Changes in Russian pronunciation in the post-Soviet era

Russian acquires diphthongs and a softer singsong intonation under the influence of provincial speech patterns.

In Moscow, I notice that more and more people keep adopting much softer and longer vowels than what I’m used to. I feel like Russian is starting to be filled with diphthongs in unstressed positions: Shiərəaká strəaná məayá rəadnáyə instead of Shərəká strəná məyá rədnáyə (Широка страна моя родная is the line from a very famous Soviet song).

Moscow dialect

The “Moscow speak” is generally more crispy compared to how people speak in most other parts of the country. Among other things:

  • Shorter, perkier vowels in unstressed positions
  • Unstressed o pronounced as a distinct a, as well as stressing a in unstressed positions: s Maskvý, s pasáda, s kaláshnava ryáda. A provincial would pronounce: s Məskvý, s pəsádə, s kəláshnəvə ryádə
  • Slight nasality in a’s (Russian has no nasal vowels), which makes it sharper and more prominent


Example of the “Moscow-speak”

A Russian visitor in Riga, Latvia, speaking in a diphthongized “non-Moscow dialect”.

My “v” is consistently harder than “v” they use. They often pronounce it a bit like English “w”. Sometimes it falls out altogether. Dyévəshkə (“girl”) sounds much like dyéəshkə.

“Odessa lips”

I’m puzzled by the quirk many Russians have adopted of pulling their lips to the side, showing teeth when speaking. On TV, Putin and Medvedev often do that when they try to make an important point. I can’t remember people doing this when I was young, apart from gangsters imitating the Jewish “Odessa speak”.

Below, a series of interview with residents of Odessa. They display the “scowling lips” when speaking, which in Russia long has been associated with professional gangsters (vóry v zákone). The “scowling lips” is now increasingly adopted by many males around the country who want to look tough.

How does the British-Soviet invasion of Iran compare with the German invasion of Belgium in WWI?

The Allied invasion in Iran in 1941 was handled much more competent than the German invasion in Belgium in WW1

“War does not determine who is right, war determines who is left”, – Murphy’s Combat Laws.

The scale of civil/paramilitary resistance to occupation was incomparable. Belgium had its brave franc-tireurs that inflicted painful casualties onto advancing Germans to the point where the Germans decided they needed to make an example by shooting innocent civilians and destroying their property. Civilians in Iran either didn’t have the weapon or din’t feel compelled to try and help their overwhelmed troops. So beyond some sporadic rapes and violence that usually goes with wartime foraging, the Soviet and British troops didn’t see the point in making the civilians suffer more than necessary.

Iran could only dream of the war propaganda machine that the powers of Entente Cordiale possessed. Whatever crimes on the Iranian soil might have been committed, they didn’t come on record or weren’t used for whipping up nationalistic sentiments, and waned from memory.

Germans didn’t even try at first to cover up their own atrocities. They saw public executions as a warning for civilians not to get involved in resisting occupation. Therefore, plenty of pictures, witness evidence, documentation. And certainly, educated urban Belgians and their allies were in a much better position at documenting atrocities than

Iran, where poor illiterate farmers and shopkeepers made the vast majority at the time. As to Soviet Union of WW2, we learned the lesson from the WW1 Germans very well, and when messing with prisoners, or restive civilians, or class enemies we were always making sure there was not much evidence left.

War history is written by victors. We have to live with it.

Putin is not a fascist

Given the definition of Fascism, President Putin is not a Fascist. He’s a non-aligned conservative, dedicated to preservation of status quo inside Russia.

Putin himself has not said anything that would place him among fascists. He’s a pragmatic authoritarian. More than that, his past as a secret police officer has taught him virtues of anonymity, ideological flexibility and never revealing to anyone his true objectives.

But Russia as a society, on the whole, has seen a considerable drift toward fascism under Putin. Consider this:

