuing jockeying for position that dominated Yeltsin’s second term, Berezovsky’s power base was slipping further away. When the calculating but now vulnerable Berezovsky realized that the Yeltsin ‘family’ was warming to Putin, he swung his own media empire behind the new FSB boss, later leading the cabal that backed him as Prime Minister. In return, he expected Putin to be both compliant and loyal.

Berezovsky now began courting Putin, once even inviting him on a five-day skiing holiday in Switzerland. The two became friends. On one occasion Putin called Berezovsky ‘the brother he never had’. On 22 February 1999 – by which point state investigations into his business empire had already been launched – Berezovsky threw a birthday party for his new partner, Yelena Gorbunova. The party was intended to be a small, private gathering, but Putin turned up uninvited with a huge bouquet of roses. This appeared to be a genuine act of solidarity towards Berezovsky because they shared a common enemy in the form of Prime Minister Primakov, a man who disliked Putin because he had been chosen to head the FSB over the Prime Minister’s far more senior colleagues.

In July 1999 Berezovsky flew to France, where Putin was staying in Biarritz with his wife and daughters. By this time, Primakov himself had been dismissed by Yeltsin and replaced with an interim Prime Minister, Sergei Stepashin. The two men met for lunch and Berezovsky, now sidelined but still well informed about Kremlin politicking, told Putin that Yeltsin was about to appoint him Prime Minister. The following month, as predicted, Yeltsin dismissed Stepashin and appointed Putin. He was Yeltsin’s fifth Prime Minister in seventeen months.

At first Putin was deeply unpopular, with an approval rating of only 5 per cent, mainly because of his association with the despised figures of Yeltsin and Berezovsky. What turned his fortunes was a series of devastating Moscow apartment bombings in September that led to 246 deaths...Putin responded aggressively, first bombing Chechnya and then initiating a land invasion. Militarism played well with the Russian people and the Prime Minister’s popularity soared.

Putin’s newly formed Unity Party took 23 per cent of the vote in the Duma elections in December 1999, compared with 13 per cent by Primakov’s Fatherland All-Russia Party. Yeltsin, now close to the end of his presidency, capitalized on the new popularity and offered the top post to Putin. When asked to take the reins, Putin initially declined, but Yeltsin was persistent. ‘Don’t say no,’ he pressed. Berezovsky also urged him to accept. In his New Year’s Eve address in 1999 Yeltsin famously announced his resignation and Putin’s appointment as interim President. This gave him the advantage of being able to campaign as an incumbent President. Three months later, in the 2000 presidential election, Putin took a remarkable 53 per cent of the vote. Kremlin watchers satirized his success, comparing it to Chauncey Gardiner’s unwitting rise to power as President of the United States in Jerzy Kosinski’s 1971 novel Being There. Berezovsky, who had continued to use the media to publicly declare his support for the way that he believed Putin would run Russia, expressed delight.

Putin’s dramatic decision to take on the oligarchs within weeks of coming to power had been carefully planned. He knew he had to stem the disastrous outflow of capital and quickly encouraged the authorities to toughen up on the collection of taxes. He had come to two conclusions about the oligarchs.

First, as Yeltsin had also discovered, the oligarchs had the potential to be as – if not more – powerful than the President himself.

Second, because the vast majority of ordinary Russians loathed them, Putin knew there would be a beneficial political dividend in being seen to take them on.

Some oligarchs certainly had no shortage of enemies, among them the senior ranks of the security apparatus whose power had ebbed away during the Yeltsin years. They resented the way that these tycoons had sapped their own political strength and reaped a vast financial windfall. They saw them as upstarts. Few of them had served as senior officials during the Soviet era and they were viewed as outsiders. When Putin, so recently the head of the FSB, came to power, the security and intelligence apparatchiks, especially the ‘Chekists’, returned to favor. Of the President’s first twenty-four high-level appointments, ten were drawn from the ranks of the old KGB. This group, known as the siloviki – individuals with backgrounds in the security and military services – now saw their chance for revenge. ‘A group of FSB operatives, dispatched undercover to work in the Russian government, is successfully fulfilling its task,’ said the new President. He was only half joking.[14]

Putin also had a powerful collective ally in the Russian people. While the oligarchs enriched themselves, by the end of the 1990s the government could claim that as many as 35 per cent of Russians lived below the official poverty line.[15] Many felt that the nation’s resources had been sucked dry by what Karl Marx had referred to as ‘Vampire Capitalism’, whereby ‘the vampire will not let go while there remains a single muscle, sinew, or drop of blood to be exploited’.

To show how they feel, Russians love to tell popular jokes to foreign visitors.

‘A group of “new Russian” businessmen were meeting in a posh Moscow restaurant where the décor was of a very high standard. A waiter showed them to their tables and pointed out that the table was made of very expensive marble and that they should put nothing heavy on it, such as a briefcase. He went away to get vodkas and when he returned he was horrified to see a bulging briefcase lying on the table. ‘I thought I told you not to put briefcases on the table,’ he said. The man replied, ‘That’s not my briefcase. It’s my wallet.’

The oligarchs were only too aware of the widespread resentment. As Anatoly Chubais, Yeltsin’s Privatization Minister and chief political architect of the giant giveaways in the mid-1990s, acknowledged, ‘Forty million Russians are convinced that I am a scoundrel, a thief, a criminal, or a CIA agent, who deserves to be shot, hanged, or drawn and quartered’.[16]


Hiding the Money

‘It’s like the Wild West out there [in Russia]. A few businessmen own everything. It’s amazing’ - STEPHEN CURTIS



This section is in the process of an expansion or major restructuring.

This page was last edited by Admin today.

Matthew Brzezinski, Casino Moscow: A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism’s Wildest Frontier (New York: Free Press, 2001)

Zita Dabars and Lilia Vokhmina, The Russian Way: Aspects of Behavior, Attitudes, and Customs of the Russians (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002)

Chrystia Freeland, Sale of the Century: The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution (London: Little, Brown, 2000)

David E. Hoffman, The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia (New York: PublicAffairs, 2003)

Ian Jeffries, The New Russia: A Handbook of Economic and Political Development (London: Curzon Books, 2002)

Paul Klebnikov, Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia (New York: Harcourt, 2000)

Nick Kochan, The Washing Machine (London: Duckworth, 2005)

David Satter, Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State (London: Yale University Press, 2003)

Martin Sixsmith, The Litvinenko File: The Life and Death of a Russian Spy (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2007)

Elinor Slater and Robert Slater, Great Jewish Men (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 1996)

Joseph Stiglitz, Globalisation and Its Discontents (London: Penguin Books, 2002)

Strobe Talbott, The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy (London: Random House, 2003)


The pagination of this electronic edition does not match the edition from which it was created.


Chapter 1

1 Michael Freedman, Forbes, 23 May 2005.

2 Guy Adams, Independent on Sunday, 17 December 2006.

3 James Harding, The Times, 13 March 2007.

4 James Meek, Guardian, 17 April 2006.

5 Sergei Guriev and Andrei Rachinsky, Ownership Concentration in Russian Industry, mimeo, October 2004.

6 Moscow Times, 30 January 2008.

7 Ibid.

8 Elinor Slater and Robert Slater, Great Jewish Men, Jonathan David Publishers, 1996, p. 60.

9 The Times, 7 September 2002.

10 Jonathan Dee, New York Times, 9 September 2007.

11 Forbes, 16 November 2006.

12 Mark Milner and Luke Harding, Guardian, 1 May 2008.

13 Dominic Midgley, Spectator, 8 October 2005.

14 Robert Service, Observer, 22 July 2007.

Chapter 2

1 D. Midgeley and C. Hutchins, Abramovich: The Billionaire From Nowhere, HarperCollins, 2005, p. 55.

2 From, October 2002.

3 BBC News Online, October 2002.

4 Financial Times, 1 November 1996.

5 Speech to the Frontline Club, June 2007.

6 Ibid.

7 7WPS Monitoring Agency, July 2002.

8 Paul Klebnikov, Godfather of the Kremlin, Harcourt, 2000, p. 118.

9 Oliver Harvey and Nick Parker, Sun, 16 March 2007.

10 Dominic Midgley, Management Today, 28 October 2004.

11 P. Gumbel, Time, 2 November 2003.

12 Chrystia Freeland, Sale of the Century, Little Brown, 2000, p. 117.

13 Michael Gillard, ‘From the Kremlin to Knightsbridge’, BBC Radio 4, November 2006.

14 Strobe Talbott, The Russia Hand, Random House, 2003, p. 207.

15 M. Kramer, ‘Rescuing Boris’ Time, 15 July 1996.

16 A. Cowell, The Terminal Spy, Doubleday, 2008, p. 56.

17 Kramer, op. cit.

18 Ibid.

19 Klebnikov, op. cit., p. 218.

20 Financial Times, 26 April 2003.

21 Talbot, op. cit., p. 207.

22 Klebnikov, op. cit., p. 201.

23 Talbot, op. cit., p. 207.


D. Midgley and C. Hutchins, Abramovich: The Billionaire from Nowhere, HarperCollins, 2004, p. 56.

25 Kommersant, 16 November 1995.


Andrew Jack, Inside Putin’s Russia, Granta, 2005, p. 83.

27 John Thornhill, Financial Times, 28 August 1998.

28 See, for example O. Kryshtanovskaya and S. White, ‘The Rise of the Russian Business Elite’, Communist and Post- Communist Studies, 38 (2005), p. 298.

29 Quoted in A. Osborn, ‘The World’s Richest Russian Is Sued for $3 billion in London’, Independent on Sunday, 25 February 2007.

30 Interview with Financial Times, 13 July 2007.

31 P. Boone and D. Rodionov, ‘Rent Seeking in Russia and the CIS’, Brunswick UBS, Warburg, Moscow, 2002.

32 Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Allen Lane, 2007, p. 249.

33 Interviewed in Counterpunch, 27 February 2004.

34 ‘Question Time’, BBC Television, 7 June 2007.

35 M. E. de Boyrie, S. J. Pak and J. S. Zdanowicz, ‘Estimating the Magnitude of Capital Flight Due to Abnormal Pricing in International Trade. The Russia-US Case’, CIBER Working Paper, Florida International University, 2004.

36 Michael Freedman, ‘Welcome to Londongrad’, Forbes Global, 23 May 2005; see R. Skidelsky, St Petersburg Times, 4 January 2003; David Satter, Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State, Yale University Press, 2003, p. 55.

37 Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, 19 April 2000.

38 Nick Kochan, The Washing Machine, Duckworth, 2005, p. 17.

39 C. Freeland, Sale of the Century, Abacus, 2005, p. 180.

40 S. F. Cohen, Failed Crusade, Norton, 2000, p. 122.

41 ‘Why I Became a Russian Oligarch’, Financial Times, 29 June 2000.

42 Quoted in Observer, 30 August 1998.

Chapter 3

1 A. Goldfarb with M. Litvinenko, Death of a Dissident, Simon & Schuster, 2007, p. 206.


Vladimir Voinovich, ‘Russia’s Blank Slate’, New York Times, 30 March 2000.

3 D. Midgley and C. Hutchins, Abramovich: The Billionaire from Nowhere, HarperCollins, 2004, p. 114.

4 East Constitutional Review, vol. 19, no. 4, Fall 2000.

5 Moscow Times, 7 October 2003.

6 Goldfarb with Litvinenko, op. cit., p. 183.

7 Adi Ignattius, ‘A Tsar is Born’, Time, vol. 170, no. 27, 31 December 2007.

8 J. Laughland, ‘Putin Has Been Vilified by the West – but He is Still a Great Leader’, Daily Mail, 22 September 2007.

9 Vladimir Isachenkov, ‘New Putin Biography on Shelves’, Associated Press, 17 January 2002.

10 R. Polonsky, ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’, New Statesman, 15 March 2004.

11 Speaking to the Frontline Club, 6 June 2007.

12 Ignattius, op. cit.

13 Goldfarb with Litvinenko, op. cit., p. 135.

14 ‘Leaders: Putin’s People, Russia’s Government’, The Economist, 25 August 2007.

15 Labour Minister Sergey Kalashnikov, news conference, 27 October 1999.

16 Interview with Anatoly Chubais, Der Spiegel, 25 September 2007.

17 Speaking on ‘Rich in Russia’, Frontline, PBS, October 2003.

18 ‘Aeroflot, an Oligarch and a Complex Business Deal’, Financial Times, 28 July 2000.

19 P. Klebnikov, Godfather of the Kremlin, Harcourt, 2000, pp. 286-7.

20 Goldfarb with Litvinenko, op. cit., p. 181.

21 Ibid., p. 182.

22 David E. Hoffman, The Oligarchs, Public Affairs, 2002, p. 487.

23 Goldfarb with Litvinenko, op. cit., p. 206.

24 Klebnikov, op. cit., p. 16.

25 Simon Bell, ‘Russian Billionaires Beware’, Daily Telegraph, 27 July 2003.

26 ‘Particulars of Claim: Boris Berezovsky v Roman Abramovich’, Commercial Court, High Court, 8 January 2008.

27 G. York, ‘Kremlin Tightens Muzzle on Media’, Toronto Globe & Mail, 21 November 2000.

28 Vanity Fair, July 2000.



Jamestown news service, Eurasian Monitor, vol. 6, issue 214, 15 November 2000.

2 A. Goldfarb with M. Litvinenko, Death of a Dissident, Simon & Schuster, 2007, p. 237.

3 R. Kay, Daily Mail, 4 September 2008.

4 Patrick E. Tyler, ‘Russian Says Kremlin Faked “Terror Attacks”’, New York Times, 1 February 2002.



1 Keith Dovkants, Evening Standard, 3 March 2008.

2 G. Tett, ‘Russian Money Aids a Bear Market’, Financial Times, 7 February 1994.

3 C. Freeland, Sale of the Century, Abacus, 2005, p. 158.

4 Quoted in P. Lashmar, et al., ‘Russians in London’, Independent on Sunday, 12 September 1999.

5 Evening Standard, 11 March 2002.

6 Blavatnik was born in Russia but is now an American citizen.


Knight Frank and Citi Bank, Annual Wealth Report, 2007; the rise in the relative prices in London compared to New York partly reflects the heavy depreciation in the dollar in the last three years. Had the dollar remained stable, New York would now be worth around a quarter more in pounds per square foot.

8 Knight Frank, Country Review, 2007.

1 Quoted in Sun, 6 August 2007.

2 Quoted in Financial Times, 27 November 2004.

3 D. Midgley and C. Hutchins, Abramovich: The Billionaire from Nowhere, HarperCollins, 2004, p. 13.

4 Quoted in G. Rayner and O. Koster, ‘Putin “Told Roman to Clean Up His Act”’, Daily Mail, 15 March 2007.

5 Dominic Midgley, Spectator, 8 October 2005.

6 Observer, 24 December 2006.

7 T. Walker and R. Eden, ‘Roman’s Candle’, Sunday Telegraph, 29 October 2006.

8 Quoted in A. Blundy, ‘Cash and Caviar’, Guardian, 8 September 1994.

9 Quoted in L. Thomas, ‘Rich Russians Go on London Spending Spree’, Sunday Times, 13 February 1994.

10 Quoted in C. Toomey, ‘The Tsars Come Out to Play’, Sunday Times, 23 April 2006.

11 Quoted in Stefanie Marsh, The Times, 13 July 2006.

12 Quoted in K. Murphy, ‘Ruble Rousers’, New Republic, 4 February 2007.

13 A. Akbar and A. Osborne, ‘Harvey Nichols Goes East, Independent, 16 April 2005.

14 Quoted in Thomas, op. cit.




Quoted in V. Groskop, ‘Tsar Attractions’, Guardian, 19 August 2005.


Vogue, November 2006.


Financial Times, 8 October 2005.

1 International Herald Tribune, 10 March 2007.

2 Quoted in M. Taylor, ‘Salesroom Records Tumbled in a Frenetic Week’, Guardian, 23 June 2007.

3 G. Barker, ‘Party Could Run and Run’, Evening Standard, 9 February 2007.

4 Abigail Asher, Spear’s Wealth Management Survey, Art and Collecting Special, Spring 2007.

5 The Times, 22 August 2006.

6 Asher, op. cit.


Express on Sunday, 24 June 2007.

8 Quoted in The Times, 9 June 2007.




William Hazlitt, Political Essays, 1819.

11 Mike Von Joel, ‘After the Second Home, Mistress and Boat – an Art Collection, That’s the Thing’, State of Art, Spring 2007.




‘The Great Russian Art Boom’, Channel 4, 28 September 2008.

14 Ibid.


The Times, 22 August 2006.

16 Ian Cobain, ‘Usmanov’s responses to Guardian questions’,, 19 November 2007.


See note 1.


Andrew Osborn, Independent on Sunday, 11 June 2006.

19 Vogue, November 2006.


Stefanie Marsh, The Times, 13 July 2006.

21 Mail on Sunday, 18 March 2007.

22 Quoted in Sunday Times, 13 July 2008.

23 Anna Politkovskaya, A Russian Diary, Harvill Secker, 2007, p. 43.

24 Guardian, 27 February 2003.

25 Mineweb, 15 January 2007.

1 Michael Gillard, ‘From the Kremlin to Knightsbridge’, BBC Radio 4, November 2006.

2 Alan Cowell, The Terminal Spy, Doubleday, 2008, p. 174.

3 Russian money-laundering: hearings before the Committee on Banking and Financial Services, US House of Representatives, 21-22 September 1999, p. 191.

4 Khodorkovsky owned 28 per cent of Menatep, which, in turn, owned most of Yukos.

5 Thomas Catan, Financial Times, 16 May 2004.

6 Lucy Komisar, ‘Yukos Kingpin on Trial’, CorpWatch, 10 May 2005.

7 Gillard, op. cit.


Quoted in Mail on Sunday, 23 November 2003.


Gillard, op. cit.


Trade was another widely used means of siphoning off large volumes of money and defrauding Russia. Exporters would report selling at a price well below the actual price received and the difference would be stashed away in foreign bank accounts. Maria E. de Boyrie, Simon J. Pak and John S. Zdanowicz, ‘Estimating the Magnitude of Capital Flight due to Abnormal Pricing in International Trade: the Russia-USA Case’, Center for International Business and Educational Research Working Paper, Florida University, 2004.

11 Lucy Komisar, ‘While Washington Denies Any Problem, Swiss Probe “Missing” $4.8 Billion Loan to Russia’, Pacific News Service, 16 October 2000.

12 Simon Pirani, ‘Oligarch? No, I’m Just an Oil Magnate’, Observer, 4 June 2000.

13 Guardian, 15 December 2001.

14 ‘The Tycoon and the President’, The Economist, 21 May 2005.

15 Valentine Low, ‘Russian Oil Baron Builds £10m Bridge with West’, Evening Standard, 11 December 2001.

16 Guardian, 15 December 2001.

17 Lucy Komisar, ‘Yukos Kingpin on Trial’, CorpWatch, 10 May 2005.

18 Rachel Campbell-Johnston, ‘Walpole’s Coming Home’, The Times, 2 October 2002.

19 Rob Blackhurst, New Statesman, 31 January 2005.

20 Andrew Jack, Inside Putin’s Russia, Granta, 2005, p. 213.

21 Jack, op. cit., p. 310.


Quoted in Financial Times, 13 November 2003.

23 Quoted in Marshall Goldman, ‘The Rule of Outlaws Is Over’, Transition Newsletter, Vol. 14/15, 2004.


Kim Sengupta, Independent, 20 July 2004.

25 Spectator, 8 October 2005.


Sengupta, op. cit.


Quoted in A. Higgins and S. Liesman, ‘Markets Under Siege’, Wall Street Journal Europe, 24 September 1998.

28 Quoted in Nick Kochan, ‘Mammon: Russia’s Unorthodox Exile’, Observer, 26 March 2006.

29 Standard Schaefer, ‘Russia: Reforming the Reformers,’ Counterpunch, 27 February 2004.


Pirani, op. cit.

31 Schaefer, op. cit.


Paul Starobin, ‘A Russian’s Plea to Back America’, BusinessWeek, 14 March 2003.

33 Quoted in Independent, 12 January 2007.

34 Paul Klebnikov, Wall Street Journal, 17 November 2003.


See note 1.


Quoted in Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, ‘How Democracy Was Rolled Back in Russia’, Wall Street Journal, 8 June 2005.


‘Key Shareholder in YUKOS Granted Israeli Citizenship’, Haaretz, 5 November 2003.

1 Strobe Talbott, The Russia Hand, Random House, 2003, p. 207.

2 Quoted in ‘Worldbeaters’, New Internationalist, December 2003.

3 The Russian Godfathers: The Fugitive, Oxford Productions, BBC2, 8 December 2005.

4 David Charter and Philip Webster, ‘Groucho Trips up the G8 Spin Doctors’, The Times, 13 July 2006.

5 New Perspective Quarterly, September 2004.


Russian Godfathers, op. cit.

7 Dow Jones International News, 17 November 2003.

8 Tony Halpin, ‘Putin Critic Charged with Stealing $13 million from Bank’, The Times, 31 July 2003.

9 ‘There Is Nothing to Take Away from There’, Kommersant, 13 May 2005.

10 Quoted in Mark Franchetti, ‘Russian Threat to Reveal Putin’s Corrupt Aides’, Sunday Times, 24 April 2005.

11 Nick Paton Walsh, ‘Moscow Diary: Crime Pays’, Guardian, 2 April 2005.


Gordon Hahn, ‘Managed Democracy? Building Stealth Authoritarianism in St Petersburg’, Demoktratizatsiya, 12, no. 2, Spring 2004, pp. 195-231.

13 Paul Klebnikov, Godfather of the Kremlin, Harcourt, 2000.

14 Russia’s GDP in 2004 was $458 billion.

15 Y. Osetinskaya, ‘Thirty-Six Billionaires’, Vedomosti, 13 May 2004.

16 Ibid.


Olga Kryshtanovskaya and Stephen White, ‘Putin’s Militocracy’, Post-Soviet Affairs, 19, no. 4, (October- December 2003), pp. 289-306.


A. Cowell, The Terminal Spy, Doubleday, 2008, p. 48.

19 New York Review of Books, 13 April 2000.

20 Sunday Times, 23 December 2007.

21 Guardian, 13 April 2007.

22 Russian Interior Ministry News Bulletin, 11 December 2001.

23 ‘Worldbeaters’, op. cit.


Quoted in Michael Freedman. ‘Dark Force’, Forbes, 21 May 2007.

25 Minutes of Evidence Before the Foreign Affairs Committee, HC 495-iii, 18 July 2007.

1 According to some accounts, there were more than three Russians at the meeting, at least initially. See Alan Cowell, The Terminal Spy, Doubleday, 2008, p. 8.


Ibid., p. 22.


Viv Groskop, interview with Marina Litvinenko, Observer, 3 June 2007.

4 Ibid.


Sunday AM, BBC1, 10 December 2006.

6 Thomas de Waal, ‘Murder Most Foul’, Washington Post, 27 July 2008.

7 Gary Busch, a London-based transportation consultant, quoted in Bryan Burroughs, ‘The Kremlin’s Long Shadow’, Vanity Fair, 1 April 2007.

8 Martin Sixsmith, The Litvinenko File, Macmillan, 2007, p. 168.

9 Tom Mangold, ‘The Litvinenko Mystery’, BBC Radio 4, 16 December 2006.

10 Ibid.


Sixsmith, op. cit., p. 305.

12 Ibid., pp. 244-5.


Moscow Times, 24 April 2007.

14 Newsnight, BBC2, 7 July 2008.

15 The group of three was joined by another man, but only as Litvinenko was leaving. The man’s role remains unclear but he was not contaminated with polonium and is not believed to be a suspect.

16 A. Goldfarb with M. Litvinenko, Death of a Dissident, Simon & Schuster, 2007, Part V: The Return of the KGB.

17 Bryan Burroughs, ‘The Kremlin’s Long Shadow’, Vanity Fair, 1 April 2007.

18 Quoted in C. Shulgan, ‘I, Spy – Russia’s Most Wanted’, Toronto Globe & Mail, 31 March 2007.

19 ‘Litvinenko Poisoning: An Interview with Yevgeny Limarov’, Kommersant-Vlast, 25 June 2007.

20 Sixsmith, op. cit., p. 281.

21 Olga Kryshtanovskaya and Stephen White, ‘Putin’s Militocracy’, Post-Soviet Affairs, vol. 19, no. 4, 2003.

22 Sharon Werning Rivera and David Rivera, ‘The Russian Elite Under Putin: Militocratic or Bourgeois?’, Post-Soviet Affairs, vol. 22, no. 2, 2006, pp. 125-44.

23 Arkady Ostrovsky, ‘Yukos Crisis: Putin Oversees Big Rise in Influence of Security Apparatus’, Financial Times, 1 November 2003.

24 Ibid.


Quoted in Catherine Belton, Financial Times, 13 July 2007.

2 Keith Dovkants, ‘Abramovich Accused of £5 bn Shares Blackmail’, Evening Standard, 11 October 2007.

3 This account is as reported by Berezovsky. Abramovich and his representatives refused to comment.

4 Kevin Dowling, Sunday Times, 7 October 2007.

5 ‘Berezovsky v Abramovich’, [2008] EWHC 1138 (Comm) (22 May 2008) paras 4(e) and 2; ‘Particulars of Claim’, Berezovsky v Abramovich, High Court, 8 January, 2008, p. 17.

6 Dominic Midgley and Chris Hutchins, Abramovich: The Billionaire from Nowhere, HarperCollins, 2004, p. 239.

7 Eric Reguly, Toronto Globe & Mail, 12 November 2007.

8 Luke Harding, Guardian, 24 July 2007.


Belton, op. cit.

10 Ibid.


Andrew Kramer, New York Times, 20 August 2006.


Ruling by Justice Clarke, ‘Cherney v Deripaska’ – 2008 EWHC 1530 (Comm), Queen’s Bench Division, High Court, 3 July 2008, para. 58.

13 Belton, op. cit.


Quoted in ruling by Justice Clarke, para. 9.


Ibid., para. 9.

16 Ibid., para. 166.


Sabrina Tavernise, ‘Handful of Corporate Raiders Transform Russia’s Economy’, New York Times, 13 August 2002.


Rusal always claimed that the dispute between Cherney and Deripaska was a matter for them and not the company, making the company’s main owner the sole defendant.

19 Ruling by Justice Langley, ‘Cherney v Deripaska’ – 2007 EWHC 965 (Comm) – Case No. 2006 Folio 1218, Queen’s Bench High Court, 3 May 2007, para. 39.


Ibid., para. 45.


Ruling by Justice Clarke, op. cit., para. 264.


Ibid., para. 47.

23 Ibid., para. 10.


Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Guardian Blog, Guardian, 23 October 2008.

25 Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Nicola Smith, ‘The Secret World of Lord Freebie’, Sunday Times, 10 October 2008.

26 Washington Post, 25 January 2008.

27 John Helmer, ‘Deripaska Settles Big London Claim to Speed Aluminium IPO’,, May 2007.

28 Quoted in Toronto Star, 13 November 2007.

29 ‘Jim Pettit: Immigration from Russia to the US Seems to Have Peaked and Is Now Falling’, Interfax, 2007.


Martin Sixsmith, The Litvinenko File, Macmillan, 2007, p. 135.

31 Belton, op. cit., 13 July 2007.

32 Nicolas van Praet, ‘Magna’s Man in Moscow Remains a Mystery’, Financial Post, 25 August 2007.

33 Financial Times, 19 July 2005.

34 Mail on Sunday, 30 April 2006.

35 St Petersburg Times, 2 May 2006.

36 Terry Macalister. ‘City Are Worried by the Rush to Float’, Guardian, 1 November 2006.

27 Independent, 27 June 2006.

38 Edward Lucas, ‘We Must Be Tough with the Despot’, Daily Mail, 13 July 2007.

39 John Helmer, ‘Cherney and Putin to the Rescue of Russian Aluminium’, Standart News Agency, 4 September 2007.

40 Belton, op. cit.


D. Robertson, The Times, 11 October 2008.

2 Geordie Greig, ‘Capital Gains’, Tatler, June 2007.


Independent, 17 December 2006.

4 Chris Blackhurst, Evening Standard, 30 April 2007.


Daily Mail, 1 May 2007.


Quoted in J. Sherman, ‘Super-Rich Barred as Kensington Keeps it in Family’, The Times, 14 November 2005.

7 Helen Davies, Sunday Times, 12 November 2006.

8 Sunday Times, 4 July 2004.

9 Quoted in K. Sekules, ‘The Best Town to Make an Upper Lip Stiff’, New York Times, 7 February 2007.

10 Editorial, Spear’s Wealth Management Survey, Winter 2006/7.

11 Rosie Cox, The Servant Problem, Tauris, 2006.

12 Financial Times, 27 October 2007.

13 See, for example, Doreen Massey, World City, Polity, 2007, chapter 2; Chris Hamnett, Unequal City: London in the Global Arena, Routledge, 2003; Greater London Authority, London Divided: Income Inequality and Poverty in the Capital, London, 2003.

14 Evening Standard, 6 July 2007.

15 Simon Parker and David Goodhart, ‘A City of Capital’, Prospect, April 2007.

16 Ajay Kapur et al., ‘The Global Investigator. Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances’, Citigroup Equity Research, 14 October 2005.

17 Luke Harding, Guardian, 14 October 2008.


See note 1.


Guardian, 25 October 2008.

20 Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, 18 October 2008.

Ibid., para. 9.

16 Ibid., para. 166.


Sabrina Tavernise, ‘Handful of Corporate Raiders Transform Russia’s Economy’, New York Times, 13 August 2002.


Rusal always claimed that the dispute between Cherney and Deripaska was a matter for them and not the company, making the company’s main owner the sole defendant.

19 Ruling by Justice Langley, ‘Cherney v Deripaska’ – 2007 EWHC 965 (Comm) – Case No. 2006 Folio 1218, Queen’s Bench High Court, 3 May 2007, para. 39.


Ibid., para. 45.


Ruling by Justice Clarke, op. cit., para. 264.


Ibid., para. 47.

23 Ibid., para. 10.


Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Guardian Blog, Guardian, 23 October 2008.

25 Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Nicola Smith, ‘The Secret World of Lord Freebie’, Sunday Times, 10 October 2008.

26 Washington Post, 25 January 2008.

27 John Helmer, ‘Deripaska Settles Big London Claim to Speed Aluminium IPO’,, May 2007.

28 Quoted in Toronto Star, 13 November 2007.

29 ‘Jim Pettit: Immigration from Russia to the US Seems to Have Peaked and Is Now Falling’, Interfax, 2007.


Martin Sixsmith, The Litvinenko File, Macmillan, 2007, p. 135.

31 Belton, op. cit., 13 July 2007.

32 Nicolas van Praet, ‘Magna’s Man in Moscow Remains a Mystery’, Financial Post, 25 August 2007.

33 Financial Times, 19 July 2005.

34 Mail on Sunday, 30 April 2006.

35 St Petersburg Times, 2 May 2006.

36 Terry Macalister. ‘City Are Worried by the Rush to Float’, Guardian, 1 November 2006.

27 Independent, 27 June 2006.

38 Edward Lucas, ‘We Must Be Tough with the Despot’, Daily Mail, 13 July 2007.

39 John Helmer, ‘Cherney and Putin to the Rescue of Russian Aluminium’, Standart News Agency, 4 September 2007.

40 Belton, op. cit.


D. Robertson, The Times, 11 October 2008.

2 Geordie Greig, ‘Capital Gains’, Tatler, June 2007.


Independent, 17 December 2006.

4 Chris Blackhurst, Evening Standard, 30 April 2007.


Daily Mail, 1 May 2007.


Quoted in J. Sherman, ‘Super-Rich Barred as Kensington Keeps it in Family’, The Times, 14 November 2005.

7 Helen Davies, Sunday Times, 12 November 2006.

8 Sunday Times, 4 July 2004.

9 Quoted in K. Sekules, ‘The Best Town to Make an Upper Lip Stiff’, New York Times, 7 February 2007.

10 Editorial, Spear’s Wealth Management Survey, Winter 2006/7.

11 Rosie Cox, The Servant Problem, Tauris, 2006.

12 Financial Times, 27 October 2007.

13 See, for example, Doreen Massey, World City, Polity, 2007, chapter 2; Chris Hamnett, Unequal City: London in the Global Arena, Routledge, 2003; Greater London Authority, London Divided: Income Inequality and Poverty in the Capital, London, 2003.

14 Evening Standard, 6 July 2007.

15 Simon Parker and David Goodhart, ‘A City of Capital’, Prospect, April 2007.

16 Ajay Kapur et al., ‘The Global Investigator. Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances’, Citigroup Equity Research, 14 October 2005.

17 Luke Harding, Guardian, 14 October 2008.


See note 1.


Guardian, 25 October 2008.

20 Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, 18 October 2008.

FOOTNOTES 1 Mandelson wrote to The Times on 25 October 2008, ‘The Director-General for Trade in the European Commission, David O’Sullivan, confirmed… that I made no personal intervention to support the commercial interests of Mr Deripaska. Mr O’Sullivan explained… that in respect to both the nine-year debate in the EU over tariffs on raw aluminium and to anti-dumping duties on Russian aluminium, the decisions were made ‘after the usual consultation procedures had taken place, including with industry and all 27 European member states, and were based on sound facts.’

Appendix 2 - Fucking Moscow! Sex, Drugs & Vodka



  1. #Appendix 1
  2. #Appendix 2
  3. #Appendix 3
  4. #Appendix 4
  5. #Appendix 5
  6. #Appendix 6
  7. #Appendix 7
  8. #Appendix 8
  9. #Appendix 9

This section is in the process of an expansion or major restructuring.

This page was last edited by Admin today.

Note, German CHRIS HELMBRECHT's account of moving to Russia, is right after September 11, 2001. In which he was in NEW YORK CITY when the World Trade Center fell. The original 2013 book is in German and is still available to purchase today on




CHRIS HELMBRECHT, born in 1971, has been living in Moscow for ten years after working in New York and Tenerife. After a career as a [German] federal police officer and as one of the best extreme snowboarders in Germany, he now runs a creative agency and is one of the best-known party makers and DJs in the city. His blog on about the wild life in the Russian metropolis caused a sensation. He also writes for various magazines and is the initiator of the English language In 2012 he played the leading role in the Russian short film Ya Vernus (Eng. "I'll be back").

More about the author, the clubs and (night) life in

Chris Helmbrecht

Fucking Moscow!

Sex, Drugs & Vodka


Preliminary remark

The following descriptions do not claim to be factual. They deal with typified people who could exist in one way or another. These archetypes become part of a work of art through the artistic design of the material and its classification and subordination in the overall organism and become so independent compared to the images described in the text that the individual, personal-intimate is objectified in favor of the general, symbolic of the figures. The text is recognizable for the reader, so the text is not exhausted in a reportage-like description of real people and events, but has a second level behind the realistic level, since the author plays with the entanglement of truth and fiction, which deliberately blurs borders .

Original edition 08/2013

© Chris Helmbrecht. This work was mediated by the literary agency Gaeb

© 2013 by Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, in the Random House GmbH publishing group Editor: Elly Bosl Cover design: Stefanie Freischem, yellowfarm gmbh using;istockphoto/fatmayilmaz; shutterstock/FashionB; shutterstock/Alex Moe

Set: Buch-Werkstatt GmbH, Bad Aibling

ISBN: 978-3-641-08381-6


Victor picks me up from the airport. It's gray and cloudy outside at minus 15 degrees. "Welcome to Moscow, the city of sin," he greets me.

Then we are chauffeured in his black Gelandewagen for two hours through the suburbs to the city center, past countless prefabricated buildings and tenements. The closer we get to downtown, the better the houses look. There is snow on the road, but the many dirty Ladas and Volgas drive as if it were summer and the roads were dry. In between there is always a luxury car, often with blue lights and security guards. There is jostling and printing, a miracle that there are no accidents. At some point we get stuck in traffic. The driver turns and looks at Victor without a word. He just nods. Then the chauffeur pulls the car to the right and drives onto the sidewalk. For the next few kilometers we roll past the traffic jam. Every now and then we have to stop at a traffic light, drive around a lamppost or pedestrians. Our driver honks and curses even as he shoos a woman with a stroller in front of him. I'm shocked. Victor just says, »Time is money. I have to get back to the office. If they catch us, we'll just pay a little bribe and then we'll be on our way."

Finally we arrive at Victor's house. He lives in one of the Seven Sisters, one of the Stalin skyscrapers from the 1950s. Victor shows me the apartment and immediately sets off again. "I'll pick you up after work," he says. "Make yourself at home."

When he's gone, I look out the window. The apartment is on the ninth floor and below me lies the city, shrouded in a gray veil of smog and cold. "What a shithole," I think. "This is by far the most terrifying city I've ever seen."

At the moment, however, I prefer this Odnis to Tenerife. Anything is better than the sunny pensioners' paradise where I was still working as Marketing Director a few weeks ago. Actually, everything was relaxed, but then one day one of my two bosses got in touch. "Would you come to my office, please?" he asked. I already suspected nothing good. A little later he actually said, 'I'm sorry, boy. You did a good job, but we didn't get the next round of funding. we have to let you go You are just too expensive. Please hand over your projects to the others. After that you can go.« Then I found out that I was getting paid for the next three months. I just nodded and walked out. Outside, on the office's huge terrace, it was sunny and beautiful. It was February, there was snow everywhere in Europe, but here the thermometer showed 20 degrees plus. I've been out here a lot lately, fleeing the cold and dark office for five minutes, soaking up the sun and looking out to sea. "What the hell," I just thought. It was actually clear that things would not go well with this company for much longer. Somehow I didn't want to give up hope: after almost six years of working in New York and a terrible end, 9/11, the job in Tenerife was a welcome change. BloB wasn't a job anymore. What to do? I still had enough savings to last a few months. And the three paid months, including car and apartment. So look for a job again and then see where to go My phone rang. On the display was a funny number "007... Ah, James Bond," I thought, trying to guess what country code that was.

'Hello Chris, how are you? This is Victor, remember?” Of course, I remembered! Victor is an investment banker originally from Lithuania and one of my New York friends. We met two years ago on a ski trip in Vermont. In New York, Victor, who likes Italian girls, liked to come to the pasta dinners of my Italian girlfriend at the time. I hadn't heard from him since then, other than a few irrelevant emails. "Well, just lost my job," was my slightly depressed reply. 'Come to Moscow,' Victor said spontaneously, 'here the Russian bar is dancing and the ruble is rolling. In earnest. The economy is booming, the party life is amazing and I'm sure you'll find a job here. Actually, I'm calling because I wanted to come visit you. But for now it's best if you come to me first."

That's probably the famous hint, I thought as I sat down at the computer and looked up flights ten minutes later. A week later I was on the plane. Tenerife - Berlin - Moscow. And now I'm here. The first time Victor is trying his best. He takes as much time as he can. While he's working, his driver drives me around town and I go sightseeing. Or I visit strangers with whom Victor made appointments for me. I should get to know the city and make as many contacts as possible. Some of the meetings are already real interviews. But in the end it's always the same:

"Do you speak Russian?"

"No, a week ago I didn't even know I was going to Russia."

"Pity. Your CV is very good, but we can't use you if you don't speak Russian."

I'm not so sure anymore if I want to move here at all. The people on the street scowl. You never smile. It's the same in the offices. Except that the managers still have a considerable portion of arrogance.

"And how was your day?" Victor asks thoughtfully in the evening.

"Not so good. I don't think the city is for me. Neither do the people. Somehow I don't get along with the Russians."

“Bullshit!” replies Victor. “You just have to see behind the hard shell. There is a soft core there. And the women! Yes, they are very special. Come on, let's go to a bar for dinner and then for a drink."

It's been like this every night since I've been in Moscow. Victor takes me to one of the best restaurants in town. We eat and talk. At some point he flirts with the ladies at the next table, and then we go to a bar with the girls. Strangely enough, there are always a lot of girls sitting in the restaurants, usually in pairs in front of a pot of tea. Victor is practiced. He gets the girls ready within a few minutes and brings them to our table. I'm speechless. feel naive I don't know what to do with my interlocutor, because most of them don't speak English, and Victor soon loses interest in translating. In between he says things like: "Man, they're both really hot for you. I told them that you are a DJ living in Spain. On an island.” In fact, that's true. Except I'm not a pro DJ but the former manager of an Internet booth, and that the island is not called "Ibiza" and is not exciting, but that it is a matter of the pensioners' paradise of Tenerife. But how is Victor supposed to know that?

"Which one do you want?"

That's Victor's standard question, and my answer is pretty much always the same: "None." I don't mean to be bitchy, but somehow the girls don't turn me on. I have a communication problem and I'm slowly getting enough of the city.

"OK, OK. Let's go to a club today." Finally, something different. Our driver takes us there. When we arrive there are already Bentleys, big dark SUVs and big Mercedes limousines on the sidewalk.

"What's going on here?" I ask, excited like a little kid in front of a toy store.

"This is Shambala, Moscow's best place, and there's a private party going on at the moment."

"Do we have an invitation?"

"We don't have to," Victor replies a little arrogantly. We pushed past the crowd towards Tur. Victor greets friendly. The guy at the door shakes his head and says something like "Sorry, we're having a private party today" in Russian. Victor reaches into his coat pocket and shakes the doorman's hand. He now nods in a friendly manner and pushes the grid away. Victor pulls me by my jacket into a dark, run-down courtyard. On the left is a door, and from there you can hear the pounding of the bass. Yes, that sounds like a good party. Inside we hand in our jackets. I'm surprised that neither the club nor the cloakroom cost anything.

"How did you get us in anyway?" I ask Victor. He grins and pulls a 1,000-ruble note out of his jacket pocket before handing it over.

'It was even cheaper than I thought. I was counting on 2,000 rubles.' That's about fifty euros. "But then he let us both go for a thousand."

That's how I know Victor, the little rascal.

We go down the stairs. The club is not big but there are two dance floors. One is directly above the other and has a glass bottom. It appears to be closed today. There are a lot of teenagers downstairs. In the whole club, it seems, no one is older than 19, apart from the waitresses and a couple of bodyguards. Otherwise, Victor and I are already the oldest here at over thirty.

"Rich kids," Victor says. “I have no idea what the reason for the celebration is. Maybe it's a birthday, maybe a student party.«

“And the luxury cars out there? Whose are they?”

'The kids, of course. Man, you're in Moscow. Come on, let's go get a drink. They're free today. The children of the rich pay too. Enjoy it.«

Victor pursues his favorite pastime and hits on women. Or should I rather say "little girls"? I'm a little bored, but only briefly, because then I notice that two girls are dancing on the glass dance floor above us. Both are stark naked. After a while you probably can't call it "dancing" anymore, because they play, caress and kiss each other. And again and again they do the splits and press their vagina against the glass. I must have been staring quite a bit, because after a while Victor comes up to me and asks, "Why are you looking so stupid? It's normal here. Come on, let's go over to the stairs, we can see the spectacle better from the side."

"Are the girls here all clean-shaven?" I ask as I watch them chupa chup each other.

"Yes, that's usual," replies Victor confidently. One of the dancers is flirting with me, but I'm not sure if she's serious or if it's part of her show.

When I turn around, Victor has already chatted up two women.

"Hey, this is Chris from the Canary Islands," he introduces me. "He's a pro surfer and DJ." Well, this time he almost got it right. After all, I used to be a professional snowboarder, so the sports equipment looks similar to a surfboard.

"This is Nastia and Sveta," he says. Both are barely older than 18, but look very elegant. They're not the typical suburban girls that Victor usually picks up. Lo and behold, both speak English. After a while I find out that Nastia's father is in the oil business and Sveta's father is a construction worker. I like the girls and I'm waiting for Victor's "Which one do you want?" question. But then someone pushes me from behind. I turn around, a girl is standing behind me. She is beautiful with blonde medium length hair and blue eyes. She must be in her early twenties. Somehow she doesn't fit into this society, her charisma is rather rural and naive. She has a cigarette in her hand and clearly asks for a light, although once again I don't understand anything.

"Sorry, I don't smoke," I reply, she turns away. Somehow the girl looks familiar to me. When I try to get a closer look, she grins at me and pops a chupa chups in her mouth. I have to laugh and go over to her. We try to exchange a few words, but she doesn't speak a word of English. We can't get any further with hands and feet either. I turn to Viktor, but he's gone.

"Sorry, I have to look for my friend," I say. She smiles shamefacedly. "Do not run away."

Victor is standing at the bar talking to another woman. "What about Nastia and Sveta?" I ask. “They both left pretty quickly when you went to see the blonde. They were only interested in you. But don't worry, I have a date for agreed on Sunday. Then it's R 'n' B Night at the Garage Club. It's a good club too. What was that blond angel?'

“That was one of the strippers. Come on! Come along. you have to translate We'll make it clear! And she also had a partner.«

"Hm, that costs money," says Victor.

"Really? Do you think? I have the feeling that this can also be done without.«

"Let's see," says Victor. But by the time we get to the corner where I left her, she's gone.

»Well!«, says Victor, »Someone else was probably faster. Come on, let's go home. I have to work tomorrow.' I'm disappointed, but raved about the 'chupa chups woman' on the way home. Today I liked Moscow for the first time.

Victor and Victoria

The next day Victor comes home earlier. We go to the supermarket around the corner to buy some food. The prices are steep, sometimes even higher than in the Big Apple.

"Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world," says Victor. He explains to me that Russia has a centralized structure and that Moscow is at the center. If you want to do business, you have to go to Moscow, whether you're selling timber from the tropical rainforest or diamonds from the Far East. So a lot of rich businessmen come to the city regularly. Many now even have their own apartments and offices here. Out in the open country there is nothing. If people find work there at all, they don't earn more than 200 euros a month, while here in the city they can get between 1000 and 3000 euros. And there is also the opportunity to make a career here. Young and pretty girls in particular are looking for a rich man who will marry them or keep them as mistresses and pay for them. You can shop cheaply in the markets and on the outskirts of the city, but the center is mostly populated by the rich and the middle class. Life here is correspondingly expensive.

Muscovites call everything up to the third ring road the center, although Europeans tend to think of the area inside the first ring, the so-called Garden Ring, as the center. In the largest country on earth, the dimensions are just different. Officially, Moscow now has around 11 million inhabitants, making it the largest city in Europe. However, Viktor tells me, there are still a few million illegal immigrants and Russians from other regions who mostly live in the suburbs and try their luck as taxi drivers, workers or even as criminals.

When we get home, Victor and I make tea. "Russians don't like coffee," says Victor in a slightly derogatory tone. That's actually always the case when he talks about Russians. Up until now, Victor has always been in my Russian drawer, because I met him through a group of Russians in New York. He is also fluent in Russian and looks typically Russian with his Slavic face and expensive designer clothes. If you ask him about it, Victor gets angry and quickly makes it clear: he is first and foremost a Jew, and Jews didn't have it easy under communism. After perestroika, the young among them could not wait to emigrate, and many took the opportunity to go to Israel. Victor originally comes from Lithuania, then moved to Israel and only studied there, then in the US. Today he has a Lithuanian and an Israeli passport. After his studies he was allowed to stay in the States and started his career as a banker. "Just as I was starting to make some money, the crisis started," he tells me. "That's why I quickly accepted an invitation from a Moscow investment bank." "And? Are you making good money now?' I ask. Victor doesn't like these direct questions. He looks embarrassed, but chance comes to his aid. The doorbell rings.

"Ah, these are the girls."

"What girls?" I ask.

'I forgot to tell you. My girlfriend is coming over and she's bringing a friend for you." "You have a girlfriend?"

I didn't expect that after Victor hasn't missed an opportunity to collect phone numbers from complete strangers over the past few days.

Victor doesn't answer and opens up to the women. The usual procedure takes place in the corridor: the girls take off their heavy fur coats and take off their scarves, hats and gloves. Then they both go to the bathroom to get ready. In the meantime, Victor comes back into the kitchen and is grinning from ear to ear.

"You were lucky. Her friend is better looking than her,' he says. I just nod. The way Victor talks about women always leaves me speechless. Actually, I am not a child of sadness and have already experienced a lot. But somehow I can't get going in Moscow. I don't know if it's the stranger, or the cheap come-on, or the fact that the girls get into it.

»Today it will be something. You lay them down!” orders Victor. "You've been here five days and you still haven't made any clear." Something is happening outside. The girls come out of the bathroom. Both wear fashionable clothes, as for the club or a fine restaurant, not for home. I can see part of the hallway from the kitchen. I'm surprised when I see the two of them opening their large handbags, pulling out a pair of heels each, and putting them on.

"The women here are always very fashionable," says Victor. They also have to look good at home, especially when it comes to a date with an investment banker and his boyfriend. After a style check in the mirror, the girls enter the kitchen and are introduced to me. I feel kind of sloppy and underdressed, because I'm sitting at the table in loose jeans and a casual t-shirt. Worst of all are Victor's Gaste slippers. My grandfather could have owned it too.

"This is Victoria, my friend," Victor says. "And this is her friend, Marina."

I quickly discover that Victoria does not speak English. Marina knows a few words and we can at least talk a little. Victoria, I learn, is in her mid-twenties and comes from a town 500 kilometers southeast of Moscow. She studied business administration and now works for an insurance company. There she earns around 1000 euros. That's not much if you're not from Moscow and have to pay the exorbitant rents. That's where an investment banker like Victor comes in handy. He gives lavish gifts, pays for going out and goes shopping with her. If she's lucky, he'll even invite her on vacation. All this is not uncommon in Moscow. It is part of Russian culture for men to give expensive gifts to women. The more expensive the gift, the greater the love and the greater the affection of the woman. Victoria has brown eyes and brown curly hair. She's actually pretty. Her dress is an expensive original or a good copy of Dolce & Gabbana with a plunging neckline. She has lovely long legs and is wearing stockings, the lace trimmed end of which flashes briefly as she crosses her legs. At the end of the endless legs are fashionable high heels with the longest heels I have ever seen.

