Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 114

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 24 -- 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 these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 114th such compilation, and it is again a double issue with 26 from Russia and 13 from Russia’s neighbors. Even then, it is far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1.      In Russia You Don’t Choose Your Children, Your Parents or Putin. In Russia, it is now said, you don’t choose your children, your parents or Vladimir Putin. Those things are chosen for you (newsland.com/community/7451/content/a-kak-i-roditelei-ne-vybiraiut/6125376).  Many Russians appear increasingly unhappy about that, complaining that all Putin is offering are “survivals of the future” (kommersant.ru/doc/3502012) and imitations of change rather than the real thing (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1513710240). Indeed, some are even saying that the Putin they see may not be the real thing but a fake double (newsland.com/community/6207/content/dvoiniki-a/6133891). Meanwhile, Russians are collecting Putin’s anecdotes and aphorisms, even as they speculate as to why there are so few jokes about him (newizv.ru/news/society/17-12-2017/ria-novyy-den-nachalo-sobirat-anekdoty-ot-a, newizv.ru/news/politics/15-12-2017/40-aforizmov-a-skazannyh-na-vcherashney-press-konferentsii and https://publizist.ru/blogs/6/22140/-). But there are a few, and they are even pretty good. One current one notes that Lenin had a complete collected works but Putin only as “a complete collected promises” (forum-msk.org/material/society/14115012.html).  And in a sad note, it was reported that Putin’s favorite teacher has died – in Israel (strana.ua/news/112110-v-izraile-umerla-ljubimaja-shkolnaja-uchitelnitsa-vladimira-putina.html).

2.      Russian Cemeteries Will Be Coming in for Putin. In the best Chicago tradition, the cemeteries of Russia will be providing votes for the incumbent as will fake people who exist only online, observers say (openrussia.org/notes/717368/ and newsru.com/russia/18dec2017/mol_gvard.html). (Amusingly, even LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky predicts massive fraud in the voting (newsland.com/community/4765/content/zhirinovskii-predskazal-masshtabnye-falsifikatsii-itogov-prezidentskikh-vyborov/6127769).)  The March election exercise will cost Russia 17 billion rubles (300 million US dollars) and there will not be an recoupment from lotteries which won’t be allowed (fedpress.ru/news/77/policy/1917285  and politsovet.ru/57527-prezidentskie-vybory-provedut-bez-loterei.html). Much is being made of the fact that Putin was presented as a candidate at a meeting hosted by Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov (versia.ru/vydvizhenie-putina-v-prezidenty-sostoitsya-na-vystavke-episkopa-tixona) and that the Kremlin leader immediately got into the populist spirit by offering tax debt relief to 42 million Russians (https://themoscowtimes.com/news/putin-offers-debt-relief-to-42-million-russians-before-s-60015). Zhirinovsky is the first candidate to be officially confirmed as other groups decide to nominate or not nominate anyone (rbc.ru/politics/22/12/2017/5a3ccecd9a7947412409ae74?from=main,  regnum.ru/news/society/2358297.html and regnum.ru/news/polit/2358289.html) and as opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky asks the election commission not to register Putin as a candidate (spektr.press/news/2017/12/19/hodorkovskij-poprosil-ellu-pamfilovu-ne-registrirovat-putina-na-vybory/). Meanwhile, Kseniya Sobchak said she was ready to withdraw in favor of Navalny or Yavlinsky if either of them succeeded in being registered (newsland.com/community/politic/content/sobchak-gotova-sniat-kandidaturu-v-polzu-navalnogo-ili-iavlinskogo/6125652). One of Putin’s first campaign rallies was an embarrassment. It occurred in Kazan, included mostly military personnel, and lasted for all of 20 minutes (echo.msk.ru/blog/statia_iz_regiona/2112248-echo/,   kazanreporter.ru/post/2680_komu_voyna-_a_komu_agitaciya_odna  and idelreal.org/a/28921595.html).

