Russia and its Pathetic Education Fraud

Michael Bohm, writing in the Moscow Times:

Three weeks ago, NTV television reported that more than 70 engineers working at a Komsomolsk-on-Amur airplane factory in the Khabarovsk region had obtained fake engineering degrees from a local technical college. The high-security military plant, which belongs to state-owned Sukhoi, assembles the Su-27, Su-30 and Su-35 fighter jets, as well as the much-anticipated Superjet 100 passenger plane. The trade in fake diplomas is nothing new, of course, but the sheer number of employees involved was mind-boggling.

Sukhoi management took a nonchalant attitude toward the scandal and refused to fire the employees, referring to a company rule that employees can be dismissed only for “grave crimes.” (According to the Criminal Code, knowingly purchasing a fake diploma carries a maximum punishment of an 80,000 ruble [$2,600] fine and two years of “correctional labor.”) Sukhoi management also explained that the diplomas were a mere formality since the engineers had been employed at the plant for years and assured that no engineers with fake diplomas had been employed in actual plane production.

This is a classic case of self-deception. Sukhoi pretended that it had “raised worker qualifications” by instantly turning dozens of employees with only a high school education into engineers with college degrees. Until they got caught, everyone seemingly gained from the scheme. The plant reported to Sukhoi headquarters in Moscow that it fulfilled its plan for the number of degree-holding engineers on staff, the workers received a small bonus for their new skill level, and everyone pretended that they were making better airplanes.

The fake-diploma scandal at the Sukhoi plant was also unique in that an investigation was initiated. These schemes almost always go unnoticed — with the exception of show cases like when authorities wanted to discredit then-Archangelsk Mayor Alexander Donskoi in 2006 by exposing that he had purchased his diploma. There are also plenty of ridiculous cases that get public exposure — for example, in October, when a group of counterfeiters tried to sell fake diplomas from Harvard University to Russians for $40,000 each, or when it became known that Marina Petrova, who was awarded the title of “Best Teacher in Russia-2007,” had purchased a false university diploma.

The most popular fake diplomas are legal degrees, followed by medical degrees, Izvestia reported July 20.

Although the problem is rampant, employers rarely check the validity of applicants’ diplomas. The Federal Security Service, Interior Ministry and other government organizations related to security and defense are supposed to check every diploma, but they are quite lackadaisical about this, as the Sukhoi scandal showed. Roughly every third policeman has a fake diploma, Alexander Yudin, former head of the Interior Ministry’s personnel department, said in the Izvestia report.

In the private sector, most Russian companies don’t even bother checking candidates’ diplomas, but the few that do are invariably turned down by universities for the reason that the information is “confidential.” (Interestingly enough, completely different rules are applied to foreigners who apply for Russian work permits. They must present to Russian authorities apostille seals that prove the validity of their foreign diplomas.)

For years, the government has vowed to establish a single database that employers could use to verify diplomas with a single click of the mouse, but there has been little political will to jump-start the project. Even if the database were established, it would be useless against those who pay to have their fake diplomas officially registered at a university with the rector’s approval.

Students who study honestly get the short end of the stick. No matter how conscientiously they study, their diplomas will be inevitably devalued by widespread corruption within the country’s higher education system. Amid this nationwide devaluation, too many people view a university degree as a mere formality, as the Sukhoi case shows.

For those who cringe a bit at buying a diploma outright, there is a more “respectable” way of essentially accomplishing the same thing: paying someone to write your dissertation for a Ph.D. degree or candidate’s degree (something roughly between a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in the West).

The number of postgraduate degrees has skyrocketed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. About 30 percent of the holders purchased their dissertations, said Mikhail Kirpichnikov, head of the Higher Attestation Commission, the government agency that regulates the granting of postgraduate degrees, Newsru.com reported in 2006. In 2008, Oleg Kutafin, former rector of the Moscow State Law Academy, put the figure at 50 percent.

