Staunton, August 5 -- 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. This is the 43rd such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, once again, one could have put out such a listing every day -- but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.
1. Putin Finally Asked Whether He is Insane. A Swiss journalist has asked the Kremlin leader to his face whether he is insane as many think. Putin’s response is that such charges are all part of the political struggle and he tries not to pay attention to them (amn.com.ua/podiyi/skandal-putyna-otkryto-sprosyly-vy-sumasshedshyj-vydeo/). Meanwhile, Germany’s “Bild” has published an article in which a former Russian investigator says that Putin is not merely associated with the Russian mafia but is a “capo di tutti capi” or godfather and has been such since the 1990s (classic.newsru.com/russia/01aug2016/zykov.html and nr2.com.ua/publications/Putin-ne-prosto-kontaktiruet-s-mafiey-on-eyu-rukovodit-Zykov-122562.html).
2. Putin Fights Terrorism but Not Diseases that Kill Thousands More Russians. Vladimir Putin has made a career by fighting terrorism, but he has done nothing to combat the diseases that regularly kill tens and even hundreds of times for Russians, according to new statistics. In fact, if anything, he has made the situation with regard to those diseases worse by gutting medical care and preventing people from getting needed medications (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=579FA06ECE0EA and regnum.ru/news/society/2161270.html).
3. How Bad is the Russian Economy? Rostov Woman Offers to Sell Her Heart to Feed Her Children. A woman in Rostov oblast has been driven to despair over her inability to feed her children and has offered to sell her heart to anyone who needs it so that there will be money enough after her death to feed her children (forum-msk.org/material/news/12084274.html). That is just one indication of how bad the Russian economy has become. Others include the first week of deflation in five years (ng.ru/economics/2016-08-04/4_ceny.html), more money flowing into accounts in Switzerland, Latvia and the UK (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=579CBB7287D6B), rising rail prices on routes that Vladimir Putin promised he would cut (forum-msk.org/material/news/12082140.html), assessments by economy that the Russian economy has hit bottom and is now digging downward (msk.ru/news/1812242-echo.html), recognition of how much food has been lost and how much food prices have risen because of Moscow’s counter-sanctions (themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-counter-sanctions-raised-food-prices-31-54829 and echo.msk.ru/blog/slabunova_ya/1813264-echo/), and spreading corruption throughout the country (echo.msk.ru/news/1813234-echo.html).
4. Russians Largely Indifferent to Duma Elections. Polls show that most Russians are not paying a great deal of attention to the Duma elections, certain that they won’t change anything in a fundamental way. One indication is that pollsters found that a party they invented garnered more support than real parties (slon.ru/posts/71579). Other election news this week includes: an investigation shows that businesses that gave money to the ruling United Russia Party got back far more in government contracts (graniru.org/Politics/Russia/Parties/m.253544.html), Moscow continues its effort to freeze Muslim leaders out of the lists of parties in the North Caucasus (ng.ru/events/2016-08-03/3_sufiev.html), and Yabloko backs visit of Dalai Lama to win votes in Buddhist areas (asiarussia.ru/buddhism/13138/).
5. To Punish Yerevan, Moscow Cracks Down on Armenians in Russia. Former Soviet republics with large numbers of their nationals working in Russia face a problem: Moscow is quite prepared to mistreat them as a way of putting pressure on their governments. It has done so with Georgians and Ukrainians and is now doing so with Armenians (lragir.am/index.php/rus/0/comments/view/50171). Meanwhile, a new study has concluded that ethnic Russians who return to Russia make slightly more than Russians already living there do while non-Russians who come to Russia earn significantly less (iq.hse.ru/news/187438324.html).
6. Patriarch Cares about Only One Person’s Opinion – Putin’s, Kurayev Says. Patriarch Kirill cares about the opinion of only one person, Vladimir Putin, according to dissident Archdeacon Andrey Kurayev (gubernia.pskovregion.org/society/andrey-kuraev-patriarhu-kirillu-vazhen-odin-slushatel/). Another indication of the Patriarch’s and thus Putin’s view is Kirill’s assertion that “tolerance is a hypocritical evil” (kavkazgeoclub.ru/content/tolerantnost-eto-licemernoe-zlo).
7. Moscow Issues New Coin Series Showing Countries It ‘Liberated.’ The Russian mint has issued a new series of coins to highlight what Moscow calls “the liberation” of the capitals of Eastern European countries but what East Europeans describe as the replacement of one form of oppressive foreign rule with another, thus sparking a new debate rather than highlighting the victory Moscow claims ((kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57A2781BB0AB0 and euromaidanpress.com/2016/08/05/counterfeiters-how-russia-is-rewriting-history-again/).
8. Moscow has to Rent a Crowd to See Off Russian Olympians. Given the back and forth on the Russian doping scandal, one might have thought that Russians would have been ready, willing and able to show up at the airport to see off their diminished team to Rio. But according to the “Moscow Times,” the Russian authorities had to pay people to come (themoscowtimes.com/news/rent-a-crowd-sees-off-russias-olympic-team-54787). That is just one area where outsiders assume Russians care but where Russians really don’t. Thus, a new survey finds that very few Russians focus on the decline in oil prices even though that has wrecked the economy (rbc.ru/society/30/07/2016/579cb00c9a79476b0d606011?from=main).
