Friday, January 22, 2016

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 20

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 22 -- 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 will present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the twentieth such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, this week once again, one could have put out such a listing every day -- but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1.      ‘Better a Fifth Column than a Fourth Reich!’ Even though the Moscow authorities have refused to give permission for a march in the Russian capital against Ramzan Kadyrov, activists are turning to the Internet to spread their fears and to offer slogans like this one for others to consider (

2.      Only a New OPEC-Style Cartel Could Restore Oil Prices and Save Russia, Moscow Analyst Says.  According to a Moscow analyst, Russia needs to explore the possibilities of creating a new OPEC-style cartel as a means of boosting the price of oil and thus getting Russia out of its current economic difficulties (

3.      Talk about Putting Off Duma Elections Spreads. reports that some Duma members are now talking about delaying Russia’s parliamentary elections because of the crisis. Campaigns would only get in the way of addressing Russia’s real problems and populist proposals could make the situation worse, they suggest (

4.      With Putin’s Russia, An Entry Visa isn’t Nearly Enough.  As new court cases show, many foreigners in Russia entirely legally are finding it difficult to leave the country, an indication Profile suggests that exit visas even for them are being introduced on a de facto basis (

5.      Russian Prostitutes Now Bartering Their Services – And Other Signs of Russia’s Distress. The economic crisis has hit many Russian groups, including prostitutes, who have seen demand fall, have been forced to lower their prices, and now are even willing to accept barter arrangements ( and Other signs of how bad things are becoming include an announcement by the government news agency TASS that it won’t be able to pay honoraria on a timely basis ( and the requirement that passengers now pay for WIFI at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport (  But in a reminder that there is no bad without some good, the collapse of the ruble has pushed up heroin prices on the streets of Russian cities and likely reduced consumption of that illegal drug (

6.      More than One Million Russians Now Infected with HIV Virus.  In a sign of the Russian government’s misplaced priorities, including spending a higher percentage of its GDP on arms than any other country and cutting medical programs, more than a million Russians are now infected with HIV and many are not being treated (  Other examples of this mistaken set of choices include the government’s shuttering of a program that had been helping Moscow’s homeless ( and the closure of 340 public libraries in the past 12 months (

7.      Only Five Itelmen Speakers Left.  Only five native speakers of Itelmen survive, and young people who want to learn the language have had to turn to recordings and the Internet, a statistic that makes a mockery of Valery Tishkov’s upbeat statements about Russia’s support of minority languages and peoples ( and Meanwhile, in Tuva, officials say that members of that nationality need five languages to be successful (

8.      Kadyrov Wants Forced Psychiatric Treatment of Opposition Figures. Ramzan Kadyrov has proposed incarcerating members of the Russian opposition in psychiatric hospitals much as the Soviets did although he has not yet re-introduced the term “sluggish schizophrenia” to describe their “medical” condition ( Russian officials aren’t far behind him: they want to expand the definition of foreign agents to include anyone who criticizes the Putin regime even if he or she doesn’t get money from abroad ( and  And the FSB in occupied Crimea is now insisting that the postal service report on letters anyone on a list of opponents receives as a way of controlling the opposition (

9.      Academy of Sciences President Tells Putin that Russian Science has Fallen to the Level of Iran’s.  Vladimir Putin’s denunciation of Lenin for laying a delayed action mine that led to the destruction of the USSR attracted far more attention, but at the same meeting, the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences pointed out that Russian science has collapsed over the last two decades and now ranks no better than that of Iran’s, a trend that may be far more fateful for the future (

10.  “All Animals are Equal but Some are More Equal than Others.’ In yet another way that the Putin regime is becoming ever more Orwellian, children of well-off parents are now being fed better than those from poor families in some schools (

11.  Birobidzhan Ready to Take in Jews But They Don’t Seem to Want to Come. Following Vladimir Putin’s declaration than any Jews who had earlier left the USSR and now feel uncomfortable in Europe should return to Russia, the leadership of the Jewish Autonomous District of Birobidzhan announced that they were ready to accept all of them. There is only one problem: There are almost no Jews there now, and only one Jew has “returned” to this Jewish “homeland” in recent years (

12.  Russian Textbooks Say 2 Plus 2 Doesn’t Equal 5, and Peshkov Says ‘Crimean Question Doesn’t Exist.’  A scandal has broken out over the fact that mathematics textbooks being used in Russia contain fundamental errors of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division ( In such a country, it is thus perhaps no surprise that its president’s press secretary can declare with a straight face that “the Crimean question doesn’t exist” (

13.  Duma has a Plan to Make Islamic Terrorism Go Away: Stop Calling It ‘Islamic.’  Duma members have not figured out how to fight Islamic terrorism effectively, but they have come up with one proposal that will make it “disappear.” Some deputies are suggesting that Moscow should ban calling “Islamic terrorism” “Islamic” (

And in addition, here are five other stories in countries neighboring Russia that also may have been missed:

1.      Tajikistan Says No One Under 40 Will Be Allowed to Make the Haj.  Dushanbe has been struggling with Islamist radicalism for some time. Now it plans to block any Tajik younger than 40 from making the pilgrimage to Mecca (, a move that is likely to help ISIS with its recruiting efforts in that Central Asian country.

2.      Turkmenistan Bans Cigarettes.  Ashgabat has announced that it will ban the sale of cigarettes there in the name of economy and public health (

3.      Astana Got 802 Kazakh Islamists to Accept Traditional Islam. Kazakhstan officials have announced that they have succeeded in converting 802 followers of radical Islamist groups to accept “traditional Islam.” What this in fact means is far from clear (

4.      Ten Percent of Ukrainians Moved Abroad in the Last Two Years, Russian Outlet Says.  A Russian portal says that more than four million Ukrainians have moved abroad to escape violence or find work (

5.      Estonia’s Russians Name ‘Russophobes of the Year.’ A group of ethnic Russians in Estonia have named a variety of people “Russophobes of the Year.”  Apparently, in the group’s view, there are a lot of competitors for this title (

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