Special Reports Archive
- Written by Gordon Cook
- Category: Special Reports Archive
- Published: 03 July 2008
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Crisis Creation of Infrastructure in 1992
A 1992 study by Gordon Cook
COOK Network Consultants
431 Greenway Ave,
Ewing, NJ 08618
Contents:This document was hastily converted from Word 6.0; there may be inaccuracies. Right now it's one huge file -- soon it will be broken up and structured.
- Introduction: A Very Personal Stage Setting - April 15, 1992
- Communications as a Lifeboat
- Chapter 1: The General Telecommunications Environment
- Chapter 2: Current or Planned Computer Networks in Russia
- A Visit to the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy
- The Fate of SU-EARN
- EXTEL- ADC
- Proposed Network Capabilities
- The Changing Scene
- Belcom and Petronet
- Communications as a decentralizing Tool
- Project Argonaut
- Network Architecture
- The Central Telegraph Office - Sprint Joint Venture
- Entrepreneurial Projects
- Sovam Teleport
- Chapter 3: Prospects for Information Exchange and Educational Telecom?
- A Russian Clone of the Community Learning Network?
- A Visit with Marat Guriev
- Closing the Feedback Loop with CLN
- Teacher and Students International Communications (TASIC)
- Chapter 4: Conclusions - Implications for American Policy
- Problems of Attempting an Economic Transition with an Inadequate Communications Infrastructure
- Events in Moscow Won't Wait
- Whither Russia?
Introduction: A Very Personal Stage Setting - April 15, 1992
Russia -- a nation without hope, or one with every hope? As I write in Copenhagen having left Moscow only five hours ago, after eleven wonderfully intense days with Andrei and Masha Sebrant, I wonder about the kaleidoscopic contradictions of a nation, suddenly cut loose from a brutal past and thrust now into a chaotic crumbling of every aspect of its society. How will these contradictions sort themselves out? No one knows.
Moscow is alive as it has never been since 1917. It is awash in newspapers that run the gamut from extreme right to extreme left. Still others specialize in aspects of finance and business or offer advice about "Private Life." The church shows a renewed presence. Icons and religious publications are far more common than Pravda -- now an opposition newspaper.
Demonstrations in Manezhnaia Square in front of the Kremlin are a common weekend outlet for frustrated politicians and their followers. On April 5th about 10,000 followers of opposition parties demonstrated there against the government. Shoulder to shoulder were members of the communist party with their red hammer and sickle flags, and the extreme conservative monarchists with their yellow and white and black flags. Mixed in lesser numbers were followers of Pamiat with posters blaming the current Russian chaos on the "international Zionist conspiracy". Other groups displayed flags of the 19th century Navy. On one corner stood a man glumly clutching a portrait of Stalin. He was collecting contributions for a National Anti-facist Fund. All seem united in their outrage against the Yel'tsin government. Yet, the unity is illusory. If any one element were to seize power, it would likely move quite quickly to cut the throats of the others.
The demonstrator's signs ranged from a brief and to the point: "Socialism: the sole enemy of the Russian people" to complaints about the dismemberment of the USSR. "The merchants of democracy want only to sell the Russian land" and "the managers of perestroika, Mr. Travkin and his confederates must be called to account for the dismemberment of Russia." Occasionally one could see some cossacks in their national costume - complete with swords. Andrei says that other demonstrations may focus on Moscow gays and lesbians. Several days later, near the Russian White House we saw a small group of anarchists encamped.
Politics aside, Moscow is also a huge bazaar. A significant portion of the population appears to be selling something -- indeed, anything. Some, in the major market places stand in rows on either side of the sidewalk holding out their wares while the crowd of shoppers moves slowing between the rows, inspecting the goods. Meanwhile, much of what appears in the state stores moves outside at higher prices as speculators buy up everything for street resale. While the dual rows are mainly in the central part of the city, on many street corners throughout Moscow smaller groups of sellers congregate. While the state bakeries appear usually to have bread, lines are long and occasionally -- on April 13th for example -- all bread disappears, without warning, reason, or other explanation.
Inflation is rampant -- yet funds to run key parts of the social and technical infrastructure have disappeared. Andre and Masha, both PhD physicists, each make 1200 rubles ($12) a month! Andrei has been with a branch of the famous Kurchatov Institute for 15 years and is the leader of a 12 person research team. The clerks who sit at the bottom of the escalators in the Moscow subways are paid 2500 rubles ($25) per month. Andrei is on the verge of not being able to buy helium to run the laser at his laboratory at the Kurchatov Institute because it is more profitable to sell it to fill Mickey Mouse balloons in the street bazaars.
While the nation's professionals are being destroyed, those whose work gives them the capability of bringing immediate disruption to the society are rewarded. Miners, subway train engineers, other transport workers, chemical and petroleum workers earn 15,000 rubles per month. But ambulance drivers make about 800, and surgeons 1,000 ($10). Moscow is not a place where it is advisable to require emergency medical care.
Russia appears to be eviscerating itself in a particularly perverse and cruel way. The Academy of Sciences is bankrupt. The academic presses are bankrupt. Microbiology centers and hospitals have no money for supplies or equipment. Many Kurchatov laboratories have money either to pay their scientists or to pay for heat and telephone service but not both. New equipment is utterly out of the question. Science, research and engineering across Moscow and indeed across all of the former USSR are on the verge of entering a period of complete hibernation. Andre and Masha translate Rambo III into Russian to make ends meet. They try to do physics. Only three years ago they were doing world class research in their areas.
There is no money. Yet money is everywhere. People need wads to do their daily business. In February the State Savings Bank decided that its people needed higher salaries and gained the funds by imposing a 7% fee on transactions involving each depositor's account. If your employer used one bank and you another, transferring the money from the employer's account to yours incurs the fee. Changing banks for most people is simply impractical. Needless to say, untold sums of money flowed out of the banks and under mattresses.
Life in Russia has long been difficult. Yet the last forty years did bring considerable stability. Now all that is gone. "We have no idea what the name of the nation will be tomorrow," says Andrei. "No one believes that the Yel'tsin government will be in power by the end of September. We have no idea of what will follow. Extreme right or extreme left or disaffected military as a result of unemployed troops returning from Eastern Europe. There is no unity in the Supreme Council. Instead some forty or more parties founded primarily on the personalities of their leaders rather than on any program."
"Decontrol agriculture and fill up the food stores," is the glib prescription of economist Lester Thurow. It is true that state farmers no longer want to farm for low wages when they can do better by selling produce from their private plots locally. The problem is that there is no distribution system that can ensure that privately grown crops reach the cities. Furthermore the idea of farming as a private occupation is a very fragile idea. Many people with access to land near Moscow are reluctant to begin private farming because of the fear that political upheaval will deprive them of the fruits of their labor. Private farming is legal and badly needed. Psychologically, it appears to be simply too risky.
After 74 years of repression by the Communist Party, there is no trust among the people in their own future, let alone any trust for the well-being of their neighbor. The Party is gone. But the bureaucratic mentality remains. The saying is that twenty miles outside of Moscow nothing has changed. Yet, everything has changed. Civil war rages in Georgia where night after night about 100 to 200 people are assassinated in the houses where they sleep. War between Armenia and Azerbaijan and between Moldavia and ethnic Russians is the staple fare of Moscow evening news. A million refugees have been created. They drift northward. Some of the more adventurous reach Moscow train stations where they try to carve out a new niche of existence.
Amidst this turmoil on April 6th the Congress of Deputies met. By April 13th it seemed to have mustered a majority demanding that the government do something about the plight of the pensioners -- some who do not now have food or heat and many more of whom will be at risk by the fall. Some die now. Over the next year, thousands more will. The opposition says that the government must print more rubles to save them. The Yel'tsin cabinet replies that this is impossible. It will push Russia over the edge of hyperinflation and besides the World Bank rules for stabilizing the ruble and the concomitant Western aid package demands the deaths of thousands now in order to avoid an even more complete collapse a year from now -- not to mention the risk of civil war moving into Moscow itself. Of course no one speaks openly of trading the deaths of the elderly and sick to satisfy the requirements of economic stability -- but all are aware that this is the very real meaning of the course being decided upon.
On April 14th the Government resigns in the face of the insistence of the conservatives that the elderly be helped. On the 15th the conservatives capitulate and the Government returns. Andrei, who is not especially enthusiastic about the present government, believes that it is especially important that it remain in power in order to give the people some form of belief in the possibility of a stabile future -- and most important, a belief in the reasonableness of investing in their own future -- something which the people do not now have.
Later I mention to Masha that Andrei seems to be pessimistic about the future of Russia. This is news to Masha. She thinks Andrei an optimist. That evening I tell Andrei of my confusion. He laughs. "If I were a pessimist, I would be preparing my papers for an exit visa."
"Then you are a realist," I say.
"No," replies Andrei. "A realist is like the man whom I saw in the fifth empty bread store today. He cursed the store, cursed the staff, and in a loud angry voice cursed the country that would do this to him, bursting out in tears and leaving the store in despair. Gordon, only an optimist could under such conditions be preparing to start a non profit company called Datasphere to facilitate communication between secondary school children in Russia and the West!" (Thanks to Bob Shayler and the IISME Program based at the Lawrence Hall of Science -- I have brought Andrei as a gift, an AT&T 3B2 computer with UNIX system V and a large hard disk. The machine, having flown from California halfway around the world, doesn't work on arrival. But Russia has not a few UNIX Wizards of its own. Having met several, I am confident that it will be resurrected.)
Such is the wonderfully stubborn courage and resilience of two warm-hearted and generous Muscovites with a very bright and cute daughter, Marina who turned seven during my visit. I suspect a partial reason for their optimism and ability to cope is their network links to the west. Nevertheless, their equanimity and good humor were awe inspiring. With people such as Andrei and Masha, Russia may yet be a country of hope!
Communications as a LifeboatAfter eleven intense days of surveying Russian network activity I am certain of one thing! Russians in Moscow understand totally the importance of communications in trying to rescue and link their economy, their science and their education to the rest of the world. Because their phone system is so poor and their postal system has broken down as well -- workers steal the mail in order to survive -- they are unusually dependent on computer network links, not only for the research and education activities common to the American Internet, but also for commercial links between banks, joint ventures, commodities exchanges, and so on.
In order to survive, Russia must build a communications infrastructure and do it quickly. Everyone knows this from Moscow's unix hackers and electronic entrepreneurs right up through the government and academic hierarchy to people such as Marat Guriev, the Vice Chairman of the Committee on Higher Education of the Ministry of Science, Higher Education and Technology Policy and Aleksei Soldatov, Director of the Computer Center of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy - -both of whom granted me interviews. Government projects, academic projects, and entrepreneurial projects are all under way. There is an explosion of activity!
If the West is serious in its avowed desire to help Russia and the remainder of the former USSR to stabilize and rebuild its society, it will do everything possible to facilitate the building of computer networks. There must be immediate abandonment of any resistance to live connection to the Internet. CoCom restrictions on the export of modern computer and telecommunications equipment must be dropped. Such action cannot come too fast. The situation is desperate!
In order to help decision makers shape the next developments, this report, in Chapter 1 describes the telecommunications environment; and in Chapter 2 traces the development of Russian networks or network projects -- namely:
The Sprint - State Central Telegraph Office Joint venture
Chapter 3 offers a very quick overview of some prospects for educational telecommunications. The final Chapter presents conclusions and recommendations for action.
Chapter 1: The General Telecommunications Environment
Ross TelecomAndrei and nearly everyone else with whom I spoke say that the major hope for improving Russian telecommunications is ending the monopoly of "Ross Telecom," the former Ministry of Communications. Until this happens any network that uses ordinary phone lines or leased lines or satellite links has to pay exorbitant fees to Ross Telecom. As a result service providers must charge high rates and usage stays very small. To cite but one example: during the month of March Glasnet raised their rates six times in order to get money to pay the increasing Ross Telecom charges.
Satellites do offer one alternative to the antiquated Russian telephone system. Russia has five or six manufacturers of satellite dishes. The problem is the satellite channels which are all under the control of the same Ministry of Communications. Even channels controlled by the military have reverted to the Ministry of Communications. In effect there is only one owner of every meter of every wire on the ground or of every satellite channel on Russian territory -- Ross Telecom.
On April 1, 1992 Ross Telecom slapped the following tariffs on international telecommunications operations using modems: if the organization is educational - 20%; if the organization is governmental - 300%; and finally - if profit making - 1,000%. People from one of the organizations I interviewed explained how they would cope. They had hired a member of the old party nomenklatura -- someone whose specialty is in knowing how and to whom to pay bribes. A bribe to the local telephone office would get them to say to Ross Telecom that what was being transmitted by the company was by a fax and not by a modem.
As early as February 13, Andrei had the following to say via email as a result of his preliminary research conducted on my behalf.
"You know, Gordon, one of the security bosses in our Institute had a favorite saying: "The less you now, the better you sleep!" Now I realize how right he was! Before today, I had no coherent picture of the overall situation with networks. Tonight it will take a while for me to calm down. I thought that there would always be options and choices for us. Now I see that to cut all of us from the rest of the world is still as easy as it would have been in the time of Stalin. The Dollar curtain of Ross Telecom fees is impenetrable for almost all of us, and so easily controlled by the Government. I hate this possibility of new barbed wires in the telecom wilderness that Dave Hughes describes so vividly."
Three Telephone NetworksThree telephone systems exist in Russia, explained Valerii Bardeen of the RELcom network on April 10th. The first two systems were available only to the Communist Party. Phone One is a secure "scrambled" network formerly used primarily by the KGB and Military. RELcom (by far the largest Russian net) uses one such line to the Caucasus. The physical equipment for running this network is located at the KGB headquarters in the Lubianka.
