Staunton, May 26 -- 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 each week presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 84th such compilation, and it is again a double issue. Even then, it is only suggestive and far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.
1. Putin Gains a Competitor in Minds of Russians: The Relics of a Saint. Almost as a high a percentage of Russians say they would like to see the relics of a saint now on display in Moscow as say they support Vladimir Putin (echo.msk.ru/news/1988190-echo.html). But despite the closeness of this “competition,” polls suggest that the Russian people are quite ready for another term for Putin although some in the elite are now (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2017/05/19/1616558.htmlinfpol.ru/news/politics/127332-v-rossiyskikh-regionakh-svernuli-formirovanie-neofitsialnykh-shtabov-a/). Meanwhile, a Barnaul politician has proposed renaming that city after Putin so that it could become Putingrad or Putinburg (forum-msk.org/material/news/13235467.html), and officials in other regions the Kremlin leader is scheduled to visit have out-Potemkin Potemkin in trying to make a good impression on Putin (yugopolis.ru/news/k-priezdu-a-v-krasnodare-poyavilis-potemkinskie-derevni-103462, yug.svpressa.ru/politic/article/146796/ and yug.svpressa.ru/politic/article/146796/). Putin did receive praise from one perhaps unexpected place this week: the Beijing media. Chinese commentators said that Putin is truly impressive in his ability to maintain popular support given his economic failures at home (ng.ru/economics/2017-05-26/4_6996.html).
Putin Now Said Trying to Orchestrate Trump’s Impeachment. Those who thought the Kremlin leader was simply trying to recruit Donald Trump and have him do Moscow’s bidding while president of the US have not understood what Putin is about. He is interested first and foremost in destabilizing the US as well as other countries and is quite prepared to fish in troubled waters by supporting and then undermining one and the same individual (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=592468D3214E5 and newsland.com/community/4765/content/agent-kremlia-khillari-klinton/5837661
3. mk.ru/omics/2017/05/25/eksperty-rossiyane-budut-stremitelno-bednet.htmlkasparov.ru/material.php?id=5924306161FFE). Among the reasons for this pessimism are the following: wage arrears have increased by 30 percent since January 1 (https://newsland.com/community/4109/content/zadolzhennost-po-zarplate-s-nachala-goda-vyrosla-na-30/5843093iq.hse.ru/news/206096154.html), real disposable incomes among Russians have fallen by eight percent over the last year (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59230875A40B9), housing starts have declined (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59232674E00BB), and prospects for pensions are deteriorating (liberal.ru/articles/7165). But experrts also say that Russians remain financially illiterate and thus may be prepared to accept certain claims like the one Dmitry Medvedev made this week that in two years Russian growth will lead the world (iq.hse.ru/news/205933107.html and svpressa.ru/omy/article/172772/).
4. More Bad News on the Social Front. In addition to Russia’s economic problems, it has mounting social ones. Among those noted this week in the Russian media are the following: rural Russia is deteriorating ever more rapidly because of what scholars say is an anti-natural negative social selection of its population (newsland.com/community/4765/content/protivoestestvennyi-otbor-kak-rossiian-uchat-tupet/5841503regnum.ru/news/society/2277518.htmlkommersant.ru/doc/3299816), Russian courts are beginning to address problems of Russian misbehavior on planes (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5922E8BCCE8DB), school officials in some Russian cities are segregating students by income, treating those from wealthier homes better than those from poorer ones (newsland.com/community/5652/content/v-shkolakh-novgoroda-deti-bogatykh-pitaiutsia-otdelno-ot-bednykh/5844606kp.ru/daily/26683.4/3706104/), and Russian officials now recognize that they don’t have enough machines to handle the harvest and so are losing 15 to 20 percent of what is grown (burckina-new.livejournal.com/637058.html). There was one bright spot this week: two Russian cities were allowed to keep the hot water flowing to residences over the summer and Moscow was allowed to keep it going for an extra ten days because of the abnormally cold weather. Normally, officials cut off the hot water in the summer months to save money (versia.ru/v-dvux-rossijskix-gorodax-yetim-letom-ne-budut-otklyuchat-goryachuyu-vodu).
