Moscow is the capital city of Russia, but it is not ‘Russia’. It is a mixture of the wild west, European urban glamour combining new trends with fast economic growth, and old Russian traditions. Many Russians call Moscow ‘another planet’ or ‘the centre of all’. ‘Moscow is not merely Russia’s capital. It is a treasure chest. The city is home to four-fifths of the country’s national wealth. It boasts more billionaires than New York or London. Everything and everyone is here: banks, businesses, trade’ (Newsweek International Edition, 2005). The city has changed dramatically starting with Yeltsin’s regime, which moved Moscow from its past bleak, dark image with heavy, massive Soviet architecture, to a fast-growing city leading Russia’s future with rising skyscrapers in the new business district and elite fashionable houses in the centre. Bureaucracy and corruption walk in parallel with poverty, changing reforms, rapidly opening fancy restaurants, fashion stores and high inflation.
The city is set in four rings: the outer MKAD, the inner Garden Ring, the middle ring road (known as the Third Ring) and the central Boulevard Ring. The rings emphasise the lines between poor neighbourhoods and the new generation of successful and rich Russians. The best known, the Garden Ring, goes around the inner centre of Moscow where the most expensive real estate prices in the world coexist with ancient brick alleys, heritage museums, the Bolshoi Theatre, and homeless men and women in subways.
Heading west of Moscow, from its outer MKAD, is Rublevskoe Shosse. This road crosses the so-called Russian Beverly Hills and is set in beautiful countryside. It represents power to Russians and a new wave of luxury living. It is a far cry from the ‘sleeping areas’ of the desperate Middle Ring neighbourhoods where the jungle of high-storey concrete buildings and dismantled old houses are sadly reflected in brown muddy puddles. Any picture of Moscow would not be complete without a Red Square tour, the Pushkin restaurant with its sophisticated Russian cuisine, and – of course – the prostitutes that line up in dark corners in the old centre. Gasprom commercials are splashed around the city, among the posh nightlife and very expensive hotels. Moscow is a wild and ambitious business arena offering many opportunities. It is the cultural centre, political battlefield and also the financial brain of Russia. People who come here to visit or to live have only two choices: to fall in love with the city or to hate it. There is no compromise and Moscow doesn’t accept everybody. You have to play by the city’s rules to become a part of it. Moscow is a monster with a carrot and a stick, which constantly tests you, your strength and abilities, before it gives you its love and permits you to stay. It is a city of extreme contrasts, a cruel, sophisticated place with a new generation of businessmen and the headquarters of rising Russia. Moscow is a place of change with lots of promising developments and potential in art, business and commerce.
Moscow’s ‘sign’ on a map has not changed since ancient times. It is still marked as a red star representing a Russian capital in eastern Europe and Moscow still cherishes its long history since its founding in 1147. But today’s Moscow plays an important role in international affairs and the trading world in supplying a global economy with natural resources. Nothing, it seems, can stop the city from becoming a powerful business and political centre: not the 1917 revolution, not the seventy years of brainwashing and attempting to build communism, not the ‘perestroika’ or unstable political situation of the 90s. Instead, Moscow seems to have absorbed all the good and bad from its history and is now sucking up new, innovative and progressive ideas from developed countries like a sponge, as fast as possible. The leftovers of the slowly disappearing attempt to build socialism, alongside dynamic capitalist growth, makes the city a unique place for observing modern Moscow.
The big global demand for natural resources has created a new generation of wealthy and ambitious people who have contributed to Moscow’s current extravagant image and Russian political and cultural influence in the world. Moscow residents demonstrate knowledge of Pomerol wines, present MBA degrees from the best universities in Europe and travel to distinguished destinations. Talented Russian artists are conquering world-famous opera and ballet stages; tennis players are in the spotlight, winning championships around the world; entrepreneur businessmen are buying football clubs overseas; and scientists are once again being recognised at international level. Capricious behaviour, exotic cravings and unusual passions for everything expensive, custom-made and luxurious, have forced the city to open designer boutiques, Ferrari and Lamborghini dealerships, fancy casinos, extravagant new restaurants and cutting-edge movie theatres.
