Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 117

Paul Goble

           Staunton, January 14 -- 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 117th 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.      Does Putin View North Korean System as Ideal?  Vladimir Putin’s praise for the North Korean dictator and his “defeat” of the US suggests to some Russians that the Kremlin leader views the North Korean system as his “ideal” and would like to make Russia more like that repressive country (,, and At the same time, some Russians claimed to see heaven’s blessing having descended on Putin in the shape of a halo over Tver after the president’s visit. Despite their enthusiasm, the “halo” was almost certainly jet contrails from planes accompanying that of the Kremlin leader ( Some Russians were dismayed to learn that they are spending 41 million rubles (680,000 US dollars) a day on the bureaucracy that directly supports Putin ( They also may be worried by predictions by some commentators that as soon as the elections are over, Putin will introduce many extremely unpopular things ( But Putin did suffer one loss this week: Steve Siegel, apparently his favorite American actor, has been accused of rape and may not have as prominent a role in Russia as he has had in the past (

2.      The Winnowing of the Candidates Continues. Sixty-seven people have applied to run, nine including Navalny have been blocked, and more than 30 others have been disqualified on various grounds (, and The Presidential Administration is working on various projects to boost participation (; and Patriarch Kirill has done his part, urging Russians to go to the polls ( Meanwhile, Putin’s spokesman says he can’t talk about the amount of money raised for Putin’s campaign (, and he won’t address the controversies surrounding it concerning the use of administrative powers to collect signatures (, and Officials have said that Putin won’t open any social accounts online during the campaign ( Meanwhile, attacks against opposition candidates and their staffs continue (, and Aleksey Navalny says he wants to reanimate his political party, has picked up some new support, but has been unable to register or avoid criticism for his calls for a boycott (,, and Meanwhile, the procuracy says its main task before the elections is combatting any unauthorized demonstrations and protests ( and but Zoya Svetova perhaps best summed up what is going on: the election isn’t a mistake: it is a crime (

3.      Russia has a Tsar but Lacks an Aristocracy, Delyagin Says. Russia’s major problem today is that it has a tsar in the form of Vladimir Putin but lacks an aristocracy to work with him, according to Moscow commentator Mikhail Delyagin ( It does have a massive bureaucracy, however, with the number of officials having doubled since Putin came to power ( Some argue that the only way to overcome Putinism is to end Russia’s presidentialist system ( Anti-corruption activists have found more houses of the Russian rich (, the former head of Mari El has been accused of illegally owning guns ( A scandal has claimed some victims among prison officials after it was discovered that in some places there are special prison cells for members of the elite ( A scew up in the Duma meant that for a  few days, LDPR deputies didn’t have the necessary voting cards ( The Duma refused to pass a measure on “the criminal activities” of Gorbachev and Yeltsin ( Vladimir Zhirinovsky proposes eliminating the Russian law on inciting hatred ( There is speculation that at least some governors under attack may flee abroad ( And Daghestan’s Chernovik weekly has published a useful list with hypertext links of the 100 most important social and economic decisions of the Russian government in 2017 (

4.      Russians Should Be Grateful for All the Ways the US is Helping to Make Russia Great Again. A Russian blogger has suggested that in small ways and large, the US under Donald Trump is doing everything it can to promote Russian greatness ( For example, another commentator says, Trump’s moves against Iran may seem anti-Russian but they are helping to undermine NATO unity, something Moscow wants far more than anything related to Iran ( But everything is not good in US-Russian relations, Moscow writers say. The US has named Vkontake as a source of piracy (; it has ordered the Sputnik news agency to register as a foreign agent (, and some in Washington hope to replace Putin with Aleksey Navalny, according to Vladimir Putin ( At the same time, Russian commentators go out of their way to say that this is not what Donald Trump wants but what others are forcing him to do ( Moscow is not pleased either by the fact that the State Department has warned US citizens to take care when visiting Russia ( or by a Congressional report on the secret operations of the Kremlin over the last two decades (  And the Russian defense ministry has announced the creation of a special staff to help military industrial firms cope with sanctions (