3.      By Assuming Total Power, Putin Risks Being Blamed for Everything. Now that Vladimir Putin has demonstrated that he has total power in Russia, he is at risk of being blamed for everything including things beyond his control (publizist.ru/blogs/6/22091/-). One commentator says that this election marks the end of the systemic opposition, and another says that there are no real parties, only personalities (snob.ru/selected/entry/132481 and rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/12/19/1669504.html). Russians, the Levada Center says, have no idea about what the future will bring (ej.ru/?a=note&id=31920), and Yuliya Latynina says that the regime is become dangerously unpredictable even for the elites (echo.msk.ru/programs/code/2111460-echo/).  One piece of evidence suggesting that is that St. Petersburg deputies prayed before a meeting that God would keep them in their posts (newizv.ru/news/politics/21-12-2017/piterskie-parlamentarii-soobscha-molili-boga-ostavit-ih-pri-dolzhnostyah-162a557e-50cb-420c-a7bc-130896cc969a). And in another development which gives Putin more control over regional heads, his Russian guard is now responsible for guarding all heads of federal subjects (politsovet.ru/57558-gosduma-razreshila-rosgvardii-ohranyat-gubernatorov.html). Aleksey Navalny has called attention to the fact that the ex-wife of Putin’s press secretary somehow has the resources to own a 1.7 million euro apartment in Paris (snob.ru/selected/entry/132643).  The government has announced that ministerial websites that don’t attract visitors will be shut down (rbc.ru/technology_and_media/22/12/2017/5a3a6b8a9a79470d0525805b). And Vladimir Inozemtsev warns that the unwillingness of Russians to face facts points to serious dangers ahead (echo.msk.ru/blog/v_inozemcev/2112516-echo/).

4.      Putin-Trump Love Fest Sparks More Discussion in Moscow. The exchange of highly and mutually complimentary calls between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump has sparked more discussion in Moscow about just how much influence the Kremlin leader has over the American president and why (politikus.ru/video/102865-60-minut-tramp-zaverbovannyy-agent-putina-191217.html, rosbalt.ru/posts/2017/12/19/1669597.html, profile.ru/politika/item/122913-blagodarnost-za-navodku, themoscowtimes.com/news/cia-helped-russian-foil-terror-plot-kremlin-thanks--59973,  rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=79697 and x-true.info/64094-putin-snova-spas-amerikanskogo-agenta.html). Meanwhile, as fear grow about what the upcoming round of US sanctions will mean for the Russian elite, Putin has taken steps to allow the oligarchs to secretly return their money to Russia (neuezeiten.livejournal.com/6814341.html and vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2017/12/21/746130-spetsobligatsii). The US has put Ramzan Kadyrov on the Magnitsky list and his account on Facebook has been blocked (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A3A96F22388D and snob.ru/selected/entry/132715). Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavorv has accused the US of interfering in the Russian election (twitter.com/interfax_news/status/941606329298358272). And Washington has renamed the street in front of the Russian embassy in Washington in honor of slain Boris Nemtsov (lenta.ru/news/2017/12/19/boris_boris/).

5.      Unemployment and Poverty Up, Standard of Living and Production Down.  Despite Russian government claims, unemployment is rising rapidly with even the Central Bank letting 5,000 employees in the regions go (ura.news/news/1052317067,  kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A38E11904742 and charter97.org/ru/news/2017/12/23/273403/). Actual unemployment is about three percentage points higher than anyone is saying because five million agricultural workers even if they have no jobs are not counted as unemployed if they do have private plots (newsland.com/community/4765/content/s-2005-putin-zakryl-bolee-35-000-zavodov-v-rossii-2/6124803). Wage arrears are rising and many fear that they will soon not be paid (nakanune.ru/news/2017/12/20/22493124/ and kavpolit.com/articles/kavkazskij_aktsent_energetiki-36889/). Average incomes continue to fall for the 37th straight month (ng.ru/omics/2017-12-19/1_7139_dohod.html and znak.com/2017-12-20/statistika_snizhenie_realnyh_dohodov_rossiyan_dostiglo_rekordnogo_urovnya). The number of  impoverished Russians is now more than 20 million (politsovet.ru/57590-schetnaya-palata-nashla-v-rossii-20-millionov-bednyh.html), Russians have lost 5 trillion rubles (95 billion US dollars) in income over the last three years (finanz.ru/novosti/lichnyye-finansy/rossiyane-obedneli-na-5-trillionov-rubley-za-tri-goda-1011646743), and industrial production has again begun falling after a brief uptick (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A3CAC4C94024). In other economic news, more than 80 percent of small business leaders say they have encountered corruption in the last six months (echo.msk.ru/news/2112282-echo.html), hijackings of trucks are increasing (agonia-ru.com/archives/14556), and a wave of bankruptcies has hit the construction industry (agonia-ru.com/archives/14553). In a sign that Russians expect a devaluation, Russian banks are running out of hard currency reserves (rusjev.net/2017/12/21/kurs-dollara-v-bankah-rf-rekordnyiy-defitsit-valyutyi/). And at the very bottom of the economic pyramid, there are reports of starvation in some Siberian villages (https://www.sibreal.org/a/28931965.html).  