The second is the Iskra System. This was installed in Communist Party and government headquarters throughout the country. With a three digit area code and five digit local numbers, it can handle a total of about 45,000 lines. In Moscow it uses digital exchanges supplied by the Swedish Company Ericsson and runs a stripped down version of ISDN. The quality of these two systems is decent. They also tend to be reliable because they have relatively small numbers of users.
The third network is the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). It is still nearly all mechanical and of very low quality. And, although it may be possible to make a modem call from one side of Moscow to the other, making one from Moscow to the research center of Troitsk 30 miles away tends to be almost impossible without a modem with some error correction standard built in. Perhaps, however, the PSTN is not without hope. During my stay Andrei and I saw several examples of very clever efforts to adapt modems to cope with "the phone system from hell."
A Note on Network User CostsReaders should treat the prices quoted for Glassnet, RELcom and Sovam Teleport as nothing more than estimates. With continued rapid inflation prices change upward almost weekly.
Chapter 2: Current or Planned Computer Networks in Russia
GlasnetGlasnet is run inside Russia by Anatoli Voronov, a former editor of Moskovskii Vedomosti (Moscow News). Tolia has come to visit us in Andrei and Masha's apartment on Monday April 6 my first "working day" in the city. In his 40s, he is tall and wiry, has brown hair and a matching mustache and van Dyke beard. His eyes twinkle and he displays a lively wit.
He tells us that Glasnet's US connection is supported by Association for Progressive computing which runs Econet and Peacenet. They use Telebit-to-Telebit direct dial up. However, he adds that, because of poor phone lines inside the country (without extra Telebits), the only way to do data communications is either by satellite or by leased lines - both of which are under the control of Ross Telecom and therefore too expensive.
The Sprint joint venture, which has its own leased lines, appears to offer another choice. If you do connect to Sprint you can buy a Virtual Private Line (VPL). A VPL is a leased line where, after a fairly high volume of traffic is reached, the cost goes down. It is also more reliable because Sprint guarantees that if the connection breaks, the traffic will be rerouted. Sprint is very expensive but offers the most reliable such system with seven nodes stretching from St Petersburg to Khabarovsk on the Pacific.
The installation fee for VPL is $1,800 for the leased line and two 9600 baud modems to connect your system to the main office in Moscow. There is a monthly charge of $500 and $16 for each hour of usage. Tolia notes with a chuckle that Sprint can beat the Ross Telecom monopoly because it is a part of it - - namely a joint venture with the Central Telegraph Office of the Russian Ministry of Communications (Ross Telecom). Most of Glasnet's 300 customers are right in the Moscow area. After a year of concentrated effort, Tolia has succeeded in getting two rotary numbers that can each serve eight dial up lines installed at the telephone company switching office -- a process that is difficult for a Russian operation because it necessitates paying a lot of bribes to compete for scarce equipment and avoid getting especially noisy lines. During the last week of March 1992 he moved his machines to a transportation ministry computer center across the street from Andrei's apartment. This feat was made even more difficult by the fact that the Moscow phone company wanted Glasnet to pay almost prohibitive costs for each line.
Glasnet solved the problem by negotiating a deal with Trans- Inform (a new commercial company providing communications services to the Ministry of Railroads and the Merchant Marine Ministry). By subletting phone access, Glasnet avoided having to deal directly with the phone company. These 16 dial-up lines are in addition to x.25 access obtained through Trans Inform's x.25 network SovPac that connects St. Petersburg, Murmansk, and Vladivostok with Moscow. In these cities users can call local pads and then log directly into the Moscow Glasnet machine. SovPac is one of only three x.25 networks in Russia. Sprint and IASnet run the other two. A year ago IASnet was really the only operational x.25 net. With the emergence of Sprint and SovPac, IASnet is now in trouble. (Two years ago x.25 hardware and software were CoCom restricted. No problem. IASnet got the equipment anyway.)
Glasnet has 200 users in Moscow and several dozens more in other parts of the country. Some are very remote. Tolia says: we have users in Petropavlosk in Kamchatka on the Pacific Ocean. More in Irkutsk and Uskamenorgorsk near Kazakhstan, in Odessa, Kiev, St Petersburg and Murmansk. They comprise both academics and commercial ventures. Glasnet's major problem is now to get a more continuous connection to the West than it's Telebit dial up line to the States.
The purchase or import of satellite dishes is perfectly legal, but all satellite channels are owned by Ross Telecom including former military ones. But, Tolia adds, there is another possibility because the German Bundespost, involved with a satellite network, is eager to do business here. Their offer is for Russian users to buy a dish and install it locally. The cost for the first dish is $100,000. However for each successive dish the cost is $1,000. Furthermore, their satellite is connected at very high speed with the major German government computing center -- something that would give Glasnet its desired Internet connectivity. Ross Telecom, however, could still destroy this option by charging too high a fee for the license to operate the dish.
Asked about the feasibility of Russian programmers using Glasnet to work for westerners via the network, Tolia replied that many programmers would be interested in such work, but that if online access were necessary, it would be difficult, because not many people had such access. "But already," he said, "we do have a user who has done just such a job for a West German company. And in St Petersburg we have a user who is doing this for an American company in California." Tolia promises to check and put the people involved in contact with Jack Rickard, the editor of Boardwatch magazine so that Jack may try his own project and write up the results.
Could the network be used to deliver database searches? Until more infrastructure was built all that could be done would be for someone to deliver by email a search strategy. The recipient would do the search off line and send the results back by email. Off course the next problem is that it is not clear whether an adequate census of Russian databases exists. Tolia adds that Glasnet also has good conferencing facilities. These could be used to facilitate courses in Russian history, literature and social science. American conferencing systems that carried lecture and discussions from Glasnet to the US could give users access to such conferences for an extra monthly surcharge with a percentage of the fees sent back to the Russian providers. They also could be used in the reverse direction for training in business management.
Moreover, translation services could be available. For $500 a month Tolia could pay two translators who could, for example, get translations of the Moscow Evening TV news online every night at nine pm. This service could be resold by a computer network or other company in the United States. Summaries could be provided from major newspapers like Izvestia or Nezavisemaia Gazeta. Sovam Teleport is doing something similar to this, but on a very small scale. It is called Latest News and is make accessible with Foxbase database software. Furthermore, by next year Andrei also hopes to have not only school kids but some teachers who are being trained to use on line materials. Those who are proficient in English could also be asked to translate some materials as part of the "classes" that train them in how to use the network.
It would likely be important to have a third person for the translation service. This person would have a very acute sense of the Russian political, and economic scene and would select and compile very rapidly material to be translated and sent back by email. Such a person would use the network to obtain feedback as to the degree of interest the material holds for subscribers and to adjust course along the way. A critical unanswered question is whether this could be successfully marketed to large corporations doing business in the Russia to help guide them in their decisions. Tolia says: give me a list of ten trial customers for such a service and I'll give them on a trial basis a very interesting English newsletter: Moscow Business Weekly.
Finally Tolia tells us about the problems that Glasnet has had with Velikhov International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Mankind (IFSDM) which is half centered in Moscow with Russian officers and half in Washington with American officers. Late last year, Tolia says, it stripped Glasnet of its money and Tolia was so highly honored as to be fired personally by Mr Velikhov for his Glassnet activities because the Fund's executive director, Mr Khairov supported the Coup and he, Tolia, did not. Glasnet continued sending to the West during the Coup. Another Director of the Fund (IFSDM), Metropolitan Peterev proved to be a KGB agent. (Voronov wrote an article about these events that the International Herald Tribune published in October '91. He also says that he has an account that he could email.)
"And now," Tolia continues, "having seized the offices that we did use, they are selling the equipment that IGC donated to us. The Moscow News was supposed to see that we were reimbursed, but "by mistake," they gave our money to the Foundation. And now we are left practically penniless because IGC gave us 200,000 rubles for Glasnet development. But all this money went to the account of the Foundation and we never saw a penny. The IGC people know this, but they prefer not to spoil the relationship with Foundation entirely -- although they have broken off all relations with the Moscow office -- and so they say OK, they money is lost. We'll get more."
Tolia says that there is "a split between the American side of the foundation and the Russian side guarded by Velikhov and Peterev. Moreover Velikhov fired the executive director of the Foundation Daniel Matuszewskii despite the fact that this action contravened the Foundation's charter." [Matuszewskii is now the Executive Director of the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) in Princeton NJ.]
Anatoli continues: "And now Velikhov is a board member of RELcom which is a joint stock company. RELcom uses the equipment donated by the Kurchatov Atomic Energy Institute and Velikhov is the director of that. So this is a strange way of privatizing this state owned equipment and giving it to RELcom. And there is yet another link between Velikhov and this Institute for New Technology that works with TERC in Boston and claims to be the sole representative of Russian network activity for secondary schools. Velikhov is omnipresent."
PricesGlasnet is the only operating Russia network that is institutionally independent. Free from the control of any "big uncles," it offers the least expensive user fees and international rates. Users pay a one time registration fee of 2500 rubles and 1800 rubles per month. In addition for each connect minute between 9am and 6pm they are charged 50 kopecks. Off peak connect time costs 30 kopecks per minute. Connection to the Moscow host via Sovpac from elsewhere in Russia costs three rubles per minute. International electronic mail costs 5 rubles per kilobyte. Messages sent to large public networks like the Internet, Usenet, Bitnet have a three ruble per message gateway fee. Storage charges are one ruble per kilobyte per month.
The following discounts apply:
1. The first 300,000 bytes of international electronic mail are free of charge.
2. The monthly fee includes 60 minutes of free off peak connect time. All new subscribers receive an additional free hour of connect time during their first month of use.
3. Public conferences are free while private conferences are charged for at the rate of one ruble per kilobyte per month.
4. Current users who bring new business to Glasnet receive significant discounts.
RELcomThe RELcom network, now by far the biggest in the former USSR, was organized in 1990. It traces its origins to the Demos programer's cooperative. Demos in turn traces its origins to an effort to take UNIX and make a version of it to run on Russian PDP clones.
In 1983 Dimitry Volodin and Vadim Antonov were the first Russian programmers who dug into Unix. Also in 1983 the Government set up a 300 million ruble "Institute" with the charter of creating a Unix clone. Meanwhile Mikhail Davidov functioned as a very capable organizer and entrepreneur for the effort of Volodin and Antonov. By 1984 Volodin and Antonov had a working clone and the state "Institute" nothing. When Volodin and Antonov released their version as MNOS, it found a strong market among PDP clones. Because it was written from scratch it functioned exceedingly well. Meanwhile INMOS, the result of the 300 million "Institute" program worked very poorly. Today MNOS has captured almost the entire market.
Demos was formed as a programmer's cooperative in 1986 when Perestroika made such a private venture possible. Since the Kurchatov Institute for Atomic Energy was one of the focal points of Unix development and use, many of the Demos people worked there. When they needed expansion space Velikhov got it for them in the heart of downtown Moscow near the Kremlin. Because the main node of RELcom is within the grounds of the secret Kurchatov Institute and the central Moscow office cramped, we are met by Dima Volodin on Friday afternoon April 10th at a subway platform near Valerii Bardeen's apartment in the northwestern section of the city. Dima informs us on the way from the subway that Esther Dyson, the well known American computer journalist, will be arriving in 3 and a half hours and indeed we do meet her on our return trip. With scraggly hair and beard to match and dressed in blue jeans, Dima, now in his thirties looks like a "hacker." He could blend quite easily into the background of any major American computer center.
Our hosts were Valerii Bardeen, Dimitri (Dima) Burkov, - both RELcom Directors - and Anatoli Lebedev and Dima Volodin. Anatoli runs a RELcom node and another independent computer venture in Ekaterinenburg while Valerii also runs a different company in St Petersburg. Bardeen, Burkov and Lebedev are also directors of the Russian Unix System Users Group.
Formed in 1990 as a uucp network, RELcom established a uucp dial up link to the University of Helsinkii in August of 1990. By the end of 1991 RELcom had many major links to Russian universities and research institutes and served as the common carrier for many independent information providers such as the American company Interfax, and for correspondents of Reuters, the Financial Times, and the Voice of America.
The network has a backbone that stretches across Siberia extending from Koningsberg on the Baltic to Kamchatka on the Pacific and serving all 15 republics of the former USSR. Sixty major cities are served by the network and, since quite a few have more than one principal network node, the total number of nodes is 95. (While the republics have expressed interest in forming their own networks none have so far been successful.) Each regional node is independently owned and may establish its own prices for the connection of end users who use dial up access from the public phone system to connect.
The 95 RELcom nodes all use the Iskra phone system and Telebit modems to connect to each other. (Only one node in each city uses Iskra, so that number totals 60.) RELcom's sixty nodes each pay a single annual charge for Iskra of 20,000 rubles or at the current rate of exchange a total of 12, 000 dollars per year for the use of Iskra. RELcom nodes are the currently largest single customer for the Iskra network.
Users are served locally in Moscow by two dial up nodes. One in the Computing Center on the grounds of the Kurchatov Institute has 40 dial in lines. (Including one reserved for Velikhov's dacha near Periaslavl.) Dima Volodin tells me that the Kurchatov node is expected to become the largest uucp node in the world by June. The second is at Demos headquarters near the Kremlin. By means of uucp emulation, it offers 20 dial in lines to MSDOS users. The two nodes are connected Telebit to Telebit T2500 by a continuously open 9.6 TCP/IP Slip connection.
Kurchatov dials Helsinkii (fuug) via a T2500 once an hour, or more often, if there is enough to send. (From RELcom's use of Telebit's, one would never guess that they are still CoCom restricted.) In Helsinkii they connect to EUNet, the European uucp network that in turn is gatewayed to the Internet. Total dialup connect time to Helsinkii runs 14 to 20 hours a day. They transfer 30 to 40 megabytes of data a day through Helsinkii. Fifteen to 20 of email going both directions and 15 to 20 of usenet news groups largely incoming. Moscow connects via the Telebits to the rest of the 60 city (regional) nodes to redistribute the email and news groups.
