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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Gets Facelift to Rival White House Refit

Night and day, 4,000 Turkish and Russian workers are toiling above Manezh Square to renovate the State Duma's new home, racing against the clock to finish a project that dwarfs even the reconstruction of the White House after it was shelled by tanks last October.

Turkish speech echoes through the grim corridors of the enormous gray-fronted former Gosplan building. The floorboards have been lifted; wires hang from torn-up ceilings and clouds of cement dust rise from the floor as the workers race against their deadline of Sept. 25.

The building at 1 Okhotny Ryad, which has not undergone repairs since 1926, has suffered from the ravages of time rather than artillery fire. But its renovation, handled by the same Turkish firm Enka that rebuilt the White House, could prove no less costly for Russia than the $85 million repairs at the parliament's former residence.

"This is an unbelievably huge job, and the time is very limited," assistant project manager Selim Ozkan said Wednesday, interviewed in his office on the fifth floor of the gutted building. "Can you imagine doing over 100,000 square meters in just three months?"

On the second floor, Turkish workers in blue overalls lined up Wednesday for steel trays heaped with spicy food, while others were hard at work painting walls and scurrying through the corridors burdened with sacks of cement.

"These guys are like ants, working and working all the time," said an employee at the Duma's business office who only gave her name as Olga Petrovna. "You can't compare them to Russian workers -- our people have forgotten how to work like that."

Just as during the refurbishment of the White House, Enka was hired for the project by the Yeltsin administration's Reconstruction Committee. The committee's chairman, Oleg Stepanov, was unavailable for comment Wednesday, and no information was forthcoming on the cost of the project from either Russian or Turkish officials.

"Forget this question," Ozkan said.

This sensitivity is understandable in view of the public uproar caused by the huge bill Russian taxpayers had to foot for the White House repairs. Complaints about the expenditure earlier this year made the Duma scrap a $500 million project to erect a new parliament building after the government took over the White House.

Ozkan said three times more workers are currently employed at the Duma building than there were at the White House. The bulk of the 4,000 builders were brought in from Turkey, he said, and the rest were Russians employed by Enka's 10 Russian subcontractors.

Enka is importing electrical fixtures, mechanical hardware and bathroom equipment from the United States, England, Belgium, Finland and other countries, while construction materials like cement and wall partitions are bought on the Russian market, Ozkan said.

"Everybody's working day and night, non-stop, even on weekends," he added.

The Sept. 25 deadline to complete the renovation is forced by the Duma's schedule. It is due to reconvene Oct. 5 after a summer recess that began last month, when Duma deputies were still conducting political skirmishes in halls that have now been ripped to shreds.

Some Duma staffers who stayed behind to supervise the repairs were crammed into rooms full of mismatched furniture, thick files and idle computers.

"We hardly have the time to haul furniture from place to place in this dust," said Mikhail Barsamov, a man on duty at the Duma business manager's office.

Meanwhile, other Duma staffers were trying to get over their sixth move since January while their bosses took vacations. Duma committees have moved temporarily to the Moskva Hotel.

Pointing at the chairs and computers filling the hotel room, one staffer in deputy speaker Alexander Ven-gerovsky's office quipped: "We're thinking of buying some camels so we can be like real nomads."