6.      Social Problems Compounding Economic Ones.  Russians are being buried under an avalanche of consumer debt and debts for alimony and other court-ordered payments (finanz.ru/novosti/lichnyye-finansy/na-rossiyu-nadvigaetsya-katastrofa-potrebitelskikh-dolgov-1011367192 and  kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A38D621022C6). People are taking extreme measures to earn extra money, including a group of students who have opened a bordello in a Moscow apartment (dom.lenta.ru/articles/2017/12/18/homemadebrothel/?utm_source=from_lenta), and in response to growing sales of illegal drugs, the Duma has increased penalties for drug trafficking to up to life in prison (mk.ru/incident/2017/12/17/narkotorgovca-v-rossii-vpervye-mogut-posadit-pozhiznenno.html Family violence is now the norm and is going unpunished as are the murders of more than 15 million cats and dogs in Russia every year (snob.ru/selected/entry/132501 and ura.news/articles/1036273382).  Because of cash problems, 78 percent of Russians say they will celebrate new year’s at home where they won’t be able to watch “Irony of Fate” this year (stoletie.ru/lenta/vciom_pochti_80_rossijan_planirujut_vstrechat_novyj_god_doma_669.htm and  snob.ru/selected/entry/132531). The cost of celebrating even at home has gone up (lenta.ru/articles/2017/12/17/novyi_god/). And in another reflection of the fact that Russians are tightening their belts, Russian airlines cut the number of charter flights over the holidays (rbc.ru/newspaper/2017/12/21/5a3a917c2ae596accb823b03). And according to experts, from two to seven million Russians are now gambling addicts (snob.ru/selected/entry/132512).

7.      Russia’s Demographic Prospects Continue to Worsen.  Russia’s fertility and mortality rates lag far beyond other modern countries, demographers say, something that few of them believe Putin’s plan, now approved, to give every family on the occasion of a first child a subsidy will do anything to change (demoscope.ru/weekly/2017/0751/s_map.php#1 and rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/5a3b73e99a79475d168c8017?from=newsfeed). And a study of Russia’s current forced detoxication programs suggests they are no more effective than their Soviet predecessors (versia.ru/kak-v-rossii-rabotayut-analogi-sovetskix-lechebno-trudovyx-profilaktoriev).

8.      Patriarch Kirill Blesses a Statue of Himself.  The head of the Moscow Patriarchate blessed a four meter statue of himself that has been erected outside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral (rbc.ru/society/22/12/2017/5a3cc35e9a7947393f6ec0ff?from=main). That has offended many including  believers as have reports that Kirill is still so close to Putin that he can get any property he wants just by invoking the Kremlin leader’s name (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=monitor&id=26392 and tvrain.ru/news/rpts_reshila_vernut_tysjachu_zdanij_v_moskve-453476/). Meanwhile, the patriarchate has announced plans to build 24 new churches in Moscow in 2018 (https://rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=79746). Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin, the head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), says that the country must protect traditional Islam against those who want to “reform” Islam (interfax-.ru/?act=news&div=68874). Repressions against Protestants of all stripes are increasing and expected  to continue to do so (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=authority&id=2279). Evidence of this trend is that a Russian appeals court has confirmed the finding that the Bible used by Jehovah’s Witnesses must be banned as extremist (sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2017/12/d38531/) as well as the confiscation of more Kingdom Halls across the country (sova-center.ru//news/harassment/places-for-prayer/2017/12/d38515/).