RELcom's growth is dramatic. Nodes can sprout subnodes. In early December 1991 when RELcom's current printed address book was completed, the net was made up of 1200 institutional or business members and 20,000 end users. (End user figures are arrived at by totalling the internal email addresses that travel to or from the Moscow nodes.) By April 1992 the figures have grown to 2500 members and 60,000 users! On the Finnish side of the border they were forced to move the international traffic to a dedicated Sun workstation to keep up with the flow. Within the former USSR they ship 300 megabytes of data per day.
The regional nodes will soon be moved to leased lines that do not necessarily have to be x.25. RELcom does not restrict itself to any particular protocol. They do currently use IASnet lines to get to the nuclear research center in Dubno, Academgorodok in Novosibirsk, and to Chernogolvka. However, with the IAS lines, they could only reach 2400 baud to Academgorodok and 4800 to the other two sites. Since they can get 9600 baud throughput with Iskra, they consider these x.25 speeds too slow.
Current leased lines run to St Petersburg, Tomsk, Novosibirsk (but not Academgorodok), and Irkutsk. They have also installed some regional leased lines links: Irkutsk to Khabarovsk, for example. Their goal is to build a leased line IP network with 9.6 or 19.2 links throughout going to 64 kbs on some of the main trunks. Until trade restrictions are eased, in most places they will have use hosts as routers by means of Phil Karn's KAQ9 protocol for DOS machines and uucp for the Unix ones.
Marat Guriev, who is charged with getting Russia's Universities into telecom, and Velikhov have asked Secretary of State Baker, to drop all restrictions on Internet linkage for Russia. They have also agreed on a program for achieving email gateways between all Russian networks that will use RELcom. Furthermore, the RELcom node at Kurchatov will become the principal link to the Russian academic network that Guriev is charged with setting up. The program is a separate one focused on Guriev and Kurchatov to avoid RELcom having to take money directly from the Russian government. Essentially they said if you want us to connect the universities, do so as our customer and we will charge the universities only 50% of our regular rate while you will pay the other 50%.
Since 75% of foreign traffic is currently with the US and 90% of that is directly to the NSFnet, they would very much like to have a direct and continuously open NSFnet channel. Running a satellite link in the normal manner would be difficult. Bribes would have to be paid to the Moscow phone company, to the provider of the trunk line from there to the satellite ground station and finally to Intersputnik, the AT&T joint venture partner. All these organizations think only in terms of voice links. Therefore they would prefer a v-sat dish on the grounds of the Kurchatov Institute. Doing it this way would still mean paying a license fee to Ross Telecom, but in view of the clientele they represent -- important people in Yel'stin's entourage, leaders in the Supreme Soviet, mass media, commodities exchanges, other businesses as well as academics -- they would be surprised if the license fee were prohibitive. Their penetration of the business and economic market is also quite strong. Note for example that the Congress of Commodities Exchanges has a standard application form: name, last name and RELcom address. In this area their largest competitor is EXnet, a logical network run on top of RELcom.
A Visit to the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic EnergyWhen I expressed enthusiasm for helping RELcom connect to the Internet, Valerii arranged a trip for me to the grounds of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy on April 13th -- a visit that would have been unthinkable for a Westerner as recently as five years ago. The Institute Administration Building, a three story, yellow, 1940's-unpretentious-Moscow- style structure faces a traffic circle. To the right of the building is a massive black bust of Kurchatov that is almost tall as the building. To the right of that is another five story, box- like building with a now dated neon sign at the top saying: "Glory to Soviet Science."
Andrei asks me to sit outside the administration building while he informs the authorities that we have arrived. Soon he comes out and taking my camera from me for security purposes, turns me over to the custody of Aleksei Soldatov, the Director of the Institute Computing Center. Soldatov, a handsome pleasant man, escorts me through the guard's gate. On the other side of the wall we have a several hundred yard walk to his offices. The grounds are non-descript and filled with a combination of fields, patches of forest and buildings. The Institute employes 10,000 scientists and the grounds are a mile across Aleksei tells me. His English is a little better than my Russian. We need both to converse.
The building interior is very plain, and Aleksei's office the same. His rank betrayed only by a very nice 386 PC on his desk and four telephones on the table beside. He gives me an interesting lesson in the politics of building a Russian Internet. With funding from IREX and the Carnegie Corporation, Russia in October of 1991 connected to Bitnet - know in Europe as EARN. As Wesley Fischer, the Director of the Russian section of IREX told me the day before I left, the Western funding covers only the first year of operation and the Academy of Science was going to pay for succeeding years. In February 1992 it had to admit that it was bankrupt. Russian parliament has decided that it a "mistake was made" but whether money can be found to pay is doubtful. Meanwhile Marat Guriev wants to plug SU- EARN, as the Russian Bitnet is known, into RELcom when the year of Western funding ends in October.
Meanwhile Andrei Mendkovich a Professor at the Zelinsskii Institute of Organic Chemistry is the Director of SU-EARN. Soldatov tells me that RELcom promised to open a gateway to SU-EARN. Unfortunately to do this they need Mendkovich's cooperation. But Mendkovich refuses to return Soldatov's phone calls. SU-EARN is under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences, which is not a Ministry. Guriev meanwhile is in the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Consequently there is no way to force cooperation. Soldatov remarks that Mendkovich can afford to be uncooperative now because SU- EARN is free to its users. Unfortunately he adds, no one advertises the fact that SU-EARN will likely close in the fall without further support. Guriev tells Soldatov that he will find the money to pay when he connects Russian Universities to RELcom in the fall.
In the meantime Soldatov portrays RELcom as a network determined to support higher education. RELcom has 200 educational institutions as members. Soldatov has suggested that he pay half their cost and the government half. The government has so far paid nothing, but Soldatov has succeeded in supporting RELcom's educational users at a 50% discount. Soldatov confirms the technical linkages that Bardeen had outlined as requisite to a successful Internet hook up. He also agrees that RELcom could pay for the linkage in dollars.
My visit concludes with a brief tour of the RELcom Network Operations Center. I see the network monitoring software tracing for the 40 ports, the time of login and current traffic. All but a few are occupied and the monitoring software traces system activity at between 40 and 44% of capacity while I watch at about 2:30 pm on a Monday afternoon. Another modified pc is running x-windows. I see an intriguing histogram of the activity of Kremvax in red on a white background. As I remember the discussion on the com-priv list that resulted in the renaming of the machine almost exactly a year earlier, I long for my camera.
The Fate of SU-EARNIREX and the Carneigie Foundation were the original backers of the connection of the Soviet Union to EARN (The European Academic and Research Network or European Bitnet). By the time the connection was implemented with a 9.6 leased line from Copenhagen to Moscow in October of 1991, the Soviet Union had broken apart in the aftermath of the August Coup.
The Russian Academy of Sciences (now bankrupt) had agreed to pay for year two and three of the connection. Dues to EARN are basis on National GNP. For the whole of the former USSR in year two they would have been $200,000. In year three and for sucessive years they would have risen to $300,000 per year. Given the smaller GNP of the Russian Federation, the figures for Russian are about half what they would have been for the USSR. After my return Wesley Fisher told me that the leased line to Copenhagen was actually quite cheap - only $9,000 a year.
Russian access to SU-EARN is currently limited to Moscow. The gateway to RELcom could allow a true bitnet like network to extend to Russian universities. Unfortunately there is a philospohical split of considerable proportions over whether usage of the Network by Russian academics should be "metered," or whether a university should pay a flat connect fee. Without any doubt, if universities were able to opt for the flat connect fee, they would and academic's would be far more able to use the network. All of the other Russian networks have always charged according to individual use. As Andrei Sebrant's commentary quite eloquently points out in the concluding chapter of this study, this is leading to a very unfortuante information rich information poor division within Russian society.
It is doubtful that the small foothold of SU-EARN will survive without further significant subsidies from outside the country. However policy makers involved in the building of network infrastructure within Russia would be well advised to look very seriously at the question of considerable subsidies for Russian University use. Otherwise networks will be of service primarily to businesses and will largely fail to benefit higher education.
PricesRELcom's prices are higher than Glasnet's. The monthly fee for each account is 2400 rubles. In addition there is a one ruble charge for each kilobyte of email sent and 7 rubles for each kilobyte of email sent or received from abroad. For each kilobyte of email sent inside Moscow the cost is 20 kopecks. Usenet news is 50 kopecks a kilobyte and local news groups are 30 kopecks a kilobyte. Because of the inflation, RELcom encourages paying for usage a month in advance. If usage exceeds what has been paid for a penalty is imposed. On the other hand if users pay for more than a month in advance they are protected from a rate increase for the next month.
They have a system of discounts:
First those academic institutions involved in government programs are paid for by Guriev's operation. Secondary schools (very few connected) get substantial discounts and have to limit their foreign traffic to a total of 4 megabytes per year. Medical institutions used to receive a 50% discount. Their traffic however is very high. As a result the discount has been offered only to institutions will low traffic profiles.
Later in during my visit Andrei reminded me that RELcom is in Velikhov's hands, saying that RELcom exists only as a result of his good will and inviting me to ponder the meaning of the network was placed behind those very high walls of the Kurchatov Institute.
EXTEL -ADCOn Monday afternoon April 6th, a private car came to Andrei's apartment and drove us perhaps 15 miles across Moscow to the south side of the city where we entered a very non- descript four story building that is used as a telephone switching center. We walked inside and entered a large 20 by 30 foot room that is partitioned into several offices. There we were introduced to the Extel president Alexander Kasheev, to Dima Dolgov, a good friend of Andrei's, and to Sergei de La Cuesta who, with a Russian mother and Cuban father, holds dual citizenship.
Extel has been in operation since 1986. It began as a manufacturer of PAL - SECOM decoders. VCR's brought into Russia use PAL, a western standard for connection to television sets. But Russian television sets expect the Soviet SECOM standard. The relatively inexpensive "black boxes" manufactured by Extel served as gateways between the two standards.
With profits from its decoder business, Extel has branched out considerably during the past two years. They make 2 megabyte memory expansion boards for personal computers. Using surplus military photographic equipment they manufacture a scanner that can recognize 256 shades of grey. They demonstrated a photographic likeness of de la Cuesta while Dima used the scanner software interface under Microsoft Windows to twist the image into a clown-like smirk. Profits from these products are being plowed back into the development of modems and router clones.
Sergei, who is 28, has a vision of building a cheap wide area network using a specially engineered modem and the current telephone system. He is passionate and eloquent as he talks about the critical role that such a network will play in the building of a market economy. Having grown up in Cuba, he has spent the past 8 years in Moscow. Being a close friend of Dima Volodin, he has be able to read the appropriate Usenet news groups on modems, routers, and telecommunications for nearly the past two years. Philosophically and technically the experience has been such an excellent exercise in distance education that, if Sergei could be transported to a meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force, he would blend into the discussions with the utmost ease.
Extel is importing GVC Corporation 9600 V29 protocol fax modems from Taiwan. They cost $70 each. Sergei is installing the Reed Solomon Error Correction Algorithm in microcode in the modem's EPROM. (Reed Solomon he tells me is used in hard disks, tape drives and satellite channels.) He has studied how Reed Solomon can cope with Russian telephone lines and is convinced that it will give him, with 11% overhead, a total throughput of 8 kilobits-per-second, or nearly the ability of a Telebit Trailblazer in coping with the Russian phone system.
By the first of June he says that he will have a working version that he will be able to sell for 40,000 rubles. The 28% business tax will leave about 28,000 rubles which after the exchange bank takes its share ($80) will yield $200. He is also working on installing routing capability into Taiwanese Digiboard clones using Karn's KAQ9 and TCP/IP. "I extract the binary code and reverse engineer to get the source code" was the way he put it.
He has also figured out a rather ingenious way to reach the Internet. From Moscow adequate phone connections to only four western countries are available at any time of the day or night. These are Finland, Norway, Iceland and Spain. Sergei has just returned from a lengthy visit to Madrid.
His host will dial Madrid and attempt to maintain four simultaneous open connections. The host will monitor each line. If one connection is broken, it will switch transmission to a still open connection and start a redial procedure on the broken line. He will be dialing into the Spanish company Theorex SA, a software development firm. Theorex has a 64 kbs link to IBERPAC, the Spanish x.25 net. From IBERPAC he can go through an x.25 gateway into an ethernet and then from a terminal server on the ethernet into GOYA the Spanish Internet backbone. (Virtual terminal connect at 9600 baud from IBERPAC to terminal server and then dial up SLIP to GOYA.) An alternative method dependent on another trip to Madrid would be to use a v32 bis modem direct from Theorex to GOYA. The cost of the open phone line to Madrid as of April 6, 1992 was 18 rubles per minute.
Proposed Network CapabilitiesHe offered me the following description of the Extel-Mail Computer Network.
The Extel-Mail wide area network has been developed as the basic means of building an information infrastructure for the emerging market economy in Russia. The main function and services of the network are:
- fast and reliable message interchange between users by means of the X.400 electronic mail service providing data security and data integrity;
- electronic document interchange and the future implementation of the EDIFACT standard;
- direct on-line and off-line links to several domestic and foreign data networks;
- on-line access to commercial data bases working within Extel-Mail and other domestic and foreign networks;
- public data network service (PDN) providing users with 2400 bps virtual channels and Value Added Services (VAS) with collective channel throughput of 9600 bps, 14400 bps and 64 K bps;
- data interchange through different means of communications with the capability of translation between different means in gateways:
- international telex; and Russian domestic telex;
- voice mail;
- physical mail (envelops with printed matter);
- mailing service of commercial, advertising and other forms of information to a set of addresses defined by its database.