Advanced degrees obtained through purchased dissertations are particularly popular among top managers and the bloated army of mid- and upper-level bureaucrats. They are also popular among mayors, governors and their aides, as well as State Duma deputies, for whom a new academic title is a respectable status symbol that goes nicely with the dacha, Mercedes, driver and flashing blue light.

For this segment, cheap semblance counts as much as substance. During the early 1990s, it was considered prestigious among the elite to buy false certificates showing that they were descendents of Russian nobility. Now it has become prestigious to place the words “Candidate of Sciences” or “Doctor of Sciences” on business cards.

Roughly half of State Duma deputies have postgraduate degrees. The remaining half are actively recruited by enterprising dissertation-writers who try to hawk their services for $25,000 a pop, according to Russian Newsweek.

Among Duma deputies with graduate degrees is Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. In 1998, at age 52, he received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Moscow State University for a dissertation titled “The Past, Present and Future of the Russian Nation” — remarkably, while serving as a deputy and skipping the candidate level entirely. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1995, at age 51, while also serving as a Duma deputy. Among Cabinet ministers, you might be surprised to learn that Sergei Shoigu has a candidate’s degree in economics, which he received in 1996, at age 41, while serving as emergency situations minister.

Questions have been raised about Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Candidate of Sciences degree, which he received in 1997 from the St. Petersburg Mining Institute while working in the Mayor’s Office. In 2006, Clifford Gaddy, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, compared Putin’s dissertation with a management study published by two University of Pittsburgh professors and found that 16 pages from Putin’s work, including tables, matched word for word or with only slight changes. Putin has never commented on Gaddy’s findings.

Unfortunately, the Kremlin doesn’t seem to care too much about how academic plagiarism has corrupted the education system. During Wednesday’s State Council meeting, President Dmitry Medvedev and Education Minister Andrei Fursenko gave detailed reports on the largest problems in the education system and how they impede the country’s modernization. Remarkably, not a single word was said about fake diplomas or academic plagiarism.

Of course, there are no easy solutions. Academic fraud, like corruption in general, is a systemic problem in Russia. But one good place to start would be to force the country’s top universities at least to adopt an honor code that every student — and faculty member as well — would be required to uphold, or face expulsion.

Today, the real question is how Russia will be able to resolve its most-pressing problems — above all, modernization — with so many fake managers, engineers, economists, doctors, lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians.

46 responses to “Russia and its Pathetic Education Fraud

  1. At building big адронного каллайдера in Switzerland every third scientist – Russian-speaking.

    Russian the cleverest

    LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS:

    You mean clever because they flee Russia and live in Switzerland? You’re right!!

    Meanwhile, thanks for following our rules and documenting your factual assertions. Illiterate, ape-like idiot.

    • LR!!!! You’re again trying to distort the truth.
      You’re lying!
      These Russian scientists are working on Russia – they are Russian citizens. Russia project “Large Hadron Collider” participant.

      • Of course he is, and always will be. But he has to earn his living somehow, so let’s leave him alone with that.

        Не дави на парня слишком сильно – он же на работе, ему детей кормить надо:)

      • What does it mean “working on Russia?” What are you trying to say?

        • Oh I guess you’ve found a spy network. Run to the FBI, RV.

        • I think he means they are working FOR Russia.
          All their comments are irrelevant though. Russia’s education system in its current state is one big Potemkin village. The fact that people buy diplomas is only half the problem, the other problem is the totally perfunctory nature of the education provided by the vast majority of Russian higher education schools, in effect 90% of Russian students simply go through the motions of studying at university, wasting 5 years without getting any useful knowledge or skills.
          In this respect the approach of this particular Sukhui aircraft plant is perhaps quite pragmatic as there is very little difference in Russia between people who’d actually attended universities(note in most cases they simply attended them without actually learning anything) and those who’d simply bought their diplomas (in most cases from the same universities).

          • All this sounds very strange to me Igor. It simply cannot be that a person without real engineering education would be capable of designing and building a fighter jet.