9.      Kremlin Aide Warns Major Changes in Nationality Policy Coming After Election. Magomedsalam Magomedov who oversees nationality policy for the Presidential Administration says that there will be major changes in that policy after the March vote (nazaccent.ru/content/26217-strategiyu-gosudarstvennoj-nacionalnoj-politiki-izmenyat-v.html). He didn’t specify what those changes would consist of, but his words spark real fear in some quarters.  Meanwhile, Grigory Yavlinsky says that Putin attacked Tatarstan in order to send a message to all other non-Russians that they have no choice but to fall in line (business-gazeta.ru/article/367349).  The Federal Agency for Nationality Policy has now been made responsible for adapting immigrants to Russian life but it has not been given any additional funds or personnel to do that (nazaccent.ru/content/26222-fadnu-oficialno-poruchili-adaptaciyu-migrantov.html).

10.  Non-Russian Republic Officials Defer to Moscow on Language Issue but Non-Russians Don’t. Putin has succeeded in cowing the leaders of the non-Russian republics, although they continue to explore ways that his Russian first policies might be modified (nazaccent.ru/content/26200-predlozheniya-regionov-ob-izuchenii-rodnyh-yazykov.html).  But protests in many non-Russian areas acorss the country show that the non-Russian peoples do not accept what Putin is doing (nazaccent.ru/content/26221-odinochnye-pikety-v-zashitu-chuvashskogo-yazyka.html, idelreal.org/a/28926783.html, idelreal.org/a/28930569.html, novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/12/21/74992-iz-nas-delayut-edinyy-sovetskiy-narod, and nazaccent.ru/content/26245-kazanskie-aktivisty-podali-sem-zayavok-na.html). The people have had some success: this year’s new year commemoration in Mari El will be in Mari (mariuver.com/2017/12/18/nov-god-mari/); but large numbers of non-Russian language teachers are being shifted to new work or losing their jobs (idelreal.org/a/28928660.html). And in another language related issue, parents in Bashkortostan want their children to be taught Arabic and Chinese rather than German and French (idelreal.org/a/28919879.html).

11.  Moscow’s Obsession with Separatism Reflects Russia’s Imperial Decline. A Moscow analyst says that the Kremlin’s obsession with separatism is yet another sign its empire is in decline (openrussia.org/notes/715240/). Moscow currently is very concerned about Kaliningrad and German influence there, especially given public unhappiness that the region sends Moscow far more than it gets back (x-true.info/64185-germaniya-zainteresovana-destabilizirovat-byvshiy-kenigsberg.html and freeural.org/kak-moskva-obiraet-y-na-primere-kaliningrada/). Ever more reports are coming in that those Russians who agree to participate in the free hectare program in the Far East are being given worthless land (sibreal.org/a/28790457.html).  Also, people in the Far East are saying that they need to have their own airline to develop (fedpress.ru/article/1919981).

12.  Bad Smells in Moscow Only ‘Tip of the Iceberg’ of Russia’s Environmental Problems. The bad smell that Muscovites have complained about and that even the media has had to discuss are only the tip of the iceberg of serious ecological problems with trash disposal that affect the entire country (epublic.ru/posts/88606 and kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A39842FBCC97).

13.  More Groups Protest in More Places about More Issues. In the last week, academicians have protested against the FSB head’s defense of Stalinism (newsland.com/community/129/content/33-akademika-ran-obvinili-glavu-fsb-v-opravdanii-stalinskikh-repressii/6133992), and activists have put up a protest sign on the Lubyanka (graniru.org/opinion/sokolov/m.266488.html and meduza.io/news/2017/12/20/mariyu-alehinu-zaderzhali-u-zdaniya-fsb-s-plakatom-s-dnem-rozhdeniya-palachi); businessmen in the Transbaikal have protested government regulations (openrussia.org/notes/717361/), Novosibirsk had two demonstrations in one day (sobkorr.ru/news/5A3E1EBA36667.html), a Komi man protested Moscow’s nationality policies (thebarentsobserver.com/en/civil-society-and-media/2017/12/activist-staged-single-person--against-violations), military veterans tear off the shoulder boards of Krasnoyarsk police (sibreal.org/a/28924225.html), and Russian nationalists attack the Sakharov Center (republic.ru/posts/88452).