The Extel-Mail network is based on the OSI/ISO architecture and the TCP/IP stack of protocols.
The Changing SceneOn Sunday night April 12th Sergei visited us at Andrei's apartment. He came with a new business partner Alexander Rysiuk. It seemed that Sasha Kasheev had not adequately understood Sergei's plans. Consequently Extel Mail had broken off from Extel and been reformed as ADC Communications. Dima Volodin of RELcom and a long time close friend of Sergei's is the third partner. I asked Sergei whether the break from Extel would inhibit his plans in anyway or leave him strapped for capital to buy modems and pay for phone lines. Absolutely not he replied - he owned three very well equipped 386 machines worth a total of nearly $200,000 on the Russian market. Besides he knew how to import from Taiwan similar machines for $1,400 each. Things change fast on the Russian Telecom scene he explained with an impish grin.
Belcom and PetronetOn Wednesday morning April 8, we visited the offices of Belcom, one of the two companies run by Kenneth Shaffer, the entrepreneur and ex rock publicist who was written up in the December 2, 1991 New Yorker magazine. The offices are squirreled away inside a complex of unpretentious two story buildings near the Novodevichy Monastery. Our hosts are Marina Albee, Vice President and Evgenii Louppov, Director of the Moscow Office. Marina had been pursuing a doctorate at Columbia University's Russian Institute when she met Shaffer who was teaching the Institute staff how to tune into live Russian television. Evgenii had previously worked in satellite communications for the Russian government..
Belcom will develop a private communications network for western oil companies who want to open up Russian and Siberia, and other areas like Kazakhstan. As a small company they can provide communications only for specific customers. Surplus bandwidth will be provided to local authorities who can use it as infrastructure in support of the local economy. During the preceding week, at a meeting of the petroleum and telecommunications industries in Dallas, Belcom had presented its proposals to a dozen oil companies doing business in Russia: Exxon, Chevron, Texaco, Haliburton, Occidental, Conoco, Mobil, British Petroleum and so on.
The proposal is to bring high speed communications directly to their oil sites in Siberia, to their headquarters in Moscow and to their field offices in various areas of Siberia and Kazakhstan. The oil companies have created regional subsidiaries in Moscow. For example, the Mobil subsidiary has plans to conduct business in the northern and southern parts of Tiumen, in Kazakhstan and Sakhalin Island. The Mobil people in Moscow have the responsibility to provide logistical support for these activities. including the negotiation of licenses, and transshipment of people and equipment.
When this is accomplished, Mobil will put an office in Tiumen, while BP may put offices in Alma Alta, Kazakhstan or in Raduzhnyi. The Moscow offices will have to communicate with these field offices, and the field offices with the exploration sites. For example Raduzhnyi has three oil fields: Targrinka, East Varyogan and West Varyogan. Such fields will also want communication to the parent company's communications center in Houston, or San Ramon or in London. The bandwidth needed for this communication is quite high because the data covers temperature, viscosity and seismic information. Information from the field is processed and guidance on how to explore is sent back to the field from the oil company computer centers. In addition to all this, communications between oil camps in the field is necessary. Such camps can be 200 miles apart and may need to arrange the transfer of equipment or people from one to the other. Currently we have available to us one 40 megahertz satellite transponder. Some companies want a half a megahertz or may use only 64 kilobits per second from remote sites.
After several interruptions, Evgenii adds that they are in the final day of completing a communications contract for the Radisson Slavianskaia Hotel involving the installation of 400 telephone lines.. Many oil companies are moving their Moscow offices into this building and Belcom will also be able to use the five meter dish on the roof for many of its own projects.
Petronet will have access codes that will allow oil companies priority usage. Local businesses will have their own codes that will get them on the network when spare capacity is available. For the near term future they will be using transponders on the Raduga Russian satellite. An unresolved question is how soon Russia will join Intelsat. The Communications Ministry wants to join but they don't have the hard currency required. While it is presently cheaper to use the Raduga satellite for communications to Helsinkii as well as to Siberia, it probably won't be so for long.
Marina says: "We believe that telecom in Moscow is going to be gobbled up by one of the big Western companies within a couple of years but we very much are intent on being first into Siberia. If something is obvious to us that's a sign that someone else should do it. We go through backdoors not front ones. We see tremendous numbers of excellent unemployed engineers all over the country. They are eager to work with western equipment and we find that the quality of their work is outstanding.. We believe that many American companies are making a mistake if they think that they cannot rely on local technical personnel. Managerial personnel of course are a different matter.
Currently Belcom has a V-Sat operational in Raduzhnyi. What they have described is a business plan that they have finished and presented to the oil companies. They are working on several alternatives for the financing. When I asked how the bandwidth sharing would work, Evgenii said that there were multiple alternatives. A company could buy extra bandwidth and provide it for free to its Russian partners. "They might get 64k for example and split it into four telephone lines. Perhaps they don't need all four. They might use two and provide two to the local partners of the joint venture or to the local city council."
Basically the oil companies decide what capacity they need and order it from Belcom, says Evgenii, who. notes that capacity must be ordered in quantities of 64, 128, or 256 kbs. If a company needs less than the next full increment, the difference between that increment and what it uses, it has left to dispose of locally by gift, barter, or sale. Asked whether there was any guiding philosophy that would help to determine how excess capacity was used, Evgenii said: We consider this to be a spillover. We would like to do people a favor by providing it for as low cost as possible. It is important for the oil companies to work in a friendly environment. Indeed they look for some sweeteners. For example Chevron might say to us. You guys know this country, tell us how to make friends. So when making a present, it is important to find out what is needed."
When I asked Evgenii if he knew what was needed, he responded in a very general way: communications could and should be offered as a tool to help the local population become self-sufficient. He added that the local authorities do not adequately understand for the moment how important these communications are. "It is part of our marketing campaign to explain this to them. Tiumen is rich enough in oil that it could become another Kuwait. But this will not happen if it does not learn how to use communications."
Communications as a Decentralizing ToolBefore the break up of the USSR everything flowed from Tiumen and other regions through Moscow. Moscow took most of the profits and returned very little to Tiumen. Now Tiumen would like to deal with the rest of the world directly. A communications infrastructure would give them the possibility of doing this and a chance to deal with Moscow on more even terms. Asked whether Belcom had thought about providing hardware and software in the local areas to help people be able to take advantage of the communications channels, Evgenii replied that this was a good idea and that, if they got any support from such companies, they could arrange a partnership with them. However the initiative would have to come from another company. Belcom was a communications specialist and would have to stick to what it knew best.. "We can only try to the best of our ability to connect computer telecommunications savy people in the oil company's field offices with people in the local communities who want to learn these new skills.."
"We say to the local people that part of our strategy is to generate new business for them. The oil companies can either bring in all the support people needed or hire people from the local economy for support or they can hire some of the local population. We try to integrate into our support structure for the oil companies as many tasks as can possibly be accomplished by the local population. In such case oil companies may save time and money and Russians earn money."
Technically in the field they provide Imarsat service to link PC to PC at 2400 baud using MNP-5 error correction. Before the summer is over they will have 56 kilobit links but for the moment it is only 2400. Andrei asks what they will do if they find people who are interested in communications links or projects with other parts of Russia. He points out that there are several projects in Moscow that facilitate network linkages between Russian children and their counterparts in the US and several European countries. Might a 2400 baud link from Moscow to Tiumen be obtained? Evgenii responds that anything may be possible and mentions an American interest in a medical network. Andrei emphasizes that in addition to opening these areas to communication with the west there, is the opportunity to open them to the rest of Russia.
Evgenii continues by saying that the idea indeed is to arrange communication with the rest of Russia. For example a Russian oil company may be able to use some of the same facilities to communicate with its field offices. Most nodes will be in Russia. There will be a mesh architecture so that every node can communicate with every other. "We will certainly create new communications opportunities between these nodes. Moreover in Moscow we have two huge antennas so it will become quite easy to make phone calls between places like Raduzhnyi and Moscow." The strategy of the oil companies is to give some guidance with regard to oil operations from their computer centers in places like Houston, but when it comes to operational logistics to make sure that all this happens from their Moscow offices. Consequently Moscow must communicate with all the operational sites. They found that communication between Moscow and the oil sites took priority over that from the field to the company's home office in Europe or the US. Consequently they have had to increase the emphasis they place on domestic communications.
There are three levels: field to Moscow; Moscow to European headquarters; and seismic from field to headquarters. Finally a fourth area - the so called "last mile." They offer packages that include VHS communications, radios, remote switches and pbx's to make the remote sites as self sufficient as possible. Ideally you should be able to call from a cellular phone in Siberia to one in Houston.
EvaluationAndrei's reaction to the beginnings of Petronet is more somber and probably more realistic than my own. He predicts that the surplus bandwidth will, not surprisingly, go directly into the hands of the local authorities who in the countryside especially are likely to be the old Party "bosses." Those who relatively well off under the old society are likely to remain that way under the new. But he also makes a more subtle point: the oil producing areas are among the richest in terms of local wages in the entire nation. Wages of 15,000 rubles per month are common for those involved in mining operations. The local economy is likely to be strong enough so that people could actually pay for communications services.
If Western oil companies wanted to help strengthen Russia's technical infrastructure in a more significant way, they might be well advised to think about making more surplus bandwidth available in Moscow and the larger cities in which they operated. Such a course of action could help in two ways. First, if someone took some conscious effort to identify some of the highly trained professionals who cannot afford access to any computer network, it could become possible to give many of these people at least email access to their western counterparts.. Secondly, some of them should be able, with some additional investment by the oil companies, to find employment in using the network to provide distance education in courses that the children of remote oil area workers would otherwise never be able to afford at any price.
Project ArgonautProject Argonaut came to my attention when a reader of the com-priv mail list who lives in Vienna, Austria, advised me to get in touch with Evgenii Nesterenko, the Deputy General Director. On Thursday morning April 9th, Andrei and I spent nearly three hours with Nesterenko and Igor Krokhin, the Director of the Argonaut Engineering Center. Their offices are on the 6th floor of a building on the Novaia Arbat Street, a main thoroughfare connecting Manezhnaia Square and the Kremlin with the Russian "White House." The purpose of Project Argonaut is to create a Russian Network of Information and Financial Telecommunication (RNIFT). Russia has no modern telecommunications structure upon which a market economy can rely. Therefore it is the job of RNIFT
to provide communications that will support business communications between suppliers, producers and sellers;
to assist in account settlements between banks and the customers of banks.;
to support the flow of information that will tie together commodities exchanges and eventually stock exchanges;
and to offer a means of providing information about cash flow between governing bodies at the national, regional and local levels of the Russian state.
The Argonaut Project was approved by the Council of Ministers of the Russian Republic on July 8, 1991. Only six weeks later the abortive coup gave the network another priority for the Russian government - the ability to serve as an alternative telecommunications system to those under the control of the Ministry of Communications - Ross Telecom. Although the written description given us by Evgenii emphasizes the network's business and financial goals, Igor, who does most of the talking at the meeting, states that RNIFT will be a public network that will serve the entire country and that its long term goal is affordable telecommunications for both organizations and individuals.
RNIFT will participate in a bidding process to bring regional banking centers onto the net. To enable most banking business, they are working on a new protocol for a Russian version of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Although they are trying to adhere to international standards wherever possible - including those of the SWIFT banking network - EDI is a sticking point. They will have a gateway service into western EDI. Unfortunately copying the international EDI standard would mean that the Central Bank would have to retrain 150,000 people. In the long run retraining would probably be the most cost effective thing for the bank to do. Unfortunately short term crisis ridden needs will likely dominate and it will be judged easier to develop the Russian version of EDI known as EDIfact.
Igor notes that Project Argonaut was among the founders of the Association of Business Communications Networks and the Association of Telecommunications Providers. (We heard these groups mentioned from time to time, but were unable to ascertain whether they provided anything more than a means of communication between network providers intent on building their own solutions. Central planning has been replaced by a developmental free-for-all.) Whatever one's interpretation, Argonaut is serious about building infrastructure. It have started a special program at Rostov University to train network management specialists and engineers. It will focus on retraining for engineers displaced from the Russian military and space programs. Currently network managers or development teams are impossible to find outside of Moscow. When the first classes graduate in 1994, this problem will begin to be alleviated.
Network ArchitectureArgonaut will create a three level RNIFT. Using two Russian Gorizont (Horizon) satellites in geosynchronous orbit at 40 degrees and 103 degrees East Longitude, it will link at 64 kbs a backbone of ten cities with a mesh architecture. These cities are: Moscow, St Petersburg, Voronezh, Nizhnii Novgorod, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, and Khabarovsk. Each city is to be connected to every other city by the Gorizont satellite at 64 kbs. The network will have provide a second level of service with between 4 and 8 additional cities linked in a star topology,.
Because the cost of leased lines will be too high for these backbone-to-regional city sites, they are developing a device similar to the Telebit netblazer that will use multiple circuits of the PSTN. They currently have a working alpha version of this device using both MNP at the lower level and protocol similar to slip at the higher level. The device continuously monitors the condition and speed of the line and routes packets according to the changing state of the line using either leased, multiplexed telephone circuits or dial up telephone links. The regional second level sites will have 386 or 486 class computers that operate as terminal servers that in turn can be reached via dial up modem links from customer sites representing a third level of network operation. See Figure 1 on the next page for a diagram of the network architecture.
