Friday, November 13, 2015

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 10

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 13 -- The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and often 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 will present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the tenth such weekly compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest. 

1.      Putin’s Wars Costing Russians Essential Services -- Including Moscow Metro Toilets. Spending for Putin’s wars in Ukraine and Syria is forcing Moscow to cut back on essential services like highway construction, schools, healthcare, and even toilets in public places like the Moscow metro (,, and ). Indeed, some commentators are now saying the austerity budget leaves Russia without a future (

2.      Pskov Schoolteacher Asks Governor How She is Supposed to Live on Her Salary.  A schoolteacher in Pskov oblast has publicly asked the governor there how she is supposed to live on her miserly salary, apparently aware that some officials don’t depend on their salaries alone (

3.      Designer ‘Vatniks’ – How Russia’s Rich Can Show Their True Colors. Wealthy Russians can now don special designer “vatniks,” the cotton padded jacket worn typically by the poor and now a symbol for those who support Vladimir Putin (

4.      Raising Retirement Age and Beating Prisoners for Russians’ Own Good, Officials Say. The health ministry says that raising the retirement age for Russians is for their own good (, and penal officials make the same point about using force against those under arrest ( ).

5.       Doping Scandal Serious Because Sports Victories Compensate for Kremlin’s Failures.  An RBC commentator suggests one of the reasons the findings of the WADA are such a threat to the Kremlin: Russians often view victories in sports, however obtained, as compensation for other failings by those in power (

6.      Buryat Resident Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for 100 Ruble Bribe. A resident of Buryatia was sentenced to three years in jail for offering less than a two dollar bribe to police to look the other way about his offense.  The case has drawn the attention of media across Russia and gone viral on the Internet ( Also attracting attention is a finding that only one in every 600 people charged by Russian prosecutors is ultimately found not guilty (

7.      Death of Immigrant Child and Exile of His Tajik Mother Outrages Muslims, Others. The death of an immigrant child because of official indifference and then the decision by the Federal Migration  Service to expel his mother have outraged many Muslims as well as others inside Russia today (, and

8.      Russians Upset by New Belarusian Banknotes and Estonian School Globe That Doesn’t Show Russia.  A Regnum commentator is outraged that Belarus is issuing new coins and banknotes which resemble EU currency and show Belarusian historian scenes. He says that is a “Russophobic” action ( Regnum is also upset by the appearance in Estonia of globes for children which do not show the existence of the Russian Federation ( That must be especially infuriating to those Russians who believe the claims of others that Russians “invented” Estonians (

9.       Does Russia have Enough Jews to Defeat China in a War? Stanislav Belkovsky tells an anecdote which reflects many Russian fears. According to the story, a Russian commander told his subordinates that in any war with China, the quality of Russian forces will overcome the quantity of Chinese soldiers just as Israeli soldiers are regularly able to defeat more numerous Arab ones. Someone in his audience asked him: “but does Russia have enough Jews to win?” (

10.   Are the Chinese about to Learn Finnish?  In Soviet times, one anecdote had it that when asked what conditions would be like in the USSR in 2000, Radio Armenia responded that it didn’t know but that the situation along the Sino-Finnish border should be peaceful.  Some Russians may be thinking about that now given that there are reports that Chinese students are now studying Evenk, a language spoken by only a few thousand people in Siberia (

11.  Perm Scholars Refuse to Rename Mountain in Honor of Crimea’s Annexation. Saying that it was “too insignificant an event,” instructors are Perm university have declared that they oppose renaming a nearby mountain in honor of the annexation of Crimea, yet another indication that ever more Russians don’t see the Anschluss as the great triumph Putin presents it as being (

12.  Volgograd Youths Solemnly Raised to the Status of Slavs. Young people in Volgograd are taking part in a festival which seeks to make them into true Slavs. Enactors of figures from Russian folklore solemnly lead them through arcs of flowers and swords and then declare them real Slavs, yet another way in which Russian officials are seeking to strengthen Russian identity (

13.  Wind Transforms RUSSIA into USA in Kaliningrad.  Officials in Kaliningrad erected a sign reading RUSSIA in their city; the wind knocked down the R, one S, and an I, leaving it to read USA. Not surprisingly, pictures of this have gone viral on the Runet (  Also viral on the Runet this week is a cartoon from a British newspaper that shows Putin in the form of a rat (

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