14.  More Repression on More Fronts. Deputies in Tomsk want to ban all demonstrations in the center of the city regardless of what they are about (openrussia.org/notes/717422/). Some in Moscow want to ban all foreign media as foreign agents (openrussia.org/notes/717435/).  The FSB is now getting biometric data from Russian banks (meduza.io/news/2017/12/19/banki-peredadut-fsb-i-mvd-biometricheskie-dannye-svoih-klientov-bez-ih-soglasiya). The Federation Council wants to take steps to “protect” Russian students from foreign influence (iz.ru/683706/arkadii-ivanov-iurii-bogdanov/sovet-federatcii-zashchitit-studentov-ot-inostrannogo-vliianiia). The Russian authorities are stepping up their efforts to block Internet anonymizers (sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2016/08/d35307/). Moscow is bringing charges against Chechens for acts in 1995 and 1999 (graniru.org/Society/Law/m.266449.html). Activists say Russia’s lawyers in the main are suffering from the Stockholm syndrome (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A392056801B9).  Another journalist has been shot and killed (graniru.org/Events/Crime/m.266515.html). One Duma deputy says anyone who is a Russophobe should not be allowed to run for office in Russia (regnum.ru/news/polit/2361054.html). Moscow has made it illegal to help illegal immigrants in any way (nazaccent.ru/content/26242-gosduma-uzhestochila-nakazanie-za-predostavleniya-zhilya.html). A new Duma bill extends the foreign agents law to bloggers (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A3A1A7A0CE48). Putin does not name human rights leaders to the new Social Chamber (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A35146A58450). And Moscow blocks the Civic Forum site (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A3A1A752CD6D).

15.  Telephone Bomb Threats Continue to Empty More Buildings. As telephone bomb threats continue to force the authorities to evacuate buildings in numerous Russian cities, the Duma has adopted a law making telephone terrorism subject to a punishment of up to ten years in prison (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A3A29AE5CF9C).  The Russian government has started using blockchain (lenta.ru/news/2017/12/19/blockchainfas/).  The head of Sakhalin wants to ban migrants from working as guards (nazaccent.ru/content/26231-glava-sahalina-predlozhil-zapretit-migrantam-rabotat.html). The procuracy names the interior ministry as the most corrupt segment of the siloviki (militariorg.ucoz.ru/publ/publ_1/prokuratura_nazvala_samoe_korrumpirovannoe_podrazdelenie_silovikov/15-1-0-78365). Russian officials have accused Pepsi of using illegal materials in its products (vz.ru/news/2017/12/18/900197.html). Burglaries have increased so much that the Russian Guard has called on Russians not to post pictures of their vacations which indicate when they are away (politsovet.ru/57550-rosgvardiya-prizvala-rossiyan-ne-postit-foto-iz-otpuska.html). And the interior ministry has announced plans to pay those who turn in criminals (iz.ru/685416/vladimir-moiseev/podemnaia-sila).