Victoria catches me eyeing her and grins cheekily. The face is friendly, but also has something wicked. She wears a lot of makeup, but that's also normal in Russia. whose lace-trimmed end flashes briefly as she crosses her legs. At the end of the endless legs are fashionable high heels with the longest heels I have ever seen. Victoria catches me eyeing her and grins cheekily. The face is friendly, but also has something wicked. She wears a lot of makeup, but that's also normal in Russia. whose lace-trimmed end flashes briefly as she crosses her legs. At the end of the endless legs are fashionable high heels with the longest heels I have ever seen. Victoria catches me eyeing her and grins cheekily. The face is friendly, but also has something wicked. She wears a lot of makeup, but that's also normal in Russia.

"Oh man, those Russian women," I think. “These are particularly pretty creatures. Or maybe rather sexy? A little bit useful too. No, not the vulgar form. More like a first-class call girl.” Marina excuses herself and goes to the toilet for a moment. "Actually, I don't think they're that great," says Victor. "Who?" I ask.

"These," says Victor, nodding at Victoria with a false grin. 'But she's good in bed and I should have a girlfriend to help around the house and give me some stability. Otherwise I'd just be fucking around.” I'm shocked by Victor's openness to Victoria.

"Don't worry," he says. “She doesn't understand anything. She can't speak English."

I am silent and nod. "Maybe that's what you get from consuming one woman at a time," I think.

"Women are a dime a dozen here," says Victor. "It's crazy. As soon as you send one home, the next one is already in front of the door. There are always new ones coming. You're getting younger and younger. All are pretty and know what to do. They come from the suburbs or from the regions. There's a constant flow of supplies."

"Madness," I think. This is no longer real.

Marina is back. I haven't really warmed to her yet. She has long blonde hair and wears a dress in the same style as Victoria. I catch myself wondering if she's also wearing stockings. "So, we'll leave you alone now," says Victor and goes into the bedroom with his girlfriend. "Shall we go to the living room?" I ask Marina. 'It's more comfortable there. do you want a drink Anything other than tea?”

"No thanks, I don't drink," she replies.

I take her by the hand and lead her into the living room. There we sit on the couch and talk. Marina is 27 and works as a doctor in a women's clinic. As a gynecologist, she earns 200 euros a month there. A six-year-old son is waiting for her at home.

“How do you manage in Moscow with so little money? And where's the father?' I ask. “We have an apartment on the outskirts. My family owns it, so we don't have to pay rent. The father is long gone. He was a loser and I left him." "Will he pay for the little one?"

"No. I don't even know where he is. Haven't heard from him in years. I'm making just enough to keep us both going. I also do abortions at the clinic. This is often used here. Especially in the suburbs.'

Suddenly we hear loud moans coming from the bedroom next door. It's getting louder and louder. No, it's not Victoria moaning, it's Victor. I'm a little under pressure, put my hand on Marina's knee and caress it. I slowly run my hand up her leg. She looks at me waiting. The moaning in the next room gets even louder and you can now hear the bed banging against the wall. We look at each other and suddenly have to laugh. Somehow I like Marina, but there is no erotic tension between the two of us. I realize my hand is out of place on her thigh and this woman deserves more respect. A single mother, she makes ends meet with a lion's will to fight. I could probably even sleep with her but that just doesn't feel right. I slowly take my hand off her thigh. She thanks me with an open and nice smile. "Would you like some more tea?" I ask.

'No, I think I'm going home now. My little one is waiting for me. He is alone and it is getting late.”

Marina changes shoes and packs up for the winter. I'll take her down to the street, get her a cab and pay for the ride out to the suburbs. Before she gets in, she kisses me tenderly on the cheek.

"You're a good one. I'm not sure if this city is for you. farewell I hope we'll see each other again,' she whispers in my ear.

When I come back to the apartment, it's quiet. I drink a beer, look out the window and let my mind wander. Russia is a tough country. Not only because of the weather, but also because of the living conditions. no Moscow is not a city for me. Apart from the different culture and the shameless consumption, you have to earn a lot of money to be able to enjoy life here. I prefer to look for another city. Maybe I'll go back to New York... I look at the clock. It's time for bed, but first I'll make myself a cup of tea. As I wait for the water to boil, Victoria comes into the kitchen. She is in panties and has a t-shirt over it.

"Could you please make me one too?" she asks in English.

"What? Do you speak English?' I'm surprised.

'Oh, I guess I gave it away. Yes, I took several Business English courses during my undergraduate studies. But please don't tell Victor about it. He would probably be ashamed.' I don't think so, but it's probably better if I don't interfere in his affairs. "No fear. Where's Victor?” I ask. "He's all set and sleeping." Victoria grins contentedly. Then we sit together at the table and talk for a while. Your English is perfect.

At the garage club

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Two days later. We're meeting the two rich kids from Shambala for R 'n' B night at the Garage Club. Unusual cars are again in front of the door. This time they look like they came straight out of a Playstation game. Japanese and American street racers, pimped up to the point of no longer doing it. Almost all are painted in special colors, some decorated with elaborate airbrush motifs. It's cold outside and there's snow. Loud hip-hop blasts out of the cars, the doors are open and the owners of other cars and hot girls in clothes that are far too tight are standing around. It's still quiet in the club itself, apparently the warm-up is taking place outside. Victor's friend is a real estate agent and one of the owners of the club. We sit at the table with him and talk about the wild 90s in Moscow. Victor's friend distributed Red Bull in Russia until a few years ago. He says that one day he came home and the door to his apartment had been forced open. A couple of big boys were waiting in the apartment and they kindly asked him to hand over the distribution of the energy drink to them. "It was the mafia," he says. There was no point in resisting - he signed. Now he has a better "kryscha," says Victor's friend.

"Krysha?" I ask.

"It means 'roof,' and that means protection," Victor explains. “You can have two kinds of 'kryscha', the secret service, it used to be the KGB, now it's called the FSB. Or the mafia. It's best if you have contact with both of them. You need a "kryscha" if you want to do business."

"From what order of magnitude?" I ask.

“I think you get on their radar, usually by the IRS or your competition, if you're making more than $250,000 a year. Before that, you're too small for one number and they won't bother you unless you're disrupting one of their charges' business.'

"Interesting. How do I have to imagine that in concrete terms?”

“It's like a tax. You give away a certain percentage of your profit or sales. Sometimes it is the whole business if it disrupts their activities or is very profitable.”

Victor's friend adds: “An acquaintance of mine has invested in a computer tomography scanner in a town 300 kilometers outside of Moscow. That was the only device far and wide and became a gold mine. It didn't take long for word to get around and the mafia was at his door. They just took the thing from him. Thank God the device ran long enough to recoup the acquisition costs. So he didn't lose any money, but he didn't win any either."

Then our two girls finally come to our table. They move gracefully like models and I wonder how many hours they've practiced in front of the mirror. Victor's friend says goodbye. He has to go home to his wife, he says. Nastia and Sveta look even better than a few days ago. We'll order a few drinks and talk. Unfortunately, the conversation is superficial, arrogant and just too shallow for me. We only met briefly at Shambala, but the girls there were very different. It must have been the alcohol - either my level or hers. After a while I get bored with the chatter. I decide to go to the bar. First to get a drink, but maybe I can find better entertainment there. The club is slowly filling up but apparently it's still too early. Well, it's half past midnight on a Sunday night. What to expect Victor said the club fills up after one o'clock. Let's see.

"Barkeeper! Another Red Bull vodka, please.” Two women are sitting at the bar. A dark blonde with a good figure and a pageboy cut and a small brown-haired woman with slightly Asian eyes. Should I speak to her? No, there's bound to be something better. The bartender puts my drink at the bar for me and then talks to the girls. They seem to be friends. I decide to pretend to wait for my drink a little more. I just can't go back to our table. Suddenly Victor is standing in front of me.

"Man! These women are so stupid. That is not how it works."

I nod.

"What about these two?" he asks. I shrug disinterestedly, but Victor doesn't even wait for my answer before addressing the two of them. I can already imagine what nonsense he is talking about again. This is Chris, superstar, DJ, helicopter pilot and so on. After five minutes he turns to me: “These are two ballerinas from the Bolshoi Theater. Great, is not it? Which one do you want?”

"If I have to, I'll take the blonde," I answer sullenly. The constant teasing is getting on my nerves. The brown-haired girl, I learn, is called Lili and is the daughter of one of Russia's biggest mafia bosses. Lili isn't particularly tall, a bit more powerful, and you wouldn't think at first glance that she was dancing in the best ballet in the world. She has a Russian pop star as a boyfriend and is part of Moscow's better society.

Victor grabs my hand and pushes me to the blonde. »This is Julia, she is also a ballerina at the Bolshoi.«

He says it so proudly, as if he has known Julia since childhood. We introduce ourselves and shake hands.

“So, ballerina at the Bolshoi. Is that a big deal?” I ask. She immediately lectures me: "The Bolshoi is the best ballet in the world."

“These are stars!” adds Victor.

“Ah, sorry. I'm an art philistine.” She takes it easy. Then I casually add, "But I've had a ballerina girlfriend before. Back in New York. She was with Alvin Ailey, but that's more modern dance." Victor finds that the two rich goren have moved on.

"Shall we sit down at the table again?" he asks. The two girls are interested and come with me. Then we talk the rest of the night.

Julia is interesting and at first I didn't realize what a top physique she has. She is 24 years old and has been dancing at the Bolshoi since she was young. Her mother was a prima ballerina herself and now trains her. Her stepfather was the director of the Bolshoi, but is already retired.

Also, Julia had been dancing in Valencia for six years before coming back.

"What? Volunteering from Spain to Moscow?” I ask.

“Like I said, the Bolshoi is the best group in the world, and Moscow is my hometown. I wanted to go back, but today I sometimes regret the step. Maybe I'd be happier in Spain.'

As it turns out, Julia speaks very good English and fluent Spanish.

"The manager here is our friend," she explains. “We're here almost every Sunday because we have to dance over the weekend. Our day off is Monday.«

'Ah, that's good. I work tomorrow and Chris flies back on Wednesday. He could use an English-speaking guide,” says Victor.

Julia isn't too enthusiastic about the idea: »Let's see. Maybe,” she simply replies.

Around three o'clock in the morning it's time to go home. Lili has her own driver who is waiting for her outside in the black BMW 6 Series. Julia accepts Victor's offer to drive her home. He sits in the front with his driver while I talk to Julia in the back. "Can I see you again before I go?" I ask cautiously.

"Here's my number, call me tomorrow and we'll see." When we get there, I get out first and open the door for her. She likes that and gives me a kiss on the cheek to say goodbye. Then we drive to Victor's and I text her goodnight. She does not answer.

"So what do you think of them?" asks Victor.

'I wasn't interested at first. But when I spoke to her, I realized how beautiful and charming she is. And she's intelligent too. Great woman!"

"N / A? Someone has a crush on them, huh?” Victor replies.

"Crush? That would probably be an exaggeration. But she certainly impressed me and is the best girl I have met in Moscow so far«.

"Well, maybe there'll be something with that Moscow one-night stand after all..."

'Not so sure. She said she has a boyfriend."

"That doesn't mean much here," Victor replies.

The next day I call Julia, but she doesn't answer the phone. After three attempts I give up, I don't want to be pushy. In the evening Victor is more disappointed than I am. He really wants me to have sex before I fly back to Spain. Somehow I have a feeling he's looking for a boyfriend to go around town with and pick up women with. Therefore, if I had a reason to come back to Moscow, he would be quite pleased. However, I'm not sure if a one night stand would be reason enough to move to this horrid city. I used to compare New York to Sodom and Gomorrah, but Moscow seems a thousand times worse and far more decadent.

The next day I text Julia again. I would really like to see her before I fly back. During the day, however, there is radio silence, I am disappointed. Maybe Victor is even right about me having a bit of a crush. When Victor finally gets home from work, we go to a sushi restaurant. On the way he calls Lili and tries to invite both of them. When he hangs up, he grins: "They're just dancing, but we'll meet them after their performance and go for a drink."

I am content and thinking about how to behave. Around eleven we meet the girls in a bar. I flirt with Julia like a champion and I'm successful. First she takes my hand, then we get closer. When Lili wants to leave, Victor takes the initiative and invites them both over. Lili and Julia are coming with me. We'll keep drinking at home. Victor entertains Lili so that she doesn't leave too early. When Julia and I finally kiss, Lili goes home and Victor goes to bed. Finally we have time for ourselves. The night is spent! We're having sex and it's the best we've had in a long time. Then we lie in bed together and talk. When I hold Julia in my arms, I feel energy flowing between the two of us. It goes so far that we both start to tremble and then press each other even tighter. She has to leave at eight o'clock: "I have to be at training at ten and before that I have to go home and get ready."

"Will it work?" I ask with a bad conscience.

"It has to be, but it was worth it," Julia purrs contentedly, and we say goodbye with a long kiss. Then I pack my things. Meanwhile, Victor comes out of the bedroom.

"Well finally! Chris scored. But that was on the very last printer.«

"And not only that..." I add. “Now I actually have a bit of a crush. The woman is just great and in bed a bomb.«

"Well then I can send you home with peace of mind, right?"

An hour later we are already on our way to the airport. It's snowing badly. Again we drive on the six-lane outer ring road, the MKAD, past the prefabricated buildings of the suburbs. Our Gelandewagen lurches around trucks and slow-moving Ladas. From time to time it also goes over the hard shoulder if there is no other way to get past it. There are numerous stranded vehicles, but we always manage to just avoid them. Our heavy vehicle swerves several times, but the driver gets it under control every time.

Victor is silent. I look at the speedometer from behind and I'm worried. No, not about missing my flight. I have all the time in the world, there's no more job waiting for me, and another evening with Julia would suit me. No, I'm worried about my life, because our off-road vehicle is racing down the snow-covered slope at up to 150 km/h. There are unannounced lane changes across six lanes. Our driver does not know the word »minimum distance«. It seems as if he is trying to force the Lada in front of us off the road.

"Victor," I say softly. 'It's not so bad if I miss my flight. I'm about to pee my pants from fear. My life is more important to me.«

»Haha, you extreme snowboarders are scared? That's supposed to mean something. It's not really about you. I have to get back to the office because I have a meeting at eleven. Afraid you've got to go through that, boy."

After a horror drive we finally arrive at the airport. Victor says something in Russian to his driver and gives him an appreciative pat on the shoulder. I have weak knees.