The network will use TCP/IP as the addressing and routing protocols. The equipment for the first backbone nodes in Moscow and St Petersburg will be DEC System 5000 system units and additional terminal servers. Three of these systems (currently banned by CoCom) will be sent as "exhibition models" by April 20 at a price of 300 to 400,000 rubles per system The 5000's are used as routers. As soon as all ten backbone nodes are operational, each 5000 will be looking at a theoretical maximum throughput of 640 kbs (10 times 64 kbs). Each 5000 will route 100 kbs channels.
They need ten more System 5000 workstations. Vice President Gaidar has sent a letter to President Bush asking that DEC be granted a license to ship them. They believe that the CoCom restrictions are at this point purely political and that their request will be successful. (Cisco routers - also CoCom restricted - will be used on an international connection to Vienna.) The System 5000 was released in 1991. It uses an RISC CPU, has a clock speed of 20 megahertz and is rated at 21.6 million instructions per second (mips). In view of the fact that Argonaut had priced servers from Hewlett Packard with 486 cpus at 600 to 800,000 rubles, the price quoted by DEC seems extremely cheap.
RNIFT intends to offer email, news groups and file transfer to anyone at 1.5 rubles per kilobyte compared to the 15 rubles charged by Sprint which they see as focusing mainly on dollar currency. They view RELcom as a public net without business support capabilities. They both agree that RELcom has no desire to tranship banking data. They get technical support from RELcom - especially from Dima Volodin in running a test IP link to the Kurchatov Institute. They will allow Glasnet traffic to transit their backbone "at lowest possible cost" in order to help build a complete national telecommunications infrastructure. Their realization of the need to do this is why they helped to found the network providers association.
They hope to get into the second group of Ross Telecom surcharged modem users - government backed businesses. They are looking closely at using the Bundespost $100,000 64 kbs satellite link to Europe. They are also thinking about a direct 64 kbs satellite link from St Petersburg to the US. Because they have state backing, they don't think that the license fee from Ross Telecom will be too high. However, before opening these international links, they will complete the internal backbone and do so by years end.
The designers of RNIFT deserve support not only because they are cogniscent not only of the technical difficulties facing them, but also because they are aware that Russia will have to develop its own telecommunications law along with the network. They explicitly note the necessity of creating laws that identify:
"ownership rights and license approval procedures" governing "data transmission systems" operating in the territory of Russia;
the legal stature of documents transmitted via email (including signatures), and that of monetary transactions carried out via the network;
penalties for unauthorized access to the network and actions harmful to the network.
Finally they acknowledge that Russia must join international standards bodies; must work out standards for documents involved in network financial transactions, and must allocate the necessary Gorizont channels to satisfy the demands of RNIFT.
The Central Telegraph Office - Sprint Joint VentureOn Wednesday afternoon April 8, 1992, Andrei and I found our way to the offices of Sprint International located in a second floor suite in the back of the huge PTT building on Tverskaia Street less than a mile from Red Square. In a joint venture with with the Central Telegraph Office of the Ministry of Communications (Ross Telecom) Sprint International offers the Russian Value Added Data Network (ROSNET). The Director, an American named Henry Radzikowski, is scheduled to see us but has been called to solve a problem at the American Embassy.
Radzikowski's place is taken by the Deputy Director Valerii N. Tur. Prior to his association with the joint venture Valerii has spent his career with the Ministry of Communications. He informs us that he has been to the United States on no less than 20 separate occasions and has been involved in all the hotline negotiations as well as negotiations with all major American telecommunications companies. He notes with some pride his framed Certificate of Appreciation from the White House Communications Staff presented to him for his services performed during President Reagan's Moscow Summit. He intends to be amiable but in speaking in Russian, while asking Andrei to translate and, in interrupting with his own points, when the translation doesn't quite suit him, he comes off as rather bureaucratic.
The joint venture began in July of 1990 with Sprint as the partner of the Soviet Central Telegraph Office. The objective is to extend x.25 networks over all of Russia in such a way that they can carry ascii text as well as telex and fax traffic. He calls Sprint's ROSNET the first public data network on the national level in contrast to IASnet which he considers neither public nor national in scope. (IASnet would undoubtedly disagree!)
The Ministry of Communications considered many foreign partners. It choose Sprint because it is the only company that both runs a worldwide x.25 network and manufactures and maintains x.25 packet switching hardware and software. Sprint offered the Ministry a turnkey operation and compared to other alternatives the lowest possible cost. A five million dollar capital fund for the venture was established in 1990. In November 1990 it was registered as a legal joint venture and in February 1991 began its first commercial operation. Between November of 1990 and February of 1991 packet switching equipment including a pair of Tandem "Non Stop" mini computers was delivered to Moscow. During the same time Russian technical specialists also received training in the US."
The first services offered were primarily connections, through nodes in Germany and the UK, to the worldwide international Sprint x.25 network. By April of 1992 domestic x.25 nodes were operational in Moscow, St Petersburg, Samara, Kiev, Odessa, Perm, Novosibirsk and Khabarovsk.. Valerii noted with a smile that Central Telegraph operated its own network control center. Depending on demand, the network can serve both its international gateways and domestic cities or only its domestic function. (During the August 1991 coup, it choose to serve only domestic priorities -- much to the dismay of what has since become the Yel'tsin government.)
The domestic network run by the joint venture has the capacity for 500,000 electronic mail customers. Currently they have several hundred email accounts in Moscow and lesser numbers in other cities. They offer their customers private Value Added Networks (VANs) that include access to Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) as well as access to banking and credit card verification capabilities . Since the spring of 1991 they have installed private VANs for the Merchant Marine Ministry, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and the Council on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
While foreign customers must pay in hard currency, since the beginning of 1992 they have been accepting Russian customers and allowing them to pay in rubles. The Tandem minicomputers are used for a store-and-forward fax system where a customer can dial a local x.25 port and up load a fax to the Tandem which, within two minutes, will make its own connection to the international network and deliver the fax almost anywhere in the world. The same system works in the other direction for delivery of faxs and Telexes from abroad. They also offer credit card verification services to the local hotels and Beriozki or foreign currency shops.
CoCom currently restricts the speed of the x.25 equipment to 9.6 kbs. During the second half of 1992 they are hoping for a relaxation of he restriction that will allow some 64 kbs domestic links to be installed. Frame Relay technology that would allow the x.25 protocol to reach 1.544 megabits per second is expected to remain under CoCom restriction for some time. However, the 64 kbs switches that they hope to begin installing late this year will have the capability of being upgraded to Frame Relay.
On April 3, 1992 they announced the creation of Ruskii Telegraph (Russian Telegraph), a company that will issue shares of stock to investors. The goal of the company is the creation of a national VAN using 9.6 digital x.25 switches that will go to 64 kbs by year's end. The first cities to become part of the network will be Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samara, Rostov- on-the-Don, Ekaterinenburg, Irkutsk, and Kharbarovsk. They do not yet offer telephone service although Sprint does have a voice switch in St. Petersburg and will begin to offer telephone service there in May. Current x.25 links to Europe are microwave. They are looking at a 64kbs satellite channel through Intelsat.
EvaluationSprint's ROSnet service is regarded by Muscovites as quite expensive. Because of Sprint's high international profile the foreign partners of most joint ventures assume that it is the only practical way to communicate. When a foreign company becomes truly knowledgeable in its domestic Russian operations, it may switch to RELcom. It appears to enjoy what in the West would be seen as a conflict of interest in that its Russian partner is also an arm of the Ministry that regulates the cost of telecommunications for all its competitors. Consequently when Ross Telecom charges license fees for connection to foreign gateways or slaps surcharges on modem usage, what it is doing is making it harder for competing services to undersell Sprint's high prices.
IASnetOn Friday morning April 10th, a grey day with snow showers, Andrei and I traveled to south central Moscow for a visit to the All Union Scientific Research Institute of Applied Automated Systems, known by its Russian initials as VNIIPAS. A part of the now bankrupt Academy of Sciences, VNIIPAS employs over 300 computer systems professionals - down from 500 on January 1, 1992. We were met by Dr. Oleg Smirnov and Dr. Sergei Marchenko the Director and Academic Secretary of VNIIPAS.
Oleg gives of a sketch of the origin and development of the Institute for Automated Systems Network (IASnet) the oldest in the territory of the former USSR. In 1977 VNIIPAS joined the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and installed the first computer network link between Moscow, Prague and Vienna. It connected to the computer center of Radio Austria, to Western systems such as the Electronic Information Exchange System (EIES), and data base providers such as Dialog and Mead Data Central.. In 1982 VNIIPAS reorganized its activity into international telecommunications, and telecom hardware and software development. under the name of the Center for Automated Data Exchange. They began development of several software products, including: electronic mail software called Russian Express, conferencing software called Adonis, software for scanners called Scanman.
To get around CoCom restrictions they reverse engineered their own x.25 hardware. In picking a network code for IASnet registration with CCITT, they choose 250.2 -- leaving 250.1 for the PTT network that they hoped would one day exist.. TRT/FTC (Tropical Radio & Telegraph/ French Telegraph Corporation) -- the 4th largest American interexchange carrier -- provides them with an x.75 connection to the US. (This connection includes the channel that Sovam Teleport runs on.)
They have been running a total of 15 leased x.25 lines for domestic and international traffic. Internally they have nodes in most of the major cities of the former USSR. The Ministry of Communications (Ross Telecom) now charges 800,000 rubles per year per line. However, there is a limit to what charges IASnet can pass on to customers. The Ross Telecom people don't appear to understand this and seem to set charges for all communications on an arbitrary basis. Consequently they are now down to five leased lines.
(After we had left, Andrei told me that one the IAS systems engineers had confided to him that IASnet was in desperate trouble: down to 500 customers and loosing customers at the rate of about 100 per month. Perhaps Ross Telecom understands exactly what it is doing and is consciously using its regulatory powers to drive as much of its competition out of the marketplace as quickly as possible in the hope that Russian Telegraph, the newly announced spin off of its joint venture with Sprint will emerge the winner?)
In order to facilitate the raid exchange of information between nuclear test sites in the United states and the Semiplatinsk area of Siberia in the mid 1980s, IAS developed its own electronic mail software which it called Russian Express. Early versions ran on UNIX hosts and quickly gained a popular following among IASnet users who had nothing to do with nuclear arms control. By 1988-1989 use had grown to such an extent that IAS personnel found it difficult to maintain reliable operation on what UNIX equipment was available. MSDOS PC clones were much more plentiful and easy to maintain Consequently staff undertook development of an MSDOS version of Russian express that could "appear" to do multi- tasking and would support up to eight simultaneous email sessions. This software was released in 1990 and has proven very popular.
IASnet appears to be the only Russian network offering its users access to significant domestic bibliographic databases. These include the files of the All Union Institute of Scientific and Technical Information (VINITI) containing 1,500,000 records of periodicals, conference proceedings, books and theses in the form of specialized databases. The files of the International center for Scientific and Technical Information (MTsNTI) contain 500,000 records of scientific reports, patents, licenses, and standards with an especially strong emphasis on the energy and nuclear industries. The Institute for Information on the Social Sciences database contains 220,000 records on economics and philosophy. The All Union Research Institute on Interbranch Information contains 63,000 records of books, articles, and conference reports on mechanical engineering. The Scientific Center of Information Technologies offers a database called TELESPRAVKA that contains contact information on 90,000 commercial or industrial enterprises of the former USSR and 20,000 American "export" companies.
Entrepreneurial ProjectsIAS has been trying to ensure its survival by acting as a think tank in order to apply their knowledge in diversified areas and to try to keep their flexibility to react quickly to changing market conditions. (Andrei did not consider it a good sign for their success that Oleg Smirnov, the Director, did not know about Project Argonaut.). They began their diversification by building a total of four "daughter" companies several years ago -- ones that have since become largely self-financing. The companies provide telecommunications services, hardware, software or function as distributors and carry out training.
The first founded in December 1988 is Infocom and includes the following organizations in partnership with IAS: the Moscow City Telephone Network, the Communication Administration of Finland, the Russian Finnish company Elorg Data and the Finnish Company Fecsima.
In April 1989 they started Teleinform with Odessa State University. It provides VAN services including email, file transfer, and training of users in telecommunications using a distributed MSDOS network.
In September 1989 Sovam Teleport was organized as IAS American joint venture with each side having a 50% share. It took over the operation of the San Francisco Moscow Teleport started by Joel Schatz in 1986.
I Cubed C, founded in February 1990, stands for Innovation, Information, Intelligence and Communication. It is based in Boston and makes PC clones for the Russian market. It also develops "turnkey" hardware and software packages for Russian clients.
They have also started "limited" share holding companies: Azerincom - Azerbaijan Information company in partnership with Sovam Teleport and the Azerbaijan PTT; Rostincom in Rostov on the Don,; and the Georgian Institute for Information and Telecom in Tiblisi. They are investing their practical expertise in these local areas. They bring local people to Moscow for training and then send engineers back to the localities for final training and installation of computer systems.
They have also organized a Russian Company of Commodities Brokers and developed both X.25 communications links, to tie the Exchanges together, and database software to enable would be buyers to search their holdings. They gave us a demonstration of the software. I asked to see sugar which is becoming almost unobtainable for the ordinary Russian. They entered the word "sakhar" and up came several screens showing sources of sugar, prices and amounts ranging from a few hundred pounds to several tons. All information necessary to contact the broker is included. Furthermore, system users can send direct electronic mail to an individual broker. The range of commodities is much broader than would be found in the west and includes such items as used cars, personal computers and modems. Want a CoCom restricted Telebit T2500 trailblazer? No problem. There is one shown on the very first screen. Only 600,000 rubles or well over 5,000 dollars for a product that sells in the US for $1,000.
RELcom clearly has many commodities brokers as members. What wasn't clear was whether they use the IAS developed database software. Also how many use the IAS network rather than RELcom was not clear.. I suspect that the numbers in both categories are small..