            While I trust you and don’t doubt what you are saying is true, still how do they design those jets if some of them simply bought their degrees and others got real degrees but with little values?

            The only possible answer seems to be that the work is performed by older engineers with real education obtained during the Soviet period. So, what’s going to happen when these 45 and 55 year old engineers and designers will start retiring and dying off?

            And to these very troubling happenings in the Russian society such as corruption in education, we have the response from Dmitry and his ilk: there is no corruption, and the stories of fake diplomas are false and are the product of Western hatred and American lies, and in any event, these fake “engineers” in Russia are at any rate better than the American engineers with real education.

            What do you think this is? A knee-jerk reaction due to the wounded national pride? Hatred to the West? Blindness to reality? Yearning for Stalinism? Fury due to being irrelevant? A combination of all these?

            How sad indeed.

            • If the engineers with fake diplomas have been at the company for several years, it is likely that the older engineers trained them on the job.

              And in the West, most people with genuine degrees in engineering would be very much beginners when first starting work, and would also need training by older engineers.

              • Of course, new college graduates need be trained Don. Nobody would argue otherwise. But there must be something in that college thing, or else, why do we even bother with higher education

    • If this is true it means they are indeed clever, because they left Russia.

      It’s called “brain drain”. Look it up.

  2. Regarding — “During the early 1990s, it was considered prestigious among the elite to buy false certificates showing that they were descendents of Russian nobility.”

    Fedor was the son of Alexis, brother to Peter the great, and ruled for a few years before Peter.

    From “Peter the Great: His Life and World,” by Robert K. Massie, page 28:

    Nevertheless, Fedor did carry out one great reform, the abolition of the medieval system of precedence, a crushing weight on public administration, which decreed that noblemen could only accept state offices or military commands according to their rank. And to prove his rank, every boyar jealously guarded his family records. There were endless squabbles, and it became impossible to put capable men in key positions because others, citing higher rank, would refuse to serve under them. This system enshrined incompetence, and in the seventeenth century, in order to field an army at all, the tsars were forced to set the system aside temporarily and declare that wartime commands would be assigned “without precedence.”

    Fedor wanted to make these temporary waivers permanent. He appointed a commission which recommended the permanent abolition of precedence; then he called a special council of boyars and clergy and personally urged the abolition for the welfare of the state. The Patriarch enthusiastically supported him. The boyars, suspicious and reluctant to give up the hallowed prerogatives of rank, grudgingly agreed. Fedor ordered that all family documents, service books and anything pertaining to previous precedence and rank be surrendered. Before the eyes of the Tsar, the Patriarch and teh council, these were wrapped up in bundles, carried inot a Kremlin courtyard and tossed into the flames of a bonfire. Fedor decreed that therafter offices and power would be distributed on a basis of merit and not of birth, a principle which Peter would subsequently make the foundation of his own military and civilian administration. (Ironically, many boyars, seeing their ancient privileges go up in smoke, silently cursed Fedor and the Miloslavskys and thought of the young Peter as a potential savior of the old ways.)

    NOTE: Alexis’ first wife was a Miloslavsky. Her son was Fedor. She died. Alexis’ second wife was Natalya Naryshkin, who had Tatar blood, and was much younger than Alexis. She was the mother of Peter.

  3. LOL

    Even fake Russian engineers can project superb Sukhoi jets, while the whole US aerospace complex with real US diplomas can not make a single working space rocket:D

    • Sad:*(

      Nobody wants to prove my point about the impotence of the USian aerospace complex wrong:(

      • Well, considering that traditional Russian customers such as India are changing to purchasing US or EU made military equipment because Russian made stuff is junk, I think the answer is obvious.

        Now, about these “great Russian rockets” I have one word for you:

        Bulava

        Followed by another word

        Failure

        Thursday, December 10, 2009
        Another Bulava Missile Failure
        Russia’s new submarine launched Bulava ballistic missile has had another failure, this time in fantastic style. That would mark the 9th failure in 13 tests, although some analysts believe every test so far has been a failure.