“Now you have to go on alone, because I'm running out of time. Take care and let's talk on the phone at the weekend.« I thank Victor for his hospitality and caring. After that I run to the terminal. "Why is your face so pale?" asks the nice lady at check-in. I'm just in time. "Nothing," I reply. "Had a long night." "Well, I hope she was pretty and it was worth it." "Yes, she was," I say, grinning. “Then come back to Moscow soon and fly with our airline. Departure Zone A, Gate 10. Hurry up, passport control and security always take a while.” As we take off, I see the gray and desolate Moscow suburbs out the window. I'll review the last few days. No, Moscow is not for me, I'm looking forward to my warm Tenerife. But Julia was great. I grin to myself and feel a pleasant feeling in my stomach area. "They must be the famous butterflies in your stomach," I think when we fly out of the clouds and after ten days I finally see the sun again. Farewell to the island Six months later, in August, I drive to the south of Tenerife to pick up Julia from the airport. We've sent each other lots of emails and talked on the phone a lot over the last few months. How will the reunion be? I don't actually know her at all. She's quite brave to just fly into the unknown like that. When we meet again at the terminal, Julia hugs me and we kiss. There it is again, that feeling. All is well. My apartment in the north impresses her. The rooms all have a glass wall facing the sea. The beach is right in front of us and my terrace is three times the size of the apartment itself. "And this is the guest room," I say as I wheel Julia around. "Then I'll sleep here," Julia says, and I'm not sure if that's a question or a statement. "No," I say, "of course you'll sleep in my room." The week we spend together flies by. Julia shed a few tears when we say goodbye at the airport. "When will we meet again?" she asks. “I don't know, I can't say yet. I'm still a bit haphazard at the moment." Then Julia is already on her way. I stand with my car on Medano Beach and watch your plane take off. Then I drive back north. As I come over the hills, the sun is just setting in the west. Like almost every day, it falls into the Atlantic, followed by a red glow in the sky. "Should I go back to New York?" I think. Or maybe to Moscow? I can't decide and stay here for now. I still have enough money. My landlord calls at the end of September. "And?" he asks. "Are you going to renew the lease for another year?" I spontaneously say: "No, I'm moving to Moscow." After the interview, I phone Victor and ask him if I can live with him until I find a job and a place to live. "Of course!" he says. "That's great news. We shall have plenty of spades.' Then I book my flight. However, my things have to go to my mother in Bamberg first, because I'm traveling into the unknown. Who knows how long I will stay in Moscow? At the beginning of October I leave Tenerife with 180 kilos of luggage. Outside the sun is shining and it's still 30 degrees. The other tourists are amazed when I check in a snowboard in Tenerife, among other things. Julia Three months after moving to Moscow, I move in with Julia. We found a cheap apartment in the middle of the city. Now we live at the metro station Mayakovskaya. From there, Julia doesn't have to go far to the Bolshoi. I pay almost all the rent. Julia adds a symbolic amount, because as a ballerina she earns less than 1000 euros a month, and the apartment alone costs 800 euros to rent. The apartment has three rooms but is horribly furnished. Pink curtains with lace at the ends hang in the bedroom. The kitchen is spartan and the gas stove is from the 80s. I don't care about any of that. The main thing is that I'm with Julia. I think I found my dream woman. Julia is intelligent, looks good and anticipates my every wish. She goes to training in the morning It's May and not far away from Julia's birthday. We talk about their party that evening and I learn that in Russia you invite your friends to a restaurant. That costs around 1000 euros. In return, you get quite expensive gifts from them. Julia expects gifts worth two to three hundred euros from her friends. "Man oh man," I think. »How much do I have to invest then? I haven't had much work for the past few months and I'm running out of money.« That evening we have sex and then fall exhausted into the duvets and sleep. Before I can away, I think, "What a woman! direct hit. I want to marry her.« The next day, Julia gets up on the wrong foot because she provokes a fight in the morning, even though there is no reason for it. This is the beginning of the end. From that day on it just keeps getting worse. Julia seems dissatisfied with me, my income and my social status. On the other hand, she keeps telling me that she loves me. Two months later I'm still unemployed and I'm definitely running out of money. Julia has the summer off and wants to go on vacation. When I tell her that I can't afford it at the moment, she is disappointed. "In Russia, a man pays for his wife," she says, rubbing salt into my open wounds. I'm at the end. Now I'm in a totally foreign country, trying to find my way around and earn money, already feeling overwhelmed by the situation, and now my only reference person, my girlfriend, calls me a loser too. I want to cry. But that's no use. I've never been one to give up. After a short time I catch myself and hit back verbally. "Are you crazy? Do you even know why I'm here and why I'm in this bad situation? Because of you, Julia. Because of you. I came for you!” I yell at her. After that Julia is calm. A week later we book the holiday. I borrowed money from my mother and Julia is paying her own share. The FSB secret service After three months in our small apartment at the Mayakovskaya metro station, we move into an apartment owned by Julia's family. After communism, the families who lived in one of these apartments received it as a gift. Mind you, only the apartment, but not the plot of land on which the house stands, which often leads to problems today when the city sells the land to a construction tycoon who wants to build a modern block of flats instead of the old Stalin prefabricated building. It can happen that hit gangs show up and persuade the residents to sell, or the old owners are resettled in worthless new prefabricated buildings in the suburbs. As is so often the case in Russia, the whole thing is of course completely legitimate and even supported by the police. Julia's family owns several apartments. It's a nice 1960's house, relatively clean and quiet. Unfortunately it's not exactly in the centre, but it's also only twenty minutes away by car or metro, which is still considered central in Europe's largest city. The first few months pass quietly. I meet Kolya at a family dinner. Married to Julia's cousin, he is a senior executive at Yukos. He currently lives in Singapore and runs the Asian operations of Russia's largest oil company. Kolya first lived with his wife in our apartment and later bought his own nearby. His apartment has 160 square meters, a lot of rooms, its own sauna and jacuzzi. The kitchen is fantastically furnished. The audio system and home cinema with giant plasma screen are not bad either. Kolya's wife still lives with their son in the magnificent apartment. The boy should go to school in Russia and grow up there. Also, the rest of the family lives just a walk away. So do we. That evening we drink a lot of vodka with Julia's father and Kolya. It's the second binge with Julia's family, and I'm proving it stability. Julia's father adds: "I have no idea where that skinny boy puts all the vodka, but respect. He can drink like a Russian«. When he says that, I feel honored. Kolya winks at me and we down another vodka while the women at the table roll their eyes. Only a few weeks later, Kolja has long since returned to Singapore, the boss and owner of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is pulled out of his private jet at Novosibirsk airport and arrested. He must have made a few strategic mistakes and fallen out with Putin. He is now facing charges of tax evasion. The family is insecure. What will become of Kolya now? In our apartment there is still an award that he received from his boss for his services. Kolya decides to stay in Singapore. His wife and son fly to visit him regularly. Then the rumor goes around in the family that Kolya is also wanted. His former assistant was picked up by secret service people and disappeared for a week. Her husband had sounded the alarm. The family gets involved, let relationships play, and after a week the poor woman is released. She is driven directly from the FSB building to the airport and she takes the next flight to Singapore with her family. The move will be processed later. The FSB is the domestic secret service, you could say something like the Stasi in the former GDR. I ask my Russian friends whether the FSB is as well organized as the Stasi was back then, but they only laugh and say: »You Germans have always done everything to perfection. We Russians are not that good«. One has to imagine the FSB to be correspondingly chaotic. To this day I have not found out how deep the FSB's spying goes, although I have been in contact with the secret service. and she takes the next plane to Singapore with her family. The move will be processed later. The FSB is the domestic secret service, you could say something like the Stasi in the former GDR. I ask my Russian friends whether the FSB is as well organized as the Stasi was back then, but they only laugh and say: »You Germans have always done everything to perfection. We Russians are not that good«. One has to imagine the FSB to be correspondingly chaotic. To this day I have not found out how deep the FSB's spying goes, although I have been in contact with the secret service. and she takes the next plane to Singapore with her family. The move will be processed later. The FSB is the domestic secret service, you could say something like the Stasi in the former GDR. I ask my Russian friends whether the FSB is as well organized as the Stasi was back then, but they only laugh and say: »You Germans have always done everything to perfection. We Russians are not that good«. One has to imagine the FSB to be correspondingly chaotic. To this day I have not found out how deep the FSB's spying goes, although I have been in contact with the secret service. but they just laugh and say: »You Germans have always done everything to perfection. We Russians are not that good«. One has to imagine the FSB to be correspondingly chaotic. To this day I have not found out how deep the FSB's spying goes, although I have been in contact with the secret service. but they just laugh and say: »You Germans have always done everything to perfection. We Russians are not that good«. One has to imagine the FSB to be correspondingly chaotic. To this day I have not found out how deep the FSB's spying goes, although I have been in contact with the secret service. Half a year later. It's Monday morning, eight o'clock. Julia is free, lies in bed next to me and watches TV while I check my e-mails. Suddenly the doorbell rings. We generally don't answer the door if it's not a registered visitor. Because then it's peddlers or gypsies who want to beg. But the ringing doesn't stop, it gets stronger until the people outside finally ring the bell. I get enough in about fifteen minutes and storm the door in anger. When I open the door to the anteroom, I'm grabbed and pushed roughly against the wall. Two unassuming looking men are standing in front of me. They chatter to me in Russian and I try to teach them that I'm German and don't speak Russian. One of them holds out an ID card to me. The other a copied warrant, on which I recognize a picture of Kolya. Ah, the secret service. "Now what?" I think. Julia stays silent in the apartment. One of the guys is holding me against the wall, the other is about to go into the apartment when the neighbor shows up. Apparently they rang her bell too. The neighbor explains to the gentlemen that I'm German and that Kolja hasn't lived here for years. The neighbor gets louder, yells at both of them, finally I'm let go. I start ranting in German, threatening with a message and consequences. I'm sure they don't understand me, but that can't hurt at the moment. The two decide to retreat and leave the antechamber in silence. The neighbor then talks to Julia. She's still pretty shocked. "Now what?" I think. Julia stays silent in the apartment. One of the guys is holding me against the wall, the other is about to go into the apartment when the neighbor shows up. Apparently they rang her bell too. The neighbor explains to the gentlemen that I'm German and that Kolja hasn't lived here for years. The neighbor gets louder, yells at both of them, finally I'm let go. I start ranting in German, threatening with a message and consequences. I'm sure they don't understand me, but that can't hurt at the moment. The two decide to retreat and leave the antechamber in silence. The neighbor then talks to Julia. She's still pretty shocked. "Now what?" I think. Julia stays silent in the apartment. One of the guys is holding me against the wall, the other is about to go into the apartment when the neighbor shows up. Apparently they rang her bell too. The neighbor explains to the gentlemen that I'm German and that Kolja hasn't lived here for years. The neighbor gets louder, yells at both of them, finally I'm let go. I start ranting in German, threatening with a message and consequences. I'm sure they don't understand me, but that can't hurt at the moment. The two decide to retreat and leave the antechamber in silence. The neighbor then talks to Julia. She's still pretty shocked. the other is about to go into the apartment when the neighbor shows up. Apparently they rang her bell too. The neighbor explains to the gentlemen that I'm German and that Kolja hasn't lived here for years. The neighbor gets louder, yells at both of them, finally I'm let go. I start ranting in German, threatening with a message and consequences. I'm sure they don't understand me, but that can't hurt at the moment. The two decide to retreat and leave the antechamber in silence. The neighbor then talks to Julia. She's still pretty shocked. the other is about to go into the apartment when the neighbor shows up. Apparently they rang her bell too. The neighbor explains to the gentlemen that I'm German and that Kolja hasn't lived here for years. The neighbor gets louder, yells at both of them, finally I'm let go. I start ranting in German, threatening with a message and consequences. I'm sure they don't understand me, but that can't hurt at the moment. The two decide to retreat and leave the antechamber in silence. The neighbor then talks to Julia. She's still pretty shocked. The neighbor gets louder, yells at both of them, finally I'm let go. I start ranting in German, threatening with a message and consequences. I'm sure they don't understand me, but that can't hurt at the moment. The two decide to retreat and leave the antechamber in silence. The neighbor then talks to Julia. She's still pretty shocked. The neighbor gets louder, yells at both of them, finally I'm let go. I start ranting in German, threatening with a message and consequences. I'm sure they don't understand me, but that can't hurt at the moment. The two decide to retreat and leave the antechamber in silence. The neighbor then talks to Julia. She's still pretty shocked. »How did they even know that we were at home?« asks Julia. "Of course," I state, "they checked the phone and noticed that it was busy because I was on the internet." Then we call the rest of the family. At the same time, other family members were also visited and interrogated. Apparently, the FSB really didn't know that Kolya has been living in Singapore for a long time. But I'm also aware now that I've landed on the Secret Service's radar. What is this German doing in Kolja's apartment? What does he know? Does he have anything to do with Yukos? These are certainly the questions that the clerks at the secret service also ask themselves. Our phone often clicks quite strangely, sometimes there is no connection at all. I'm sure our landline and cell phones are bugged. Sometimes I call my mother and even joke about it. If the line clicks again, we'll send it a few nice greetings to the people on the other end. My mother worries a little, but gradually takes it easy and even laughs about it. It's also a good story for friends back home in Bamberg. It's not often that something like this is said. A few months later I get a call from Kolya. His wife and son have now also moved to Singapore because it is now clear that he is wanted in Russia and cannot come back. A week after his wife moved out, his luxurious apartment was broken into. And this despite the fact that you need one key to get into the fenced area of the house and another to get into the house itself. Then you have to go to a concierge. Upstairs you need a third key to get into the antechamber and two more to open the security door. The apartment is also secured with an alarm system. When the alarm goes off, a heavily armed police unit will be at the door within five minutes, checking on things. "The Secret Service?" I ask. "Whoever. You didn't steal anything. The police were there later too. Too late. They investigate against unknown. I wanted to ask you if you don't want to move in with Julia. I think it's safer then and they'll think twice before bothering the German." "Sure, we'll move in with you. That's a great apartment too." "You don't pay anything, of course, except for the running costs for electricity and heat, etc.," says Kolya generously. A week later we move in and I enjoy the luxury of his beautiful apartment, although I feel like I'm being watched at every turn. Here, too, the telephone clicks. In fact, I'm sure our internet traffic is logged and monitored. Sometimes I go looking for bugs. Who knows what they left here when they broke in. Lili, Julia's friend and mafia boss's daughter, brings in a specialist who searches everything with equipment, but can't find any cameras or bugs. Then, one afternoon, there are suddenly several armed police officers with Kalashnikovs and bulletproof vests in front of the door. I can see them standing in front of the door thanks to the video surveillance. Unfortunately, I'm home alone and the shock from the last FSB visit is still in my bones. I decide not to open the door and hide while I alert Julia on my cell phone. She calls the family and their lawyer. In the end it turns out that the alarm system triggered an alarm, although it was actually turned off. Kolja's mother lives nearby and comes by to deal with the police. I stay nervous in the back room for so long. Was it really a false alarm, or was it the Secret Service again, on their way to a small spot check? To finally find out who is this German who lives there in Kolya's apartment? You have to register in Russia at a place of residence. However, I'm registered elsewhere because it's easier that way. So the bureaucracy doesn't know where to put me. Proper vodka drinking "Are you coming to my family's for dinner?" Julia asks. "No, I don't want to," I reply. "It's just going to be another big spree anyway." "You don't have to drink so much," says Julia. "Oh yes? And if I don't, I'll be the foreign pussy afterwards." "What a crap. This isn't a drinking contest where you have to prove your masculinity, it's a family dinner.” "Does your father know that too? I can still remember the last time.« "The one where you almost didn't make it home?" Julia asks and grins. 'It's your own fault if you drink so much. We warned you." In Russia, drinking is part of everyday life. Men prefer to drink vodka, whiskey or cognac. The women stay with Krimsekt or sweet wine. I've been in Moscow for a few years now and I think I finally got the hang of it. Here are my tips for drinking vodka and how to avoid total failure and a nasty hangover: It doesn't matter whether I'm going to a business meeting or a private party: I eat something beforehand, even and especially when the meetings are in restaurants. Because the first two to three vodka are poured right at the beginning, before there is anything to eat. It has to be strong and as greasy as possible. Sausage or cheese with lots of bread. Adenauer advised his entourage on the way to Moscow to drink a lot of oil before meeting with the Soviets in order to prevent the vodka situation. If I can, I pour my own vodka. Then you can pour about 10% under the rim and thus have less in the glass, and small animals also suck, especially when you have to drink ten to fifteen vodka in the evening. The Russians always fill the glass to the brim, but foreigners are forgiven for a lot. Later you can pour less, or just drink half. In the heat of the moment, the others don't even notice that your glass is only half full. But that's only possible when the rest of the round is already well seated. As a welcome, there is the first vodka. Depending on the host's preference, there is the gentle variant in small shot glasses, or the flatter, the long 0.2l glass, half full. The Russians measure vodka in grams. A shot glass is 25 grams, the flattener is 100 grams. In any case, there is vodka without ice and you drink the glass in one gulp. You don't mix it, the good vodka, that would be a break in style. The Russian's heart breaks when he sees vodka being consumed in German nightclubs and restaurants. In the best case you have a glass of water or juice next to it and you are allowed to rewind. A toast is always included. There are many rules when it comes to drinking vodka. If you drink alone, you are an alcoholic. If you drink without a toast, i.e. without a reason, then too. The hosts speak first, after that there's one about every 15 minutes, and after each toast the vodka is geext. The order of who has to make the toast and when is determined by the ranking and importance of the guests present. At some point it's your turn, and you should think about what you're going to say beforehand. It should be profound. Personal and as warm as the heart after a downed vodka. It can't be cheesy and cheesy enough. I like to be inspired by 70s hits from Dieter Thomas Heck's hit parade. After the fifth or sixth vodka, reproachful looks hail from the women present. First they try it with their husbands, but they are used to it and ignore them. So the entire women's group turns to the foreign guest. It would be laughable if they didn't succeed in forcing at least this one to his knees and thus curbing the men's drinking. 'Do you really want to drink that much? You will feel bad tomorrow. You don't have to be there, you know?" It starts out friendly but gets more energetic from vodka to vodka. The women try to intimidate you, while the men make it clear through their looks and requests for a drink that you're a wimp if you don't continue. Eventually you feel all the alcohol. One gets slightly dizzy, and somehow the words don't want to come out of the mouth as clearly as one actually thinks them. Then it's time to go through the mental checklist. have i eaten enough It's best to push something greasy afterwards. And water? Did I drink enough water in between? It helps to dilute the vodka with plenty of water or juice (in the belly) during the 10-15 minute breaks. So pour another glass of water straight away. And then you slowly get better. You mumble less and your senses are ready for action again. The women now become even more energetic and do everything they can to eliminate you. The vodka glass can disappear there, or you can find it filled with water. In any case, you should grin when the host wants to refill. Oh, my glass was accidentally taken down, may I have a new one, please? The host grins back and the men have just scored a bonus point while the ladies roll their eyes in mild irritation. When it really gets too much, I only drink half a glass. As I said, the others often don't even notice, or they simply ignore it. In any case, you don't lose face that way. It gets really fun at the end. The women clear the table and retire to the kitchen to have a leisurely smoke and gossip about the stupid men. "Quick," says the host, "let's have another one without the bitching bitches." Immediately afterwards he goes to the cupboard and asks: "Tequila, cognac or whiskey?" Oh dear, now it's really getting started. The women know the game and ignore us and the other drinks as they come back to the table and serve dessert. After that, things will calm down for the men, too. "And? Let's have another one,' I ask cheekily. The women go through the roof while the men nod wearily. And of course we drink at least two or three vodka until finally the door closes behind me and we go down in the elevator. "Did that have to be?" asks Julia. “No, but I didn't really want to come either, because I find these family evenings boring. You wanted me to be there, and I was just following the custom.' 'What customs? Nobody made you drink that much, did they?' “Well, there was a bit of indirect coercion. If I hadn't been drinking with them, I wouldn't be a real man to them." "That's rubbish!" 'Those are men's things, you have no idea. It's not even Russian,' I slur and stagger home. The Russian women thing Paul is my first German contact in Moscow. My sister knows the mother of a Berlin friend of his. They often chat on the internet and found out that we both just moved to Moscow. I only meet Paul five months after arriving in Moscow. We instantly like each other and have a lot in common. While "Altmanner skateboarding" in a skate park in Moscow's suburbs, Paul sees my board. The luggage tape with the flight number of my entry to Russia is still stuck to the underside. "Aha, so you flew to Moschkau on October 16," says Paul in his best Swabian. "Yes, exactly. You too? That's crazy." Then it turns out that we were both on the same plane. Both on their way to live in Moscow. Two years later. "Dude, I got a new girlfriend last weekend," Paul says on the phone. “She's a bit young, but so cool and so sexy. She just wants to fuck all the time and anticipates my every wish.« "Sounds familiar," I reply and give Paul the short version of my theory that German men and Russian women don't mix well and that the relationship usually ends in drama. I'm not only referring to my own experiences. Over the years I've seen too many love affairs and even marriages break up, and the reasons for breakups were similar. Russian men grow up well protected by the women in their families. They don't have to worry about anything and are usually very dependent when it comes to housework, clothes or everyday life. Mom takes care of everything and makes the necessary decisions. Later one of the friends takes over. This usually happens in their mid-twenties. Single twenty-five-year-old women in Russia feel like thirty-five and are in a hurry to finally get under the hood. The newly married couple then either move in with one of the parents, or they are provided with an apartment by the family. The girlfriend then takes on the role of mother and is in charge. This may not coincide with the macho image that we Germans have of Russian men, Russian women acquire the necessary skills at an early age and do not see any other role models in their families. This is expressed in concrete terms in many areas of daily life. Russian women never carry their suitcases themselves. Not even when the man is already fully laden and time is running out. Not even two meters, because it's all about the principle. That's his problem and he has to take care of it. The men generally take out the garbage. And sometimes you stand in the doorway fully dressed, on your way to a business meeting or a family celebration. "You can't leave the house like that," she says, even though you're wearing the suit, which was OK last time. You made the mistake of not asking if you could wear that exact outfit. In this case, there is no chance even if we're already way too late because she was idling in front of the mirror all the time. It's the same when shopping in the supermarket. The man pushes the shopping cart and has to pay, but that also limits his rights. The selection of the products that end up in the shopping cart is made by the woman. This list of examples could go on for several pages, but I think you get the point. But that alone is not enough. There are other points of friction in a German-Russian relationship. Russians like it very emotional. An emancipated partnership based on partnership, as we know it in Germany, is too boring for the Russians. No, if you don't fight, you don't love each other. Thus, arguments are regularly conjured up out of nowhere just to get the other to prove their love. Not answering a Russian woman's argument, or even being defensive and trying to appease her, means you don't love your Russian woman. If you want to infuriate a Russian woman, all you have to do is try to placate her or let her go nowhere. It only causes the opposite, and the dream woman becomes a fury. it goes so far and I speak from my own experience that the Russian woman hits you angrily with her fists. After all, it's about love. Another point is the gift thing. The more you love your Russian wife, the bigger the gifts must be. You have to invest in your wife to avoid problems. The expenses depend on the woman's age, social status and previous experiences with other men. If you only invest minimally, you quickly run up. Incidentally, the amount of the expected sum is related to the man's income and should hurt him. Only then will the gift of love be accepted. This applies to Christmas and birthdays as well as to everyday life. There are no small gifts. Foreign men and Germans in general are often referred to as "stingy" by the women in Moscow's party scene. As a foreigner, you don't stand a chance with many women, because word has gotten around that that we never spend as much money as a Russian. It's also not uncommon in rich circles for a model to get a car the next day after a one-night stand. And we're not talking about a small car here, but a BMW 6 Series or something like that. Of course there are exceptions among women, but they are very rare and it is more likely to win the lottery than to find the right woman here. I've seen all of this over and over again over the past few years. In my own relationship, but also with friends and acquaintances. It's always the same: the Russian woman reads her husband's every wish from the eyes. Eventually, when she feels secure and superior in the relationship, the tide turns and she becomes a bitching bitch. With some you notice this after a short time, with others only afterwards months. The whole thing has nothing to do with women who are keen on a foreign passport. Or the so-called »gold diggers«, who only care about money. They abound in Moscow's "everyone consumes everyone" mood. "No. No,” Paul says, like everyone else, when I offer them my opinion on Russian-German relations. »Mine is completely different«. "Let's hope so," is my standard response. A few years later, his relationship is in bad shape. Paul doesn't want to put up with his “No. No« remember. A short time later he breaks up and soon after leaves for San Francisco. The Russia lover has become a realist. The oligarch Oligarch is a word that is used a lot in Russia. Millionaires are called oligarchs by the people, and as is well known, there are many of them in Moscow. The real oligarchs, however, are a dozen billionaires at the top of Russian society. Many of them made their money in the wild 90's. Most have gone to great lengths and appropriated some of the state-owned enterprises through fraud or blackmail. Some of today's oligarchs come from the environment of Boris Yeltsin, they are called "the family" because he gave them rich gifts during his tenure. Even Yeltsin's personal driver has become a millionaire thanks to him; he was given land and a magnificent city villa by the president. Some of the billionaires are on Putin's side. The others are now in jail or have fled to England or Israel. After Putin came to power, there was a deal between him and the oligarchs: "You can keep what you've misappropriated in recent years, but you can't get involved in politics." Initially, Putin did not have enough power to take up the fight with them. Later, one or the other danced out of line. So Khodorkovsky decided to go into politics and form an opposition against Putin, but Putin became powerful enough to send the formerly richest man in Russia to a labor camp in Siberia. what you have unlawfully appropriated in recent years, but you must not get involved in politics.' The oligarchs only cared about their business, and Putin initially did not have enough power to take up the fight with them. Later, one or the other danced out of line. So Khodorkovsky decided to go into politics and form an opposition against Putin, but Putin became powerful enough to send the formerly richest man in Russia to a labor camp in Siberia. what you have unlawfully appropriated in recent years, but you must not get involved in politics.' The oligarchs only cared about their business, and Putin initially did not have enough power to take up the fight with them. Later, one or the other danced out of line. So Khodorkovsky decided to go into politics and form an opposition against Putin, but Putin became powerful enough to send the formerly richest man in Russia to a labor camp in Siberia. Julia is on a four week tour with the Bolshoi in London. We talk on the phone almost every day. 'I have to go to some stupid event tonight. An oligarch, a sponsor of the Bolshoi, is throwing a private party tonight. For this he has chosen ten ballerinas who have to go there to entertain him and his guests.« "What do you mean? Entertain?” I ask. "No idea. We're supposed to go there and stand around. Don't know what to expect«. Somehow I don't have a good feeling about this. An oligarch is the sponsor of the Bolshoi and chooses ten girls for his private party? That sounds like forced prostitution. Yes, of course I'm exaggerating. Most of the girls probably voluntarily sleep with the oligarch or his wealthy friends, but my Julia is there. What will she do when she's expected to have sex with the oligarch? After all, the man is currently the third richest billionaire in Russia. "Don't go there," I say. "That will not do. We must. But do not worry. Nothing's going to happen, and no matter what, I'm going to say no." What she says sounds good, but it doesn't calm me down in the slightest. I toss and turn in bed all night worrying. The next day we call again. Julia talks about all sorts of irrelevant stuff and I have to ask her about the previous evening. Only then does she hesitantly tell me about the party. The girls got there and sat at a large table with the oligarch and his friends. One by one they hooked a girl, and a friend of the oligarch's in New York was interested in Julia. However, she put him in his place and didn't want to take part. "And?" I ask. "Nothing else. I sat around there for a while and then they drove me to the hotel.” "And you want me to believe that?" I ask angrily. "I guess you won't have any other choice," she replies. No, I have to trust her. I can't accuse her of anything, even if it's hard for me to believe this story. Why didn't Julia talk about it right away, but only after I asked her about it? There's something fishy about this. I know, but for now it's better to keep quiet. Julia is in London for a few more days. We don't talk on the phone that often anymore. She says she's busy and tired. I have no idea how to deal with this. Now she was involved with one of the guys there, wasn't she? This question worries me all the time and I can't really work anymore because it's hard for me to think about anything else. After a week Julia comes home. We act like nothing happened. But after a day the phone rings. Julia takes it and goes to the other room, although she speaks Russian and knows that I can't understand anything. "Who was that?" I ask. "Nothing. It was the theatre. They wanted something.« I don't believe her, but decide to leave it at that. Over the next few days the phone rings again and again, once even in the middle of the night. 'But that wasn't the theatre. At half past two in the morning. Or?” I ask angrily. "No, it wasn't," says Julia. "And? Who was it?" 'That was Oleg. He's in Ukraine, in a hotel. Drunk." "Oleg the oligarch?" I ask. 'Yes, the oligarch. But you gotta believe me I had nothing with him. Nothing happened that night in London. I'm home alone He got my phone number from the theater the next day. Since then he calls me and wants to meet me. Sometimes he just calls to tell me how cute he thinks I am and wants to talk. Most of the time he's drunk when he calls." I'm speechless. I sit on the edge of the bed, shaking my head. This is a huge problem. How did I get into this situation? The third richest man in Russia wants my girl. He can have any. But he just wants mine. What now? Pack up and give up? I don't stand a chance against this guy anyway. "And now?" I ask Julia. "No idea. I stall him. I don't want him, I just want you. It doesn't matter how much money he has. He'll give up at some point.« I'm stunned and touched at the same time. Over the next few weeks and months, Julia's phone rang regularly and she spoke to Oleg, sometimes for a long time, sometimes for a short time. Sometimes she is also late from work because Oleg ambushed her and she still had to talk to him. Once she even had to take a drink with him and came home two hours late. I ask my family how to deal with the situation but they just tell me to keep cool and wait. "Julia has to sort it out," my mother says, as do most of my friends. The subject also comes up at Julia's regular family gatherings. Julia's family is worried about me. The mother and stepfather would probably prefer to see Julia with the oligarch. The rest of the family, especially the father, are worried about me because I'm starting to get angry. Especially when I've downed a few vodka. I think a lot these days. Oleg is also just a man. OK, a powerful man, but he wants something that's mine, and I find it disrespectful that he's taking it so openly. In the end I decide to do something about it. It doesn't matter if I get beat up or end up dead in a dump. I would rather die with dignity than spend the rest of my life feeling like a wimp and a loser. "How far will he go?" I wonder. What am I getting myself into? Doesn't matter. I must go through it. First, I write down the whole story. I then send it to my best friends with instructions to go to the press if anything happens to me or I disappear. Then, on a Tuesday evening, Julia is in the shower and the phone rings again. I'll answer On the other side, someone whispers something in Russian that sounds something like "Well, my little one?" "This is Chris, Julia's boyfriend," I reply in English. 'Please don't call here again. I do not condone this.« "Sorry, I don't speak English," comes the broken voice from the other end. "Ah, that's it," I reply aggressively. "You're one of the richest men in Russia, with a villa in London, but you don't speak English, huh?" It clicks on the other side. Oleg hung up. I take the SIM card out of Julia's phone and roll it down the toilet. When Julia comes out of the shower, I tell her everything. She's mad at me because she's worried. When I tell her that I threw her SIM card in the toilet, she gets even more angry. "All my contacts!" she screams. "Sorry. There was no other way. We'll get you a new number tomorrow and don't give it to anyone in the theater,' I order. I expect the worst in the next few days. I don't dare go out on the street, just waiting for someone to pull me into a car or for a thug to show up and beat me up. But nothing happens. Nothing at all. A few weeks later, Oleg watches Julia after the performance. "So. So you have a boyfriend,' he says. “You'll regret that we didn't become friends and that you let me down like this. You'll need me sooner or later.«. Julia says goodbye politely and drives home to her middle-class German. At some point it's still over between Julia and me. The drama drags on for years until I finally find the strength to separate. She's a good girl and a great woman. We just don't fit together. In the end I'm almost glad and relieved that it's over. The relationship was all good and bad, there was nothing in between, and you never knew when trouble might come. Now I have more time and can enjoy Moscow's party life. It will be years before I hear from Oleg again. In the meantime, he's divorced, his empire has collapsed, and he's just one of many billionaires in the country. He also no longer sponsors the Bolshoi. But he's still interested in Julia. Although we haven't been together for years, she hasn't tried it with him yet. At least that's what she says. I don't care anymore. Joyce “Can I stay until Monday?” asks Joyce, a Brazilian DJ whom we fly to Moscow for a party. "Well, we have the hotel room for one night, but you can sleep in my guest room if you like." "Sure, that's how we do it," she texts back. Then I think. An exotic girl with us in the men flat share? There is no weekend without alcohol, drugs and women. Most of the time we meet up with our conquests in the kitchen for the after party somewhere between 6am and 12pm. One of our DJs plays there, we sit together and talk. It does happen that a girl strips for us. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the invitation was a good idea. Oh well. We will see. My roommate Pascha and I talk about it briefly. We both think it's very brave of Joyce. We only know her via email and have only spoken to each other on the phone so far. Friday. I lug Joyce's heavy bags down our aisle. She is in her mid-twenties, exotic and good-looking. A little bundle of energy. After just a few sentences, she's talking about sex. "Great," I think, already imagining today's after party in the kitchen. Then we go to the club. Along the way, I'm beginning to realize that Joyce also likes women. Once in a while. Or maybe always? Around four o'clock, Joyce has finished her DJ set. "So what do we do now?" I ask her. "We're going home and fucking," she says, grinning at me. I'm speechless for a moment. "Barman, another drink, please." That was a bit too direct for me, and I don't know what she means either. Natascha, my VJane, is sitting across from me at the mixing desk. She looks at me and shakes her head because she also wanted to go to the cake after party today. Joyce and I are sipping cocktails and fooling around. Natascha gives up and packs her things. When I get home, I ask: »And? Are we still going to a club?" "No, I'm tired. Let's listen to some more music,' she says. We're sitting in the kitchen and Joyce is playing me her own songs. At some point Pasha will be in the door. He can just stand. "I don't like Joyce," he whispers in my ear. “It's okay, I'll take care of her. you can go to bed Don't have to stay here with us." An hour later I'm just too tired and decide to go to bed. Luca, our third roommate, is now also at home. Exceptionally solo and halfway sober. That's why he let it rip yesterday and got me out of bed at six on Friday morning. When I went to complain, I found him in the kitchen with two girls and champagne. I wake up two hours later. The bass is still humming in the kitchen. It must be around nine or ten in the morning. People in the kitchen yell at each other. There are now also a few female voices. I don't care. I turn from side to side. Then I bury my head under the pillow, but I just can't sleep anymore. I don't know if it's all the Red Bull vodka from the night before or the shouting and loud music from the kitchen. I go to the toilet for a moment, warn the people in the kitchen about the neighbors and the police. Natascha is sitting with Joyce and the boys. In the end she probably decided to come and see us after all. Luca is still standing. Hard to believe. He slept a maximum of two hours yesterday. Joyce is flirting with me, and I wonder if she'll stop by before she goes back to her room. She wants me to stay in the kitchen, but I head back to bed. I am woken up half an hour later. A girl lies on top of me and whispers in my ear. "Are you already sleeping?" "What are you thinking?" I reply, half dazed. "Oh I see. OK, then I'll go again,' she says. Typical Natasha. "No, stay there." She turns around, grins and wants to slip under my covers with her clothes on. "Well?" I ask skeptically, "first take off your clothes." She obeys and slips naked under my covers. It doesn't take long and we start kissing. Shortly afterwards we have our fun. "What do you mean?" Natascha says. "Shall we bring Joyce in?" "Why not," I reply. "Oh no," she says. "I was just kidding." "OK then not. But I'm happy to go back into the kitchen and get them if you want." "No, let's do it," says Natascha. I am exhausted. It's been a long evening. At some point we fall asleep. Then, a few hours later, I wake up. Joyce comes into the room briefly, but leaves immediately. In the kitchen, the bass hums loudly. It's midday. I am going to the kitchen. Pasha and Joyce are still listening to music. Luca has disappeared. Joyce hugs me. Pasha is quite ready. Next to the two is an empty fruit brandy bottle. Joyce hugs me and dances with me. I briefly consider whether I should still invite her to our place. But Natascha doesn't want to. Around four o'clock Natascha wakes up and says she has to go home. I actually still have a few things to do. "Hm," says Natasha. “Maybe we should have done that with Joyce after all?” "Well, it's a bit late now," I reply. Joyce sleeps in the room next door. "Wake her up," Natascha suggests. 'No, I'm tired now and Joyce just went to bed. Besides, I'm glad she's sleeping and it's finally quiet.« Natascha is disappointed. She gets dressed and leaves. Only a few hours later we are on our way again. Joyce plays her set at another club and after that we go to Solyanka. There I talk to some girls, past loves and strangers. Every time I'm standing next to a girl, Joyce jumps up and joins in the conversation, flirting badly with the girls. Man, she's got more balls than all of us here. Joyce can tell I'm getting skeptical because a lot of the girls are taking ReiBaus. "What is it?" she asks. “We've got to get going. You want a nice threesome too, don't you?” I grin. It's time to move on. We want to go to Paparazzi, one of the best after-hour clubs. There is a nice girl on the way out. Class figure. She's in her early twenties. Joyce approaches her and invites her to come along. Surprisingly, she agrees. The two kiss in the taxi. I sit in front and watch. In the paparazzi, they both disappear together to the toilet, and my man fantasies are slowly waking up to me. When they come back I'm standing at the bar. It feels good to be standing around with two women making out and involving me. After an hour we go home. Joyce and her girl are back in the cab and I see Joyce's hand running down her legs and under the girl's skirt. She has closed her eyes and is obviously enjoying it. Arrived home, Joyce pulls her lover into my room. The two kiss. I decide to leave her alone, but just want to go inside to get my smokes. As I stand by my shelf and pull out the small metal box, Joyce grabs my arm and steers me towards the door. Even as she closes the door, she says: "If we need a cock, we'll call you." That was still quite cheeky. I sit on the couch and roll a joint. As I smoke it, I hear the two of them moaning in the next room. Maybe I should ruber and just lie down? No, I don't need it that much either. I lie down and slowly fall asleep while the two of them enjoy themselves noisily in my room. The next day the girl sneaks out of the room. I hear it but pretend I'm still asleep. Later we're having brunch and I ask Joyce how it was. "Yes, the Russians, they're great!" Joyce enthuses. "I have to come back soon." 'Sure, I'll book you as soon as I have an opportunity. But then you get a hotel room.« When Joyce is gone, Pasha comes out of his room. He still looks worn out from the last few days' drinking. He stayed home after the cake session, but continued to drink anyway. "And? Is she gone?” he asks. "Yeah, I just put her in the cab." Then I tell Pasha about last night's lesbian act. "It's probably better that she drives again," says Pascha. “A bisexual Brazilian in Moscow, that doesn't quite fit. It was quite exhausting.« "Or so you say? I looked after her for two days and nights. What shall I say first?' "Come on. Let's have a smoke and hope Joyce catches her plane.” Pasha grins. The Vikings in Moscow "How is it looking? I once felt like visiting you in Moscow,« writes Thomas on Facebook. "Aren't you fed up with me and the trouble we both get?" I ask. "It's OK. That makes life worth living," Thomas replies. I know him from the old snowboard days. At that time I was a coach at snowboard camps in Norway for a few weeks. Even then Thomas was a party animal and we had a lot of fun together. We met in Stryn, the first camp I was invited to. Thomas had a car and took me to his family in Bergen for a weekend. We made the local clubs unsafe there. Later he drove me to the other camps. I was there when he dismantled his car on a small Norwegian pass road. We are lucky that nothing happened to us at the time. When Thomas visited me in New York a few years later, we got into serious trouble. 'Cause we got set up by a drug dealer we even ended up in jail and then before the coroner and there was a lot of trouble. That was almost twelve years ago now. "So?" I ask. “Are you sure you want to come to Moscow? I don't know what prison is like here. Does your mother even let you come see me again?” “Yes, of course I want to come. Moscow will definitely be an adventure, and I can really use that!” says Thomas. Before that he told me that he has now given up snowboarding and has become a marketing manager in a large sausage factory. He was also married with two children and recently divorced. "I've got some catching up to do and the New York story was tough but one of the best of my life." A few weeks later Thomas is in Moscow. The first thing he does is pull a bottle of Jameson out of his luggage and grin. "You can drink it alone," is my answer. That same evening we go to Soljanka. Coincidentally, the club is celebrating its birthday that evening. There is a long queue in front of the door, but only invited guests can get past the doorman. There's a lot of free drinks inside and the place is packed. Thomas immediately gets the right impression of Moscow. He's happy because there are plenty of pretty women and hard liquor. He's still alone today, but tomorrow Jan-Erik, a mutual friend from Oslo, will join us and then we'll step on the gas. It's a long weekend and we have a lot to do. I lost Thomas in the commotion a few hours later, but I'm sure he's having fun. The last time I saw him he was standing next to a tall blonde woman and it seemed like something was moving between the two. I dance in the smaller bar room. When I look at the clock, I realize that it's already six o'clock in the morning. Then suddenly a girl stands in front of me and grins. She's holding a wine glass, which is unusual for Soljanka. "You're cute," she says. I grin. "Let's go fuck" is the second sentence and she grabs my hand and pulls me out of the commotion. She's in a hurry and pulls me out into the street. It's bitterly cold there and it's snowing. I wonder what she's up to, but follow her. My brain isn't working anymore anyway, because I've been drinking well all evening. The girl pulls me into the neighboring yard and there behind a gate. Shortly thereafter, she pulls my pants down, an elastic over them, and we have sex. Not only is it very cold, but I'm ankle-deep in the mud, and it smells really weird. After a while it gets to be too much for me. "Come on, let's go to my house or yours, there's no point in this," I say. "OK, let's go to you," she says. After that we get dressed and I realize that my pants were lying in the stinking mud and I smell pretty nasty now. As we walk back down the street, I remember leaving Thomas at the club. That's bad, because they won't let me in so dirty and smelly anymore. Just at that moment I see Thomas walking past us in front of the street. I call him, he stops and laughs. "Oh, here you are. I was just about to go to the subway and see how I can get to your house." Shortly thereafter, the three of us are sitting in the taxi and I learn that the girl's name is Olga and that she is a journalist. She seems to be in good spirits, as she writes on economic issues for one of Russia's largest daily newspapers, Kommersant, and she has even interviewed Putin. Thomas and I have respect for that. But I also have that in front of her directness. I think that was the quickest pick-up I've ever seen. Sex after almost three sentences, that hasn't even happened to me yet. And he was "dirty" too, I think to myself, because just now a cloud of scent from the stinking mud is wafting up into my nose. When you get home, the taxi driver suddenly wants double the agreed price. Olga gets mad and argues with him in Russian. I don't want to get into trouble and I know the Moscow taxi drivers well enough now to know that this can quickly turn violent, so I want to give him the money, but Olga holds me back. The taxi driver then calls her a foreign whore, which pisses Olga off even more. We get out and the driver follows us because we still haven't paid him. Outside I want to give him the money again, but Olga is now on one hundred and eighty. The driver calls her a whore again, which Olga acknowledges with a hard kick on the fender of his Lada. Thomas stands there tiredly, watches and wonders about the Russian girls. After the kick, the driver goes back to the car and gets something from the door shelf. I know from experience that this is not good, and I approach the driver to calm him down and finally pay him. He has a steel pipe in his hand and is trying to attack me with it. I am now standing between Olga and the driver and am being attacked from both sides, because Olga sees the steel bar and wants to hit the driver with her bare fists. "Pretty brave for a woman," I think, holding the steel bar with one hand and trying to push Olga out of reach with the other. Bad memories wash over Thomas at this moment and he decides to intervene before we end up in jail somewhere again. I'm pretty calm and relaxed now. Now Thomas comes at me and tries pulling me out of the middle while the taxi driver is now hitting him with the steel bar. But Thomas takes it well, because he is only hit in the arm and shoulder. He pushes me backwards into a safe area, now Thomas stands between the taxi driver, Olga and me. I try to give Thomas the money to pay the driver but every time I approach him he pushes me back and tells me to stay there and calm down. I'm still completely calm. I just can't shake the feeling that I'm the only one who can relax the situation, so I try again and again. It goes on like this for a few minutes, and Thomas has to take it pretty well by now. The driver hits harder and hits more often now. Olga, on the other hand, kicks the car again and just destroys one of the headlights, which makes the taxi driver even more angry. I decide to give up and open the door to my house. Then I call Thomas and Olga. After a while they break away from the driver and sprint over to me. The taxi driver runs after them in a rage. When the two of them are through the door, I toss a 500-ruble note onto the street and pull the door shut just before the driver manages to get in. Olga scolds me because I also gave the taxi driver some money. Thomas is happy we're out of harm's way and I didn't get him in trouble again. I decide to give up and open the door to my house. Then I call Thomas and Olga. After a while they break away from the driver and sprint over to me. The taxi driver runs after them in a rage. When the two of them are through the door, I toss a 500-ruble note onto the street and pull the door shut just before the driver manages to get in. Olga scolds me because I also gave the taxi driver some money. Thomas is happy we're out of harm's way and I didn't get him in trouble again. I decide to give up and open the door to my house. Then I call Thomas and Olga. After a while they break away from the driver and sprint over to me. The taxi driver runs after them in a rage. When the two of them are through the door, I toss a 500-ruble note onto the street and pull the door shut just before the driver manages to get in. Olga scolds me because I also gave the taxi driver some money. Thomas is happy we're out of harm's way and I didn't get him in trouble again. before the driver manages to get inside. Olga scolds me because I also gave the taxi driver some money. Thomas is happy we're out of harm's way and I didn't get him in trouble again. before the driver manages to get inside. Olga scolds me because I also gave the taxi driver some money. Thomas is happy we're out of harm's way and I didn't get him in trouble again. "But you're already answering," I say to Olga. "That damn asshole called me a whore!" 'Yeah, OK, but kick the car in a couple of dents right away? I don't know if that's the right way to answer," I say, thinking, "Just for one Journalist who usually deals with oligarchs and politicians.« Olga slowly calms down. Then we'll sit in my living room and have another drink. I've thrown my stinky mud jeans in the washing machine and I'm just looking forward to bed and continuing the dirty sex with Olga. It goes wild and is quite unconventional. It must be ten in the morning when we finally fall asleep. Olga snuggles up to me and is suddenly very tame. Around noon Thomas stands in front of my bed. "Come on, wake up!" he orders. "I'm hungry and we have to start sightseeing." I'd thrown a pillow in every other guest's face and chased them out, but I still feel guilty about the jail thing to Thomas. So I get up without a word and get dressed. "We can take Olga with us and throw it somewhere on the way," I say, while she crawls under the covers and doesn't understand at all how one can even think about sightseeing on a gray winter day with sleet. An hour later we are sitting in a taxi and driving through the city center. Olga's home is on the way to our first stop. On the way she plays the tourist guide and tells Thomas all sorts of things that I didn't know either. After we dropped Olga off, Thomas immediately wants to go to the next bar. He needs a beer for breakfast. In the late afternoon Jan-Erik comes along, and that completes the Vikings. The last time I saw Thomas, he was still relatively slim. He's big anyway, a real giant, over five feet. But the beer belly he's got is beyond the imagination of a true Bavarian. Well, it's no wonder he looks like that, and even in Bavaria there are few people who can manage eight beers and two rum cokes on a Saturday afternoon after a long night of drinking. Thomas doesn't even seem drunk. Jan-Erik is doing well too. When we leave Pacha around midnight, there are endless empty beer bottles in our living room, with the almost empty Jameson bottle in between. But the boys are in good spirits and still not showing any sign of tiredness, At Pacha we find the typical commercial party and the accompanying middle-class Moscow crowd. The store is too boring for me personally, but for guests it's always a good starting point for the capital's nightlife. The Pacha is just getting full. We're early. Guests often come to the club, and because it's still too empty, they decide to move on. Moscow simply has too many good clubs. It doesn't bother them at all. You go straight to the bar and order a round of long drinks. And because these are too weak, another round of tequila is thrown afterwards. The Vikings are lucky. Although Moscow is considered one of the most expensive cities in the world, it is a lot cheaper to go out here than in Oslo. And the many young girls with the skimpy clothes and the long legs that end in high heels are definitely a bonus, although there are very pretty women in Norway too. Of course, the guys don't know that at this time there are invariably models in the club who get paid to stand around. The club owner is convinced that this encourages the male guests to drink. It definitely seems to work for the Norwegians. They stand at the bar drinking up courage while staring at the girls next door. I just stand there, bored, wondering if I should enlighten her. No, I let the boys have their fun. The Pacha is slowly getting fuller and the normal guests trundle in. The club owner is convinced that this encourages the male guests to drink. It definitely seems to work for the Norwegians. They stand at the bar drinking up courage while staring at the girls next door. I just stand there, bored, wondering if I should enlighten her. No, I let the boys have their fun. The Pacha is slowly getting fuller and the normal guests trundle in. The club owner is convinced that this encourages the male guests to drink. It definitely seems to work for the Norwegians. They stand at the bar drinking up courage while staring at the girls next door. I just stand there, bored, wondering if I should enlighten her. No, I let the boys have their fun. The Pacha is slowly getting fuller and the normal guests trundle in. An hour later we sit briefly at the owner's table and drink another round of tequila. The owner, an American from LA, is a nice guy, one of the better guys in Moscow nightlife. He started as a promoter years ago, after which he had his first own club, which in the mid-2000s was one of the best in the city. Unfortunately, he wasn't so lucky with Pacha, even though the club is in a premium location, Nikolskaya, one of the most expensive shopping streets in the city center. He met the Pacha people while partying in Ibiza. They then sold him a license for the club. But Pacha Moscow is not Pacha Ibiza. This is where the general party people from all over the world meet to party for a hefty entrance fee. In Moscow, the audience was a little high-profile at first, but Pacha has quickly lost its glamor and become the playground of the upper middle class and the wannabe rich. The club has been struggling with its image for years, but is still one of the top five clubs in Moscow. The rich and famous, however, go elsewhere. But the Pacha is just right for my two Vikings. They would only get bored in a top store because they simply wouldn't pay any attention there. The Russians are pretty good at that. It's difficult enough to get into one of these clubs as it is, but once you do, you're completely ignored. Even the bartenders don't take an interest in you and you wait forever to be served, knowing that the foreigner just wants a beer while the Russian next door orders bottles of champagne for himself and his girls. It's different in Pacha. You're on par with the young middle-class managers, and it's much easier to strike up a conversation - or hit on a woman. This even seems to work for beer-bellied Norwegians, because before long my two boys are standing next to two girls. I'm still bored. "The music at Pacha isn't good at all," I think, just as a horde of dressed-up transvestites pass me. And even they look better in Moscow than anywhere else in Europe. I use the time, walk through the club and talk to a few old acquaintances. We're doing a project for Pacha at the moment and I know a lot of people on the staff. Even the otherwise angry-looking security guards grin and greet me with a handshake. You're on par with the young middle-class managers, and it's much easier to strike up a conversation - or hit on a woman. This even seems to work for beer-bellied Norwegians, because before long my two boys are standing next to two girls. I'm still bored. "The music at Pacha isn't good at all," I think, just as a horde of dressed-up transvestites pass me. And even they look better in Moscow than anywhere else in Europe. I use the time, walk through the club and talk to a few old acquaintances. We're doing a project for Pacha at the moment and I know a lot of people on the staff. Even the otherwise angry-looking security guards grin and greet me with a handshake. You're on par with the young middle-class managers, and it's much easier to strike up a conversation - or hit on a woman. This even seems to work for beer-bellied Norwegians, because before long my two boys are standing next to two girls. I'm still bored. "The music at Pacha isn't good at all," I think, just as a horde of dressed-up transvestites pass me. And even they look better in Moscow than anywhere else in Europe. I use the time, walk through the club and talk to a few old acquaintances. We're doing a project for Pacha at the moment and I know a lot of people on the staff. Even the otherwise angry-looking security guards grin and greet me with a handshake. to start a conversation - or to hit on a woman. This even seems to work for beer-bellied Norwegians, because before long my two boys are standing next to two girls. I'm still bored. "The music at Pacha isn't good at all," I think, just as a horde of dressed-up transvestites pass me. And even they look better in Moscow than anywhere else in Europe. I use the time, walk through the club and talk to a few old acquaintances. We're doing a project for Pacha at the moment and I know a lot of people on the staff. Even the otherwise angry-looking security guards grin and greet me with a handshake. to start a conversation - or to hit on a woman. This even seems to work for beer-bellied Norwegians, because before long my two boys are standing next to two girls. I'm still bored. "The music at Pacha isn't good at all," I think, just as a horde of dressed-up transvestites pass me. And even they look better in Moscow than anywhere else in Europe. I use the time, walk through the club and talk to a few old acquaintances. We're doing a project for Pacha at the moment and I know a lot of people on the staff. Even the otherwise angry-looking security guards grin and greet me with a handshake. I'm still bored. "The music at Pacha isn't good at all," I think, just as a horde of dressed-up transvestites pass me. And even they look better in Moscow than anywhere else in Europe. I use the time, walk through the club and talk to a few old acquaintances. We're doing a project for Pacha at the moment and I know a lot of people on the staff. Even the otherwise angry-looking security guards grin and greet me with a handshake. I'm still bored. "The music at Pacha isn't good at all," I think, just as a horde of dressed-up transvestites pass me. And even they look better in Moscow than anywhere else in Europe. I use the time, walk through the club and talk to a few old acquaintances. We're doing a project for Pacha at the moment and I know a lot of people on the staff. Even the otherwise angry-looking security guards grin and greet me with a handshake. When I come back, Thomas has his girl firmly under control. It's a tall blonde. She has a good figure but could have had a prettier face. I can tell by the style right away that it's a girl from the suburbs. Jan-Erik is alone and is already waiting for me with the next round of drinks. After that we go down to the dance floor to check the situation. On the way there we have to work our way through the crowd. There are all sorts of people on the steps who want to see and be seen. I move as best I can. On the one hand I don't like the music at all, on the other hand I bump into the people around me with every movement. Just when I've had enough and want to go back upstairs, a girl stands in front of me and grins at me. She makes a little space and dances. I look her up and down. A woman in her mid-twenties, blonde, in a black dress and with the typical ultra-high heels. Of course I like them, but when I see these things I always ask myself how you can even move with them. Let alone dancing or stumbling around on icy winter sidewalks. I grin back and we dance for a while. "My name is Anastasia," she yells in my ear. "I am pleased to meet you. Shall we go to the bar for a drink?” I ask, taking the opportunity to finally get off the dance floor. Jan-Erik dances next to me and is a little disappointed at first. But then he realizes that Anastasia still has a girlfriend with her. That was clear to me from the start, because only hookers are alone in Moscow's nightlife. Otherwise, the women always come in pairs, which always becomes a problem at the end of the evening when you've finally gotten one of the girls ready and want to go home with her. Then it suddenly doesn't matter that you've invested 150 euros in drinks and haven't looked at any other rock all evening. Then they are siblings and have to take care of each other. So that the other person doesn't do anything stupid. That's why your girl suddenly pulls back. And you thought you had everything under control and the pig in the poke. "And? What are we going to do with your girlfriend?” you asked earlier. "No problem. I'll tell her I want to be alone with you,' she replies. Then comes the moment when she goes to her friend to tell her that she is going home with you now. She comes back and says, "Just a moment. My girlfriend wants to stay here and I can't leave her alone.« Or: »Let's have breakfast together«, which almost always ends with me paying for breakfast and then going home alone. Your girl is often already in the taxi, and then her friend jumps in with her. "We'll drive to you first," they say. "What? The three of you?” I ask. Most of the time they drop me off at my place and then decide to drive on to their house and of course as a gentleman I have to pay for it. But sometimes I'm lucky and they come up with me. Then I have a chance, because one of my roommates is often waiting there for me to bring a surprise guest. Then they get drunk together and maybe after a while I can get my girl into bed while my roommate entertains the other one. If my friends knew that I was living in a shared apartment, they would never come up with me. We stand at the bar and drink the umpteenth round. I'm starting to feel the alcohol. Jan-Erik is working on Anastasia's girlfriend. However, both of them do not speak English at all, so it is not easy to communicate. But the alcohol helps. I look around the club looking for Thomas but I can't find him anywhere so I text him. “I'm on my way to my blonde's apartment. Fuck!” he writes. I'll send him my address and wish him a lot of fun. Hopefully she doesn't live too far away, because Moscow is very spread out and out there it will later be difficult to find transport to the city center alone and without knowledge of Russian. But Thomas is a big boy and he'll make it. Maybe the blonde will be okay and she'll take care of him. Let him have some fun. So, one Viking is taken care of. The other one is working on it, so I can take care of Anastasia. She stands next to me and grins at me, which I immediately acknowledge with a kiss. Then we stand at the bar for a while and fondle each other. Yes, sounds stupid, but what else should you call it? otherwise it's me who gets upset about people groping each other in public. I hate it when they shove their tongues down each other's throats and barpet. However, it gets me every now and then, and what's the point of conversation if I can hardly speak Russian and she can hardly speak English? Around five it's time to go home. I already have my girl in the sack, only Jan-Erik doesn't quite manage to get his girlfriend. I'm worried. "Shall we go to my house and continue from there?" I ask. The two girls consult. "Let's go to Neo," they say. The Neo is a lower-class after-hours club. It is right in the middle between the center and the suburbs. I've never been there but have heard about it. I shrug. Jan-Erik nods. "OK, let's go to the Neo." On the way I kiss Anastasia. She's excited, I can feel it. In the club she immediately pulls me across the dance floor, then up the stairs and into a dark back room. This is something like a VIP lounge. There are more people in the room. Some talk, others make out. I sit down on a couch next to Anastasia and we kiss. She kneels on the floor and unbuttons my pants. Then she gets up and pulls her dress up. She wears black stockings. A few seconds later she is sitting on me and we are kissing while moving rhythmically. She's getting faster and faster. I can't really relax because there are a lot of people sitting around me and I can feel some watching us while Anastasia rides me. Apparently I'm not drunk enough after all. After a while we calm down and go back to the dance floor. We also meet Anastasia's girlfriend there, but there is no sign of Jan-Erik far and wide. "I'm sure he'll have fun," I think, although I'm a bit concerned and text afterwards. He does not answer. In the meantime, I'm trying to get Anastasia to go home with me. There we could continue in peace and finish what started so well in the VIP lounge. It's another half hour before I get her ready to come with me. Just as we're in the cab, hers comes but there is no trace of Jan-Erik far and wide. "I'm sure he'll have fun," I think, although I'm a bit concerned and text afterwards. He does not answer. In the meantime, I'm trying to get Anastasia to go home with me. There we could continue in peace and finish what started so well in the VIP lounge. It's another half hour before I get her ready to come with me. Just as we're in the cab, hers comes but there is no trace of Jan-Erik far and wide. "I'm sure he'll have fun," I think, although I'm a bit concerned and text afterwards. He does not answer. In the meantime, I'm trying to get Anastasia to go home with me. There we could continue in peace and finish what started so well in the VIP lounge. It's another half hour before I get her ready to come with me. Just as we're in the cab, hers comes until I get her ready to come with me. Just as we're in the cab, hers comes until I get her ready to come with me. Just as we're in the cab, hers comes girlfriend and opens the door again. She's not wearing her coat, though, so I don't expect her to come with me. Anastasia gets out and says she'll be back in five minutes. I should wait The taxi driver turns around and looks questioningly. I'll offer him double the fare if he waits here with me because I don't want to go back to the club. But as I wait for her, I realize it was stupid to let her go. Just as the driver turns around again and looks at me questioningly, because the five minutes are long gone, the door of the club opens and Anastasia runs towards our taxi, smiling. That was close. I was about to give the order to depart. She gets in our car and kisses me hard. Jan-Erik is still missing. I tried calling him several times while I was waiting, even though a voice call to a Norwegian number would cost me a fortune. He also gets the home address and instructions on how to get home safely. It is pleasantly quiet in the apartment. My two roommates are either not at home or they are already asleep. It's already eight o'clock in the morning. Anastasia is a classy woman. I don't understand much of what she's saying, but in bed she's the loneliest. Around ten o'clock the doorbell rings. When I open it, Jan-Erik is standing in front of me. He's pretty drunk and staggers into the guest room. I'm calmed down now and go back to Anastasia. Contrary to expectations, she is still not asleep, but lies grinning in bed in front of me. Let's go to the next round. Two hours later, Thomas is standing in front of my bed and demanding another round of sightseeing with Jan-Erik. Today I am more relaxed: "Go to the diner for breakfast," I snarl. "I'll come there at three and pick you up." Anastasia pulls the covers over her head and Thomas withdraws, disappointed. After that it's quiet again in our apartment. The boys have left and we're in peace, but Anastasia doesn't want to sleep anymore and has other plans. I'm slowly running out of breath. Two days with less than three hours of sleep, a lot of alcohol and partying, even the strongest man can't stand it. Just as we're about to start, Anastasia's phone rings. Her boyfriend seems to be on the other end. "Where are you?" he asks. “With Irina. We partied for a long time, and I slept with her,” Anastasia replies. I have to grin. Her boyfriend seems suspicious because he asks for the landline number and wants to call them to check. Anastasia tries to make excuses and now has a problem. The guy on the other end gets louder. Then she just hangs up and turns off her phone. "I'll take care of that later," she says. I'm surprised at her calmness. Quite exhausted. After that I make us some coffee and it's the first time we've talked a little. It's actually going quite well with my few words of Russian. She asks what I do in Russia and I tell her that I have my own company. After breakfast I put her in a taxi and go to the diner to pick up the Norwegians. There is a children's afternoon with a team of animators in costumes. The Norwegians are right in the middle and as happy as the little ones. "And? What did you do?” I ask. "Had breakfast. And had a few beers.” "How many?" "Around six." "Together!?" "No, everyone!" Thomas grins. "How was your blonde?" I want to know. “I took her to the other side of town. There, where all the prefabricated buildings are, and even further. She was nice. We keep in touch. She wants to come visit me in Oslo.” "And where were you last night? We lost each other somehow«, I ask Jan-Erik. 'I wanted to go back to Pacha, but by the time I got there it was closed. After that I walked around the area for a bit until I found a bar where something was still going on. I met a girl there. At sunrise we went to Red Square. That was really nice. Then she dragged me into a doorway and gave me a blow job. That was even better.« By the cold? I'm not sure if that's true. Well no matter. Is his thing. "And after that?" I ask. 'After that we had breakfast and then I went home. I was pretty floored. Can't remember her name or what she looks like." "Well, I hope it wasn't a man because there's a gay bar around the corner," I joke. After brunch we do the second tour of the city. It's like yesterday, only now I have to take care of two Vikings. I have since learned that they need alcohol at least once an hour to keep them happy. This goes on for two days. On Tuesday afternoon I finally put the Norwegians in a taxi to the airport, after which I fall into bed exhausted and sleep in. Before they leave, the Vikings threaten me: "That was great, we'll do it once a year now. We'll be back soon!«  The friendly police "Let's go to the Real McCoy," says Michael, my German friend in Moscow. I know the place well because it's right under the Stalin Tower where I lived with Victor for the first few months. The Real McCoy is known for its boisterous weekend parties. Then the little bar is packed to the brim with nice suburban girls and the boys looking for an adventure for the night or more. Despite the quirky pop music, the mood is always boisterous. That may have something to do with the fact that they serve mojitos from 0.5 liter beer glasses here. The Long Island Ice Teas are just as big and pack a punch. The bar cannot be endured without alcohol either. Victor used to go downstairs while I stayed in the apartment and played Playstation. At that time I had Julia and no interest in other girls, although it was not uncommon for Victor to come home with two and want me to take care of the girlfriend. Today I know that it was pure self-interest. At the Real McCoy you will quickly make friends. It takes less than five minutes and you already have new friends. It often goes quite quickly with the girls. Two of the female guests are dancing on the bar. They're not my type, but they show all sorts of meat and let the crowd in front of the bar admire them. We joke with a few Russians, then meet a bunch of foreigners who are girl-hunting, and I talk to one or two old acquaintances. Then I go to the bar to get another drink. It's difficult to get through to the counter. A girl in a black dress is standing in front of me, and I am pressed firmly against her from behind. She turns her head to see who is behind her, pressing against her so insistently. I seem to please her 'cause she gives me a smile while I send a quick "Sorry" in her direction. Shortly thereafter, a seat opens up next to her and I finally get a chance to order my drink. The girl stands next to me and looks at me. She's pretty drunk already. "It's taking a while today," I think when she suddenly turns to me and tries to kiss me. I dodge it for a moment, but then go into it. It doesn't look that bad and we'll see what comes next. It's strange how quickly that sometimes happens in Moscow. When my drink comes, I make room for another and stand behind the little one again. We kiss again and she grabs my crotch, which of course excites me. Then she turns around. I'm pressed against her anyway by the crowd behind me and now I'm moving rhythmically to the music. She seems to like it because she leans forward to press her butt even tighter against me. I hug her from behind, continue dancing and slowly go up my legs from below. Her panties are already wet and I decide to go under and tease her even further. That's how it goes for a while. Suddenly she has her hand in my pants. None of the bystanders seem to notice anything. The store is just too crowded. "Why not more?" I think, unbuttoning my pants and pushing up her dress. Shortly thereafter I am in her. She seems to enjoy the adventure and is actively involved. Insanity! I fuck a girl at the bar. Right at the bar, in between all the people, and no one notices! It goes on for a while, but as always in situations like this, I worry about being discovered. So I pull her dress back down and zip up my pants. Then I take her by the hand and pull her through the crowd to the toilets. The good thing about the Real McCoy is that males and females use the same restrooms. Unfortunately, there is always a small line in front of it. As we stand there waiting for our chance, the girl's friend arrives. She tries to save her and drag her back to her clique. If she knew we'd already had sex at the bar, that would probably seem hopeless to her. Just then a door opens and I pull the girl inside. Her friend follows us and protests sharply, but my bar slut sends her out. It continues in the toilet, although someone knocks on the door every ten seconds. After the number, she is in a hurry to get back to her people. In such a hurry that she even forgets her black panties. "That's a nice trophy," I think, and put it in my pocket. rescue her and drag her back to her clique. If she knew we'd already had sex at the bar, that would probably seem hopeless to her. Just then a door opens and I pull the girl inside. Her friend follows us and protests sharply, but my bar slut sends her out. It continues in the toilet, although someone knocks on the door every ten seconds. After the number, she is in a hurry to get back to her people. In such a hurry that she even forgets her black panties. "That's a nice trophy," I think, and put it in my pocket. rescue her and drag her back to her clique. If she knew we'd already had sex at the bar, that would probably seem hopeless to her. Just then a door opens and I pull the girl inside. Her friend follows us and protests sharply, but my bar slut sends her out. It continues in the toilet, although someone knocks on the door every ten seconds. After the number, she is in a hurry to get back to her people. In such a hurry that she even forgets her black panties. "That's a nice trophy," I think, and put it in my pocket. Her friend follows us and protests sharply, but my bar slut sends her out. It continues in the toilet, although someone knocks on the door every ten seconds. After the number, she is in a hurry to get back to her people. In such a hurry that she even forgets her black panties. "That's a nice trophy," I think, and put it in my pocket. Her friend follows us and protests sharply, but my bar slut sends her out. It continues in the toilet, although someone knocks on the door every ten seconds. After the number, she is in a hurry to get back to her people. In such a hurry that she even forgets her black panties. "That's a nice trophy," I think, and put it in my pocket. “Where have you been so long?” asks Michael. "If you knew what just happened to me..." After that, the evening goes on like this. We drink and have fun with the other guys. When we stagger out of the Real McCoy at around five, Michael is driving home, but I still want to go to Mix, a hip after-hours club just around the corner. I dance there until the early hours of the morning. Again, it's easy to meet new people, and I'm drinking with Sasha, an oligarch's son. He pays for all my drinks, not just mine. I have a feeling he's paying for the whole club tonight. Nevertheless, Sascha is attached to me. He must be in his early twenties and has taken a liking to the crazy German. Maybe because I'm not only interested in the girls, I also talk to them. After all, I was already successful today, so I'm relatively calm, but at this time I'm pretty blue. At eight o'clock I decide to finally go home. Sascha comes out with us to say goodbye in peace. We're just exchanging numbers when two guys approach us and start talking. One of them pulls an ID card out of his pocket. They are police officers and they let us know that they would like to have a look in our pockets. A lot of drugs are used, especially in the after-hours clubs, but I'm there often and it's the first time in Russia that I've been caught in a civil patrol. Of course, neither of us have anything with us, but the policemen are happy anyway, because something is wrong with my papers. You have to register with the authorities in Russia within three days and I've been in the country for seven days since my last entry and had deliberately failed to "Then get in the car with us," says one of the police officers. Sascha protests violently. He wants to get a lawyer and take care of me because what's next looks like an arrest. "Don't worry. I've got it under control. I can handle it myself,' I reassure him. 'Go back to the club and have fun. I'll text you later so you don't have to worry." What follows is completely normal in Russia: you get in the car and negotiate how the problem can be solved. "That's a $200 fine if we take you to the station," says one. "Bullshit!" I slur back in a friendly way, because I'm not completely sober anymore either. 'I'm not a mere tourist. I know my way. The maximum fine is $100 and you can only detain me for three hours." "The laws have changed," says the policeman. "Well then, take me with you. Then you'll have a lot of trouble and paperwork, and you'll get nothing yourself.' The policemen are silent. “I'll give you thirty dollars. That's all I've got anyway." "That's not enough," says my negotiating partner. "That's all I have with me." 'There's an ATM over there. You can take off more there.« »Isn't. I've already drunk my budget for today and I'm broke. I won't get any more money until tomorrow,' I lie confidently. The police advise in Russian. "OK, give it to me," replies one. I'm about to pull the 1,000-ruble note out of my purse when I remember that I'll really be without any money. "Neh. Wait. I need two hundred rubles to get a taxi home.” "It's not our problem," says the policeman. 'Oh come on boys. You guys aren't leaving me out here in the cold.' 'Where do you live?' the police officers ask. »Sukharevskaya street. Not far from here, but too far to walk.” The two of them talk in Russian for a while, then the driver starts the car and we drive off. "Okay, we'll drive you home. Where are you going?” says the other. I give them my 1000 ruble note and I'm glad I got out of it so easily and on top of that I got a ride home. We make all sorts of jokes on the way, and the policemen tease me with anti-German jokes. The atmosphere is friendly. You could think they were my new best friends. When I get home, I get out of the police car. I'm still totally drunk. My neighbor is standing in front of the door with her dog. She already knows our wild flat share and is not surprised at my police escort home, but greets me in a friendly way. "Time for bed," I think. It's nine o'clock in the morning now and I've seen enough. The slave It's Saturday morning and already light when I get home. It was one of those boozy nights at Moscow's top clubs. After a few hours of sleep, I sit at the computer and do urgent emails. Then my Skype pops up. It's Florian, a friend. He asks me if I want a girl. "What do you mean?" I text back. "A girl, for fun." "A whore?" »No, not a whore, (my)a slave.« "Ah, slave. I don't know much about S&M..." "Then you'll learn..." "What does this cost?" "Nothing." "How long?" "All night. Until you send her home." An hour later, Florian and I pick up the girl from the subway. I have scruples, but I can't resist trying something completely new. I'm not expecting beauty and am totally surprised when a model lady in high heels and a fur coat gets into our car. Florian talks to her. I'm mute and a little unsure. In the elevator he unbuttons her coat. Underneath is only black, transparent underwear. She presents herself to me. I still have a very high residual alcohol level, which makes it all seem even more absurd to me than it already is. The spook will surely be over any moment. I'm probably still asleep and just dreaming about it all. The situation is so crazy, it just can't be reality. In the apartment, Florian explains the commands to me and warns me that I have to think along for the girl. 'She won't go to the toilet by herself, and she won't drink either. You have to tell her to. She doesn't talk at all unless you speak to her. You can let her do chores or just put her in the corner for a while.” That would actually be a good idea, he says, and implements it immediately with a verbal command. I've known Florian for years and have experienced and discussed all sorts of things with him, but I didn't expect anything like that. He just doesn't seem like an S&M guy. "So, now it's your turn," says Florian. I'm very insecure when I give my first orders. The girl has to suppress a smile and promptly gets her ass spanked by Florian, which she acknowledges with a »Thank you, Master!«. Then he admires the red imprint of his hand on her bottom and grins. A few hours later Florian leaves and leaves me alone with her. I still don't understand the whole thing. Regardless, it's kind of great. I have a beautiful girl with me all night. When she was handed over she got the order to spoil me - and she does that. All night. Over and over with a dedication that is second to none. In between she changes her underwear and presents herself in new outfits. Then she dances in front of me. pulls her skirt up a little, At some point I'll be in the game myself. That's how an actor has to feel in his role. The lines slowly blur and the role becomes reality. Every once in a while, reality catches up to me. Then I think, explore and try to understand what is happening here. Why is she doing this? does she play If so, then damn good, and she sees it through to the end. The girl is very sensitive. She explores me and adapts more and more. I'm surprised to see how quickly she learns. The best thing is that she takes an incredible amount of time. I don't feel any pressure, I can fully enjoy it. Not a minute goes by when the slave doesn't play around with me. It's getting to be too much for me, and I remember Florian's advice to put her in a corner every now and then. She's been standing there for about five minutes, looking down. I feel sorry for you and, to be honest, there's nothing wrong with sitting in front of the TV watching your favorite series while a girl is messing with you. So I let her come and demand a blowjob, which she gives me devotedly. The situation is just unreal. It's the moment when you ask yourself, "How did I get here? What am I doing here? Life is wonderful!" "How did I get here? What am I doing here? Life is wonderful!" "How did I get here? What am I doing here? Life is wonderful!" Then she sticks her ass out at me and politely asks if I'd like to fuck her. "No. Not now!' I reply harshly. Florian explained to me where the limits are and how far she can go. She gets sex when I want it, not when she wants it. The slave understands that she made a mistake and looks at me submissively. Actually, this dominant behavior is not my thing. I feel pretty stupid doing it. On the other side next to me is a very attractive woman who looks at me submissively and fulfills my every wish and every fantasy. No matter how crazy it may be. I wonder again if she's just pretending or if she's actually so submissive. Florian told me that she really is like that and lives it. She struggles because she always needs someone to call the shots. How about a girlfriend like that? Wouldn't that be great? when she has no opinion of her own and always does what I feel like doing? »Honey. I'm in the mood for a blow job now" or "I'm going to watch football with my boys now. You come with me, but sit quietly and don't make a peep. If I want a beer I'll give you a sign and you go get me one. My friends too.” Yes, that's it, right? No certainly not. I don't want a woman with no wills, nor do I want to take full responsibility for her life. But for one night it's an interesting experience. I wonder how does one get like that? Was she born like that or did she become like that later? She must have been abused as a child. How else can such an attractive woman be so wrecked in the head? No, I think wrong. She's a good girl and I should take her with me treat with respect. Let's try a little small talk. She speaks english. So that shouldn't be a problem. But which topic do you choose? How do you start a conversation with a girl who only wants to hear commands from you? Oh man, she looks so damn good. Maybe I should ask Florian if I can take it over. He doesn't have time for her anyway. "Are you playing me something, or are you living it?" I ask spontaneously and regret it at the same moment. How could I choose such a stupid topic? Come on Chris, you've got more brains. "I'm like this," she replies. 