Author: Kent Moors, Ph.D.
With the mess Czar Vladimir is unfolding in Ukraine these days, we could use a lighter moment.
As it happens, this edition of the Classified Intelligence Brief Spy Tale series is also a product of Putin’s “vision” for modern Russia, takes place early in his reign, and comes, once again, from an entry in that coded notebook of mine. This time I was back in Russia on a short term trip to evaluate part of an ongoing mission with my cover being something else (meetings on oil trade).
Putin had divided Russia into seven new administrative districts to oversee the country’s far flung regions. The real objective was to see that the “central will” was imposed the same way throughout a domestic empire stretching out over 11 time zones.
The new “governor generals,” as they are called, are supposed to maintain central authority and keep the 89 regional heads of government in check. The “general” part of the title is appropriate since the new districts match perfectly the seven internal districts into which the army is divided.
Lest there be any question about whose authority is stronger and from whence it comes.
Well, one of these splendid fellows quickly fell into trouble. The people who suddenly went after his carcass were women about to be married in St. Petersburg, supported by thousands who already had been.
You heard it right. Brides, in their gowns no less, were picketing the city’s legislature because of the first official action of Viktor Cherkesov. That’s the guy who was named governor general for northwestern Russia, the area including the city of St. Petersburg
He looked around to find an office befitting his lofty new position and settled on an impressive palace with a gorgeous view of the Neva River and the famous Summer Gardens of Peter the Great.
The palace had been built in 1910 for Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayev, the grand uncle of the last genuine czar of Russia, Nicholas II.
When news of this hit, the shouting and marching commenced. Because the building just happens to be the most popular of three official locations for wedding ceremonies in the city. Betrothed couples voiced strong opposition, as well as their parents and others who had tied the knot there.
“Wedding Palace No. 3,” as it had been called for generations, hosted more than 3,000 weddings a year and almost as many anniversary receptions. At the time, it was also the only place in St. Petersburg where foreigners could be married. The plan was now that it would house 58 colorless officials in the expanded entourage of the governor general.
Vladimir Yakovlev, St. Petersburg’s mayor, had been keeping his distance from the carnage. A spokesman at the time did observe that the mayor had “expressed reservations and explained that it would definitely provoke a negative reaction.”
That was an understatement.
Of course, since Putin’s administrative decision had stripped Yakovlev of some powers, he also was probably delighting in the situation facing Cherkesov.
Meanwhile, local police cannot remember the last time they had witnessed such a sight. “Women who were married years ago have taken out their wedding dresses, put them back on, and joined the protest,” one told a local newspaper. Another observed that the women’s husbands often would stand on the sidelines in disbelief.
The 481 couples already booked for summer weddings at No. 3 have been told they can go ahead with the ceremonies. Cherkesov decided to delay his building takeover until September. But the concession was offset by the city property chief who told the protestors that marriage rates had declined and the municipality would be fine with only two locations for weddings.
The controversy was hitting wide areas of the population. A young man named Alexei, who said he had no immediate thoughts of getting married, summed up what may well be the city’s opinion on it all. “I feel like I’ve been robbed,” he said. “It is as if you have missed a train and it is not your fault.”
The demonstrations and petitions to government would continue. The local legislature passed a resolution against the closure, but it had no force. Once again, an administrator turned a simple decision into a public outrage by not considering custom and tradition.
I put this marginal observation in my notebook: several folks told me over the past few days that such problems hardly ended when the communists fell from power.
Ah, but there was at least one last appeal I noted. It seems Cherkesov, a St. Petersburg native, had been married 14 years earlier at No. 3. No word yet on what Mrs. Cherkesov had in store from him.
Subsequent to what I wrote above, another St. Petersburg native stepped into the fray and had the Cherkesov matter settled. Putin, you see, is also from St. Petersburg.
No. 3 remained a marriage site until closing in 2013. The “Nikolai Palace” remains a tourist attraction today. As for Cherkesov, he was promoted to the central administration in Moscow at the end of his initial term as a governor general. I could never find out whether his wife went along with him.
Dr. Kent Moors
This is an installment of Classified Intelligence Brief, your guide to what’s really happening behind the headlines… and how to profit from it. Dr. Kent Moors served the United States for 30 years as one of the most highly decorated intelligence operatives alive today (including THREE Presidential commendations).
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