Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 119

Paul Goble
Staunton, January 28 -- 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 118th 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.      Putin has Problems with Orthodox Ritual and Russian History.  Vladimir Putin likes to present himself as a committed Orthodox Christian and Russian patriot, but he doesn’t know how to cross himself correctly in the Orthodox fashion, something often true of KGB-Inturist guides to churches in Soviet times (, and he gets the route of Lomonosov’s travels wrong in a public statement ( During a visit to Kazan, the Kremlin leader calls for the revival of Islamic education in Russia so mullahs and imams won’t have to seek training abroad (  As the elections approach, some commentators are going back to Putin’s promises in 2012 and showing that he hasn’t met them or even further to the 1990s to counter his claims that he has pulled Russia up from that disastrous decade (  Meanwhile, stories are circulating that Putin’s father was involved in Soviet units that suppressed the Warsaw uprising (  And more than one commentator has explained Moscow’s decision to ban “The Death of Stalin” as a reflection of the fact that it saw itself reflected in that mirror (

2.      Little Real Enthusiasm for Putin’s Re-Election. Russians who aren’t being paid or compelled by their superiors to support Putin’s re-election show little enthusiasm for it, although that reality is lost behind the much ballyhooed state-financed and orchestrated efforts (, and Besides all of Putin’s failures in the past, a major reason for this lack of enthusiasm is that many expect Putin to introduce a variety of harsh, even draconian measures immediately after he is formally installed in office once again ( Meanwhile, the Russian government continued to do everything it could to disrupt the efforts of Aleksey Navalny’s supporters from pushing his agenda even though the regime has blocked his candidacy (,,, and Kseniya Sobchak after getting the needed 100,000 signatures on her petitions, made a series of policy pronouncements including calling for the legalization of marijuana, the denunciation of Stalin, and an end to the persecution of Navalny (,, and Pavel Grudinin, the KPRF candidate, says one shouldn’t laugh at Stalin just as one shouldn’t laugh at Jesus Christ ( Meanwhile, he faces harassment and legal challenges ( and Support for a boycott of the March 18 vote is growing, with an entire Siberian town electing not to vote (  Officials are retaliating by various get out the vote measures including printing “vote on March 18” on grocery receipts in some places (  Activists say officials now view all protests as election related even if they aren’t ( Ever more Russians are worried about “dead souls” on voter lists and about the confusion of a race in whicih nationalists rum as communists and communists as monarchists (, and

3.      State Apparatus Said Paralyzed by Struggle for Moral Values, Something It Does to Make a Show of Activity. That is the judgment of one commentator ( Meanwhile, ever more former siloviki say that despite everything, there won’t be a palace coup ( The elite continues to work hard to protect itself and transform its ranks into tsarist-style social strata, something some expect will be formalized within ten to fifteen years (,,, and Communication with the population is breaking down, some experts say (  In other developments of the political system, Putin proposes new punishments for judges (, commentators suggest Russia doesn’t need either a president or political parties ( and, Yeltsin’s son becomes a restaurant operator (, politruks are introduced into United Russia (, and official figures show Russia is spending far more on the Presidential Administration than most regional budgets consist of (
4.      Izborsky Club Member Says Trump is Uniting with Jewish Capitalists Against Russia. US policy in the next year will be ever more anti-Russian, an Izborsky Club member says; because Donald Trump is strengthening his hand at home by “uniting with Jewish capitalists ( As US increases sanctions, Yeltsin oligarchs seek to separate themselves from Putin ones (  and Meanwhile, a Moscow man takes the cold war seriously and throws snowballs at the US embassy in Moscow ( Outspoken Duma deputy Natalya Poklonskaya invites Trump to visit Crimea ( Meanwhile, Russian media have had a field day with the US State Department’s announcement that during any US government shutdown, its twitter feed will not be updated ( and

