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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

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBAs ongoing Breakfast with the Director series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at Sounds of the Universe, a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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