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::Book Review

Letter "B"

Letter "B"
August 16, 2009

BRODSKY, IOSIF ALEXANDROVICH (1940-1996). Russian émigré poet, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize for literature.  

Brodsky was born in Leningrad and in his early years survived the siege of the city by the Nazis. At 15, he left school after just seven years of it, and pursued a vigorous program of self-education as he took all kinds of jobs – a milling-machine operator, an orderly at a morgue, oddjobbing at a lighthouse, a worker with a party of geologists, etc.  

At 17 he started writing poetry; at least one of his famous pieces, “Goodbye, forget me, bear me no grudge…” has the date 1957, though Brodsky himself said that he had begun writing poetry at 18. His aesthetics was largely shaped by the ambience of the place where he was born and lived during his formative years, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with its fine architecture, endless prospects, watery spaces and parks. These motifs of his youthful years affected all of his creative work. 

According to Brodsky himself, a decisive impetus to his early creativity came from the poetry of Boris Slutsky (1919-1986), whose innovative writing made a great impact on many other poets in the mid 1950s and later. Other influences came from Marina Tsvetayeva, Yevgeny Baratynsky, a 19th-century author whom Pushkin called “Russia’s finest elegiac poet,” and later Osip Mandelshtam. Brodsky’s contemporaries – like Yevgeny Rein, Vladimir Ufland, and Stanislav Krasovitsky – also influenced his work. In his mature years Brodsky named Marina Tsvetayeva and W.H. Auden as the greatest poets, followed by Konstantinos Kavafis and Robert Frost, with Rainer Maria Rilke, Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelshtam and Anna Akhmatova completing his personal selection of kindred spirits. In 1961 Yevgeny Rein introduced Brodsky to Anna Akhmatova, and he became a member of the circle of young poets surrounding that queen of Russian poetry in her fading years. 

In 1963 the Vecherny Leningrad (“Evening Leningrad”) paper published an article headed “Paraliterary Drone” accusing Brodsky of a “parasitic way of life.”  Brodsky indeed never joined any official writers’ union, which was the proper Soviet thing to do, but earned his living as a freelance translator, publishing his own poetry mostly in samizdat – typewritten copies circulated among friends and acquaintances. A certain citizen called Lerner, motivated by pathological hatred for the young genius, persecuted Brodsky, using the notorious Soviet law on “parasitism” as a weapon, and launched a whole campaign against him. Of the three quotes Lerner ascribed to Brodsky in that article two came from the work of Dmitry Bobyshev, another of Akhmatova’s “orphans,” and the third one, though taken from Brodsky’s work, was badly distorted. Still, Brodsky was arrested, tried for his “crime,” and sentenced to five years of exile and physical labor in a remote village of Arkhangelsk Oblast. He spent in exile just 18 months of his five-year sentence, and in an interview to Solomon Volkov he called those months the happiest in his whole life. It was there that Brodsky studied English poetry, in particular the work of W.H. Auden; that affected his spirit much more than any physical circumstances of his existence. 

The civil rights movement in the Soviet Union and abroad reacted to the trial of Brodsky with fury. Protests to the Soviet leaders came from the famous Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and other cultural figures, including Jean-Paul Sartre, but Yevtushenko himself writes that the man who effectively got Brodsky released from exile was a local district Communist Party secretary who just happened to like the young chap. 

It must be said that Brodsky totally rejected the image of himself as a fighter against the Soviet system, an image that the American intelligentsia associated, perhaps naturally, with someone who had suffered at the hands of that system. In an interview with Peter Vayl he stated plainly: “On the whole, I deserved all that” (meaning his punishment). In an interview with Solomon Volkov Brodsky said that the whole episode was not all that interesting, and refused to dramatize it. On learning of Brodsky’s trial, Anna Akhmatova had famously said, “What a biography they (meaning the powers that be) are writing for the Ginger-haired One.” The Ginger-haired One obviously wanted to write his own biography, not have something written for him by either the Soviet authorities or the well-meaning, civil rights-conscious intellectuals. He stressed repeatedly that he was never a Soviet dissident; that classification would apparently be unworthy of a truly great poet. 

In 1972, presented by the Soviet police with a choice – either emigration or forced examination at a psychiatric clinic – Brodsky chose to emigrate to the United States. He procrastinated as long as he could, but the authorities wanted to get rid of him before President Nixon’s visit to the USSR, and so he had to go.  He was immediately invited to teach History of Russian Literature, History of Russian Poetry in the Twentieth Century, and Theory of Versification at Michigan University, Ann Arbor. In 1981 he moved to New York. In all, Brodsky, who had not even finished high school, was professor at six universities in the U.S. and U.K. 

He continued to write poetry, drama and essays in both English and Russian, and he also translated into English the Russian verse of Vladimir Nabokov, another émigré Russian writer in America. In 1986 he received the National Book Critics’ Award for Criticism for his collection of essays in English, Less than One, and in 1987 came the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1991 the Library of Congress elected Brodsky Poet Laureate of the United States. 

As perestroika was launched in the Soviet Union, his poems began to be massively published in his native country, as did studies of his work. Brodsky’s work became a formative influence in the writings of many (some say too many) Russian poets.  In 1995 Brodsky was awarded the title of Honorary Citizen of St. Petersburg. There were numerous invitations for him to come to his native land, but he kept putting off the visit, saying that the public attention and the media hue and cry that would inevitably accompany his visit would embarrass him. Besides, his health was not all that good – in 1978 he had had open-heart surgery. Still, the motif of return was present in quite a few of his poems from the 1990s. Two of them were written as if the return had indeed taken place. 

Brodsky died in New York of a heart attack and was buried in Venice, in compliance with his last will and testament.

BAKLANOV, OLEG DMITRIEVICH (b.1932). A top Soviet official involved in the development of the country’s nuclear missile shield. 

Baklanov was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, an ethnic Ukrainian. He was educated at the All-Union Extramural Power Engineering Institute, and he holds the degree of Candidate of Sciences.  

Starting on the shop floor, Baklanov rose in 1963-1976 to chief engineer, factory director, and director general of a production association involved in the construction of intercontinental missiles and space technologies.  