5.      Russian Economic Growth So Anemic Country is Falling Ever Further Behind Others.  In 2017, according to the Russian government, the country’s economy grew at a rate equal to only 14 percent of the international rate, meaning that its share of the world economy declined and will continue to do so (, and Meanwhile, weekly inflation hit 0.3 percent for an annual rate of 15 percent if that continues ( with prices for food and communal services far outpacing the average ( Income differentiation continues to increase with the top one percent now owning 43 percent of Russia’s assets, up from 22 percent only a few years ago ( More people fell into poverty, and more are likely to do so now that the government has embarked on a program to break the remaining independent unions ( and According to some estimates, 80,000 factories have closed in Russia since Putin first came to office ( and Agriculture is in big trouble because of inadequate investment ( Planned construction of airports in the Far East has been shelved after officials siphoned off 64 billion rubles (1.1 billion US dollars) (

6.      Dumpster Diving Spreads to Moscow with People Now Fighting Over Trash.  Dumpster diving as the search for food in trash containers is known has spread to ever more parts of the country, including Moscow, and in some places the poor who are forced into this situation are now fighting over who will get what (  and The number of pension-aged Russians without a pension is increasing and may go up dramatically this year ( and In one closed city in Siberia, there is no now bread on store shelves ( In some places, Russians are selling their home libraries to raise money for food ( According to new figures, residents of the North Caucasus receive only one-third as much income each month as do Russians elsewhere (, and Russians in general are increasingly borrowing from banks in an effort to maintain their standard of living ( During the holidays, they borrowed even more ( In Yekaterinburg, officials say business activity is now at zero (/ Oil companies are running into obstacles to increase production (

7.      18,000 Russians Died of Accidents and Alcohol Over the Holidays. Russia’s long winter holidays are taking their toll. Some 18,000 Russians died in accidents or from alcohol during them this year ( and Fraud and other financial crimes are rapidly increasing in Russia again, but few are solved. Meanwhile, ethnic criminal bands are fighting over the division of the spoils in Russia’s capital ( and Surveys suggest that with each passing year, Russians think less and less about him and more about themselves, their families and their close friends ( Moscow has failed miserably in its efforts to attract foreign scholars, researchers say (  Russians are becoming increasingly conservative on sex and marriage ( and A combined ghetto slum is forming around Moscow (; and to add insult to injury, the Russian government may soon increase the minimum price for cognac (

8.      Russians’ Health Under Assault from Many Directions. Contaminated water and air are among the things that are undermining the health of Russians today ( Also at work are severe shortages of medications and the failure of many to get needed immunizations ( and Moscow is attempting to address the lack of doctors in many rural areas with a  new program that is supposed to send 26,000 new medical graduates to villages, much as was the case in Soviet times ( Moscow is also thinking about trying to dissuade Russians from drinking to excess by putting ugly photographs and warnings on vodka bottles ( and

9.      One Place with a Real Russian Baby Boom – Miami, Florida in the US.  Russians are having fewer babies in Russia, but there is one place where there is a real Russian baby boom – Miami, Florida, in the United States. Russians who can afford to are going there to give birth so that their children will automatically gain US citizenship ( Russians are also moving abroad to study in universities and taking citizenship in Malta as an insurance policy ( and  According to experts, there are no quick fixes for Russia’s demographic dilemmas. Only a broad range of systemic changes might be enough ( Two developments make that clear: some officials are now talking about adopting prohibition in hopes of boosting the birthrate (, and experts say that a third of the villages shown on maps of Central Russia now have no people in them (

10.  Baikal Tops List of Environmental Disasters. Among the environmental disasters Russia is now facing, experts say that Lake Baikal is losing water at a precipitous and unsustainable rate (, a river in the Urals has been contaminated with mercury  (, and there have beenmore radiation leaks reported and then denied ( Denial is only one of the means Russian officials are using to deal with the problem: direct physical attacks on ecological activists is another (

11.  Promoting Social Mobility More Important than Saving Ethnic Groups, Tishkov Says.  Academician Valery Tishkov, who serves as a close advisor to Vladimir Putin on nationality policy, says that promoting mobility and urbanization is more important than working to save this or that ethnic group ( And some groups are dying: a recent article profiled the last of the Udegey and another reported the rapidly approaching death of the Shor language ( and Fearing for the worst in the future, a Chuvash activist has directly told Vladimir Putin that the current system is “almost exhausted” as are its peoples ( Crime and corruption are growing among non-Russians in the North Caucasus ( and  Meanwhile, the car of the head of the Murmansk Jewish community was firebombed ( Russian officials are moving to resettle Laks within Daghestan and Lezgins from Azerbaijan ( and And in perhaps the clearest indication of just how bad things are, some Chechens are beginning to speak out against Ramzan Kadyrov despite the risks to life and limb that entails ( and