'Is something wrong, Sir Chris? Did I do something wrong?" "No. It's okay. You're sweet. Come here! I want to cuddle." Yeah, what an idiot, that Chris. Now he has the opportunity to do everything, to try everything, that he has always wanted to do. This really is an opportunity. Not everyone gets this chance. Life means well with you. And you? you want to cuddle She snuggles up to me like a cat and even purrs a little. I stroke her hair and then go down her beautiful body. "Shit!" I think. This is my chance. I'll do it and see it through to the end. "Come on! Lay down. I want to fuck!" Then I go through all the positions that I know. Even the somewhat complicated ones from the Kama Sutra. At some point, the slave looks at me a bit depressed. "What's going on?" I ask. She does not answer. I go through the checklist in my head. Meal? Check. Drink? Check! To pee? Hm, OK, she might need to go to the bathroom. "Do you have to pee?" I ask. she nods. "OK then go to the bathroom." She gets up and I drove her to the bathroom. And now? How far does it go with the commands? Do I have to stand by and tell her to pee? I decide not to take any chances: "OK, sit down and pee," I order. Shortly thereafter, it's already splashing. I squat down and slip my hand under her. My hands feel warm. So that's what it feels like. OK, checked. Then it continues on the couch. After a while I think to myself: "I've done anal before, but it still wouldn't be bad." Unfortunately I don't have any lube, but then it has to serve as it is. As I try to enter her, she twitches and makes a sound that lets me know she's in pain. So I let go of my plan. 'I'm sorry, Sir Chris. My anus is just too small for you,” she says slave. "It's OK. Let's move on to something else." We don't go to bed until two o'clock. "Shall I untie the leash from your collar?" I ask uncertainly. 'No sir. You don't have to. I sleep with the leash,” the slave replies. We lie naked in bed. I've had countless orgasms and I'm really at the end. Then I pull her to me, put her head on my shoulder, and we fall asleep. When I wake up in the night, she is lying next to me. She looks at me and asks if she can spoil me. It's getting to be too much for me, but whatever. Then we'll fuck again. After a while I fall back into the pillows. I'm tired and fall back asleep quickly. The next day my knees are shaking. I could keep her here all day. let them do the house cleaning. Play with her every now and then. But I'm just too done. In the early afternoon I take off her collar and leash and send her home. I think that was one of the best nights of my life. crazy! I still don't understand the whole thing and I have to think about it all the time. Many thoughts are buzzing through my head. Lots of questions and I'm trying to find an answer to them. Why did Florian bring her to me? And she just goes up to a complete stranger, lets himself be bossed around and has sex with him? She fulfills his every wish. Why is she doing that? Wouldn't that be the perfect partner for a marriage? Or not? It was all just a game anyway, wasn't it? Maybe not. I had the feeling that she really lives the Devote. And what comes now? What is to come after such a night? I thought for a long time whether I should write about it at all, because nobody believes me anyway. I wouldn't believe it either. No, I still can't believe it. "And? How was it?” asks Florian. "Class! I can't thank you enough for this experience,” I say. "Easy," says Florian. “I just spoke to her. “She likes you very much. You must have been very nice to her. She doesn't know that." Ah, I was nice. I really tried hard to be dominant. "Are you going to cede them to me?" I joke. "No. Certainly not. you are not strong enough You couldn't. She needs guidance. You still don't have enough experience for that,« Florian replies very seriously. "Want to learn more?" "No thanks. It was an interesting experience, but I don't want to delve deeper into this matter. That's not my thing. But I'd be happy if you park it with me every now and then,' I reply. “That probably won't happen again, because I don't have enough time to take care of her. That's why I'm giving it to another master. But I'll let you know if anything happens." Hm, I think. He gives them to another master. That sounds like she's a dog. This thought makes me kind of sad. That's why I should rather keep my hands off this scene. "So what now?" I think. I acted out my most secret and dirtiest fantasies last night and ticked off everything else I wanted to do in bed. How to proceed? No idea. We will see. Ballerina at the So-Ho Rooms Once a month I throw "A Small World" party at So-Ho Rooms, one of the best clubs in Moscow. Although it's always on Thursdays, the party is well attended by the members of this elite internet community, and we always get the club's terrace, a VIP area with a pool. She also uses the So-Ho for her own VIP guests, so there's a good mix of foreigners, rich Russians and pretty girls. As a rule, these "small world" meetings are quite boring. To be perfectly honest, the only time I can stand them now is when I've had a few drinks, because "small world" means small talk. Then I stand at the bar from nine in the evening until three or four in the morning and talk to one after the other. "Hi. How are you? Long time no see. How is the business going?" I'm in better spirits this time though because I was lucky at the last party. Just before we went home, a girl approached me and I took her with me. She was pretty and rich, but also pretty drunk. After sex she wanted to leave. I asked for her number but she made an excuse and left. Well, then it was just a one-night stand. I was surprised because the women at the So-Ho Rooms are out of my league. Only Moscow's elite cavort there. In the two years I've been throwing parties there, I've never taken a girl home from there. »But a blind hen can also find a grain of corn«, I think and grin as I stand at the bar that evening and order my second drink. It's three o'clock in the morning. I'm dead tired and just want to go to bed. We have just finished the billing, the turnover was modest. There's another Canadian I know standing at the bar. "Come have another drink with me," he slurs. "OK why not? One more nightcap before going home.” We talk a bit. Next to us are two high-class whores, whom the Canadian has an eye on. I check the dance floor because there's still something going on there. A couple of girls dance happily with two boys. One of them looks back and grins. She's wearing a red sundress that looks expensive. "Another rich kid," I think, turning my attention back to the Canadian. When I turn back to the dance floor after a few minutes, the girl is still grinning. She goes to her table, gets her drink and walks purposefully towards me. "Enchante," she says. "Nice to meet you too. What's your name?" "I'm Chloe and I'm from France," she replies. "Aha. What brings you to Moscow?” "I'm a ballerina!" she says proudly. »We were here last week for a guest performance at the Bolshoi and today is our last evening.« When I hear the keyword "ballerina" I'm immediately a bit disinterested, because I still associate Julia, pain and drama with this term. She notices that and flirts with me all the more. My drink is empty so I order another one to see where this goes because Chloe is actually quite nice. But she repeats the term ballerina several times and thinks that she can impress me with it. When it gets too much, I say, "OK, OK, I get it. I'm used to ballerinas, my ex is a ballerina at the Bolshoi, and I know half the company.« I realize that that was a bit rude and add another »But I still think you're cute!«. "Where do you live?" she asks. I don't know how many times I've heard this question, but it's a sure sign that the girl is considering coming home with me. "There's no such thing!" I think. Twice in a row I got lucky at the So-Ho Rooms. Crazy. “I live ten minutes from here. In the center,” I reply. This is followed by a few minutes of small talk and flirting. 'I have to be at the hotel for breakfast at eight thirty tomorrow morning and then we'll go to the airport around nine o'clock,' Chloe says eventually. I look at the clock and see that it's almost four. "Then what are we waiting for?" I ask her, looking deep into her eyes. "Are we going to your place or mine?" She's clearly shocked by my directness, but I'm tired and I'm tired of playing games. 'We can have a few more drinks and talk, of course, but it's all taking up our time to do better things. Let's not waste another minute. I want you!" she stares at me Then her features loosen and she grins. "You're right. Let's go to my hotel.' Then we kiss. The others in her group see this and are surprised. Two of them come over and talk to us. They grin and say: "What happens in Moscow stays in Moscow." I later learn that Chloe lives in Paris, is married and has a child. The others decide to share a taxi with us. "I've got another bottle of champagne," Chloe says. "Cool, we'll kill them!" the others reply. I just roll my eyes because my plan was different. Chloe has her own room, but there are four of us now. "Your girlfriend is very good looking, too," I think. "Who knows what they're up to." It's five o'clock when I go to the toilet. Just as I want to go back into the room, the door opens and Chloe is standing in front of me. She pushes me back into the bathroom and unbuttons my pants. After that she pulls me towards her and we have sex. »Oh dear. My condoms are in my jacket pocket,« I think briefly, but by then it's too late. She took the initiative. Heavy standing sex ensues, interrupted when one of the dancers storms into the bathroom, runs to the toilet bowl and starts throwing up. We straighten our clothes and go back into the room. "Sorry," says Chloe's girlfriend and grins. "We'll go straight to our rooms. As soon as that one in there is ready." Ten minutes later we finally have our peace. We'll have another glass of champagne and then it's on for the next three hours. I don't even think about the condoms anymore. I may be tired, but this woman is great. She has a great body, not an ounce of fat is too much and muscles as hard as stone. She fucks like hell. She has so much energy and totally challenges me. At some point she takes my best piece in her hand. Pulls it out and sticks it up her ass like it's the most natural thing in the world. "So it's true what they say about the French and anal sex," I'm thinking at that moment. At a quarter past eight we separate. I give Chloe one more long kiss. "That was great. I'm really glad I met you. Will we see each other again?” I ask. “I think we'll be back in Moscow in October. Or will you come visit me in Paris?" "And your husband?" "We'll find an opportunity, don't you think?" "Where there's a will, there's a way," I say, grinning. Then I accompany Chloe to the ground floor for breakfast. I give her the last long kiss in the elevator, because I don't want other colleagues to know that she took me to the hotel. It's Friday morning, just before nine. I'm sitting in a cab home with shaky knees and still pretty drunk. What a life! I love it. Chloe then texts me: 'Well, my little one. I'm already on the bus to the airport. It was wonderful with you. Don't forget me and let's keep in touch. Bisous, Chloe' Why did I only meet her last night? It would have been much nicer if we could have spent the week together. We'll be sending lots of messages back and forth over the next few days and weeks. Partly by phone, partly via Facebook. Chloe says she misses me. But sometimes she is more direct and writes that she just liked having sex with me. I think this woman is great, but I'm not going to get involved because she has family and no matter how bored or unsatisfied she seems, I will not interfere and cause problems. Then, a few days later, she suddenly deleted me from her friends list. So without any comment. She no longer responds to my phone messages. OK, so she broke up with me on Facebook without further ado. This is also a first time for me. I'm shocked, but after some thought I decide to just accept it. it's madness Six months later I'm sitting in bed Sunday night watching a movie when I get a text message. It's from Chloe and in a bit confused English: 'Are you okay? Also health? After our sex without a condom and condition.« What condition? was she ill Oh man! You have sex without a condom and then you hit the bull's eye. I'm an idiot! And then I also had anal sex with her! I'm panicking. “I'm fine, I think. am healthy How about you? Should I be worried?" It took twenty minutes for the answer to come: »Don't panic, I just wanted to ask. I'm healthy too," she writes. I'm a little reassured, but decide to do some tests first thing in the morning. A few days later I get the results, everything is fine. I'll be more careful going forward, I vow to myself. Chloe and I are still not Facebook friends again, but we do send each other a few nice texts every once in a while. Maybe I'll see her again sometime. In Moscow, in Paris or anywhere else in the world. Cold shower It's been twenty years since communism and the Soviets lost to capitalism. Since then, Russia has seen and suffered a lot. Of course, the country has evolved. It still takes for granted that it still claims superpower status in our modern world. Russia is the largest country on earth and possesses quite a few nuclear warheads. Oh yes, then there was oil and gas. The superpower Russia. A giant country with an area of around 17.1 million square kilometers, inhabited by just over 140 million people. downward trend. That's not even twice as many inhabitants as Germany has, and yet this country is so incredibly large. Recently I flew to Vladivostok and it took us eight and a half hours from Moscow. Thank goodness in business class. But Russia does not stop there near Korea. It extends much further east into the Kamchatka and Chukotka regions, which border Alaska. You can meet them all in Moscow. The Eskimos from Chukotka or the women with the bony faces from Kamchatka. Of course also the Asians from Central Asia. Russia is gigantic. But superpower? Whenever I listen to the Russians' patriotic self-adulation, and that often happens, I have to suppress a grin, because there is also a great deal of absurdity in the land of bears and vodka. The Eskimos from Chukotka or the women with the bony faces from Kamchatka. Of course also the Asians from Central Asia. Russia is gigantic. But superpower? Whenever I listen to the Russians' patriotic self-adulation, and that often happens, I have to suppress a grin, because there is also a great deal of absurdity in the land of bears and vodka. The Eskimos from Chukotka or the women with the bony faces from Kamchatka. Of course also the Asians from Central Asia. Russia is gigantic. But superpower? Whenever I listen to the Russians' patriotic self-adulation, and that often happens, I have to suppress a grin, because there is also a great deal of absurdity in the land of bears and vodka. Moscow is subject to the continental climate prevailing. Depending on which direction the wind is blowing from, it is damp and cold or dry and warm. But the Russians themselves found a way to control the weather. Much to the chagrin of people living in the Moscow suburbs. During important state visits or important holidays, silver iodide is sprayed into the clouds outside the city gates. According to Greenpeace, this is harmless to the environment, but very expensive. The chemical causes local clouds to rain down and binds moisture in the air, causing the clouds to dissipate. While we have bright blue skies in Moscow these days, there is constant rain in the suburbs. That alone is absurd enough, but a few years ago the mayor of Moscow came up with the idea of using this method, to protect the city from the annual snow chaos. He made a simple calculation: how much does it cost to spray silver iodide on the clouds? And how much does the winter service cost? He came to the conclusion that if there is no snow in Moscow in winter, the city will save enormously. The mayors of the suburbs weren't very happy about this method, of course, because they were going to get all the snow that way. No sooner said than done. The small propeller planes flew day and night and the winter service was sent home. The method worked wonderfully at first, but after four weeks of sunshine without precipitation, I asked myself how the poor vegetation in the city was doing. In addition, it was even dustier in the city than it already was. Then came the first winter storm, and one could no longer master the clouds. There just weren't enough planes. The city was covered in snow and the winter service was at home. After a few days the snow was two meters high in some places and we were to have problems all winter, although the planes stayed on the ground and winter service was called back. It's mid-April. The long winter is finally over and the sun is shining outside. The Moscow spring doesn't last long, and the difference between winter and summer couldn't be quicker or bigger. In early April it is usually still snowing. The skies are gray and temperatures are often below zero, so the snow stays put. Then the weather suddenly changes, from one day to the next the girls are suddenly in the street in ultra-short skirts, and you can go for a walk in a T-shirt late into the night. Suddenly Muscovites live outside. After work you sit in the park or at the subway station. You drink, talk and laugh. The people who were walking around with petrified mines last week suddenly grin at you. The wintry gray gives way to bright colors. But there is another reason why many people now prefer to be outdoors. Apartments and offices are heated with district heating. Most radiators do not have a thermostat or regulator. So you can't turn off the heating yourself. The district heating is traditionally switched off in the first weeks of May, no matter how warm it is in the weeks before. Even at twenty degrees, the radiators are still running at full speed and it gets unbearably hot in the apartments, while outside it is pleasantly fresh like early summer. The district heating is traditionally switched off in the first weeks of May, no matter how warm it is in the weeks before. Even at twenty degrees, the radiators are still running at full speed and it gets unbearably hot in the apartments, while outside it is pleasantly fresh like early summer. The district heating is traditionally switched off in the first weeks of May, no matter how warm it is in the weeks before. Even at twenty degrees, the radiators are still running at full speed and it gets unbearably hot in the apartments, while outside it is pleasantly fresh like early summer. It's eight o'clock in the morning and I'm still in bed when I hear Pascha scream. "Disc! They've turned off the hot water!' It's mid-May and we're suffering from a cold bad-weather front from the north. The heaters have now been turned off, and with temperatures of ten degrees it's getting pretty cool in our apartment too. The weather forecast doesn't look good. It should stay that way for at least a few more days. I hear Pasha taking a shower and pull the covers over my ears because later it will be my turn to take the cold shower. It will stay like this for two weeks from now, because we also depend on the district heating for the hot water, and that is switched off for two weeks once a year, sometime between May and September, to clean the pipes and check the system. Each borough comes at a different time so you can at least take a warm shower with your friends. Other Muscovites help themselves with instantaneous water heaters or boilers over the cold water period, although the electrical system in the apartment has to be able to cope with it. Last year we used a water heater and the light switch in the bathroom started smoldering. Since then there has only been one socket in the bathroom and we have a floor lamp for lighting. But it's not just about showering, but of course also about things like washing dishes in the kitchen. You only realize how important warm water is when you suddenly don't have it anymore. Pascha had a lot of bad luck today, because he was just in the shower when it was turned off. That's no fun, because the water not only suddenly gets cold, Time a dark brown sandy broth from the shower head. That too is Moscow. The lover The sun is shining outside and I should enjoy the day, but it's bitterly cold. So I'd rather stay at home. I pull the duvet up to my neck and rummage through my female Facebook contacts. I look at her photos. Ah, pretty legs. There a dress that was too tight and bulging breasts. One shows its sporty side. The other makes you look elegant. Then there are the sluts. But it's the inconspicuous, the inconspicuous, that surprise me again and again and with whom I experience particularly beautiful stories. There's the little Spaniard who actually looks quite decent. She wants to be a diplomat and I'm sure she comes from a good family. I met her at the club. She was there with a friend. After three minutes I knew she wanted me. She knows that I'm not the man for life, but a kid who doesn't want to grow up. I am not the boyfriend-to-be, the man who will take care of her and endure her regular bouts of female drama. No, it's clear that I'm just an adventure. We look into each other's eyes and immediately have a very different relationship. One that's a lot more honest, clear and simple, with no bullshit. No, she's not a bomb in bed. Most of these inconspicuous ones are not. They probably just don't have enough experience. Because they don't do it all the time and they may just have their second or third boyfriend. But they are gentle, empathetic and sensitive. It's not the quick fuck, it's the few hours of tenderness and cuddling. It's what you don't have when you're alone and living like that. I enjoy her closeness. Her soft skin and her smell. I can't help but pull her to me. I want to track her body. You carry. I smell her hair and can't get enough. Oh man! I love women. No, not this one woman, but women in the plural. Most of the time they have friends. Some even husbands. What to expect? The good ones are always taken. They are bored, go out and meet me. A lone wolf. A stray lion. An adventure. It is clear from the outset that they will not leave their boyfriend and will not give up the security of the relationship, coexistence and the feeling of knowing the other. You pulled yourself together and live the compromise. You need that security. The feeling of security. The protection. No, but they don't want quick and dirty sex either. You want feeling. Tenderness. You are looking for the sensual. They want a lover. Someone who does what their husbands did five years ago. One who loves them and shows them exactly that. One who looks deep into their eyes while they have sex with him. Someone who cares about her and who is not only concerned with having fun and coming sometime while he might still be thinking about his colleague, the one with the short skirt and high heels. You miss that feeling, the attention of the other. Where has it gone, the passion? At some point the butterflies decided to fly away and they took the passion with them. She got lost between the morning coffee together and the movie before bed. I don't think she's getting ready for the night thinking she's going to pick up a guy tonight. The friend is on the way. Finally she has time to go out alone. Let it rip today. Tomorrow she will be in bed late. Later she takes a bath and is lazy. It's Friday and she's standing at a bar. She's talking to strangers and suddenly she's standing in front of someone who looks different. His smile is special somehow. Then the thought occurs to her that she is actually alone today. But her friends are there. What should they think of her? she is in a relationship She's one of the good guys. No bitch. Better have another drink and let the thought go. To this day I still don't understand what happened next. I only know how it ends. You go to another club together, dance and lose each other. Hands slowly wander over each other's bodies, exploring them, and suddenly they're getting into a cab together. Often the question "Your place or mine?" She gives the driver her address before she slides exhausted onto the back seat and onto my shoulder. I pull her even closer to me. She looks me in the eyes and we kiss. The thought crosses my mind briefly that it belongs to someone else, but I don't feel like thinking about morals and decency right now. Yes, I know it's selfish. Where's the respect? Sorry, I just can't help it. She is so beautiful. Has such a sweet voice and smells so good. I'm curious how she is in bed. Today she is mine. Just for one night, then you can have her back. It's kind of your fault too. You neglected her. I'm just doing your job now. If you were more attentive and not so superficial, then that wouldn't happen in the first place. Yes, yes, I know that after so many years of living together, it's hard to keep going. The next day we wake up next to each other. First we had a passionate night, then we smoked another joint and talked. It's all said. The fronts are clear. We know where we stand. It's liberating. A special kind of honesty. Who knows if we'll ever see each other again. Maybe I'll become her lover. Maybe we'll avoid each other in the future. But we're honest with each other. We don't have to lie to each other just to keep the relationship alive. We don't have to take care of ourselves. It was only one night. We don't have to, but we want to. Precisely because this relationship is so honest and free. It's on my shoulder and I'm squeezing it tight. She likes this security. To be in the arms of a strong man. Exhausted from last night's music, dancing, drinking and sex. For a moment I think about what it would be like if we found each other. What if she left him now and came to me forever? I feel them. I like her. do i love her I could love her. I have this feeling in my heart, but I suppress it because it must not be. But how about it? An open relationship? She could also have a lover or two if she gave me the same freedom. Wouldn't it be nice to be honest with each other? Not just on this level. She's something special and I feel Maybe right now I'm holding the woman for life in my arms. Maybe I should fight for her. Taking them away from the other and making them stay with me. But I know that things aren't going that way right now. We end up catching each other in the web of the relationship. It's going to be exactly the same as always, and we're going to have problems with each other. Not the same as with the last partner. Other. Similar. Then we will find compromises. We lost our passion a long time ago anyway and didn't even notice it. No, I have to enjoy the moment. Here and now. Enjoy it to the full. The clock is ticking and at some point I have to go home. If I'm lucky, the next day. Sometimes not until Sunday evening or Monday. When things go badly, there is less time. "It was already with you," she says. "I missed that." "Yes," I reply. "I feel the same way." She wants to do it again. Clearly. It doesn't matter if it's a risk or not. I don't want to know what she's risking with that. "Of course we'll do it again," I say. "Call me when you're free." Then I reprint them firmly. Kiss her on the cheek. I pause for a moment and take another deep breath. My god, she smells so damn good. Out on the street I review it. The best moments and impressions. But it's just a movie. Still, I grin contentedly, and I'm sure people coming my way will think I've just smoked a joint. There were a lot of these girls. It was always the unexpected evenings. The ones that were supposed to be boring from the start and ended up being the best in life. It was often dangerous. There was a father who knew about our love affair and didn't approve of it. There was a husband who was a drug dealer. I've often wondered if I'll ever end up dead in a river. A Wall Street Bar bouncer recently said it's a miracle I haven't been shot in the head yet. He must know. He knows the guests and the women I go home with. It's dangerous at times, but they're worth it. Every minute and every second. Because these are the moments for me that make life worth living and that are responsible for the fact that I will eventually die with a grin on my face. Of course there are other moments. A sunrise or sunset on top of a mountain. A fresh breeze on your face, right by the sea, when you taste the salt in the air and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. There are many more and not enough time and paper to write them all down. But women are my favorite. They are often so complicated, but I still love them. Olga's friend and Natasha's dismissal "This is Olga," my friend Masha says, and she has that special grin. Ever since I've been single, I've been introduced to girls all the time. Olga is slim, wears a fashionable dress and is actually quite pretty. I'm still a little shy. "Sorry, I'll be back later, it's my turn with my DJ set now," I say and walk over to the DJ booth. Olga and Masha look after me. An hour later the dance floor is full. Between the people I see Olga and Masha. Both dance deliberately cool. Olga flirts with her eyes, and Masha still grins so funny. My mix keeps me busy, and two Long Island Ice Teas on an empty stomach don't make it any easier. The dance floor is boiling, I'm in a good mood myself and dancing behind the turntables. After my set, I stand next to the DJ booth and talk to a few people. Then Masha and Olga come over. Masha's friend is also there. She says: "You know, Olga doesn't have a boyfriend." "Oh yes? Then we'll see how it goes." It's loud and Olga can't hear us. She dances next to us. Nevertheless, she turns to us at the right moment and grins. Shortly afterwards I talk to Masha's friend. "Do you like Olga?" he asks. "Yes, it's quite nice, the little one," I say. "But she has a boyfriend," he warns me. "Masha's ex," he then adds. "Aha," I say in surprise. I don't know if it's the two Long Islands that confuse me now, or the Masha-Freund-Olga trio. “I have to go to the Wall Street Bar. I've got a party there tonight, too. Are you coming with me?” I ask. "Of course," says Masha euphorically, and ten minutes later we're in the car, me with Olga in the back seat. "I was on vacation in Asia," she tells me. 'That wasn't so good. I had a really bad time with my boyfriend and we broke up.” Ah, OK, now I get it. Even before the Wall Street Bar, Masha and her boyfriend start an argument, and suddenly Olga and I are alone in front of the entrance. "Whatever, all the better," I think. We push past the doorman. It's boiling in the bar. Here is one of the best parties in Moscow at the moment. "Of course you think so," says one of my favorite guests. "It's your party too." I grin. "But you're right," he adds. I go to my DJs and check the situation. "Man, this is a good night," I say to Pasha. 'Yes, yes, I see that. You have a great wife with you too. he asks. I smile contentedly. Olga is standing next to the bar and is waiting for me. I dance to her and immediately she falls back and we cuddle a bit. "Great, that works," I think. After an hour I feel safe and think about retreating home. With Olga, of course. However, I still have to stay at the Wall Street Bar for a while to do the DJ billing with the manager. So I cuddle with Olga a little more. Maybe it's the two Red Bull vodkas, but I'm liking the woman better and better. Actually, I didn't want to be in a relationship with a Russian girl anymore, but I was able to make an exception for her. I hadn't thought this through to the end when a guy slapped me on the shoulder. He introduces himself politely. After a short pause he adds: "I'm Olga's friend, you know." "Ex-boyfriend," I correct him cheekily. "No, Masha's ex-boyfriend and Olga's boyfriend," he tells me. Now this is all very strange. I'm confused. did i drink too much Then why is she cuddling with me? Or does he not yet know that he is her ex-boyfriend? In any case, it means trouble and I decide to retire. Should the two clarify this between themselves. Olga now knows where to find me on Fridays. It's after five o'clock in the morning when I get into the taxi with my DJs and we drive to our regular hangout, the Soljanka. As always, we are greeted warmly by the bouncers. Natascha comes towards me in the hallway and grins. She works for us sometimes, and we've had one or two adventures. Class. That can comfort me for Olga's loss. An hour later Soljanka closes and we head to our favorite after-hours club, Paparazzi. There, too, we are greeted with hugs. You know each other in Moscow nightlife. The promoter is about to buy us a round of Red Bull vodka. We dance, have fun. Again and again nice girls come to me and flirt with me. I can already see them in bed with me, but Natasha drives them all away. Somehow I lose interest in Natascha, but she doesn't give up. After an hour my friends go home. "So," I mean, "let's go?" The brightest sunlight awaits us outside. I put on my sunglasses and get us a cab. The dry snow crunches under my feet. It was minus 20 degrees last night. Natascha is already in the taxi when she sees a friend and jumps out again. At first I think she wants to say goodbye, but then she calls out to me to drive alone. "What? As? First you're spoiling my tour, and now I'm supposed to drive alone?' I scold. She grins and slams the door without a word. "What now?" grumbles the taxi driver. I think for a moment. Should I go back to the paparazzi? There were still enough girls. Then I look at the clock and see that it's ten in the morning. Besides, I'm already quite irradiated. I drank too much. "OK, so let's go home." At home, the normal weekend afterparty takes place. One of my DJs is sleeping on the couch. The others drink and listen to nasty techno. "Where have you been?" one of my roommates asks. "Where's Natascha?" "Still at the club," I grumble. "The stupid cow first ruined my chances for a bed warmer and then dumped me." The others laugh and push me a joint ruber. I pull a few times, then I get dizzy. Too much alcohol and hash don't mix. I'm not in a good mood anyway, so off to bed. I stagger down the corridor to my room. There I fall into my bed tired and fall asleep immediately, despite all the Red Bull vodka. When I wake up, a girl is lying next to me in bed. She's slipping her hand under my shorts. At first I think I'm dreaming, but then clarity slowly comes to my head along with a terrible headache. "The Long Island Ice Teas," I think as Natascha's face appears from under the covers. What? As? Am I tripping? But she left me. I'm confused for a moment, but then the anger comes back. "Go," I command. 'Get dressed and go! I don't want you." She grumbles, but I just roll over and try to go back to sleep. In my head, the Einfallenden Neubauten are playing a concert with jackhammers and sledgehammers. It's around four when I wake up. my bed is empty Good. Maybe I just dreamed it all. I'm terribly thirsty and my head is still pounding. Every movement hurts. Why did I give myself like that again yesterday? I wanted to go home earlier. Oh yes, there was the story with Olga. And after that I was running hot and wanted to look for a replacement. Well, first a sip of water. I grope for my water bottle, but reach into nothing. Argggh. There was still my sparkling water yesterday. Damned! I curse and pull myself together. I meet my Italian roommate Luca in the kitchen, and that's where my bottle of water is. She is empty. The kitchen looks bad. "Tell me," I ask. "Was Natasha here earlier?" "Yes," says Luca. "She called me and then came over to our house for the after party." "When?" I ask. “It must have been twelve. Man, oh man, the twenty-year-old girls ... She's in your room," says Luca. 'But then she came back fifteen minutes later. She grinned and had a water bottle in her hand. Then she offered everyone water.” 'Yes, that was mine. She did that on purpose,' I say, making myself some tea. 'She knew I was waking up with a nasty hangover this afternoon and I needed water. She wanted to punish me because I kicked her out." Luca shakes his head. "Well, that's fine," I say. “I don't think I behaved correctly yesterday either. Maybe I deserve it.« Then I wonder what became of Olga and her boyfriend. Anyway, I need an aspirin first. bandits Russia currently offers many opportunities. The economy is growing and the middle class is developing rapidly. But opportunities only exist for people with the right education or connections to the cliques that run the country. As a simple girl, especially from the country, you often have no chance. Lena is 30 and Korean. She was born in communist North Korea, her parents emigrated to the Soviet Union shortly thereafter. Lena grew up in a small town in southern Russia by the sea. She loves the sea, she says and smiles. There were no jobs at home, so Lena, like so many, moved to Moscow to find work and prosperity. She first worked as a secretary, but life in Moscow is expensive. Her friends are »bandits«, as the prostitutes call themselves, and introduced her to the part-time job. Later, Lena lost her job and went full-on into prostitution. She hits the clubs every night looking for men who will pay for sex. In Moscow alone there are an estimated 150,000 prostitutes. The number of unreported cases is probably much higher. Life here is expensive, and even if the girls earn enough to keep themselves in the new middle-class jobs, access to the new luxury world of Moscow's nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and high-end department stores is priceless for them. The average bandit makes between three and five hundred dollars per john. She has to give part of it to a network, a pimp or a club. Another part to the police to turn a blind eye because prostitution is illegal in Russia. A survey is shocking, according to which every eighth schoolgirl between the ages of ten and sixteen says »call girl« is their dream job. Not to earn food or the rent, but so that the Dolce & When the sun goes down, Lena goes to a club or sits in a cafe. She smiles at the men and hopes to strike up a conversation with them. The price is quickly negotiated and we take a taxi home to the client. I ask her whether she's not afraid or whether she's ever experienced something bad. Lena spits in the air three times, a sign of luck in Russia, and tells me that until now she has always been lucky and everything has gone smoothly. Of course there were a few drunks or even trouble, but mostly it was resolved peacefully. “I look at people carefully beforehand and choose who I go home with. Also, I have my girlfriends who check in on me regularly on the phone,” she says casually. Lena is an exception. She didn't become a »bandit« to be able to buy expensive clothes, but she uses the money to support her family and has already saved a lot. She is considering buying an apartment in Moscow as an investment, she says proudly, but the prices in Moscow are too high. She would rather invest in Europe. You can get a restaurant on the Spanish coast or a hotel in Croatia cheaply and she plans to buy one. Spain is her dream country, she adds. In general, Lena makes an intelligent impression. She speaks good German and seems to be familiar with costs and prices in the various real estate markets. She tells me about square meter prices in certain areas of Moscow and compares them to Spain and Croatia. "No, I would be stupid if I would buy something here. The real estate market in Moscow will collapse in two years anyway because it's grossly overvalued,” says Lena. "Do you enjoy your job?" I ask, adding "Yes, I know, that's a stupid question." “You know,” she says, “I meet a lot of people. I'm learning a lot for life and to be honest I enjoy sex too.« "Do you see anything wrong with that?" I ask. “Nowadays, 'bandits' are a part of life in Moscow. A Russian man has his wife at home at the stove and can take as many girls on the side as he can afford. Not to mention the foreigners. I like many of the men I choose. I might be going to bed with them anyway, but this is how I make money and can improve my life and situation. Sometimes I even think it's a shame that I never see many of these men again or just have a business relationship with them.« "Hm, isn't that a bit schizophrenic?" "Maybe, but I don't have a choice," Lena replies. "Are you still looking for a job as a secretary?" Lena laughs: »No, as a secretary I earn between three and four hundred dollars a month. As a "bandit" I can make $2,500 or more a month." I wish Lena good luck on parting. She can use that: HIV, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in Russia. Many of the clients do not like to use condoms. This is how the part-time job becomes Russian roulette. But maybe also to leave Russia and start again somewhere else. Maybe she'll make it to Spain and leave her life in Russia behind. Maybe her new »job« will destroy her too. I hope she makes it. whorehouse visit We are sitting in the beer garden of Bavarius, a pseudo-Bavarian inn in Moscow. Next to me is an acquaintance from Munich. 'Natalia will be here soon. That's quite sweet. I think there's something going on." "Cool, I'm happy for you," I say, bored, and drink my wheat beer. Shortly thereafter, a good-looking girl walks up to our table and grins. She hugs my boyfriend, then he introduces her to me. For the next two hours we sit together, talk and drink a lot of beer. Natalia gets pretty drunk at some point. She flirts with both of us at the same time. "There's something going on," my friend repeats confidently. "I'm happy for you," I repeat, still bored. "No, I mean three." “Bullshit. That's not such a girl. I feel that.« "You'll see," he replies, smirking to himself. When Natalia comes back we decide to move to a bar and continue from there. It's Tuesday and there's not much going on in Moscow either. After a Red Bull vodka, Natalia has had enough. It's one o'clock in the morning and she has to go home. We'll pay and take you to the taxi. "I live just around the corner," my friend tries again. "Let's go to my place." "Another time. Not today, because I'm already too drunk,” says Natalia and gets into the taxi. We watch the Lada drive away into the night. My friend is visibly disappointed. And I'm obviously drunk. "Come on, let's go fuck," I say to cheer him up again. "I just made some money and invite you over." "I know a salon nearby," he says and is immediately in good spirits again. That's a good thing, because I don't know much about such things. It's rare that I pay for sex, and I never go to one of those whorehouses anyway, because the one-hour number isn't for me. I like to take my time. After a short walk through the Moscow night we stand in a backyard. We ring a doorbell and shortly thereafter we go up to the third floor. There is an open door there. As we enter, an older woman comes up to us and asks what we would like. "We do not know. Let's see." After that we are taken to a room. We'll wait there for a few minutes. Then the door opens and twelve barely dressed girls come in. They walk past us. Spin around so we can see everything too. Then they sit on the bed. We pick two. The others go. "Do you want sex right away or something to drink first?" asks one of the girls. Before I can answer, my friend exclaims, "Oh yes. Champagne!" "Are you crazy? Do you know how much this costs?' “I know. Feel like champagne now. What does that cost?" The elderly lady comes in. "Three hundred dollars for the Veuve," she says. "OK, give it to me." We're sitting in a living room drinking with the girls. There are also two new people sitting at our table. One of them is from Africa. We're having a good time, but I'm pretty drunk now and I'm wondering if I shouldn't go home after all. Just as I'm about to suggest I leave, my friend leans over and says, "I just nailed a deal. We can have the room with the jacuzzi, two of the girls, and we get a bottle of bubbly too. It's only eight hundred dollars." “Man, I was counting on five hundred dollars, that's really too expensive for me. Apart from the fact that after the champagne campaign I only have two hundred in my pocket.« I'm done and just want to go home. “Can I pay with my credit card?” he then asks the elderly lady. She nods. »Fuck it! You only live once. Let's do that. You pay for the bottle of bubbly and now I invite you.” "Man, you can't afford that," I admonish. But he is already being dragged into the whirlpool room by one of the women. I follow him and five minutes later the four of us are sitting in the pool sipping champagne. After that we have fun with the girls on the big bed. Then there's a knock on the door. My friend is going to check. "Our time is up," he calls to me. “OK, I'm too drunk anyway. Let's go." "No no. I'll take care of it,' he says, and disappears outside. Three minutes later he comes back 'And on we go. I've extended it again." "Are you insane?" I ask. "What did that cost?" "It doesn't matter, let's have fun." After another hour we stagger out of the apartment. It's already light outside. I say goodbye and get in a taxi to go home. At home I fall into bed and sleep. I have to work by noon at the latest, which won't be easy after so much beer and champagne, but I have to admit that there are worse things. Hot salsa in the metro Riding the Moscow subway can be a pain. Sometimes it's the heat. Sometimes the stench. Sometimes the journey becomes a torture for the senses, because the beautiful Russian women just tear you down. If you decide to drive, you may have peace and quiet, but you will be stuck in traffic jams for hours and the traffic is unpredictable day and night. The metro is more reliable, but hopelessly overcrowded during peak hours. Almost twelve million people want to go to work and back. I've already hardened from the New York subway, but Moscow beats everything. It's tight, you're being pushed, pushed, pushing each other on each other's skin. The neighbor stinks of vodka or garlic - or both. The old grannies are the worst. They like to elbow you in the ribs and squeeze harder than any sixteen-year-old. But it doesn't help - I have a meeting and I'm taking the subway. After that I jump down the stairs to the metro entrance in a good mood, but my good mood vanishes immediately on the platform. It's rush hour and there's a lot of people here. It's getting hard to get a seat on the nearest metro. The train stops and I happen to be right in front of a door. The crowd pushes me from behind into the already overcrowded carriage. It's way too narrow and too hot. I am pushed far into the car and just manage to turn back towards the door before it gets too narrow. A long-legged blonde is standing in front of me. I can't see her face, but she wears a secretary outfit that's just my style and has a killer figure. Long legs with black high-heeled boots, a short skirt, a tight white blouse and a tight, much too tight little jacket. Moscow subway rides often become visual torture for me because the girls here are really tantalizing. You'd think they'd spend twenty-four hours looking for their prince charming, their sugar daddy, or someone who'd marry them, court them, and pay everything for them. They play with their charms more than in any other culture that I have experienced so far. The crowd pushes more people into the wagon, and the girl in front of me is pressed tightly against me. Finally the doors close and the train starts moving. My nose is almost in the girl's neck. I wanted to turn away, but I don't have a chance because I'm wedged in from all sides. Her perfume smells damn good and her hair tickles my nose a bit. Then I feel her bottom. He's right in front of me. The old train rattles. It's loud in the car. With the beat of the rails and the constant back and forth, it's almost as if we were dancing. I'm starting to get aroused and try to control and calm myself, but with each push things get worse for me. It seems to me that she's moving to the rhythm, rubbing her bottom against me, up and down, left to right. I don't know if it's the train or if she's doing it on purpose. Actually, their movements are too slow and don't match the jerking of the train. I'm sure she can feel my breath on her neck. She tracks me behind her. It's almost like a hot salsa dance. I wanted to hold her in my arms. You stop and dance with her. They kiss. My breathing quickens... Hopefully the ride will be over soon. Or not, because I actually enjoy the situation, even though it's rather strange. The journey to the next station does not take long. Almost three minutes. Still, it seems like an eternity to me. My thoughts turn to her long legs. I feel her tight, hard buttocks where it shouldn't be. Between her and me is just a bit of sheer satin and my jeans. I love this material, satin. It feels so good. I would love to caress her with my hand, but whether I'm allowed to or not, my hands are wedged tightly between me and my neighbors anyway. The train is slowing down, I have to get off at the next station. When the doors open and the situation calms down, the girl turns around. She has a very pretty face. Our eyes meet for a brief moment. I catch my breath, then she smiles. It's not a cheeky, not a seductive smile, but a gentle, lovingly naive one. She exits the train and disappears into the crowd. I also have to keep fighting my way to the connecting train. A short time later I'm back in an overcrowded subway car and am almost crushed to death. It stinks and it's hot, but I still have a satisfied grin on my face. Wrong, drank a lot "I'm curious how things will turn out in Yekaterinburg," I say to Evgeni as we get on the plane. We're having a nightlife event at the best club in Russia's fourth largest city, and I'm supposed to give a speech and present the World's Finest Club award. Also included is Evgeni's crazy assistant. Two hours later we land in Yekaterinburg. Even in the airport there is a terrible smell of exhaust fumes. Our driver is waiting for us. "What stinks in here?" I ask him. 'The heavy industry. If the wind is unfavorable, the exhaust fumes go into the city.« "I didn't want to live here," I think, but keep quiet. Arriving at the hotel, I move into my room. I grab a beer from the minibar and watch TV. I've got two hours before we have to go to the club, and it's right next door. Later Evgeni picks me up for dinner. We sit in the hotel lobby and let ourselves be pampered. The guest DJ of the evening, a very nice Swede, is also there. We drink wine and eat a lot. Then it's time. The promoter picks us up and takes us to the club. "Where's our table?" Evgeni asks the promoter. “Yes,” he replies hesitantly, “there is a problem. We sold all the tables.« "What?" Evgeni gets angry. Part of our deal is that we get our own table for the whole evening. "I'll see what I can do," says the promoter and disappears. We stand next to the stage and examine the dance show of the go-gos. I slurp my first vodka Red Bull. Shortly thereafter, the promoter comes back. No, unfortunately there were no more free tables. "I don't care," I say to Evgeni, "as long as we get free drinks for us and our friends." "No," Evgeni says, "that's not possible. I don't stand around all night." The promoter makes a concerned face. Then the owner of the club comes with his wife and we are introduced. I smile kindly and shake her hands. After the greeting, Evgeni complains. "It's not a problem," says the owner. “You could sit at my table. It's right over here. It's okay if you invite girls over, too." Evgeni is halfway satisfied. We sit down. My speech is at two o'clock. I hand over the prize, then we sit down again at the table. The club cheers, and now everyone is celebrating. Our new Swedish DJ friend also puts on a very cool show. I'm sitting on the other end of the couch and I'm still bored. "I'm going to have a look around," I say to Evgeni. 'No, you can't. You have to represent,« he replies. "The owner expects that." "OK, OK, then I'll stay." I now have three Vodka Red Bull on my account. The proprietor orders a bottle of champagne, and he doesn't skimp because there's no Krimsekt or standard Moet. I am now sitting next to the owner's wife. She is a classy black-haired woman with a great figure and a pouty mouth. A friend is sitting next to her. We drink champagne and talk a little. Is she flirting with me? I ask myself at first. No this can not be. Her husband sits right across the street and can see everything. "You're a handsome man," she says suddenly. OK, she's flirting with me. Evgeni sees this too and warns me: "Be careful, her husband, the owner, is one of the mafia bosses here in Yekaterinburg." "That's what he looks like, too," I reply. Evgeni tells me about the mafia war in which most of the mobsters died and only a handful remained. My opponent is probably the alpha male among them. I want to be polite and turn back to the women. From now on I try to make small talk, but she wants more. She flirts really hard. I see her husband watching us out of the corner of my eye and get nervous. "So," she says, "I saw through you. Surely you only came to Yekaterinburg to have good sex, right?” She grins at me and it looks like she's about to eat me skin and hair. "Are they both swingers?" I think. 'Or why is she so obviously flirting with me in front of her husband? It does not matter. I have to get out of here or I might end up in a landfill.« "Excuse me please. I have to go to the bathroom,« I say and disappear. After a fifteen minute stroll around the club I decide to go back and not leave Evgeni alone. Arriving at the table, I sit down next to the mafia boss. "So," he says with a serious expression, "my wife likes you, huh?" He looks at me angrily, and I realize that the situation is serious. "Excuse me," and I consciously use his first-name form, although by now everyone has used the first name on me, "I know exactly who you are. Please believe me I never intended to flirt with your wife. I was just making small talk. I respect you and your position.” He looks at me, not quite sure how to react, but his expression is still serious. I feel that that's not enough, but I don't know what else to say either. 'You know,' I add after a while, 'it's not my fault if your wife hits on me. Just to get your attention.” The mafia boss is shocked by my direct manner. He mumbles something in Russian, but I can't understand it because of the loud music. "What can I do to fix the problem?" I ask submissively. "Let's drink vodka," is his reply. I nod, and a moment later the waitress comes over with a large bottle of Russkij Standard. Unfortunately, she also has the big glasses in her hands. "In our case it was Kolsch Glaser," I think as she fills it halfway. The mafia boss and I toast each other. He grins, then we smack the vodka down our throats. "It could still be something," I think and look over at Evgeni. A few vodkas later, the mafia boss and I are best friends. 'You've got to let me know when you're in Yekaterinburg again. Then we'll do it again.« "Sure, and you let me know when you're in Moscow," I reply, hoping he'll lose my number and never call back. When I wake up, someone taps me on the shoulder. "Sir!" says the young flight attendant. 'You must fasten your seat belt. We land in Moscow.« What? How did I get here? I'm sitting alone in my row, at the back of the plane. I'm only dressed with a t-shirt, my black pants and my shoes. These are a bit full of puke. My pockets are empty and there's nothing in the luggage compartment either. where is my passport How did I even get on board? As we touch down, it occurs to me that it's minus twenty degrees outside. I look for Evgeni and his assistant on the plane, but there is no trace of them either. It's only when the crew announces the local time that I know I'm on my planned flight. That's good because no matter what happens, I have a driver who will be waiting for me in the arrivals hall and will take me home. There I have to ring my flatmates out of their sleep. I hope they are home because they like to spend Saturday mornings in the after-hours club. As we disembark, I stagger out of the plane. My head is working fine again and I'm quite clear. Only the motor skills don't want to play along at all. I almost fall over my own feet. When I get to the baggage carousel, I have to sit down first. "Maybe my stuff will come out of here," I think, waiting for the tape to stop. It's probably better if I set off and look for my driver, because if I don't find him, I don't stand a chance. Without ID, money, phone and jacket, fifty kilometers outside of Moscow. When I look for my driver, I find Evgeni. He's totally drunk and slurs at me. Then his assistant comes, who seems to be quite sober. "Ah, there you are," he says. 'I found our driver. He's waiting outside. We have to go. Can you walk alone?' he asks me, taking Evgeni's arm over his shoulder to lead him out. "Where are my things?" I ask. “I have your passport and your wallet. The rest is still in Yekaterinburg, but will be on the next plane this evening,” he explains to me matter-of-factly. It's bitterly cold outside, and even the twenty meters from the hall to the taxi is torture for me. I literally fall into the car. Then he helps Evgeni from the other side and sits himself in the passenger seat. I'm waiting for an explanation, but he's silent and looks at the street. "What happened?" I finally ask. “You started drinking with the owner. Then Evgeni joined in too, and at some point you were all blown away. You and the owner had a lot of fun together. At some point you fell asleep. We let you sleep until it was time to go." "And then?" 'We just couldn't wake you up and we were running out of time. So club security put you in a car and drove you to the airport. Evgeni and I went to the hotel to get our bags, but we couldn't wait for them to gather and bring your things. At the airport you must have thrown up on the feet of the security people..." "Me too," I interrupt. »... and when you checked in they didn't want to accept you because you could barely stand. The security guys then made it clear who got you so drunk, after that they put you on the plane personally. All the way to the back so you can have your peace. Haha, they were glad to finally get rid of you." "So, apart from falling asleep, I haven't misbehaved?" I ask, incredulous. »No, everything was OK. We have no problem. And your things, as I said, will be on the next plane tonight.” After more hours of torment, I'm finally home. I fall into my bed exhausted. When I wake up in the evening I wonder if it was all just a bad dream? No, it was real: my shoes, which were puked on, are next to my bed. I get up and meet Pasha in the kitchen. When I tell him my story, he becomes thoughtful. "Boy!" he says. "You have been lucky. That could have ended up in a landfill. Don't do such a shit! Be a little more careful next time.” "Yes yes, it's OK. I'm still alive." Then I get ready and go to the club, because I have to hang up for five hours after midnight. Seven days, seven girls »I want to break the hundred mark!«, says Charlie Runkle in the TV series Californication. I've been through that for a long time. Eventually I even stopped paying. There are women I remember and there are adventures I'd rather forget. It's not like I'm going out and saying I'm taking a girl home today. Normally things are different. You go to the club, stand at the counter and talk to a nice woman. Sometimes it becomes something. Sometimes not. I don't believe in pick-ups who pick up a woman every time. These people probably have a problem with themselves and need to prove to themselves how great they are over and over again. That's not the case with me. I don't have a girlfriend and until the right one shows up I live my life trying to have fun. Maybe one day my dream woman will be there, and I'll change my lifestyle. After the slave everything has become relative anyway. I have lived out all fantasies with her. And? Am I feeling better now? No, on the contrary. Now there is emptiness. I'll take it easy for a while. After that, I decide to raise the bar a little bit more. I know what and how I like it. So it's about quantity, not so much quality I think. I am constantly meeting new women. It's always the same: most girls like me and see me as their next boyfriend. My answer is always the same: "I don't want a girlfriend, but we can have fun." You'd think most people would give up and try another man, but the opposite is true: they stay and try to get me around somehow. But it often goes wrong after just a few meetings. Some bitch immediately. Others only after the third date. Most of the time we don't get any further and the women look for someone else. Nevertheless, some remain and do not give up. My phone rings, it's Vera. "What are you doing this evening?" "It is Tuesday. What am I supposed to do? I'll stay home and chill,' I reply. "Can I come over?" she asks. On Wednesday it's the same with Nelly. So I always have enough to do. Sometimes it's even too much. I long for a quiet evening at home with my Playstation and a few beers. It doesn't matter when, I always have five girls on hold and I'm having trouble timing everything. When I'm traveling alone, I don't care about the breakdown. "I don't need another girl," I think. But the women notice that and jump at me even more. Thursday evening I'm at the propaganda. There's one dancing and grinning at me. She comes over and we talk, have a few drinks together, and in the morning it's over to my place. I'm DJing at a party on Friday night and it doesn't take long before I have a grinning little girl in vinyl leggings in front of the DJ booth. She turns her back on me and dances provocatively. Then she leans against the desk, pulls her head back and grins at me while I have a clear view of her breasts. After hanging up, I invite her for a drink, and shortly thereafter we end up in the taxi, then in bed. On Saturday we fuck all day, but in the evening I have to go out and DJ again. Today I'll take it easy, get the set ready, then go home and just sleep, I tell myself. Then Lola shows up. We only know each other from the internet. She has a good figure and a nice smile. "No, not again," says my friend Max, because he knows what I've been up to for the past few days. "No, not today," I reply. After the set I go to Lola's and we chat a little. She puts her hand on my leg. Then she slowly pushes her hand up. I want to remain adamant, but Lola is serious and goes a step further. She massages my cock through my jeans. Very openly and very unabashedly. "OK, let's fill up the five then," I think, pulling Lola over to kiss her. An hour later we are with me. She's good, a little bit different. I don't know what it is. She's only twenty-three but fucks with a lot of experience. It even scares me at some point, because I wonder how many men she must have had to be that good. Lola seems to see sex as a sport. She gives me orgasm after orgasm and it seems "Slow down," I say. "We don't have to set a world record here, do we?" "Why not?" asks Lola, grinning at me. After that she continues and tries to get me to have another orgasm. This goes on until dawn, and when I wake up around noon, Lola is trying to score again. My penis hurts and I'm totally screwed. When I'm finally rid of Lola and tiredly fall into my bed to enjoy the rest of the day alone, my phone rings. On the other end is Becky, an Englishwoman. We had a one night stand months ago. "What are you doing tonight?" she asks. "Chilling!" I answer firmly. "Can we chill together? I'm really tired. I've had a rough week,' she says. “No, really. I want to stay alone today.« "That's a shame," Becky says. "I've only got one more day in town and thought I'd drop by with a bottle of wine and spoil you." I remember Becky. She was particularly naughty last time. I liked that. Maybe it's a good thing if she comes over? "OK, come by later," I say, and then take a shower. Becky arrives in leather pants and heels and it's not long before we're in my bed having fun. But slowly it's starting to hurt, and I'm slowly getting tired of it. "What's happening? Why don't you come?” asks Becky. "I am tired. Had a lot of stress the last few days,« I reply, not mentioning that she's sixth and that I only had several orgasms last night. "It doesn't matter," I say, "as long as you're having fun. Don't worry about me." Thank God Becky has to be at the airport on time the next day and goes home that same night. I fall into my bed. Then it occurs to me that maybe I should change the sheets. I haven't gotten around to it for the past few days and now it's real enough. Monday. It's hard for me to work because I'm physically exhausted. Yes, it may sound great. Six days and six women, but it's really a marathon. Not just physically, because you have to offer and entertain women outside of the bedroom. Anyway, I'm surprised I haven't gotten their names mixed up in the last few days. In the evening I'm invited to Lisa's. She's bought lobster and caviar, she tells me on the phone, but I have to cancel. I know how the evening ends and I can't make it another night. "Sorry, I'm not feeling well," I fib over the phone. Lisa is disappointed, but is content that I will visit her in the next few days when I feel better. Seven days, seven women, that's crazy. Any man who brags about it is either a liar or Superman. It was just too much. In the future, I decide to take it slower. So it's not quantity either. The quality remains. The lawyer Thursday evening, we are bored at the bar of the So-Ho Room. Katsche, my new roommate, keeps me company. Today we are throwing our own party in the most exclusive club in Moscow. »You know me«, I say to him, »My heart is in the underground. I'm terribly bored with this posh attitude here at the So-Ho.” "Then why are you having a party here?" “Because of the coal. And it's also good for the image.« "You're right. It's boring and the music doesn't work at all. But at least the women are good here.” I shrug. "Yes and? The models don't look at you anyway. We don't have enough money and they know it." I just heard from the manager of the So-Ho that one of the women got a BMW 6 as a gift after a one-night stand with a fat rich Russian guy. No, we can't compete with that. “You know,” said the manager, “when one of your foreigners takes a table, he spends around three hundred euros. The Russian at the next table leaves a thousand euros and more.« "Just don't give up hope," replies Katsche. In front of us, six-foot-tall girls in high heels are dancing. My friend Maxim always calls them "basketball players." They are beautiful creatures: long legs, firm buttocks, clothes that are much too tight, always the perfect make-up and a hairstyle that looks as if it had just been created by a stylist. You can see that these girls are expensive. I always have visitors from Germany or other countries. The men are impressed by the women, but I have to keep telling them that Moscow is not Kyiv. Here you are worth nothing as a foreigner. At least not for that kind of woman. If you're lucky, you can buy her a drink, in return you can stand next to one of these goddesses for a short time. That's it. Nothing more will happen. At least most. There are a lot of people sitting at the tables today Russians. A Russian pop band from the 90s plays later, which always attracts a lot of guests. Two or three men sit at most tables and these long-legged models surround them. I look at the couch in front of me, there's a girl kneeling there in skin-tight vinyl pants. She's not wearing any underwear, you can see that. You can see every curve, that of the bottom, but also the Venus hill in between. The Luxembourg banker next to me is already drooling, but this girl belongs to one of the Russians. The bar is slowly getting fuller. Katsche talks to a few Italians while I move from guest to guest and make small talk. I have a lot of girls in my party community, but sadly most of them aren't model types, they're more middle class. Still, they don't look bad When the band plays, the party rages. everyone dance The drunk Russian men as well as the expats with their new girlfriends. It's almost two o'clock and most of them have already filled up. Katsche has tried his hand at a few girls, but now he's alone at the bar again. I think he's making the typical Moscow rookie mistake. You talk to a nice woman, flirt like crazy, but then someone else grins at you and actually looks a lot better. So you find the exit and move on. It goes on for a while until you get one that does the same thing and you're traded in for a better one. Then suddenly you're alone at the bar. It's late and you've already seen most of the women. Now they don't want to anymore and have meanwhile looked for someone else. We finally go home around three o'clock. Katsche has made a girl clear after all. It's a Russian who has lived in LA for a long time and is a lawyer. No, she's not pretty. But the worst thing about her is her mouth. She sits in the cab behind me and talks in a tour. Just stupid stuff at that. At home we sit in the living room and drink a glass of wine together. The lawyer still speaks without a period or a comma. "Please," I say to Katsche in German so that she can't understand me, "tell her to blow you. So that she finally shut up.« Katsche starts messing with her and she goes for it. Shortly thereafter, the two sit on the couch and kiss. I sit next to the table and watch. Actually, I was able to go to bed, but I have the feeling that more is happening here, because the lawyer also flirted heavily with me. After a while I take her leg and put it on my lap. Then I run my hand from her knee up and down her thigh, this time on the inside. The lawyer is visibly agitated. Her hand grabs Katsche between her legs and looks for the zipper. After a while I go to the end and feel through the panties that she is wet. Then I get up, sit next to her, and now she kisses me while she has Katsche tightly in her hand. That's how it goes for a while. Then I stand up and pull the lawyer to me. I push them into my room and slowly take off her dress there. Katsche stands behind her and strokes her. After that, I push her into bed and we have threesome sex. The lawyer is very excited. She is like in a trance and lives her personal porn. Katsche and I are a good team. We don't get in each other's way and the threesome works unusually well. After half an hour, the lawyer suddenly jumps up. She is now standing in bed in front of us and staring at us in panic. "No, that's not me! I didn't do that,” she says, and quickly begins to gather her clothes. She runs out of my room, and shortly afterwards I hear the apartment door slam shut. Katsche and I put on our shorts and sit back in the living room. We'll have another glass of wine and smoke a joint. "Strange woman," Katsche breaks the silence after a while. 'Yes, strange. It was almost as if she had been in a dream earlier and suddenly woken up.” "The poor. I hope it wasn't a nightmare,« says Katsche and laughs. "Well, that was good anyway, wasn't it?" "Absolutely." After that we go to bed. Before I fall asleep, I have to grin and, as so often, shake my head in disbelief. That was another one of those crazy Moscow stories. girlfriends Friday night. We're on our way to a new bar where I'm supposed to be DJing tonight. I was there last week and didn't like it at all. There's a strip club above the bar, so the crowd was mostly guys. "I don't really feel like going to the place at all," I say to Max. "Think this will be the first and last time that I DJ there." Actually, I'm playing house music at the moment. My tracks come directly from New York and are played there by the best DJs in the city on the super trendy roof terraces of design hotels. In Moscow, people don't understand my new style. They want pop hits, but I've had enough of them for a long time. Max brings me a beer and I put on the first tracks. Pop shit at its finest. I was also able to play the top 10 on the charts. It would be the same. Max stands at the bar, looks over at me and just shakes his head. »Hey, the audience likes it. I'm not in the mood for that shit either,' I say. I can't find my groove, I'm playing horribly, but the people at the tables are swaying to the beat, which is always a good sign. Well, that will take a maximum of two to three hours, then I can disappear. But contrary to expectations, more and more people come and the bar slowly fills up. Then suddenly a track hangs. I quickly slide in the next song and pull the CD out of the player to inspect it. OK, she's gauze. I throw them in my bag and later throw them away. Then I examine the other CDs and find that a good seventy percent of my pop discs have become unusable because they were lying around in the apartment or in my bag without a case. Thank God I quickly burned two CDs with the latest hits, and they run, but that's not nearly enough tracks to fill the evening. After another hour I slowly run out of songs. That's actually not so bad, because I didn't want to play here anymore anyway and wanted to keep the evening short. But it's getting fuller and the place rocks. Anyway, I'll just put my house on. The last time I tried this at one of those pop bars, the place was empty after three songs. The manager and bartenders just stood there shaking their heads. I can still find a halfway working CD with mixed versions of pop hits. So I put one of these in. Actually, this music fits better in a club than in a bar, but somehow it works today. A few of the guests even get up and dance at their table. However, the dance floor next to me is still empty. OK, now it's time for one of my New York tracks. The speed is right and I add a cool house track. people still dance there are now more between the tables. "OK, half won," I think, and again slide in a remix of a pop hit. So I slowly lead the guests over to my new style, and then the place rocks. The dance floor next to me is packed and people are grinning at me. Now I only play my new house. After a while the director approaches me. He grins and is euphoric. "Great Mukke," he says. "Keep it up!" I'm just wondering. It's almost two and actually I'm done. "Do you have another DJ?" I ask. "No, we didn't think it would be that good and we figured it would be over at two." "OK, I'll keep playing." Actually, I'm having fun myself now, but I've also been invited to the opening of a new big club today, and Leningrad, a famous Russian ska band, are playing there, which I've wanted to see live for a long time, especially since they don't actually play together anymore. I was invited by one of the owners of the club, DJ Bobo of Russia. It's going to be hard to get in, but I'm on the guest list and I can take friends. There's only one problem. Leningrad starts around two o'clock and I'm standing in a full bar with a roaring crowd. "And when are we leaving?" asks Max. He doesn't care about Leningrad, but he wants to see the new club and is excited to walk past a crowd of rich Russians who have to wait while we're on the VIP list. "They don't have a DJ," I reply, shrugging as I pull on the next track. Max laughs. "So are we staying here?" "I guess it looks like it." "Okay, then I'll go get you another Vodka Red Bull." Two Asian women are sitting at the table in front of me. I don't really care for this type of woman, but both of them are very pretty and have a great figure. One of them is Svetlana. I met her at a French friend's housewarming party last week. Great woman. She wears a tight black dress, has long brown hair and a very beautiful face. Max comes back and brings me my drink. He sees the two girls and how Svetlana adores me. "Maybe it won't be so bad if we stay here," he says. I grin. The party goes on and it's five in the morning when I finally finish. Six hours on the decks is enough. Svetlana is still there and I go to her table. “I'm still going to the opening of The Artist. Is a new club. We're on the guest list. are you still coming? Guess it's not that busy anymore, but let's stop by anyway. It's just around the corner." The girls drink up and we go. The doorman at Artist doesn't want to let me in because I'm wearing jeans and sneakers, which is an absolute no-go in Moscow's nightlife. 'Come on boy, first of all you know me, and secondly I'm on the guest list. Third, I come with two glamorous women. What more do you want?” I answer coolly and calmly. He grins and leafs through his list. Then he waves us in and wishes us a lot of fun. There really isn't much going on in the club anymore. It seems like most people had already moved on. The girls are a bit disappointed. "Can't do anything," I say when one of the owners comes up to me. We know each other well from nightlife, although we couldn't be more different when it comes to style. He produces and plays commercial music. The worst of the worst. The stuff you would expect at an Austrian apres-ski party, just in Russian. Still, he's a star, and the girls next to me can't get a word out. "What do you want to drink?" he asks. "Don't know?" "Whiskey for you and champagne for the girls." "Cool." He's off to organize the drinks. The girls still can't get a sound out. "Yes, I know. It is boring. We'll be right back. Got another party tonight and hope it's better,' I say to Svetlana. All she really wants to do is stay and hang out with the owner and his friends, but that's not going to happen because they're both mine tonight. It doesn't take long before the owner comes back and brings us the drinks. "And? How do you like the shop?” I think he's terrible, but I don't want to offend the owner. No, not because he's a big deal, but because I like him. "Great club," I say. "Sorry I'm late, but I had a good night at the Boom Boom Room myself and just had to hang up." He is happy about my answer and talks a bit more with Svetlana and her friend, which impresses the girls immensely. Then I drank my whiskey. 'Let's go, girls. We're going somewhere else. Sorry, we have to move on.« He grins because I have two models in tow to take care of. The girls are a bit disappointed, but they also understand that there is nothing going on here anymore. "And? Where are we going now? Maybe the So-Ho Rooms?” asks Svetlana. 'No, there's nothing going on there now. It's almost six in the morning. Let's move into my living room,' I reply cheekily. Svetlana is a little surprised by my directness. "Don't worry," I say. "I don't mean my real living room, but my favorite store, Soljanka." I know that nothing is going on with Svetlana today, after all her friend is there and takes care of her. I have to wait for a better opportunity or get her so drunk she doesn't care. “Solyanka?” asks Svetlana. "I don't even know the store." That doesn't surprise me, because these model types always go to the same clubs, the So-Ho Rooms or the Imperia Lounge. "Well then let yourself be surprised. It's a good shop and, as I said, my second living room.« Fifteen minutes later we're there. The bouncer greets me and waves us in. The girls are surprised again. In the club, however, it is already dead pants. Both rooms are almost empty. Anyway, I'll order a round of Red Bull vodka for me and the girls. "Great place," says Svetlana, but I can tell she's a bit disappointed. 'Well, I guess it's a bit too late. We'd better move to an after-hours club.« "What? Do you want to move on?' asks Svetlana's friend. I realize that the evening will soon be over and I will go away empty-handed. Then I can still persuade Svetlana to come with me, and we sit in a taxi to Glazur, one of the classier after-hour clubs. I probably should have suggested Kryscha Mira because it's super difficult to get in there too, but I'm not into techno, I want some more house. wrong decision! Svetlana's girlfriend gets her way and the two of them decide to go home when we arrive and I'm getting out of the taxi. "OK, no problem," I say, disappointed. 'See you next time then. I had fun with you two. We have to do it again.« After that I get a kiss from both of them and the taxi drives away. "Fuck me," I think and walk to the Glazur's entrance. Then I'll just keep drinking here, there will be a girl who wants to go home with me. Or rather not? Actually, I'm well through, and when I go to the Glazur, I don't get home until around noon. In the evening I already have two dates with other girls. Maybe it's better if I just go home and have a lie-in so I'll be fit again in the evening. So U-turn and back to the street. The bouncer looks at me in surprise, because just as I'm standing in front of him, I turn 180 degrees and slowly walk away without a word. When I get home, I put my DJ stuff in the cloakroom and go for a walk with my dog Muhackl. It's getting light outside. What a night! The fresh air is good and I'm glad Just as we have finished our walk, my phone rings. I'm surprised to see that Pasha's girlfriend is on the other end. After all, it's now eight o'clock in the morning. "It's good that you're still awake," she says. 'I can't reach Pasha and I don't have my keys with me. We're on our way to you." I go into his room and see him lying in bed. He's still wearing his jacket and shoes. Typical Pasha! He really kicks himself up every couple of weeks, then drinks through Friday through Sunday night. This is normal for many Russians. They call it zapoi, I call it going on a bender. It also happened that Pascha wasn't alone in his bed, or wasn't even at home at that time, so I wanted to check things out before I allowed his girlfriend to come by. "Hm, Pasha isn't that fit anymore," I tell her. 'You know him. He's really done it again." 'Anyway, we're coming over now. don't go to sleep I have two other friends with me and they want sex.« After that I hear loud laughter in the background and she hangs up. What? As? I don't even know her like that. She's actually a good girl from the suburbs. No, none of those who live in the prefabricated buildings. Your parents have money. Lot of money. Ten minutes later the doorbell rings. I open the door and she comes in with her friends. All three are in a good mood and quite drunk. They walk straight into our living room in their high-heeled shoes. One of them waves a plastic bag back and forth in front of me: "We brought beer!" I don't know if I can have anything else to drink, and beer at this time? It is already daylight outside. Pasha's girlfriend goes into his room, but comes back a short time later and laughs. "He's totally screwed," she says. "Do you have any more comfortable clothes for the girls?" I shrug. "T shirts?" I'll get the smallest ones I have. Her friends are in their early twenties and are both good looking. They can't compete with the models before, but at this time it doesn't matter. They have nice legs and great bums, which are now sticking out from under the T-shirts. I wonder if that was just a joke or if they really want to have fun. Both are blonde. Their names are Nastia and Katja. The latter is married to the son of an animal feed entrepreneur. I know him because he's learning German and occasionally needs help with his homework. As payment I always get a few bags of dog food for my little fox terrier. "Do you have anything left to smoke?" asks Nastia. "Naturally. You know us,' is my reply as I pick up the box of smokes and start rolling a joint. Nastia grins. The girls talk while I play music for them. You keep making lewd remarks. "Do you have a big cock?" asks Katja. "You're married." "So what? I like big cocks, too,” she flirts. I am shocked. Then I go to Pasha. I try to wake him up. "Hey dude! I have three wild girls sitting in the living room and it seems like all three want to fuck. At least take your girlfriend off my shoulders so I can enjoy it in peace." Pasha only growls drunk and turns to the other side. When I come back into the living room, the girls are drawing tattoos on their bodies with a black sharpie. Nastia gets a vagina painted on her arm. Katja's thigh is stylishly decorated with a large penis. I go back to my DJ table and put on the next track. "Now it's your turn," calls Katja and grins. She is standing in front of me in a tight black thong, my T-shirt is too big for her. One of her small firm breasts hangs out of the V-neckline. Katja comes up to me and pushes my t-shirt up. Then she paints me two big tits on my stomach. I resign myself to my fate and open another can of beer. It's getting later and I'm getting tired. The sun is already shining outside and it's high time to go to bed. "I go to bed now. You can carry on,« I say to the three of them. "No. Stay here. Weren't you listening earlier? I meant it on the phone." "OK, then I'll stay a little longer." But I tell her to go to Pasha's room. After all, she's my best friend's girlfriend. "Sorry. Nothing can happen between us, and you're not allowed to watch either. No matter how drunk you are.” "What? I'm supposed to go to bed with the stinker?' "Yes, you should. And there are no arguments!" "OK later. Yes?" So we sit together for another two hours. Talk, flirt and drink the remaining beers. Then she finally disappears into Pasha's room and I go to the toilet for a moment. When I come back, Nastia and Masha are lying next to each other on the couch and pretend they're already asleep. I was only gone for three minutes. “OK,” I think, “so they got scared. Okay, let's leave that." I go to my room but leave the living room door open in case either of them decides to have sex with me. I secretly hope it's Katja, because I like her best and she's been particularly flirtatious all morning. Then I lie in bed and wait. Nothing happens. Damn. chance missed. Maybe I should have taken the first step after all. Just lie down on the couch with them. But it's so small. The three of us had a lot more space in my bed. Doesn't matter. I decide to try it. In the worst case, they kick me out and then I can still sleep. So I go over to the two of them. Nastia is still awake and grins at me as I lay down with them. There is no room on the couch, and Nastia only allows me to lie down in front of her. We kiss eachother, and I'm fondling her. She doesn't seem to really want to, because whenever I want to go between her legs, she squeezes them tightly together so that I can't go any further. After a while I finally reach my goal and to my surprise I find an intimate piercing between Nastia's legs. Not bad for a twenty-two year old. She seems to be enjoying it now. Katja lies next to us and still pretends to be asleep. Then Nastia suddenly gets up and goes to the toilet. I take the opportunity to take care of Katja. She enjoys it at first, but then pushes my hand away when I want to go under her thong. Somehow I feel like a fourteen year old trying his first fumble. Then Nastia comes back and she doesn't think it's good that I'm messing around with Katja in the meantime. Katja is pretending to be asleep again, so it looks like I'm trying to grope her while she's sleeping. Nastia lies down with us, but no longer allows me to touch her. Now I'm lying between the two girls and don't know what to do. So the flirting and the snide remarks were just a game after all. Or the psychology between the three of us just broke it. I don't know, but think about the causes for a while and wait for one of the two to turn around and take the next step. After ten minutes I've had enough. I get up, kiss both girls on the forehead and wish them good night. Subliminally, I apologize for my misjudgment of the situation. Then, disappointed, I move off to my room, but leave the door open again. Did I misunderstand something? Before I fall asleep, all sorts of thoughts go through my head. What an evening. What a night and what a morning. But apparently I did something wrong, because I didn't succeed in turning the fantasies of the two girls into reality, even though we were all drunk and open enough by the end. Oh well. You can't always have everything, and actually the evening was good enough and full of surprises. I decide to be happy about it and fall asleep with a grin. Then suddenly I wake up. Nastia is sitting on the edge of my bed. "Let's smoke another one," she says. "And then?" "We'll see," is her reply. After smoking, I try to pull Nastia into bed, but she wants to stay on the edge of the bed. Uff. Those young chickens. They really don't know what they want. Actually I'm already too tired for these games at this time. Incidentally, the first hangover headache slowly sets in. I would like to just go back to sleep now. Let her sit there and think about what she wants. On the other hand, I started earlier. So I should finish the whole thing properly. I get up, sit down behind Nastia and start caressing her neck. She seems to enjoy it and we kiss. After that, my hand finds its way back into her lap, but the same thing awaits me there as before. Access. Okay, so let's just kiss for a while. It takes a full half hour until Nastia is finally lying in bed next to me, but then everything happens very quickly. She's suddenly naked and I can get a close look at her piercing. I find it very pleasant that most Russian women are shaved. I like the shape and look of the vagina. At least, most of the time. Nastia is bold. She keeps pushing me away and I feel like I'm doing something she doesn't want me to do. So I limit myself to the things she allows me to do. Then at some point I think that it can't be that and take it a step further. Only to be put back in her place by Nastia. Nonetheless, I enjoy my time with her. And this despite the fact that my headaches are getting worse and worse. I decide to take a short break to take a painkiller. After that we continue. It doesn't take long before I'm running too hot. The alcohol and the painkillers, plus the stimulation from Nastia, who now also works on me and participates. I want sex and push myself over her. But Nastia doesn't want to. "Hey! No problem!« I say as Nastia pushes me back down. "No fear. I have condoms.