From 1976 he was deputy, then first deputy of the USSR General Machine Building Ministry (code name for the ministry responsible for missiles and space technologies); in 1983-1988, the USSR Minister for General Machine Building. In these positions, he played a most important part in developing numerous systems that formed the country’s missile shield, including the Energia and Buran systems where he was chairman of the state commission for their development and launch. These systems were developed as a means of neutralizing the US Strategic Defense Initiative and achieving parity with the United States in the missile defense area. 

From 1988 to 1991 Baklanov was secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for defense issues. From April 1991, deputy chairman of the USSR Presidential Defense Council. He was deputy of the USSR Supreme Soviet of 11th convocation, and USSR people’s deputy from 1989. 

Baklanov first came to national prominence quite dramatically in August 1991, when he became a member of the State Committee for the State of Emergency, also known as the communist junta that led the abortive August coup. His purpose in joining it was apparently an attempt to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union and its replacement by a loose confederation of ethnic republics. In the event, he spent 18 months in prison; in 1994 he was amnestied by a State Duma decision. 

During Putin’s presidency Baklanov made some statements to support Putin’s efforts to restore Russia’s independence while still being highly critical of the economic section of Putin’s government, whose efforts to revive Russia’s industry after the collapse of the 1990s he saw as completely inadequate. 

Oleg Baklanov holds numerous orders and other awards, including the title of Hero of Socialist Labor and the 1982 Lenin Prize. Elected to the Political Council of the Russian National Union. Baklanov is also chairman of the Society for Friendship and Cooperation Between the Peoples of Ukraine and Russia, honorary member of the K.E. Tsiolkovsky Cosmonautics Academy, member of the International Academy for Information Technologies, member of the Academy for Security, Defense and Law and Order.

BALTIC STATES. This term (R. Pribaltika, literally meaning “Near the Baltic” or “By the Baltic”) is generally taken to mean Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Geographically speaking, the RF Kalinigrad Region (formerly East Prussia) is also sometimes included.

Before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, these territories had for centuries been part of the Russian Empire. In the turmoil attendant on the collapse of the Empire and the ensuing Civil War of 1918-1920, these territories gained independence and became parts of the cordon sanitaire established by the Entente around the Soviet Union.

In 1940 Estonia and Latvia were brought back into the empire that now went under the name of the USSR; in 1944, after the liberation of this territory from Nazi German occupation, Lithuania followed suit. Between the 1940s and the early 1990s, the Baltic States, now “Soviet socialist republics,” were thoroughly Sovietized politically and culturally and became integral parts of the Soviet economy, which in itself was a highly integrated and centralized organism. In the early 1990s these republics, aided by the democrats in the “Center”— for which read Moscow and the Russian Federation – regained their independence.

Many countries of the world look on the act of incorporating Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union in the late 1930s and early 1940s as occupation and annexation. Such states as the USA and the United Kingdom never recognized the fact de jure. In those two countries official diplomatic missions of the Baltic States as they had existed prior to 1940 continued to function throughout the Cold War. In 1960, 1994, and 2005, the Council of Europe mentioned “occupation” of the Baltic States in its resolutions. In 1983 and 2005 the “occupation” was condemned by the European parliament.

Although it was Russia who liberated Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from communist dictatorship in 1990 many nationalistic politicians continue to blame it for “occupation” and never mention the liberation of their countries by the Soviet Army in which hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers, including those from the Baltic states, died. Moreover, there is vindication and even “heroization” of soldiers who fought on the Nazi side during World War II, in clear contravention of the decisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal that had found the Nazis guilty of war crimes, genocide, and countless atrocities, and adjudged them as a criminal organization. This exoneration of criminals is bitterly resented in Russia, other former Soviet Union republics, and in Israel as an insult to the memory of their fallen relatives, an attempt to “rewrite history” and whitewash the role played by Nazi collaborators in such atrocities as mass extermination of Jews, Slavs, gypsies, homosexuals, and others who came under the heading of Untermenschen in Nazi ideology.

The term “occupation” is also used by rabidly nationalistic politicians as a political tool to justify a system of veritable apartheid in which some people in these states enjoy political rights while others, chiefly Russian speakers referred to as “aliens,” are denied them. The more radical among these nationalists, actually indistinguishable from neo-Nazis except that in the Baltics they sit in the highest organs of government, insist that the “aliens” must be made to leave these countries.

Citizenship in the Baltic States can only be obtained after undergoing naturalization, which presupposes passing examinations in language and history – a procedure that can be, and is, made so hard to pass through that certified “first class citizens” cannot cope with it. Applicants for citizenship have to prove their allegiance to the state. A part of the Russian-speaking population refuse to submit to the procedure on principle, as they believe that they are entitled to their rights automatically, since withdrawal from the Soviet Union should have been contingent on their consent expressed in an independence referendum. The social-political situation in those countries has the population split into the two camps of citizens and non-citizens or aliens, which is hardly conducive to peace and harmony. 

In 2004 Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania joined the European Union and NATO; they are also WTO and UN members. Economically, these “independent” states entirely depend on aid from the EU, as their economies collapsed after secession from the Soviet Union. This became painfully obvious in the course of the global economic downturn after August 2008, as that aid was curtailed and civil unrest, amid scenes of street fighting, ensued.  

BASAEV, SHAMIL SALMANOVICH; Islamic name, Abdallah Shamil Abu Idris (1965 – 2006).  Born in the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic, of a Chechen father and an Avar (that is, Dagestani) mother.  

Shamil Basaev was among the most prominent and odious leaders of the rebellion against federal authority in Chechnya.  In 1995-2006, he was one of the heads of the self-styled Chechen Republic of Ichkeria – a quasi-state built entirely on the “principle” of brigandage in Islamist disguise.  The leadership of Ichkeria awarded him the rank of brigadier general for his terrorist exploits. Basaev was on the black list of terrorists drawn up by the UN, US Department of State, and European Union. 

A few landmarks in Basaev’s career: after a two-year stint in the Soviet army, he went to Moscow and tried three times to enter Moscow University’s Law School but failed each time.  In 1987 he entered the Institute of Land Management Engineers in Moscow, but was expelled next year for academic failure.  Basaev tried his hand at business but failed at that, too; got badly in debt and returned to Chechnya in 1991. 