  • Tradition (Church, family, the past military glory) is hailed as the uttermost national value. Future is full of dangers. Progress is good as long as it brings better weapon or more goods we can sell foreigners but otherwise it’s subject to manipulation by Russia’s enemies.
  • Blood-and-soil thinking. Every inch of land where Russian blood is spilled is either indisputably Russian or could be it at some later time. Every inch of Russian soil is worth to die for.
  • Eclecticism and syncretism. Csars, Stalin and Putin are the Trinity saints of Holy Russia, no contradiction even considered.
  • Glorification of military might and coercion as a political tool. “Russia has only two true friends: its army and navy”.
  • Corporatism and Statism as a strategy for governance. Anything that happens must be authorized by the State. Anything State allows must happen within organizations approved by state.
  • Russia as a besieged city on the hill. Sadistic Teutons, mercantile Jews and envious Anglo-Saxons scheming against magnificent, good-natured, magnanimous Russia through millennium.
  • Dissent is treason. Many people believe that the little there is of opposition in Russia exist because the CIA, State Department and the Soros Foundation are propping up some unprincipled, venal, immoral people, many of them Jews.
  • Fuhrer is our Savior. “End to Putin is the end of Russia” (quoting Putin’s top adviser). Criticism of Putin is banned on TV, radio and in the public debate. You still may indulge in some Putin-bashing in the farthest nooks and corners of the Internet (but “we know where you live and where you kid goes to school”).
  • Omnipresence of the police state. Most of top positions in the state are held by people from (or with connections to) the secrete police or military intelligence. The FSB is de-facto the mightiest business network in Russia. Using windfalls from the oil bonanza, Putin restored the secret service to its former Soviet glory. Number of officers involved in spying, surveillance and containment of political opposition has possibly surpassed the Soviet level, measured as per capita.

Access to university education in the USSR

Higher education in the USSR was accessible to everyone, even though the standards varied, and corruption kept commoners from the most popular lines of study.

Higher education was free, as was much else. The arrangement was part of the standard Communist contract with society: “stay obedient, stay poor, get things free”.

Meritocratic selection

As the number of admissions was limited, you needed grades to pass. In my time (the 1970s and 1980s), it was two steps: first, you needed an average grade from the last year in school, and then you get an average grade in the admission exams (typically 4–6 subjects testing what you learned in school). The ones with the highest average get past the post.

The two-step admission existed because universities didn´t trust school grades. Standards of teaching varied greatly, and most of time you could simply buy better school grades. You could as well bribe your way through the admission too, but it was more expensive and complicated (go find what palm to grease if you are a 17-year old farmer boy first time in a big city).

Spots of corruption

Were you an offspring from some big shot’s family, all it took was a series of telephone calls through the friends-and-family network down to the admission officers. That kind of non-monetary admission was much preferred. Bribery was officially frowned upon, and everyone felt great about helping their pals. The true Age of Innocence!

Ideological footprint

The faculties were basically similar to the largest Western universities. The curriculum was very conservative (often lagged behind the Western one by 10–20 years), and typically included at least one Communist indoctrination course, as well as a mandatory introduction to every subject, e.g. “The role of the Communist Party guidelines from the XXV Congress of the CPSU for further development of particle physics in the USSR”.

Master’s grade was the standard, and required at least 5 years. Grading system was 1–5, with 5 the highest. Most of students managed 4s and 5s, the sloppy ones got the passing 3. Never heard of anyone of my friends who´d ever managed 2.

Learning by rote

Learning method was the glorious cramming of the curriculum, inherited from 19th century Prussian universities. Memorize as much as you can from the professor´s lectures and the books, and you get your grade. Some islands of creative teaching and university research produced world-class graduates, mostly in sciences: the Soviet military needed bright minds and smart weapons. But they were few.

Throughout the Soviet era, the teaching standards were more and more following the international level, and intellectual curiosity was gaining ground. The problem was that the older generation of professors and researchers — those who got their education from the hands of good old masters from pre-Communist times before the indoctrination and rejection of “bourgeois science” — these were retiring. The new academia were a complete product of Soviet era that valued conformity and following orders above curiosity and critical thinking.

Four important milestones to acquiring a continent-size territory

Muscovy (predecessor of Russia) made its first major land conquests in the 15th century. The last happened in 1945.

Russia is the world’s largest country. Our territory is comparable to the planet Pluto. We Russians did it in four major steps:

  1. Crushed the descendant royalties of Mongol-Tartars to the east and took their lands and dependencies (15th and 16th centuries) in Siberia and Far East
  2. Crushed the Swedes in the west and got access to the Baltic sea (17th century). That´s where St. Petersburg is now.
  3. Crushed the Turks and the Persians to the south and took from them the Crimean peninsula and Caucasus (1700s and 1800s)
  4. Took East Prussia from the Germans and partitioned it with Lithuania and Poland (1945)

A few other land conquests (Alaska, Finland & the Baltics, Ukraine & Belorussia, Romania and Central Asia) don’t count because we lost them along the way.

The annexation of Crimea in 2014 doesn’t belong to that list. The official version states it was Russian even in Ukrainian possession, because it belonged to Russian empire before 1917, was part of Russian Socialist Federative Soviet republic until 1956, and joined Russian Federation as a result of a referendum, not a military conquest.