5.      Despite Putin’s Claims. All Macro Economic News is Bad.  The growth in the Russian economy Putin has been talking about not only is only half what he had predicted but is within the margin of error of none at all ( Industrial production set a record for decline (, Russia’s foreign debt rose to 529 billion US dollars (, the rate of capital flight doubled from last year to this (, corporate defaults set a record as well (, and domestic debt rose 18 percent in 2017 ( Some analysts suggested that these  numbers show that the policy of the Russian Central  Bank is hurting the country more than any Western sanctions could ( Meanwhile, experts say that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev won’t allow Russia to leave the WTO (, while others call on Moscow to become a full member of OPEC ( And in its search for revenue, the Russian government is now talking about imposing “a death tax,” aka, an inheritance tax (

6.      Russians’ Incomes Fall for Fourth Year in a Row, as Prices and Bankruptcies Rise.  For the fourth year in a row – since the Crimean Anschluss in fact – the real incomes of Russians have fallen throwing the average Russian standard of living back nine years (,  and Meanwhile, bankruptcies and prices for consumer goods and food are going up (, and Ever more workers are not being paid what they earn (, but perhaps Russians can be pleased that the number of Russian dollar billionaires has gone up by 11 percent in the past year ( Not all Russians are happy about that or about the propensity of these people to buy citizenship in Malta and other countries (,  and theya re certainly not pleased that Duma members now get a pension 16  times larger than do ordinary Russians ( Ordinary Russians are taking extraordinary measures to make ends meet: One Urals  teacher, for example, now has a second job as a stripper ( Some in Russia now say the 1990s were a paradise compared to now and they complain that owners are using bankruptcy to avoid paying workers more now than in the past ( and One way to deal with economic problems is to lie; another is to change terms: Moscow officials now say that oligarchs are not oligarchs but “socially responsible businessmen” ( and

7.      Moscow Refuses to View Three School Attacks in One Week as Sign of System Failure.  Murderous attacks on three schools in Russia’s regions have failed to convince the regime that it has to do more than engage in propaganda and cosmetic change, commentators say, to the outrage of parents ( Some school officials are introducing guards but ever more people are blaming Putin for the problem (, and Experts say that Columbine cults are displacing suicide pacts among Russian young people (, but many outside the regions of the attacks don’t know much because Moscow television has provided scant details ( Meanwhile, in other signs of social collapse, the police have been caught engaging in crime rather than fighting it ( and, an intense debate has broken out over whether living together should be legally treated as marriage (, and, a scandal occurred when officials appeared to recognize a gay marriage conducted abroad, then backed down and punished those who registered it (, and, single fatherhood an increasingly widespread phenomenon with 600,000 single fathers now counted by officials (, people are dying because the authorities don’t clear the streets or fix them ( and, and the number of Russians studying abroad has gone up 400 percent over the last 20 years ( In other developments on the social front, vodka sales have actually increased slightly instead of the decline some officials have claimed ( and, a village cut off from the world issues a cry of despair about lack of health care and basic services (, anger is growing about a government plan to require drivers take a test whenever their drivers licenses must be renewed (, some in the Duma are pushing for the creation of a morality police on the Iranian model (,,  and, widespread age discrimination in the workforce is reported in Russia (, the first issue of a newspaper devoted to patronage appears in Moscow (, the lack of substantive knowledge among recent graduates worries employers and government (, and an anti-rating of Russian universities which have given the most degrees on the basis of plagiarized dissertations appears (

8.      More than Half of Rusisa’s Doctors Say Health Care Access has Fallen Under Putin. Some 57 percent of doctors say access to medical care has declined under Putin ( while many Russians complain about work ethics of doctors (, rising prices for cancer medications are leading to more deaths from the disease among Russians (, prices for  other medicines are also going up (, hospitals are sending terminally ill people home to improve their statistics (, but, in a rare example of good news, new rules may allow invalids to get and retain that classification more easily than in the past (