Basaev spent two years, 1989 to 1991, in Istanbul, Turkey, studying at the Islamic Institute there. On his return to Chechnya he organized an armed band called “Vedeno.” 

Basaev first came to prominence after hijacking in November 1991 an airliner at Minvody airport, which was forced to fly to Turkey, where the hijackers surrendered to the Turkish authorities.  

In 1992 Basaev went through a course of training at an Afghan mujaheddin base in Pakistan.  On his own evidence, he later went through another course of terrorist training in April—June 1994 in a mujaheddin camp in Afghanistan.  

Basaev gained wide notoriety as the mastermind behind several atrocious terrorist acts on the territory of Russia and other CIS countries: 

-- In 1992, during the Georgian-Abkhaz armed conflict, Basaev went to Abkhazia at the head of a volunteer detachment later dubbed Abkhaz Battalion of supporters of the Confederation of Mountaineers in the Caucasus. Vladislav Ardzinba, then president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia, appointed Shamil Basaev deputy defense minister of Abkhazia. The leadership of Georgia blamed Basaev and the groups of gunmen under his command for mass atrocities against Georgian civilians; 

-- On June 14-17, 1995, Basaev headed the raid of Chechen gunmen against the town of Budennovsk in neighboring Stavropol Territory, during which they seized about 1,600 hostages at a local hospital, including expectant mothers and 150 children, killing over 130 people, mostly civilians; 

-- On August 7, 1999 Basaev and the Jordanian Hottab led an invasion into Dagestan, where the invaders were thoroughly beaten;  

-- On January 9, 2001, Basaev masterminded the kidnapping of American citizen Kenneth Gluck, a member of the Médecins sans frontières mission in Chechnya; 

-- On October 23, 2002, Basaev organized the seizure of hostages in the Dubrovka theater in Moscow, which claimed the lives of over 100 innocent civilians; 

-- On December 27, 2002, Basaev blew up the Government House in Grozny, Chechnya, which left almost 70 people dead; 

-- Basaev was responsible for a number of terrorist acts by suicide bombers in 2003: on July 5, at the Krylya (Wings) rock music festival in Tushino, Moscow; on December 5, on a suburban train in Yessentuki; on December 9, near the National Hotel, Moscow; 

-- On May 9, 2004, Basaev organized a blast in Grozny which killed Akhmat Kadyrov, then president of Chechnya; 

-- On June 22, 2004, Basaev organized a raid into Ingushetia that claimed 97 victims; 

-- On August  24, 2004, Basaev sent two suicide bombers to blow up two Russian passenger planes; 

-- On September 1, 2004, Basaev ordered the seizure of a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, which left 350 hostages, civilians and servicemen dead. Half of the casualties were children; 

-- On October 13, 2005, the city of Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, was attacked, with 12 civilians and 35 law enforcers killed. 

Basaev showed considerable cunning in planning his acts of terror. Cautious – avoided direct contact with the enemy.  Posed as an expert in religious dogma, poet and seer – all on very flimsy grounds.   What Basaev did really well was acquiring wealth through outright banditry and organizing such industries as drug trafficking, slave trade, counterfeiting, and similar pursuits. In the “Ichkerian” times the Basaev family had virtually full control of the oil industry in Chechnya. 

Basaev was also good at propaganda warfare.  With the aid of the fugitive billionaire Boris Berezovsky and his minions he took steps to spread the idea that some of his terrorist acts had actually been organized by Russian siloviki to provide an excuse for a state of emergency – as if any excuse were needed in the face of Basaev’s raid on Dagestan and similar ventures.  Still, the idea took root among certain politicians and media, in this country and abroad, basically inclined toward Russophobia.  

Sources in the intelligence community in Russia, blamed for failure to put an end to the seemingly endless series of Basaev’s terrorist acts, insisted that Basaev’s long career in terrorism was entirely due to treachery at the very top of Russia’s pyramid of power: Boris Berezovsky was at one time the de facto deputy head of the RF Security Council (appointed by Boris Yeltsin).  Once that breeding ground of treachery was eliminated, a special operation was soon mounted in which Basaev died in a blast of an explosives-laden truck, and his head was taken for identification to Nazran in a bin-liner.

BASHKORTOSTAN. An RF constituent entity; an ethnic republic within the Russian Federation located on both sides of the Europe-Asia divide. Its capital Ufa (population 1,091,400) was founded in 1586. Bashkortostan sprawls over a section of the eastern edge of the East European Plain, the Urals foothills, the mountainous strip of the Southern Urals, and the mixed hill-flat terrain beyond the Urals. The western part of the republic is mostly flat, the eastern section mountainous.

Bashkortostan is a multi-ethnic republic. The three largest ethnic groups are Russians (39 percent), Tatars (29 percent), and Bashkirs (23 percent). Besides, there are Chuvash, Mari, Ukrainians (two to three percent of the population each), and others.

Bashkirs, the indigenous population of these parts, is said to be the titular ethnic group although they come only third in numbers accounting for slightly more than a fifth of the population. The Bashkirs’ privileged position sometimes gives rise to tensions in the matter of career promotion and such.

Bashkirs are Sunni Muslims. According to sociological surveys, Bashkortostan has over 2.2 million Muslim believers and 0.7 million practicing Orthodox Christians.

Bashkiria has been part of Russia since the 16th century. The Bashkir Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was established as part of the Russian Federation on 23 March 1919. In 1990, at the time of the so-called “sovereignty parade,” when each ethnic group within the Soviet Union strove to assert its sovereignty and a right to a separate statehood, the Bashkir Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was renamed Bashkortostan. This, however, remains an official term only, while in everyday life the name Bashkiria is universally used.

Bashkortostan is a presidential republic. The president is elected for a term of five years. The highest legislative body is the State Assembly of 190 deputies, likewise elected for a term of five years. It consists of two chambers, the Legislative House and the House of Representatives.

The executive powers fall within the purview of the cabinet of ministers headed by the prime minister. Bashkortostan has a highly centralized executive power with the president at the head. It is eminently stable and predictable. The heads of local government are appointed by the republic’s president.

