It's our new kottedzhi. Dacha just love it?

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The Independent Culture
The countryside around Moscow, once home to the Communist Party elite and their fellow travellers, is rapidly becoming one giant suburb for the hordes of new, post-Soviet millionaires. You see the fruit of their wealth, a rash of new detached hou ses, asyou leave behind the urban crust of decaying tower blocks that rings the Russian capital. Most are hulking great things, ostentatious symbols of newly made money, all of red brick, the vast majority half-built and nearly all specified from house- builders' catalogues. Arched windows, ostentatious verandas and prominent stairs are clearly in, while architectural taste is most definitely out. Each house is complemented by those inevitable symbols of entrepreneurial wealth: saunas, Jacuzzis and mult iple garages for fleets of new Rolls-Royces and Mercedes-Benzes.

You have to be seriously rich to be able to afford a country house like this in Russia. Known rather absurdly as kottedzhi, or cottages, they cost, on average, around £500,000. However, there is clearly no shortage of money. "Our waiting list is three months long," says a blase Viktor Azarovich, of Zelax, a Moscow firm of house-builders. "You can choose from three designs." He offers "Spiral", "Tower" and "Manor".

"You have to buy the land beforehand," Mr Azarovich says, "and pay for that separately. Then you pay for up to 20 vans to transport materials at a rate of a dollar a kilometre for each. On top, you must pay for connections to the utility networks. And t

h en, of course, there's a charge for security."

Security is something Moscovites have learnt not to skimp on. Unlike the kottedzhi of leafy Surrey, these houses do not stand proudly alone in sylvan glades. Instead, they huddle together in compounds, surrounded by walls and rolls of lethal-looking raz

o r-wire. Security cameras point and whirr as you arrive at one of these estates. Lights flash and Neanderthals in paramilitary uniforms, equipped with machine-guns, lounge menacingly at gates, fingers never far from the consoles of panic buttons.

However much today's Kulaks hanker after a rural idyll, the reality of Moscow is never far away. More than a dozen newly rich Moscow millionaires have been gunned down over the past year by hit men. An recent article in Domovi ("House Spirit"), the bibl

e of the new rich, says: "These kottedzhi are built to German, American and Finnish designs and answer the most exacting demands for comfortable living space. However, they have been slightly improved to correspond to the harsh reality of our lives and th e houses are usually more like fortresses than the typically open Western koddedzhi."

The secrecy surrounding Moscow's new elite is understandably tight. When Moscow newspapers published a list of the richest men and women in Russia last summer, they were deluged with lawsuits. A reputation for wealth can mean a ransacked koddedzhi at best, death by gunshot at worst. So tracking down the names of those investing in new country property is an almost impossible task. When I asked the Moscow planning department how many are under construction, I was met by a flurry of panic. "We don'

t know if we register kottedzhi," one woman said nervously. "Send us a fax," said another.

The established rich look down their noses at these new homes. From the graceful verandas and lush gardens of their lakeside dachas, they sneer at the monied roughnecks invading their privileged fiefdom. "That's the new rich for you," sniffs Irina Konchalovskaya, as she waters the plants in the romantic garden of her beautifully weathered clapboard summer home. "Barbed wire, searchlights, hideous prison-style buildings: they are so scared of getting killed that they're creating this ugly new architecture of what you can only call Fear."

Real Russian countryfolk - those who stay on the land throughout winter - fear that years of noisy construction work will lead to a rise in crime, the destruction of stable village society, the rise in the number of "weekenders" toying with the land and unwelcome attention from both mafia and government officials.

For builders, however, the move out to the country is hugely profitable, if dangerous. Pavel Zhogolev, who runs MPA, a building firm, says his worst problem has been getting new home-owners to pay bills. "These days we demand 60 per cent up front. After we've completed two-thirds of the work, we down tools until the rest of the money is forthcoming. There are many empty shells of houses now because people either cannot or will not pay."

More mundane problems for the likes of Mr Zhogolev include the poor quality and short supply of building materials, bricks especially. The question of architectural quality is simply not an issue.

One day, Moscovites may regret this rush of new and ugly houses, but not today. And particularly if they happen to be formerly penniless pensioners who have woke up one morning to find that their central city apartments have risen so drastically in valuethat they too can build a horrid new red-brick house in the countryside and imagine they are living the life of those who have long been able to escape the harsh reality of the old Soviet and the new Russian regimes in their lush dachas.

In the meantime, the long march to communism appears to have led up the cul-de-sac to suburbia, a suburbia edged with barbed wire and the smell of fear rather than privet hedges and the scent of roses.