Staunton, July 15 -- 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 presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 40th such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, 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. How Many Female Relatives Does Putin Have? Kremlin Says Russia Could Have a Woman President. With the election of ever more women to the top positions in Western countries, the Kremlin has allowed that a woman could at some point be elected president of the Russian Federation. That naturally provokes the question: how many female relatives does Vladimir Putin have? (versia.ru/kreml-dopuskaet-vozmozhnost-izbraniya-zhenshhiny-prezidentom-rf).
2. Is RBC’s Report on Elite Village at Valdai Its Last Investigative Report? The embattled RBC news agency has published a report about Vladimir Putin’s villa at Valdai and the large number of members of the Russian elite who have rushed to build residences nearby (rbc.ru/investigation/politics/13/07/2016/57861ba69a79474ef0fbe48f). But there is a risk that this will be the last such expose now that the Kremlin has moved to take control of the agency and 20 journalists have left in what increasingly looks like a purge (https://meduza.io/news/2016/07/15/iz-rbk-uvolilis-20-zhurnalistov).
3. ‘My Dog isn’t Comfortable in Business Class.’ The Russian elite had another Marie Antoinette moment this week: Igor Shuvalov and his family explained that they had to fly their own jet because their family pet “isn’t comfortable in business class” (navalny.com/p/4952/) and then justified this as being about “the honor of Russia” (vedomosti.ru/newsline/top/politics/news/2016/07/14/649218-supruga-shuvalova). According to one commentator, this action alone has sparked a new wave of anecdotes about the conspicuous consumption of the Putin elite (facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001589654713&fref=nf).
4. Patriarch Tells Flock Not to Talk about Cost of Hierarchs’ Luxury Cars. Patriarch Kirill has told the faithful they shouldn’t focus on the price of the cars that bishops and other prelates of his church now own. Doing so, he says, will distract Russians from religion (facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=479587208913692&set=a.131081660430917.1073741831.100005872502795&type=3&theater). Meanwhile, a Moscow commentator has pointed out that the church is using a variety of methods legal and illegal to seize property it wants from Russian citizens (forum-msk.org/material/region/12002606.html).
5. Russians Putting Up Statues to Rulers Who Oppressed Them. Russians are erecting statues to Ivan the Terrible, something they haven’t done in the past, and to Stalin, something they had done (rufabula.com/news/2016/07/11/sralin, philologist.livejournal.com/8597744.html, and meduza.io/feature/2016/07/13/pochemu-v-rossii-ne-stavili-pamyatnikov-ivanu-groznomu). That has sparked debate and prompted some Russians to declare that Stalin didn’t kill enough people (rferl.org/media/video/russia-novosibirsk-stalin-monument/27852018.html?nocache=1 and stoletie.ru/territoriya_istorii/stalin_rusofil_ili_rusofob_409.htm). But there are some moves in a different direction, reflecting the often schizoid attitude of Russians to their past: a statue of Jesus Christ may go up alongside that of Stalin in Novosibirsk (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57888415185EB).
6. Newly Minted FSB Spies Who Blew Their Cover Sent to Siberia. The recent graduates of the FSB Academy in Moscow who blew their cover by being photographed in an informal graduation celebration are being punished by being assigned to posts in Siberia and the Russian Far East. Their instructors who allowed this to happen have been fired (theaustralian.com.au/news/world/the-times/russias-new-spies-blow-cover-with-counterintelligent-internet-photos/news-story/0ae14968d4345b0d5797fe429a07b681, slon.ru/posts/70756 and https://meduza.io/news/2016/07/14/fsb-otpravit-sluzhit-za-ural-uchastnikov-avtoprobega-na-gelendvagenah).
7. Russia’s Legal System Becomes Ever More Orwellian. Among the numerous examples of this in the past week: a Moscow court has declared that an ancient Buddhist text which talks about suicide is extremist (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=monitor&id=24551), Russian magistrates have said that they know many of the charges they bring are ridiculous but note that they have their orders “from above” (graniru.org/War/Chechnya/m.252944.html), the government has stopped providing documentation on private property thus dealing another blow to private ownership of anything (forum-msk.org/material/news/11999653.html), and Russian courts are now punishing people not only for reposting online, something no other country does, but also for discussion sensitive subjects with a sense of humor (ru.krymr.com/a/27856158.html and 7x7-journal.ru/item/84090).