Bashkortostan was the only republic within the Russian Federation to have secured for itself a special addendum to the Federative Treaty of 1992. The addendum specified the powers of the Republic of Bashkortostan, declared the mineral wealth, natural resources, and research and production assets on its territory the property of the republic, and also stipulated certain rights of the republic in a variety of areas. In August 1994 Bashkortostan concluded the Treaty of Dividing the Jurisdiction and Mutual Delegation of Powers with the Russian Federation’s government organs.

Bashkortostan is an industrial-agrarian republic abundant in various minerals, one of the oil-rich areas of the Russian Federation, with well-developed chemical and machine-building industries. Its mineral wealth includes oil, gas, brown coal, rock salt, and also, in the east, iron ore. The republic has efficient agriculture that focuses on grain production, beef, dairy and wool farming. There are numerous spas and mineral-water springs on Bashkiria’s territory.

The most serious weakness in Bashkortostan’s socioeconomic development is a number of environmental problems and a high risk of technological disasters in some areas packed with environmentally hazardous oil-extracting facilities, refineries and petrochemical enterprises, plus several oil and gas pipelines running across the republic’s territory. Also, Bashkortostan is a major area of military-industrial complex facilities. Oil and petroleum products, ores and farming produce (particularly sugar, honey and vegetable oil) make up the bulk of Bashkiria’s exports.

The main industry branches are fuel and energy, including oil extraction (over 23 percent of industrial output), and oil processing (nearly 20 percent). Also reasonably well developed are chemical and petrochemical industries (16 percent of the output), power engineering (13 percent), machine building and metal working (eight percent), metallurgy, timber, woodworking, paper and pulp, light, and food industries.

BATURINA, YELENA NIKOLAEVNA (b. 1963). Russia’s only female billionaire; wife of Moscow’s Mayor Yuri Luzhkov; president of close joint-stock company Inteko, Moscow. 

Baturina was educated at the Moscow Management Institute named after Sergo Ordzhonikidze. The main landmarks of her career: in 1982-1989, researcher at the Moscow Institute for Economic Issues, chief expert with the Moscow City Executive Committee Commission for Cooperatives and Individual Labor Activity; in 1989, head of the secretariat at the All-Russia Union of Allied Trade Unions; since 1991, head of the Inteko close joint-stock company (manufacturer of household goods, tools, automobile tackle, gardening utensils, plastic furniture, including for stadiums, and other items). 

According to the media, Baturina also owns or controls: close joint-stock company Tras, Staraya Usadba Ltd, stud farm Bashtan, and several other enterprises. In 2002 she was elected chairperson of the Russian Land Bank board of directors. Baturina is president of the Equestrian Sports Federation of Russia.  

Baturina is the only woman in the “golden hundred” of Russia’s wealthiest persons. Her businesses go from strength to strength; having begun in a small way with the manufacture of plastic articles, her Inteko company has grown into a major holding with its own bank, cement factories and construction firms. One fifth of the entire housing in Moscow is built by the company owned by Baturina. 

According to Forbes, in 2008 Baturina was the only Russian woman among 22 European billionaresses rated eighth in that club, with $4.2 bln to her credit. The same journal put her in 32nd place among wealthiest Russians. At the moment of writing, the effect of the global economic downturn on Baturina’s fortunes was not yet clear, though with the extreme slump in Moscow’s real estate her construction business must have suffered badly. 

Baturina loves horses, or at any rate has been seen with some on TV; she has established the Mayor’s Cup for equestrian events that have been held in Moscow for the last few years on City Day in September. 

BELARUS. A state in Eastern Europe.  From 1920 to 1991, its official name was the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), but it was usually referred to by its historical name Belorussia (Belaya Rus, White Russia). It has a common border with Poland in the west, Lithuania and Latvia in the northwest, the Russian Federation in the east and northeast, and Ukraine in the south. Capital, Minsk.

Belorussia’s territory is mostly flat, with some hills (up to 345 m above sea level) in its central part. The country is described as a land of lakes, of which it has almost 11,000. Lakes are particularly numerous in the north and northwest. Forests cover nearly two-thirds of the country’s territory, though sizeable tracts of forest are not common; roughly the same area is covered by marshes.

Belarus has a population of 9,712,700 (1 January 2007 statistics) with Belarusians, Russians, Poles, Ukrainians and Jews the major ethnic groups. Since 1994 the population has been declining at the rate of 20,000-30,000 a year due to lower birth rates, higher mortality rates, and migration.

In terms of religion, Belarus is mostly Russian Orthodox (70 percent of the population), with some Roman Catholics in the west of the country, about 1 percent of the population belonging to the Greek Catholic Church, and about the same number professing Judaism (Jews, once comprising 10 percent of the population, were literally decimated during World War II by the Nazis). 

Historically, the territory of modern-day Belarus, inhabited by Slavs since seventh and sixths centuries B.C., was, by the ninth century A.D., part of Kievan Rus. After the Tatar-Mongol invasion of 1237-1240, Belorussian lands were seized by the Great Duchy of Lithuania, of which the population was 90 percent Slavonic and which was fighting off Mongols and Tatars in the east and Teutonic knights in the west. The term White Russia appears in Teutonic chronicles in the 14th century.  

The Belorussian language was the state and diplomatic language of Lithuania until 1569, when Lithuania and Poland were united within a single state, Rzeczpospolita. The establishment of that state led to a stronger Polish influence in Belorussian lands in terms of culture, language, and religion. The Orthodox Church was transformed, by the Brest Unia of 1596, into the Uniate Church recognizing the supremacy of the Pope. The Polish period in the history of Belarus ended in the late 18th century, with the partitioning of Poland between Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1772, 1793 и 1795. Belorussian lands became part of the Northwest Territory (Krai) of the Russian Empire.  

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the collapse of the Russian Empire, and the occupation of Belorussian territory by the Germans toward the end of the First World War, threw Belorussia into a period of bloody turmoil. On 24 March 1918, the Belorussian People’s Republic was proclaimed. After the German troops left this area in December 1918, a united Lithuanian-Belorussian Soviet Republic was set up. After the defeat of Soviet Russia in the brief war with Poland, Belorussia was again partitioned in 1920. Some 100,000 squ km were seized by Poland, while the territory of 107,000 squ km with a population of some five million became the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, which in 1922 was among the founding members of the USSR. 