        Unless Russia can improve their rocket science, all that will be remembered of the Bulava missile is the amazing light show they gave Norway this week.

        http://www.informationdissemination.net/2009/12/another-bulava-missile-failure.html

        Russian missile failure sparks UFO frenzy in Norway
        An eerie turquoise light that provoked hundreds of reports of UFO sightings when it appeared over Norway was created by the latest failed test-flight of a new Russian missile.

        Rather than signalling the arrival of alien lifeforms or a meteorite in the Norwegian city of Tromso, the spectacular plume of light was produced in the wake of Russia’s nuclear-capable Bulava missile.

        “At least this failed test made some nice fireworks for the Norwegians,” said Pavel Felgenhauer, a leading Russian defence expert. He said Russia’s armed forces would consider the latest failure of the Bulava to be a major embarrassment.

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/ufo/6781106/Russian-missile-failure-sparks-UFO-frenzy-in-Norway.html

  4. It is truth.
    Over the project 700 scientists from russia work.

    Americans the weak and silly country of Blacks and Chineses.
    Americans have lost in вьетнаме.

    The American economy – an empty place.
    You silly and make nothing.

    You live at the expense of reserve system created by Jews.

    NASA exists at the expense of German scientists. You should tell thanks germany for that that you have space. (verner fon braun)

    hahahahahahaahah
    stupid american

    • Over 777 Andreys from Russia cannot speak English.

    • Your command of the English language is an excellent indication of the state of Russian education

      • And RV’s Russian is oh-so-perfect:D

        Bobby at least speaks Chezh:)

        • I speak fluent Spanish and very good French and Italian, but not Russian. This is not an issue, however. This blog is in the English language, and so there is a reasonable expectation that persons posting here would do so in a proper English

          • You must make allowances for a person who knows English only as a second laguage. I think Andrey’s English is quite good enough to be understood, even if it does have some mistakes.

            That doesn’t mean I agree with his opinions.

            • Well, I am willing to make allowances. But, I know quite a few Swedes and Danes and Swiss who speak English as their second (and often third) language, and it’s almost perfect. I realize I cannot expect the same from Russians, but why do they keep bragging about their great educational system? At least in the filed of language training it ain’t

              • Perhaps you’ve seen many Swedes and Danes all other that excel in math? In computer science? In, er, reading?

                Have it please, dear.
                http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0923110.html

                Also please consult results of the International Mathematical Olympiads:
                http://www.imo-official.org/results.aspx

                Why don’t you regard it so unthinkable that a man that does not speak perfect English can’t be smarter than you?

                Me, for example, would make a very poor mathematician, but I speak better English. Have you ever heard of specialization?:)

                Do you know if English is his second language, not 3rd?

                Do you know if he has finished a primary school yet, at all?

                What’s wrong with you? When you don’t have no arguments you start picking on language errors?

                • Funnily enough, Russian science has been well known for simply trying to copy western technology through espionage.

                  One famous incident where this backfired on them in a big way was the “Concordeski” incident.

                  British Military Intelligence found that there was a spy working in the Franco British design team for the Concorde, so they started feeding false design data to the Russian agent.

                  The result was that the Russian incorporated false data in their rip-off of the Concorde, which resulted in it exploding and crashing at the Paris Air Show.

                  The resulting Russian rip-off was so dangerous that it was only used as a mail carrier for most of its career.

                  A very expensive and dangerous mail carrier.

                  In fact most Russian aircraft have terrible safety records, but thats not really surprising now is it?

                  • Thankfully we’ve never heard of the Western spies in Russia.

                    Never. Since this July.

                    As to the safety records: why don’t you consult Georgian pilots (they have much time for consulting you now, when the flights to Moscow are no more, I guess):

                    What would they prefer to pilot: a Russian jet, or a Western one with the same price (i.e. leased all over the world for the last 30 years)?

