City Life: Moscow - Russians lap up apocalypse flood theory

RUSSIA's economic crash - not to mention the Monica Lewinsky affair and other crises of contemporary life - will pale into insignificance if there is any truth in an end-of-the-world scenario being put forward by two Russian scientists.

Theoretical Geography or Imminent Disaster, by Anatoly Votyakov and his son Alexei, is a learned text, with maps and diagrams, which sold out within hours of appearing in Moscow book shops this autumn.

Russians often comfort themselves by saying "bivayet khuzhe" (it could be worse). Crisis-stricken readers were attracted and appalled in equal measure by the authors' prediction that on top of economic meltdown, the world is soon to see a repeat of the biblical deluge.

The reason for this was simple, as explained to me by Dr Votyakov Snr, a bearded sage who would be perfect for the role of Noah. Despite global warming, he said, ice was building up at the polar caps. As a result, there would come a point when the Earth's crust would have to rearrange itself to distribute the weight more harmoniously.

"Once the ice exceeds a certain limit, a catastrophe will occur, a real deluge," he said. This, he added, had happened many times before in the Earth's four-and-a-half-billion-year history.

The proof, according to Dr Votyakov, who graduated in mathematics from the Urals University, then worked in a Moscow institute attached to the Academy of Sciences, was that if you looked carefully at the globe, you could see chains of mountains that followed the lines of former equators.

Other evidence came from geology and palaeontology. Studies from eastern Siberia showed that down in the permafrost there were layers of birch wood, 9,300, 26,800 and 31,800 years old.

That meant that in previous ages the area must have been warm. Remains of mammoths had been found with freshly swallowed grasses in their digestive tracts. Therefore they did not die of cold or hunger, but as a result of a sudden cataclysm.

Dr Votyakov and Alexei, both Orthodox Christians, note in their book that Nostradamus, the 16th-century French astrologer, predicted the end of the world in 1999. "It was the only time he gave a specific date," said Dr Votyakov. Modern Russian seers go further and set the date for 19 July 1999.

Dr Votyakov's other son, Alexander, a metal trader whose firm paid for the publication of the book, joked that he was thinking of bringing out a calendar marked with this red-letter day.

"The process will begin when Greenland starts slipping towards the equator," Dr Votyakov said. "The first result of this will be that a huge tidal wave hits the east coast of America, making clear to everyone the total irrelevance of the dollar."

Initially, the English Channel would recede and there could be a land path to France. But, later, Britain would be submerged along with the low-lying parts of Europe. Severe cold would render Japan and Chinauninhabitable.

Doomed cities include Montreal, Toronto, Rome, Paris and, of course, London. An option for Britons might be to flee to Norway, which is expected to survive. Muscovites will have a chance if they abandon their city for eastern Siberia, which is expected to enjoy a warm spell.

"I am not trying to sow panic," Dr Votyakov said. "It is just that people should know what awaits them."

Dr Votyakov rejects the role of Noah, saying he is too old to lead the survivors on the rearranged planet. Since General Alexander Lebed is already established in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, perhaps he is better placed to take the job.

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