The Soviet period in Belorussia’s history was marked by rapid industrialization and urbanization. Belorusssians, who had been overwhelmingly peasants, moved to urban areas, where by 1950 they outnumbered other ethnic groups such as Russians, Poles and Jews.

During World War II Belorussia suffered enormously, all its industrial enterprises were destroyed, and 2,225,000 – that is, a quarter of the entire population – perished, a great many of them civilians massacred by the Nazis for supporting Belorussian guerrilla fighters. Belorussia, along with Ukraine and the Soviet Union, was one of the signatories of the United Nations Charter in 1945.  

In December 1991, following the signing of the Belovezhye Accords that formally marked the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).  At present Belarus is also a member of the CIS’s Collective Security Treaty Organization, of the Europe-Asia Economic Union (along with Russia and Kazakhstan), and other international associations. Since April 1997, it has been a member of the Russia-Belarus Union – a confederation of Russia and Belarus that has remained largely on paper and been mostly used by Belarusia’s President Lukashenko as a means of getting cheap Russian gas and other raw materials while refusing to effect any moves (like the adoption of a single currency or permission for Russian businesses to buy into Belorussia’s economy) that would lead to a real unification desired by the two country’s peoples.

The legislature of the Republic of Belarus is the two-chamber National Assembly consisting of the lower chamber – the House of Representatives of 110 members, and the upper chamber – the Council of the Republic with 64 seats. On 15 March 1994 the country’s legislature approved the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, which proclaimed it a unitary, democratic, social, law-governed state.

Under the constitution Belarus is a presidential republic. Alexander Lukashenko was first elected to this post in 1994. The 2004 referendum removed from the Constitution of Belarus any restriction on the number of terms a single person may serve as president, and Alexander Lukashenko was allowed to run in the next election. As a result, he was re-elected president for a third time running. In fact, Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, does not appear to be prepared to leave his office in the foreseeable future. At any rate, one of his more often quoted bloopers was, “I am the president of the state, and the state will continue [to exist] as long as I am president.”

The principal industries of Belarus are machine building, metalworking, chemical and petrochemical industries, power engineering, light and food industries, and timber and woodworking industry. The republic is a major exporter of trucks, tractors, television sets, refrigerators, chemical fiber and threads, potassium fertilizers, textiles and light-industry products.

According to expert opinion, the republic’s considerable economic growth in 2004-2006 was chiefly due to certain features of the 1990s economic reform there and of special relations with Russia. On gaining independence Belarus did not carry out any large-scale privatization of major industrial enterprises. As these went joint-stock, the shares remained state property. State-run enterprises continue to dominate, accounting for at least 75 percent of GDP.

At the same time Belarus’s economy has retained most of its economic ties with Russian enterprises and healthy levels of export to Russia. Thus Belarus sells 60—70 percent of its entire vehicle, machinery and equipment export to Russia. In 2005 Russia accounted for $5.7 billion of the $15.9 billion worth of Belarusian exports. Practically all of Belarus’ power engineering, as well as chemical and fertilizer production rely on Russian gas, which Belarus gets at a hefty discount. The difference between the purchase price and the amount charged on industrial consumers goes to the state budget ultimately paying for various state social programs.

BELKOVSKY, STANISLAV ALEXANDROVICH (b.1970).  Director general of the National Strategy Council, chief editor of  

Belkovsky was born to a family of an Italian communist. In 1976 he was taken to Moscow and adopted by a KGB colonel general whose name is not disclosed. In 1992, he graduated from Heidelberg University, graduation paper subject, The Tabula Rasa Philosophy.  In 1992-2000, Belkovsky worked for the German intelligence service, including on Russian territory, establishing contact between FRG secret services and several radical leftist organizations. In 2000, Belkovsky surrendered to the Russian authorities. 

This soap opera narrative is, however, just one version of Belkovsky’s origins.  According to a different one, published in the Stringer, Stanislav Belkovsky was born in Soviet Riga; his father was a Polish worker, his mother, a Jewish teacher.  Belkovsky is also said to be very elusive on the subject of his educational background. 

Belkovsky is the founder of the National Strategy Institute and one of the most pushy political analysts and political technologists in Russia. His name has been alternately linked with opposing political groups – Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky, Rogozin.  In the course of his journalistic career he was at the center of numerous scandals, including as a speechwriter for Sergei Dorenko, the TV killer who was Boris Berezovsky’s spiteful mouthpiece for quite a while.   

His report The State and Oligarchy earned him the nickname of an ideologue for the Yukos case and a friend of the Kremlin siloviki – which is about as doubtful or certain as anything connected with this eel-like individual. 

A gifted hoaxer, Belkovsky is known as a political technologist with a knack for making money out of absolutely any political situation within the Former Soviet Union – by selling his gifts for myth-creation to the highest bidder. 

Belkovsky is thus representative of a legion of doubtful characters that the August 1991 revolution in Russia brought to the surface, strictly in keeping with the Russian proverb: in murky waters gold sinks, feces float.


BELOVEZHYE ACCORDS. The Belovezhye Accords clinched the dissolution of the USSR and started the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). They were signed on 8 December 1991 at Viskuli (Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Belarus) by the heads of state and government of three Soviet republics, the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine.

The document registered the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a legal international entity and proclaimed the formation of the CIS. The Agreement on the Establishment of the CIS declared the signatories’ will to develop cooperation among its members in the political, economic, humanitarian, cultural and other spheres. The RSFSR Supreme Soviet ratified the Belovezhye Accords on 12 December 1991, simultaneously declaring the Union Treaty of 1922 null and void.

On 21 December 1991 the Agreement was joined by Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries, together with Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, signed a Declaration on the Aims and Principles of the CIS in Alma-ata (now Almaty), Kazakhstan. In December 1993 the CIS agreement was joined by Georgia.