5. Three Non-Russian Nations Fight to Save Their Languages. The Buryats have concluded that the only salvation for their language is to make it more like Mongol so they can take advantage of the existence of the neighboring independent country (asiarussia.ru/news/16382/). A group of Volga Tatars is calling on all members of that nation to have and raise at least three Tatar-speaking children (business-gazeta.ru/article/346366), and Circassians have concluded that the only salvation for their language, now that it is being pushed out of state schools, is to require that it be used in government offices (caucasustimes.com/ru/spasti-cherkesskij-jazyk-mozhet-deloproizvodstvo/). Other nationalities news this week included: reports that immigration officers at Moscow airports are mistreating anyone they think is a Muslim (onkavkaz.com/news/1704-shevchenko-kak-izdevayutsja-nad-rossiiskimi-musulmanami-v-moskovskih-aeroportah-kadyrova-na-nih.html?fromslider), an experts’ finding that oppression of journalists is worse in the North Caucasus than in any other part of Russia (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303163/), Russian blocking of Circassian, Chechen and Avar businessmen living in the Middle East from returning to or even investing in their homelands (onkavkaz.com/news/1693-cherkesam-chechencam-avarcam-blizhnego-vostoka-ne-vernutsja-na-istoricheskuyu-rodinu-dazhe-cher.html?fromslider), a call by Karelian officials to include their republic in the Arctic zone and thus make it eligible for special subsidies (regnum.ru/news/economy/2277342.htmltakiedela.ru/2017/05/takaya-rossiya-iznasilovaniy/), and the failure ofan effort by athletes to rename their football club for Ingria (freeingria.org/2017/05/futbolnogo-kluba-ingriya-v-rfpl-ne-budet-vopreki-pozhelaniyam-bolelshhikov-ostayotsya-tosno/).
6. Politicizing Demonstrations Said Helping to Bring Out New Supporters. A major debate among Russian protesters is whether politicizing them by focusing on particular political figures helps or hurts, with ever more demonstrators arguing that it helps (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59208B7007918forum-msk.org/material/news/13252268.html). However that may be, officials are working hard to limit the size of demonstrations, banning young people from taking part (graniru.org/Politics/Russia/Parliament/Sovfed/m.261123.html and idelreal.org/a/28503046.html), linking protests with radicals or foreigners (newsland.com/community/4489/content/razoblachena-provokatsiia-banderovtsev-v-moskve/5838558kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5922E93D22740).
7. Moscow Patriarchate Wants More than Just What Used to Belong to It. There are growing suspicions about and anger toward what many see as a power grab by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox church which many think is trying to grab as much property as possible whether it ever belonged to the church in the past or not and allowing itself to be used by the authorities to impose tighter control on the population and on anyone, including deputies, who opposes the church (regnum.ru/news/society/2277258.htmlrbc.ru/politics/25/05/2017/592680669a794784e699d24d?from=main, and
8. regnum.ru/news/polit/2279440.html). Perhaps because of the growth of these suspicions, many are fighting the church and even having some success. Tomsk residents, for example, blocked plans for a new cathedral there (sobkorr.ru/news/591EF7205A209.htmlpolitsovet.ru/55406-proekt-hrama-na-vode-razocharoval-veruyuschih.html ura.news/news/1052290439).Elsewhere on the monument front, communists pressed for erecting a memorial to Pavlik Morozov in Moscow (govoritmoskva.ru/news/120830/), residents put up a statue to the city’s namesakes in Borisoglebsk (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=78078fedpress.ru/news/28/society/1791842 and forum-msk.org/material/news/13237885.html). Meanwhile, officials tried to muddy the water of 19th century Russian imperial expansion by erecting a monument in Cherkessk to all the victims of the wars that involved and not just those who were killed or expelled by the Russian army (nazaccent.ru/content/24130-v-cherkesske-otkryli-pamyatnik-zhertvam-kavkazskoj.html).