9. Battle over Monuments Shifts to Tatarstan. Russia’s security police, the FSB, have come after Tatars who oppose the erection of a monument there to Yermak, the Russian conqueror of Siberia (rod-pravo.org/ermaku-nikakogo-pamyatnika-byt-ne-dolzhno-tatary-protiv-ustanovki-pamyatnika-pokoritelyu-sibiri/ and business-gazeta.ru/article/318275).
10. Putin’s New Man in Kaliningrad Gives 49 Second Press Conference. In an indication of the degree of openness his administration will provide, Putin’s newly appointed governor in Kaliningrad gave the press what must be one of the shortest press conferences anywhere. Yevgeny Zinichev met with the media for 49 seconds before exiting the room (newsru.com/russia/31jul2016/gone_in_49.html).
11. Putin May Back Trump, But Oligarch Daughters Back Hillary Clinton. There are divisions in the Russian elite about the US election. While there is little doubt that Vladimir Putin would like to see Donald Trump become president, many within the elite prefer Hillary Clinton, including the daughters of some of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs (slon.ru/posts/71544).
12. Are There No Limits to Russian Paranoia? A Eurasianist site says that by chasing Pokemon, 1.4 million Muscovites are now in effect working for the US Central Intelligence Agency (evrazia.org/news/46488). (Moscow’s puppet regime in Ukraine’s Donbass has banned the game (dnr.one/novosti/337-v-dnr-zapretili-pokemon-go).) Meanwhile, a Russian nationalist has suggested “the masons invented rock and roll to destroy the USSR” (rufabula.com/articles/2016/08/01/halter).
13. One Man’s Rockets are Another’s Humanitarian Assistance. 57mm rockets are considered “humanitarian aid” by Russia even though they are considered weapons by everyone else (en.censor.net.ua/photo_news/400050/57mm_rockets_are_considered_humanitarian_aid_in_russia_journalist_reveals_humanitarian_assistance_from).
14. Moscow Decides Russian Children’s Books Can Show Kissing ‘But No Additional Details.’ Russian officials who oversee the publication of books for children have taken another step toward censorship in the name of protecting public morality. They have announced that books directed at Russian children can in fact talk about people kissing but that these books must not provide “any additional details” (mk.ru/culture/2016/07/28/kak-cenzura-izmenila-detskie-knigi-celovat-mozhno-no-bez-podrobnostey.html).
This Week’s Marie Antoinette Moment: Medvedev Says Teachers Unhappy with Low Pay Have Only Themselves to Blame. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev whose earlier statement “there is no money but have a nice day” would seem to have retired the Marie Antoinette prize has now offered yet another statement for that competition: he has told teachers who are upset by their extremely low salaries that they have only themselves to blame and should become businessmen and businesswomen if they want more money (newizv.ru/economics/2016-08-03/244051-deneg-net-idite-v-biznes.html. Not surprisingly, many teachers are outraged, and one outlet has come up with examples of the second jobs that teachers have to take in order to make ends meet. Among these jobs, the survey finds, are work as prostitutes and striptease dancers (znak.com/2016-08-04/kem_podrabatyvayut_uchitelya_10_primerov_dlya_dmitriya_medvedeva
2. Russian Occupiers in Crimea Open Special Resort for Russian Jailors. In what can only be described as an unintentionally symbolic move, the occupation forces in Ukraine’s Crimea have opened a special resort for Russian prison guards (charter97.org/ru/news/2016/8/4/216763/).
3. Crimean Tatars Create Their Own Social Network. In yet another way that an oppressed people is exploiting the Internet to keep its nation alive, the Crimean Tatars now living again under Russian occupation have set up their own social network (nazaccent.ru/content/21474-u-krymskih-tatar-poyavilas-svoya-socset.html).
4. Workers on Moscow’s Kerch Bridge Project Treated ‘Like Slaves,’ One of Them Says. A Russian worker from the Urals says that he and his fellow workers on Moscow’s planned bridge to Crimea have been treated like slaves. In response, he has walked off the job and gone home (currenttime.tv/a/27896049.htmlecho.msk.ru/news/1812000-echo.html).
5. Turkey Ends Broadcasts of Azerbaijani Opposition TV Channel. In another tilt toward Moscow and Baku as well, Ankara has shuttered a television channel that broadcast news about the Azerbaijani opposition and its travails from Turkey back into Azerbaijan (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/286586/).
6. Uzbekistan Faces Threat Not on Afghan Border but from Afghans Coming in via Other Central Asian States. A defense analyst says that Tashkent faces an Afghan threat not along its own border with that country but rather from Afghans passing through neighboring countries and then coming into Uzbekistan. That pattern reflects the fact that since 1991, the newly independent countries have not been able to build up their border defenses in many cases but can still use those left behind by the USSR (ru.sputniknews-uz.com/analytics/20160728/3450166.html).