Also remember that the Mercator projection used on modern maps makes Russia look much bigger than it actually is. Below is an illustration showing the real size of Russia compared to Africa, without the Mercator distortion.

russia size compared to africa
Real size of Russia compared to Africa, without the Mercator distortion

Soviet ruble: the money to end all money

Lenin gave up the fight against money early on. He made it instead a tool for Communist cause

Lenin tried to enforce abolishment of all money in 1918, along with nationalization of women. People in his entourage who had a clue, stalled the plan. Instead, the Communist started printing money.

Hyperinflation and the general collapse of economy led to a spread of barter trade. If you are a Communist and you have power, you hate barter trade: people go about arranging things without you and there´s no way you can insert yourself in the process without starting to shoot people. Worst of all, it´s very hard to levy taxes when people don´t have money.

After a few years of getting salaries in grain, cloth and propaganda leaflets, Communists saw the light and reintroduced money. As born-again monetarists, they hit the ground running, with a currency unit that was tied to gold standard. Here´s the legendary golden ruble (called “chervonets”):

Cash proved to be king. The national economy recovered overnight. The Communist got their taxes. During the next 15 years the USSR used the money to buy from the US and Germany all we needed to build the mightiest military in history that crushed Nazis and made half the world a Soviet backyard.

No wonder that no one else in the USSR ever talked again about abolishing money.

Why WW2 began in the west, while the stated Nazi expansion plans were in the east?

The West had to be crushed first, before Hitler could open the second front in the east. Failure to do so led to his ultimate defeat in WW2

Contrary to the established terminology, the “Second Front” during WW2 was opened by Hitler on June 22, 1941. This was the day when Nazi Germany attacked their former ally, the Soviet Union, in the hope of a quick victory. In the meantime, even after the defeat of France in 1940, there were continuing military clashes in the west: in Africa, in the skies above Britain and around the Atlantic ocean.

Why did Hitler found himself fighting in the west long before the war with the Soviet Union, in spite of his old program of expansion to the East of Europe?

Imminence of threat

France was considered much more dangerous than anyone else. Militarily, it had the largest land force (Hitler didn’t know about the scale of Soviet military build-up), was closer to the German heartland than the USSR, and enjoyed strategic support from the UK.

As an ally of Poland, France find itself obliged to declare a war on Germany in September ’39. Going east with such an enemy force in the back in the state of war for Hitler would be an unacceptable risk. He needed to finish off the French before everything else.

Economic considerations

Hitler had an unsustainable budget deficit throughout his entire rule and started WWII with a debt of 40 billion Reichsmarks against a GDP of 30 billion Reichsmarks. Back in the 1930s, if you had the choice of Bolshevik Russia versus France for where to go for good old sacking and plunder, the choice was obvious.

Imperatives of national psyche

France was seen as the evil force in the recent German history. First as primary driving force maintaining German nations divided and in conflict with each other during the 17th and 18th century. Then, the brutal robber of German land, pride and wealth as the victor in WWI.

Strategic realities

France is much more suited for “blitzkrieg”, the cherished baby of Hitler´s geopolitical brain, than Russian plains where nature and the soil itself rejects paved roads. Besides, before engaging the USSR, he needed to take Poland, and Poland was tied with France.

Fateful error

The West had to be crushed first, before Hitler could open the second front in the east. With Britain defeated, or with a simple truce across the Channel, Hitler could have avoided dragging the US into the fray. Failure to do so led to his ultimate defeat in WW2.

Paradoxically, this also caused the annihilation of almost the entire Red Army in the battles of 1941. Stalin gambled that Hitler wouldn’t attack before striking a deal with Churchill — and almost lost the war.

Like Caesar, like Putin: Russia’s propaganda approach

Putin’s Russia wants to be friends with anyone anti-American and anti-liberal.

Despite recurring allegations that Putin uses the old Soviet propaganda book in his PR-efforts to win support among the public in the West, he is radically different. His ideology is an absence of ideology. This would be unthinkable in the good old times of the Cold War.

Just like Julius Caesar who was rumored to be “every woman’s man and every man’s woman”, Putin is an equal opportunity man for anyone irrespective of their views. The only requirement for them is to be anti-American and anti-liberal.

This is why the range of Putin admirers spans from the alt-right white supremacists to the black-clad mask-wearing, stone-throwing leftist libertarians. Everyone sees in him what they want him to be to serve their agenda.

Siberia: bound to remain part of Russia

Asian parts of Russia have neither the geography, nor economy, nor population numbers to break lose from Russia

Siberia and the Far East were colonized by Russia at the same time as North America by the English and other Europeans. This makes many ask the question: is it possible that Siberia may break lose from Russia in the end, just like the United States won their independence from Britain?

The answer is: very unlikely. There are several reasons that tie the territories east of Urals to Russia proper.