When they couldn't get the $150,000 financing needed to add the x.400 standard to their PC based electronic mail system, Russian Express, they organized a Club 400 to do it themselves. Thirty IAS employees invested money from their own savings. It is an "after hours" project in which IAS has a 20% interest in return for letting the Club 400 members use the IAS facilities and the IAS employees hold the remaining 80% interest. They expect the first test release of the x.400 product by the end of 1992.
Sovam TeleportToday Sovam Teleport links a hundred or so American users with perhaps 300 Russian users primarily in Moscow and St Petersburg. Technically, it is similar to Glasnet in structure and function. Its ruble price structure at first glance seems less expensive than Glasnet. However, its per minute connect time charges are roughly twice that of Glasnet.. Because all email is charged for while Glasnet users get their first 300,000 bytes per month free, only those members of Sovam Tel with extremely light patterns of usage would spend less overall on Sovam Tel than on Glasnet.
According to Mark Graham, who manages the American end of Sovam Tel, the Russian host "talks" to Pandora, the American host (pandora.sf.ca.us) about once every 1/2 hour with UUCP over a dedicated 9.6 X.25 line that Pandora runs between San Francisco and Moscow. E-mail, Caucus conferences, USENET newsgroups, binary files, databases and other services are passed between these two hosts. Graham tells me that with a new Alcatel switch sent to IASnet, logins to Sovam Tel should be increasingly easy. However, for reasons that were not clear, few people who we met in Moscow were aware of the existence of Sovam Tel.
Ruble prices for those using the Sovam Tel host in Russia are:
rubles as a one time account setup
rubles per month
kopecks per minute for connect time
For traffic sent and received 9.95 rubles per kilobyte (international) and 100 rubles per megabyte (domestic).
EvaluationIAS and IASnet finds itself in a very difficult position. For 15 years it has been state supported as Russia's major small scale computer development and telecommunications center. It has developed many worthwhile systems and products. Its technical people Andrei tells me are among the most outstanding in the entire nation. Indeed many people involved in projects outside IAS started their careers there. Unfortunately, IAS has no protector like a Evgenii Velikhov at RELcom. Nor does it have a major state supported development project like the Argonaut RNIFT network. The problem is it is dependent on the national academic research structure that is lurching towards complete collapse. Through no direct fault of its own, it could very soon find no money in its bank accounts with which to meet its payroll. It is trying to become entrepreneurial. Unfortunately it may not have the management and marketing expertise that will make success, under very difficult circumstances, feasible.
That they are very worried became very clear when Oleg Smirnov, the Director followed his presentation with a series of questions. He had been told that I was working for the United States Congress Office of Technology Assessment. Jumping to an unwarranted conclusion he asked my if my report would be sanctioned by Congress and would recommend that one particular Russian network - IASnet, for example, - be given American aide. I explained as gently as I could that I could promise no such result.
FidonetThis chapter concludes with a look at a small scale grass roots network technology known as Fidonet. Fidonets are often but not always single user MSDOS PCs that function as computer bulletin boards. When rates are low in the middle of the night, they are programmed to call other Fidonet systems and exchange files between them. Fidonet systems in Russia function primarily as a commercial network for MSDOS "hackers." In St Petersburg there are 27 Fidonet systems. In Moscow about 55. There is an Internet to Fidonet gateway in Helsinki. St Petersburg calls the Tallinin Estonia Fidonet and this node calls Helsinki.
A friend from Colorado has asked me to deliver a high speed error correcting modem to Dmitrii Klimenkov, the Fidonet coordinator for St Petersburg. Dmitrii will me at Andrei's apartment in Moscow to pick up the modem. I have been in Moscow on Friday April 3rd for only about three hours when Dmitrii - in his late twenties, wearing a backpack, tall, with very black hair - arrives. Asked about problems of running a fidonet system in Russia Dmitrii, homes in immediately on the phone system. Worse than Moscow and international calls that may be direct dialed only to former East Bloc countries. The discussion turns to modems. Andrei comments that modems that can be bought in the United states for $100 can be sold in Moscow for 50,000 rubles or well over $400 at current exchange rates. He guesses that the US Robotics Dual Standard V32-bis 9600 baud modem that a friend in the US has asked me to deliver would sell for 100,000 rubles. Dmitrii interjects: "No, 350,000 rubles ." He has a customer already for the modem who will pay this amount by transfer from one bank account to another over a defined period of time. Two such modems have recently sold for this amount in St Petersburg during the last six months Dmitrii adds. If someone were able to pay in cash, Dima might accept 225,000 rubles.
Dima says that Fidonet users are generally programmers. The network has taken on a commercial cast because there is no other technically feasible way to keep computer professionals informed. Many users rely on the Fidonet systems to keep informed of what hardware and software can be bought where, and at what prices. Indeed the network has become the major means of communications for the computer hardware and software development market place. While there is a RELcom node in St Petersburg, the local Fidonets offer much more economical means of communication.
After about an hour and a half, Dmitrii leaves with his prize modem. However as he has a chance to think over the weekend, he is not sure that he understood all that he wanted to. Consequently he asks another friend Mikhail Bravo from St Petersburg to call Andrei at his apartment. On Tuesday evening April 6th, Mikhail, who describes himself as a Fidonet coordinator and operator of a node in a St Petersburg suburb, arrives.
Mikhail tells us some of what happened at the Moscow meeting of Moscow St Petersburg Fidonet sysops on the preceding Friday. Some surgery was preformed on some of the echo conferences. "Fidonet is supposed to be a non commercial amateur network. But in Russia from the very beginning we have had an echo conference called SU Business. On the local level for some sysops to exchange used chips or modems, this seemed OK. But it kept growing and when two MIG 29 fighter planes were sold via the echo, we knew we had a serious problem.
There are about 100 Fidonet systems spread over all of Russian territory. These systems are run to allow free access and to have increasing numbers used for profit makes us worry about who may be able to afford access in the future if commodities trading overwhelms all other activities." However, the problem of the business echo is an additional dilemma because some nodes can exist only because business their sysops are employees of businesses that allow them to use the equipment as a Fidonet node solely in order to gain access the information contained in the business echo. "We have considered making this echo a fee for access service but have been unable to decide how the procedures of selling access would be handled," Mikhail concluded.
In short, in the revolutionary environment of post-communist Russia, the problems faced by Fidonet operators may be different in scale, but generally not in scope from the problems of the larger networks. All involve trying to achieve in a year or two what has taken at least two decades to unfold in the West.. Whatever happens, these small scale grass roots systems should not be overlooked. If another coup or worse were to happen, these systems would be the most difficult of all to repress.
Chapter 3: Prospects for Information Exchange and Educational Telecom?
A Russian Clone of the Community Learning Network?The environment in Russia now is a little like trying to hold the Klondike Gold Rush on the same territory that has just been devastated by the San Francisco earthquake. The ground is still shaking and the outline of the future cannot be clearly discerned through the dust-filled air. Oblivious to the debris, prospectors arrive on the scene hourly. Shortly before my departure on April 2nd, hoping for the best, I volunteered my services to one of these prospectors.
In February 1992 discussion of a plan for a national Community Learning Network began to be heard in the corridors of Washington and in parts of American cyberspace. It seemed that the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Defense were talking about a plan to create hundreds and then thousands of Community Leaning Centers in cities across the country. These would use satellite channels to deliver distance learning and training - along with computer labs networked together to databases in Washington and somehow connected to the Internet. Dave Hughes, the widely known cursor cowboy, had been asked by Colonel Carey from the Pentagon to evaluate the plan. From Dave I had gotten an executive summary and intending to pursue a write up for the second issue of the Cook Report on the NREN Internet, I called the CLN offices at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC. The person who returned my call was Jack Taub - not the Chamber Vice President. Taub had been the unsuccessful owner of the Source Computer network in the early 1980s.
When he heard that I was headed to Moscow in less than 48 hours, the tone of the conversation changed markedly. "CLN," he said "is ready to give its ideas and technology plans to Russia." All would be required was for President Yel'tsin to write a letter to President Bush saying that he endorsed the plan and loans from the World Bank to American equipment providers would be made available. The network in Russia would be used for making available distance education in business planning, management, contract law - Capitalism 101 in short. The Russians would not be expected to pay. The Russian Ambassador, Vitali Lukhin, had visited their offices for a presentation the preceding week. While the next move would be up to the Russians, he would welcome anything about their reaction that I could find out in Moscow. He would send me a package of material including a three page proposal that he had given to Lukhin.
That afternoon I called Wesley Fisher, Director of IREX Russian area programs. Wesley thought that he knew a key person to contact: Marat A. Guriev, Vice Chairman of the Committee on Science, Higher Education and Technology Policy of the Russian federation Ministry of Higher Education. I sent email to Marat and Andrei that evening seeking a meeting during my stay the following week. The next morning, an hour before I left for the airport an envelop of material about CLN arrived. On the plane that night I read the brief Russian presentation and much else besides.
The presentation was a three page essay titled: A Joint Vision for Progress. It began: " "Where there is no vision,' the prophet Isaiah said, 'the people perish.' Rarely before in history has an inspired vision been more dearly needed. The collapse of communism leaves in its wake a massive void that must be filled. . . . The United States can use high performance computers and telecommunications technology to promote rapid economic and social progress in Russia that will serve the long term interests of both nations, while at the same time enhancing the prospects of world peace." And, under a section: "To Russia with Love." "Like the United States, Russia is endowed with a massive military complex of rapidly diminishing utility. However Russian military bases offer an excellent opportunity for the establishment of learning centers based on high performance computers, both in terms of satellite dishes already in place, and trained personnel on hand who possess the technical knowledge needed to implement such a system. . . . The fiscal situation in the United States precludes massive financial aid and such assistance wold serve little purpose. What Russia needs now more than anything else is a massive infusion of modern technology and ideas. That is something the United States possesses in abundance, and can afford to provide to Russia through the Community Learning and Information Network. . . .
Fromthe date of go-ahead, the first system could be set up and operating on a partnership basis, between the US and Russia within thirty days." The short essay contained admirable sentiments, and was accurate at a macro level in its assessments. If Taub's people had more detail behind these generalities to explore and were willing to listen to feedback from the Russian side, it seemed likely that some very critical things might be accomplished.
A Visit with Marat GurievWhile I am crossing the Atlantic, Andrei moves with great dispatch and by the time of my arrival has secured an appointment for us to see Guriev on Thursday afternoon April 9th. His offices are in a drab building not far from the Donskoi Monastery. He is an amiable distinguished looking man with a large office, four telephones and a Philips PC on which, having asked where in the US I live, he promptly brings up a detailed map of New Jersey.
We talk about some of the problems he faces in applying technology to Russia's higher education infrastructure. Russia has 3 million students and 500,000 administrators and faculty at 550 colleges and universities. It operates the second largest system of higher education in the world after the United States. Mainland China with 2.8 million students is third. Because Russia is so large and all these colleges and universities are spread throughout no less than 135 different cities , Guriev has the major challenge of connecting all its professors and students together by means of modern information technology. He has looked at 20 different technologies and has decided that electronic mail must become his top priority. Telephone and fax are simply too unreliable. Other technologies are too exotic and expensive. "A good example of these points is that not long ago I convinced the American Embassy here that email would be their only reliable communications link with their consulate in St Petersburg," he concludes with a smile.
Of our email networks, RELcom is by far the most well developed. Our goal is to connect all our universities and colleges by electronic mail by the end of this year. Vladimir Kashitkin who is seated at the table with us is tasked by Guriev to try to use RELcom for reaching distance learning systems all over the world. "We would like to provide as much opportunity as possible for our students and professors to communicate with their counterparts in Europe and America. Indeed the building that we are situated in is the national center for Russian educational exchange programs with the rest of the world. For example, we want to create in this building a network information and reference center that is in turn connected to as many national and international networks as possible. Only by doing this will we enable our professors to understand the richness of this resource."
Guriev continued: "I am responsible for organizing both the international and domestic connectivity of our colleges and universities. Because of these responsibilities I am always on the look out for new projects that we may participate in in order to strengthen these goals. With this in mind I will say that it is very important to maintain and improve our relations with the United States because of the danger of possible future events. It is likely that very close and intimate relations will be established between Russia and Germany. But if we are also very closely and strategically tied to the United States, then any serious rivalry between the three nations would be unlikely because problems between two countries would be balanced by the relationship with the third. Unfortunately the huge increases in the cost of airplane tickets to the west will prevent many of us from travelling to America. Consequently the next best thing is to increase the power of computer network ties between the two nations. It should be possible to use the networks to engage in joint research and problem solving."
Having recently returned from a visit to the US, Guriev was well aware of the High Performance Computing and Communications legislation. He also showed considerable knowledge of the CLN plans. He said that under the right conditions it would be possible for him to approach - not Yel'tsin directly but people around Yel'tsin like Vice President Gaidar and the Rector of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Academician Karlov who is one of the favorites of Yel'tsin. But first, before doing any of this, we must find out what impressions Ambassador Lukhin has of the American plan. He has no idea how long it will be before he gets any feedback.
Closing the Feedback Loop with CLNBack in the US during the last two weeks of April, I spoke both with Taub and with Colonel James Carey, CLN's chief operational officer. I explained to Taub that although the motivation behind his plan appeared to be sound and praise worthy, the piece that he had given the Ambassador was exceedingly general and showed no sign of any awareness of the Russian telecommunications reality. I suggested, first that it might have sounded like something from outer space to the Ambassador and, secondly, that a one sided presentation without an opportunity for feedback might have robbed it of credibility in the Ambassador's eyes. I added that I had enough understanding of the Russian situation so that I could assist them to tailor their suggestions in such a way as to be far more believable on the Russian side. Taub was gruff and direct. He wasn't interested in feedback. The Russians could take it or leave it.