12.  Tatar Officials Seek to Quiet Language Fight Until After Elections. Apparently concerned about Moscow’s reaction to any further protests about dropping Tatar as a required language, the republic’s education minister promises an answer to the issue within 100 days, conveniently just after the March 18 elections ( But there is no sign that either Moscow or the republic populations are backing away from their respective positions. The Bashkirs are organizing a special language foundation to promote that Turkic language and a government court has refused to conduct a case against a Tatar nationalist in Tatar ( and

13.  Non-Practicing Orthodox More Likely to Oppose Abortion than are Those who Attend Church. A new poll finds that those who identify as Orthodox  but don’t practice their faith are far more likely to have conservative positions on issues like abortion than are those who attend church regularly ( Some Orthodox tried but failed to block the staging in Sochi of the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar” ( Meanwhile, some Orthodox priests have begun to refer to Putin as “an Orthodox emperor” (, and Patriarch Kirill fighting off criticism of his lavish lifestyle has said that he grew up poor and that he would like to see the gap between rich and poor reduced ( and  In Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov announced the construction of a sixth mega mosque, meaning that his republic will have more mosques than the city of Moscow ( Anti-Semitism at the personal level appears to be spreading again (, and many in the Orthodox Church are alarmed by the growth of paganism among Russians (

14.  Russian Regions Sinking into Despair. Conditions in some predominantly ethnic Russian regions have deteriorated to the point that people are fleeing out of despair ( Some of that despair may be causing them to listen to regionalist websites and so the Russian authorities are blocking portals like Free Ural ( Officials in Kaliningrad continue to pursue school administrators for allowing a meeting devoted to subcultures, something the former fear could involve separatist attitudes ( And in yet another sign that the authorities are worried about regionalism wherever it may appear, Moscow has taken steps to rename an Ingermanland park for the Gulf of Finland (

15.  Protesters Now Relish Being Called ‘Western Agents.’ One of the signs that repression is not achieving its goals is when those against whom it is directed begin to celebrate the labels the powers that be have given them in the hopes of frightening them off. Now, some demonstrators are declaring that they are “Western agents and proud of it” (  Meanwhile, protests of all kinds resumed after the holidays, at an elite Moscow school ( in St. Petersburg in support of political prisoners (, among historians angry at Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov’s distortion of Russia’s past (, in Moscow in support of the late Boris Nemtsov (, in Kurgan oblast among teachers who haven’t been paid ( and, and in several places against cruelty to animals and police brutality (

16.  Russians Subject to Ever More Restrictions and Repressions. Among the latest moves by the Russian government were the following: a ban on cigarette butts being thrown from cars or trains (, a ban on a popular song the authorities don’t like (, fines for reposting a picture featuring Putin and Hitler (, accusations against an activist for supposedly inciting hatred against ethnic Russians and blacks (, a massive fine for posting something the regime considers anti-Christian on a social network (, and the inclusion of songs about obscurantism on the extremist list ( In perhaps the most over the top move, a Russian court decided a group of pensioners constituted a meeting and fined them half their pensions ( More generally, Moscow extended the concept of foreign agent to individuals and equated all of them with ISIS, which is banned in Russia ( and The authorities expanded their practice of planting drugs on people they want to put away like a Memorial worker in Chechnya ( as well as their use of psychiatric incarceration of healthy people who dissent (  and The Duma voted to require those drafted to show up for possible induction even if they had not personally signed the draft notice ( The justice ministry said that strip searching those who want to visit prisoners is perfectly all right ( Duma deputies say they want to force social networks to identify materials coming from those the Russian government has identified as a foreign agent much as Russian law now requires media outlets to identify as banned those groups the Russian government has made that judgment against ( But the Russian system is neither efficient nor non-corrupt: The environmental group Eco Watch on the North Caucasus was decalred a foreign agent four months ago but hasn’t been put on the list four months later ( and the authorities had no problem with the Rotenbergs buying up the Prosveshcheniye publishing house and then using their influence to get textbooks published by others banned to guarantee their profits (