        • Dima you compare the lingua franca of the world the English with the local, dialect the russian – stop ddrinking tha tcontaminated russian samogon….

    • Hey andrey777, you ignoramus! for your information your “(verner fon braun)” was actually spelled ‘Werner von Braun’!

      reference – history.msfc.nasa.gov/vonbraun/index.html

      Now if you cannot get a simple thing like that right, then that speaks volumes for the rest of your unbelievably stupid ‘Potemkin’ propaganda. And believe me, your reasoning (or lack of it) leaves a lot to be desired.

      • Bohdan, u r moron.

        He obviously uses an online translator. Now go tell an online translator how to translate Werner von Braun.

        • Oh, you’re still here, Dmitry; continuing your holy assault on LR. Your brain damage and will to offend people seem to be so epic that you start to remind me of some kind of a fantasy creature or a game character. Wishing you all the best talking with an online translator.

          Speaking about Danes. Danish Universities have much better computer science courses teaching such advanced things like building Ray Tracers (3D) and writing compilers if you understand what I’m talking about. And Danish people are quite technically advanced rolling out new web technologies. “PHP” on which this blog runs and “Ruby on Rails” both are of Danish origin. But Danes don’t use their knowledge to build missiles so that you probably don’t even consider them human beings.

          Perhaps, 2 or 3 leading universities in whole Russia are able to teach on such level and to train 0.000001% of population to take first place in maths, but all of this is easily overshadowed by what’s the rest of population look like. (We have a perfect and rare example from you here.)

          By the way, what’s character class you are? If you are a Barbarian, then reading LR gives -100 to retardness and around +200 to intellect and IQ in summary. Definitely not a stats you pursue. So take care.

          And don’t stop — you are making good both for the comments and popularity of this blog.

          • So nice to see another man I can explain a concept of irony.

            So here we go:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony

            A whole new world of humour will open it’s doors to you, my beloved Garnet.

            And you will not ever need to propose me to discuss anything with an online translator.

            As to the 2 or 3 leading universities in whole Russia are able to teach on such level and to train 0.000001% of population to take first place in maths – oh, do you really mean that in the West there are more people with a good higher education?

            You know, go google and u’ll be massively surprised. Seriously.

            Re the By the way, what’s character class you are?

            But you almost got me touched by this phrase, I almost started to tell you what “class” I am in:)

            I’m in a class where they have fun of talking to people like you. Get back to your computer games now.

            PS. One more thing. Yes, I know I help our beloved LR team to gather 10 times more comments than they would without me talking to you, cheerless Russophobes:) I think, that’s for good – this fobia documents should become a universal heritage, at last:)

          • BTW, Garnet, you’re too serious, and sound stressed. Should get like more relaxed, life is fun:D

            LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS:

            Isn’t that what the Nazis said when they were marching into Stalingrad? Or was it Napoleon on his way into Moscow?

            • Uh, you catched me! Dmitry, level up whatever class you are!

              Keep it going — I should probably start small business selling sickbags for people reading your passages. Too bad LR won’t allow me to place small ad on top, surely I would’ve made a living!

            • @LR’s “Isn’t that what the Nazis said when they were marching into Stalingrad?”

              What exactly? “You’re too serious, and sound stressed. Should get like more relaxed, life is fun?”

              You’re cool, LR.

          • I mentioned Danes and Swedes just as examples. All I wanted to say is that just because English is someone’s second language does not mean it has to be broken. Millions of Western Europeans, particularly Scandinavians, speak almost perfect English even though it is not their native tongue.

            • millions of WEans have every chance to travel to England on holidays. English is next to second state language in Nederlands, right next door to Dutch.

              All the Europe travels to other countries (within the EU) very frequently and has every chance to practice English during all their life.

              I mean, it’s quite natural for Europeans to know English.

              Not that natural, as knowing Chinese, for example. And not as natural as for a Japanese or Russian to speak English.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_English-speaking_population#List_in_order_of_total_speakers

              And still this has very little to do with the person’s intelligence/ mastership in any sciences, etc.

