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Visiting idyllic, picturesque Plyos on the banks of the Volga

The town of barely 2,000 people provides a place to get away from it all

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(The Moscow Times) – Plyos is one of Russia’s most charming towns, perfect for a weekend getaway. Courtesy of Plyos Villa

Plyos is one of the smallest towns in Russia, with population of less than 2,000 people. Despite its distance from Moscow – almost 400 kilometers – it also happens to be one of the top destinations for weekend trips in Russia.

“Plyos” literally means “stretch of river.” Located on the Volga right in between two of the Golden Ring’s eight cities, Ivanovo and Kostroma, Plyos is sometimes included in the expanded or “alternative” Golden Ring.

History’s Up and Downs

Historians can’t agree on when Plyos was actually founded. Although there is archeological evidence that there was an outpost here as early as 1141, the official date is 1410 when a proper fortress was built by Tsar Vasily I. Plyos became a border post of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. It also served as a customs point, and Plyos river pilots helped only those who paid the fee to navigate difficult rapids nearby. But when the Kazan Khanate was conquered by Ivan the Terrible in 1552, the fortress was no longer needed. After it was burned down in early 17th century it was never rebuilt.

Resurrection Cathedral and Cathedral Hill overlooking the town and river.

Resurrection Cathedral and Cathedral Hill overlooking the town and river.Courtesy of Villa Plyos

The fortress’s location is now called Sobornaya gora (Cathedral Hill), after the beautiful Assumption Cathedral built in 1699 at its very top. The only reminders of the former fortress are the recently reconstructed foundations of its wooden ramparts. Cathedral Hill provides splendid views of Plyos and the Volga.

Plyos’ revival occurred with the development of the textile industry in Ivanovo, when Plyos became the industry’s main port on Volga. Textile merchants built a whole row of expensive houses along the embankment, which stretches down the Volga for nearly two kilometers. It’s a pleasant walk, and you can marvel at the Volga on one side and architectural gems on the other.  In the summer, make sure to take a boat cruise of Plyos and vicinity.

Textile money kept flowing in until the late 19th century, when a railroad was built bypassing the town. That’s when Plyos reinvented itself as a dacha town. Full of merchants’ grand houses, it had no lack of lodging for painters, writers and other bohemian types.

The most famous of them was Isaak Levitan, Russia’s most celebrated landscape painter. Levitan visited Plyos with his mistress and student Sophia Kuvshinnikova three summers in a row – from 1888 to 1890. According to a legend, he first saw Plyos as he passed by on a steamboat and on a whim decided to disembark. Kuvshinnikova was a married woman and her affair with Levitan was something of a scandal, especially after their life in Plyos was depicted in Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Grasshopper.”

The result of Levitan’s stay in Plyos were almost 200 works, among them some of his best known paintings like “Quiet Abode” and “Evening Bells.” There’s much confusion about one of his most famous works, “Over Eternal Peace,” which pictures a lake and a wooden church. The lake is Udomlya Lake in the Tver region, but the church depicted used to stand on the hill opposite Cathedral Hill, now called Levitan’s Mount. The church in the painting burned down in 1903, and the one you see today was moved here from the village of Bilyukovo.

Cozy newly built dachas dot the landscape.

Cozy newly built dachas dot the landscape. Courtesy of Villa Plyos

The house where Levitan and Kuvshinnikova stayed is now a museum. Three years ago it made the headlines when five paintings were stolen. They have been since found, returned to the museum and now hang on the same walls. The museum has a plethora of sketches and paintings by both Levitan and Kuvshinnikova.

Plyos once again became a fashionable destination about a decade ago, when Russia’s high and mighty became the new “summer people” here. A plaque on the Embankment immortalized this turning point for Plyos: “Russian President Medvedev first visited Plyos on August 4, 2008.” In fact, Medvedev’s famous dacha with the “house for ducklings,” shown in great detail in the famous Alexey Navalny video, is just a few kilometers away.

What to Do

Apart from the Levitan Museum, there’s also Museum of Russian Landscape Art, located in a 19th century mansion on the embankment. It exhibits many works by less known landscape artists, including contemporary ones.

A restored wooden house near the picturesque Church of Holy Varvara houses the Provincial Art Gallery M, a private museum with a great collection of Soviet porcelain, including a much discussed Ukrainian-made ballerina statue that Jeff Koons copied for his 13-meter high public art object in the middle of Rockefeller Center in New York City last summer. There’s also an extensive collection of painted papier-mâché boxes with miniature paintings from all the four famous villages that produce them: Palekh, Kholuy, Mstyora, and Fedoskino.

