Friday, February 19, 2016

A Double Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 23

Paul Goble

Staunton, February 19 -- The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.

Consequently, Windows on Eurasia presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. (Because of missing last week, this week’s “Baker’s Dozen,” the 23rd in the series, is a double.) It is only suggestive and far from complete but perhaps one or more of these stories will be of broader interest.
1.      Only Terror Could Keep Russia from Falling Apart, Sorokin Says.  Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin says that vodka and swearing help Russians to deal with the enormous gap between themselves and the Russian state but that only terror could keep the Russian Federation from disintegrating (

2.      Russian Police Now Training to Control Crowds Rather than Rescue Hostages.  A change in police training in Russia highlights the Kremlin’s concerns: police are no longer being given special instruction on how to rescue hostages but rather training on how to control unruly crowds (

3.      Most Regions Refuse to Permit Demonstrations in Memory of Boris Nemtsov.  Most regional governments have rejected applications for demonstrations in memory of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov on the first anniversary of his murder near the Kremlin walls (

4.      Non-Russians to Suffer More than Russians When Unemployment Rises.  Now that the Russian economy has deteriorated to the point that companies cannot avoid laying off workers, non-Russians are likely to suffer more than ethnic Russians because they have long been the victims of the rule that they are “the last hired and the first fired” (

5.      Mikhalkov Wants Gorbachev and Yeltsin Charged with Treason. Because of their role in the demise of the USSR, prominent film director Nikita Mikhalkov wants Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin charged with treason (

6.      One in Every 50 Working-Age Russians Now Infected with HIV.  Officials say that two percent of the Russian workforce is now HIV infected and that the number of both those infected and those who develop full-blown AIDS is rising with ever fewer medicines available to treat such people (

7.      Sochi Olympics Cost Every Single Russian 1,000 US Dollars.  A new calculation suggests that the Sochi games cost every single Russian a thousand US dollars, an enormous sum given their current economic hardships (

8.       Russians Swapping Pets for Food.  The economic situation for an increasing share of the Russian population is now so dire that people there are having to swap their pets for food, according to “Moskovsky komsolets” ( That reverses the trend in pet ownership that became possible thanks to improvements in the economic situation earlier and means that there are now more homeless animals in Russia.

9.      Medvedev Shows that Blocking of Websites Isn’t Working. At a public meeting, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was able to gain access to blocked sites on his smartphone, even as his government was calling for the imposition of fines on those who provide information on workarounds to others (

10.  Medvedev is No Longer ‘Good Cop’ to Putin’s ‘Bad’ One, Moscow Paper Says.  For almost a decade, Dmitry Medvedev has been viewed in Russia and the West as “the good cop” to Putin’s “bad cop.”  But now that has changed, and people recognize that there is not as much difference between the two as they had thought (

11.   Maybe Russians Didn’t Invent Baseball But They have an Alternative.  In Stalinist times, Soviet propagandists declared that a Russian invented baseball as well as many other things Russians clearly had no role in coming up with. Now, in a “hybrid” version of that, Russians are saying that they have come up with an alternative to the American national pastime (

12.  Crimean Anschluss Supporters Now Can Show Their Feelings with Special Eau de Cologne. A special eau de cologne has now gone on sale in Russian shops. Called “Our Crimea,” it is intended to remind the wearer and those around him or her of his support for Putin’s annexation of Crimea (

13.  Dispute over Buddhist Monastery in Urals Heats Up.  A group of oligarchs wanted the land on which a Buddhist monastery in the Urals was situated and appeared to be on their way to getting it, but now the local governor has intervened on the side of the Buddhists and the oligarchs may find their way forward blocked (

14.   Russian Nationalist Wants to Purge “Sex” and “Glamour” from Russian Language. A Russian nationalist wants to eliminate foreign words that have entered the Russian language over the last two decades. Among them are “sex” and “glamour” (

15.  Udmurt Republic Gives Officials Who Speak Udmurt Higher Pay. Officials in the Udmurt Republic who speak the language of the titular nationality are being given additions to their paychecks in order to promote the use of the language (

16.  Moscow Changes the Rule So Fewer Can Claim Invalid Status.  Moscow has never been supportive of invalids – see Yuri Fefelov’s classic study “In the USSR, There Aren’t Any Invalids” – but it had treated them better in recent years. Now the Russian government has tightened the definition of “invalid” so that fewer people will be able to claim the benefits that would give them ( and