« I pull one out of the shelf next to the bed and want to open the package, but Nastia shakes her head. So I go back downstairs and play with her femininity. It's fun for me, and maybe I can still get them around that way. But when it doesn't work after the third attempt, I decide to give up. The painkillers have made me groggy, but the headache is getting worse and worse. Now I feel like someone is beating my skull with a sledgehammer. "Fuck that teenage attitude," I think. “The woman doesn't know what she wants. Why did she even come into my room if she doesn't want to fuck? Anyway, I've had my fun so far, and if she doesn't want to anymore, then I have to accept that." It's now midday and I've had enough and need some sleep. Who knows, maybe she'll change her mind later when we've slept a bit. I turn on my side and pull Nastia tightly to me. "Sorry. I have a terrible headache and I need a break. OK?” I ask. I lay her head on my shoulder and kiss her gently on the forehead. But Nastia wants more. She suddenly sits down on me and starts playing with me. My headaches are now unbearable and I wonder how I can still have an erection. Then Nastia suddenly sits down on me. "Disc! Again without a condom,' I think, but I start to move rhythmically because I don't care anymore. Nastia stops. she looks at me Then she pushes her pelvis down deep so that I penetrate deeply into her. Then she stops again. I keep trying to apply my thrusting movements, but it's not easy because Nastia has a tight grip on me. It's clear she wants to be in control. So I stop so she can call the shots. Then Nastia slaps me. I get the full force of her hand on the right side of my face. This is immediately followed by the left and then the right again. I'm surprised. At first I wonder what I did wrong. Probably everything. At least that's how it feels today. Then Nastia moves rhythmically again. she fucks me That can not be true! It was just like one of the Californication episodes. The one where Hank fucks his ex's stepdaughter, not knowing she's only sixteen. I don't know if Nastia watches too much TV or if it's coincidence, but I do know that the beatings weren't good for my headache. The pain becomes unbearable and I stop the whole process because while Nastia rides on me, I keep getting slaps in the face. It's a very strange way to have sex, and when I think about it, it occurs to me that I've never had such a dominant woman until now. And to be honest: I don't like this kind of sex at all. Nastia is on my shoulder again, because I pulled her down to me and laid her on her side. "Sorry. I can't take it anymore, my headache is killing me. Why don't you wait a bit for the pill to take effect and we'll get on with it,' I say apologetically. Nastia strokes my chest and says succinctly: »Boobs!« "What?" »Boobs! You have tits like a girl." I just shake my head and decide not to say anything more. Yes, my chest is not particularly flat. Even at school, when I was fourteen, I was teased about it by the alpha males in class in physical education and suffered a lot from it. After that I trained. My breasts are still protruding but are firm and hard. I haven't heard that accusation since I was fourteen. Nastia has hit the bull's eye and has now completely unsettled me. Outside in the living room I can hear Pasha and Julia. Then Pasha is already in my room. "Class. Well done!” he says to me. If he knew what I suffered in the last two hours. Nastia gets dressed and joins the others in the living room. I look at the clock. It's two o'clock in the afternoon and I'm closing the door to get at least some sleep. I wake up around six. Pasha and the three girls are sitting next door in the living room. He's been hanging up and drinking since the afternoon. He's in a good mood. I still have a heavy head and drag myself past people to the bathroom. Nastia doesn't look at me. Katja sits next to her and grins at me. I'm ashamed and a little uncomfortable with the situation. Then I walk the dog for an hour. When I come home again, I find the same situation: all four are sitting in the living room and celebrating. I'm still uncomfortable with what happened last night. That I messed around with Katja and also how Nastia abused me. Yes yes, abused is of course an exaggeration, but seriously: you don't hit on a man for hours and then treat him like he's the last straw. Something isn't right there, and I didn't want to know what experiences Nastia must have had to be so broken at twenty-two. I go back to my room and sleep for a few more hours. I wake up around eight o'clock and go to the bathroom. The girls have made themselves at home. You stay one more night. I'm slowly getting fit again, but Pascha is all the more drunk. He's standing at the DJ table and can hardly stand up straight, but he's still drinking white wine from the bottle. It's a good French one, but I'm sure Pascha doesn't care. I sit down with the girls. My headache is finally gone and I'm enjoying my first beer, it's cool and fresh. Max joined in the meantime. Katja tells him about last night. Her tone is a bit reproachful. She tells how she wakes up and someone is touching her. At first she thought it was Nastia, then, opening her eyes, she saw me. I blush Right now I can't even say anything back because she's telling the truth. However, leave it out that she teased me the whole time before and even offered me a blowjob. Now I'm the bloke. Doesn't matter. At some point Pascha is too drunk and goes to bed with his girlfriend. Max and the two girls are still here. Now I'm back at the DJ table while Max diligently rolls joints. Nastia and Katja are lying on the couch. Nastia sleeps while Katja talks to us. Then she too nods away. Max decides to leave around one o'clock and I retreat to my room. This time I close the door. Two hours later Katja crawls under the covers next to me. I wake up still groggy as her hand slides into my shorts. Now that's not true, is it? What a weekend. I can't believe it myself. I pull Katja close to me and kiss her. She has a wonderful body and her lips are so tight. In general, everything about her is fixed. I enjoy touching her. Katja disappears under the covers and gives me the blowjob she still owes me. She's pretty good at that and again I wonder where the little twenty-two year olds get their experience from. No wait. That's not true. Katja is only twenty-one. The next three hours are the Insanity. Katja is a very loving person, but with a lot of energy. She brings the last out of me. The sheets are completely wet when we end up hugging each other sweating. After that she stays for a while, we talk and smoke. Then she gets up and goes back to her couch in the living room. "I'm married, you know?" she says before leaving. I lie alone in bed and listen to some music before falling asleep. Great weekend. A bit weird at times, but overall very cool. Then on Sunday everyone acts as if nothing had happened. Pascha is still drunk, but at least he can stand up again. When I get up, his girlfriend is cooking lunch in the kitchen while the other two girls clear the decks. They even vacuum. Nastia looks at me a little reproachfully, while Katja completely avoids my eyes. I am a little confused. Everything could have been so simple and uncomplicated. But no, it had to end like this. One of the cell phones on the table rings. Katja answers and I understand that her husband is on the other end and will be coming to pick her up. I stay in my room a little longer to avoid them, because it seems like neither of them can handle the situation. Then I decide to walk the dog for an hour. When I get home, everyone is gathered in the kitchen. Katja's husband is also there and stands next to her. They hold hands. "We're going now," says Katja. "OK Nice to meet you guys. It was fun hanging out with you guys.” Pasha's girlfriend looks at me in horror and has to hold back her laughter. I can't shake the feeling that she had the most fun of all of this. "Good. Come visit again soon.” Then I say goodbye to Katja's husband and go to my room. Oh man, this Katja. What a body. I'm curious if and when she'll stop by for a visit again. number three Six o'clock in the morning. Michael and I just finished our clubs-we-don't-know-yet-tour and are dead drunk in one of the worst flophouses in Moscow. There are still a few girls from the suburbs on the dance floor. You can tell by looking at them: the cheap clothes, always a size too small and very provocative. A blonde is standing next to me at the bar and we quickly strike up a conversation. After that, it doesn't take long before we sit down at a table and make out. Michael has decided to go home. I don't know if he went alone or found a girl too. I'm way too drunk for that. Not much later we drive to my place. Tatiana hardly speaks English, but we don't have to talk much anymore anyway. Tatiana goes off like a grenade in bed. But somehow it's always the same. The next morning I even wonder why I didn't go home alone much earlier. Around noon Tatiana leaves and I'm glad to be rid of her. She's a good girl and we had fun, but that's about it. "Can I have your number?" she asks on her way to the door. "Sure, of course. Here it is,” I reply, punching my number into her phone. Tuesday afternoon. It's been over a week since I dated Tatiana and now she's texting me. "Shall we see each other tonight?" she asks. “I still have two meetings. After that I want to eat something for dinner. Maybe you want to come with me?” I send back. It'll take a while before I get an answer. I'm sitting in my meeting, bored with the usual business talk. Then it vibrates in my pocket and I'm surprised when I check. “No, I don't want to have dinner with you. I want to fuck! When will you be at home? Let me know and I'll see you later." This is unusual for Moscow. The girls from the suburbs in particular never miss an opportunity to scrounge up dinner in a good restaurant. "I'll be home at ten," I text back. "OK, see you at your place," comes the prompt reply. This is all strange and I'm starting to worry. So I'm going to dinner alone. When I'm finally home, it takes less than fifteen minutes and Tatiana is at my door. She is wearing a short dress and high heels. “Leave it on. They're sexy,' I say, because it's customary in Russia to take off your shoes indoors. After that we sit on my couch and drink red wine. "But now I have to ask you why you were so direct and didn't have dinner with me?" “You know,” she replies, “I'm 25. I have a 52-year-old boyfriend. He takes care of me and pays for everything, but I don't love him. Then I have a 30 year old friend. I love him and he's great. But both push the three-minute number in bed. Then they don't care about me. They only care about themselves and their orgasm. You took care of me and it was important to you that I have fun too. And that even though you were pretty drunk. I enjoyed it very much with you and I want more of it.« "So I'm your number three now? The man for the sex?” I ask. "Yes, it is," she replies confidently. "I'll be fine," I say, slipping my hand under her skirt. After that we go to bed. I'm taking even more time and trying to give Tatiana as much as I can because she seems to need it. "Slow down, slow down!" she moans as she climaxes. It won't be the last. I like being number three. Long legs It's summer and we're organizing a pool party at a hotel outside of Moscow. A few of our guests are frolicking in the water. Late in the afternoon, after my DJ set, I jump in and play water polo with the other guys. When the ball flies out of the pool again, I swim to the edge to get it. In front of me are two ultra-long legs. Natascha wears high heels and jeans hot pants. She has the ball in her hands, grins and bends down to me. "Well, long time no see," she says and gives me the ball. I met Natascha a year ago at the Didu Bar's cocktail tasting. After the tasting we all went to my house to keep partying and even then there was this special vibe between Natascha and me. We even lay in my bed for a moment and kissed, but nothing else happened. The next day I flew to Sochi and we lost touch. "I am happy to see you. Great that you came to our party, too,” I say. Natascha is here with two friends and their youngest daughter. We keep playing water polo and the girls are lying in the sun by the pool. Natascha often looks over at me and flirts with me. Later she comes into the water with her daughter. The water polo game is over and I have time to spend with the little one. She is brave and follows me with her swim wings into the deep water to get to the water polo. We both have a lot of fun together while Natasha sits by the pool and watches. "She likes you," she tells me later. "She doesn't usually swim that deep, but she seems to trust you." "That makes me happy. I think they're great too. She has so much energy and is so sweet.« Natascha laughs: "She can do things differently when she's bitchy." “I have to go and do the sound check for the night party. I hope to see you later." "Sure, that's why we came," says Natascha. I am very happy because Natascha is a classy woman. I would also like her for a longer relationship, although she already has two daughters. After the sound check I have lunch with my team and then I go back to the indoor pool to organize the party and DJ later. Unfortunately, we were only allowed to use the outdoor pool until 10 p.m., because there are other guests in the design hotel besides us, and they want to be left alone. Nothing is going on in the indoor pool when I arrive. The warm-up DJ plays his songs. Every now and then a few people come, but after a short time they leave and we are alone. We have a total of two hundred people in the hotel and I wonder where they are all staying. After all, they only came for our party. A few of them have already behaved so much in the afternoon that they are now drunk in their hotel beds. Others celebrate in their rooms, I heard. The complex consists of two hotels. One of them is very chic and a boutique hotel, the other one is more normal. There are also a number of cottages and houses on the site that are also rented out. Last winter they were hotspots for the after-hours parties after our Playboy party in the indoor pool. Around midnight I give up and the technicians start dismantling the material. I'm disappointed. We spent a ton of money renting the equipment and having it shipped over here to the country. In the last two hours I've seen maybe thirty people in the pool, nothing more. Not many of my own people showed up either. I even miss two of my DJs. But I'm even more disappointed that Natascha didn't come. I was so looking forward to her and hoping Around one everything is dismantled and stowed in the car. The lifeguard closes the indoor pool behind me, and I trudge to ours, disappointed A house. On the way I see that there is a private party going on in each of the cottages. Many of our guests move from house to house and celebrate with us. In front of almost every bungalow people are sitting next to the grill, drinking and having fun. They greeted me politely as I trotted past, but that doesn't cheer me up either. After all, I have lost about 2000 euros so far. "The concept of having different little parties in the huts isn't bad," I think. Unfortunately it killed our big party in the indoor pool. But honestly, who wants to sit in an indoor pool on a warm summer night. planning error! Anyway, now I'll open another beer and then I'll go to bed, even though it's only half past one. Just as I have arrived at our bungalow at the end of the long walk, Natascha is standing in front of me. "Where have you been?" she asks me, already a bit drunk. "Hanged up at the indoor pool," I reply sullenly. "Were there many people there?" "Nah, could have been more." "It doesn't matter, you're here now and we're celebrating," says Natascha happily. Then she takes my arm and pulls me back up the path with its countless steps to a neighboring house. 'This is ours. I've got another bottle of champagne." There is a small party in the living room of the house. Natasha's friends are here. Next to them are two Germans from Russia who I know well. You work for an Otto Versand start-up and you often come to my parties. They drink vodka with three super young students. These are guys from my production manager's group, whom I didn't see after the sound check either. 'Hm,' I think, 'three girls and six boys. It's not a good relationship, but the atmosphere is good.« I sit down and roll a joint while Natascha gets the bottle of champagne out of the fridge. There is laughter and fun. The students are already wide. One of them can hardly keep his eyes open but still peeks at Natasha's tits. He doesn't seem to mind. The door keeps opening and new people come. others go. The two Russian Germans stay. They are also targeting Natascha. But she only has eyes for me. She dances with me and we have fun. "Sorry guys," I say, when Natascha goes to the toilet, "It's mine." But that doesn't bother anyone present. They're all well drunk and don't want to give up. When Natascha comes back, she takes my hand and pulls me into the bathroom. We close the door and kiss. Natascha is super sexy. She's still wearing those denim hot pants, which are a size too small for her. One has the feeling that the seams could burst at any moment. She wears a white t-shirt on top and nothing underneath. I can see her stiff nipples through the shirt. And then those incredibly long legs. They end up in high heels, but Natascha can move very safely in them despite a few drinks. After a while we go back out to the others. We drink and Natasha dances on the table, still in her heels. Her bottom is firm and moves back and forth to the rhythm. I'm not the only one who is speechless and enjoys the attention. Later we sit outside in front of the house on the terrace. It's getting light and we're sipping the last of our champagne. Natascha and I kiss and flirt with each other, but the other boys are sitting next to us. They are now very drunk and never let Natascha out of their sight. I hear one of the students say: "What does she want with the stupid German? She's Russian, and they're ours. She should go with a Russian and not the German." They are now very drunk and never let Natascha out of their sight. I hear one of the students say: "What does she want with the stupid German? She's Russian, and they're ours. She should go with a Russian and not the German." They are now very drunk and never let Natascha out of their sight. I hear one of the students say: "What does she want with the stupid German? She's Russian, and they're ours. She should go with a Russian and not the German." He thinks I won't understand him, or he just doesn't care anymore. I glare at him. "You might want to go home," I say confidently. "Otherwise you might get slapped by the German." Natascha hears that, pulls me back into the house and closes the door. »Relax. I'm yours," she says, adding, "If you want me." "And whether!" Then we lie on the couch and exchange tenderness. I have the opportunity to explore Natascha's long legs and more. When I reach between her legs, I notice that she is very wet. Then the others come in. Natascha has a short chat with her friends and arranges for them to check on their little one. One of them is already sleeping with her daughter. She took on the role of babysitter early on so that Natascha could enjoy the evening. "Are we going over there?" she asks. "We'll have our peace there." Natasha took him by the hand and drove her to my house. However, there are two strange boys in my room. "Hey!" I wake her roughly. 'This is my bed and I need it now. piss off downstairs There is also a sofa bed in the living room.« It's occupied, I saw that when I came in, but I don't care. After a while I finally manage to get the boys out of the room. And then I lock the door - so they don't come back. Natascha is already half naked on my bed and looks at me seductively. "Shall I leave my shoes on?" she asks. “For now yes. We can take them off later,” I answer and laugh. What a woman. I'm in seventh heaven. Natascha is so incredible, even during sex. She says goodbye in the morning. She has to go back to her daughter and her friends. When we're packing up to go back to Moscow in the afternoon, she comes over again. 'Was that a one night stand? Or are we going to do this more often from now on?” she asks innocently. “Of course, let's do this more often. I'll call you next week." I see Natascha very often over the next few weeks. I still like her very much and am considering starting a serious relationship with her. She lives in the country with her mother, who also looks after the two daughters when Natascha stays with me. After the fifth date we're at my house on the couch and we're talking about everything. I lit some candles to make it romantic and hold Natasha tight. “You know,” she says out of context, “I need a man to take care of me. Financially I mean. I would also like to have a third child.« Oh la la. This is going a bit too fast for me now. Just a few days ago I overheard Natascha bullying one of her two ex-husbands on the phone. It was about money. After the phone call, she was really proud of herself. Natascha must be working out that I'm the next man to pay for her later. I was wondering anyway that she can afford not to work. After that night, I don't call her as often, and I don't always answer the phone when it's her turn. But this is also due to the fact that my smartphone has recently had dropouts and turns itself off every now and then. It's Tuesday evening. Natascha calls me: “I'm at the Didu with friends. Do you have something to smoke? Can we come by your place later? I would then spend the night with you, too, if you don't mind." "No problem. Just drop by later when you're ready." After that I didn't hear from her for two hours. When I look back at my phone to check the time, I find that it has turned itself off once again. After the reboot I get a lot of messages. Natascha is angry because she was standing in front of my door with her friends and I didn't open it. I call her back: "That was really bad luck," I try to explain, but Natascha angrily hangs up. "Stupid," I think. I had been working on a mix and didn't hear my very soft bell. Unfortunately, the phone also switched off. I pick up the lighter, light a joint and think. Maybe it was better that way. Life was probably kind to me. It's not just about good sex and long legs. I didn't hear from Natascha for the next few months. A year later I meet her at a party. "Let's go out again," I say kindly. "Maybe. Why not,« Natascha replies, but I sense that she has now lost interest in me. alternative service It's a boring day at the office. There's enough to do, but somehow it's always the same and I can't really motivate myself to work. So I'm wasting my time on vKontakte, the Russian Facebook. There I look at the pictures of my female contacts and am amazed at how revealing the girls are. Suddenly my phone rings. It's Florian. "What are you doing?" 'It's afternoon. During the week. What am I going to do? To work. And you?" Florian is a manager at a large German company and is usually under constant stress. But since the story with the slave I also know that Florian leads a double life and spends part of his time in the S&M and swingers scene in Moscow. "Would you like to have sex?" asks Florian. I laugh out loud: "What? Now? With you?" "Yes, now, with me," Florian replies seriously, because he didn't understand my joke. "Didn't know you were bi," I reply. "No. I mean with me and a woman. A threesome.' "Yes / Yes. It's clear. I'm just teasing you. When and where?” I ask, expecting “next Saturday evening.” "Now. I'll pick you up and we'll go out into the country. I organized something there.« I'm surprised by Florian's spontaneity and go through my appointments and work in my head. "How much should it cost?" I ask pro forma. "Have you ever had to pay me anything?" "No." "So what. We have to buy a nice bunch of flowers and that's it.' An hour later I'm in Florian's car and we're driving out of town. "Now what's the story?" I ask. »I made a post in a Russian forum and asked who was interested in a German gangbang. A few couples answered, and that has now become concrete. They live in the suburbs and are waiting for us. I've seen pictures of the woman and she looks pretty good." 'And her husband? How does he look like? Does he want to join too?” "No. He just wants to watch.” "Is that possible?" »Yes, they are so-called cuckolds. They get so horny when they're allowed to watch their wife being fucked,' Florian replies dryly, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. “We'll just go there now and see what's in store for us. If we don't like it, then we can go back home. Relax yourself." That's easier said than done. I've had a few threesomes, but I'm usually pretty drunk by then and I don't care if other people stand by and watch. Anyway, now I'm in the car with Florian and we're on our way to an adventure in the Moscow suburbs. On the way we stop at a flower shop and buy two beautiful bouquets. That would be the norm, explains Florian. Arrived in the suburbs, we are standing in front of a six-storey apartment building in a good area. We go inside and go to the top floor. Nina, the lady of the house, awaits us there. She is blonde, has a pretty face and is standing in front of us in high heels and a black negligee. "Come into the kitchen, my husband is waiting there," she says. We go into the apartment and take off our shoes. Nina is happy about the flowers she brought with her. She checked us out when we came in and she seems to like us. She struts down the aisle in front of us into the kitchen. There sits a man in his mid-forties in a wheelchair. I'm shocked. Florian isn't as cool as usual either. We sit down at the cake table and drink tea with the two of them. It's about getting to know each other. Nina's husband tells us that he was a colonel in the local police force and was hit by a car two years ago. Since then he has been in a wheelchair and paralyzed. We don't dare ask how it happened, but I think of mafia relationships that somehow went wrong. "I haven't had anything going on since the accident," he says. “After a while I realized that my wife needed sex and started looking for men for her. I love my wife and I want her to have fun. In the beginning I didn't want to be there, but now it's very exciting for me. It's sex in the head,” he explains. Florian and I are still shocked, but we understand the situation and want to try to participate. In addition, the two are very likeable. I think Florian also expected something else. He must be thinking of S&M or something equally wicked. After a while, Nina asks me if we want to take a quick shower. First thing I do is go to the bathroom and shower. All sorts of thoughts are running through my head there. This is a very strange situation and I don't know how to deal with it. At best, I just try to turn my head off and enjoy. Let's see how Nina is feeling. At least she looks good. When I come out of the shower, she takes my hand and leads me into the very small living room. In general, the apartment is quite cramped and small. I wonder, how her husband gets through here in a wheelchair. We sit down on the couch, which apparently also serves as a bed for the two of them. Nina starts and blows me one while the other two are still talking in the kitchen. Then I hear Florian taking a shower. Her husband stays in the kitchen and only comes to us when Florian is with him. His wheelchair is in the doorway and he watches while Nina acts out a porn movie with us. She seems to be enjoying it. I don't know what it is, if Nina's good technique or something else, but she excites me a lot. Her husband stays in the kitchen and only comes to us when Florian is with him. His wheelchair is in the doorway and he watches while Nina acts out a porn movie with us. She seems to be enjoying it. I don't know what it is, if Nina's good technique or something else, but she excites me a lot. Her husband stays in the kitchen and only comes to us when Florian is with him. His wheelchair is in the doorway and he watches while Nina acts out a porn movie with us. She seems to be enjoying it. I don't know what it is, if Nina's good technique or something else, but she excites me a lot. "She likes it when you cum in her face," says her husband, while Florian takes her from behind and she blows me. It doesn't take long for me to cum and she really seems to be enjoying it. Whatever I think. That's no problem. I take a short break, sit down next to her and watch Florian take care of her. He has to pull himself together not to fall into his S&M act too badly because it's obviously out of place here. Nina pulls me back in and I get aroused again, but we only have a little fun together before I go limp again. I just can't put my head down now. Her husband notices this and offers me another cup of tea in the kitchen. There we sit and talk while there's a lot of moaning in the living room. "She likes you," he says. 'I like to see her so excited. Actually, that was my idea with the foreigners. We used to always have Russians, but I wanted to try something different and found Florian's ad. You are doing really well!« "Thanks. I'm glad about that,' I reply shyly. After that I try to change the subject. I tell him that I used to be a policeman too. It's difficult to keep a conversation going because I don't know him and I don't want to give him too much information about us. It takes another half hour until Florian and Nina are finally done and come into the kitchen. "I am totally exhausted. Seems like I'm out of practice,' says Nina. Her husband had previously told me that they have a solid base of lovers for Nina and it is rare for her to have sex with more than one man at the same time. We drink one last cup of tea. As we leave the house and get into our car, it's getting dark outside. Nina hugged and kissed us as we said goodbye. "Come back soon. I loved it." Florian and I are silent for a while on the drive home. Our experience was nice, but also very depressing. “Are we going to do that again?” I ask Florian. "Don't know? Do you want to?” he asks back. "It's a bit far out, this suburb." 'Yes, next time she'll have to come into town. I guess she works there anyway.” After that we are silent again. Strange Russian pop music comes on the radio and I look at the hookers on the side of the road. They always stand on the arterial roads at night and wait for customers, mostly truck drivers. "What a shitty life," I think, and I'm glad I'm fine. Florian stays in touch with the two of them, and so I find out later that Nina has taken an apartment in the city. She hosts wild sex parties there on the weekends with several men who have to pay to attend. "She makes around a thousand euros per evening," says Florian. Nina has now even given up her job. "Shall we join in? She says we could for free...«, says Florian. "No thanks!" I interrupt him. "It's not my thing." Shit night! My phone is ringing. It's still early in the morning and I'm pretty exhausted. Last night I DJed at a company party. It was a difficult crowd and I couldn't get people dancing to the end despite the high vodka consumption. That happens every now and then. You just got booked for the wrong party. It would have been better if they had picked a Russian who plays 90's Russian pop hits. Although I went home early after the evening, I still had a few drinks at home with my roommates and the customer. After the customer left, a few joints made the rounds and I ended up lying motionless on the couch. It was only after a while that I was able to pull myself together and walk the dog before I fell into bed exhausted. No, that wasn't a good start to the weekend, and the fact that my cell phone is ringing again before ten doesn't make me any happier. My eyes are heavy and I can still taste the vodka in my mouth when I say a soft, "Hello?" Who is disturbing you at this time?” coughed into the phone. "Young! Had a rough night?” It's Michael, an old friend. He is with Anna and they have two children. I think that's also the reason why Michael is so alert so early. Honey, he's used to getting up at seven and has already gotten through the first five hours of his day while I'm still struggling for words. 'Let's not talk about it. Was shit!« “Anna is in Germany with the kids right now. Shall we do something together tonight?” "Clear. Let's call again in the evening. I have to hang up from midnight to two o'clock, but you can come with me." Michael is also a party boy. We are good friends and I also know his wife very well. Whenever Anna is in Germany, Michael calls me and we go out. Then we go through the clubs, drink and have fun. Oddly enough, Michael doesn't mean hitting on one girl at a time like most of my male friends do. He has a different kind of fun. I think he's one of the few men I know who doesn't run after every skirt. Especially if you've been married for a while and your wife is away. Michael is different. He can have fun without the sex and foreplay. I really like that about him, because it always makes the evening very relaxed, and yet it never gets boring. And as always, I still get my share of the women's world. I'm still drunk, so I put the phone down and let my heavy head fall back on the pillow to sleep off my intoxication. After that I take the dog to the park for a few hours. He loves the long walks and it clears my head. The day flies by and then I have Michael on the phone again. An hour later he's sitting on the couch with me. We smoke our first joint and drink Red Bull vodka while I warm up. Pasha and his girlfriend are sitting with us and drinking wine. Tonight's party doesn't sound very promising. It's Easter and most people are staying at home or going to church. Besides, the bar isn't very well known. We are there at eleven and nothing is going on. Gaping emptiness. There are no more than ten people in the whole bar. From midnight I hang up and at the beginning of the session I have technical problems. The bartenders are in a bad mood, the owner is also sitting in the corner in a grumpy mood. The manager is arguing with a guest about their bill. It can still be fun. At least Michael isn't alone. He's sitting with Daniel, an American friend who also works in nightlife and wanted to come over, even though I told him it was probably going to be shit here. After an hour, my DJ set is already over because the last guests are leaving and the manager wants to close. Michael and Daniel have moved on to the Boom Boom Room and are waiting for me there. The last two guests are sitting next to me on the couch. Two girls I don't know but apparently they know me and came to say hello during my DJ set. I sit down with them to at least relax a bit. The bartender doesn't want to give me any more beer, but then lets himself be persuaded. One of the girls jokes nonchalantly: "This is probably the quietest place in Moscow at the moment." She's right about that, because it's not even two o'clock and that's usually party prime time. Somehow I have no desire to go anywhere else. Through the flower, one of the two has offered to go to her house and continue there with Rum Cola. Maybe something could come of it, but I've got Michael on my cheek. He sends me text message after text: “Where are you staying?”, “Come on. It's good here!« SHIT! And I don't feel like it at all anymore. Yes, a bit of cuddling with the girl across the street, that would be nice. She has long legs, wears high-heeled, knee-high boots, black tights underneath and black shorts that are actually way too tight. The face could be prettier, but the figure is OK Then the next SMS comes. I'm trying to connect the two things My friends from Pacha are standing at the door of the club and do security and admittance. That makes things easier because I have a huge backpack full of DJ stuff with me. We go to the fifth floor and I can already hear people laughing in the elevator. Apparently something is really going on here. That bothers me because we used to have regular parties here ourselves up until three weeks ago and only one out of five weekends was good. I've been watching our successors' recent parties on Facebook and judging by the photos it was just as lame as ours. But now the store is raging. As the elevator opens, we run into a horde of dancing people. I'm pissed off right away and now I'm in a bad mood. Actually I just want to go home. Fuck the girls. smoke one at home then sleep and forget this shitty weekend as soon as possible. But Michael wants to stay. He orders me a drink. My girl lost her interest in me. You can't blame her either, because I'm not exactly a party animal at the moment. Her Ukrainian blonde friend takes the chance to hit on me. "At least something," I think. The style of the blonde leaves a lot to be desired. It seems she bought the tight black dress with the long silver zip down the back sometime in the mid 90's and her boots aren't exactly sexy either. In general, everything about her is boring. As drab and tasteless as the gum I've been chewing on for a few hours. In fact, she's not that ugly. She could do much more with herself. But Michael wants to stay. He orders me a drink. My girl lost her interest in me. You can't blame her either, because I'm not exactly a party animal at the moment. Her Ukrainian blonde friend takes the chance to hit on me. "At least something," I think. The style of the blonde leaves a lot to be desired. It seems she bought the tight black dress with the long silver zip down the back sometime in the mid 90's and her boots aren't exactly sexy either. In general, everything about her is boring. As drab and tasteless as the gum I've been chewing on for a few hours. In fact, she's not that ugly. She could do much more with herself. But Michael wants to stay. He orders me a drink. My girl lost her interest in me. You can't blame her either, because I'm not exactly a party animal at the moment. Her Ukrainian blonde friend takes the chance to hit on me. "At least something," I think. The style of the blonde leaves a lot to be desired. It seems she bought the tight black dress with the long silver zip down the back sometime in the mid 90's and her boots aren't exactly sexy either. In general, everything about her is boring. As drab and tasteless as the gum I've been chewing on for a few hours. In fact, she's not that ugly. She could do much more with herself. You can't blame her either, because I'm not exactly a party animal at the moment. Her Ukrainian blonde friend takes the chance to hit on me. "At least something," I think. The style of the blonde leaves a lot to be desired. It seems she bought the tight black dress with the long silver zip down the back sometime in the mid 90's and her boots aren't exactly sexy either. In general, everything about her is boring. As drab and tasteless as the gum I've been chewing on for a few hours. In fact, she's not that ugly. She could do much more with herself. You can't blame her either, because I'm not exactly a party animal at the moment. Her Ukrainian blonde friend takes the chance to hit on me. "At least something," I think. The style of the blonde leaves a lot to be desired. It seems she bought the tight black dress with the long silver zip down the back sometime in the mid 90's and her boots aren't exactly sexy either. In general, everything about her is boring. As drab and tasteless as the gum I've been chewing on for a few hours. In fact, she's not that ugly. She could do much more with herself. like she bought the tight black dress with the long silver zip down the back sometime in the mid-nineties, and her boots aren't exactly sexy either. In general, everything about her is boring. As drab and tasteless as the gum I've been chewing on for a few hours. In fact, she's not that ugly. She could do much more with herself. like she bought the tight black dress with the long silver zip down the back sometime in the mid-nineties, and her boots aren't exactly sexy either. In general, everything about her is boring. As drab and tasteless as the gum I've been chewing on for a few hours. In fact, she's not that ugly. She could do much more with herself. “Looks aren't everything. Maybe she's good in bed,' I think, but when she starts babbling to me and won't stop, I quickly lose interest. She thinks she has me firmly in her pocket. It's amazing how differently two people can perceive the same moment. And I'm still quite fit. I light a cigarette and take a quick sip of my drink to think about what to do next tonight. But then the blonde turns at the wrong moment and one leg touches my lit cigarette. She screams briefly and then turns into Fury. No, she is not injured. I just burned a hole in her pantyhose, and it certainly wasn't on purpose. "You buy me a new one!" she snaps at me. I did the last three rounds of drinks for her and her friend, but that's forgotten now. Despite some apologies, she won't calm down, so I go to the bathroom. When I come back, the blonde is talking to her friend and ignoring me. Michael dances drunk with Daniel. He in turn stares at the tits of a young Russian woman. He later tells me that she's in the entourage of a billionaire's son. A small petite Asian guy with glasses who looks like a nerd but pretends to be a gangster. Inside I have to laugh. Vika suddenly stands behind me. She is my competition and today the organizer of the party. I don't let it show and congratulate her on the successful evening. "And how was your day today?" she asks. I decide to be honest: "Shit! And that wasn't the first bad party lately." "Sorry," Vika says understandingly, and I'm surprised at her reaction. "Come on!" she says, "let's have a drink. Or two. relax.« Then we stand together and talk. It's noisy in the bar and I often have to be very close to her ear so that she can hear me. She winces and has to laugh. Then I see her goosebumps on her shoulder. "Your beard tickles." So I repeat the whole thing just to make her laugh again. Vika is actually quite cute. No, she's not a supermodel, but she still has a killer figure for her thirty years. She comes from Ufa, a city in southern Russia. She's been partying in Moscow for a few years and until now we rarely got in each other's way because she works with a different audience. Unfortunately, Vika is now bustling about in my segment, like so many other Russian promoters. The market has become much more difficult as a result. At some point, Vika no longer flinches when I speak in her ear, but now makes a movement in my direction to feel me even more. She seeks my closeness and I enjoy it. I'd love to kiss her right away, but I'll leave it at rubbing my cheek against her and kissing her gently on the neck. She winces again and gets goosebumps. The Ukrainian sees that, and suddenly I'm interesting to her again. She's trying to get my attention, but I only have eyes for Vika. As I turn to order another round of drinks, the Ukrainian speaks to me again. 'Bad selection, my dear. Bad choice!' she says so loudly that Vika has to hear it too, but she simply ignores it. "Sure baby," I think. "And you're the better one, aren't you?" I say nothing, nod politely and turn back to Vika. We play cat and mouse together, but in a very nice way. No bitching and no dislike. But when I come back from the toilets, she is suddenly right in front of me. She pulls me towards her and kisses me passionately. Then she wants to go to the toilet. I want to follow her, but she just grins and closes the door before I can follow her. I have to laugh. Well staged. At the bar I'm a bit reserved again. Not to play, but to protect Vika. This is her party, and I don't want people gossiping. On the other hand, it's a cool thing between us. We're supposed to be competitors, but we're standing at the bar and flirting. And it's not the hardcore pick-up number That's how it goes for a while. We flirt and chat. I would like to go home with Vika. It could also become more. But today it's going to be difficult, because Michael will probably sleep on my couch so that he doesn't have to go drunk to the suburbs where he lives. "Come. We'll go up to the strip club and see the chicks,' says Michael. In the same building there is a strip club, the entrance to it is even in the same stairwell. I have to laugh because that doesn't really suit him at all. 'No, I'm not interested. You know me." That's my standard answer when it comes to strip clubs. I still don't understand the point of these clubs to this day. You go and watch girls undress. And? That doesn't do me any good. If you want, you pay a little money and one of the dancers does a lap dance on my lap. It feels better then, and in Russia you can also touch the girls. But what for? After a song, the little girl moves on to the guy over there at the next table, who is now touching her with his sweaty hands, and I get sick just thinking about it. Michael persuades me anyway. He's like a little boy standing in front of a merry-go-round at the fairground. "No, Michael. You've driven enough. That's enough for today,« goes through my head, but in the end I give in and nod in agreement. Vika is a bit disappointed when we go upstairs. Maybe she'll still be there when we come down? On the other hand, it was actually just enough the way it was. I don't want any more, and this intimacy and tenderness simply spared me this miserable evening. It's already empty upstairs in the strip club. Just as we have our drink in hand, the lights come on and a security guard motions for us to piss off. This is unfortunately so common in many bars and clubs. Drinks are sold to the end without warning, and as soon as you hold your long drink in your hand, the light goes on and a security guard rudely asks you to leave. It doesn't matter how much money you just shelled out for the long drink. I try to explain that to our security guard, but he just snarls, "It's not my problem. Either you drink up straight away or you leave the drink.” This kind of customer service infuriates me, but after having a huge fight with the goalkeepers at another club over the same incident three years ago, I'm more cautious. When we check below to make things right, it's over here too. Vika is already gone, and now I'm a bit disappointed. "Anyway, let's go home and have a nightcap there," I say to Michael. We pack my DJ stuff and hit the streets. There I negotiate the price with a private driver, but it is too expensive. Behind it is a black VW Tuareg waiting for the taxi to drive on. When the Tuareg stands next to us and the windows go down, we are quite surprised. At the wheel sits a dark blonde in a short dress with fuck-me boots, next to her is a blonde, also with long hair and a very pretty face. Both are in their late twenties. “Where are you going?” asks the driver. “Sukharevskaya. Are two hundred OK?” For a moment I think we might be dealing with whores, so I throw in another "ruble!" - not that we end up shelling out dollars. The little one behind the wheel has to laugh. 'Get in the back. We'll drive you home." "But you're not taxi drivers?" "No, we've just come out of the Imperia Lounge and are going to drive around a bit," I get the answer in English. I'm really surprised. Two good looking girls in their late twenties come from one of the most elite clubs in town and stop to give us a ride home. Normally this was something to worry about. After all, we're in Moscow, and a shit ending would also go well with my shit night. But somehow I trust the Madels. We're not sitting in a Lada either, but a 60,000 euro car. Anyway, I wonder how the girls can afford it. On the way we make a short stop. The passenger gets out, she has to go upstairs to get something else. Now would be the moment. We're standing in a backyard, and if anyone followed us, they could now strike without a problem. But nothing happens. Shortly thereafter, the passenger gets back into the car and the journey continues. I also have to wonder about the girls. OK, we are German, but still. I hadn't left my girlfriend alone in the car with two strangers. Who knows what thoughts the two boys will come up with. Especially when she's so provocatively dressed and sitting alone in our car. We do a little small talk. When we get to my place, I ask again what we owe. "Nothing," laughs the driver. She is likeable and I am considering whether I should invite them both upstairs. What can happen? All you can do is decline anyway, and that's it. But I say goodbye politely and walk to the door with Michael. The girls honk their horns again and wave out of the window before speeding off. “What was that now?” Michael asks in amazement. "No idea. There's no use thinking about it." "But they weren't taxi drivers." "No. They didn't want any money either." Maybe I should have invited her, but Michael has a wife and child. While he would enjoy talking to the girls, he would end up doing nothing. So I had two wives - and that was definitely one too many. Also, I'm fairly certain the girls expected a better apartment. Add some coke and maybe a bottle of champagne. That would have been more her style. Still, it was a nice ride, and it seems like life is about to kick in just before bedtime to say, "See? Isn't everything as bad as it sometimes seems«. A perfectly normal evening Tuesday evening. I'm on my way to the nearby pond to walk my dog when the phone rings. Anna, a millionaire's daughter, is on the other end: "I hope you haven't forgotten our dinner today?" she asks. "Shit! Yes I have. When did we meet?” "I knew it," says Anna kindly. “Don't worry, we won't meet until ten o'clock at Revoljutsija. So you still have time.' Shit, actually I wanted to have a beer at home tonight. Anna had invited me a few weeks ago and I forgot to make a note of the date. She arranged a meeting with a wealthy gallery and restaurant owner who wants to meet me. He wanted me to organize parties for him. I didn't take Anna seriously at first. She had this simple concierge job at the hotel. She also organized dancers for the Moscow Pacha Club. And in general, Anna is not my type, even if she is cool and nice. Only later did I casually find out that she actually comes from a good family with a lot of money. That's often the case in Moscow: you misjudge people and only find out years later that they're dealing with very large calibers. I usually don't care anyway. Money doesn't make a better person. I try to be open with everyone and judge people by how they treat me. It doesn't help to know which families they come from, because otherwise you quickly get complexes or act a little strange. A lot of other people are still sitting at the long table in the restaurant, and the waiters are already bringing the first course when I show up at nine sharp. Anna has brought her friends from Les Clefs D'Or. This is a global association of 5-star hotel concierges. The gallery and restaurant owner wants us to be comfortable, and the wait staff bring only the best from the menu. We are sitting outside in the courtyard of an old house from the days of the Tsars. The current owner bought it from the oligarch Abramovich a few years ago. The house used to be his residence, now it is a mixture of gallery and restaurant. The style is a bit odd. Most rooms are still classically Russian and ostentatious, but modern art by painters such as Damien Hirst hangs on the walls. I wonder how they secured the artwork when the owner later leads us through the rooms. On the toilet of Revoljutsija there are photos of his biggest critics and of people whom he personally dislikes. Cool idea and a completely different way to vent your frustration. Dinner is endless, and new dishes are always coming to the table. "I'm about to burst!" I joke to Anna, who is already looking at me with pity. »Coming from a gourmet family, I'm used to eating a lot, but today it's more than enough for me. Come on, let's have a digestive schnapps,« she says and grins. I'm not sure if she wants something from me or just thinks I'm nice. "Man! Not every woman is automatically into you,” says the little devil on one shoulder. "But there are a lot of them, and then you have a problem," says the angel on the other. Anyway, I'll keep my distance and be nice without obligation. At the end of the evening, Anna asks me if I can accompany her to another bar, but I politely decline and point out that it's late and I have to work the next day. "What do you think? I have to get up early tomorrow, too,” Anna replies. 'I'd rather go home anyway. It's only Tuesday and I know how that ends up getting drunk somewhere." Anna grins and says goodbye with a kiss on the cheek. Shortly afterwards I organize a taxi. My driver is from the Caucasus, more precisely from the crisis region of Dagestan. There are constant fights between the government, mafia groups and Islamists. He begins the usual taxi small talk: 'You're not from Moscow, are you? Where are you from?' 'Germany,' I answer briefly and to the point, because I'm not in the mood for conversation. 'Ah, Germany. My brother lives in the Ruhr area. My name is Shamil, by the way,” says my driver. »What are you doing in Moscow? Other than driving a taxi,” I ask Shamil, who doesn't look like a typical Caucasian at all. He's around thirty, small, friendly and has a well-groomed beard. "I'm trying to earn some money to learn English and Arabic." Our conversation is interrupted. We'd been working our way through a traffic jam on the 12-lane Moscow ring road for the last few minutes. Traffic jams are actually quite unusual after midnight. Suddenly our Lada is right in front of a dead man. It's twisted on the street just a few yards in front of us. A couple of police officers stand next to him and look at him, in front of him a couple of safety hats and behind the dead man an ambulance. He's in the middle of the street. Far and wide I don't see a broken car or anything like that. Like everyone else, we dodge to the side and drive past the scene of the accident. Only then do I see more police and a car parked on the right-hand side of the road. Fifty yards further, a motorbike is lying to one side. Shamil is silent. "It happens too often," I say. "Because they all drive like maniacs," he says. It is not uncommon for a motorcyclist to shoot around the other cars at over a hundred km/h. Just last week I saw a gang of bikers darting through the slow-moving traffic. The first had casually folded in the mirrors of the cars next to him as he drove past, so that the others could later get through the maximum one meter wide gap faster. People don't seem to realize that the slightest mistake can cost them their lives. But that's how the Russians are. The future doesn't pay. What matters is the here and now. It's already past midnight when I finally get home. I'm pretty much done. Last weekend consisted of parties and lots of alcohol. Today I actually wanted to take it easy, and now I've downed a few beers again. Anyway, now all I have to do is take the dog for a quick walk, and then I can hit the ground running. My pooch is looking forward to the midnight walk. We do this every night before we go to bed, but every time I open the door, he's as happy as if it were his first time. The elevator door opens and Muhackel sprints towards the front door when my neighbor comes around the corner. He's in his early thirties and a nice guy. He often sits outside in the aisle and smokes. I think this is a kind of time off for him to get away from his family a bit. He staggers a bit and I can tell immediately that he's been drinking. This is quite unusual for him. He's happy to see me. "Are you walking the dog?" he asks. I nod. "Do you mind if I come with you for a bit?" "No, that's OK. I'm always pretty bored anyway." As we leave the house, he asks if I want to have a beer with him on the way. "Why not," I reply. "How many?" he asks, entering the supermarket while I wait outside with the dog. "One is enough, I think." 'Oh come on. Two, three maybe? And cigarettes?' "No no, one is really enough," I say firmly, and he disappears into the supermarket. But it doesn't take long for him to come back. In his hand he holds two bottles of beer. "Come on," I say, "let's go home. We can have a beer there if you want.” "You celebrated today?" I ask. 'No, just a little drunk. My family is on vacation and I am home alone. I can let it all out there.« "You're not going on vacation?" I ask. »No, the money is not enough. I had to borrow the coal for this holiday from a friend. Haven't been on vacation in four years,' he says. Later he sits on my couch and we talk a little. There are two cold beers on the table in front of us. "You're a DJ, aren't you?" he asks. “I always see you with so many women. One prettier than the other. What a life!" »Not only DJ. I work in an advertising agency during the week.« In doing so, I deliberately conceal the fact that I am the owner of the agency. However, he ignores my last sentence and asks me about my DJ life. He wants to know how it is in Moscow clubs. I find out that he himself works in an import-export agency and earns around 1000 euros a month. 'I'll leave all the money at home. There are five of us living in our apartment and I'm the only one making money. My wife doesn't work. I have two small children. My mother-in-law and brother-in-law live with us. You don't work either." Wow. 1000 euros for five people in Moscow. That is hard. I hope he doesn't ask me what I earn from DJing. Last week I DJed one night at Krysha Mira, one of the hottest clubs in Moscow, and made as much in one night as my neighbor does in a month. It puts my life in a completely different perspective. We say goodbye around two in the morning and he goes over to his apartment. »Next time we do a DJ session at our house, come over and join us. I'm sure it'll be good,« I say in farewell. But I know that in the future we will only greet each other in the corridor. He'll have a cigarette in his hand and we'll make some small talk while I wait for the elevator, that'll be it. Our lives are just too far apart. bitter end Today I'm a DJ at Paparazzi. We've been having our party there every Friday for a few months. Sometimes things go well, sometimes bad. So-so today. A few people are dancing in front of my DJ box. I'm a little bored because it's the same every weekend. So I light a cigarette and drink some Cranberry Vodka. The bartender likes me, that's why the mix is tough, she does half and half. It's my second today and I'm starting to feel the alcohol, which usually works well on my DJ set. Or maybe I'm just thinking that because I can't tell when I'm drunk. On the dance floor, two girls wave at me and grin from ear to ear. It's very dark in the club, so I can't see if they're pretty or not. After I'm done, I hand over to the next DJ and head to the bar for a nightcap before heading home. But there they are again, my two fans, and it turns out they're very young and pretty drunk too. I'll take the girls out for a drink and we'll talk a little. I quite like one of them, but she's really too young. She looks under 18 and I wonder how they got past the club's doorman. Whatever I think. She'll be of age, and then I'll be fine. "Would you like to go to Soljanka with you?" I ask, hoping that the doorman will squint and let me in with them. "Sure, of course! Let's keep partying," says Julie, one of the two. Michael is standing at the door of Soljanka. We know each other. I'm often here and we have mutual friends. I push past the line of people waiting with the two girls and say hello to him. He's impressed by my companionship: "You've got a nice one with you," he says, pointing to Sasha, the girl I like better too. I nod and thank you for letting me in. We keep drinking upstairs in the club, although the girls have had enough for a long time and I'm slowly reaching my limits. We dance and Sasha flirts with me, at least I think so. "I think you should go with Julie because it's her birthday," she then says, and I'm a little disappointed that she seems to want to get rid of me. "Certainly not!" I reply resolutely. »I like you and only want you.« Sasha grins and gives me the first kiss. She's not a top model, but she's very pretty in her own way. With her big eyes and big pout, she looks like a doll. Her face still has something very childlike and naïve about it. Normally I like mature women, but this time it's different and I don't know why. "How old are you?" I ask Sasha, secretly hoping she's 24 or 25 and just looks so damn young. "Nineteen," Sasha replies. "And you?" This is the moment when I want to run away. Man, I'm 21 years older than her! That is not how it works. What did I get myself into this time? “Too old!” I answer firmly and in a misleading way. “How old?” Sasha demands an answer. "Forty," I reply, embarrassed. “That's OK I like you. No matter how old you are. You're cool." Then we dance again. I'm speechless, because I have to digest the whole thing first. Sasha pulls me closer and we kiss again. "You're my dream man," she whispers in my ear afterwards. "We are getting married." OK, now it's really time to go. If I don't scratch the curve now, I'll have a girlfriend tomorrow, and I really don't want that. Never another Russian, I swore to myself. But Sasha won't let me go. She hugs me tight and wants more. That becomes clear to me at the latest when her hand wanders around my trousers, looking for an entrance. “OK I'm tired. Let's go home,' I say, all I really want to do is put Sasha in the cab and send her home. "Fine, we'll go to you. Where do you live?" The matter-of-factness with which she says that unsettles me. "You know," she says, "you're my future husband." Suddenly I have no more worries. I don't know why either, but now I don't care. The little one is super cute and has a killer body. If that's what she wants, then she should have it. Shit. Thirty minutes later we're in bed and the pangs of conscience are back. I'm not sure what it is. The age difference or not wanting a girlfriend? "Actually, I'm very tired," I say. “We can just sleep. What do you think?" "No! I want to fuck,” is Sasha's firm reply. A wild night follows. Although Sasha is naive in bed and seems to have little experience, she is a lot of fun with her. Before we fall asleep, I ask myself what will happen when I wake up tomorrow. It's raining outside. My eyes are still closed, but I hear the drops on the corrugated iron of the garages in the courtyard below. My head is heavy and I'm not feeling well. You'd think that after so much partying you'd get used to drinking, but the next day is just as bad as the first time. I open my eyes and see Sasha lying next to me. She is still sleeping. It's easy to see that the girl from last night is still pretty the morning after. I've woken up too many times and been unpleasantly surprised at how much the alcohol has clouded my vision. You don't get a routine with it either. Sasha stirs. She wakes up. Then her eyes widen. No, the whole thing doesn't happen slowly and comfortably, but jerkily. Sasha first looks at the ceiling, then left and right and finds me next to her in bed. She grimaces and seems shocked. "Well, I've never had that before," I think and I'm disappointed with her reaction, but I don't really know how to act now either. "So just wait and see," I think. 'How do I get here? What happened?" I am speechless and just look at her. Then Sasha jumps up and gathers her things. "I have to go," she says, distraught. I've finally found the right words. "What's that about? Like you can't remember last night? That's probably a stupid tour. You have to take responsibility for your actions, even if you were drunk.” I can't think of anything better. Do I really look that old? Well, maybe in the morning after so many drinks. I really should drink a little less. "See you. Eventually,” Sasha says as she storms out of our apartment. She doesn't wait for an answer from me. Out on the stairwell, she is in such a hurry that she prefers to take the stairs to wait for the elevator. I am disappointed and shocked. Although this reaction is certainly better than what I expected. But they couldn't have been more different. yes i am sick I don't feel like forty, we feel like eighty-five. It's my own fault. What am I getting myself into with such young hens? The next day my phone rings. It's Sasha. "What else does she want now?" I think. Miss me another one? Well, it can't get any worse. I'm still suffering “Hello, I just wanted to get in touch because I must have left my sweater with you. I miss my earrings and a bracelet too.« I look at the shelf by the bed. 'Yes, your earrings and bracelet are here. When do we want to see each other? I could invite you to dinner." What the hell got into me? OK, I can meet up with her and return her things, but why am I asking her out for dinner? After the escape yesterday? I guess my brain is still not working properly. "We will see. I don't have time this week anyway. Let's make a phone call for the weekend,” Sasha replies. The whole thing, however, in such a negative tone that I understand that she really only wants her things. Over the next few days, I find myself thinking about Sasha several times. The rebuff still bothers me. On the other hand, I kinda like her. Yes, yes, she is nineteen and the age difference is far too big. What do I actually want? At first I was afraid that she would fall in love with me and want to be my girlfriend. Now exactly the opposite has happened, but I don't seem to like that either. Is it vanity? Or have I developed feelings? Maybe what's appealing to me is that she doesn't want me and I'm actually not allowed to have her either. From a purely social point of view. Then I dismiss those thoughts because I just can't allow myself to think about them. It's all stupid anyway. On Thursday, I text Sasha, "Now what about your stuff? I have a party tomorrow near you. Come by and pick her up there.” I secretly hope that she will stay a little longer and drink with me again. The answer is a long time coming. "Can I bring friends?" "Of course," I text back. "See you tomorrow, then." It's Friday and we're having a private party at a gym. Max and I carry two heavy loudspeakers, a projector and all the DJ stuff. First by subway, later on the street, because there are traffic jams everywhere and it's not worth taking a taxi. We're way too late now anyway. When we arrive we are both totally sweaty and out of breath. At that moment, I get a text message from Sasha: "Sorry, can't make it to your party. I have to go somewhere else. Can we meet at the metro in twenty minutes?' Damn, I've just come from the metro station! Nevertheless, I throw on my army jacket and go back into the pre-winter cold. Sasha is standing in front of the entrance to the metro and is already waiting for me. She greets me warmly but reservedly. I immediately hand over her things because I feel out of place. "Where are you going today?" she asks. "We're having a Halloween party at friends' house." "And you're at this party all night?" 'No, only until eleven. Then I hang up again at the paparazzi. Like last week.' 'If you still want to come by,' I think, but don't dare say it. She must know what she is doing and also what she wants. "Unfortunately I couldn't find your sweater," I say. "It must be at your house somewhere," she replies, almost as if I kept it on purpose. "What nonsense," I think. "I'll keep it as pledge, won't I, a relic?" In the afternoon I had searched every nook and cranny of our apartment and couldn't find him. 'Sorry, I've looked everywhere and can't find him. What am I supposed to do with a girl's sweater? They're much too small for me.« Stupid answer. But I just couldn't think of anything better. 'Fine, I have to go. Report if you find him. OK?". "Sure," I say, giving her a gentle peck on the cheek, surprising her. "Ciao!" she says and runs away. Good, that's it. I guess I just have to book this as a one-night stand. I idiot, what was I thinking? Disappointed, I walk back to the party and get myself a Red Bull vodka to get in the mood again. It's like every weekend at the Paparazzi. Katja, one of my former lovers, is here. She came in male company, but looks over at me the whole time. She comes with other men more often because she wants to show me that she's independent, even though I know she has a crush on me. That's why I decided half a year ago not to see her anymore. Because the rules of the game were clear from the start: I don't want a girlfriend and we're just having fun. Unfortunately I got weak a few weeks ago. Once again I was drunk after hanging up, and Katja had also given herself the edge. In the end we went home together and slept together. That wasn't so bad, but I better control myself because I don't want to hurt anyone. Nina is sitting at the other table. She is from Ukraine and one of my customers. During the week we do business because my agency advertises their company. Nina looks hot today. She's wearing those skintight black vinyl leggings that I find so sexy. Anyway, I have to worry about the next track. As it starts up, I light a fag and take another long sip of my cranberry vodka. Then I check the tables and the dance floor. I still secretly hope Sasha shows up even though my DJ set is over in ten minutes. Maybe it's a good thing she's not there, because I'm pretty drunk now. During the week we do business because my agency advertises their company. Nina looks hot today. She's wearing those skintight black vinyl leggings that I find so sexy. Anyway, I have to worry about the next track. As it starts up, I light a fag and take another long sip of my cranberry vodka. Then I check the tables and the dance floor. I still secretly hope Sasha shows up even though my DJ set is over in ten minutes. Maybe it's a good thing she's not there, because I'm pretty drunk now. During the week we do business because my agency advertises their company. Nina looks hot today. She's wearing those skintight black vinyl leggings that I find so sexy. Anyway, I have to worry about the next track. As it starts up, I light a fag and take another long sip of my cranberry vodka. Then I check the tables and the dance floor. I still secretly hope Sasha shows up even though my DJ set is over in ten minutes. Maybe it's a good thing she's not there, because I'm pretty drunk now. I light a fag and take another long sip of my cranberry vodka. Then I check the tables and the dance floor. I still secretly hope Sasha shows up even though my DJ set is over in ten minutes. Maybe it's a good thing she's not there, because I'm pretty drunk now. I light a fag and take another long sip of my cranberry vodka. Then I check the tables and the dance floor. I still secretly hope Sasha shows up even though my DJ set is over in ten minutes. Maybe it's a good thing she's not there, because I'm pretty drunk now. After I've finished my set and packed my things, I go to Nina's. She flirts heavily with me and I just can't take my eyes off the high heels and vinyl leggings. Katja is watching from the next table and I feel I have to go over to explain myself or at least say hello. "Are you going somewhere else?" she asks. “Yes, we'll probably go to the Soljanka. But I have to take Nina with me. This is a customer of mine and I need to take care of her To take care of." I hope that Katja understands the situation and goes somewhere else with her companion. But she puts a spoke in my wheel. “OK, I just have to get rid of my acquaintance. Then I'll come with you," she says. Well, that can be fun. An hour later I'm standing at the bar in Soljanka and ordering drinks for Katja and Nina. I ask myself which of the two I should take home with me and decide on Nina because of the leggings. Two drinks later, Nina is sitting on my lap and I let my hands wander up her thighs. Katja sits opposite and talks to a guy, but is visibly annoyed. I wonder why she's doing this to herself. Why doesn't she just go home? Yes, I know I'm the asshole right now, but given my high drinking and disappointment with Sasha, I've thrown all morals overboard. I just want to have fun now. Nina probably sees it the same way. Only Katja sits next to her like a stubborn child and just doesn't want to give up. “Nina, I want to sleep with you. You're so sexy,' I slur in her ear. "No. No,” she replies. 'It won't work. I have a boyfriend and I love him. You're sexy and I've been wanting you. If it wasn't for my boyfriend we'd already have fucked, but I'm in love and I'm trying to pull myself together." "Bla blah blah," I reply, not believing her. she flirts with me She sits on my lap and allows me to stroke her thighs and I'm already way up there. You really can't go much further than that. Earlier, when we were standing next to each other at the bar, I had my hand on her tight bottom. These vinyl leggings are unique. They're so thin you almost think you've got your hands on your skin, only it feels different. Also, I think Nina isn't wearing any underwear. At least I can't feel anything of the sort. "No. You're mine tonight,' I say, feeling myself getting an erection. Nina does not answer. She just grins and sips hers Drink. But she doesn't get up either, and now my erection is so strong that she has to feel it and cannot misinterpret this sign of my desire. "There you go," I think. "It's only a matter of time before she softens and comes with me." Then it suddenly vibrates in my pants. ScheiBe!, a phone call. Nina jumps up. I don't know if she's taking the opportunity to free herself or if she wants to help me get my cell phone. There's no time to think about it either, because when I look at the ad, I see that Sasha is calling me. I still have an erection in my pants and I walk across the club to the anteroom with it. "Where are you?" Sasha asks. “In the solyanka. come over I'll take you in,' I answer and regret it at the same time, because I remember too late that I've already been here with two women and Sasha probably wouldn't like it. Let alone the other two. "No," says Sasha. "I'm already at home. But maybe you would like to come to me. I would like to see you." Bingo! Killed two birds with one stone. "Of course, I'm coming. Send me the address, please, and I'll be on my way." Then I go back to Nina and Katja. 'Sorry, I have to go home. I don't feel well,' I say to both of them. Katja only nods in disappointment, while Nina absolutely wants to come along. "Let's take a cab together and I'll kick you out," she says, following me to the exit. Outside I tell Nina the truth. "Alright, then I'll take you to your 19-year-old girl," says Nina and laughs. "Nina is really cool," I think and get into the taxi. During the drive I tell her about Sasha and I feel like a little boy in love. I'm still so surprised that Sasha called me. In front of Sasha's house, Nina wishes me a lot of fun and takes a taxi away. She meant it and I still can't believe how cool she was about it and how easygoing she is. Doesn't matter. I ring the bell and take the elevator up to Sasha's on the fourth floor. She's already standing in the doorway and throws her arms around my neck, grinning. Suddenly it's a completely different person. She must be drunk. I hope I'm as drunk as I am, because I'm already at the end of my rope. We kiss, the clothes fly in all directions, and shortly thereafter we are naked in bed. A few wild hours follow, and when she finally lies exhausted in my arms, I wonder what tomorrow's awakening will be like. After all, I'm with her in the apartment. So there's no running away this time. "She'll have to kick me out," I think. Then I hug Sasha tightly and give her one last kiss. "Somehow I'm in love," are my last thoughts before I fall asleep. And of course I realize that this isn't going to be a good thing. It's around noon when we wake up. Sasha looks at me and grins. I pull her to me and give her a big kiss. "Thank God there's no drama this time," I think to myself. Then we spend another hour in bed. Sasha takes care of my morning erection and then we talk. It's the first time we've talked without being drunk and it feels good. I don't dare talk about the last morning after because I'm glad she called me again and we spent the night together. But I feel that the status of our relationship needs to be addressed. "I like you," I begin. "You too. I didn't call you otherwise." "You were drunk and that's why you dared," I reply. "No. Maybe a little drunk, but I wanted to see you and I just couldn't control my feelings anymore." "And now?" I ask. "No idea. I want to see you again, but of course the age difference is a problem. My mother is only a year older than you. I don't know how to explain it to her or my friends." "Why don't we take it easy?" I reply. 'You don't have to tell anyone. We'll meet when we want to and see where this story takes us. I give you your freedom and you give me mine. Would that be possible?" "That's fine. But I want you to know that I'm very jealous.' 'OK, I get it.' "Friends?" she asks, confusing me. "Friends with Benefits," I reply, even though I want more from Sasha. After that we'll talk for a while. I'm amazed at how serene and mature she is. At nineteen I wasn't quite there yet. I would like to stay. Preferably the whole day and even longer, but at home my dog is waiting. My roommate took him for a walk last night, but it's about time for a walk again. "When will I see you again?" I ask. “I don't have time during the week. I have to work and then to university.« 'So next weekend. That fits, because I'm flying to Siberia tonight and staying until Wednesday,' I say. "We'll see," Sasha says, slowly sinking back into her usual coolness. To say goodbye, however, she kisses me for a long time and I hug her tightly. I'm happy in the taxi, but also somehow unsure. In the end, Sasha was again very hypothermic. It wasn't as bad as last time, but it was weird. 'Probably,' I think, 'she lets herself go and opens up when she's drunk. When she sobers up, she regrets what she did and distances herself. Well, my mother always said: 'Drunks and children tell the truth'. If so, there is still hope.« I spend the next few days in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. I was invited to give a talk there in front of students and the dean. "Do you want to fly home immediately after the lecture or stay another day to see the city," the organizers asked me at the time asked Sommer when I accepted the invitation. Since the trip is fully paid for, I was quite happy to be offered an extra day to explore the city. But at the time I hadn't thought about the fact that it's already very cold in Siberia at the end of October. At departure in Moscow it was +5°C. Upon arrival in Krasnoyarsk the next morning, temperatures are well below zero and snowing. My hotel is in the middle of the city, but when it's snowing heavily I just can't motivate myself to explore the area. Today is my day off. It's Sunday. We arrived in the morning and I slept until the afternoon. In the evening I am invited to dinner by the organizers. However, that is already over at seven, after that I sit bored in my hotel room. I had picked out a couple of dates on a popular Russian dating site two weeks ago. But now I kind of don't want to meet these girls because in my mind there is only Sasha. So I work on my speech, then I get a beer and watch several episodes of Breaking Bad on my notebook. My lecture the next day is a success. After that I spend the rest of the day at the university in workshops with the students. It's good to turn your back on Moscow and experience Russia in a completely different way. The students in particular have very fresh, sometimes naïve ideas, and I'm learning a lot about the mentality of the people who live outside of Moscow. In the evening I am back in the hotel and alone again. It's terribly cold outside and it's snowing again. After a Franziskaner Weissbier, I text Sasha: “Hello from Krasnoyarsk. I'm terribly bored. Would be glad if you were with me and we could have fun. Miss you. Chris." It wasn't until two episodes of Breaking Bad later that I got an answer: "Hey, we're just friends. Can you remember? Hope the boredom isn't too bad.' OK, now I'm not only bored, I'm also depressed. Unfortunately I can't sleep yet because of the time difference of four hours. So I go to the bar to get another beer. Somehow I was hoping that someone, someone, would be sitting there and being just as bored as I was, but the bar is empty. So I'll take my beer up to the room. I go through the contacts on my dating site again and write to a few girls. There might be a chat. Maybe more. After an hour of no response I give up and watch all the remaining episodes of Breaking Bad until 5am. Back in Moscow I decide not to contact Sasha anymore after that stupid text message. If she wants something from me, let her get in touch. I haven't heard anything for two weeks. In the meantime I find my way back to my old self and my lovers. But somehow it's no longer fun with them. I decide to take a break from everything and break up with two of my girls. I just don't get in touch with the others. Then I accidentally find Sasha's sweater behind the couch. Hm, what do I do with this thing now? I don't want to call her anymore. I put the sweater on the closet. Should he gather dust there? I do not care. But for the next week I find myself thinking about Sasha all the time. Maybe I should call her after all? After all, she's the first woman I've had strong feelings for in a long time. no D rather not. Again I think of the age difference. Also, she's acting weird. I don't want to blow my face and I've had enough strange experiences and negative feelings with her. Whatever, fuck it. Lets see what happens. I plan to call her at the weekend and tell her I found her sweater. Maybe she wants to see me and could we go out together. After all, it's already mid-December and this would be the last opportunity before I'll be in Germany for four weeks. Just as I'm pondering whether I should really do this, my phone rings. “Hey, this is Sasha. I wanted to get in touch again." "That's good," I say. “I was just thinking about you because I found your sweater. Shall we meet?" »Yes, that's why I'm calling. I wanted to know if we can see each other. How about tomorrow night?' "Great. Dinner? I'll invite you and you can choose the restaurant,' I say and immediately regret this sentence. I'm an idiot. It's an unspoken law among foreigners that Russian women shouldn't be given the choice of restaurants. Usually you end up in a posh shack and are then 300 euros poorer. Regardless, said is said. “I'll call you tomorrow and tell you where we're going. Shall we say at six?' "Okay, let's do it this way. Until then. You. I'm so glad you called me,' I say. "See you tomorrow," Sasha replies with her usual coldness. The next day we go to dinner. Sasha has chosen a sushi restaurant around the corner from her, and it's super cheap. We eat, drink tea and talk until midnight. After that I take Sasha home and I take a taxi to my place. We made an appointment to dance on Friday. It was nice talking to her. She is so natural and completely different from the other Russian women I have met. She wasn't cold at all this time, but very open. In the end we talked about everything. Also about us and the first evening. "You know," says Sasha, "I wasn't shocked because of you, it was because of me. I haven't been this drunk in a long time. I knew full well that I had made the choices I made last night, and I was shocked at myself for that. I felt ashamed of you. But I also remembered that you always gave me a choice, and that's how I know you're a good guy." 'Well,' I think, 'if she knew. I'm not that kind of an angel either.« Friday we meet to dance. We're both sober and it's hard for us to relate to each other and relax. We decide to get drunk together. Things get better after a few drinks in a bar. Then Toby calls. He and Marina are at Soljanka, will we come? "Shall we go?" I ask Sasha. She nods and grins. "I have to go to the toilet for a second," she says, and disappears while I line up to get the jackets. Next to me is Natalie, with whom I had an affair some time ago. She must have been in the bar too. I hadn't even seen her. We give each other cash and exchange phrases. Then Sasha stands next to me, grinning. Natalie is shocked because Sasha looks so young. She immediately puts me in the "he's cracked up" category and flees. It's not even enough for a decent farewell. Toby and his wife Marina are already waiting at Soljanka. "Who's that?" Toby asks. He's used to me showing up with new girls all the time. "Sasha. She has Frau Helmbrecht potential,” I add. I'm already slightly drunk, so I have a loose tongue. "She's still damn young, isn't she?" Toby says. "Nineteen," I answer succinctly. "Gosh, Chris! That won't work. The age difference is way too big,” Toby lectures me. “Man, I know that myself. But what am I supposed to do? Sasha is the best girl I've met in years. Should I just ignore that just because the age difference is too big? I've decided to just give it a try and see how it turns out. And all without stress. I'll try to control my urges so I don't end up falling flat on my face and suffering too much." "You have to know what you're doing," Toby says. Danach tanzen wir. Toby und Marina ignorieren Sasha mit Absicht. Beide mogen meine Exfreundin sehr gerne und denken, es ware am besten fur mich, wenn wir wieder zusammenkamen. Doch das wird nicht passieren. Wir sind einfach zu verschieden. Ein paar Drinks spater nimmt Toby mich zur Seite, um mit mir uber meine Ex zu reden. Marina steht daneben und nickt. Sasha hat irgendwie genug und beschlieBt, sich noch einen Drink zu holen. Als Toby endlich fertig ist und ich nach Sasha sehe, steht die neben einem Typen an der Bar und redet mit ihm. Das passt mir nicht, aber ich hatte ja gesagt, dass wir beide unsere Freiheiten haben. Also lasse ich sie machen. Ich rede wieder mit Toby und Marina und erwarte Sasha jeden Augenblick zuruck, doch die kommt nicht. Als ich wieder nach ihr sehe, sind Sasha und ihr Gesprachspartner verschwunden. "And? Where's your wife Helmbrecht?' Toby asks provocatively. "No idea. She must be in the loo,' I reply. After half an hour it is clear that Sasha is not on the toilet and my mood is at zero. "Shall we go to my place for a nightcap? I've got this new DJ controller I can show you around.« Toby nods and we head for the exit. “I'll check on my little one again. Maybe I can still find her somewhere. Go to the cloakroom. We meet there." After that, I walk the entire club, but don't see Sasha anywhere. Just as I'm about to walk to the stairs, I see her standing at the bar in the second room. With the guy from before. Close to each other. I am going to her. 'We're going home to my place for a nightcap. Do you want to come with me?” I ask, expecting a resounding yes! But Sasha just shrugs, looks at her new acquaintance and says, “No. I stay here." I turn around without a word and leave. Toby and Marina are waiting at the cloakroom. "Did you find her?" Toby asks. "Yes. She's upstairs at the bar with the other guy. Arm-in-arm. And she says she wants to stay." Toby doesn't know what to say. "Don't say anything! It's okay I'll survive. fucking bitch! Shit Moscow!” Moscow "I have a boyfriend now," says Natascha. "Ah yes? For real? It's a pity." We sit at the table in a dark corner. Natascha sometimes works here, in one of the oldest clubs in Moscow. We lost touch after our little tete-a-tete in the summer and I spontaneously decided to visit her at her club today. Natascha gets me another beer and orders a warm cake. She grins at me and flirts. I don't notice much that she now has a boyfriend. But one thing is for sure, I won't end up in bed with her tonight. It's the usual. She wanted more and I just wanted fun. I've been honest with her. Eventually she lost interest and moved on. I can't blame her. Natascha is very open. She tells me about her new boyfriend. Sometimes I don't know if she wants to make me jealous or if she's really that open and naive. After 30 minutes Natascha has to go back to work and I make my way home. It's windy outside and much too warm for the time of year. It's just after midnight and I decide to walk home. This week is strange. Somehow things just don't work out with women. I grin anyway. I feel freer than I have in a long time. The pavement is littered with small puddles. The Russians will never get the hang of building decent roads and sidewalks. After the rain, the water stands in potholes and puddles for days. You have to be very careful and walk around it to avoid getting wet. That's not so easy during the day because someone is always coming towards you. Even when it's dry, there's not enough space on the sidewalk. There really isn't enough space in this city. Yesterday, a bitterly cold polar wind blew in my face from the north, but today the wind is coming from the south, bringing not only lots of red dust but also warm air from the Caucasus. The city is dirty. There should have been snow by now and temperatures should be well below zero, but this year General Winter, as the Russians call him after defeating Napoleon and later the Germans, is taking his time. global warming? I should be fine. The winter will be long enough. I walk up the street and look at the shop windows. The Christmas decorations are slowly moving in here, too, although the Russians celebrate much later than we do. "Am I at home in Moscow now?" I ask myself. Moscow is actually a shitty city, and yet I've lived here for so long. "Of course, you're at home here!" she calls out to me. "Just accept it." It's the city speaking up. Apparently she's had enough of my constant vice. The next thing I expect is, "If you don't like it here, pack your bags and go somewhere else!" but she says nothing. Moskau ist typisch fur mein Leben. Ich hatte immer schon ein Faible fur die nicht perfekten Frauen. Die mit der dicken Nase oder den zu kurzen Beinen. Irgendwie war es naturlich auch immer leichter, eine von diesen aufzureiBen. Im Vergleich zu den Topmodels oder den Rich Kids hat man mit den Nicht-Perfekten eigentlich viel mehr SpaB. Anscheinend geht es mir mit Moskau genauso. "I'm not that ugly," the town whispers to me. “If you look closely, you can see my beauty. It's the people you don't like and who spoil your desire for me. It's also the people who bother me. I'm the biggest city in Europe and just look at what they make of me. That lunatic, Stalin, for example. That was a really bad relationship. He couldn't accept me as I am and always wanted to tinker with me. One cosmetic surgery after the other. We know how that ends. Well, he was successful sometimes, but overall, he made me uglier. My naturalness was lost. It's the people, I tell you. Sometimes I wish I was born somewhere else. Maybe in France, Italy or Spain. Oh yes, that would be something. Then I would be like Paris or Rome.« "Don't worry," I reply. “I like you just the way you are. True, often you are ugly. Your prefabricated buildings, the potholes, the traffic jams, the crowds and all the neon lights. Nevertheless, I like you, and you also have your beautiful sides. Especially in winter, when it's snowing and everything looks clean and magical. I like your rhythm, your energy and your sex. You can be pretty sexy too, you know that?' I ask. She purrs contentedly like a cat. "But let's not misunderstand each other," I add matter-of-factly. "I do not love you. There will be no relationship between us. I won't stay with you forever. This is just for fun. i live in the moment Here and now. At some point I have to move on. You have to understand that. This relationship isn't forever.” She falls silent. Two dark Caucasian boys are blocking my way. They look at me scrutinizingly. "A foreigner alone," they think. “He must have a lot of money, an expensive phone, maybe even a camera with him. Maybe he's drunk, that makes it even easier to rob him." I walk purposefully towards them, take turns looking deep into the eyes of both of them and steer towards the middle between the two. "Don't fuck with me!" I think. At the last moment, the two turn to the side. I still touch the shoulder of one. No, I don't turn around, I don't show fear and I keep walking. "C'mon baby, you don't have to be upset," I whisper softly. “I do like you, but this isn't love between us. What should I do if I don't feel them. I could pretend I love you, but where do we end up? no This is sex and fun. Incredible fun. Let's leave it at that. why do you want more Why do we even have to talk about it? let's live in the moment Let's just enjoy life.« The warm wind caresses my hair. The side street to my house is empty, and now the city is showing its most beautiful side. She seems to accept my suggestion. for now. That's how they are, women. Eventually she will lose interest in me. Or I'm interested in her, then it's time to leave Moscow and move on. sponsored