There are a number of common coffee spots and simple chain restaurants often situated next to limited-edition gourmet eateries. According to newspapers, the owner of the Turandot restaurant spent $50 million on designing and decorating a mini-version of the Palace of Versailles in the centre of Moscow. Magnificence and splendour are manifest in antique chandeliers, tapestries, golden decorations, and an endless number of details make the place an unforgettable restaurant/museum/gallery to visit. Foreign media are fascinated with the Russian boom: ‘Russia’s rich have been out in force doing what they do best – spending money conspicuously. Some of the world’s most luxurious brands and services worth $600 million were sold at Moscow’s Millionaire Fair over a single weekend…. Extravagance is in Russian blood…. People who were nobody a few years ago were buying diamond mobile phones for over a million dollars at the festival of luxury propaganda’ (The Times, 2006).
The parking lot near GQ Bar and Galleria restaurant, which are known for being the trendiest spots in Moscow’s nightlife, contains more fancy cars than the parking lot at Jimmy’z in Monte Carlo. Moscow never sleeps and people go to gyms, beauty salons and do business at every time of the day. ‘It’s 3 a.m. and people are awake. Some are getting groceries, others root canals. The economy has boomed — and so have the 24-hour stores’ (Los Angeles Times, 2006). New Russians appreciate quality and style and present an eager and open market for imported expensive goods and services. The wealth has pushed the number of BMWs and Mercedes in Moscow to more than that in the whole of Germany, while the aspiring middle class moved from Russian-made constantly breaking-down Zhigulis to more practical and affordable Korean and Japanese cars. Expensive, modish Lamborghinis gleam and stand out in heavy traffic among the European and American cars, forcing out the Russian veterans. The road system is not able to handle the rapidly growing number of vehicles creating a terrible traffic scenario for busy urban residents. There are many reasons for the huge never-ending traffic jams in the city ranging from cracked and fractured surfaces with gaping holes caused by anything from Russia’s extreme climate, to poor construction and design, to temporary road closure caused by traffic police because of government officials’ passing by.
‘Russians don’t do things by halves. In the mid-1990s Russia’s nouveaux riches gained a reputation for their fascination with diamonds, logos and head-to-toe “total-look” designer dressing. Fast forward a decade: sick and tired of its vulgar reputation, Russia’s elite wants a makeover’ (Guardian, 2007). People watched as new shops, new designers, new luxury style emerged, and also competition between Russian oligarchs as to who would build the biggest yacht and who could buy first a new Airbus A380. Every designer wants to be in Moscow; luxury congresses are held in recently opened Ritz Carlton, and it will only be a matter of a short time before Moscow becomes the centre of the fashion world. Moscow blossomed in its wealth and extravagance proving to the rest of the world that it could easily become the next super power.
Real estate prices in Moscow exceeded all imaginable increases and levels when the oil money influx supported growth of wealth and spending. Central Moscow’s best properties now compete at the same prices as Knightsbridge in London or Fifth Avenue apartments in New York. The difference is in Moscow’s poor and old infrastructure, which manifests itself in broken roads, corrupt housing authorities and unreliable drainage systems. But there are no signs of a repeat of the painful 1998 debt default in this city of shining new wealth and middle-class boom. People live with head-spinning contrasts dealing every day with reckless real estate schemes, bureaucratic and undeveloped official regulations and laws, with no guarantees or insurance that they will be protected by fair judgment or saved from harassment or discrimination.