16.  Blocked East and West, Putin Needs to Move North and South.  Nationalist Aleksandr Prokhanov says that Putin is now blocked to the east and west and therefore should move north into the Arctic and south toward the Middle East and Africa (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A3653D0C174D). Meanwhile, Aleksandr Golts says that Putin’s claims notwithstanding the war in Syria is far from over (rusmonitor.com/aleksandr-golc-vojjna-v-sirii-budet-dlitsya-eshhe-dolgo.html). Defense analysts say the Russian fleet is headed toward disaster (nvo.ng.ru/armament/2017-12-22/1_978_cusima.html). Putin attracted a great deal of attention for his announcement of a plan to spend 22 trillion rubles (360 billion US dollars) over a decade, but even if he spends this and that is unlikely given the state of the economy, it will amount to only about 30 billion US dollars a year (kommersant.ru/doc/3500710). Spy mania is spreading and in some places become absurd (thebarentsobserver.com/en/security/2017/12/fsb-marks-100-years-relentless-spy-hunt-it-nails-friendly-norwegian-pensioner, thebarentsobserver.com/en/2017/12/propaganda-tv-whips-spy-hysteria-along-russias-border-norway  and sobkorr.ru/news/5A361AC6C4FF9.html).  Meanwhile, experts say that the Russian space program is in such trouble that it now ranks behind not only the US but China as well (lenta.ru/articles/2017/12/21/cosmos/ and svpressa.ru/society/article/188592/). The defense ministry has stopped paying for communal services in the Far East, citing financial problems (sobkorr.ru/news/5A33C2FEF24F5.html).  Moscow has acknowledged the deaths of 2642 uniformed personnel between 2012 and 2016 (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2017/12/04/744095-poteri-rossiiskoi-armii). In addition, there have been losses among Russian mercenaries (graniru.org/Politics/World/Mideast/m.266348.html). At the UN, Russia suffered a stinging defeat with 70 countries calling it an occupier of Crimea and only 25  supporting Moscow’s claims (rosbalt.ru/world/2017/12/19/1669750.html and kp.ru/daily/26772/3805434/). And the Russian government pulled out of the Minsk supervising body for the Donbass (graniru.org/Politics/World/Europe/Ukraine/m.266425.html).

17.  Will Putin Statues Soon Appear Everywhere in Russia? Each week brings fresh proposals to erect statues to the current Russian leader. The most recent of these was by a deputy from Kurgan (ura.news/news/1052316969).  Opposition has surfaced to a statue of former premier Yevgeny Primakov (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A3567506AF3F). Moscow has erected a statue to the Russian ambassador who was killed in Ankara (ng.ru/news/603362.html). Activists in the Far East want to restore the triumphal arch that was first put up for Nicholas II (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=79707). Moscow is planning to erect a statue to Kyrgyz novelist Chingiz Aitmatov (nazaccent.ru/content/26243-pamyatnik-pisatelyu-chingizu-ajtmatovu-ustanovyat-v.html). The renaming of streets in St. Petersburg is continuing, with Soviet names being dropped (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=79725). But there won’t be any referendum on renaming Sverdlovsk oblast next year, officials say (regnum.ru/news/polit/2358588.html). Meanwhile, Natalya Poklonskaya who led the anti-Mathilda movement says she isn’t deifying the tsars and that half of Russians dream of burying Lenin (politsovet.ru/57559-v-karikature-na-poklonskuyu-ischut-oskorblenie-chuvstv-veruyuschih.html, ura.news/news/1052317251 and https://www.kp.ru/daily/26772/3805439/). And the Cossack who was inspired by her to try to blow up a theater showing that film has been confined to a mental institutions (ura.news/news/1052316961).

18.  Russia Loses More Sochi Medals and has More Problems with Upcoming Olympiad and World Cup. Russian athletes have been stripped of four more medals from the Sochi Games because of doping (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A3D2F614F6AB and newsland.com/community/4109/content/eshche-minus-dva-zolota-v-sochi/6128612).  Moscow officials and commentators insist that the IOC and WADA have not split Russian society as the West hopes but united it (alex-o-mire.blogspot.ru/2017/12/wada.html#comment-form).  The Russian government has agreed to pay the IOC 15 million US dollars for the investigation (versia.ru/olimpijskij-komitet-rossii-gotov-vyplatit-mok-15-millionov-dollarov). The IOC has required the Slovaks and Slovenes to change their uniforms so that they don’t recall Russian ones (mosmonitor.ru/news/sport/mok_potreboval_ot_slovakii_i_slovenii_izmenit_flagi_na_o_iz-za_assotsiatsii_s_rf) and has specified that Russian competitors can’t write about the citizenship on social networks during the competition (ura.news/news/1052317122). Some Rusisans are trying to organize a boycott of broadcasts of the South Korean competition (yalta-kpss.livejournal.com/2017/12/17/). They are furious that Russian competitors must now identify themselves not as RUS but as OAR for “Olympic athletes from Russia” (forum-msk.org/material/news/14106560.html). Ever more commentators are suggesting that FIFA will strip Russia of the World Cup (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/12/17/272689/). The venue cities are not ready but Yekaterinburg will allow gay competitors and fans to kiss in public (profile.ru/obsch/item/122965-mechta-v-versii-lajt and politsovet.ru/57572-bolelschikam-geyam-razreshat-kulturno-celovatsya-v-ekaterinburge.html). Betting on the competition, however, is increasing, bookmakers say (rbc.ru/business/20/12/2017/5a394d459a79476f8ac232fc?from=main). Many in Russia and abroad are appalled by the animal extermination program officials are carrying out in the venue cities (newizv.ru/article/general/19-12-2017/ubivat-nelzya-pomilovat-kak-na-samom-dele-gosduma-zaschitila-zhivotnyh-ot-chm-2018 and ura.news/news/1052317122).  The doping scandal is casting a shadow on other competitions as well. Russian officials say doping won’t happen in auto racing because it wouldn’t help (business-gazeta.ru/article/367581), but some have suggested that Moscow has used drugs to enhance the performance of Russians taking part in the Olympiad for physics (newizv.ru/news/society/19-12-2017/pozor-chto-pohuzhe-dopinga-rossiyu-podozrevayut-v-mahinatsiyah-na-olimpiade-po-fizike).