9.      Moscow Backs More Day Care So Mothers Can Work. The Russian government wants to open more childcare centers so that mothers can return to the workplace as soon as possible given labor shortages caused by demographic decline (  Moreover, even though birthrates have fallen in Muslim areas, they remain much higher in the North Caucasus and parts of the Middle Volga than in majority Russian areas, even as mortality rates in the latter areas stand at levels higher than in most African countries (  Russia now ranks 93rd in the world in terms of life expectancy (, and ever more Russian couples are choosing not to have any children at all (  Meanwhile, ever more adopted children are dying at increasing rates (, and surveys show that the best and the brightest are fleeing Russia or would like to ( and

10.  Russian Authorities Fine French Environmentalists Looking Into Radiation Leak. The Russian authorities have levied heavy fines on a group of French environmentalists who were seeking to track down the source of the radiation leak that spread into Western Europe at the end of 2017 ( Russian environmentalists feel they are losing on all fronts: They’ve declared the battle for Baikal to have been lost (, they have launched a petition to save the famous lake from the Chinese ( ), and they say that the FSB is behind recent attacks on the ecological movement in the North Caucasus (

11.  Did Ivan the Terrible Think He was a Russian? Maybe Not. Some scholars think that Ivan the Terrible, one of Russia’s national heroes, may not have viewed himself as a Russian ( Vladimir Putin makes his 16th visit to Kazan and goes to the hospital to meet with former Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev ( and One upside of Putin’s visit: a Russian scholar in Kazan apologises for calling Tatar culture backward (  But a Bashkir commentator says that Putin remains committed to doing away with the non-Russian republics (  Cossacks in various cities commemorated the anniversary of the Soviet de-Cossackization decree ( and North Caucasian aspects from several republics cooperate in campaign to demand restoration of direct elections in their republics ( Observers say that the Koreans of Russia are divided according to their origin, north and south, with the two generally keeping apart (  Circassians from abroad who have not been able to return as immigrants to their homeland are at least now coming as tourists (  Buryatia has opened an expanded representation in Ulan Bator and has offered Mongolia 55,000 hectares of land for agricultural exploitation ( and And an appeals court has reaffirmed the conviction of a Nenets who killed a Gazprom manager while defending a holy lake in the Russian north (

12.  Tatarstan Warns Against Extremism on Language Issue. In yet another indication that Tatar anger about Putin’s efforts to marginalize non-Russian languages, Kazan has warned against any extremism on the issue, apparently fearing that things could get out of hand ( Meanwhile, Tatars are pushing for the development of new textbooks on local studies and the Tatar language ( In Kabardino-Balkaria, scholars are demanding the continuing of the obligatory study of the national languages there (; and in Karelia, activists are demanding that ballots for the presidential election be translated into Karel and Wepsy (

13.  Is Putin Fusing Communism and Christianity? Some Russians believe that the emerging Putin doctrine is based on a fusion of communism and Christianity, and most ordinary Russians welcome his deference to the two ideas ( and  Some Orthodox experts are concerned about theology becoming a new Marxism-Leninism (, although a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate says that in Russia today, “theology is as important as psychology or philosophy” ( The Russian church is helping the state in another way by calling on women to marry early and have children rather than waste time acquiring educations ( Over the last eight years, the Patriarchate has opened 62 new churches in Moscow alone ( But Orthodox radicals insist that is not nearly enough ( On the Muslim front, an Ufa mufti declared that Putin is “the spiritual leader of the Muslims of Russia”  (, and one Muslim leader said there may be as many as 37 million Muslims in Russia today, a figure that if true would put them at 26 percent of the total ( But Muslims are facing problems: many parishes can’t support imams (, and the share of Russians with negative attitudes toward the Muslim community has gone up again ( On the Jewish front, the Jewish establishment worked hard to prevent what could have been an explosive situation when a Moscow professor refused to allow a student with a yarmulke to take a test from getting out of hand. The professor ultimately backed down (,, and But at the same time, a Russian Orthodox nationalist site said that Russia’s Jews need to convert ( And on the Protestant front, many Protestant groups say they are suffering  as a result of the Yarovaya laws (