17.  Telephone Bomb Threats Continue to Empty Russian Buildings. False telephone bomb threats continued to wreak havoc in Russian cities, forcing the authorities to evacuate among others three main Moscow railroad stations ( and More ominously the authorities reported finding weapons and bomb making supplied in a variety of places: the police said that they had confiscated 17,000 handguns in the last year ( The authorities blocked a website containing instructions on making Molotov cocktails ( Explosive materials were found near Moscow ( and And a student at a military academy was arrested on suspicion of plotting a terrorist action in St. Petersburg ( Meanwhile, the Russian Guard announced it was creating a special force to counter any possible drone attacks, something the defense ministry has warned about (  and Officials said there are now 170,000 in the Young Russia army movement ( They have dropped the Chechen militants from the list of enemies of Russia ( And Moscow officials reported that the number of cyberattacks against Russian computers had risen by 70 percent over the last 12 months (

18.  Two-Thirds of Russians Think Russia has Enemies; One-Quarter Think They’re Everywhere. A New poll shows that Russians are inclined to see enemies at least some places with one in four ready to believe that everyone beyond the borders of the Russian Federation is an enemy ( Russia is having increasing trouble selling military equipment abroad ( at least in part because of stories showing that its tanks become unusable if they are left out in the rain ( Another attack on a Russian base in Syria has highlighted serious weaknesses in Russia’s electronic and other defenses leading Moscow to claim that the US or Ukraine was behind them because the insurgents lack the necessary skills and equipment (,,,, and Other foreign security related stories this week included reports that those who helped build the Russian railroad bypassing Ukraine will get medals (, more talk in Moscow that Russia may pull out of the WTO (, acknowledgement that Russia has made so little progress in the last 15 years that it couldn’t save a new “Kursk” even now (, a shift by Russian defense ministry computers to a Russian operating system (, a new debate on whether Russia is at war with Ukraine (, a Warsaw finding that the plane which killed its former president was brought down by an explosion (, a report that Russian policemen may now travel freely to 12 countries (, identification of Chinese smugglers of mammoth tusks from Sakha (, and a Russian governor entering the fray and trying to block plans to deport North Korean laborers as the UN requires (

19.  Will Lenin Remain Forever in Red Square as an Art Object? Public pressure to bury the Soviet leader appears to be growing; opponents of doing so have now adopted a new line of defense: his remains can’t be buried because they are “an art object” ( Elsewhere on the monuments front, some activists are trying to restore the name Vyatka in place of the current Kirov (, ever more Soviet street names in Yekaterinburg are being replaced (, enthusiasts have announced plans for a half-marathon at the place where the Imperial Family was first buried (, and the struggle between those who want to keep the memorial to Boris Nemtsov up and those who want it eliminated continues (

20.  WADA, IOC Maintain Hard Line on Russia. WADA has rejected Russian charges against it, and the IOC continues to insist that its ban on any Russian symbolism at the South Korean Olympiad will stand ( and But Moscow continues to insist that the two international federations are on a witch hunt against Russia rather than having probable cause for their actions ( And Russian hacker groups hae attacked both groups (   More immediately, Moscow is tightening the screws against fan violence in advance of the World Cup, with some proposing banning all fan organizations as terrorists; but fan groups say they don’t plan any actions during the competition (, and  Officials concede that the Samara venue isn’t ready (  RUSADA meanwhile has announced plans to test all Russian footballers for drugs ( To try to win back fans, Moscow has announced that it is increasing the number of cheap tickets by a third ( Some Russians are angry about what is happening in venue cities: the competition is forcing Russia to make use of the Latin script (rather than Cyrillic) more often ( And mass killings of homeless animals in venue cities continue (

21.  Valery Chalidze, RIP. Valery Chalidze, a Soviet dissident who may have played his most important role when during his forced exile, he published samizdat and other materials to chronicle the abuse of human rights in the USSR, has died at 79 in Vermont (

22.  Pornhub Releases Data on Russians’ Sexual Preferences.  The pornography site has released new data on the sexual preferences of Russians based on their searches there ( Meanwhile, the authorities in St. Petersburg landed in hot water when it came out they had used budget funds to subscribe to erotic channels (

23.  Man Uses Tank to Break into Liquor Store to Get Wine. A Russian living in the Far North drove a tank through the wall of a liquor store in order to get a bottle of wine, a measure of the lengths some people will go to get a drink. News reports of this incident did not specify where and how he had acquired this unusual vehicle (

24.  Ever More People in the West View Russia as a Mafia State. Swedish military researcher Robert Dalsio says that ever more experts in Western countries view senior officials of the Russian state and not just Vladimir Putin as mafiosi who behave like the bosses of criminal gangs (

