Justice, Shark Attacks, and Russia’s First Blonde: Jeffrey Tayler

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By Jeffrey Tayler

If only belatedly, Lady Justice in Russia has deployed her sword and balanced scales. Authorities in Moscow have detained a lieutenant colonel in the police and are preparing to charge him with organizing the 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Politkovskaya wrote for the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and was one of the country’s most prominent and daring human rights journalists. The newspaper, which aided investigators in gathering witnesses’ testimony, reported the charges against the officer, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov: “he received the order for the murder of Politkovskaya, created a criminal group, assigned roles to its members, arranged for the surveillance of the journalist, and equipped the killer with a pistol and silencer.” During the 2008 trial of four men charged with her assassination, Pavlyuchenkov served as a “secret witness for the prosecution.” At the time, however, it appears that “he tried to lead investigators astray regarding his own participation in the murder.” In 2009 a jury acquitted all accused, including the presumed killer, Rustam Makhmudov, who was rearrested earlier this year during a special operation in Chechnya, and has again been charged with Politkovskaya’s slaying.

Pavlyuchenkov is currently being held in solitary confinement.


Bad news for Kremlin strategists hoping to modernize the country’s increasingly creaky defense systems: one of Russia’s first stealth fighter jets, the T-50, couldn’t even get off the ground at the MAKS-2011 air show, held in Zhukovsky, near Moscow, according to Interfax. The Moscow Times filled in the details: “The twin-engine T-50 had reached about 100 kilometers per hour when the pilot decided to abort takeoff in front of thousands of spectators at the Zhukovsky airfield, said a spokesman for United Aircraft Corp., the state-owned holding that incorporates top aircraft makers.… The pilot deployed a brake parachute to slow the aircraft down. Some spectators reported seeing a flash of light.”

The plane's manufacturer said the snafu, caused by a “malfunction” in the plane's right engine, won’t disrupt Russia’s plans to build the aircraft, which is “meant to match the U.S. F-22 Raptor…. Two models are currently undergoing tests, another two are expected to roll off the production line soon, and serial production is slated for 2015 at the earliest.”

Other T-50s did make it into the air at the show, and, wrote the article’s author, Roland Oliphant, looked “pretty impressive, even after a performance by the magnificent Eurofighter Typhoon.”


Shark attack might not rank high on the list of hazards travelers to Russia face, but perhaps it should, at least for those heading to the far eastern region of Primorye, on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Sharks tore limbs off two teenage bathers on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, prompting Primorye Governor Sergey Darkin to order a shark hunt. Interfax reported the governor's statement: “We warn people about the danger of being in the water, especially deep water.” The governor’s press service cited the possible culprits: a “school of pretty large sharks” near Russky Island. Despite the warnings, however, Russians continued to flock to the beaches and even swim, though not beyond the barrier buoys.


August is vacation month in Russia. President Dmitry Medvedev’s official web site published a communiqué on the festive activities of the head of state: He and “the Prime Minister [Vladimir Putin] rode motorboats on the Volga, went fishing, and took a look at the river’s underwater life, too, using a special camera to take underwater photos.” Accompanying the text was a picture of the tandem angling. Were they discussing matters of some concern to Russians, such as which of the two, if either, or both, might run in presidential in elections scheduled for next March? The site didn’t say. The official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported what avid fishermen across Russia certainly wanted to know: Medvedev's catch. “Pike, wild carp, and this morning . . . a catfish.”

Fishes aside, not all Russians are satisfied with the current political situation in the country. Pravda.ru described a spirited, if modestly attended, protest organized in St. Petersburg on Sunday by the opposition parties Yabloko, A Just Russia, and the Communist Party of Russia. “All were united by the slogan, ‘Not A Single Vote For [the ruling party] United Russia!” in reference to Duma polls to be held in December.


In Russia, having a patron in the lofty redoubts of power can be the key to success. Hence, the First All-Russian Congress of Blondes, to be held in Sochi next month, has selected first lady Svetlana Medvedeva to head their ranks, according to The Moscow Times. The inevitable intrigue, this being Russia: “It was unclear Thursday whether any of the more than 660 registered participants voted against Medvedeva, who is, after all, not a natural blonde.” The web site Sochi-24 had laid the groundwork for the story a couple of days before, announcing that “girls from across the country have invited the president’s wife to take part in the festival. Svetlana Medvedeva has become the very model of excellent style and high-society glamour.” The congress will also inaugurate the “first museum of blondes” and the first “monument to blondes in the world,” and host a “number of unforgettable events that will cause a real furor.” In case you had any doubts, the First Lady has “every chance to win the title of Blonde 2011.”

The smart money, to be sure, is on a Medvedeva victory.

(Jeffrey Tayler is Moscow correspondent for World View. He is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the author of six books, including "Murderers in Mausoleums: Riding the Back Roads of Empire between Moscow and Beijing." The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: taylerjeffrey@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this column: Mark Whitehouse at mwhitehouse1@bloomberg.net.

-0- Aug/25/2011 18:57 GMT