Appendix 3 - Why Russians Don’t Smile: A Guide to Doing Business in Russia and the CIS Countries


  1. #Appendix 1
  2. #Appendix 2
  3. #Appendix 3
  4. #Appendix 4
  5. #Appendix 5
  6. #Appendix 6
  7. #Appendix 7
  8. #Appendix 8
  9. #Appendix 9

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Why Russians Don’t Smile: A Guide to Doing Business in Russia and the CIS Countries

4th Edition

Luc Jones

Why Russians Don’t Smile

4th Edition


We would like to express our thanks to everybody who contributed comments, articles and general advice for our publication. Additionally we are extremely grateful to our sponsors for their support which helped to make this book possible.

Limitation of use:

Please note that commercial use, distribution, reprint or publication of all or any parts of the book is prohibited without prior written authorisation from the author. Reference to the author is obligatory when quoting any content from this publication.

Author: Luc Jones

Project manager: Evgeniya Gonzales

Designers: Ekaterina Gnidina, Nataliya Demkina

Published by: Intermark Relocation

7/1 Kropotkinsky Pereulok

119034, Moscow, Russia

+7 495 502 95 53

Moscow, 2020

Luc Jones Why Russians Don’t Smile 4th edition


I. Scope of this book

II. Introduction to Russia and the CIS region

III. Expatriates in Russia

IV. Travelling to and around Russia and the CIS countries

V. Foreign assignments and hiring locally

VI. Behavioral differences faced by Expats

VII. Cultural differences

VIII. Language barriers and deciphering names

IX. Doing business part 1

X. Doing business part 2

XI. Entertainment in Russia

XII. Life in Russia - how Russians live

XIII. How Russians view foreigners

XIV. Charity, Corporate Social Responsibility

XV. Life outside of Moscow and St Petersburg

XVI. CIS focus - the ‘other’ Republics

XVII. Public Holidays in Russia

XVIII. Useful contacts

XIX. Glossary of Terms and Acronyms

About the author

Luc Jones

Luc Jones was born in Huntingdon, UK in 1973 to a British father and a French-Canadian mother and grew up in West Devon. His first trip to Russia was while still at high school in Tavistock: a week in Moscow and Leningrad in February 1991, followed by a year studying in Moscow and Yaroslavl in 1993/4 during his degree – Russian and Soviet Studies at The University of Portsmouth, UK. After a brief spell teaching English in Moscow in 1995/6, Luc joined ITE Group Plc (one of the world’s largest exhibition and conference organizers), working on the Moscow Motor Show.

Luc’s life in recruitment began with Antal in Warsaw in 1998 where he worked for 2 years, covering Poland and the Baltic States. He then joined CRM giant Siebel Systems (now part of Oracle) based in Prague, responsible for the CEE region, Turkey and South Africa. Moving back in Moscow in early 2002 with Antal, Luc worked his way up to Partner and Commercial Director before he joined Fircroft at the start of 2019 as Regional Sales Director for the CIS countries.

An extensive traveler, Luc has visited 145 countries including all 15 former Soviet Republics and continues to discover new places of interest throughout the world. Luc lives in Moscow and plans to do so for the foreseeable future, yet travels extensively throughout the CIS. Luc speaks Russian fluently in addition to his native English and has a very good knowledge of (Quebecois) French, Polish and Spanish.

I. Scope of this book

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What does it cover, whom is it written for and why


Expatriates who have recently relocated to Russia/CIS (or are considering doing so in the nearest future) or live in their home country but visit on a regular basis. These are usually senior management of multinational corporations who are typically spend 3-4 years on a particular assignment before moving on or back home, or perhaps having been assigned this part of the world as a part of their overall territory.

People who perhaps don’t visit Russia/CIS often (or ever at all) but cover the region as part of their remit – this group includes human resources and recruitment managers, finance directors and even some CEOs. Since many multinational organizations use their European office to spearhead development and growth in the CIS region, this book has been written from the perspective of a Western/Central European manager.

Russians and citizens of other CIS countries who are interested in how they and their countries are perceived by foreigners. This is especially the case for those working for a multinational company, or perhaps for a local organization which is expanding into new markets abroad. If they report to a foreigner (based locally or abroad) or work with them on a regular basis, they can be more aware of potential pitfalls that they wouldn’t normally consider.

This book makes no apologies for being very much from a UK/European perspective as this has traditionally been the main target audience. Even US or Asian multinationals are likely to make business decisions for the CIS region from an office in Europe, for geographical and cultural reasons. However, this is not to say that North Americans, Africans, Asians, those from the Middle East or in fact anyone even remotely connected to the CIS might not benefit from reading this book.

The focus is primarily on Moscow although several chapters are devoted to other parts of Russia, such as St Petersburg and the Far East, plus all the CIS countries. Additionally this book does not claim to comprehensively cover every aspect of doing business in Russia/CIS, be it cultural, economic, business or social. An entire encyclopedia could be (and in many cases has already been) written on every single topic. Rather this book is meant as a guide for those new to this part of the world who wish to have an easy to read guide that they can quickly refer to, rather than having to read through a ‘War and Peace’ length novel.


Probably the biggest and most common mistake which foreigners make is that they assume that since Russians look like we do, they automatically think like we do. They don’t. Read on to find out more…


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The cost of failure can be high so you need to do your homework before setting out. Russia is not a country where you can just show up and make a fast buck – you need to be in it for the long term. Some have tried and failed, but many more have done extremely well in Russia. See also chapter 5 for whom to hire, how and why. One of the most frequent reactions to the first three editions of this book from Russians themselves has been that foreigners will read it, but ignore much (or all) of the advice given because they still think that they are smarter. Do yourself a favour and don’t fall into this category.

II. Background to Russia/CIS Geography, history, religion, nationalities and initial stereotypes

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You don’t need a University degree in Geography to know that Russia is not only the world’s largest country (even after the demise of the USSR), but covers one eighth of the earth’s land mass. It’s a vast territory although the majority of visitors and Russians alike see precious little of it. It spans nine time zones (until recently it was eleven, but was scaled back) yet cities thousands of miles apart look remarkably similar thanks to the Soviet uniformity of buildings. One of the key reasons for this concrete ubiquity is that until the 1917 October revolution, many of today’s towns and cities were little more than remote villages that were changed forever during Stalin’s industrialization policies of the 1930s. For ease of understanding, the country is generally broken down into three geographical zones:

Since European Russian is by far the most populous area, this region itself is divided up into five parts:

Moscow and the surrounding area (often referred to as the Golden Ring)

St Petersburg & North-Western Russia

The Volga Region

The South, which includes the Caucasus

The Urals, which form the border between Europe and Asia

Few people agree (apart from the geographical border between Europe and Asia) as to exactly where one area stops and the next one starts, so these are given more as a general guide.

European Russia


The Far East


There are entire libraries devoted to Russia’s rich history, and one would do well to acquaint themselves with at least the basics of twentieth century Russian history for a broader understanding of where the country is today, and why.

From a business perspective, it is crucial to understand that Russia has come a long way in a very short space of time – it can be hard to imagine that little more than a generation ago, the whole essence of doing business as we know it was not only an alien concept, it was in fact highly illegal. There are complaints both from inside and outside of Russia that far too many people are still employed by the State – estimates vary but it’s rumored to be around 50% even if the official figure is considerably lower. Putting things into context however, until the fall of Communism, the figure (officially at least) was 100%.

Westerners are raised in a society where everyone is constantly trying to sell you something, advertising is everywhere, choice is the norm and the whole ethos of life is geared around making money. Russia and the former Soviet States are very much emerging markets without a history of commercial business. During Soviet times you typically bought what they had on sale regardless of whether or not you actually needed it as it probably wouldn’t be there tomorrow, and you could then quietly sell it on, or trade it off sometime down the line. The inefficiency of the planned economy led to chronic shortages of even the most basic consumer goods as efforts were ploughed into heavy industry and military production. As a result, a massive grey economy emerged as Soviet citizens showed their resourcefulness in obtaining supplies that weren’t available through normal channels (ie, shops). Previously your standard of living depended not only on your salary, but on your connections and clout (known in Russian as ‘blat’ or ’svyazi’) either personal, or via the workplace. Your physical location – Moscow was always considered the showpiece of the USSR (see the ‘Moscow vs the Rest of Russia’ piece below) meant better access to goods and services, and also your line of work; those in the military, even serving in remote locations were always well fed.

A joke from the Communist era sums up both the influence and the necessity of the Soviet grey economy rather aptly: A senior American and Soviet diplomat meet and are discussing salary levels and standards of living in their respective countries. The American proudly boasts that “in the United States of America, the average salary is $25,000 per year, and $15,000 is needed to survive, but we don’t care what he spends the remaining $10,000 on.” The Soviet diplomat replies, that “in the Soviet Union, the average salary is 2,000 RUB per year and the amount needed to survive is 5,000 RUB, but we don’t care where he finds the remaining 3,000 RUB!” The result today is that Russians maintain a high sense of loyalty to those that they deem close to them, such as their friends (especially those made during student days), former colleagues and family members – you will notice how Russians often refer to a cousin as a brother or sister. This is manifested in how Russians make hiring decisions in the workplace; ‘po rekomendatsii’, based on a trusted recommendation. This might strike Westerners as a classic case of cronyism, or even corrupt practices. Russians view it somewhat differently, as working with a reliable and trusted partner who can be called upon to be sure to get a job done. See chapters 9 and 10 for more information on doing business in Russia.



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The majority of Russians will claim adherence to the Eastern Orthodox Church, even if few actually attend services. The communist period was officially atheist and religious buildings were at best left to decay or reused for other purposes, such as storage, or in extreme cases, destroyed. Fortunately, slowly but surely some are being restored to at least part of their former glory, evident by the increasing beauty of onion domes on the horizons of many Russian cities, towns and even villages. It is interesting to observe that many drivers in Russia have mini Orthodox icons on their dashboards, especially in Russian-made cars – possibly a testament to the atrocious standard of driving in Russia and the high death rate on the roads. Few are aware that Russia has more Muslims than the rest of Europe combined – anywhere between 10-20 million, depending on which statistics you believe. However, the Sovietization policies resulted in heavy integration with surrounding Slavs, so most are moderate (Chechnya and Dagestan being the notable exceptions), and there is also a significant Buddhist minority in Kalmykia (southern Russia), the Altai region close to Mongolia and Buryatia (in Eastern Siberia, by Lake Baikal). The blatantly anti-Jewish policies of the Soviet Union resulted in a significant number of Jews emigrating (mainly to Israel and the USA) but many remain, and often occupy senior positions in large, local businesses. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that whilst some take their faith seriously, Russia is a secular State and not an openly religious country. Whilst Russians are well aware of other faiths, it is rarely brought up as a topic of conversation. New Year’s Eve is celebrated with considerably more vigour than either Christmas or Easter.


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It is worth spending a moment or two on this as to Russians, one’s nationality and ethnicity means much more than it does to westerners. For starters, Russia is the ninth most populous nation on the planet, yet is far from being a homogenous country. You would be forgiven for assuming that this is a Slav-only place, and whilst Slavs certainly dominate, there are well over a hundred separate nationalities, ranging from Tatars who boast over five million, to the Evenki people in the far north-east of Russia whose numbers are in the tens of thousands. Despite Soviet attempts (in some areas considerably more ‘successfully’ than others) at wiping out individualism, effort was made to glorify the benefits of being a Soviet citizen, people will proudly tell you that they are ethnically Armenian/ Bashkir/Chuvash/Dagestani, albeit one that was born in Russia. Russians use two words to describe the people who live in Russia (not including Expatriates, tourists or migrant workers). This may strike Westerners as rather bizarre, and possibly even derogatory since someone of Indian parentage who was born and brought up in the UK would almost certainly consider him/herself as British, and anyone who has received their Green Card to the USA can quite proudly call themselves an American.


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Not so in Russia, and you will even hear people say ‘I’m not Russian, I’m Jewish’. Consequently some Russians can find it hard to comprehend how a black guy could be British or an Arab could be French. Obviously this is less likely to be the case with Russians who have lived, or travelled extensively abroad, but if you are of non-Caucasian origin, it’s worth bearing this in mind when visiting Russia as unfortunately some prejudice does exist. Whilst this is almost exclusively aimed at migrants from some former Soviet Republics (particularly Central Asia and the Caucasus) some Russians – especially in more remote regions, are unused to seeing anyone who doesn’t look like them, so although you are unlikely to encounter any outright hostility, do expect to be stared at.

