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Yakunin Says Answer to Ukraine Lies in Past

Published: July 2, 2014 (Issue # 1818)



  • Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin speaks to journalists at a forum in Sochi.
    Photo: Maxim Stulov / Vedomosti

SOCHI Vladimir Yakunin is convinced that Ukraines forced amputation from Russia is a triumph for Otto von Bismarck, who plotted the whole thing in the 19th century.

The head of Russias giant state rail company is fired up about politics. He might as well be the U.S., the EU, Canada and Australia have branded him a member of President Vladimir Putins inner circle, frozen his assets and declared him persona non grata over Russias behavior in Ukraine.

Yakunin, whose company Russian Railways is the countrys biggest employer with 1.2 million staff, looked relaxed and confident as he sat down around a table with over a dozen international journalists last month at the annual 1520 Strategic Partnership international business forum in Sochi.

As he has done at previous forums, Yakunin, 65, dispensed with the curt, to-the-point remarks he gives to Russian media, opening up to the foreign press to ad lib about Germanys first chancellor, Ukrainian fascists and Russias appetite for new territory.

It was a question from an Estonian journalist about Russian-Estonian rail cooperation that jerked Yakunin from discussion of the Russian rail market into geopolitical fulminations.

Ukraine has been ground zero in a geopolitical tug-of-war since November, when then President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned plans to sign an association agreement with the European Union and chose instead to pursue closer ties with Moscow. Kievs central Maidan square immediately filled with protestors outraged that Yanukovych had sold out Ukraines European future. A three-month confrontation culminated in snipers firing on protestors. Yanukovych fled and Russia stepped in to defend Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians from the new government which it branded nationalist and illegitimate by annexing Crimea and massing troops on Ukraines eastern border.

The Estonian journalist raised the concern that exists among the people of Baltic countries that after seizing Crimea from Ukraine in March, Russia could go on to engulf them as well. Mr. Yakunin was asked whether he could dismiss these fears.

Yakunin grew up in Estonia, then one of the Soviet socialist republics. Ironically, the country of Yakunins childhood was one of the first to call for his name to be blacklisted.

Hackles raised, Yakunin turned to the subject of international relations with the passion and precision of a veteran scholar, and one who sees Ukraine as a very Russian cultural zone:

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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