9. Moscow Approves Anti-Doping Plan. The Russian government has approved an anti-doping plan in hopes of regaining access to international athletic competitions and ensuring that it will retain the right to host the 2018 World Cup (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5924425867E96business-gazeta.ru/article/346708, kp.ru/daily/26681/3705431/ and regnum.ru/news/sport/2279534.html). One danger sign about Russian compliance: Since Moscow broke ranks with the international sports community and legalized the use of Meldonin, sales of that performance-enhancing drug there have gone up 250 percent (znak.com/2017-05-23/vedomosti_prodazhi_meldoniya_vyrosli_v_2_5_raza_posle_dopingovogo_skandala
10. Russia’s Defense Build-Up Literally Hollow. In all the hullaballoo about the launch of a new atomic-powered Russian warship, few noticed that the ship did not contain any power plant or other machinery to allow it to function (versia.ru/pochti-vse-dostizheniya-goskorporacii-za-poslednie-10-let-mozhno-nazvat-butaforskimi). That is just one of the ways in which the budget crunch is hitting the Russian defense system. Others include: the CIS missile defense shield will cost Russia more money that it may have (ng.ru/politics/2017-05-26/2_6996_zontic.html), budget cuts already mean that Russia will test fewer missiles in the coming years (versia.ru/roskosmosu-stoit-poprobovat-xotya-by-chastichno-zhit-na-svoi), Moscow has conceded that it won’t get a helicopter carrier for five years (regnum.ru/news/polit/2279935.html), and experts are questioning whether such ships make sense given that Russia can’t afford to support a real aircraft carrier (forum-msk.org/material/news/13250324.htmlng.ru/armies/2017-05-25/100_kuzprichal.htmlregnum.ru/news/polit/2279848.html).
11. Russia’s Siloviki Retirees are Not Happy. The first rule of an autocracy is to make sure that the military and police are content with their lot. The second rule is that those who work for the force structures need to be able to count on a good retirement. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is violating at least the second because siloviki retirees are now complaining ever more often about the size of their pensions and the way they are treated after ending their careers (forum-msk.org/material/news/13231332.html). Two other stories also highlight some problems for Moscow as far as domestic security is concerned: Dmitry Rogozin says that the Russian Guard must be “armed to the teeth” in order to do its work” (newsland.com/community/129/content/rogozin-zaiavil-chto-rosgvardiia-dolzhna-byt-vooruzhena-do-zubov/5844574), and some analysts are making the argument that promoting demographic growth would do more for Russia’s national security than any number of new Iskander missiles (newsland.com/community/8/content/trista-millionov-russkikh-gorazdo-nadezhnee-iskanderov/5842171).
14. Moscow’s First Channel Launches Biopic Series on Stalinist ‘Heroes’ like Beria. To the horror of those who know about the crimes of the Stalin era but apparently to the delight of the current rulers in the Kremlin who are basing their own legitimacy on Stalin’s manner of rule, Moscow’s First Channel is airing a series of programs celebrating the second-tier of the Stalinist totalitarian machine, including one dedicated to “Dear Comrade Beria,” the notorious head of the secret police (newsland.com/community/5652/content/dorogoi-tovarishch-beriia-zachem-pervyi-kanal-slavit-stalinskikh-palachei/5844069). Such programming helps to explain why Russians are increasingly positive about Stalin and tolerant of the use of torture (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2017/05/23/690964-rossiyane-otnositsya-repressiyam and politsovet.ru/55371-chetvert-rossiyan-opravdyvaet-stalinskie-repressii.html).
Moscow Renovation Fight about More than Moscow. If officials go forward with their plan to demolish and partially replace the five-storey khrushchoby apartment blocks, they won’t have any money left for roads or housing or other things elsewhere in Russia (newizv.ru/comment/boris-kagarlitskiy/22-05-2017/ili-moskva-ili-rossiya-tretiego-ne-danoznak.com/2017-05-24/spravedlivaya_rossiya_podgotovila_zakonoproekt_o_snose_pyatietazhek_po_vsey_rossiiregnum.ru/news/economy/2277535.html
16. novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/05/24/72544-lyuboe-nashe-povsednevnoe-deystvie-mozhno-kvalifitsirovat-kak-prestuplenie). One group that is punished in a special way are those siloviki who have violated the rules of their organizations: When they are incarcerated – which doesn’t happen often -- they are housed in institutions separate from the rest of the prison population (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/05/25/72569-ya-realno-rab-u-fsina).