In a conversation with Colonel Carey nearly a week later, the lack of coordinated focus and direction on the CLN side became clear when the Colonel, sounding rather alarmed, told me that he did not even know of Taub's approach to the Ambassador nor of the three page essay given the Ambassador by Taub and cited above. One begins to suspect that Taub may have wanted the endorsement of Yel'tsin mostly for domestic political purposes. One would hope not, for the problems faced by the Russian government and people are critical and deserve both serious and innovative treatment by American policy makers.
FAXONThe Faxon Company, one of the largest providers of serials to American libraries, has had a Moscow office for nearly three years. Since I had met several people associated with Faxon during the months that preceded my trip and had heard strong praise of the company from most, and the Faxon office was actually in the building where on April 7th I presented my paper on the National Research and Education Network (NREN), I decided to visit them after completing my obligations to the conference.
Frank Clasquin, the Director of the office is a very pleasant man in his early 70s who has been with the company for well over two decades. He explains that the status of the Faxon office is that of a project within the International Center for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI). The office is a room about 15 by 25 feet containing at least 6 desks. It seems that everything in Moscow is crowded. They are expected to become a legally recognized foreign corporation in May of 1992 and anticipate the being able to find more space by June.
Frank explained that Faxon had opened its office in 1989 to compete with Mezhdunarodnaia Kniga (International Books) which had a hither to state-sanctioned monopoly on the distribution of serials literature to Russian libraries, research institutes and industrial concerns. Service was an unknown commodity at MK. Serials arrived 10 to 12 weeks after their publication dates and between 20 and 30% of the issues never arrived. Faxon's service allowed a research institute or library to tell it what serial it wanted. Faxon would respond with a dollar price that guaranteed prompt delivery of 100% of the issues of the serial for the period of subscription. By the end of 1991 MK had gone bankrupt and out of business. Not so much from Faxon's competition as from the combined problems of year after year being unable to collect receipts and pay publishers for the serials that they provided.
While Russian academic libraries had mostly run out of access to foreign funds in 1990, Russian industrial libraries still had hard currency and began to order extensively through Faxon However access for all their customers to foreign currency through Vneshne-econbank ended in 1991. Consequently after having handled over 6,000 titles for Russian clients, their only remaining subscription customers are those Russian companies with foreign bank accounts.
Their second line of business is the export of Russian serials to the US. Currently they export about 250 titles. For traffic in both directions, in order to avoid the Russian postal system, they use air freight to Moscow and hand delivery within Moscow. Consequently, the delivery cost per issue of serials averages $7.
They have a very new third line of business. To fulfill a contract with the US State Department they collect and ship to the US over 350 Russian newspapers as well as additional statistical and economic reports. This increasingly massive data floor is shipped to 45 different offices in the US. If someone on the American side has an urgent need for information and Faxon can find what is requested, it will fax the material directly to the states.
They call their fourth line of business Glasnost Express. Every week Faxon airfreights into Moscow the magazines of popular scientific and consumer magazine publishers. The magazines are sold for rubles on newstands in Moscow and other major cities throughout Russia. Receipts go into publishers ruble accounts in Moscow. The publishers apparently are also helped by getting credit from advertisers for exposing their products to more "potential" consumers.
EvaluationWith the current economic situation making significant parts of Faxon's business difficult, it might do well to think about electronic delivery of information. Several times during my stay I heard the hope expressed that with Russian Universities unable to afford periodical subscriptions, network contacts to the West would make it possible for Russian scholars to get information similar to what they used to be able to get in serials. Issues of electronic distribution of journals have certainly not been solved in the West. Nevertheless one might hope that while the current dire situation in Russia prevails, many Western publishers might agree to let electronic copies of their journal be sent to Russia for a single fee -- one which would be relatively small and one which users on the Russian end would have a reasonable chance of being able to afford. It would also be interesting to see Faxon explore the economics of a live Internet connection to the west. If Faxon established such a link while RELcom was unable to do so, it is certain that RELcom would pay well for the use of it. As would Glasnet, IASnet and Extel. The greatest immediate uncertainty is whether charges for local loop services from Ross Telecom would render such an undertaking impractical.
DatasphereWhile in Moscow I gained information about two grassroots educational telecommunications projects. After I returned Andrei cautioned me there were quite a few others -- all of them struggling to shed rays of hope into a bleak environment. Andrei calls his own Datasphere borrowing the name from the science fiction concept of a worldwide universally accessible computer network useful for reaching either people or information. Looking forward to the day when the Datasphere environment will become a "normal information environment not just for the computer specialist and hacker, but for everyone," he asserts that today's school children will live in a world where computer networks will be as natural a means for distribution of information and human contacts as telephones, newspapers, and face-to-face meetings are today.
Andrei continues: Russia now has access to all the world's major computer networks. Unfortunately, he adds, in Russia, shortages of computers and methods of teaching about them in high schools have resulted in a situation where almost the only users of networks are computer programmers or other kinds of computer specialists. Of course, as realization of the power and importance of these networks increases, a second wave of business users interested primarily in specialized closed networks begins to appear. Neither wave offers network use to the average Russian,
"On the other hand, in the rest of the world computer networks have already become a part of human culture. initially used for electronic mail exchanges between computer professionals, global networks have now become tools for multi-cultural, and multi-lateral discussions by means of network conferences. Additional access to databases makes networks into a giant unparalleled reference resource. Many network conferences deal with cultural rather than technical issues: art, ecology, political and social problems, and so on. This treasure trove of planetary communications taking place almost in 'real time' is potentially available to every Muscovite. Unfortunately only a handful of residents are aware of this amazing opportunity."
"We have established Datasphere in order to increase their awareness of and access to these networks. Our goals are:
To teach students how to use computer networks and user friendly communications software.
Participation in national and international projects supported by computer networks and run by organizations like UNESCO and Greenpeace.
Teaching students how to use word processors and databases as skills necessary for them to be able to get the most out of their telecommunications activity.
He concludes: "The work of Datasphere will be aimed at students who are not interested in science and are therefore likely to have a distorted idea of what computers are for. The Center will show these young people that neither programming nor math skills nor any specialized technical knowledge is necessary to operate a computer as a tool for writing and communication. We will also teach them how to use spreadsheets and simple graphics packages. In the course of their work with international projects we expect that students will considerably improve their command of English."
During 1991 Andrei began work with Moscow Schools 1284, 23, and 444 on a weekly basis. He reports that these experiments have shown that both teachers and students are very interested and willing to work for several hours every week. Activities included online sessions and discussion after regular class hours. Subject matter involved ranged from English literature to biology to computer science. In 1992 two of these schools are taking part in the UNESCO project: My World Is Your World hosted by the American World Classroom educational network. Unfortunately lack of equipment, an office for holding the network sessions and classes, and insufficient staff has severely limited Andrei's activities during the 1991-1992 school year.
On March 18, 1992 Andrei was able to take a significant step to begin to solve these problems. For on that date the administration of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology gave its approval for the creation of the Datasphere Center and agreed to its operation within the Institute's Department of the Problems of Physics and Energy. The Datasphere Center is a legally recognized, non profit educational organization run by the staff of the Department, and by Moscow school teachers and education experts. Center staff are allowed to use computers and rooms in the department after regular working hours and on weekends. Study at the Center is free of charge. The Center acts as a coordinator of network projects and provides free technical and pedagogical assistance to those schools equipped with sufficient hardware to sustain their own participation in telecommunications projects. While full scale operation of the Center will start in September of 1992, its staff is prepared to consider immediately any offers of assistance and suggestions for projects.
Teacher and Students International Communications (TASIC)Mark Braunlich is a Californian, a former K- 12 math-science teacher, and a technical writer based in Holland. In 1988 he travelled to Moscow and found himself drawn into the second Russian revolution. In 1990 he bought a Toshiba laptop and found himself drawn into the explosion of interest in global electronic mail --especially that between students of various nations including Russia. In 1991 he founded Teachers and Students International Communications in order "to assist teachers and students world wide in building international relationships without leaving the classroom." His primary immediate goal is to build a searchable database of teachers from the former USSR - with and without computer communications equipment - who would like to engage in global networking. While compiling the database he also intends to try to get equipment to teachers and show them how to connect to hosts that can in turn connect to foreign networks.
Mark has been living in Moscow since the fall. He will spend May, June and July in the US collecting computer equipment to take back to Moscow schools. He will return in August and remain there until December to complete his database which he will then release for public posting on nets around the world. When I met him he had with Andrei's help added some Moscow schools to his database. By using Glasnet he was also delivering his own views on Russian life to secondary schools in Holland and the United States through remarkable essays that he called Weekly Readers.
Chapter 4 begins with some excerpts to bring readers back to the stark reality of Russia after this rather dry tour of networks and networking.
Chapter 4: Conclusions - Implications for American PolicyMark writes: "The first month of being in Moscow is overwhelmingly dominated by the process of 'getting here.' But now it begin's to seep in - the life that surrounds me. And that life is raw and rough. Last Friday evening I was walking from Glasnet to the nearby metro entrance. There was big crowd standing in the middle of a major road. Initially I thought that it might be a fight or demonstration, so I cautiously approached the fringe. In the center of the crowd was a taxi surrounded by police and ambulances. It had been blasted by machine gun fire. Two dead men are visible through the shattered windows."
This kind of stuff unnerves the Russians. There is more to come. The struggles for money and power are relentless and operate on many levels -- from those just trying to keep food on the table to those trying to stake out economic or political turf. Through the metro tunnels I pass beggars of all sorts -- old women, men with no legs, and children. You didn't see this several years ago. People stand in the cold with a few household items in front of them, trying to sell them for money for food. I passed a man with three lemons to sell. With the money they'd bring he could buy bread to last for several weeks. People dream of a hundred dollars as they would of untold wealth. My brother keeps telling me that civilization is only a thin veneer covering the animals we really are. That veneer is getting thinner in Moscow and the Russians fear the spread of further violence."
I find Mark's stark prose troublesome. My thoughts about Moscow as a street bazaar had not been especially negative. I had taken it as both a symbol of new found freedoms and more efficient distribution mechanism for goods than was possible under the old state monopolies. My reaction was that perhaps there were new entrepreneurs here who were able to supplement their income and improve their life style by participating in the street markets. The man with three lemons gives pause for thought. What percentage of the street markets represent normal and desirable business activity and what percent is the result of desperation? Twenty percent? Fifty? Seventy? Probably a much larger proportion than one would hope.
Mark continued in another "Reader" a week later: "The economic screws are being turned down fast and hard. You can feel the pressure in the air. Dima, usually a calm friend, 'lost it' Saturday. The only other time I had seen him so upset was when bread disappeared from all the shops in and around Moscow last November. Now he was talking about throwing rocks. "We will again visit the Russian White House this August. But we will be on the other side of those barricades [opposing Yel'tsin this time." He said this with a smile on his face but with anger in his heart."
"Everything is being taken away from the people and increasingly they have nothing to loose. What they are quickly loosing is the hope for a 'brighter future.' Western newspapers go on and on about the political maneuverings here but they don't get across what goes through a Russian's mind when he finds that a liter of milk that cost 36 kopecks a year ago now costs 14 rubles even in the state stores. -- or when they find that swimming pools that once offered their children free sports activities have been emptied in order to warehouse 'commercial goods.' While the old communists have become the new capitalists, the majority of people cannot afford the simplest of clothes."
Mark continued a week later: "the following is a seat-of-the- pants table of price increases that I have observed in the Moscow area over the past year. The average monthly salary after a 13% income tax is 1000 rubles. People are now spending 70 to 90 percent of their income on food. Nutrition has suffered and prices are still going up. There are 100 kopecks to the ruble. .10 means 10 kopecks. Price is either per liter or per kilogram. See Table Two: Increase in Food Prices - March 1991 to March 1992 on the next page.
Food lines are shorter but more shops must be visited in order to find items at affordable prices. Unpredictable shortages for unpredictable durations of time continue."
And finally: "Dead dogs. Every god damn day I walk by dead dogs. But I'll limit myself to talking about just one dead dog. Some poor mutt got hit by a car or truck at an intersection -- or maybe he just decided he'd had enough of his Russian dog's life and held his breath -- and he laid there with his tongue stuck out for two friggin weeks. I mean it wasn't like he was occupying some slightly out of the way place. Everyone had to walk around him. It was so god damned cold that he didn't start to rot or even to bloat.. Some mornings he had snow on him, and on some mornings he didn't. Every morning on my way to the metro and every evening on my way home, I'd start to think about him for hundreds of meters before actually getting there.
Anyway I was waiting for him to be gone. . . . thinking that someone would put him in a dumpster or something. One morning he wasn't there. Someone had finally put him to rest or so I thought. But then I looked up the street and that damn dog was in the middle of the road and was looking a little thinner and a little stretched out -- the kind of look dogs get when they get run over a few dozen times by big trucks and buses. Someone had evidently thrown him out into the road to get ground into the elements. I write this story because it seems to be an appropriate metaphor for life here."
Problems of Attempting an Economic Transition with an Inadequate Communications InfrastructureThe economist Lester Thurow in his new book Head to Head reminds us of additional problems facing the transitionary Russian economy. "Enormous management problems exist," he writes. "The plant managers of the ex-communist countries have not in any sense been business people. They were told what to do (given a plan to fulfill), shipped materials, told whom to hire, what to pay, what to produce, and where to ship what they produced. They never bought anything, never sold anything, they never set any prices, and they never made any decisions on what to produce. Basically the plant managers were army officers."
Converting a military mentality to a market mentality is not easy. Management skills are gong to be in very short supply. Some of the market management skills such as accounting, finance, and marketing simply don't exist. Those skills weren't needed in a communist economy. Such skills will have to be created and that is going to take time."