Russia was named in the Agreement the legal successor to the Soviet Union. It assumed all Soviet property and financial obligations in exchange for Soviet property abroad and other assets. Ukraine refused to accept this manner of settling Soviet commitments, laying claim to part of the Soviet assets abroad and of gold reserves, and insisting that Russia repay the debts to the Ukrainian Sberbank’ depositors.

Controversy is still raging over the Belovezhye Accords and the events that followed. It is alleged that in terms of their content and the way of adoption the Belovezhye Accords were illegal; that they directly contravened the USSR and RSFSR Constitutions then in effect and the result of the All-Union Referendum on the Preservation of the USSR held in March 1991. In fact they were the product of the struggle for power waged by the nomenklatura of the Soviet republics against that of the Center as represented by the Gorbachev government. The Union government was preparing an alternative project for transforming the Soviet Union into the confederative Union of Sovereign States (USS), a project that was never put into effect.

The heads of the three republics who secretly got together in Belovezhskaya Pushcha declared that the USS was an impossibility. Besides, according to the leaders of the ex-Soviet republics, by December 1991 only the RSFSR and Kazakhstan still retained formal membership of the USSR, as they had not declared themselves independent, so that the Belovezhye Accords merely confirmed de jure the de facto disintegration of the Union.

However, the legality of declarations of independence by Belarus, Kirghizia and Tajikistan, which had not held referenda on the issue, was questionable. Besides, at the time the Accords were signed, the establishment of the USS had been approved by representatives of seven of the Union’s republics, Russia and Belorussia included, on 14 November 1991. The treaty on the establishment of the Union of Sovereign States was scheduled to be signed on 9 December 1991; the Belovezhye Accords torpedoed the project at the eleventh hour for no valid, legal reason.

The fight for a revision or annulment of the Belovezhye Accords continued even after the complete disintegration of the Soviet Union. In March 1996 the Russian State Duma denounced the Belovezhye Accords, yet the move had no serious political or legal consequences.

Numerous opinion polls suggest that most Russians (over 70 percent, according to some estimates) regret the collapse of the Soviet Union and believe that it was avoidable.

Whether it was avoidable or not, the fact remains that the only individuals who gained by the collapse of the Soviet Union were the extremely narrow strata of the Union republics’ ethnic elites, while the absolute majority of the people in these republics suffered incalculable hardships, financial and economic ruin, loss of employment and, in a great many cases, loss of life in pogroms and internecine wars.

For 25 million Russians, and even more Russian speakers, who overnight found themselves “abroad” in the newly independent states without moving an inch, the tragedy included loss of their Motherland.

For some of the republics, especially in Central Asia, Azerbaijan etc., the dissolution of the Soviet Union signified, on a historical scale, a backward step into sheer Oriental despotism, with certain “democratic” trappings like parliaments, parties, referenda, and so on, which do not fool even the least observant. 

BEREZOVSKY, BORIS ABRAMOVICH (b.1946).  One of Russia’s more prominent “oligarchs” in the 1990s; currently a fugitive from Russian justice based in the UK that granted him political asylum.  The media like abbreviating his full name to BAB. 

Boris Berezovsky was educated at the Electronics and Computer Department,  Moscow Forestry Institute; he did a post-graduate course at the Management Issues Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences;  Doctor of Sciences, professor, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Author of several published research papers and books on applied mathematics and theoretical principles of management. 

In 1967-1968 Berezovsky worked at the Research Institute for Test Machines, Instruments and Mass Measuring Devices, the USSR Ministry of Instrument Making; then at the USSR Hydrometeorology Committee; from 1970, at the Management Issues Institute, the USSR Academy of Sciences. 

From 1989, Berezovsky was director general of LogoVAZ joint-stock company; from 1994, director general of AVVA (All-Russia Automobile Alliance) joint-stock company; from 1995, chairman of the board of directors at the ORT (Russian Public Television) joint-stock company. 

Berezovsky left all of those positions once he had been appointed member of the RF Security Council in October 1996; in 1996-1997, deputy secretary of the RF Security Council, chiefly in charge of economic matters; from May 1998 to March 1999, executive secretary for the CIS; elected to the State Duma from the Karachai-Circassian constituency No. 15; in July 2000, gave up his seat in the Duma; on December 22, 2001, Berezovsky was elected one of the five co-chairmen of the Liberal Russia movement.  

One of the Russian public’s pet hates, variously described as an eminence grise, a perfidious mind, a latter-day Rasputin, a businessman-adventurer, a hyperactive Jewish schizo, a London exile, an oligarch-provocateur, a political refugee. During the Yeltsin reign Boris Berezovsky was alleged to be a member of the so-called Family, ingratiating himself with President Yeltsin’s daughter Tatyana Dyachenko with gifts of flashy cars, etc. 

Totally amoral and capable of resorting to the most murderous methods of achieving his ends.  On October 16, 1996 Alexander Lebed, then Secretary of the Security Council, accused Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, president of the MOST financial group, of making up lists of persons slated for liquidation. 

At about the same time Alexander Korzhakov, former chief of the RF president’s security service, told journalists that Berezovsky had tried to talk him into assassinating Vladimir Gusinsky, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, singer and Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon, and others (Novy vzglyad newspaper, 19 October 1996). 

There were persistent reports of Berezovsky sponsoring terrorists in Chechnya.  In an interview to Forbes magazine Ichkeria’s President Aslan Maskhadov referred to Boris Berezovsky as one of the persons most responsible for the war in the Caucasus. 

Yusup Soslambekov, chairman of the Confederation of the Peoples of the Caucasus, regarded Berezovsky as his personal enemy and threatened to disclose evidence of Berezovsky’s involvement with certain Chechen warlords whom he hired to help him in his shady dealings with Chechnya’s oil, drug trafficking, hostage-taking and similar pursuits.  Soon after Yusup Soslambekov fell victim to a contract killing in Moscow.  Even before that Akmal Saidov, who had also unearthed facts about Berezovsky’s criminal activities in the Caucasus, was kidnapped; his body was later found. 

In February 2003, in an interview with The New York Times, Berezovsky boasted that his fortune in the form of investment in and outside Russia amounted to $3 billion. 