14.  Even Pro-Putin People Say Kremlin Doesn’t Have a Clue about Regions.  A supporter of Vladimir Putin says the Kremlin “doesn’t have a clue” about the regions, and another commentator suggests that it believes that as far as the federal subjects outside of Moscow are concerned, one size fits all as far as policies are concerned ( and People in the regions say Moscow is bankrupting their regimes by its unfunded liabilities ( Simon Kordonsky points out that governors used to be members of the elite but now are only senior bureaucrats, without the ability to defend their federal rights ( and One thing that is weakening the regions is that no federal cable television channel has any of the regional television stations on its list ( Nonetheless, some regional news agencies, like, have become very successful ( Yet another factor pulling Kaliningrad away from Moscow is that 60 percent of the gastarbeiters there are from Lithuania ( Regionalists and federalists are under attack in many places, but they are adopting clever advertising programs, including special t-shirts, to push their agendas in ways Moscow finds difficult to stop (

15.  St. Petersburg Democratic Activists Symbolically Bury ‘Future of Russia.’ Carrying a casket labeled “The Future of Russia,” democratic activists in the northern capital symbolically buried the future of their country (  Demonstrations and protests spread and featured increasingly direct attacks on Putin, some of them quite unrestrained (,,,, and  Conservatives say liberals are trying to discredit and force the removal of the Russian education minister ( The military cadets who protested with a lewd dance won’t be allowed to march in Red Square on May 9 ( despite or perhaps because of the support they have received from other protesting groups (,,,,, and Other groups copied their techniques to protest about other things ( and Other protests in the last week involved deceived debtors and people who feel they are being ruined by companies that are allowed to steal them blind and then declare bankrupt and gain state protection (, and Activists collected money for political prisoners (, and Russian military veterans began to organize to defend their rights ( and And a new analysis suggested the truckers’ strike failed last fall largely because the economy has collapsed and there were 40 percent fewer paid miles available for truckers (

16.  Human Rights Situation in Russia Deteriorating Sharply, HRW Says. Human Rights Watch says the situation in the Russian Federation is deteriorating sharply on every measure ( and  Meanwhile, a study concluded that the Russian security services have killed more than 70 scholars over the last dozen years ( Other news from the repression front includes: a man convicted of a crime was sentenced to work in a Russian Orthodox church (, a Russian court liquidates the Navalny foundation (, the government bans any talk about the police on Messenger (, the editor of BlogSochi has been arrested for two months (, officials in the North Caucasus have tightened the screws in expectation of protests (, the film “Death of Stalin” loses its license to be shown in Russia (, beatings have become more common in places of temporary detention (, a car belonging  to Memorial was firebombed in Chechnya (, the last Bolotnoye hostage was freed (, Duma deputy wants to ban any coverage of use of force by the authorities (, Moscow site blocked after reporting on FSB chief’s secret real estate operations (, the culture ministry banned the movie “Paddington” (,  Russian penal officials now have an eighth type of punishment (, Russians can now be found guilty of a crime for failing to defend against a terrorist act (, and Russian officials are learning that “banned in Moscow” is the new “banned in Boston,” a guarantee everyone will want to read or watch something (

17.  Telephone Bomb Threats Continue Across Russia. Telephone bomb threats continue to empty public buildings in major Russian cities ( and Few Russians believe Moscow’s claims that highway deaths have declined (, but many in Siberia believe that Moscow is selling off Siberia to China forits own profit (  And many think that flying on domestically produced aircraft is a mistake (

