Russia 2013: Success and Anxiety

Lake Chebarkul. Source: Geophoto

Lake Chebarkul. Source: Geophoto

How Russians will remember the outgoing year.

The outgoing year had a disturbing start – a large-scale disaster. In February, a large meteorite fell in Chelyabinsk, a major industrial center of the Urals. The explosive power of this meteorite was approximately 500 kilotons (30 times stronger than the Hiroshima atomic bomb).

The shock wave smashed windows on 7,000 buildings and more than a thousand residents suffered minor injuries from the broken glass. Subsequently, scientists spent several months raising the meteorite’s remains from the bottom of Lake Chebarkul.

Then in August, the Russian Far East suffered from the biggest floods in recent decades. All the major cities situated along the Amur River were affected. The total number of people affected reached 183,000 people.

Flood in Russian Far East

Flood in Russian Far East. Source: RIA Novosti / Sergei Mamontov

The total flood damage is estimated at about 40 billion rubles ($1.3 billion). Surprisingly, this incredible disaster did not bring any human fatalities.

Unfortunately, some social upheavals took place as well. The year 2013 was marked by a surge of nationalism. Three major conflicts suddenly ignited between ethnic Russians and people from the Caucasus and Central Asia, which developed into riots and clashes.

Each time, these conflicts passed through the same stages: domestic violence (murder), meetings of locals and a pogrom. The greatest attention was given to an outbreak of violence that occurred in autumn in Biryulyovo, a remote district of Moscow.

Riots in Moscow

On Oct. 12, in Biryulevo, a spontaneous rally formed, demanding the arrest of the murderer of Yegor Scherbakov. Source: AP

In most cases, the police managed to prevent the escalation of these conflicts, but experts warn that the bursts of nationalism are primarily due to the accumulated discontent in society, and urgent action is needed to remedy the situation.

But there were also some positive events in 2013.

The main cultural event of the year was the opening in May of an ultramodern New Stage of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.

The new stage of the Mariinsky Theatre will open on May 2. Source: PhotoXPress

The new stage of the Mariinsky Theatre. Source: PhotoXPress

This remains one of the two most important theaters in Russia since the days of the Russian Empire.

In 2013, Russia successfully conducted two major sporting events. In July, in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, the Universiade was held – a sports competitions involving university students from all over the world.

Kazan’s Universiade

Russia's Evgeniya Ukolova (L) and Yekaterina Khomiakova have won the Women's Beach Volleyball event at the 2013 Summer Universiade in Kazan. Source: ITAR-TASS / Georgy Andreyev

This was the largest Summer Universiade in history, with 351 sets of medals awarded for 27 sports. Almost 12,000 athletes from 162 countries participated. The greatest number of medals won and new records set at the Universiade, belong to the Russian team.

The World Championships in Athletics, held in Moscow, became one of the biggest events of the year. The Russian team won seven gold medals, four silver and six bronze. The most spectacular winner was Yelena Isinbayeva.

Yelena Isinbaeva

Isinbayeva wraps her goodbye in gold. Source: Mikhail Sinitsyn / RG

The two-time Olympic champion, who many did not believe in, after a series of failures, managed to prove that she remains one of the most outstanding athletes of our time.

In November, they launched the Olympic torch relay, which must reach Sochi by February 2014. The torch has been in many regions of Russia, underwater and even on the space station.

Olympic flame in CHelyabinsk

Olympic flame in Chelyabinsk. Source: RIA Novosti

In domestic politics, the year 2013 will be remembered, above all else, because of the law banning gay propaganda among minors, which passed at the end of June. This law has caused much debate both in and outside of the country.

According to the law, those who promote non-traditional sexual relations can by fined. The highest fines will reach 1 million rubles (more than $30,000). It is worth noting that this law has caused much greater resonance abroad than in Russia.

Russians were much more worried about the so-called “nationalization of the elites.” According to the law that came into force in May, civil servants and MPs must divest themselves of all their foreign assets. In addition, for the first time since 2004, Russia returned to the practice of direct elections of regional governors.

There were also plenty of curious incidents in 2013. In January, the famous French actor Gerard Depardieu received Russian citizenship, as well as an offer to become the minister of culture of one of the national republics – Mordovia.

French actor Depardieu granted Russian citizenship

French actor Depardieu granted Russian citizenship. Source: RIA Novosti / Yuri Chichkov

As it turned out, he was outraged by the introduction in France of a 75 percent income tax, and decided to move to Russia, where the tax rate is 13 percent.

One of the most discussed events of 2013 was the divorce of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Society’s reactions were ambiguous to the decision of the head of state, but, in general, his ratings remained high.

Vladimir and Lyudmila Putin announced their divorce on June 6, when leaving the State Kremlin Palace, where they had watched the ballet “Esmeralda.”

Putin and his wife announced divorce

Vladimir Putin divorces his wife after 29 years in marriage. Source: Reuters / Aleksey Nikolsky / RIA Novosti

“It was our mutual decision. Our marriage is over. We hardly ever see each other,” he said.

At least twice in the past year, Russia was in the center of the resonant international scandals. The first time was the case of the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, and eventually receiving asylum in Russia with the condition of not doing any additional harm to United States.

Edward Snowden

Snowden granted temporary asylum in Russia for one year. Source: Reuters

Nevertheless, the decision of the Russian authorities caused an uproar in the U.S. and had a negative impact on the uneasy Russian relations with the White House.

Another scandal was provoked by Greenpeace activists. In September, the Arctic Sunrise was detained by Russian border guards during a protest near the Prirazlomnaya Oil Platform in the Pechora Sea.


The Arctic Sunrise captain Peter Willcox said the most difficult thing was to learn that they may be sentenced to 18 years in prison for piracy. Source: AFP / East News

Environmentalists were arrested and initially accused of piracy, but subsequently this sentence was changed to a milder one. Most likely, they will soon be released under an amnesty bill adopted by the Russian parliament in late December to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia’s first post-Soviet constitution.

Despite these scandals, the main successes of Russia in 2013 are precisely in the area of foreign policy. The G-20 summit in St. Petersburg played a great role in raising the prestige of the country.

They not only discussed Syria, being on the front pages of newspapers worldwide, but also made landmark decisions regarding plans for the development of the world economy and overcoming of the crisis.

Syrian chemical weapons\

The main achievement of Russia was overcoming of the crisis involving Syrian chemical weapons. Source: AP

The main achievement of Russia was overcoming of the crisis involving Syrian chemical weapons. Moscow’s initiative allowed Damascus to avoid a military strike by the U.S. and its allies, and kept Washington from being drawn into a new local conflict. As a result, the Russian Federation once again started being seen as a significant player on regional and global arenas. 

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