Few are aware that Russia has more immigrants than any other country in the world after the United States. However, the overwhelming majority of these come from the former Soviet Republics, and there is some resentment of their presence – especially in Moscow where many head for. The fact that unemployment in Russia’s capital is low, and they are employed to do menial jobs that Russian don’t seem to want to do at salaries that Russians wouldn’t even consider getting out of bed for appears lost on many ethnic Russians. Do be aware that the word ‘Caucasian’ to Russians (pronounced ‘Kavkaz’ in Russian) refers to dark-haired people from the south of Russia (notably Chechnya, Dagestan and Ossetia), plus also the former Soviet Republics of Armenian, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It DOES NOT mean ‘white’ in the European sense.


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In Western culture, we usually begin introductions with asking someone’s name, and then where they are from. Non-Muscovites living in Moscow can be uncomfortable when faced with this question, and may either not reply, answer simply “I’m from Russia” or say that they are from Moscow, even if they arrived only recently. The exception is St Petersburgers, who view themselves as culturally more advanced, and are the only Russians who look down upon Muscovites, as brash. See chapter 15 for more information on life outside of Moscow and St Petersburg. Average living standards were higher in Moscow and Leningrad (as St Petersburg used to be called) than elsewhere in the USSR, and it is also where the best higher educational establishments were, so this is where Soviet citizens strove to move to. The USSR had a residency permit system, known as a ‘propiska’ which allowed you live and work in a certain part of the country, and the authorities dictated who lived where, and who was allowed to move where, and when. In practice it was a clever and useful tool for the state to control the population as it heavily restricted even basic freedoms, Russia has suffered from a severe housing shortage since Stalin’s industrialization policies that began in the late 1920s and which forced the masses from the countryside into urban areas. Nowadays the system still exists, although it is much less enforced than before, yet you may observe a slight superiority complex amongst Muscovites when in the company of out-of-towners, colloquially known as ‘limitchiki’. There is more than a grain of truth in the joke that when Russian girls from provincial towns arrive in the capital, their preference is for a husband who has a propiska. This is beginning to change, as wealthier Russians choose to move out from a polluted downtown Moscow to greener areas outside the city limits. Russia is a very centralized, top-down society and despite Vladimir Putin hailing from St Petersburg, Moscow is where the bulk of business decisions are made, and naturally where the wealth is concentrated.


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Whatever you’ve ever read in the international media or seen on TV, either ignore it or believe the opposite. Most people’s first comment upon arrival is “oh wow, it’s normal. I had no idea it would be like this”. Bottom line, come with an open mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Is it always cold?

It does get cold (if you’re concerned about global warming, come to Russia in the winter) but summers can be scorchingly hot, with spring and autumn seeming to last only a few weeks. However, buildings are well heated, often excessively so and it’s a drier cold than in Europe, so if you wrap up in appropriate clothing, you’ll be fine. Do you have to drink heavily to do business?

A lot of vodka does get drunk, although beer has in fact overtaken the clear stuff as Russians’ choice of tipple and wine and cocktails are increasing in popularity amongst the middle classes. Granted, there may not be many abstainers and Russians still refer to vodka as ‘water of life’ but there’s more sobriety than you may think. Lunchtime drinking in the corporate world is almost unheard of – see chapter 11 for more on entertainment after working hours.

Is Russia dangerous?

In a nutshell, no. Stories about the fabled Russian mafia might make great headlines for lazy journalists but the days of shootouts in broad daylight and kiosks being blown up are long gone, and were in fact highly exaggerated in the first place. Sure, Moscow has its fair share of petty crime like any other big city, but the majority of incidents against foreigners occurs due to drunken misunderstandings with the Police or taxi drivers (and/or with recently-met local women when under the influence).

Speaking some Russian or having a Russian friend/colleague generally prevents such issues as does local knowledge and not acting as though you’ve just arrived in town. Russians will tell you to avoid the outskirts of Moscow at night but there’s no reason for you to be there anyway, and the centre of Moscow or St Petersburg is probably safer than your hometown after dark.

====How will I get around if I can’t understand the funny writing?====

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Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, as do nearby Belarus, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia and parts of the former Yugoslavia. It’s much less daunting than it first appears (some of the letters are the same, or similar to their Latin equivalents) and English language signage is on the increase, particularly in Moscow, St Petersburg and other places where foreigners may venture, such as airports. The World Cup in 2018 and the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 were just two examples of high profile events which improved matters considerably. You will even see Chinese characters in some places, in response to Russia’s drive to increase both business and tourism from the People’s Republic. See Chapter 8 for more information on learning the local language. Isn’t the country far too corrupt to be able to do business transparently?

Many of the world’s largest & best known multinational organizations are present in Russia, and run successful, profitable operations. Most have been here since the 1990s; they are audited and scrutinized both locally and internally, and simply wouldn’t tolerate an environment where they couldn’t run a clean business. Nobody is pretending that it’s plain sailing but it’s much less of an issue than the international media would have you believe. Chapter 10 goes into more detail on this subject.

====Surely international sanctions prevent our company from doing business with Russia?====

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Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March 2014, economic sanctions were imposed against Russia by several nations, namely the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, the European Union, and (hardly surprisingly), Ukraine. Many of these sanctions are aimed directly at businesses connected to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and/or business connected with the Crimea itself, such as ports where cruise ships cannot dock. Mostly, the sanctions prohibit the sale, supply, transfer or export of goods and technology in certain sectors, although the number of companies whose businesses have actually been affected remains small. Sadly, some companies have chosen to ‘self sanction’, incorrectly assuming that they cannot do business in Russia and arguably it has been this assumption which has hurt the Russian economy more than the sanctions themselves. Obviously if you or your business are from one of the countries involved then it’s important to check what impact this might have (and your country’s Embassy will be able to advise here). Russia retaliated in August 2014 by banning certain foodstuffs from countries which had imposed sanctions and has managed to turn this into an opportunity to promote ‘import substitution’ which has enjoyed considerable successes. In some cases Russia lacks the equipment to produce locally, a gap in market which is being filled by foreign manufacturers.

Why does nobody ever smile?

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If you travel on the metro in the mornings, you’ll certainly see many glum faces and yes, it is rare for Russians to smile for no reason. Why? Some blame a combination of the poor weather, at least in the winter, a turbulent history, especially in the past century coupled with a general mistrust of outsiders (it didn’t pay to be inquisitive during communist times) and difficult living conditions for most, even today. In Western culture we smile to make people feel comfortable rather than us being genuinely happy to see them. If a Russian doesn’t smile at you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like you (don’t take offense – it’s nothing personal), but if they do smile, then chances are that you’ve made a favourable impression on them. There is another explanation, that Russians view someone with a permanent smile as the village idiot, and smiling without a reason is viewed as being insincere.

III. Expatriates in Russia

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Who are they and how they differ from each other and also from their local staff

Like in any large city, the Expat community is very much a mixed bag but the majority of white collar workers fall into three distinct categories. CORPORATE EXPATS (CORP-PATS)

Typically Corp-pats have been posted to Russia/CIS with little or no previous experience of this part of the world, but their key selling point is their in-depth knowledge of their employer after years, if not decades with the firm, perhaps in multiple locations. They are seen as a safe pair of hands and are almost always employed in senior level positions. Trust is another influencing factor, especially in a finance role. The standard assignment is three years in length, sometimes more but the aim is often to eventually replace yourself with a local before moving on to pastures new within the firm, or it could mean returning home. Corppats almost always confine themselves to the ‘Expat bubble’, living in a compound or an area populated by other foreigners. This is especially the case if they have arrived with a family in tow, and hang out in expat circles, which in reality means downtown bars & restaurants where they are likely to bump into people similar to themselves. Few learn much, if any Russian as the corporate language at work will be English and they see little need to immerse themselves into the local culture as in all likelihood they’ll be moving on in a few years anyway.


Russ-pats may have studied Russian language and/or Russian literature, politics, history, economics at University and moved to Russia as they genuinely love the place. They are employed in a wide range of professions, and may now have family ties here, such as a spouse, children and perhaps have even purchased an apartment, or God forbid, a dacha! Some are in fact Corp-pats who have somehow stayed on and immersed themselves into the local community and have set up their own business, or work for somebody who has. More recently some Expats with specific skills have found themselves in demand by Russian companies who value their international background & input, especially if they come with previous CIS work experience and some knowledge of the Russian language.


Re-pats emigrated from the CIS after the fall of the Soviet Union, but for a variety of reasons have decided to return to the motherland. Initially it was adults who were seeking their fortune abroad, although increasingly we are seeing their children who left when they were very young and so are bilingual, or close to. Some felt disillusioned with life ‘abroad’, others found the going tough and didn’t make it whilst many wanted to be closer to their relatives as they age. A few even realized that from a purely business perspective, they could make more money and have a faster and more successful career back in Russia/CIS, having picked up business acumen and strong language skills abroad. Russians themselves are rarely positive about Re-pats, viewing them as arrogant. Admittedly some do return with a ‘hey, I’m better than you as I’ve lived/ worked/studied abroad and I speak great English’ attitude (Russians can spot them a mile away as they frequently drop English idioms into their everyday Russian speech). When interviewing Re-pats for jobs in Russia, they should be taken on an individual basis, while naturally those who return with a shiny American passport and demand an expat package and a hardship allowance, can be quickly discarded.

It’s also worth you checking if Re-pats are eligible to work in Russia as some will have lost, or given up their Russian citizenship. Expats view Re-pats as Re-pats, whereas Russians simply view Re-pats as Russians who’ve spent some time living abroad. Moscow is a fairly transient place as far as the expat community is concerned, since Corp-pats almost always leave once their three year contract is up, either moving on to their next assignment in another farflung place, or simply returning home. Nevertheless, the Moscow expat circle is extremely welcoming and easy to break into. There are numerous social clubs, sporting activities, business associations and religious groups that welcome newcomers. They are by no means exclusively aimed at Expats, and can be a great way to get to meet English-speaking locals. See chapter 18 for a list of websites.

IV. Travelling to, around and visiting Russia and the CIS countries, plus moving to and settling in Russia


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Being the largest city in Europe, Moscow is served by daily flights from almost every European capital city of any significance with some countries (such as Germany) also having direct flights from provincial cities. From Western Europe flights tend to take off in the morning/ lunchtime, arriving in Moscow late afternoon/early evening, or leaving late evening, landing in the middle of the night, or in the early hours of the following morning. Flying east you will effectively either lose most of the day on the plane, or a night’s sleep – you choose what’s best for you, although upon your return you’ll land at pretty much the same time as you took off. There are also direct, regular scheduled flights from many large Asian and Middle-Eastern cities plus a few in the USA although from Africa, Latin America and Oceania you will almost certainly require a change of planes. Bear in mind that if you do arrive in the early hours of the morning, your hotel may well charge you for an extra night, or for early check-in, and given the cost of high-end accommodation in Moscow, this can outweigh the benefits of taking the ‘red-eye’ flight.

Sheremetyevo (SVO) airport is in the north of Moscow and is Aeroflot’s hub for both domestic and international flights. It also handles Skyteam’s airline partners (KLM-Air France, Delta, Korean Air, Alitalia, Czech Airlines), as well as Finnair, and for flights to mainland China with Air China, China Eastern and China Southern. Terminals D and E have been built recently and are very much up to international standards, while F was rebuilt for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games and retains a certain Soviet feel to it. Terminals A, B & C are located on the other side of the airport; there is now a free shuttle train service, which runs under the runway, only takes a few minutes and operates frequently. These mainly handle domestic and charter flights although some changes and construction are still in progress so it is definitely worth checking in advance. Domodedovo (DME) airport is in the south and is home for most of OneWorld’s airlines, such as S7 one of Russia’s largest domestic carriers, British Airways (although be careful, one of the three daily flights to Heathrow now leaves from Sheremetyevo), Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and JAL. It’s also Star Alliance’s Russian home, so Lufthansa, Austrian, TAP, Thai, Turkish, Singapore and Egyptair fly from here, plus Emirates and Etihad. Air Astana recently relocated their Moscow home to here, for flights to Almaty & Nur-Sultan, in Kazakhstan, and Ural Airlines for numerous domestic and international destinations. Vnukovo (VKO) in the south-west acts an overspill for Moscow’s main two airports, plus Turkish Airlines who have moved here (landing and takeoff fees are reportedly lower). Additionally Uzbekistan Airlines now fly directly to 13 cities in Uzbekistan. Otherwise it is mainly used by Utair, Russia’s third largest airline, Pobeda (Aeroflot’s Low Coster) and for holiday charter flights.

Zhukovsky (ZIA) located to the east of Moscow with the aim of being a magnet for low-coster and charter. It only handles a few airlines, the most notable being Belavia with several flights per day to Minsk and URAL Airlines. For the time being at least, the biggest downside to Zhukovsky (apart from the small number of airlines actually using this airport) is that there is no direct train link from Moscow’s city centre. It necessary to catch a train from Kazansky station to the town of Zhukovsky, and connect from there on a shuttle bus. Or just catch a cab and risk the traffic. Clearing both customs and immigration is a relatively painless process; regardless of which airport you arrived at. Lines are rarely long (unless you are unlucky and several planes have landed just before yours) but queues move quite quickly. Unless you are carrying upwards of $10,000 in cash or any obviously restricted items, there is no need to fill out a customs form. GETTING TO/FROM THE AIRPORT INTO MOSCOW If you are new to Moscow and/or don’t speak Russian or read Cyrillic, it would make sense for you to arrange for your hotel to have a driver meet you at the airport, standing with a sign (with either your, or the hotel’s name on it) in the arrivals terminal.


Nowadays, the taxi situation is largely regulated at Moscow’s main airports and is a considerable improvement from the “taxi mafia” days of the 1990s, but can still be a little daunting for the uninitiated as the waiting drivers tout for fares and can be quite pushy. The best advice is to walk past the waiting drivers (ignore the official looking badges they wear) as these guys charge well above the standard rate, and misunderstandings do happen. Use one of the desks further back as prices are now official and listed in. Russian and English, and the staff should speak reasonable English, even if your driver doesn’t. Early mornings and evenings heading into Moscow should be relatively traffic-free, at least by Moscow standards, but fares are generally fixed in advance and shouldn’t depend on the journey time. Unless you are taking one of the red-eye planes returning from Moscow, your flight back to Western Europe is likely to leave in the evening. Given the heavy traffic leaving downtown Moscow towards the end of the working day, allow a good two hours, especially if you’re setting off on a Thursday or Friday. The jams are at their peak in the summer months when it seems as though the entire city decamps from Friday lunchtime onwards and heads out to their dachas for the weekend.

AEROEXPRESS An easy way to avoid spending hours stuck in the back of a cab is to take the Aeroexpress train from central Moscow to the airport or vice versa. Trains service Moscow’s three largest airports every half hour; trains begin at around 06:00 and continue until at least midnight. Journey time is around 45 minutes, and means that you’ll never miss another flight ever again.

Trains for Sheremetyevo leave from Belorussky station (this line has recently been extended with additional stops en route, including to Moskva City, Moscow’s financial district)

Trains for Domodedovo leave from Paveletsky station Trains for Vnukovo leave from Kievsky station All three of these stations are on the Moscow metro’s circle (brown) line and are signposted in English. The Aeroexpress trains are clearly marked and are usually red (do NOT jump on to a green train; these are the suburban commuter trains, called ‘elektrichka’ which will take you into the middle of nowhere) but doors may only open a few minutes before the train actually departs for the airport. If in doubt, don’t worry, just ask, although a crowd of people carrying suitcases is generally a telltale sign. A single ticket is RUB500 and they have a business class carriage for RUB1,500 which guarantees you a seat and they give out free bottles of water & Russian language newspapers. At peak times these trains can get pretty full, although there is usually more space in the back few carriages, and you might be fortunate enough to ride on one of the swanky, new double-decker trains. For those in a hurry to get to the airport, you can jump on the train and buy a ticket upon arrival at one of the ticket booths, which also have instructions in English – they accept Rubles and credit cards, although there can be quite a scrum getting through the barriers so if possible buy one before you board. If you don’t need a receipt and have a contactless debit or credit card, you can save time and receive a small discount by simply tapping your card on the entrance/exit gate at the airport, and they are also available online at a reduced price. For information on the exact times (and any updates), check out: (in Russian & English). In case you are feeling a little apprehensive, ask a Russian colleague or friend to accompany you as far as the train for the first time. Trust me, coming from someone who has missed flights in the past due to heavy traffic, these aeroexpress trains are a godsend. If you are visiting your Moscow office and your travel schedule has been arranged by your Russian office manager, it’s worth bearing in mind that she may assume that as an important foreigner, there is no way that you could even consider lowering yourself to taking Russian public transport, as few senior Russians would. She might be shocked that you even suggested it. In fact, she will probably think that as a clueless newcomer to Moscow you will invariably get lost, mugged or abducted and it will be all her fault, so she will insist that you take a taxi. Perhaps she just wants to get rid of you, but this will result in you leaving at lunchtime for an excruciatingly slow trip to the airport, probably arriving many hours before your evening flight. Bottom line, if time is important to you, consider taking the aeroexpress to/ from the airport. Finally, if transiting between Moscow’s airports, allow yourself a MINIMUM of two hours travelling time to get from Sheremetyevo to either Domodedovo or Vnukovo regardless of which mode of transport you use. GETTING AROUND MOSCOW Amongst the largest, best (and surely the most beautiful) in the world is the Moscow metro. Sure, it can get crowded at times, ridiculously so during rush hour, but it’s fast and very efficient. Little wonder that millions of people use it every day to get to & from work, and around the city. Many of the older stations are works of art in themselves, and a single ticket costs less than a Dollar, regardless of how far you travel – there are no zones. Tickets can be purchased for individual or multiple rides, or monthly passes which work out slightly cheaper in the long run, and are on sale at every station, whenever the metro is running, which is from shortly before 6am until 1am. Every metro station is permanently manned both by the metro’s own staff and by the Police, so consider it a pretty safe way to travel even at night. 38 39 One recent development is that there are now signs and announcements in both Russian and English at all stations. However, one slightly confusing aspect is that some stations use different names for the same interchange, but some are the same. An added bonus is that WiFi is available on the metro, for free. Your mobile phone should also work, even if the reception is a little patchy in places. If you have multiple meetings and especially if some are out on the outskirts of the city where metro stations are fewer and farther between, consider hiring a car with a driver for the day, or even for the duration of your trip. It’s not as expensive as it may sound, and your driver will drop you off & wait for you. Experienced drivers are pretty adept at sorting out a whole host of problems, such as when you’ve arrived at a building and the security guard doesn’t want to let you in as he can’t find the propusk (entry pass) that may or may not have been ordered. Curiously Russians don’t seem to mind sitting in traffic jams, viewing an hour stuck in gridlock in their own vehicle as preferable to a twenty minute ride on the crowded metro. This largely stems from cars having been difficult to obtain during the communist period, involving a long wait and invariably some strings pulled along the way, all to secure a Lada! So if you are going to a meeting together with Russians, don’t be surprised if they turn their noses up at the thought of taking the metro, although there is a good chance that they will have pre-arranged the transport. An increasing number of taxi companies operate in Moscow and even in mid-sized Russian/CIS cities, cabs can typically be at your door within five or ten minutes. Peak times are a different matter due to heavy traffic so to be on the safe side it’s best to book in advance. Waiting times are comparatively cheap so if you’re going to a meeting, it can make sense to ask the driver to wait and take you back. Parking can be limited, so your driver may in fact need to find a space half a mile down the road (where it’s free to park) and you ring him once you’re done already to return. The occasional dispatcher may speak a little English but drivers are unlikely to know more than the odd word, although if they’ve carried non Russian-speaking passengers before, they should know the drill. There are now certain apps which can be downloaded (such as Uber, Yandex Taxi or Gett) which avoid the need for speaking Russian, although in practice the driver is still likely to call you to tell you that he has arrived, and exactly where he is waiting for you. This is a safe bet as the car and the driver’s details will be sent by SMS to your mobile phone. For the fullblown Russian experience, do as many locals still do and stick your hand (not your thumb) out on a busy street, then watch the cars stop for you. Yes, in theory any car doubles up as a private taxi – you tell the driver where you want to go, agree a fare and jump in. The authorities have tried to make this practice illegal but old habits die hard and it is still a popular way of getting around quickly, especially late at night when the metro is closed. It’s safer than you might think, but if you don’t like the look of the driver (and/or his car) then don’t be shy about waving him on and getting into the next car. At busier spots at night, cars will often line up behind one another; it’s also possible that the driver may not want to take you if it’s completely out of his way. Avoid any cars that wait outside top end hotels, bars, clubs and especially at train stations & airports – these jokers charge much more than the going rate and are notorious for rip-offs, especially from drunken foreigners and can get aggressive if you don’t cough up. Only ever catch the moving cars and ALWAYS make sure that you’ve agreed on the destination AND the fare in advance. Worst case, get someone to write it down for you in Cyrillic beforehand. It is worth bearing in mind however that many of these ‘gypsy cab’ drivers are migrant workers from the poorer Central Asian and Caucasus Republics who cruise the Moscow streets at night looking for customers. They drive beaten-up old Ladas (called a ‘Zhiguli’ in Russian) that are barely roadworthy – count yourself lucky if the seatbelt actually works, and their knowledge of Moscow’s roads may be limited, especially if heading to the outskirts. Therefore, as well as not speaking any English (even Russian for most of them is a second language) they may ask YOU if you know the way to your destination ‘dorogu pokazhite’?! Normally this mode of transport is only recommended once you know your way around town but it’ll certainly be an experience that you don’t encounter back home. However, given the popularity and ease of ordering a cab visa an app, flagging down a car is much less common than it was just a few years ago. Many of Moscow’s downtown streets now have a ‘paid’ parking scheme, with shiny parking meters having sprung up, although few foreigner are brave enough to drive their own car around town. Those who do are generally long term Expats as it’s not common practice to hire a car and drive it yourself. 40 41 TRAVELLING WITHIN RUSSIA Russians like to joke that a foreigner drove his car into the Soviet Union and fairly quickly ran into a pot hole in the road. When help eventually arrived in the form of the GAI (the state traffic police) he grumbled that back home there would be a red flag warning of any such holes. The response was a blunt ‘didn’t you see the big, red flag (of the Soviet Union) when you crossed the border?!?!’ Despite some recent improvements, roads outside of cities can be in poor condition, exacerbated by extreme cold in the winter followed by heat waves in the summer. In Moscow these have been upgraded considerably but this has happened in conjunction with a boom in car ownership, resulting in gridlock throughout the day and well into the evening, so much so that you’ll hardly notice any lull outside of rush hour. Work out where you’re going in advance and allow more time than you’d expect as even major highways often only have a single lane going each way. Don’t expect much in the way of service stations (apart from fuel and perhaps a few snacks) so stock up and strap yourself in as it could be a bumpy ride. Driving your own car in Russia is an art in itself, and will require you to have your driving license from your home country translated into Russian. You’ll also require nerves of steel, and some might even say a death wish! RUSSIANS TRADITIONALLY COMPLAIN THAT THE TWO BIGGEST PROBLEMS IN THEIR COUNTRY ARE IDIOTS AND ROADS (AND SOME SAY IDIOTS WHO BUILD ROADS)! Russia boasts an impressive network of domestic flights on numerous airlines. There used to be dozens, some, tiny; with one plane running a daily service from a provincial town to Moscow and back, although the industry has consolidated considerably in recent years. The big 4 local carriers – Aeroflot, S7, Ural and Utair dominate most of the popular routes. Given the country’s size, flying is often the only way to travel, but this results in fares being expensive by international standards. Low-costers are in their infancy with the Aeroflot subsidiary ‘Pobeda’, which means ’victory’ being the only success story. Regional airports in Russia range from little more than a concrete shed, which have seen no renovation work done since communist times and to brand, spanking new buildings, such as the new Pulkovo terminal in St Petersburg, with Kazan, Irkutsk, Samara and Yekaterinburg also deserving a mention. Most provincial airports are somewhere in between, although infrastructure projects have been earmarked as priority in many cities, at long last. Even the most rundown airport should have a separate area for business class passengers (often just marked ‘VIP’ although in Central Asia it’s called ‘CIP’ – Commercially Important Person, but essentially the same thing). In some airports, such as Kazan it is in a neighbouring building and you will be bussed out to the plane separately. These zones are mainly for senior, local officials but business class travelers and those holding certain frequent flier status may also make use of them. Unlike in many business lounges throughout the world, expect to pay for some, if not all food and drink (if in doubt; ask – or don’t be surprised if you are presented with a hefty bill shortly before boarding the plane). Priority Pass is accepted at an increasing number of business lounges and some accept walk-in customers for a fee. Most domestic airlines have a business class section, although on the whole this is poor value for money for shorter hops. The Russian airline industry deservedly gets a bad press, although the larger airlines run fleets of almost exclusively foreign planes and since these are typically leased, they are required to conform to international safety standards. Even though Russia has seen an increasing number of domestic flights in the past decade, don’t automatically assume that you can fly directly from one provincial city to another. Even in Siberia the only route may be via Moscow and even if there is a direct flight, it could only operate once or twice a week and be prone to delays, especially in more remote areas where the weather can play havoc with timetables. At the time of writing, for most airlines if you check in for your flight in Russia on-line (domestic or international), you will still need to print out the boarding card. You cannot just flash your mobile phone at the security guard/immigration officer as he/she needs to stamp it to allow you through. The country’s rail network is impressive, extensive and safe. Trains always run on time and are clean, if a little on the slow side. Long distance trains have bunks for sleeping (typically in a ‘kupe’ compartment of two or four; there is also a dormitory class called ‘platskart’ which is probably best avoided if you value even a modicum of privacy) although fares can rival what you’d pay to fly now that government subsidies are being removed. If you’re not in a hurry and want to see the countryside at the same time as meeting ordinary Russians, experiencing life on the rails, practicing your Russian over an evening beer in the restaurant car, then the train is an ideal way to travel. I speak from experience as someone who journeyed as a student from Vladivostok to Moscow on the trans-Siberian back in 1994, stopping off for a few days each in Khabarovsk, Ulan-Ude, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk and Yaroslavl. Rather confusingly, ALL trains in Russia run on 42 43 Moscow time regardless of where you are, and train stations are hardly user-friendly places, especially to the uninitiated, even with some signage now in English. Fortunately tickets can be purchased via travel agencies and now online although they are printed in Russian only, and often still list the old name (ie, Sverdlovsk and Gorky for Yekaterinburg and Nizhniy Novgorod respectively) whereas the timetable at the station may use the new name. Business travelers are likely to be most interested in the Sapsan, the high-speed train that now runs several times a day between Moscow and St Petersburg and is proving to be stiff competition to the airlines on this popular route, taking a mere four hours. It has economy and business class, WiFi for all and a restaurant carriage, but has become a victim of its own success as tickets can sell out well in advance, so book early. The Sapsan now also runs from Moscow to Nizhniy Novgorod, with plans in place to extend it as far as Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, and frequencies are increasing but it still pays to book well in advance. ID is required when purchasing plane and train tickets (the exceptions are the Aeroexpress and the suburban ‘elektrichka’) and keep the same form of ID with you – preferably your passport, when you travel.


Russia still retains an annoying hangover from the Soviet period, whereby all citizens are required to register with the local authorities if spending more than three business days in a particular location (90 days, if you have an HSQ visa). If you are staying in a hotel, this will be done for you automatically; your passport will be taken away for a few moments and photocopied (some local authorities will charge you a small fee for the privilege of being in their city, although it is usually added to the final bill) sometimes it comes in the form of a stamp and a few handwritten squiggles on the back of your migration card, or it could be a separate piece of paper. It’s worth hanging on to these, just in case some overzealous, bored official decides to be particularly jobsworth and lays down the law. Gone are the days when every individual city had to be listed on your Russian visa, yet there are still certain cities and regions in Russia that require an additional permit to enter (the far-eastern province of Chukotka – where Roman Abramovich used to be the governor, is a a good example, as is Norilsk). Fortunately most of these places are extremely remote and it’s unlikely that they will be your first port of call. Many are judged to be strategic locations but it is worth enquiring with your hosts if prior permission is required – they will know if it is. As is often the case in Russia, there is a good chance that no-one will actually check whether or not you’ve registered at any stage during your trip, or even visited a restricted area. However, you could land yourself in hot water if someone decides to take a closer look (the Police have been known to inspect documents at some provincial airports and prevent you from boarding the plane if you cannot prove that you have registered). This is of course little more than a money-making scheme for them; they’re not in any hurry, but you are. The moral here is that unless you are familiar with the territory AND speak Russian, it’s better to play it safe or it could ruin your travel plans. Oh, and if you want to exit Russia smoothly, don’t lose your migration card which will be given to you as you go through passport control upon arrival. WHAT IS THE CIS? The Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS was formed in 1991 to incorporate the 15 former Soviet Republics minus the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). In practice, the CIS is effectively a loose association of states as Turkmenistan is an unofficial associate member, Georgia withdrew in 2009 and unknown to many Ukraine was never officially a formal member as it chose not to ratify the CIS Charter since it disagreed with Russia being the only legal successor of the Soviet Union. Whilst the term ‘CIS’ is preferable to expressions such ‘ex-Soviet’ and ‘Former USSR’, don’t expect colleagues back home to be familiar with it, or even know which part of the world it refers to.


If your business takes you to other former Soviet Republics, you’ll need plenty of room in your passport for additional stamps (you will be stamped both upon arrival and departure), and possibly a visa. Unless you actually need to come to Russia (thus avoiding the need for a Russian visa), you can now fly directly from Europe & the Middle East to almost all CIS countries. Turkish Airlines boast the most extensive coverage of the CIS region, flying to every CIS capital (except to Yerevan, in Armenia, for political reasons) plus other major cities, with Lufthansa also a good bet. The advantage of flying from Moscow or St Petersburg (if you are already here, or planning a trip there anyway) is that both the list of destinations and the frequency of flights is significantly greater. For example there are direct flights from Moscow to more than a dozen cities in Kazakhstan, whereas flying in from abroad typically requires a change of planes in either Almaty or Nur-Sultan. It is becoming increasingly possible to fly from one CIS country to another, although the smaller (and less significant) the country, the greater the chance of having to change planes, usually in Moscow or Istanbul. When booking flights, note that the airport IATA code will often refer to the old, Soviet name of the city – some notable examples:

St Petersburg







There are no scheduled flights between any cities in Russia and Ukraine, due to ongoing political tensions between the two countries. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change anytime soon; the standard routing is via Minsk, Warsaw or Chisinau. One option is to catch the overnight train between Moscow & Kiev if you don’t mind being woken up several times to allow the customs officials to search your bags and the immigration officers to stamp your passport.

At the time of writing, there are no direct flights between Russia and Georgia, although it is hoped that this is only a temporary measure, but you can fly via Yerevan or Baku without too much hassle. You can transit through five Russian airports (Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo & Vnukovo in Moscow, Pulkovo in St Petersburg and Koltsovo in Yekaterinburg), but you must have an onward ticket and you cannot leave the airport. Don’t try to do anything clever by attempting to fly into one Moscow airport and out of another as you won’t be allowed to do so; in fact you’ll probably be denied boarding at your original destination.


  • Visa information is subject to frequent change; please check before


Basically, all Western visitors to Russia require a visa, and these must be obtained in advance. You cannot just rock up & buy one on the border, and on top of this you will require a letter of invitation (LOI). Even if you only need to change airports, you will need a transit visa and once again, this must be obtained in advance at a Russian Embassy or Consulate.

(Leningrad) (Guriyev) (Kuybyshev) (Sverdlovsk) (Shevchenko) (Frunze) (Leninabad) LED GUW KUF SVX SCO FRU LBD

Apply early. Sure, Russian visas can be procured by wellconnected agents in a day or two, but you’ll pay through the nose for the privilege. Visas come in several forms; chiefly tourist, business, transit & employment, and their length varies from a maximum of one month for a tourist visa, to a three year work visa for ‘highly qualified specialists’ (HQS).

If you are planning on making numerous trips to Russia, it would make sense to apply for a one-year multiple-entry business visa. Bear in mind that you are only allowed to spend a maximum of 180 days per year in Russia, and a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. The point here being that you are not supposed to work on such a visa as it is aimed at businesspeople based abroad, and authorities do check (if you don’t believe me, take a look at the scanning equipment at passport control at international airports). Russian Embassies differ from country to country as to how strictly they apply the rules. In theory you are supposed to apply in your home country but this isn’t always enforced. The days when Expats living & working in Russia could hop over the border to Helsinki or Tallinn on a visa run may not be completely over, but it’s something of a lottery as to whether you’ll be lucky or turned away. Agencies can advise here but remember that they make a living by selling LOIs & their various add-on services so they are not exactly in the business of helping you to cut corners. The amount of information required when applying has increased recently, largely as a reciprocal response to Russians being required to jump through hoops to obtain certain visas. The UK is a prime example of this; since the British government insists on ALL visa applicants to the UK listing which countries they’ve recently visited and visiting a visa centre to have their fingerprints taken, the Russians decided to make Brits do the same. Unless your idea of fun is negotiating with Soviet-style consular staff (who generally look for problems rather than trying to solve them), it is highly advisable to use the services of a reputable agency for procuring visas. Granted, they don’t come cheaply – once you’ve factored in the Embassy fee, the LOI charge plus the agency’s service commission, it can run into several hundreds of dollars. However, if you value your time AND your sanity, you will trust me on this one. Every country has agencies who specialize in visas to CIS countries – almost all of these can also arrange other services that you may require, such as flights and hotel booking, airport transfers, 46 47 domestic flights, the use of an experienced interpreter whilst in Russia/CIS plus the translation of your company’s promotional materials into Russian. Avoid coming to Russia on a tourist visa if business is your primary reason for being in the country. Granted tourist visas are easier to obtain (a hotel booking should suffice, rather than an LOI), not to mention cheaper, and if you are simply attending a trade fair or a conference then you should be OK so long as you don’t do this repeatedly. However, arriving in a suit carrying a briefcase containing your firm’s promotional materials and some product samples may raise some suspicions upon arrival, and you may have some explaining to do if you are stopped. Having said that, arriving into Russia and clearing both immigration & customs is generally a fairly painless and swift experience, a world away from what it was like back in the chaotic days of the 1990s. All non-Russian and Belarusian citizens will be handed a small migration form (which is usually printed out on the spot for you at most Russian international airports); whatever you do, don’t lose it. It will be requested when you arrive at your hotel, and you will be asked to surrender it when you leave the country, regardless of what visa you are travelling on. Russia is currently in the process of implementing an e-visa scheme for selected nationalities to visit a few, specific parts of the country, namely St Petersburg (plus the surrounding Leningrad region), plus several territories in the Far East of the country. This is an attempt to boost tourist numbers, and shouldn’t be seen as a loophole for business travelers. Despite the existence of the CIS, there is no equivalent of the Schengen visa (and as for a single currency like the Euro, dream on) so you will need separate visas for visiting other, neighbouring countries. Fortunately, the entry requirements for most of these have eased up considerably in recent years. The problem is that hard facts can be difficult to source as certain CIS Embassies are particularly unhelpful and some visa agencies will try to sell you either a visa, or an LOI (or both) when in fact you no longer need one. See the individual country section 16 for more information on individual entry requirements, although the information provided should be used as a guide only, as every CIS country’s requirements vary and things can change without notice – and often do. CIS citizens may travel to each other’s countries visa free, making life easier when travelling with a Russian colleague or partner, or having a local representative in place who can simply jump on a plane at short notice. There are a few minor exceptions to the standard visa rules, such as some countries issuing visas upon arrival to citizens whose country doesn’t have an Embassy in their country. Nevertheless, in most cases you still need the LOI which needs to be pre-arranged, and you also run the risk of the airline staff not allowing you to board without a visa in your passport. Then, upon landing the consular officials may not be familiar with such procedures so expect delays. Summed up, you will save yourself a considerable amount of blood, sweat and tears by obtaining all the necessary visas in advance in your home country before you leave for a trip to the CIS, as these Embassies are more user-friendly. Oh, and before you bitch and moan about the hurdles that you have to jump over to get visas to come to Russia, spare a thought for CIS citizens when they apply for a visa to visit western countries. It can take weeks, and you often have to apply in person after having filled in pages of forms online together with copious accompanying documents. St Petersburg, Russia’s second city: St Petersburg is famous enough for cultural and historical reasons and does a considerably better job of attracting tourists than business people. Yet with a population close to 5 million, there is more to Russia’s second largest city than pretty buildings and museums. St Petersburg and the surrounding area, known as the Leningrad region (after the city’s name from Communist times) is in fact a key financial and industrial centre. Production ranges from pharmaceuticals, FMCG, medical equipment and chemicals to heavy machinery, automotive and military equipment, assisted in no small part by its strategic location giving easy access to the sea. Many international companies, particularly from Scandinavia use St Petersburg as a stepping stone into Russia and the CIS whereas others who began with Moscow have opened branch offices in St Petersburg given the city’s size and growth potential. The St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is a prestigious business event taking place every year since 1997 and brings together heads of state, political leaders, senior figures in the Russian government, and of course business people. In recent years the forum has taken on increased significance as Vladimir Putin addresses the delegates and Kremlin watchers analyze his opening speech for hints as to which direction the country may be heading. Usually held in early or mid-June, SPIEF’s key purpose is to provide an opportunity for the public and private sectors to collectively work together as one, and overcome 48 49 obstacles, which divide Russia and other nations. Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and subsequent economic sanctions imposed, SPIEF has turned into a hot potato for foreign businesspeople and politicians alike. Show up and you face being accused of endorsing Mr Putin’s ‘aggression’, yet stay away and risk missing out on big investment deals. Many have opted for a midway point of sending a less-senior person along in their place, citing ‘more important’ matters back home or elsewhere, although anyone with any interest in Russia at a senior level should at least be aware of the prestige of this event. – in English & Russian

Brand new Pulkovo airport (LED) is Russia’s 3rd busiest airport and has flights to all major cities within Russia, the CIS, and abroad. There are also frequent trains to Moscow, either on the Sapsan during the day, or overnight on a sleeper. The St Petersburg metro is Russia’s 2nd largest and an easy way to avoid the city’s traffic jams although careful if you suffer from vertigo as you descend as the stations are extremely deep. INTERMARK RELOCATION TIPS If you decide to take a job offer and move to Russia, it is easier to have a good relocation package. The key factors for a successful relocation are fast and safe moving, housing selection, leasing (or subleasing) contract agreement, and of course, visa and work permit registration. Going through this process can be excruciating and challenging experience. Based on our 26-year expertise, we selected the basic tips to make your move to Russia / CIS smooth and easy. To make it simple, we break it down into three most significant steps of any relocation – moving, home search and lease agreement. MOVING The road is always easier if you are traveling with a good map. Knowing when to get things done, and in what order, will put your mind at ease and prevent you from being overwhelmed by the details of a big move. Plan your move in advance Contact the moving specialists up to one month before you hope to leave even if you do not know exactly when the big day will be. They will tell you what they offer and what you need to plan for. This will help you organize your time and concentrate on the essentials.

Don’t pack everything yourself You can think that it’s a good way to save your money. In fact, you almost certainly would pay through the nose, as professional companies use a range of appropriate packing materials and employ trained staff to pack your things safely and in right way. And if you have antiques and artifacts with you, you will need someone with a proper experience to take a special care of it while moving. Decide what you really want to bring The less you have the cheaper it is to move. Start as early as possible and divide items into “keep”, “trash”, “recycling” and “donate”. Be ruthless! If you have not used it in a year (or forgot you even had it), then you do not need it. Another issue is import duties. Import customs duty in Russia is €4/ kg before tax. So think yourself – is it really cheaper to ship particular things and belongings from home or buy new here? HOUSING The rental market in Russia is still very young. In Soviet Russia, there were no high quality apartments or houses for rent. Nowadays, the majority of Russian people in big cities live in flats in residential blocks of different types. If you plan your relocation to Russia and are in a process of home-search, it is better to ask your HR coordinator or your relocation consultant to help selecting possible options. This will save you the trouble of contacting numerous real estate agencies, most likely complicating and duplicating the process and thus consuming your time and energy! What are the options? Most of housing options include three main types of buildings. Prerevolutionary houses are built before 1917; facilities and architectural features can be anything between beautifully decorated, reconstructed ones and shabby small houses. Stalin-era buildings mostly built in the period 1917-1950 and tend to have high ceilings, thick walls and big windows. Finally, modern buildings constructed after 1991 and favored by many expats for their good condition, security measures, underground parking and other facilities. Apartment sizes and features Most apartments even in Moscow are not very large – typically between 50 and 150 sqm. The number of rooms is an important factor influencing the price – for instance, if we take two apartments of a similar size, location and quality – the one that has more rooms will be more expensive. Smaller 50 51 apartments (up to 100 sqm) for rent are usually furnished, whereas larger ones are mostly offered for rent unfurnished. There is no defined market standard for what a furnished apartment must have, as it rather depends on the particular landlord. Renting Price We would say that rent price depends on the following key factors: location, security and parking features, standard of communal areas, infrastructure and amenities. Please keep in mind that most apartments in Russia belong to and are offered by private individual landlords who very often decide for themselves what they want to get for rent.


When signing the lease, the parties need to use all their experience to provide important matters and avoid uncertainties that could prevent the long-term cooperation. If you have questions regarding specifics of legal agreements, we recommend you to look for a professional lawyer team.

Subject of agreement

It is important to write down all details of the deal - the exact address and boundaries of the property in lease. Are you planning to rent a furnished apartment? Do not forget to include an accurate list of furniture and household items provided by your landlord under the contract in order to avoid mutual claims upon termination or expiration of your agreement in the future.

Contract duration

Most lease agreements (both company and private) are concluded for 1 year. Of course, the tenant usually has the preferred right for contract extension, but the price may be reviewed by the landlord at the extension time. Speaking of agreement’s termination, the tenant can use this option if he informs his landlord 3 months before the planned move out. The landlord can’t cease the agreement unless the tenant breaks his contract obligations.

Payment and utility bills

All clauses of the contract relating to the rent terms and its amount must be as detailed as possible. A vague description of security deposit, damage compensations order and the currency in which the tenant makes monthly rent payments threatens undesirable disputes between the parties. Therefore, we recommend working out a step-by-step procedure for assessing and reimbursing the potential damage, indicating clear deadlines and responsibility for their failure. An early discussion of utility bills order of payment will also help you avoid future problems with your landlord. It is important not only to distinguish who pays for electricity, gas, water and other utilities, but also to establish the procedure for their payment or reimbursement. Moving to Russia and CIS can be challenging, therefore organizing your relocation in advance step by step is the best way to avoid stress and any potential difficulties in the process. Following the tips listed above may help you to find your ideal place to live and find time to explore Russia in its beauty. To make the experience of relocation to a totally new destination even more exciting and safe we recommend to choose a professional relocation consultancy with full range of services and years of exceptional professional experience. 52 53 V. The selection process: Foreign assignments vs hiring locally (recruitment and HR tips, plus Russians in the workplace) and settling into life in Russia Regardless of whether your company’s operation is looking to recruit its first person to run your business in Russia or you have had an office since the early 1990s and are simply in expansion – or reduction mode, you will nonetheless need to decide on whom to hire. There are no hard or fast rules about whether an Expatriate or a local is a better bet for the top job. This depends very much on your current situation, future plans and who your target audience is, in terms of customers. SMEs usually begin by visiting a trade fair and appointing a local distributor to represent them and promote their products but as the volume of business grows they realize that they need someone on the ground. Even one or even two visits a month simply isn’t sufficient for following up on leads, especially when they are outside of Moscow. Invariably they appoint a local national who speaks the language, is familiar with the territory and has some industry contacts. Such operations tend to remain small, occasionally not progressing much beyond a single sales representative or two working from home, or based at the office of a local partner. An Expatriate posted to Russia is viewed as a trusted pair of hands who is familiar with the internal functions of the firm (often having worked there for many years in various locations) and can help to instill the corporate culture to newly hired local staff, particularly in a larger operation. The benefit is that this person is deemed as highly trustworthy and won’t have his or her own agenda. The downside is that this individual usually arrives with little or no prior knowledge of the country and has to face the standard ‘this won’t work in Russia – Russia’s different’ from his local team. Regardless of the size of your existing or planned operation, if you are considering relocating an Expatriate employee from within your firm to Russia to either set up a new office or a particular line of business, there are a number of issues that you will need to take into account before departure. If the particular employee is a stranger to the CIS region, many employers wisely recommend an initial visit, known as a ‘look-see’ trip. Even if this person has been travelling regularly to the region, there is a world of a difference between spending a few nights a month in a top-end hotel and being ferried around by the company driver to actually living in an apartment, buying food in a supermarket, riding on the metro and having to handle other day-to-day issues that may arise – anything from the landlord showing up unannounced to waking up in the winter to find your car blocked in by a snowdrift. It is also advisable to bring your spouse with you at least once, so he or she can get some idea of what they are letting themselves in for. 54 55 The last thing you need is for an expatriate assignment to be terminated after only a few months as the employee’s better half can’t settle. If you do decide to relocate someone from abroad to work in Russia/CIS, it is absolutely crucial that the person is not only suitable on paper, but is prepared for the harsh realities of life in a former communist country. Just because one of your existing employees studied Russian history at University or has Polish grandparents does NOT automatically make them a perfect fit for the role. Whilst Moscow might appear as heaven on earth for single, straight guys (see chapter 11 for all the fun you can have out-of-hours), relocating with your wife and children presents certain challenges. Granted there are some spouses who have accompanied their Corp-pat husbands across the globe and rate Moscow as one of their best experiences amongst their various assignments. But it’s not a city for the faint-hearted as it can be bitterly cold for up to six months of the year – and then there’s the language barrier. Larger companies often have somebody in the Human Resources department who assists with such moves, helping you to get settled in. One of the many reasons why Expatriates take up assignments in Russia is thanks to the low level of income tax. Russia has a flat 13%, regardless of how much you bring in, which if you are a high earner can mean a lot of extra cash in your pocket every month, especially if you’re used to giving away half of your income to the taxman back home. Then, if your accommodation is paid for by your employer, Russia can be an excellent place to save, particularly if you are paid in a currency other than Rubles, after the recent devaluation. If this person is married, then the family accompany him (and to Russia/CIS, more often than not, it is indeed a ‘he’) as his assignments take him from country to country, with the wife known as a trailing spouse – although some firms prefer the more politically correct term, a ‘supporting spouse’. WHAT IS A ‘TRAILING SPOUSE’? The majority of large, multinational corporations like to maintain a modicum of control by sending in expatriates in for a few, key roles (usually the General Manager and/or the Finance Director). Many trailing spouses are comfortable with this arrangement as it allows them the opportunity to experience living amongst several different cultures although it does mean moving on very few years, sometimes when you’ve just found your feet. Finding somewhere to live in Moscow isn’t as easy as one might think; a shortage of living space in general pushes up prices to eye-watering levels. Even with the recent economic downturn there is a shortage of decent properties to rent at the high end and prices haven’t fallen by anywhere near as much as one might expect. This means that the market continues to favour landlords who conveniently (for them) are able to some extent dictate not only prices, but also terms of lease. Some trailing spouses find themselves in a dilemma when the husband is on a one-off assignment and his better half – who may well have a career of her own back home, has to give everything up to join him. Employment opportunities for trailing spouses in Russia are limited, largely due to lack of relevant experience and language skills, although many such ladies have kept themselves busy through a combination of charity and volunteer work. There are numerous real estate companies who will help you navigate this labyrinth and can advise as to the best areas for families, or closest to one’s office. For this you will pay a finders’ fee of at least one month’s rent, sometimes more, but then your agent effectively disappears and leaves you to it. Some are also able to arrange mini tours of Moscow, showing you round the various areas of the city so you can see for yourself before committing to a particular place. An English-speaking person (possibly even a long-term Expat) will accompany you with a driver and offer advice specific to your needs, which might include checking out the school where you plan for your children to attend. The range and quality of schools in Moscow has increased enormously in recent years, even though the better ones come at a price. With the recent exodus of many Expats, even the international schools may have a significant proportion of local children from wealthier families although this can help with your child’s assimilation to Russia. HIRING (& FIRING) LOCAL STAFF Some tips and advice for when hiring in Russia: Be clear about whom you want to hire, when and why, and avoid changing the job description mid-search. Be ready to make a quick decision – if you think you’ve found the right candidate, make an offer. If not, don’t be surprised if a week later your star candidate has already started another job with a rival firm. Notice periods in Russia are typically two weeks, so ensure that everything is ready for your new person to start. If you need to send your new person on a training course abroad, a 56 57 visa will almost certainly be required and this may take several weeks, so prepare for this in advance. Just because someone calls themselves a ‘manager’ doesn’t mean that they actually manage any people – job titles can be both misleading and inflated compared to what you are used to in your home country. Similarly, someone who calls themselves a ‘Director’ may not be anywhere as senior as you might think. Job titles and one’s status in general are important to Russians, and many will start their careers earlier, typically while they are still studying so a University graduate often comes with several years’ experience. Russians expect to be promoted more quickly than in the West, so when during an interview a candidate asks what the career path is, what they really mean is how long will it take for me to get promoted. Unemployment in Moscow is still relatively low by Western standards, and there is a severe shortage of English-speaking, customer-facing, presentable, pro-active people on the market. Don’t assume that you can just fly in and cherry-pick the best people for your organization, especially if your operation is in its early stages as Russians are relatively risk-averse to such ‘start-ups’, regardless of how large your operations are in other markets. Hard facts regarding pay scales can be hard to come by due to frequent economic changes, so any global salary data that you may have is often out of date before it’s even printed. Be flexible and be prepared to go outside of your bands for a strong person. Contrary to rumours you may have heard, relatively few companies index Ruble salaries against Dollars or Euros. Candidates generally expect a MINIMUM of a 20% uplift when changing jobs, regardless of how well the economy is faring. During tougher times it can in fact be MORE difficult to coax the best employees away so be prepared for greater increases than you would back home. Just because someone isn’t working at the moment doesn’t mean that they were fired, made redundant or are just plain lazy. Few Russians have mortgages or rent, so taking a month or three off work to spend the summer at the dacha isn’t viewed particularly negatively by prospective employers in Russia. 20% Russians aged under 30 will have no memory of the Soviet era and will only have heard rose-tinted stories from elderly relatives who recall the ‘good, old days’. Don’t expect Generations X & Y to have much, if any knowledge of this era. Even if someone is really keen to work for you, they probably won’t show it. Russians believe that demonstrating too much motivation during an interview makes them come across as desperate, so expect candidates to be ‘matter-of-fact’ about their achievements. Telephone interviews are not common in Russia. This might be the biggest country in the world but people meet face-to-face. Obviously if a line manager is based abroad then there may be no option but whereas no-one ever fully does themselves justice over the phone, this is particularly the case with Russians. Skype interviews are a good compromise in such cases. However, wherever possible avoid the need to fly a candidate abroad for an interview as this will severely delay the interview process, and for the same reason try not to have too many people based remotely involved in the decision-making process. Candidates in Russia/CIS generally quote their salaries monthly in local currency (unless otherwise indicated) and may give you the ‘net’ amount, which means after income tax has been deducted. If in any doubts, double-check as it’ll save you a lot of hassle down the line during the offer process, and don’t expect everybody to be familiar with terms such as OTE (On-Target Earnings) since bonus schemes can be rather fluid, particularly in Russian organizations. The office environment differs from back home in a number of ways, chiefly that Russians view work as a place to go, rather something that they actually do. The office is traditionally a place where trusted friendships are made, and even romances formed. The idea that people can work from home is a relatively new concept; when hiring people one of their first questions may be ‘where is your office located’? This is changing slowly, but flats are small so it’s not a case of simply converting a spare room into a mini-office at home as almost nobody has the luxury of so much space (many families sleep in the living room; the sofa converts into a bed at night). Therefore, be flexible about renting an instant office, or asking your local partner/distributor to find your person a desk if you are still in set-up mode. It is usual for Russians to hire family members, relatives and close friends, which is viewed as helping out trusted relatives. X Y Z 58 59 Russians see this as common sense, keeping control. Perhaps strangely, Russians seem happy to openly discuss their current salary with colleagues (so they will know if they are being over, or underpaid), friends and family. Even if you put a confidentiality clause into their contract, you cannot legally enforce it, and the same goes for a non-compete clause. ‘Gardening leave’ doesn’t exist, unless there is a gentlemen’s agreement, althoungh this is not common. Firing Do take advice from your legal and/or HR people if you need to let any of your employees go, regardless of the reason (underperformance, redundancy, etc). The Russian labour code is heavily weighted in favour of the employee so a director firing someone on the spot in a fit of rage is likely to end up paying for this dearly (both figuratively and in the financial sense) if the case does go legal. Ensure that you have everything in writing, fully documented and signed by both parties as e-mails do not (yet) constitute a legal document in a court of law. One trump card on the employer’s side is that every employee in Russia still has a labour book (trudovaya knizhka) which is a physical book that is kept by the company. Since no employee wants evidence that they were fired in this little book, most dismissals are settled ‘by mutual consent’ when both parties agree on a fixed amount for the contract to be terminated.