  5. @Roughly every third policeman has a fake diploma, Alexander Yudin, former head of the Interior Ministry’s personnel department, said in the Izvestia report.

    So, they simply go in with no legal or any other training whatsoever, and just start robbing and victimising citizens using their guns and badges?

    Why am I surprised?

    Also, the “militia” name more appropriate than ever.

  6. This is normal for Russia. The reality (of unqualified workers) is not important… as long as the paperwork looks good, everything is fine.

    • The reality of USian austronauts using Russian spaceships looks real enough for you, steamed one?

      • So when are you Russian morons going to finish your Glonass sat nav system, it was supposed to be completed in 1995, but here we are 15 years later, and the system is still not working properly, despite Russian claims to the contrary.

        In mid-February, the Russian Audit Chamber’s board assessed Federal Space Agency operations and said the Global Navigation Satellite System was unlikely to offer serious competition to the U.S. GPS Navstar system. The Audit Chamber also annulled the results of a 2006 tender for developing the new-generation Kliper spacecraft.

        In effect, the Audit Chamber doubts the widely advertised commercial aspects of the Global Navigation Satellite System program.

        The Federal Space Agency, the main Russian agency implementing this program, has repeatedly mentioned the impressive advantages of its brainchild, claiming that the Global Navigation Satellite System would be cheaper and more competitive than the GPS Navstar, would feature better receivers and provide more precise coordinates.

        Perminov told a news conference on New Year’s Eve that the market had shuddered when the first Russian-made Global Navigation Satellite System receivers were offered for sale.

        This is rather unusual because the GPS Navstar has been catering to hundreds of millions of users worldwide, including Russia, for several decades. Moreover, one multi-service Global Positioning System package costs only a few dollars and is quite a match for the 100-200 unwieldy GLONASS receivers that are inferior in every respect.

        http://www.gpsdaily.com/reports/Reality_Glooms_High_Over_Russian_GLONASS_GPS_Plans_Part_One_999.html

        • Andrew, yet another comment from a schoolkid that is dumb enough to not go check the WP before posting?

          You don’t surprise me.

          “Beginning in 2001, Russia committed to restoring the system and by April 2010 it is practically restored (21 of 24 satellites are operational).”

          “Galileo is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) currently being built by the European Union (EU). The €3.4 billion project is an alternative and a complement to the U.S. NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Russian GLONASS. On 30 November 2007 the 27 EU transportation ministers involved reached an agreement that it should be operational by 2013,[1] but later press releases suggest it was delayed to 2014.[2]”

          “The COMPASS system (also known as Beidou-2, BD2) is a project by China to develop an independent global satellite navigation system. [1] Although almost nothing has yet been officially announced by Chinese authorities about the signals of the new system, the launch of the first Compass satellite permitted independent researchers not only to study general characteristics of the signals but even to build a Compass receiver.”

          Nothing is there yet about the Georgian navigation satellites, launched by the famous Georgian engineers from the famous Georgian launching pads.

          However, even a Georgian can see that starting from 2001, 21 of planned 24 Russian satellites are already there an working.

          Though, of course, not every Georgian, only dumbiest ones, would go to GPSdaily to check news on GLONASS:D

          Have a nice Saturday night, kid.

        • Andrew, it wasn’t necessary to offend troll. You could simply remind our proud Kremlin fighter that he is posting using those screwed PCs developed by those dumb Americans-capitalists.

          Meanwhile, speaking about unreachable Russian science soaring in an outer space.

          “Russia estimates two percents (2%) in the world science share”:
          http://lenta.ru/news/2010/05/18/ruscience/

          “This number was announced by the head secretary of Russian Academy of Science presidium, Valery Kostjuk, while speaking on the annual academy meeting. Scientist added that USA holds a share of 35 (thirty five) percents. Kostjuk also noted continuing brain drain from the country.”

