Beer Pipe, Cave Cult, Bookend Odd Year

ReutersKuznetsov, right, talking to journalists at a hospital in the city of Penza as his followers are holed up in a nearby cave.
The outgoing year began with plans by Zenit, the St. Petersburg football club funded by gas giant Gazprom, to build a beer pipeline at its stadium to fuel fans and ended with cult followers holed up in a cave awaiting the end of the world.

What came in between made about as much sense.

It was the last year of Vladimir Putin's presidency, and celebrities of all stripe lined up to ask — no, beg — the man to stay on. He seems to have ignored their groveling, however, and opted to guide a new, shorter man by the name of Medvedev into office.

Medvedev's name means "bear" in Russian if you remove the "ev," and it was, indeed, the year of the bear. United Russia, whose symbol is a bear, won a crushing victory in the State Duma elections. But in a slight twist, 2007 also saw the arrival of Mishki, or Bear Cubs, a group of pubescent and prepubescent Putin admirers whose members are theoretically not old enough to stay up and watch the nightly news.

But most of the Mishki at the group's inaugural rally this month looked considerably older than 15, the age limit for members. One of the kids even lit up a cigarette at the rally.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a former guerrilla fighter, was the odd voice of reason on firearms in 2007, calling for moderation when it comes to firearms at weddings.

"It won't be right if I ban shooting at weddings," Kadyrov said. "I am not against our traditions, but we need to limit shooting. Two or three times is enough, and not from large caliber machine guns."

Another official who marked the year with cool logic was Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who gave a motivational speech to the Russian national football team in the locker room right before the crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against England at Luzhniki stadium in October.

"They have 11 people, we have 11 people," Zubkov explained. "They have two hands, two feet. So do we. But we have the most important thing: We won the Great Patriotic War and were first to fly to space and, therefore, you must win today too.

Russia won 2-1.

Sadly, Zubkov did not mention the year's greatest space achievement: cockroach sex. Yes, the first tarakanavty, as they have been dubbed, combining the Russian words for cockroach and cosmonaut, were launched into space in September. The cockroaches copulated while hovering above the Earth, and the lucky mother, Nadezhda, gave birth after Voronezh scientists brought the pests home.

Fortunately, there have been no reports of mutant space cockroaches overrunning Voronezh region towns.

Zubkov also demonstrated an iron fist, sending a Finance Ministry official into temporary exile in Sakhalin for failing to deliver emergency funds following an earthquake on the island. The official should consider himself lucky: A deputy finance minister was sent to a detention facility a few months later and has yet to return.

The Family of the Year award goes to the Baturins, the estranged brother-and-sister Yelena and Viktor. The duo, whose fortunes have come largely from concrete, have built millions of square meters in Moscow — much during the tenure of Yelena Baturina's husband, Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Viktor Baturin accused singer Dima Bilan, whom he claims to have funded to the tune of $5 million, of going "black" on him with an album that could only be called Justin Timberlake lite.

"Why do we have to put out R&B, which was created in the brothels of New Orleans?" Baturin said.

Meanwhile, Baturina, who is more media shy, warned that new construction must continue lest Russian cities go the way of Venice, which she said "looks appalling," Vedomosti reported.

"Honestly, I look in horror at Venice, at those terrible peeling buildings," Baturina told Vedomosti. "It truly is a scary sight."

As 2007 came to a close, more than 30 people fearing a dictatorship tried to run away from the world. No, they weren't members of the liberal opposition, which doesn't seem to have more than 30 people, judging by state-controlled television reports. They were members of a doomsday cult who holed themselves up in a Penza region cave to wait for the end of the world.

Their leader, meanwhile, decided to await the apocalypse outside the cave.

One can imagine a film version of the story in which cult leader Pyotr Kuznetsov, having scoured the country for believers and masterminded the creation of an underground shelter, says to his disciples: "It's time to go down into the hole and await the end of time and heavenly resurrection. On you go then. What, me? No, you know how claustrophobic I get. I'll just stay here and, erm, wait in my hut. See you in heaven."

They are still awaiting the end of the world, which they believe will come in May, when Putin's second term ends.

The Penza cult members were not the only ones to be taken in by a smooth talker this year. Primorye region resident Rustam Dzhumaliyev, who had a federal warrant out for his arrest, wandered around the country pretending to be a DJ from Los Angeles called Lamar until he was arrested by the Federal Security Service in Samara in May. Back in Moscow, a 2-meter-tall Cameroonian was arrested after passing himself off not only as a U.S. diplomat, but also as the prospective owner of a basketball club.

Meanwhile, a secretive group — police say thieves — liberated nine luxury Bentleys from wealthy city residents in 2007. Somehow, the Bentleys — cars bought to be noticed — have managed to remain out of sight, though there are rumors that they can be seen roaring through the sewers late at night.

As for Zenit, no beer pipeline was built to its stadium, alas. Fans of the club had to console themselves with the Russian championship.