18.  At Putin’s Order, Russian Soldiers Now Swear to Serve Russia, Not Russian Federation. Even though soldiers in the post-Soviet Russian army have declared their allegiance to the Russian Federation and even though the Russian Constitution makes Russia and Russian Federation equivalent terms, Vladimir Putin has ordered that from now on, Russian soldiers will swear their allegiance to Russia rather than to the Russian Federation ( Russian teachers are now being told that they train students in foreign languages not to learn about other countries but to tell other countries about Russia ( The Kremlin says it won’t check on reports that North Korea is exporting coal via Russia in order to avoid sanctions (  and Russia’s space program is collapsing despite Putin’s claims (, and But Russia did pick up one strategic ally: the South Ossetian army has now been absorbed into the Russian one ( The Russian navy has just lost two more submarines which have been decommissioned (, and some analysts say the sanctions regime and the economic crisis may effectively end the Russian deep water navy for some time to come (,,  and Russia’s arrest of an elderly man for spying has sparked controversy in Scandinavia ( Meanwhile, Putin says the Russian defense ministry must produce more civilian products over the next decade (, even as he calls for a major expansion in defense spending over the next decade China is taking advantage of Russia’s weakness by expanding in the Arctic and in Russian border regions in the Far East (,,, and And to add insult to injury, a new computer game has appeared about the failure of Putin’s government to save the crew of the Kursk submarine (

19.  Names Changing Faster than Statues.  Many activists are succeeding in changing toponyms far more quickly than they are in having the statues of those they despise taken down (, and But there was a great deal of movement on the monument front: Birobidzhan erected a monument to the Holocaust victims (, a monument to those who died in the 1996 terrorist attack was vandalized (, FEOR wants a competition for the statue memorializing victims of the GULAG and death camps ( even as a monument to executed “persons of Jewish nationality” goes up in the northern capital (, a memorial to Ataman Naumenko goes up in Moscow (, a controversy over removing a Lenin statue in Yekaterinburg intensifies (, a monument to Russia’s eastern border featuring a bear is vandalized (, Tver residents say they want the hammer and sickle back on monuments in their city (, police show up when a Moscow theater shows “Death of Stalin”(,  some commentators have suggested designating Lenin’s body a mummy (, and the Yeltsin Center continues to face financial problems (

20.  Putin’s Press Spokesman Says Russians Mustn’t Use Word ‘Boycott’ about Sporting Events. As ever more Russian outlets speculate about boycotts of the Olympics and the World Cup, Putin’s spokesman says Russian media must not use the word lest that encourage rumors or even actions ( Meanwhile, the Kremlin is increasingly upset by the growing number of Russian athletes banned from international sports competitions ( and It is outraged by the banning of the Russian flag from the Olympics and even from fans there ( and, and it is furious that only 169 of the 500 Russian athletes who qualified for the Olympiad in South Korea will be allowed to take part in the competition ( and But despite Kremlin efforts, the Russian online media continue to report about problems with the upcoming World Cup competition in Russia. A bridge being built in St. Petersburg is blocking the access of local people to their homes ( Millions of rubles are being allocated to kill homeless animals in World Cup cities ( and The FSB wants to suspend the operation of factories in the competition cities but economists warn that will cost the Russian economy a great deal ( and Moscow is trying to shame hotels that are already engaged in price gauging for World Cup into cutting their rates ( Various proposals have been made about what should be done with senior Russian officials behind the doping scandal. Among the most popular is sending Mutko et al to Magadan to train local people (

21.  Russians Retreat into Past Because They’re Ashamed of Present and Fearful of Future, Blogger Says. A Russian blogger says that Russians’ focus on the past reflects their sense of shame about where their country is now and where it is heading (  But ever more evidence is surfacing that they have a lot to be ashamed of in the past beyond the obvioius. A story this week reported that in the final years of Soviet power, officials encouraged Soviet citizens to eat axle grease as food (

22.  Chinese Paper Says Marriage Between Chinese Man and Russian Woman ‘Ideal.’ A Chinese newspaper is encouraging Chinese men to marry Russian women saying that the two cultures fit together and that a mixed marriage in this case is “ideal” (

23.  Family Violence in Russia Spikes After Moscow Decriminalizes It. Over the last year, there has been a radical increase in family violence after the Duma voted, at the urging of the Russian Orthodox Church and others, to decriminalize it (

24.  Russian Resorts Place Their Hopes in a New Iron Curtain.  Russian resorts are not attracting as many paying customers as they would like, and some of their operators say that only the erection of a new Iron Curtain can save them because it would force Russians to travel more within the country than abroad (