Thurow is undoubtedly correct but he also fails to grasp yet another layer of problems. Attempts are being made to build a "market" economy that differs from a command economy in its overwhelmingly critical need for a modern communications system. The command economy, by definition, does not have to be agile and quick to respond. The market economy does. And the demand for rapid instantaneous responsiveness grows greater, worldwide, with every passing month. Alvin Toffler in his book Power Shift (published in October of 1990) made one thing very clear. Information is power and, exercised in the right way with state-of-the-art computer networks to channel it, information can often exert more power than military force. In short: He who has the best computer networks wins.
Let us then stop and consider the announced goal of the West: To help Russia and the other republics of he former USSR build a capitalist society and to do so with a postal system that has collapsed because the workers have to steal the mail in order to survive. To do so with a telephone system of a quality to that of the United States in the late 1930s. To do so without any national parcel or overnight air delivery system. And to do so almost without any viable computer networks.
After my talks in Moscow with those running existing computer nets and trying to build new ones, it is starkly apparent to me that Russian policy makers realize the critical nature of the task they are facing. Furthermore they seem to realize that, under current circumstances, the creation of a national computer network infrastructure is the most important and single most cost effective task that can be undertaken to rescue the Russian economy. Afterall computer networks can move money, ideas, and information,. They can play a critical role in the coordinated and responsive movement of people and goods. They can do all of these things faster and more effectively than the Russian postal system could, even if that postal were working well. Since the postal system cannot be relied upon and telephones are poor, building on the foundation of the existing network infrastructure in Russia offers the most cost effective way of providing a communications system for the economy.
Yet both sides are acting in irrational ways. Through bureaucratic inertia and political mistrust CoCom continues to act as though the cold war had never ended. Heaven forfend that the West give, or even allow the Russians, or the Ukrainians, or even the Kazakhstanis to buy up-to-date chips, personal computers, local area networks, or wide area network routing equipment. Only a true Dr Strangelove could argue at this point that it would be likely to find military uses against us. Given the reality, unless the true purpose of CoCom is to preserve the remnants of the East bloc as a dumping ground for obsolete technology that western manufacturers have over produced and are unable to sell here, continued restrictions on Telebit T2500 error correcting high speed modems, or Cisco routers that have been on the market here for several years make no sense. All that is achieved is first - assistance to Taiwanese manufacturers who are glad to sell what we choose not to and second - the infliction of further deprivation and stress on a society that can ill afford it.
But on the other hand some people in the Russian government appear to be slow to realize that a state monopoly on the ownership of telecommunications is going to make the building of the infrastructure that is desperately needed very much more difficult. American and other Western policy makers should work with their Russian counterparts suggest ways to remove the stranglehold of Ross Telecom immediately.
US Sprint has within its power the ability to deliver a powerful message. Through its joint venture with the Communications Ministry, it is set up to benefit from the restrictions that its Russian partner places on its competition. We would hope that it would put the successful resolution of the Russian economic and political crisis ahead of the considerations of its own corporate 90 day balance sheets and announce that it will withdraw its operations from Russia by January 1, 1993 unless its Russian partner gave up its stranglehold over its competition. Further desirable pressure for a change in the role of Ross Telecom might be brought if the US would simply say: we'll abandon CoCom if you abandon the privileged role of Ross Telecom. We should act with dispatch to be certain that the Russian government fully understands the undesirable implications of allowing, if only by default, a state monopoly to continue to exist.
The US government should be acting with dispatch to find ways of sending computer aid as well as food and monetary aide to Russia. A million dollars a year could establish (perhaps under the auspices of the US Department of State) a program that would employ a small staff in Washington and one in Moscow. The administrators of the program could collect computer equipment and modems that were being replaced by US corporations or government agencies and ship them to Moscow where it would oversee their placement at Russian educational, governmental, or network sites. Finally, the direct connection of RELcom and other Russian Networks to the NSFnet should be encouraged and facilitated in every way possible.
Events in Moscow Won't WaitOn April 21 Andrei sent me the following note:
Speaking about life in Moscow, you definitely miss an opportunity to compare the opposition demonstration that you saw at Manezhnaia Square two weeks ago with another one this last Sunday.
This time between 70,000 and 100,000 people marched from the White House to Manezhnaia for a rally supporting the reforms and Yel'tsin's course. The Congress that had refused to approve the private ownership of land was severely criticized. However, I am very disturbed to note that this Sunday there were signs of open confrontation. Police forces had to block the road from Red Square. From there, groups under red banners with the hammer and sickle were approaching and their slogans were openly hostile. "You Jews flee to Israel before we hang you for selling out Russia!" "May Western 'friends' die together with Yel'tsin their pawn!" "Our grandfathers died to put an end to private property. We kill you for humiliating of their memory!" and so on. Police lines. prevented skirmishes. But the aggressive mood of the communists sooner or later will result an blood. And Yel'tsin, after the Congress, is still in the position of having troubles with the local Soviets in the countryside. In short, instability is growing rather than decreasing.
More soon, Andrei
But Andrei, ever irrepressible, tries to find cause for hope
[I had sent Andrei an electronic copy of an article on RELcom published in the January 1992 issue of the Communications of the ACM. Andrei wrote that] "the author looks more excited by the human personalities of people who run RELcom than by the technology . And they deserve his admiration! But when it comes to analysis... These wonderful people now, unlike those August days, are not fighters for freedom of speech in a broad sense of this idea. They are doing business in a very hostile and dangerous environment and are busy with making money despite the fact that they still wear blue jeans.
Now for them connecting business structures is more important than connecting people. Unfortunately not everyone here runs a private bank. People also need (badly!) a channel to talk to each other, even if they are only Russian teachers, or scientists, or engineers. This is what troubles me most every time I think about our networks. They are for organizations, not for individuals. And in this sense, it seems to me the article creates a somewhat distorted impression of RELcom spirit. Of course the author's friends who are staff members of Demos will be able to exchange e-mail or read Usenet Newsgroups. But what about, not these gods, but us mere mortals?
How many individuals can afford an account in RELcom? A thousand out of 300 million? This is not criticism. The RELcom people are wonderful people and I like them. They are doing very important and necessary job. But they are not - and never pretended to be! - a network in public service. They build their own elite now, mostly based on money - big money! - or access to Government programs. But to keep the peace, or to attain other global goals, we need more affordable network here. Along with RELcom we need other networks created for people, not for stock exchanges. Unfortunately, it does not seem likely we'll get one soon.
The next day Andrei continued his thoughts.
Yesterday I felt dissatisfied after sending you my comments on that RELcom article. Perhaps I have not explained myself clearly enough and some additional comments are necessary. When discussing rates for network services it is useful to express them in terms of average month salary in Russia. Then you'll find that even in Glasnet with all possible discounts one has to pay one average month's salary as monthly fee. This is absolutely intolerable for public. Worse, that leads to formation of a new nomenklatura (someone has already coined term networklatura). Those who are exceptionally wealthy by local standards and those who have right connections.
Consider an example of the latter category. Every research institute has an account on RELcom. But usage is controlled by the administration, this is an expensive service. And again your access to the network depends on your loyalty to your boss' ideas. I had experience of my own with our Pandora account. The moment Dolgov and I refused to advertise all ideas of administration on the networks and started some criticisms, we were out of the list of users in the Institute.
In my opinion, the formation of this networklatura layer is a basically wrong thing. Gordon, in your report, you explain to Americans that before August 1991 coup there were three different telephone networks, two of them serving only top- level party and KGB bureaucracy. Now our computer networks are serving again the same thin layer of the rich and the bureaucracy plus some computer wizards. I doubt that this new situation is much better. Speaking of not my personal interests, but rather of the more fundamental interests of society, we need what you call the middle class. We need a large number of free people who feel free to get information, free to be members of the world community. This basic right should not be a privilege given to the carefully selected few. For these people a network account should be as affordable as a subscription to a professional journal. Otherwise we shall again reproduce a system of mutual lack of trust and understanding.
In short, the idea that it is enough to replace bad guys on the top with good guys and let them rule does not appeal to me. If there are be really important changes in our society it must become more open; that is more its members should have access to the emerging global datasphere. Of course this is idealism from the viewpoint of view of economics. But without this ultimate goal in mind, all efforts to save this country are doomed. I do realize that business tends to support another business. They have common interests. But I guess at least some organizations should be interested in supporting efforts with no immediate profit.
By the way, Gordon. you say that you will mention the Datasphere Center. Please be very clear that this is only one of many similar projects run here by enthusiasts. In no way the biggest or most important. I can easily tell you about ten others, and this is extremely important for all of them to be helped and to go on.
We need this diversity. I disagree with some ideas in these other projects, but will share (and, in fact, do so now) all our resources with them so long as they are interested in giving people new opportunities to communicate, not just to make money. Our society at the moment is too preoccupied with making money. To keep the sanity of our kids we must teach them that there are so many other things to treasure in the world besides money. We need the rich people, we need businessmen, but can you imagine a stable and sane society of businessmen and street vendors only?? Looks like now someone is trying to build exactly this type of society in here. If we are able to try to counteract, we must -- not by rallies, but by our work on a day-to-day basis. Which is what we are humbly trying to do.
Wither Russia?Old fears die hard.
Comparing pictures taken in Moscow in 1970 with those taken 22 years later in 1992, I noticed something quite fascinating that I had never seen reported in the literature. My 1970 picture of the Liubianka, the dreaded KGB headquarters and prison shows a building divided almost into two halves. The left 45% is presumably older and architecturally much more interesting with a lower roof line marked by peaked dormer offices. The right 55% has a taller very monolithic, drab, "bureaucratic" facade. In 1992 the visitor sees a uniformly drab building. While the USSR crumbled from within (perhaps during the early 1980s?) the drab unblinking facade of the 55% was extended across the entire building. Up to the very end the forces of control extended and exerted themselves to prove that they were in control. In the end the new facade did neither the KGB nor the old regime any good.
Few people in the West realize how critical a moment this is in over 1,000 years of Russian history. Recorded Russian history began in the 9th century with the development of a medieval society not unlike that of Europe. It was forever changed when the Mongol Hordes swept across the Eurasian plain in the 11th century. The power of Moscow grew in the 12th century because it succeeded in extracting, from the surrounding principalities, the most tribute for the Khans of the Golden Horde. Over the next two hundred years, it organized the military of these principalities in such a way that it was able both to keep the tribute and beat back the Horde.
Except for the chaos of a brief dynastic inter-regnum early in the seventeenth century, the Muscovite autocracy would rule until 1917. During most of the 18th century Russian culture was a slavish imitation of the European. But in the roughly 90 years from the emergence of Pushkin as the "Shakespeare" of Russian literature in the 1830s to the revolution of 1917, Russian experienced an unprecedented flowering of literature, music, philosophy, art, theater, ballet and science. Russian culture was a fertile as any in the world during these years. And after the revolution of 1905, it even enjoyed a year of constitutional monarchy before the throne restored its authority. Military defeat caused the demise of the Tsar in March 1917. Russia enjoyed almost another full year of freedom until the onset of the civil war brought about by the Bolshevik coup of November.
Despite the weight of a communist party despotism that made the worst excesses of the Tsars seem positively benign, major literature, music, poetry, theater, art and science survived throughout the 20th century. However the 74 years of Bolshevik rule were a barbarous catastrophe for the Russian people and all the other nationalities of the 15 republics of the former USSR. No people in human history died in greater numbers during the catastrophe of the first 35 years of Bolshevik rule from 1917 to Stalin's death in March of 1953. Estimates range from 40 to 80 million. Stalin's death was followed by nearly 40 years of stultifying autocratic rule by a political elite intent on preserving its own privileges.
In May of 1992 Russia has - depending on how you may wish to count - just survived it's third year of political freedom in the 20th century and indeed only the third in the last 800 years. We must hope that western governments will demonstrate a more creative and more intelligent reaction to the current situation than the KGB did to the changing environment that resulted in its demise. As the changed facade of the Lubianka shows, the KGB changed its skin while preserving itself as the bastion and protector of the nomenklatura. Unfortunately the West's reaction bears too many similarities to the KGB's superficial change of facade. The West must act quickly to avoid the KGB error and move immediately to a revamping of policy at its very skeletal foundations
Neither the United States, nor Europe, nor Japan has any right to rejoice in the collapse of communism and walk away from the debris. The West must understand that it is morally and strategically obligated to produce a policy toward Russia and the other former republics that will stand the test of time better than the bust of Stalin's wife at her tomb in the Novodevichi Monastery which, in the 22 years since I had last seen it, was seriously "melted" by the pollution of Moscow's air. To think that the burden of the last 800 years --or especially that of the last 74 years -- could condemn the Russian people to nothing but continued despotism is morally repugnant. America could perhaps recapture some of its raison d'etre, if it could listen to the Russian people and see the world through their eyes. Little do we understand how fortunate we are.
Finally Americans must also understand that the fundamental security interests of the West lie in helping Russia to create a communications infrastructure with the utmost swiftness to make sure collapse and civil war among or war between the former republics is avoided. While food and medical aide is important, it is assistance to the projects discussed in this paper that is in large part a prerequisite for Russia ever gaining economic and political stability. Without a modern communications infrastructure, Russia and all the lands of the other republics, will remain a powder keg where the three largest players still have thousands of nuclear weapons. If for any reason anyone is not motivated by the moral considerations cited, he or she had better be motivated by the reality of the location of these tools of unparalleled destruction. If we realize the legacy it has left for us, we shall also realize that it is far too soon to rejoice over communism's fall. Ewing, NJ, USA May 5, 1992
Appendix:Dramatis Personae - Names and E-mail Addresses.