17. Kremlin Gave Silent Approval to Repression of Gays in Chechnya, HRW Says. Human Rights Watch says that the Kremlin gave its silent backing to the repression and torture of gays in Chechnya (kavkazr.com/a/ohota-na-geev-s-odobreniya-vlastey/28508660.html and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303291/). In addition, there are reports that the Chechen parliament speaker was present at the torture sessions, thus further implicating Ramzan Kadyrov and his regime (polit.ru/news/2017/05/26/daydov_gays/).
18. Want to Know Which Russians are Posting Extremist Things on the Internet? A List is for Sale. An enterprising group has assembled a list of 100,000 people who have posted what it says are “extremist” articles and clips on the Internet and offered it for sale to all comers (izvestia.ru/news/715565).
19. Chechen Resistance Lost More Fighters Last Year but Gained More and Younger Recruits. A study by the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency says that the anti-Moscow Chechen insurgency suffered more combat losses in 2016 than in the year before but gained more and more youthful fighters to replace them, an indication that claims by Moscow and Grozny of victories are overstated (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303268).
20. Russian Deaths from HIV/AIDS Now Form Almost Half of All Deaths There from Infectious Diseases. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia is growing and spreading, the result of the government’s failure to provide the necessary medications to fight it. As a result, a far higher percentage of people who contract HIV die of the disease than in other countries, and deaths from it now form nearly half of all deaths from infectious diseases there (iq.hse.ru/news/206170088.html).
Patriotism Important for Only Four Percent of Russian Young People. Despite Vladimir Putin’s efforts to elevate patriotism to the center of national identity, only one young Russian in 25 accepts that view, according to a new poll (politsovet.ru/55378-patriotizm-okazalsya-znachimym-dlya-4-rossiyskoy-molodezhi.html
novayagazeta.ru/news/2017/05/26/131907-vasilieva-70-molodezhi-ne-smogli-dat-opredelenie-ponyatiyu-korruptsiya). In other corruption news, the children of Ramzan Kadyrov took home more in income than the Chechen president last year (versia.ru/nesovershennoletnie-deti-glavy-chechni-ramzana-kadyrova-v-2016-godu-zarabotali-na-8-millionov-bolshe-chem-otecthemoscowtimes.com/news/anti-corruption-journalist-murdered-in-russia-58082
24. Is Russian Going to Shift to the Latin Script via the Backdoor? Linguists in Russia say that Russians need to learn the Latin script for their language as well as Cyrillic because of the increasing importance of the Internet which still is primarily a Latin-script location. They say that there is no possibility that Moscow will drop Cyrillic anytime soon but repeat arguments made 90 years ago about why that would be a positive step toward the integration of Russia into the West (lenta.ru/articles/2017/05/23/latin/).
25. Sometimes Good Sense Triumphs … Russian officials sometimes display good sense: After an Orthodox activist sought charges against an artist who had erected a kulich and eggs statue in a city square, judicial authorities decided that there was no basis to bring a charge of extremism against the creator of the statue (sova-center.ru/religion/news/harassment/harassment-protection/2017/05/d37154/).
26. … And Sometimes It Doesn’t. More often, it seems in Russia at least, good sense is pushed out by bad. Russian bloggers have come out against the demolition in the US of statues of Confederate heroes, arguing that such actions go against the positive grain reflected in Russia where statues to Lenin and to those who tried to overthrow his Bolshevik regime coexist side by side (forum-msk.org/material/news/13240086.html).
And 10 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Belarus is ‘Condemned’ to Be With Russia, Minsk Experts Say. However much Belarus would like to pursue a European course, Minsk foreign policy experts say, its geographic location and Moscow’s strategic concerns mean that it is “condemned” to be with Russia rather than against it (rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/26052017-obrechennye-byt-s-rossiey/).