17.  Russian Posters Say Smoking Kills More Russians than Obama Does. Posters have appeared at bus stops across the Russian Federation showing a picture of US President Barack Obama and declaring that “smoking kills more Russians than Obama does but he kills quite a few” (

18.  Putin Learned His Tactics from First Post-Soviet Chechen War.  Many people have tried to identify when Vladimir Putin acquired his approach to conflicts. Some have pointed to Afghanistan, but several analysts now suggest that the brutality and bombast he has shown in recent times has its roots in the first post-Soviet Chechen war and in the West’s failure to stand up to Moscow then (

19.  Circassians with Turkish Citizenship Say They’ll Give It Up to Remain in North Caucasus. Moscow has been threatening Circassians who have come to the North Caucasus with expulsion because in many cases, they have Turkish citizenship. Some of the Circassians in this situation say they’ll give it up in order to remain in their ancestral homeland (

20.  Buryats Plot to Recover Name Buryat Mongol for Themselves and Their Republic.  A group of Buryats say that they have figured out a completely legal way to recover their traditional name of Buryat Mongols and that of their republic, Buryat Mongolia. Those names were changed by Nikita Khrushchev to stress the differences between the Buryat Mongols of the USSR and the Khalka Mongols of Mongolia. If they succeed, the old ties will be reaffirmed (

21.  Alcohol Now For Sale by Machine in Russian Regions. Even though Vladimir Putin has attracted attention by calling for the imposition of greater state control over the sale of alcohol, in many Russian regions, anyone, including children, can buy vodka and other kinds of alcohol directly from a machine (

22.  Buryat Senator Calls for Moving Russian Capital Out of Moscow to a More Central Location.  A senator from Buryatia has taken up the cause of shifting the capital of the Russian Federation from Moscow to a city, possibly a brand new one, somewhere more central to the country ( and

23.  Russian Officials Confiscate Entire Print Run of Russian Translation of Jan Nowak’s Memoirs.  Officials in St. Petersburg seized the entire print run of a Russian translation of the memoirs of the late Jan Nowak, who gained fame as the courier between the Polish underground and the West during World War II and as head of the Polish service of Radio Free Europe (

24.  Moscow Makes Plan to Profit from Frozen Conflict in Ukraine. While Moscow is promising to live up to the Minsk agreements, Russian officials are in fact planning to profit from what they see as a long-term frozen conflict (

25.  Babitsky Says Donbas is ‘Most Pro-Putin Oblast’ in the World.  Journalist Andrey Babitsky has pointed to one of the reasons Putin is unlikely to give up control of the Donbas: it is the “most pro-Putin oblast” in the world (

26.  Annexation of Crimea has Improved Ethnic Relations in Russia, Moscow Experts Say.  The annexation of Crimea has had the collateral benefit of significantly reducing the amoung of ethnic hostility and conflict inside the Russian Federation (

And six more from countries neighboring the Russian Federation:

1.      Ukraine Steps Up Its Effort to Eliminate Soviet Toponyms.  More cities, towns, and streets have seen their names changed either to pre-Soviet ones or to entirely new ones so that the Soviet-era names won’t continue to be on display (

2.      Kazakhstan May Use Azerbaijan’s Latin Script.  Kazakhstan is committed to shifting from its Cyrillic-based script to a Latin-based one and is considering simply adopting the Latin script that Azerbaijan now uses (

3.      Thirty Percent of Tajiks Now Don’t Have Enough to Eat.  In addition to all its other problems, Tajikistan is facing a serious problem with food: 30 percent of the residents of the republic say they do not now have enough food to maintain their health (

4.      Kazakhstan Now has Data Base on Politically Repressed between 1930 and 1953.  The Kazakhstan government has established a massive computerized database of all Kazakhs who suffered under Stalin (

5.      Nearly a Million Ethnic Kazakhs have Returned to Kazakhstan Since 1991.  Kazakhstan has sought to attract ethnic Kazakhs back to their homeland in order to boost the Kazakh share of the population. Since 1991, nearly one million have done so (

6.      Kazakhstan Getting Back Land Russia had Used for Military Operations. Kazakhstan has now recovered huge swaths of its territory that Moscow had been using for military exercises and weapons testing (

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