VI. Behavioral differences faced by Expats in Russia/CIS 60 61 Do’s and don’ts Don’t schedule early morning appointments unless they are with other foreigners. Moscow might be a 24-hour city but Russians don’t do mornings. Many offices don’t begin work until at least 10:00am, preferring to burn the midnight oil, which works in your favor given the time difference with Europe or North America. Breakfast meetings are not common in Russia; if you suggest meeting at seven thirty or eight, chances are that a Russian will think you mean seven thirty or eight in the evening, not morning. On this subject, don’t automatically assume that Russians are familiar with acronyms such as GMT, BST, CET, let alone EST & PST. Moscow and St Petersburg are three hours ahead of GMT, but Russia has experimented with not putting the clocks backwards/ forwards so the difference is sometimes two or three hours ahead for half of the year. Do double check as this is particularly vulnerable to change, and the same goes for other CIS countries. Finally, if you have operations in Siberia or the Far East of Russia, they will be many more time zones ahead of Europe; do take this into account before sending out an invitation for a regional conference call. Additionally, do expect Russians to take what you say at face value. ‘Call me anytime’ might sound like you’re simply being polite, but this could result in you being rung up on a Sunday morning, or at 10pm on a weekday evening (which incidentally isn’t considered late in Russia). Do re-confirm any appointments that you previously set up weeks or even days ago, the day before, or (even better) on the day of the meeting itself. Given the somewhat ad hoc nature of Russian business and the fast paced environment, it’s considered quite normal for meetings to be set up, moved or cancelled at the last minute. This can be done via the company reception or the person’s secretary if you don’t feel comfortable disturbing the person themselves. Reconfirming a meeting is known as a ‘kontrol’ny zvonok’, or a confirmation call. It is also a useful way of ensuring that a propusk has been ordered for you to enter the building, and if it hasn’t, it can be done at this point & will save you time upon arrival as security guards can become flustered when people arrive ‘unannounced’, particularly non-Russians. DO remember to bring some photo ID with you, preferably your passport or driving license or else your meeting may end up taking place in the office reception area. Don’t send a Russian an e-mail asking if you can telephone them in several days’ time (unless of course if it is a lengthy conference call or a telephone interview); just call them. If they are busy, they will tell you and you can quickly agree a time that works for both of you. Interrupting people isn’t really an issue on the phone – worst case, they won’t answer or their mobile will be switched off. Then you can e-mail them. Russians are not voicemail fans; few landlines and even fewer mobiles have this function, and even fewer Russians still will actually check them; if you don’t/can’t get through, it’s fine to send an SMS. On this subject, if you are from North America and you want a Russian to call you back, it would be helpful to add the +1 dialing code to the beginning of your number. Do bring a large stack of business cards with you, several times more than you think you’ll need. Invariably you will be introduced to additional people than those you were expecting to meet, such as other colleagues, partners or customers – be liberal when handing them out. Remember that coming to Russia without business cards is rather like going to a bar back home with no money. You’ll probably get a drink eventually, somehow, but you’ll struggle to be taken seriously. Even better if you can get them printed in Russian on the reverse side. Do greet people upon arrival at an office or business centre, although if you say ‘hello’ to somebody more than once per day, they will think that you forgot that you saw them earlier that day! Don’t believe everything that you read in the international media about Russia – come and find out for yourself. Chat to some Expats who’ve been in town for a while (not just those working for a multinational, blue-chip organisation, but also to those running their own businesses). They will give you more realistic insights into what’s going on than you’ll see on CNN or the BBC and you’ll see that it’s not all bad news by any means. Do take advice from people who have ‘been there and done it’, rather than people who think they have. ‘Yeah, I know all about Russia, I met this Bulgarian guy once who told me about it’ is similar to thinking you can become an astronaut after watching a few episodes of Star Trek. Don’t for a moment think that you are a pioneer just because you are embarking on your first trip to Russia. Sure, it’ll be cool to discuss with your friends in your local pub but Russia has been open to all for three decades. Do come out with a healthy dose of patience and a sense of humour, then explain to your head office that they need to learn to be comfortable with ambiguity. ! 62 63 Why Russians Don’t Smile? Alla Anastos D.M.D. – Dental Director at US Dental Care, Implantologist There are many explanations to why Russians don’t smile much. Most of them are based on the commonly accepted fact that smile in Russian communication is not a signal of courtesy. Russian smile is a sign of personal liking, sincere attitude and feelings, and not politeness. As the Dental Director at US Dental Care (Moscow) – a family oriented clinic that has been providing professional dental services by American Board Certified & Russian dentists since 1994 – I would also add another reason. In the USA, for example, people tend to take care of their teeth in advance, regularly do cleaning and check up. In Russia the situation is different. There is no such established culture. Sometimes patients come with very complicated cases, literally with no teeth and leave the clinic with a perfect smile. Numerous patients are actually shy to smile. We offer all kinds of general and cosmetic dentistry for such patients. Here, at US Dental Care, we strongly believe that preventive care is the key to dental health and a good smile. VII. Cultural differences, Russian superstitions & timekeeping 64 65 Contrary to how it may first appear, Russians are generally much more emotional than Westerners, and sometimes make decisions that on the surface can appear irrational to those of us with a more pragmatic mindset. (Russians think that emotionless, logical decisionmaking & long-term planning is plain boring). Emotions are much more likely to affect a Russian when making a decision than foreigners, who tend to take a more pragmatic approach. Changing jobs is a good example: a case in point is a candidate who has received a job offer that he plans to accept. All he has to do is formally resign, work out his notice period of two weeks and then start in his new company. Then along comes the counter-offer, when his existing employer faced with a valued employee walking out of the door, realizing that it will take considerable time, effort & money to replace this individual assume that it is better and easier to simply tell the guy how much you value him and offer him more cash to stay put. Back home we would rightly assume ‘if you thought I was that great, why didn’t you pay me this extra amount before’!? However, Russians are more likely to take an emotional view of the situation, thinking ‘wow, they not only love me but they’re even prepared to pay me more money – of course I’ll stay where I am’. The fact that the key reasons for wanting to change jobs in the first place were probably not money-related (evidence shows that people usually begin a job search for almost any other reason, be it that they don’t like the job itself, the office is too far from their home, they don’t see any potential promotion on the horizon, or – and this is the most common reason, that they simply don’t get on with their boss) fades away. Statistics reflect the truth that around 70% of people worldwide who accept a counter-offer leave within six months anyway as money wasn’t the main driver. Add to this the fact that as you’ve already demonstrated your loyalty (or rather, lack of it), some firms will pay you more to stay on, then quietly seek a replacement, and as soon as they have one lined up, will then give you the grand order of the boot. Be warned – as an employer, counter-offering is counter-productive (pardon the pun), and as an employee, accepting a counter-offer may seem like a wise move in the short term but definitely not a long term solution. Taking things personally is a very Russian trait – known as ‘obida’ (offence) and affects the way people work, particularly in sales. Russians are extremely reluctant to do anything that could be construed as unsolicited, such as making cold calls due to their fear of rejection which they will take to heart, almost as a personal insult. Add to this the fact that under communism nobody sold anything, and nobody bought anything either (at least not in the B2B sense) so Russia lacks a general sales culture. Concepts such as cross-selling and up-selling are alien to all but the most savvy salespeople. Don’t just show up assuming that it’s second nature because making a profit under communism was a crime that only evil capitalists committed (in theory at least). Networking for business or career purposes as we know it is not well established, and many Russians feel uncomfortable approaching people whom they haven’t met before in a non-social environment. Don’t expect too much from your staff here, and any guidance you can provide ought to prove invaluable. SUPERSTITIONS Even fully grown men will adhere to Russian superstitions – foreigners will be forgiven for any faux pas but it’s always useful to be aware some of the better known ones: In the workplace, Russians may be reluctant to forecast sales projections as they are worried that even mentioning it to someone before it is completed might jinx it (‘sglazit’), so you may find yourself having to ask more questions than you expected to get to the bottom of a project or sales campaign that is still in the pipeline. Similarly women may not announce that they are pregnant until several months into their pregnancy. Russians believe that it’s bad luck to shake hands, or in fact pass anything through the threshold of a door. If you leave home (or any building) and realize that you have forgotten something, it’s considered bad luck to return to fetch it. However, this can be atoned by looking in the mirror on the way out. Empty bottles should be placed on the floor, not left on the table (in practice this tends to happen in the home as one would expect the waiter in a restaurant to clear the empties – although in places where the service is a little on the slow side, you may see Russian guests doing this automatically). Celebrating Birthdays – or in fact any holiday or anniversary in advance of the actual date is considered bad luck. If someone’s Birthday falls on the weekend, colleagues at work would. celebrate it on the Monday afterwards, unlikely on the Friday before. Fortieth Birthdays are rarely celebrated as this date is considered unlucky. 66 67 If you step on someone’s foot by accident, you should let them step on your foot in return to avoid any future arguments – although this rule doesn’t apply on public transport. When giving flowers – and this is a ritual in Russia, be sure that the bouquet contains an odd number; an even number is for funerals. Flower sellers will know this but you would be wise to count as they may not know what occasion you are buying flowers for! Whistling inside any building deprives you of money. Sitting at the corner of the table means that you won’t get married (although this only applies to women, apparently). TIMEKEEPING There is a Russian expression ‘Pyat minut ne opazdanie’ (Five minutes doesn’t constitute being late), and given the traffic jams that you face in Moscow, this is understandable. Schedules are rather more fluid in Russia than in the West so showing up ten or even twenty minutes late is unlikely to raise many eyebrows, although it is considered courteous to call in advance and let them know that you’re en route, but stuck in traffic. A word of warning; meetings with senior government officials are likely to begin on time so it would be seen as bad form to arrive late. Even if they do show up late themselves, they will expect you to have arrived on time! Given the unpredictable nature of the traffic on the roads in Moscow, you should allow much more time for getting to meetings, particularly in the winter when snow and ice slow things down. Arriving early isn’t an issue, and in any case it can take time to actually get into a building as documents need to be checked, and in more remote locations the security staff may be unfamiliar with having foreign guests visiting and therefore may have difficulty deciphering your name on your ID if it isn’t written in Russian. This process at some larger state organizations can take a surprisingly long time (the overmanned security department need to justify their existence somehow, and some firms believe that this is part of their grandiose image, in the same way that an Oligarch surrounds himself with several bodyguards), and even longer if a propusk hasn’t been ordered for you. There is still a degree of paranoia about non-Russians visiting large, state-run companies and ordering a propusk could in fact take several days. Consequently if a meeting has been scheduled at short notice, or you are bringing along an additional colleague, it may be more convenient – and in some cases necessary, to meet in a nearby café or restaurant. Alternatively, if you have a local office in a convenient location, you can always invite your counterparts to your premises, it would be more convenient – and in some cases necessary, to meet in a nearby café or restaurant. Alternatively, if you have a local office in a convenient location, you can always invite your counterparts to your premises. Addresses can be a little deceiving as well as confusing. Since many new buildings have sprung up in recent years, rather than re-number all the existing buildings, the authorities chose a different tactic: adding additional numbers and letters, and there may be little logic as to the actual order. Google maps, SatNavs & their equivalents have assisted to a large extent, but again, allow additional time if the address looks ‘funny’. Bureaucracy continues to be the one of the greatest obstacles to running an efficient business in Russia. Basic tasks such as purchasing insurance or registering your car which in the West can be done on-line or by telephone often require a personal visit and probably during the working day. Applying for a new passport will require the holder to submit their documents in person, and this may involve a trip to the town where they are formally registered. While such procedures are slowly becoming simplified, often there is often no getting around having to take time off for such matters, and your flexibility (& understanding) will be required. Russians have a tendency to leave things until the last minute so don’t expect a little to be done each day or week unless you specifically arrange a call/meeting to discuss progress. Better still, set the deadline for the project much earlier than necessary to be on the safe side. Dress to impress – smart business attire is very much the order of the day (ie, suit, white shirt AND tie for men, skirt or dress for women), and you would be wise to err on the side of conservative, especially when meeting with government officials. It’s best to leave the pink shirt and the loud ties back in your wardrobe at home although the younger generation are more open to less formal styles. Casual Friday is becoming more popular but is not particularly widespread even though more men are now opting for the open collar & no tie look. 68 69 VIII. Language Language barriers and deciphering names Moscow is NOT Dubai, Hong Kong or Singapore, where the business language is English. In Russia and many CIS countries, the business language is Russian. The number of Englishspeakers is certainly on the increase, but don’t expect or assume that everyone speaks English, even in Moscow as outside of grade-A offices, most don’t know more than the basics. Russian is spoken as a first or second language by approximately 300 million people throughout the world, although around 95% of these reside within the borders of the former Soviet Union, and some people’s fluency in Russian in certain CIS countries is now open to question. Large numbers of students came to the Soviet period especially during the 1970s and 1980s from fellow communist countries, as the education system was considered not only prestigious but was more advanced than where they were from. Subsequently Asians (Vietnamese, North Koreans, Mongolians, Chinese, Cambodians and even some from Laos), Arabs (Yemenis, Syrians and Egyptians), Africans (Ethiopians were numerous although a surprising number came from places such as Benin, Mali or Guinea Bissau) and of course Cubans returned home with a degree and in many cases a Russian wife too, continuing the language tradition. The Eastern Bloc countries were generally resistant to the teaching of the Russian language as it was forced upon them, although thanks to being in the same linguistic group, some Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians and citizens of the former Yugoslavia, many people there – especially the older generation still retain some knowledge even if they claim to have ‘forgotten’ everything they learnt in school. Romania and Hungary are the exceptions – knowledge of Russian there will get you close to nowhere. You will also find many Russians speakers in countries where immigrants have congregated, such as the USA and Israel. Many (although by no means all) of these people are Soviet Jews who left during communist rule, or at the very end of the Soviet Union. Add to this the estimated several million non-Jews who have emigrated in the past generation, mostly to the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and Germany, the latter often being ‘Volga Germans’ who claim to retain some German roots. In fact, most first world cities will now have a diaspora of Russian speakers, ranging from some who have immigrated to others who are they for a shorter period, typically for work or study. So Russian is a more widely spoken language than it may first appear, spoken by many nationalities throughout the globe and therefore Russians are not surprised when they hear non-Russians 70 71 speaking Russian. Nevertheless they are not accustomed to Westerners being familiar with their language for the simple reason that so few actually are even able to hold a simple conversation, let alone master it. The majority of Expats in Russia are either on a business trip, a short-term project or a fixed term contract of 3-4 years whilst being confined to mixing with fellow nationals during their entire stay. They live a stone’s throw away from their downtown Moscow office where the staff speak at least some English, or in a compound filled with other foreigners. Even their driver knows enough to get them around, so it’s no surprise that they rarely pick up more than a few phrases since as soon as their time is up, they know that they’ll be posted elsewhere (or sent back home). Therefore it’s no surprise that few make more than a token effort, despite some starting out with the best of intentions upon arrival. To begin with, Russian is a tricky language with a fiendishly complex grammar – there are 108 different endings for regular nouns, and whilst the number of exceptions might not quite outweigh those that follow the rules, it sure feels like it to anyone trying to memorise them. Even a dedicated student taking daily lessons over a three year period (plus interaction with locals inside and outside of the office) is unlikely to get much past conversational/intermediate level. There are however a few bright spots. Unlike English, which is fairly basic to begin with, but gets harder the further you advance, Russian actually does become easier once you’ve hit a certain point – the difficulty is that disappointingly few ever reach that level. Russian is phonetic, meaning that letters are pronounced as you see them. Once you’ve mastered the Cyrillic alphabet, you can now read Russian. Pity foreigners trying to read British place names, such as Leicester, Slough, Worcester or Loughbrough! Additionally there are fewer regional variations to Russians, so what you hear in Kamchatka will be almost identical to what is spoken in Kaliningrad, Kalmykia or even Kazakhstan. There are minor regional dialects, such as Muscovites drawling their ‘o’ to sound more like ‘a’ so their city sounds more like ‘Maaaskvah’ but compared to how people from Scotland, Texas, Liverpool, South Africa, Jamaica and Birmingham speak English, difference in accents throughout the CIS are nominal. And it may also come as a surprise to hear that the Russian language is extremely standardized, given the country’s vast size and varied ethnic groups. What you’ll hear from all walks of life is almost identical, especially when you compare it to how differently an Australian miner and a London Newsreader would communicate. Please don’t take this as a sign that you shouldn’t bother to even try to learn Russian – quite the opposite! It will make your life a whole lot easier if you can actually read the street signs (many of which are in Cyrillic only) and can communicate with taxi drivers, staff in shops, ticket offices and some provincial hotels, where you will be lucky if even basic English is spoken. Russians will always be impressed if you’ve taken the time & effort to learn a few words and phrases of their language (even if you have to switch into English quite quickly) and will invariably be more helpful than if you just start off straight away in English. Although each CIS Republic has its own official language, Russian remains very much the language of business, politics and academia throughout the region, rather like English on the Indian subcontinent or French throughout much of West Africa. Although there has been some anti-Russian sentiment coupled with a growth in homegrown nationalism in a few countries, most non-Russian peoples of the CIS will only be too happy to speak to you in Russian (particularly if they know that you are not Russian). If you look Caucasian and speak Russian fluently then it may even be assumed that you ARE Russian. Russian, especially spoken Russian uses considerably fewer words than English, so saying ‘there is a cup of tea on the table’ in Russian would simply be ‘na stole – chai’, literally ‘on table – tea’. So when Russians speak English they may sound more abrupt than they mean to, and non Russian-speaking foreigners who hear Russians talking to each other could be forgiven for thinking that they are always arguing. However, written texts in Russian are often much wordier than they are in English. During conversations, be prepared to hear ‘sorry for interrupting’ and the person will continue speaking. Tune into a Russian live debate show on TV and you’ll get the idea! An example of a cultural and linguistic misunderstanding: a European company was looking to hire a General Manager for their Moscow office and decided to meet the first candidate faceto-face one morning in their hotel during a business trip to Moscow. ‘Vladimir’ was introduced to the Europeans and was asked if he would like to join them for breakfast. Vladimir simply answered ‘no’! What Vladimir 72 73 actually meant was ‘no to breakfast’ as he’d presumably eaten at home before the interview as he simply expecting an interview in the hotel lobby, perhaps over a cup of tea, not a full breakfast. Of course the correct answer would have been something along the lines of ‘well, I wasn’t expecting breakfast so I ate at home but I’d love to join you for a coffee!’ but this is rather long winded for Russians. Vladimir certainly didn’t mean to be rude, but the Europeans took this as a blunt rejection and not surprisingly Vladimir didn’t get the job. The moral here is that Russians don’t use wishy-washy expressions such as ‘not really’ when in fact they mean ‘no’, especially if their English isn’t great. Russians tend to read and write English much better than they speak it, largely due to the education system in Russia, coupled with a lack of general practice. Therefore, when speaking to Russians in English, avoid excessive use of slang of colloquialisms; best to park them on the back burner, if you catch my drift or else you could be barking up the wrong tree. Without wanting to sound condescending, stick to plain, easy to comprehend English, especially if you have a strong accent (Russians tell me that the Scottish are particularly difficult to understand). An example – in English, we say ‘yes, it is’, or ‘no, it isn’t’ whereas in Russian it is perfectly acceptable to say ‘yes, it isn’t’ or ‘no, it is’. And whereas Russians generally give shorter answers, this leads to situations where yes means no, or vice versa. Don’t be afraid to question anything that you are not sure about, especially if you don’t hear the answer that you are looking for. It’s best not to ask ‘do you mind doing’ as Russians will answer ‘yes’, meaning that ‘no, they don’t mind’! Bear in mind that if a Russian hasn’t understood you, it is highly unlikely that he or she will actually say so and ask you to repeat or explain - this is the Asian side of Russians; not wanting to lose face by admitting that they didn’t get it first time. Add to this the issue that Russians rarely volunteer information that they consider to be in the slightly bit superfluous, so expect to ask more questions that normal to get the required answer. The patronymic name is used in formal documents as well as when addressing older and/or more senior Russians (note that ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ plus the person’s surname is not common in Russia). Younger people, and especially those who consider themselves to be more international generally omit the patronymic in everyday situations, such as on business cards. Surnames (called ‘familiya’ in Russian) end in ‘ov’, ‘skiy’ or ‘in’ for men, and ‘ova’, ‘skaya’ or ‘ina’ for women. Also common are surnames ending in ‘ich’, ‘ko’ and ‘iuk’ especially for people of Ukrainian or Belarusian descent, for either sex. Surnames of Armenian origin almost always end in ‘yan’ and Georgian in either ‘vili’ or ‘adze’, for either sex. In formal documents, such as passports Russians begin with their surname followed by the name and then their patronymic. On business cards and on CVs however, they often put their name followed by their surname – but not always. Do note that there is no perfect way to transliterate Cyrillic into Latin so you will come across several spellings of the same name, such as Sergei or Sergey, Ludmila or Lioudmila and Evgeny or Yevgeniy. You will also find that some Russians have ‘Westernised’ their names, especially if they have lived abroad as they assume it makes life easier for non-Russians. Examples include Helen for Elena, Julia for Yulia, Kate or Catherine for Ekaterina and Eugene for Evgeny. Both Alexander and Alexei just shorten to Alex. Some pronunciation tips: The letter ‘e’ in Russian is typically pronounced as ‘yeh’ (especially at the beginning of the word) so Elena would be pronounced as Yel-yena and Evgeny as Yev-geny. Also, unstressed ‘o’ is pronounced more like ‘ah’ (especially in & around Moscow) so Oleg would call himself Ah-lyeg. Here are some of the more common first names, together with the more colloquial form – which isn’t necessarily shorter. The best advice would be to stick to the full form unless introduced, or otherwise asked to use the more familiar form (much as you would do in English). RUSSIAN NAMES Have you ever wondered why Natalia and Natasha can be the same person, yet Alexander and Alexey are not? Is Valery really a man’s name? Which way around do Russians write their names and what on earth is a patronymic, anyway?! To make life a little easier, here is a guide to Russian names. Which way around do Russians write their names and what on earth is a patronymic, anyway?! To make life a little easier, here is a guide to Russian names. In Western countries we typically have a first name, a surname with perhaps one or more middle names. Russians have a first name, a patronymic and a surname. MY NAME IS 74 75 Fortunately for newcomers, there are around twenty first names (called ‘imya’ in Russian) for the bulk of the population – a list of the most common names, plus the shortened version is given below. A patronymic name (called ‘otchestvo’ in Russian) is basically the person’s father’s name with – ovich (or sometimes –evich) for males, and –ovna (or sometimes –evna) for females. So Andrei whose father is Vladimir would be Andrei Vladimirovich and Tatiana whose father is Alexander would be Tatiana Alexandrovna. MALE FEMALE Full Alexander Alexey Artyom Boris Dmitriy Evgeniy Fyodor Gennady Georgiy Ivan Konstantin Mikhail Maxim Pavel Roman Sergei Stanislav Timur Valentin Valery Victor Vladimir Vladislav Vyacheslav Yuriy Full Alexandra Anastasia Anna Daria Ekaterina Elena Elizaveta Evgeniya Galina Irina Ksenia Liliya Ludmila Lyubov Margarita Maria Nadezhda Natalia Olga Polina Sofiya Svetlana Tatiana Valentina Valeriya Victoria Yuliya

Lyera Vika Yulia Sasha Lyosha Tyoma Borya Dima Zhenya Fedya Gena Gosha Vanya Kostya Misha Max Pasha Roma Seryozha Stas Tima Valya Valera Vitya Volodya or Vova

(not Vlad)

Vlad Slava Yura Sasha Nastia Anya Dasha Katya Lena Liza Zhenya Galya Ira Ksyusha Lilya Lyuda or Mila Lyuba Rita Masha Nadya Natasha Olya Polya Sonya Sveta Tanya Valya Shortened Shortened 76 77 IX. Doing business part 1 First impressions, breaking the ice and general corporate etiquette in the office You don’t need to be a genius to work out that the Russian economy remains heavily dependent on natural resources, and in particular, oil & gas. Vladimir Putin’s ascent to power coincided with a rise in the price of what comes out of the ground, thanks to a combination of factors, ranging from increased demand (helped in no small part by massive production output in neighbouring China). These petrodollars have funded unprecedented economic growth since the start of the twentieth century following the Ruble default in August 1998, which battered the economy. The main blip was the crash of early 2009 although Russia’s economy rebounded much more quickly than western markets. However, the dual shock of the fall in the world price of oil, coupled with international sanctions in 2014, plus a general negative view of Russia caused the economy to fall into a recession from which is has yet to fully emerge. The profits used from the sale of Russia’s resources fueled this growth, and living standards have risen substantially over the past two decades. Skeptics naturally questioned how sustainable this economic model is in even the medium term, since not only are there huge opportunities for grand-scale theft from the state budget, there has been little incentive to produce much, let alone innovate or reform loss-making industries. Much easier just to buy stuff from abroad, and the response is now a loud ‘I told you so’, even if the State prefers to blame outside interference for economic difficulties. Critics claim that this is the whole point, that it is corruption which keeps the system intact. There is a Russian expression from communist times: ‘Ryba gneyot s golovy’ which loosely translates as ‘a fish rots from the head downwards’ meaning that the corruption begins at the top, which still applies today. Too few state enterprises have been sufficiently reformed to be able to compete with either cheaper goods from China, or better quality products from more established European, North American or Far Eastern countries. There are large numbers of oneindustry towns in Russia which are heavily over-staffed and the standard of their output is questionable at best. They are kept afloat by government subsidies as well as trade barriers that make some imported goods prohibitively expensive. Such practices ought to be coming to an end now that Russia has joined the WTO but progress is slow. Regardless of what you think of the people in the Kremlin, for those enterprising foreign business people, the lack of decent, 78 79 locally produced goods (and services) creates ample opportunities for their companies who want to export to Russia. Russians like brands and are prepared to pay a premium for what they perceive to be quality; the mark-ups in shops can be horrendous when compared to what you would pay for the same items in Western Europe or North America. Starbucks wasn’t nicknamed ‘Ten Bucks’ for nothing. In short, Russians like expensive, which they perceive to be associated with high quality, Russians like things for free (known as ‘khalyava’ in Russian), but they don’t like cheap. Bottom line is that whilst the average Russian consumer is certainly becoming more price-conscious, low-end is viewed as shoddy, particularly in Moscow. One interesting feature of the retail trade is the arrival of promotions and discounts, something which hadn’t existed until fairly recently. The past few years have seen living standards remain static, so Russian consumers have become savvier, and more cost-concious. As a rule however, Russians don’t see the logic of saving money for a rainy day . There is not much of a culture of putting money aside for the future, and with good reason; large numbers of people saw their entire life savings effectively rendered virtually worthless with the onset of hyperinflation at the end of the Soviet Union. Then again after the default of 1998, rampant inflation resulted in many financial institutions going bankrupt and once again wiping out just about everything that wasn’t held in hard currencies. Certainly some trust in the banking system has been regained but the culture of spending what you have as soon as you get it remains. Note how many lower-end employees withdraw their entire month’s salary from the nearest ATM machine as soon as they receive it. Under communism if you didn’t buy it today, it almost certainly wouldn’t be there tomorrow, and this trait among Russians remains to this day even if shortages are a thing of the past. Add to this the fact that Russians’ outgoings (only a minority of Russian rent, have a mortgage or even have bank loan repayments) are small as even utility payments are nominal, especially by Western standards. Therefore you have a country full of people with disposable incomes who cannot buy everything that they want made locally, so the door for manufacturers from abroad opens up. Summed up in a sentence, Russians do business face-to-face, with whom they like, and with whom they trust. It’s not about having the flashiest presentation, or even the best product – what Russians want you to demonstrate is that you are taking them, their company and their country seriously. You may be surprised to hear that cost efficiency might not be your prospective customer’s main interest. Regardless of how big, profitable, impressive and well-branded your company is back home, or in other markets, the Russians that you meet will primarily be interested in what you have achieved so far in Russia itself, what you are currently doing and what your future plans are. It goes without saying that nobody enters a market with the intention of leaving but companies have arrived in Russia with the best of intentions, only to shut up shop after the global HQ changed their business strategy and decided to focus on other markets. The ‘legacy’ that they left behind hinders others, new entrants as it is often, regrettably assumed that they are only here for the good times. Whilst naturally you will want to maximize the time you spend in the country, especially if you only visit once or twice a quarter, one word of caution – avoid trying to cram in as many meetings as possible in a short trip. Russians are not usually as pressed for time as Westerners claim to be, and if they have taken the trouble to meet you, allow them the courtesy of a decent meeting. Usually you will find that the serious talking gets done first, and once business is taken care of, then you can move in to some lighter conversation. The people that you meet will no doubt be interested to hear how you like Russia, your impressions, whether or not it is your first visit and how you find their country. Avoid being negative – Russians are all too aware of their country’s shortcomings and will happily bitch about it, but will be deeply offended if they hear it from you, and will take it as a personal insult. As a result, expectations can be lower, summed up by the expression ‘pyerviy blin vsegda komom’ (the first pancake always comes out lumpy) so if things don’t go according to plan immediately, it might not be the end of the world for you. The exceptions to the rule about moaning are the weather, and the traffic – which everybody complains about continuously. Sport in general and football (soccer) in particular is a good topic for conversation as Russian men enjoy watching the top European leagues, and you can never go wrong with holidays and families, as is the case throughout the world. 80 81 Men will always shake hands with each other, although women do less often, particularly with each other. Don’t worry about initial awkward silences, and don’t feel that you have to talk just for the sake of it. Business meetings tend to be quite formal affairs, particularly in the early stages when you are dealing with people who don’t know much about you. Chances are that they will warm to you if they like both you as a person and your proposal, but instant chemistry isn’t common. The Russian equivalent of ‘breaking the ice’ is ‘melting the ice’. Whereas Russians aren’t particularly bothered if you show up a little late for a meeting, it is considered rude to abruptly finish a meeting that is in full flow (or even during the non business related conversation at the end) as you are rushing out to the next meeting. Russians are likely to consider such behavior as bad mannered, assuming that you are only interested in making money out of them, and aren’t actually interested in them as a person or a company. Schedule meetings accordingly, allowing much more time than you would normally allocate, and not just for the traffic. If you are in a genuine hurry, it is advisable to make the people aware of this at the start of a meeting, saying that you only have an hour as you need to get to the airport and are concerned about missing your flight. If your company is well established in Russia and has a reasonable-sized operation in Moscow, there is a good chance that you will be exposed to corporate life in a Russian office. During communist times, people were effectively paid for showing up to work, and although incentive schemes existed in theory, employees were paid more or less an identical sum regardless of either quantity or quality of output. Add to this the fact that your standard of living was not linked so much to your ability to pay (ie, how much you earn – as it is in the West) but rather to your access to goods & services. Most of these were not available in shops, which were largely devoid of anything that people wanted to buy anyway. The result was a massive, informal economy based on a system of favours via connections which bypassed the formal sector. Insurance companies have struggled to make inroads into the Russian market, largely due to Russians being a fatalist bunch. Until car insurance became compulsory, many Russians thought that buying insurance was pointless. I have heard ‘if I make monthly payments and my car hasn’t crashed or been stolen, then I’ve wasted my money. And if I did lose my car, then it was meant to be’. Fate (‘sud’ba’) is something that even seemingly sensible people believe strongly in, such as if they have a minor car crash on the way to a job interview, then it obviously wasn’t meant to be the job for me. Russians are fiercely loyal to their family and their close friends, which to outsiders can be perceived as a little strange. Since relationships are based largely on trust, it is not unusual for a manager to jump ship to a competitor and take part, or all of his team with him when leaving. The company itself is almost a secondary consideration. The office environment can appear very relaxed to outsiders, sometimes too much so, with a poor work ethic since employees spend time chatting with colleagues over tea and staring into their phones while on social networking sites. The ‘sandwich at your desk’ style of lunch is unusual in Russia (partly because sandwiches aren’t hugely popular); people will either leave the office in small groups for a ‘business lunch’ – a set menu in a nearby restaurant or in the office canteen, if there is one. Some firms subsidize this or have their own canteen, especially in production facilities located far from any hives of activity. Some employees bring food with them from home, purchased nearby, or from one of an increasing number of delivery services, but they will nonetheless eat together. Lunchtime is a fairly fluid time, and lunch itself could be taken anywhere between noon and 4pm. Aggressively trying to change such behavior is likely to be counter-productive and result in demotivated employees, and eventually people resigning. It is considered fairly normal for Russians to quit their job without having a new employer lined up – few, particularly in Moscow have a fear of losing their job thanks to low unemployment; they know that someone will soon hire them, even if they underperformed in their last position. Rather, take time to get to know your employees; join them for lunch or a chat over tea as your Russian staff will value being valued, particularly by a senior employee from abroad. There appears to be little, if any stigma in colleagues dating, even when one or both parties are married, or one reports directly to the other. Russians take a liberal view on such as matters such a boss being romantically involved with a subordinate who is half his age, even if similar actions in your home country are at best frowned upon, and at worst can trigger lawsuits. In downtown Moscow and other large CIS cities, you cannot fail to notice the number of expensive cars on the streets, which are seen as the ultimate status symbol, especially for men. 82 83 A guy driving a top-of-the range high-end vehicle will be assumed to have ‘made it’ in life, even if he had to take out a serious bank loan to finance this purchase and continues to live in a one-room, rented apartment on the outskirts of town with his mother! The equivalent for women would be a mink fur coat, followed closely by boutique clothes, shoes, designer handbag, make-up and jewelry. You only need to take a brief look at the structure of the Russian government (and pretty much all of the CIS countries too, for that matter) to see that it’s a very top-down system. What the big guy at the top says, goes and if you know what’s good for you, you don’t question it and you certainly don’t argue. This is a similar situation throughout the country, be it local government, or Russian companies, both big and small. In the same way that Mr Putin often appoints many regional governors whose key criteria is unwavering loyalty to him, a company owner or Director will similarly appoint trusted subordinates in key positions; often long-time friends or even members of his own family. This is particularly the case in organizations that are fully or partially state-owned and managed. Delegation is not Russians’ strength, partly down to lack of trust towards outsiders, but there are of course plusses and minuses to this. The individual who heads up a particular organization is by and large responsible for everything, even at a micro-level. While this can delay the decision-making process, there is the advantage that if you are able to meet the person in charge, you will avoid going through layers of middle-level managers who don’t decide anything at all and will be frightened to take any initiative. RUSSIANS ARE VERY IMAGE CONSCIOUS FOR THINGS WHICH MATTER TO THEM – REMEMBER THE SPRITE ADVERT WHICH RAN THE SLOGAN ‘IMAGE IS NOTHING, THIRST IS EVERYTHING – OBEY YOUR THIRST’? NOT SURPRISINGLY IT FLOPPED IN RUSSIA, WHERE IMAGE IS EVERYTHING – EVEN MORE IMPORTANT THAN THIRST. Perhaps surprisingly, cold calling works rather well in Russia – secretaries are more likely to be administrative assistants than gatekeepers, and often when someone calls up in English, they assume it is somebody important and put the call through (it might also just be that they don’t speak English particularly well, and just want to get rid of you). Add to this the fact that it is less common for senior executives in Russia to be called up. It is certainly worth a try; you’ll be surprised as to how effective it can be, even though it might take some people that you contact a little while to work out what you want and why. Following up your call with an e-mail is also advisable given that Russians tend to read & write English better than they might speak it. 84 85 Welcome to Rosinka International Residences! We are a luxury gated community of rental family homes. Rosinka spreads over 134 acres of beautifully landscaped gated territory, with a private lake, indoor tennis courts, Olympic sized indoor swimming pool, large athletic complex, restaurants, walking trails, skate park, dog park and many other amenities. All houses have a two car garage. We are located just outside of Moscow, a few minutes from the nearest metro station. On site is the world renowned International School of Moscow, operated by Nord Anglia Education, offering contemporary British international education from Early Years through to secondary school. Our young residents can walk, bike or scooter to school safely without adult supervision. When the snow comes, Rosinka transforms into a winter wonderland and the children can enjoy a sleigh ride to school. Our strictly imposed 20 km/h speed limit allows for peace of mind for parents and children alike. As an enclosed and safe community, children can play and visit freely with their friends and schoolmates without worry and the hassle of travel. Rosinka is truly the unparalleled choice for families with school-aged children. Rosinka hosts over 350 families from more than 30 countries around the world. The spirit of community distinguishes Rosinka through the atmosphere of companionship. With cultural events, sports tournaments, fishing, exhibitions, children’s activities, and more than 20 resident clubs, Rosinka truly offers something for everyone. Our English speaking concierge is available 24/7 to make sure you always feel welcome and comfortable. We look forward to welcoming you and your family to your new home. +7 985 998 05 85 +7 916 900 05 13 86 87 X. Doing business part 2 Next steps, negotiations, legalities and dealing with corruption Let’s start with what is foremost on your mind as you consider doing business in Russia. CORRUPTION Is corruption a major problem in Russia? The simple answer is both yes and no. Much depends on your particular line of business and your plans. Russia features high on international corruption indexes and in many respects deservedly so. However, corruption issues affect foreigners considerably less that the global media would have you believe. Much of the ‘corruption’ so to speak which affects Russians on a daily basis is petty – small bribes handed to low-level state employees who are badly paid and use their position of power as a Little Hitler to supplement their meager income, be it allowing someone to jump the line, receive better treatment in a hospital or ensure that repairs are done to their home properly, and more quickly. To what extent you can call this corruption is questionable; it doesn’t always take the form of a cash payment as it could be a box of chocolates or a bottle of Russian champagne given as a ‘thank you’. Everyone is fully aware of how little most people in government jobs earn and even with recent wage hikes, it’s not enough to live well on, so such gifts can make the difference between mere survival and some level of comfort. Putin’s opponents claim that this is all part of the masterplan, to keep everyone under control by expanding the number of public sector jobs, paying those workers a pittance, effectively forcing them to make ends meet by accepting bribes for essentially doing what they are supposed to do. In this way, they are frightened into toeing the line or face the sack for corruption. Inevitably some people are given their marching orders for this reason, although it’s often more to do with colleagues settling scores and/or advancing their own careers. It can even look good as Russia can say to the world ‘hey everybody, we’re fighting corruption; look at these people we’ve ousted’. Fortunately foreigners, even those living and working in Russia are largely sheltered from the hassles of dealing with petty officials who drag their feet in the hope that you will give them a little ‘present’ to speed things up. There is of course a lot of corruption at the top end of government, where appointments are made more on the basis of who you know rather than what you know. This so-called ‘jobs for the boys’ comes back to the issue of trust – any allegations of nepotism would 88 89 be countered by a Russian, saying ‘what, you want me to appoint someone that I don’t even know into this crucial role?! Why take the risk, when I have Mikhail here, whom I studied with at University and we worked together in our previous company. I trust him to get the job done’. Another reason why foreigners are less likely to be exposed to the worst aspect of corrupt practices in Russia is that these tend to involve embezzlement from the state budget when large projects come up for tender. Trust, (‘doveriye’) is a crucial factor when dealing with Russians. In the West we tend to automatically trust people when first meeting them, unless there is good cause not to do so, although even then we tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Seven decades of communism taught Soviet citizens to trust nobody apart from those closest to them, and to be naturally suspicious of outsiders. If your potential or existing Russian partners or customers suggest meeting up outside of the office, for example out for dinner, or even to visit a banya, you would be foolish not to take them up on the offer. For starters, it’s likely to be a great experience, but this is the Russian ‘getting to know – and trust you’ phase – see it as a Russian-style of due diligence, if you might. Fortunately, whether you are simply coming to Russia to sell your company’s products, or looking to set up production facilities, your main hassle is likely to be insurmountable piles of red tape, which in itself sometimes presents opportunities for corruption. In fact most Russians don’t really know how to approach foreigners in such a way, so bribing opportunities are likely to come in the form of a hint, such as ‘to receive this permission will take several months, but there is a quicker way, although it will cost a little more’. Of course you don’t need me or anyone else to insult your intelligence by telling you that the golden rule is never to engage in practices that could even be considered as anything other than ‘white’ as this will be just the beginning of a very slippery slope. You may win the initial battle but you will almost certainly end up losing the war. Few things in Russia are completely black or white – there are of course plenty of grey areas; an increasing number of multinational organizations have zero tolerance policies on accepting ‘gifts’ from suppliers; not so much a brown envelope stuffed full of cash but even a simple lunch or a calendar at Christmas. Russians rightly view this as petty, but for clarity’s sake you would do well to make it clear from the outset that due to corporate policy you cannot pay for, or accept anything – to save face on all sides, blaming your company’s headquarters is an easy way out, saying that they don’t understand Russia. Older Russians, and those less exposed to outsiders may struggle with the concept of a win-win scenario, assuming that if you are happy with the deal, then they have negotiated badly. Negotiating anywhere in the world is an art in itself, but takes on a particular significance in Russia as your counterparts want to see what you’re made of. Toughness is admired even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time; then there is the expression in Russian ‘proverka na vshivost’; seeing if you stand up to the test. Remember how even at the height of the cold war, the Soviets respected Margaret Thatcher since they viewed her as sticking to her guns. By comparison, Russians view most Western leaders nowadays as wimps, pandering to minority politics and not sticking up for their majority. THERE IS A FAIR DEGREE OF TRUTH IN THE QUOTE: ‘RUSSIA IS A LOUSY PLACE TO DO BUSINESS BUT A GREAT PLACE TO MAKE MONEY!’ Then there is the concept of ‘molchaniye – znak soglasiya’ (silence means approval) which can cause confusion as in the West we believe that if someone doesn’t reply to you then they either haven’t understood you, or more likely didn’t hear you. Again, do double-check but it often happens that if you ask someone to do something, they may simply start doing it without saying ‘yes’ or ‘OK’. Russians can make decisions in business that can strike westerners as illogical at best, and completely irrational at worst, generally based on impulsive emotion rather than any sense of pragmatism. A good example of this is the recent fall in demand for top-end apartments in downtown Moscow following the slide in the oil price, and the ruble crash/default which triggered an exodus of foreigners. Owners of flats that were previously being rented out for $10,000 suddenly found themselves with no takers as senior Expats left town and Russians downsized to cheaper options. A sensible approach (at least in our eyes) would be to find a taker who was ready to pay, say $8,000 a month, as eight grand might not be ten, but it’s certainly better than nothing. The Russian landlords’ view would be that this tenant is physically thieving two thousand bucks out of my pocket, so the majority are likely to remain empty until the market rebounds. This is 90 91 a fairly typical example of how Russians operate in business; even grown men in senior positions can change their mind on a whim, for no logical reason that any rational person can fathom. A FAMOUS QUOTE THAT RUSSIANS ADMIT SUMS UP THEIR COUNTRY IS ‘UMOM ROSSIYU NE PONYAT’ WHICH ROUGHLY TRANSLATES AS ‘THERE’S NO LOGICAL WAY TO UNDERSTAND RUSSIA’. Russia is plagued by a massive, overburdening bureaucracy, which some economists believe knocks several percentage points off the country’s GDP every year. Much of it is a hangover from the Soviet period where terms such as efficiency and profit didn’t exist, and there is rarely little if any logic as to why it is in place – other than possibly to provide employment. As a result, a massive service industry has formed to help ease you through the myriad of forms and officialdom that you will encounter, and this often seems to be done with official blessing. Visit any Moscow railway station (especially in the summer months) and you will see endless lines of people waiting to buy tickets, despite it now being possible to buy them online. Yet every station also has a Service Centre around the corner where for a ‘service charge’ of a few hundred Rubles per ticket you will be dealt with as efficiently as if you were visiting a travel agency, with no waiting. Of course it will be of no surprise to any Russian that this Service Centre is almost certainly owned, run or managed by the relative or friend of the railway station director. Whether you need your products imported, transported, or customs-cleared, your corporate literature translated into Russian, legal services, hiring local staff, payroll and accountancy outsourcing, finding an office, apartment or school for your kids or even just classes for you to learn a little Russian, there are plenty of firms to choose from who will help you. Most recognized international firms are well represented in Moscow, and quite possible also in regional cities plus some key CIS countries, but many others are not, or perhaps have a loose affiliate, franchise or partnership agreement with a local firm. Before engaging a supplier you would be wise to check out the nature of their CIS operation, how long they have been operating here, how big they are, who their client base consists of and whether or not you feel comfortable working with them. One word of warning; whilst many multinationals will have preferred-supplier agreements in places with service providers globally, I would strongly advise against engaging anyone who is not well established in Russia/CIS and genuinely knows what they’re doing. Unless you want to be used as a learning curve for one of your suppliers, you will make your life a whole lot smoother by working with someone who knows the local market, even if they are less well known in your home country. You can of course always try to do it yourself, although whilst you think you are saving yourself some money, there are some things that are best left to the experts – the end results are often disastrous. Don’t use Google Translate for translating your brochures or company website into Russian; the translations can be hilarious – just look at restaurant menus in provincial Russian cities and try to guess what ‘maritime language under marinade’ or ‘sausage in the fatherin-law’ is meant to refer to. Russians are keen readers and are more likely to read your corporate literature if it has been professionally translated into Russian. When looking to hire people in Russia/CIS, Linkedin might be a great tool for sourcing potential candidates, but it cannot establish a person’s motivation (or lack of it), manage the offer process, handle a potential counter-offer issue or provide information on current market trends. A reputable recruitment agency will be able to assist you in such cases. Apart from a few, small samples in your suitcase, you should import product via the correct channels using a recognized freight forwarder that has experience in dealing with customs authorities. Delays are a fact of life but these guys are your best bet for a smooth sailing. 92 93 Chet Bowling Partner Bellerage Alinga Six things a foreign CEO should know about managing a Russian company. Chet Bowling, who has lived and worked in Russia for almost 30 years and is a Partner at Bellerage Alinga - a TOP-5 financial outsourcing companies in Russia, shares the below with foreign CEO’s. 1. The Russian accounting system is governed by the state, including the chart of accounts, accounting principles, and statement forms. Unlike the accounting principles used in Europe (IFRS) and the US (US GAAP), Russian accounting is based not on the business transaction, but on the document confirming it (ie, the legal form is more important than the economic substance). 2. In Russia, it is impossible to dismiss an employee at the employer’s will (at-will termination) without citing grounds stipulated by the Labor Code of the Russian Federation; 3. Failure to comply with currency control requirements may result in significant fines of up to 100% of the transaction amount; 4. Violation of migration laws by the company is punishable by fines of up to RUB 1,000,000 and suspension of business activities for up to 90 days; 5. Over 90% of Russian companies use 1C, a local accounting software that makes it easy to report to the tax authorities; 6. The liability level of the General Director of a Russian business is immeasurably higher than would be the case in a Western company. You may learn more specifics of Russian legislation and business environment in Bellerage Alinga’s guide Doing Business in Russia, which is available on our website: 94 95 Brookes Moscow (International School) Lazorevyy Proezd, 7, Moscow, Russia, 129323 Telephone: +7 (499) 110- 70-01 E-mail: Website: Brookes Saint Petersburg (International School) Tatarskiy Pereulok, 3-5, St Petersburg, 197198 Telephone: +7 (812) 320-89-25 E-mail: Website: XI. Entertainment in Russia Food, drink and extra-curricular activities and costs Food, drink and extra-curricular activities and costs 96 97 The idea that you have to drink heavily order to do business in Russia is both a myth and an outdated stereotype. Yes, Russia does have a serious alcohol problem but there is a considerable difference between the corporate world in large cities, and the situation in provincial towns and villages. In fact, Russians’ love for driving cars coupled with the zero tolerance for alcohol when driving means that more often than not, several of your Russian colleagues, partners or clients may not drink at