Boris Berezovsky made his first money, and a lot of it too, while at the head of LogoVAZ.  That money came to him through common-or-garden theft: Berezovsky and two other managers of LogoVAZ simply “appropriated” the money from the sale of 2322 cars, grabbing 60 billion rubles. 

Berezovsky invented and used the so-called re-export scheme: VAZ automobiles were exported abroad only to get back to Russia later.  The difference between prices for domestic and imported cars went to line the thieves’ pockets.  

The Prosecutor’s Office initiated numerous legal actions against him, but the only case that has so far reached the court and names Berezovsky as defendant is the Aeroflot case.  

The scam Berezovsky used with regard to Aeroflot can be viewed as a model of oligarch business in the mid-1990s. Fifty-one percent of the Aeroflot shares were state property, so any manipulation with the company was only possible from within. However, it was not for nothing that Berezovsky secured for himself the post of deputy secretary at Russia’s Security Council. He used his position to make sure that all the key jobs in Aeroflot were filled with his old-time partners. 

Fearing criminal proceedings against him after the power of the Family had begun to wane with the coming of Putin to power, Berezovsky escaped from Russia and settled in the UK. Here, he resorted to his trademark tricks in order to avoid extradition, forcing an unemployed Russian to give evidence that he had been sent to Britain by RF intelligence services to assassinate Berezovsky.  A British judge granted Berezovsky political asylum on the strength of a tape recording, mostly forged, of a conversation with that unemployed person.  

One of the latest criminal cases against Berezovsky was about plotting forcible seizure of power in Russia. The Western media alleged that the case rested on little more than a few words by Berezovsky. Indeed, the reason for instigating criminal proceedings against him was Berezovsky’s interview that appeared on the France Press and Ekho Moskvy websites. The oligarch described how he and his associates had been preparing to seize power in Russia for the last 18 months. That time, the Home Office issued a stern warning to Berezovsky, and in other interviews Berezovsky explained that he had merely meant “taking over power” and intended to resort strictly to legal levers.  But the office of the RF Prosecutor General insists that they have evidence of Berezovsky funding various organizations whose avowed goal is the overthrow of constitutional authority in Russia.  

In the West, Berezovsky is mostly billed as a “critic of the Kremlin” – language that instantly justifies support for him among the routinely Russophobic politicians and media. In Russia, this sort of characterization automatically evokes in any right-thinking individual Ivan Krylov’s fable of the cur and the elephant.

BOBKOV, PHILIP DENISOVICH (b. 1925). General of the Army, one of the top KGB officers responsible for combating ‘ideological subversion” in the later period of the Soviet Union’s existence. 

Bobkov was born in the town of Chervona Kamenka, Ukraine; educated at the Leningrad SMERSH (“death to spies”) Counterintelligence School and the Party School attached to the CPSU Central Committee. 

In October 1946 Bobkov began working with a state security agency.  Starting as an operative’s assistant, he moved up the career ladder to senior executive posts at the State Security Committee (KGB): secretary of the Communist Party committee of the directorate he was working in, head of department, deputy head of the Main Counterintelligence Directorate or Second Main Directorate of the KGB (from 1961), deputy head of the newly created Fifth Main Directorate of the KGB in charge of combating ideological subversion (from 1967), head of the same directorate (from 1969).  

Bobkov’s Fifth Directorate was the main instrument used by the Communist Party leadership to persecute dissidents. Among its more notable successes was the hounding out of the country of Nobel Prize winners Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky. Less conspicuous but actually more important was the work of recruiting countless informers among the “creative intelligentsia.” For his outstanding services in this area Bobkov was appointed in 1982 KGB deputy chairman and in 1985, first deputy chairman, though rumor had it that he was in fact the organization’s real boss. He served in that capacity until the beginning of 1991, when he retired, obviously foreseeing the end of both the USSR and the KGB. From January 1991 Bobkov was inspector-adviser with the Group of the General Staff Advisers General of the Defense Ministry; discharged after the group was disbanded in 1992. 

Upon retirement, Bobkov went to head the “information-analytical service” of Vladimir Gusinsky’s MOST financial-industrial group. According to some sources, Bobkov invested quite a lot of his own capital in the group. According to others, Vladimir Gusinsky was at one time an informer for the Fifth Directorate (nickname, Denis), so that their cooperation goes a long way back. It was reported in the press that Bobkov brought some 200 former officers of the Fifth Directorate to work for the oligarch in his “analytical service,” where they went on doing what they had been trained to do – spying on the oligarch’s friends and enemies and spreading dezas – misinformation aimed at compromising certain individuals or influencing events in the oligarch’s interests. These activities, especially electronic surveillance, led to a well-known conflict between Gusinsky’s secret service and that of President Yeltsin, which erupted in 1994 in violent scenes near Moscow’s City Hall where MOST was based.  

As the oligarch’s fortunes in Russia declined, so did General Bobkov’s.  At present he is mostly busy writing articles and giving interviews trying to whitewash his past both as persecutor of dissidents and oligarch’s servant.

BOKERIA, LEO (LEONID) ANTONOVICH (b. 1939). Famous Russian doctor. Full member of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, director of the Bakulev Research Center for Cardiovascular Surgery, chief heart surgeon of the RF Health and Social Development Ministry, president of the Health of the Nation League, member of the RF Public Chamber where he chairs the Healthy Life commission. 

Born in Ochamchira, Abkhazia, Leo Bokeria was educated at Moscow’s First Medical Institute and holds a Doctor’s degree in Medicine. Since 1968 he has worked at the Cardiovascular Surgery Institute, and is currently also co-chairman of the Public Acclaim National Foundation Council of Trustees, of the Civil Society independent organization, and of the National Civic Committee for Cooperation with Law Enforcement, Legislative and Judicial Agencies. 

Prof. Bokeria is winner of the State Prize, and of the international Golden Hippocrates Prize awarded for combining outstanding healing skills and a fine gift for teaching (2003); he is also holder of the Public Acclaim Gold Badge of Honor (2004). Bokeria received numerous state awards; on 21 December 2004 he was decorated with the Order of Merit Second Class for outstanding achievement in medicine and healthcare.