19.  FSB Finds Underground Islamist Printing Operation in Moscow. The Russian security service announced that it had located and destroyed an underground printing operation used by Islamists to publish their broadsides. It did not say how long the facility had been in operation or give any other details (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2017/12/14/1668431.html).

20.  Russian People Aren’t Ready for War. With all the talk of war, Russians are expressing concern that the country isn’t ready for one. There are too few bomb shelters, many say; and officials are failing in many places to prepare the population in the event of a conflict (beregrus.ru/?p=10605 and svpressa.ru/blogs/article/189078/).

21.  Rising Levels of Street Violence Prompts Rich to Arm Themselves. Many of Russia’s better off citizens are now arming themselves in order to protect against street crime.  This pattern, experts say, is especially true among women (momenty.org/people/i179833/).

22.  Rogozin Dog Drowning Scandal Continues to Resonate. Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has been caught up in perhaps the most widely publicized scandal of his career after he appeared to be present at the drowning of a dog in medical tests.  He has gone to extreme lengths to deny that the dog died and even published a picture of himself with the dog after it supposedly expired, but that picture was exposed as almost certainly a fake (republic.ru/posts/88577 and politsovet.ru/57566-rogozin-popal-v-skandal-iz-za-utoplennoy-sobaki.html).

23.  Widespread Assumption Kremlin will Increase Repression after March Vote. Ever more Russian commentators are suggesting that Vladimir Putin will take a host of unpopular decisions after the March elections and “tighten the screws” in order to prevent protects (rusmonitor.com/aleksandr-sotnik-ot-2018-goda-sleduet-ozhidat-rezkogo-zakruchivaniya-gaek-sverkhu-i-okonchatelnogo-dooformleniya-diktatury-putina.html).

24.  Putin Still Insists that Russians and Ukrainians are One Nation, Not Two. Vladimir Putin has refused to budge from his insistence that Russians and Ukrainians are two branches of one nation, something that is clearly not true regardless of whether one uses and ethnic or a political definition (stoletie.ru/slavyanskoe_pole/v_osnove_svojej_my__odin_narod_850.htm).

25.  Many Russians Take Pride in Being Called a Foreign Agent. An increasing number of Russians say they would be ashamed if they weren’t called a foreign agent (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A3A542496FD5).

26.  ‘Normal’ Russian Men Said Against Informed Consent in Sexual Relations.  Russians have been following the sexual harassment cases in the United States with ill-concealed relish and also some incomprehension because according to Moscow commentators “’normal’ Russian men” are against the whole idea of informed consent when it comes to sexual relationships (republic.ru/posts/88605).

            And 13 more from the countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      GUAM Marks Its 20th Anniversary. GUAM, the organization of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, that has often set itself up as the opponent of the CIS and is always seen that way in Moscow has despite numerous predictions that it would disintegrate just marked its 20th anniversary (ng.ru/cis/2017-12-19/6_7139_guam.html).  