Torgoviye Ryady (Trading Arcades) opposite the new restored Voskresenskaya (Resurrection) Church  is full of run-of-the-mill souvenir shops with the notable exception of a cozy little gallery called Parokhod, (Steamboat) where everything is river-related: from wooden seagulls to model ships.

Autumn on the Volga.

Autumn on the Volga. Courtesy of Villa Plyos

Where to Eat

There’s plenty of dining options. Chugunok (which means “small iron cauldron”), a cafe on the embankment, offers traditional Russian fare, as well as some local specialties like Volga trout. Pivnoy Dom (“Beer House”) is first of all a local brewery. Right in the middle of the second floor there’s a massive tree with life-size mermaid emptying a beer mug. But Pivnoy Dom has some great food, too. Try pelmeni, Russian dumplings, with a twist: made of rye flower, they are more grey than white and filled with local delicacies like elk meat — served not with sour cream, but lingonberry sauce.

A coffee shop on the embankment is named after Sophia Kuvshinnikova and serves decent espresso-based drinks, as well as “Levitan’s favorite cookies” and a local baked specialty called ugol (“corner”) with bream from the Volga.

 Where to Stay

The interest of Russia’s elite skyrocketed real estate prices in Plyos, but you can still find a decent bargain at some of the small local hotels and guest houses. The town site has a listing of places to stay, or you can use any of the standard hotel search and book sites.

If money’s no problem, indulge in a seriously luxurious, but adamantly healthy stay at Villa Plyos, just ten kilometers away from town.

At Villa Plyos guests are assigned a personal trainer and nutritional specialist who will develop a comprehensive program for the visitor’s stay. This might include Nordic walking around the 60 hectares hotel’s territory, as well as spa procedures, sauna, and dips in the swimming pool. All the meals are cooked in accordance with the guest’s personal nutrition program by a French chef.  Check out their site for more detailed information.

How to Get There

The easiest way to get to Plyos is by car. However, if that’s not an option, there’s a bus from Moscow Central Bus Station (Metro Shchelkovskaya) that goes twice daily. Alternatively, you can take a train to Vladimir from Kursky Train Station and catch a taxi from there.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.

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Via Oilprice.com


Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and American Energy Blackmail

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia.

Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris.

Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia.

The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year. Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses.

Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question. Those extra regulations if they had been imposed would have potentially made the Russian gas supply more expensive. As it turns out, the project will now go-ahead without onerous restrictions.

In short, Macron and the spoiling tactics of Washington, along with EU states hostile to Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries, have been put in their place by Germany and its assertion of national interests of securing economical and abundant gas supply from Russia. Other EU member states that backed Berlin over Nord Stream 2 were Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and the Netherlands.

Washington’s claims that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia leverage of Europe’s security have been echoed by Poland and the Baltic states. Poland, and non-EU Ukraine, stand to lose out billions of dollars-worth of transit fees. Such a move, however, is the prerogative of Germany and Russia to find a more economical mode of supply. Besides, what right has Ukraine to make demands on a bilateral matter that is none of its business? Kiev’s previous bad faith over not paying gas bills to Russia disbars it from reasonable opinion.

Another factor is the inherent Russophobia of Polish and Baltic politicians who view everything concerning Russia through a prism of paranoia.

For the Americans, it is obviously a blatant case of seeking to sell their own much more expensive natural gas to Europe’s giant energy market – in place of Russia’s product. Based on objective market figures, Russia is the most competitive supplier to Europe. The Americans are therefore trying to snatch a strategic business through foul means of propaganda and political pressure. Ironically, the US German ambassador Richard Grenell and the other American envoys wrote in their recent oped: “Europe must retain control of its energy security.”

Last month, Grenell threatened German and European firms involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 that they could face punitive American sanctions in the future. Evidently, it is the US side that is using “blackmail” to coerce others into submission, not Russia.

Back to Macron. What was he up to in his belated spoiling tactics over Nord Stream 2 and in particular the attempted problems being leveled for Germany if the extra regulations had been imposed?

It seems implausible that Macron was suddenly finding a concern for Poland and the Baltic states in their paranoia over alleged Russian invasion.

Was Macron trying to garner favors from the Trump administration? His initial obsequious rapport with Trump has since faded from the early days of Macron’s presidency in 2017. By doing Washington’s bidding to undermine the Nord Stream 2 project was Macron trying to ingratiate himself again?

The contradictions regarding Macron are replete. He is supposed to be a champion of “ecological causes”. A major factor in Germany’s desire for the Nord Stream 2 project is that the increased gas supply will reduce the European powerhouse’s dependence on dirty fuels of coal, oil and nuclear power. By throwing up regulatory barriers, Macron is making it harder for Germany and Europe to move to cleaner sources of energy that the Russian natural gas represents.