25.  Ice Roads are Wonderful Until They Crack. Given its lack of highways in the Far North, Russia relies on ice roads along its major rivers to deliver goods to people in that enormous region. They are critically important and usually work well, but sometimes they don’t as pictures of two huge trucks crashing through the ice on the Lena River show (

26.  ‘God Help Russia’ Sign Visible from Space. A group of concerned citizens near Moscow put out an enormous sign asking that “God help Russia.” The sign was so large that it was reported it could be seen from the international space station (

            And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Ukraine Turns Down Putin Offer to Hand Over Military Equipment Russia Seized in Crimea.  The Ukrainian government has concluded that it would be more trouble than it would be worth to accept Moscow’s offer to return Ukrainian military equipment Russian forces seized at the time of the Anschluss ( Meanwhile, Moscow charged that Kyiv is preparing to attack Russian forces in occupied Crimea with drones (

2.      Ukrainians Can Now Enter More Countries without a Visa than Russians Can. Kyiv is very proud that its pursuit of visa-free travel arrangements means that Ukrainians can now enter more countries than Russians can without getting a visa (  Meanwhile, the Ukrainian authorities reportedly stripped more than 5,000 people of their citizenship last year and had put 1500 foreigners on a watch list in order to block them from entering Ukraine after they entered Russian-occupied Crimea without Kyiv’s authorization ( and

3.      Ukrainian Analysts Rank Politicians on How Much They Lie.  The Voxcheck analytic agency ranked the 20 most prominent Ukrainian politicians in terms of how often they lie. Yulia Timoshenko currently tops the list (

4.      Ukrainian Activists Place Puppets Outside Moscow Patriarchate Churches.  In order to highlight their conviction that the Moscow Patriarchal church in Ukraine works for the Russian government rather than anyone else, Ukrainian activists have placed puppets on doorsteps of Moscow-affiliated churches (  Other activists, unknown as of yet, attacked the Russian Cultural Center in Kyiv (

5.      Belarusians Protest Plans to Open Chinese Factory in Brest. The residents of Brest have organized protests against plans by China to erect a factory in their city. They apparently fear that the factory will lead to the appearance of numerous Chinese personnel there (

6.      Alexiyevich-Gorbachev Anecdote Circulating Widely. An anecdote about a supposed exchange between the Belarusian Nobelist and Mikhail Gorbachev is making the rounds. According to the story, Gorbachev says how could such a little lady write such a big book to which Svetlana Alexiyevich replaces, “You’re not that big and you destroyed a large country” (  Meanwhile, in another Belarusian development, a young scholar has completed a dissertation at the University of Tartu on Belarusian culture (

7.      Belarus Joins Its Neighbors in Seeking to Block Russian Propaganda. Despite being part of the union state with Russia, Minsk like its neighbors has adopted measures to block Russian propaganda, creating sometimes odd situations on its border with the Russian Federation (/ and

8.      Javakhetia Issue Heating Up Again. Moscow and Yerevan are both talking more about the Armenian district in Georgia, a possible indication that one or both may try to use this issue against Tbilisi (

9.      Latest Mosque Count for Muslim Majority Countries on Post-Soviet Space.  Azerbaijan now has 2250 mosques, Kazakhstan 2516, Kyrgyzstan 2669, Tajikistan 3930, and Uzbekistan 2065 ( and

10.  Uzbekistan Now has Longest Life Expectancy in Central Asia. Uzbekistan men and women on average both live longer than do their counterparts in all other Central Asian countries ( One consequence of this is that Tashkent is insisting that even though the country’s haj quota has increased to 7200 a year, no Uzbek may go more than once every five years (

11.  Kyrgyzstan Running Short of Potable Water. Even though it is one of the two water-surplus Central Asian countries, a rapidly growing population and increasing population mean that Kygyzstan is rapidly running out of potable water (

12.  Estonia Boosts Defense Spending to More than 500 Million Euros. In the face of the Russian threat, Tallinn has boosted defense spending to more than 500 million euros ( Some of the additional money is being used to by drones to patrol the eastern border and to replace Soviet-issue pistols ( and some of the money will also go to restoring the Soviet war memorial in Tallinn that some Estonians had earlier said would be torn down (

13.  Moscow Threatens Riga with ‘Serious Consequences’ for Equalizing Treatment of Soviet and German World War II veterans. After Latvia voted to treat for pension purposes those of its citizens who had served in the Soviet and German armies during World War II equally, the Russian foreign ministry said this action would entail “serious consequences,” although it did not specify what those would be (

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