2.      Moscow Works Overtime to Block Ukrainian Broadcasts to Crimea. Although Russian officials insist that Ukrainian broadcasts to the occupied peninsula will have no impact (regnum.ru/news/polit/2358275.html), they are using all their powers under the international conventions that govern broadcasting to prevent Kyiv from using any frequencies to reach the peninsula (dsnews.ua/politics/rossiya-blokiruet-zakazannye-ukrainoy-radiochastoty-16122017162300).

3.      US Criticizes Saakashvili Actions in Kyiv. In a rare example of American criticism of Mikhail Saakashvili’s actions in Ukraine, the US embassy in Kyiv denounced the violence some of his supporters have displayed in their demonstrations in support of him (https://twitter.com/judithgoughfco/status/942400638310285313).

4.      A Third of Ukrainians Favor Imposition of Visa Regime with Russia. Even though it would discommode many of them, 32 percent of Ukrainians say they now favor the imposition of a visa regime with Russia, something Moscow would likely respond to by imposing a visa regime against them (politobzor.net/153834-za-vizovyy-rezhim-s-rossiey-vystupayut-tolko-32-ukraincev.html).

5.      Aide to Ukrainian Premier Charged with Working for Russians. A senior aide to the Ukrainian prime minister has been accused and will face charges of working for Moscow, the highest-ranking official to date accused of having been recruited by the Russian security services (echo.msk.ru/news/2114788-echo.html).

6.      Kerch Bridge, Now Way Over Budget, Will Be Most Originally Called ‘The Crimea Bridge.’  With each passing month, Russia’s Kerch bridge to Crimea is becoming more expensive and is now way over budget, even officials concede (afterempire.info/2017/12/18/kotlovan/). But one thing is settled: the name. After an all-Russia competition, the judges have settled on a name, “The Crimea Bridge” (jpgazeta.ru/stalo-izvestno-kakoe-ofitsialnoe-nazvanie-budet-nosit-most-cherez-kerchenskiy-proliv/).

7.      Moldovan Parliament Set to Vote to Leave CIS. To the fury of Moscow, the Moldovan parliament is set to vote on a resolution to withdraw Chisinau from the Russian-dominated CIS (iarex.ru/news/54977.html). That is just one of the issues undermining relations between Moscow and Chisinau and Moldova has now pulled its ambassador from the Russian capital for “consultations” (apostrophe.ua/news/society/accidents/2017-12-18/moldova-otzyivaet-svoego-posla-iz-rossii/116186).

8.      Tajikistan Bans New Year’s Trees in Schools. Deferring to Muslim opinion, Dushanbe has prohibited the erection of new year’s trees in the schools of Tajikistan (regnum.ru/news/society/2360603.html).

9.      US Imposes Sanctions on Karimov’s Daughter. The United States has imposed sanctions on Gulnara Karimov, the daughter of the late Uzbekistan president, for illegal financial dealings (fergananews.com/news/27650).

10.  Uzbek Gastarbeiter Transfer Payments from Russia Home Rise by a Third. Compared to 2016, Uzbek gastarbeiters in Russia are sending home a third more money this year, an indication both of their increased earnings and increased needs in Uzbekistan (fergananews.com/news/27602).

11.  Brexit Seen Depriving Balts of Support in EU for Tough Line on Russia. According to one Russian commentator, the exit of Britain from the European Union will cost the three Baltic countries their biggest supporter of their calls for maintaining a tough line on Russia (iarex.ru/news/54938.html).

12.  Lithuania, Russia Sign Border Delimitation Accord. After more than a decade of talks, Lithuania and Russia have signed a border delimitation agreement (urm.lt/default/ru/news/podpisanjy-dokumentjy-demarkatsii-litobsko-rossijskoj-gosudarstbennoj-granitsjy). The accord comes as Vilnius announces the completion of border fence between that Baltic republic and Kaliningrad (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/12/18/272807/).

13.  Tallinn to Issue Estkoin.  The Estonian government, as part of its effort to promote e-governance, has announced plans to issue its own electronic currency, the Estkoin (republic.ru/posts/88512).

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