Also, if Macron had succeeded in imposing tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 project it would have inevitably increased the costs to consumers for gas bills. This is at a time when his government is being assailed by nationwide Yellow Vest protests over soaring living costs, in particular fuel-price hikes.

A possible factor in Macron’s sabotage bid in Germany’s Nord Stream 2 plans was his chagrin over Berlin’s rejection of his much-vaunted reform agenda for the Eurozone bloc within the EU. Despite Macron’s very public amity with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin has continually knocked back the French leader’s ambitions for reform.

It’s hard to discern what are the real objectives of Macron’s reforms. But they seem to constitute a “banker’s charter”. Many eminent German economists have lambasted his plans, which they say will give more taxpayer-funded bailouts to insolvent banks. They say Macron is trying to move the EU further away from the social-market economy than the bloc already has moved.

What Macron, an ex-Rothschild banker, appears to be striving for is a replication of his pro-rich, anti-worker policies that he is imposing on France, and for these policies to be extended across the Eurozone. Berlin is not buying it, realizing such policies will further erode the social fabric. This could be the main reason why Macron tried to use the Nord Stream 2 project as leverage over Berlin.

In the end, Macron and Washington – albeit working for different objectives – were defeated in their attempts to sabotage the emerging energy trade between Germany, Europe and Russia. Nord Stream 2, as with Russia’s Turk Stream to the south of Europe, seems inevitable by sheer force of natural partnership.

On this note, the Hungarian government’s comments this week were apt. Budapest accused some European leaders and the US of “huge hypocrisy” in decrying association with Russia over energy trade. Macron has previously attended an economics forum in St Petersburg, and yet lately has sought to “blackmail” and disrupt Germany over its trade plans with Russia.

As for the Americans, their arrant hypocrisy is beyond words. As well as trying to dictate to Europe about “market principles” and “energy security”, it was reported this week that Washington is similarly demanding Iraq to end its import of natural gas from neighboring Iran.

Iraq is crippled by electricity and power shortages because of the criminal war that the US waged on that country from 2003-2011 which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. Iraq critically needs Iranian gas supplies to keep the lights and fans running. Yet, here we have the US now dictating to Iraq to end its lifeline import of Iranian fuel in order to comply with the Trump administration’s sanctions against Tehran. Iraq is furious at the latest bullying interference by Washington in its sovereign affairs.

The hypocrisy of Washington and elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron has become too much to stomach. Maybe Germany and others are finally realizing who the charlatans are.

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Russia Readies Own Web To Survive Global Internet Shutdown

Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

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Via Zerohedge


Russian authorities and major telecom operators are preparing to disconnect the country from the world wide web as part of an exercise to prepare for future cyber attacks, Russian news agency RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK) reported last week.

The purpose of the exercise is to develop a threat analysis and provide feedback to a proposed law introduced in the Russian Parliament last December.

The draft law, called the Digital Economy National Program, requires Russian internet service providers (ISP) to guarantee the independence of the Russian Internet (Runet) in the event of a foreign attack to sever the country’s internet from the world wide web.

Telecom operators (MegaFon, VimpelCom (Beeline brand), MTS, Rostelecom and others) will have to introduce the “technical means” to re-route all Russian internet traffic to exchange points approved by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), Russia’s federal executive body responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications.

Roskomnazor will observe all internet traffic and make sure data between Russian users stays within the country’s borders, and is not re-routed abroad.

The exercise is expected to occur before April 1, as Russian authorities have not given exact dates.

The measures described in the law include Russia constructing its internet system, known as Domain Name System (DNS), so it can operate independently from the rest of the world.

Across the world, 12 companies oversee the root servers for DNS and none are located in Russia. However, there are copies of Russia’s core internet address book inside the country suggesting its internet could keep operating if the US cut it off.

Ultimately, the Russian government will require all domestic traffic to pass through government-controlled routing points. These hubs will filter traffic so that data sent between Russians internet users work seamlessly, but any data to foreign computers would be rejected.

Besides protecting its internet, Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

“What Russia wants to do is to bring those router points that handle data entering or exiting the country within its borders and under its control- so that it can then pull up the drawbridge, as it were, to external traffic if it’s under threat – or if it decides to censor what outside information people can access.

China’s firewall is probably the world’s best known censorship tool and it has become a sophisticated operation. It also polices its router points, using filters and blocks on keywords and certain websites and redirecting web traffic so that computers cannot connect to sites the state does not wish Chinese citizens to see,” said BBC.

The Russian government started preparations for creating its internet several years ago. Russian officials expect 95% of all internet traffic locally by next year.

As for Russia unplugging its internet from the rest of the world for an upcoming training exercise, well, this could potentially anger Washington because it is one less sanction that can keep Moscow contained.

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