          Just after suppressing “31 Strategy” meeting Kremlin guys strike back on another front of ongoing battle for Khimki forest:
          http://lenta.ru/news/2010/09/04/barto/

          “Moscow band ‘Barto’ members who performed on a concert-meeting organized in protection of forest were called up in militia accusing them in extremism. Militia claims their “Ready” song contains extremist material.”

          Time to arrest or call up in militia everyone who simply “doesn’t get it” and probably also everyone who refuse to drink ‘n’ smoke to patch up budget holes in Russian economy.

          • Well said Garnet

          • Garnet, Andrew, what I like most about you two little demagogues, is the way you change themes, when you find yourself ownd.

            Talking of cops and ownd?

            Switch to Space Race!

            Ownd?

            Go Aerospace complex!

            Ownd?

            Talk science rates!

            Ownd?

            Change the theme again!

            Be like you are guys, you make my world a little bit funnier from over there. Thnx from Russia, sincerely:)

  7. It is known that Putin had access to translators while working at the office of the mayor of St Petersburg in the mid-1990s.

  8. Russia has a very long history of relying on connections rather than diplomas.

    Alexis’ first wife died. He was to choose a second wife. Alexis chose Natalya Naryshkin, who had Tatar blood, and became the mother of Peter the great.

    From “Peter the Great – His Life and World,” by Robert K. Massie, pages 20-21:

    Matveev, overwhelmed by the implications of this declaration, threw himself at his sovereign’s feet. He recognized instantly both the glittering prospects and the unfathomable dangers of Alexis’ decision. To have his ward elevated to tsaritsa would seal his own success: her relatives adn friends would rise along with her; they and he would replace the Miloslavskys as the ruling power at court. But it also meant dangerously stimulating the antagonism of the Miloslavskys, as well as the jealousy of many of the powerful boyar families who already were suspicious of his role as favorite. If, somehow, the choice was announced and then the match mis-fired, Matveev would be ruined.

    With this in mind, Matveev begged that even if determined on his choice, the Tsar would nevertheless submit to the traditional process of publicly picking his bride from a flock of assembled candidates. The ceremony, which had its antecedents in Byzantium, decreed that women of marriageable age from all parts of Russia should assemble at the Kremlin for the tsar’s inspection. In theory, the women were to come from every class of Russian society, including serfs, but in practice this fairy tale never came true. No tsar ever gazed on a beautiful serf maiden and, smitten, led the blushing creature off to become his tsaritsa. However, teh assembly did include daughters of the lesser nobility, and Natalya Naryshkina’s rank made her perfectly eligible. At court, frightened young women, pawns in the ambitions of their families, were examined by court officials to certify virginity. Those who survived this scrutiny were summoned to the Kremlin palace to await the smile or nod of the boy or man who could place one of them on the throne.

    A game played for the highest stakes also entails high risks. Within that same century, there had been grim examples of the lengths to which ambitious families would to to prevent a girl from another family becoming the new tsaritsa. In 1616, Maria Khlopfa, the known choice of nineteen-year-old Michael Romanov, had displeased the Saltykov family, then predominant at court, that they drugged the girl, presented her to Michael in this state, told the Tsar that she was incurably ill and then, as punishment for daring to present herself as a potential bride, dispatched Maria and all her family to exile in Siberia. In 1647, Alexis himself, at teh age of eighteen, had chosen Euphemia Vsevolozhska to be his first wife. but when she was being dressed, a group of court ladies twisted her hair so tightly that in Alexis’ presence she fainted. The court physicians were persuaded to declare that she had epilepsy, and she and her relatives were also dispatched to Siberia. Maria Miloslavskaya had been Alexis’ second choice.

    …. But, soon after the first assembly, rumors spread that Natalya Naryshkina had been chosen. The inevitable counterattack was prepared, and, four days before the second inspection, anonymous letters were found in the Kremlin accusing Matveev of using magic herbs to make the Tsar desire his ward. An investigation was necessary, and the marriage was postponed for nine months. ……

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