Unofficial Moscow ‘law’ states that money can buy everything and connections are the most important attribute, a state of affairs that allows as-yet unrecognised talents and poor orphans to become billionaires. Russia has adapted the American ‘can-do’ dream model for adventurous and pushy people which can turn them into rich and famous oligarchs overnight. Anything is possible in Moscow. A clerk can climb the corporate ladder to the VP position in a city minute if he has a good mix of ambition, management support and connections. On the other hand, a billionaire could serve time on a wooden plank bed for violating tax payments and government rules. That’s why business is highly recommended to stay out of politics. Politics and businesses can coexist in Moscow in harmony when both have mutual interests and don’t step on each other’s toes. Moscow is a city of many business opportunities, a rapidly growing job market, and a place where a person can achieve their wildest dreams and desires. The city respects and rewards hardworking people, risk-takers and gamblers alike.
Moscow is a great place to be single. A new era of wealth and luxury attracts young and beautiful women from all over Russia to this money-making centre. While Russian men have made a fortune in the stockmarkets and other business acquisitions, pretty girls come to Moscow to pursue a modelling career, to find a beneficial marriage or a rich sugar daddy. ‘Many young Russian girls dream of becoming socialites, oligarchs’ wives or fashion designers…. There is a huge demographic crisis in Russia: 10 million more women in the population than men’ (Guardian, 2007).
Female competitiveness in Moscow is different from other major capital cities. The way I see it, majority of western European women and Americans build careers, fight for independence and become self-sufficient by the time they are ready to settle down for a family. Moscow has similar tendencies but the majority of new-generation women fall into other categories such as trophy wives, oligarchs’ mistresses, party socialites and the ones who want to become either one of them – so-called ‘vultures’. And that’s why Moscow is famous for beautiful girls and wild parties. There are young women representing a new generation of material and pragmatic ‘vultures’ and off-limit fun-lovers or, as men would say, ‘easy girls’. Vultures are sophisticated and spoiled with men’s attention. They know that their biggest sale is their perfect looks and slim bodies and they try to get the highest price for this advantage. It doesn’t mean that all of them are elite prostitutes or oligarchs’ mistresses. They know what they want and use men to get it. These pragmatic vultures can be smart and organised in their goals and sometimes become actresses, singers or models.
The second group of fun-lovers brings available, easy sex. These women are open-minded and have few principles or values, and a free-thinking mentality about sex. There are thousands of horny women in Moscow bars and clubs who would approach men for no limit of fun. Moscow’s new sexual revolution broke all the taboos and established a new morality for discovering male and female sexuality. Modern relationships and love affairs show the brighter side of Moscow’s human relationships, mirroring Moscow’s capitalism. Elegant women with reptile-like hearts pet fat old wealthy men while young students enter wet T-shirt contest in night clubs with no sexual restrictions. Muscovite men have no choice but to be exposed to what the city has to offer. But Moscow wouldn’t be a city of contrasts if there weren’t a generation of young talented women artists, business managers, well-respected lawyers, entrepreneurs and athletes who are more famous for their achievements than love affairs. And Moscow can be proud of its daughters who rise and shine on the international arena of business, sports and arts.
Moscow is undoubtedly glamorous, but look closely and Moscow still has its dowdy communist inheritance. Muddy and slushy streets with poor drainage systems cover Moscow in a slippery crust and filthy puddles in winter. Moscow has the most overcrowded subway in the world where people traffic exceeds the recommended limit of travellers by five times. The beautiful stations from the communist era cannot accommodate the millions of sweaty angry people in its stuffy and cramped spaces. There are starving pensioners who are waiting and praying for death, organised crime gangs, drugs and prostitution that balance the growing city’s glamour. Moscow is a place where contract killers are hired to shoot journalists and businessmen; where radical nationalists spread seeds of growing discrimination; where corrupt militia authorities rule the streets; where the laws are on the side of the rich and powerful. Moscow is another mega-city with the eternal dilemma of white and black, good and bad, crimes, unfairness and injustice in politics, the economy and routine life.
People make the city what it is and there is a place for everybody in Moscow. For money-hunters and romantic dreamers, for Uzbekh man selling vegetables in a market, for ambitious young Harvard graduates and for me, a girl who wanted to find a place in life by choosing the right career, and by experiencing and exploring her sexuality. I was drawn to the pulsating energy of this fantastic city and I wanted to be a part of its incredible changes and improvements.