Siberia is ethnically dominated by Russians. Due to the Stalin-era migrations, purges and wars, the native population is substantially diluted by people from other parts of the Soviet Union.

As to the ethnic Russians there, the sense of local identity is not strong enough to form a shared sense of distinctive community as opposed to the European Russians.


Siberia has a distinct colonial character to its economy. It specializes on raw materials extracted at remote places. These spots of economic activity have harsh climate, few roads, little diversification. Most, or all of food, equipment and consumer goods are delivered there from the European part of Russia.


Siberia is sandwiched between the Russian heartland to the west and the Far East on the way to China and the Pacific Rim. No useful coastline and ports apart from some decrepit shallow-water pears up in the Arctic.

The calculus of their independence is unlikely to add up in economic terms the end. Whatever it saves of its riches by taking it from Moscow, it would have to spend on getting the wares out to the world market.

National psyche

Russia’s history over an entire millennium was predicated on a constant territorial expansion. This makes shrinking like the ones that happened in 1917 and 1991 a national tragedy to all Russians irrespective of ideology. “Separatism” is a dirty word, and anything that smacks of it, may bring you fines or a prison term for “extremism” under Russia’s law.

Any government in Moscow is going to fight against separation of eastern territories with all the nation got at disposal. Not least because the bulk of our profitable petroleum exports comes from Siberia and the Far East.


Sparse population + enormous territory + lopsided economy + disgruntled Russia as a neighbor would make an independent Siberia’s national defense nearly impossible. Independent Siberia would have to depend on Russia for its national security, and why would Russia want to provide it?

Below is a map that shows rate of ethnic Russians among the population around the country. Red means more the 80%, rose more than 50%. This ethnic distribution makes it problematic to separate even for ethnicities with the history of violent resistance to Russian colonization: Chukchas in north-east, Yakut in the center, and Turks along the southern rim.

The borders of Russian World

The “Russian world” is what at some point in time was controlled by the House of Romanov, or considered to be under their spiritual protection, or frequented by Russian colonizers.

In March 2014, at the pinnacle of nationalist sentiment leading to the annexation of Crimea, President Putin called Russia “one of the biggest, if not the biggest, divided nation in the world”. Loyalist experts explained to the puzzled world that “countries with large Russian populations can only survive if they take the needs of those people into account… [it] doesn’t mean that they have to join the Russian Federation, but it means that they should never think of opposing the Russian Federation.

In plain terms, Russia’s neighbors where Russian-speaking minorities experienced injustice ran the risk of losing the territories where these minorities lived. Just like this happened to Ukraine. On March 7, 2014, President Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov, announced that Putin was the guarantor of security in the Russian World

Where exactly are the borders of the Russian world? Pretty much where Russia’s territory goes now, with some additions:

  • Estonia and Latvia (large Russian minorities there)
  • Belarus (we consider them to be Russians that need to be rescued from under an unfortunate Polish influence)
  • Ukraine, with the possible exception of its fiercely nationalistic westernmost part. We see them as slightly retarded Russians that speak a weird archaic dialect.
  • Transdnestria, the Russian-speaking enclave in Moldova.
  • Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions of Georgia with pro-Russian minorities.
  • The whole of Kazakhstan, or the northern part of it. Russians used to make up at least half of its population.
  • Alaska. It used to be Russian, before we made fools of ourselves selling it to Americans in the middle of 18th century.
  • Port-Artur and Dalian in China used to be our naval bases before the Japanese messed up with us a hundred years ago. We also built a railroad connecting Vladivostok with Siberia directly over the Chinese territory. Would be nice having these back.
  • Svalbard archipelago in Norway. We mean to be the first settlers there, not the Norwegians.
  • The entire Arctic Ocean in the triangle between the Bering Strait, the North Pole and the Russian border with Norway. If Alaska returns to Russia, we would like that additional slice of Arctic sector too.
  • Serbia + Montenegro + a selection of Orthodox monasteries in Greece would be an excellent addition to heartland Russia. Our brethren in the Balkans may have some doubts about losing their statehood, but we’ll explain how it is much better than being part of Godless, gay-loving, Muslim-infested Europe.
  • Armenia. The little nation’s only chance to withstand enmity from their Muslim neighbors.
  • Istanbul/Constantinople, with a sizable addition of adjoining territories. The Promised Land of Russian Orthodox church. Superior location for coronation of Russian presidents, winter Olympics and Mr Putin’s second winter residence.

The logic behind this is rather straightforward. The Russian world is the territories that at some point in time were controlled by the House of Romanov, or considered to be under their spiritual protection, or frequented by Russian colonizers.