BOLSHEVIK.  A member of the left, radical wing among Russian Social Democrats, a follower of the prevalent Russian version of Marxist ideology. That ideology was immensely popular among 19th-century European intellectuals, and little by little it spread to Russia. In 1898 the first Russian Marxist party was formed; its name was Russian Social Democratic Workers Party.

In 1903 it split into classical Marxists, the Mensheviks, led by Plekhanov, Chernov, and Chkheidze, and Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Ulyanov (pseudonym, Lenin). The name “Bolshevik” comes from the R. bolshoy “big” as opposed to menshiy “smaller” and is due to the accidental fact that at the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Party in Brussels and London in 1903 Lenin’s faction proved to be in the majority.

The ideological differences between the two groups boiled down to the Mensheviks insisting that in an agrarian country like Russia a revolution led by the bourgeoisie must come first and a proletarian revolution, after. Also the Mensheviks did not agree with Lenin on party tactics. Lenin thought that the party must be a rigid conspiratorial organization of revolutionaries built on the principle of so-called democratic centralism – a rather misleading name, for in actual Bolshevist practice centralism was paramount while democracy counted for very little. The Mensheviks suggested a more amorphous structure where sympathizers of the revolution could declare themselves party members at will and help as much as they could when they could.

The Bolsheviks promoted a doctrine of the party as a dedicated minority that could change the pace of history at will. If the party slowed down history it was reactionary; if it accelerated the course of history it had to be revolutionary. Since history was moved forward by conflicts between classes (social groups), these conflicts should be made more acute, to create what is known as a “revolutionary situation.”

On the other hand, Bolsheviks scorned the pure conspiracy theory. They believed in the spreading of a revolutionary ideology among the masses as a means of preparing them for the revolution. This is the second major difference between Bolshevism and classical Marxism, which makes Russian communism rather un-Marxian. Marx believed ideology to be a tool of bamboozling society and regarded it a duty of the revolutionary to expose “ideological opium.” The Bolsheviks, on the contrary, opposed their own, proletarian ideology to the bourgeois one that was dominant at the time. Later, on the strength of that doctrine so-called proletarian sciences, art and morality, all seen as forms of ideology, were set in opposition to parallel bourgeois sciences, art, and morality.

Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) was the number one Bolshevik ideologue and political leader. He succeeded in leading the Bolsheviks to power and keeping them in power after the October 1917 revolution, now mostly described as an adventurers’ coup. As a tribute to Lenin’s major influence on it, the philosophy of Bolshevism was frequently referred to as Marxism-Leninism.

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) eventually appropriated the role of Lenin’s successor as the ideologue of Bolshevism, although his true contribution to Leninism was negligible compared to that of theoreticians like Leo Trotsky or Nikolai Bukharin. In fact, he stole their political slogans and theoretical doctrines while the authors of these slogans and doctrines were assassinated or tried and executed on his orders.

Anyway, he is said to have singled out two distinct areas of Bolshevist theory – philosophy of nature (dialectic materialism) and philosophy of history (historical materialism). The main idea that he pursued practically rather than theoretically was building socialism in a “single, separately taken country” – that was the mantra repeated millions of times in indoctrination classes throughout the Soviet Union and elsewhere. It was a distinct deviation from the classical Marxist tenet to the effect that a proletarian revolution must necessarily be a world revolution. Stalin was pragmatist enough to realize, from the abortive Communist-led coups in Germany and Hungary after World War I, that the world revolution was strictly no go, and his chances of becoming a leader of such a revolution were nil, while achieving the status of an absolute dictator and in fact a demigod in Russia was a distinct possibility – which he put into practice.

Hence the emphasis on distinguishing between socialism and communism as two phases of a future just society. Socialism is a transitory phase on the way to an absolutely just society, therefore it retains some elements of bourgeois society, such as the state structure and “monetary relations.” However, private property under socialism is nationalized, and the free market is replaced by rational command-administrative management of the economy. Eventually, when socialism has won in all the countries, the Earth will live under communism – a second-phase, absolutely just social system.

The general philosophy of the Bolsheviks amounted to the following two dictums: Matter is primary, Consciousness secondary, and Being determines Consciousness. They understood matter (being) as the eternal world of nature that is capable of self-development through contradictions according to the laws of Hegelian dialectics.  Consciousness is the human soul, the product of evolution of matter.

From 1917 to 1952 the Bolshevist Party was known under several names that included the word “Bolshevik.”  The terms Bolshevism and Bolshevik were given up for good at the 1952 Party Congress when the All-Russia Communist Party of Bolsheviks was renamed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the central theoretical organ of the party, the journal Bolshevik, was renamed Communist. 

Apart from these strictly historical senses, the terms “Bolshevik,” “Bolshevist” are used in a figurative meaning to denote theories and practices that are radical to the point of extremism, and ruthless in execution. Thus Yegor Gaidar’s reforms in Russia in 1992 were seen by many as Bolshevist in spirit, in view of the sufferings inflicted by the reforms on tens of millions of people. At the time, many remembered that Yegor Gaidar’s grandfather Arkady Gaidar had been a merciless Bolshevik guilty of personally executing innocent peasants during the Civil War of 1918-1920. What grandfather and grandson had in common was their determination to act out ideological tenets, be it the doctrine of class struggle or Chicago School monetarism, in callous disregard for the “human material” they meant to make happy no matter what that “human material” actually needed or wanted.




Christopher Caldwell

As Russians see it, their country faces the Catch-22 of all emerging markets, only more so. Russia needs to modernise and yet all the tools of modernisation are in the hands of those who want to boss it around. It thus gets offered a choice between backwardness and the position in the world Brussels and Washington deem appropriate.

Christopher Caldwell

As Russians see it, their country faces the Catch-22 of all emerging markets, only more so. Russia needs to modernise and yet all the tools of modernisation are in the hands of those who want to boss it around. It thus gets offered a choice between backwardness and the position in the world Brussels and Washington deem appropriate.

Andrew E. KRAMER
analyst, "The New York Times"

A consensus is emerging among bankers, economists and companies that evaluate market risk that the return of Vladimir V. Putin as Russia's president will be a net positive for foreign investors - regardless of whether they support the politics of it.

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