2. Moscow Seeks Permanent Military Repair Facilities in Belarus. In the lead up to this summer’s Zapad 2017 exercise, Russian military officials have said that they want to open on Belarusian territory permanent repair facilities for military equipment, a halfway house toward the possible opening of a base or bases there (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/5/21/250568/).
More than 30 Ethnic Ukrainians in Russia and Russian-Occupied Crimea Now in Jail. Some 30 ethnic Ukrainians are now in Russian jails often after having been convicted on the basis of invented charges, Kyiv officials say (dsnews.ua/politics/v-tyurmah-rossii-i-kryma-po-lipovym-delam-nahodyatsya-bolee-21052017102500
4. Ukrainian Citizens Form Nearly a Quarter of All Gastarbeiters in Russia. Despite the Russian invasion, citizens of Ukraine represent almost 25 percent of all foreign migrant laborers now working in the Russian economy, easily outnumbering Uzbeks and others (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5927E9792CE79).
5. Surface Area of Aral Sea has Declined by 97 Percent Since 1960. The Aral Sea has almost completely disappeared because of upstream use of the water that had fed it, but now officials in the region are promoting extreme tourism on the ancient seabed that has become dry land (gazeta.uz/ru/2017/05/25/aral/).
Some Kyrgyz Call for Killing Sarts, Ancient Name for Uzbeks. Prior to the Bolshevik revolution, the population of Central Asia was divided primarily between longtime sedentaries who were known as “sarts” and nomads. The Uzbeks were the most prominent of the former and the Kyrgyz, then known as the Karakyrgyz, were among the latter. That old division or at least nomenklature as resurfaced in recent months with some Kyrgyz nationalists calling for the killing of Sarts living in Kyrgyz lands (fergananews.com/articles/9421
7. Ukraine Requires 75 Percent of TV Programming to Be in Ukrainian. As part of its effort to limit the influence of Russian and Russia, the invader nation, the Verkhovna Rada has voted to require that Ukrainian television channels carry 75 percent of their programs in Ukrainian (nr2.lt/News/Ukraine_and_Europe/V-Ukraine-prinyat-zakon-po-yazykovomu-kvotirovaniyu-telekanalov-i-radiostanciy--125483.html).
8. Kyiv Seeks EU Help to Shift from Russian to International Railroad Track Size. The Ukrainian government has asked the European Union to provide it with assistance to change from the wider Russian gage rail track to the narrower European or International one as part of Kyiv’s effort to detach itself from Russia. Doing so would be enormously expensive, but it would break Ukraine away from Russia more definitively than many other things Moscow usually complains about (newsland.com/community/5512/content/dekommunizatsiia-zheleznoi-dorogi-ukraine-tolko-navredit/5842463).
9. Pope Francis Smiles On Ukrainian Soldiers. After his meeting with Donald Trump in which the Holy Father demonstratively did not smile, Pope Francis was beaming when he met with members of the Ukrainian military who had been on the front lines opposing the Russian invasion of their country (politobzor.net/133062-indulgenciya-na-ubiystvo-v-donbasse-papa-rimskiy-blagoslovil-vsushnikov.html, unn.com.ua/uk/news/1666520-papa-rimskiy-zustrivsya-u-vatikani-iz-ukrayinskimi-biytsyami-ato and http://www.unn.com.ua/uk/news/1666520-papa-rimskiy-zustrivsya-u-vatikani-iz-ukrayinskimi-biytsyami-ato).
10. Estonia Expels Two Russians from Moscow’s Consulate in Narva. Tallinn has expelled two Russian consular officials from the predominantly ethnic Russian city of Narva in Estonia’s northeast, possibly because they were engaged in actions incompatible with the rules governing diplomatic behavior (rus.delfi.ee/daily/virumaa/mid-er-podtverdil-rossijskomu-genkonsulu-i-konsulu-v-narve-vruchili-notu-oni-pokinut-estoniyu?id=78354430).