25.  Russian Court Runs Out of Paper for Documents. A court in Nizhny Tagil has run out of paper and has announced that it won’t provide printed decisions unless people bring in their own paper for them to be printed on (

26.  Urals Funeral Home Selling Previously Used Caskets as Morgue Become ‘Self Service.’ A funeral service in Nizhny Tagil has been found to be selling previously used caskets to the families of the newly deceased and then pocketing the money ( Meanwhile, the Russian health ministry has launched an investigation into a hospital morgue that because of cutbacks has converted itself into a self-service operation after 3:00 pm (

            And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Kyiv Rejects Moscow’s Offer to Return Ukrainian Military Equipment from Russian-Occupied Crimea.  The Ukrainian government has turned down a Moscow offer to return ships and other Ukrainian military equipment from the occupied peninsula, clearly sensing a trap and recognizing that most of the materiel would require enormous refitting to make it serviceable again (

2.      Moscow-Backed DNR Declares Novorossiya ‘Successor State’ to Ukraine. Russian forces in the Donbass have declared that the non-existent Novorossiya is “the successor state” to Ukraine ( Meanwhile, reflecting just how repressive Russian forces in Ukraine are becoming, there are widespread reports that even pro-Moscow groups in Crime area afraid to speak in public lest they get in trouble (

3.      Russians Leaving Moldova as Tensions Between Chisinau and Moscow Mount.  Ethnic Russians in Moldova reportedly are leaving that country in record numbers as tensions between that country over its relationship with Moldova and Chisinau’s plans to seek reparations from Russia ( and

4.      Moscow-Minsk Relations Hit a Rough Patch.  Belarusians are increasingly concerned about the extent to which they have lost sovereignty by agreeing to a joint visa system ( Alyaksandr Lukashenka says all of Belarus’ borders are inviolable and pledges to increase defenses along all of them including the one with Russia ( and At the same time, Minsk followed Moscow in banning the sale of tickets for the film, “The Death of Stalin” (

5.      Minsk Blocks Charter 97 Portal. The Belarusian government has blocked the largest opposition web portal, Charter 97, sparking outrage among the opposition, human rights activists, and some Western governments (

6.      American Communists View Minsk as a Mecca.  Communists from the US now view Minsk as their Mecca, frequently visiting and praising the Belarusian government (  Meanwhile,  polls show that Belarus is one of only four countries in the world whose trust in the US has increased since Donald Trump became president (

7.      Apartments without Plumbing or Heating Going Up Near Minsk. In a satellite city to the Belarusian capital, state construction organizations are building apartments having no plumbing or heating (

8.      14,000 Armenians Have Given Up Citizenship in Last Five Years. Yerevan says that 14,000 Armenians have given up their Armenian citizenship over the last five years in order to take citizenship in another country (

9.      Traditionalist Attitudes Sweeping through Central Asian Countries. Several commentators have pointed out that reaction is on the march in Central Asian societies (,,,  and Arabic names are now the most popular names for children in Kyrgyzstan (, Tajikistan is rated the most religious country in the region and may even introduce legal penalties against infidelity ( and At the same time, Dushanbe is cracking down on official Islamic institutions but renaming cities to go back to traditional historical names (  and

10.  Chinese Workers Coming to Tajikistan has Tajiks Go to Russia.  Chinese workers are coming to Tajikistan even as Tajiks leave that country to work in the Russian Federation ( and

11.  Kazakhstan Wants to Displace Russia as Air Stopover Between Europe and Asia.  Astana has announced plans to encourage European and Asian carriers to use its airports as stopovers between Europe and Asia rather than those in Russia (

12.  Astana Refuses to Ban ‘Death of Stalin.’ Despite Moscow’s efforts, Kazakhstan authorities have decided not to ban the English comedy, “The Death of Stalin” (

13.  Narva Could Be Estonia’s Next Success Story.  Estonian officials say that Narva, an overwhelmingly ethnic Russian city on the border with the Russian Federation, could be the country’s next success story and they hope to call attention to that by having it declared a European capital of culture (  and

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