8. More Appalling Economic News. Officials in Kamchatka destroyed four tons of caviar, demonstrating in the words of one commentator that Russia is “a country of incurable idiots” (resistance.today/events/7649-777-777-397.html). Researchers are now saying that among things holding back Russia from economic growth are the superstitions of its population (kommersant.ru/doc/3024808). A black market has now emerged in St. Petersburg for those who want others stalked (http://paperpaper.ru/stalker/). And in what must be the most devasting economic news of all: Russian experts say the only federal subject not in depression is Crimea (meduza.io/news/2016/07/12/eksperty-vshe-priznali-krym-edinstvennym-regionom-bez-ekonomicheskoy-depressii). But there is one small sector that is showing continued growth and vitality: the market for official stamps has not declined even though the economy has (versia.ru/pechati-shtampy-ne-vyxodyat-iz-mody).
9. Moscow Creating National Parks and Destroying Native Peoples. By creating national parks in the areas where they traditionally live, native peoples in Siberia and the Russian Far East say, the Russian government has put their survival at risk, even as it allows oil and gas firms to exploit deposits on those territories. The Aleuts have become the latest group to appeal to Vladimir Putin to stop this process (nazaccent.ru/content/21289-aleuty-beringa-poprosili-putina-ne-prevrashat.html).
10. Offensive Ignorance Increasingly a Way of Life in Putin’s Russia. The governor of Kaliningrad asks “where are the states of Ukraine,, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia” (newkaliningrad.ru/news/briefs/politics/10038898-gubernator-tsukanov-kiev-gruziya-moldaviya-latviya-litva-estoniya-gde-eti-strany-gde-ikh-gosudarstve.html), Russian school children are now using textbooks which assert that Jerusalem was a Russian city until 1250 (aboutru.com/2015/07/15940/), and some commentators, updating Stalin-era claims that Russians invented baseball, now say that King Kong had Russian ancestors (regnum.ru/news/cultura/2155589.html) – three recent examples of offensive ignorance at a time of widespread duplicity by Russian officials and the media.
11. Duma Race – 21 Parties Competing, Three Likely to Get In, and One Deputy Could Be a Cat. According to Russian officials, candidates from 21 different parties are competing in the current Duma elections (newizv.ru/lenta/2016-07-14/242748-cik-zavershil-priem-spiskov-k-vyboram-v-gosdumu-dopushena-21-partija.html). But Moscow analysts say only three parties are likely to have deputies in the new parliament, one less than at the present time (rbc.ru/politics/13/07/2016/5784eede9a7947cae99efee8?from=main). One possible newcomer might be a cat if activists in Kostroma succeed in having a cat nominated for a Duma seat (charter97.org/ru/news/2016/7/13/213225/).
12. Can Lavrov’s Daughter Still Speak Russian? At a time when the Kremlin routinely equates Russian speakers with Russians, some in Russia and elsewhere are asking whether the children of members of the Putin elite who study abroad for long periods are retaining their Russian language and hence their “Russianness.” The latest of those about whose language knowledge questions have been raised is the daughter of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who, it is said, doesn’t speak the language very well (top.thepo.st/681741/Doch-Lavrova-ne-govorit-po-russki?from=facebook).
13. Moscow Deploys Ancient Icon Against NATO. Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church sent an ancient icon to Kaliningrad in order to defend the spiritual space of Russia against the decisions of the NATO summit in the Polish capital (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/07/13/v_dni_sammita_nato_tihvinskayaopolchennaya_ikona_bozhiej_materi_posetila_samyj_zapadnyj_region_rossii/).
And another six from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Moscow Using Georgian Criminals Against Ukraine. In the latest iteration of the old Soviet joke that “friendship of the peoples” means that members of various nationalities will get together to beat up representatives of another, Moscow is said to be using figures from the Georgian criminal underground to destabilize the situation in parts of Ukraine (nr2.com.ua/News/world_and_russia/Gruzinskie-vory-v-zakone-predstavlyayut-v-Ukraine-interesy-FSB-glava-Nacpolicii-121819.htl).
2. Half of All Russians Buying Crimean Property from Just Three Places. Half of all the property in Russian-occupied Crimea that has been purchased by Russians since the Anschluss has been bought by people from only three Russian cities – Moscow, St. Petersburg and Krasnodar – evidence of the regional distribution of income inequality in the Russian Federation (elitnoe.ru/articles/2406-polovinu-zhilya-v-krymu-pokupayut-zhiteli-moskvy-sankt-peterburga-i-krasnodarskogo-kraya).
3. ‘After Lukashenka, There’ll Be Another Lukashenka.’ Some analysts say that even when Alyaksandr Lukashenka passes from the scene, he will be replaced by someone very much like him, a conclusion that won’t make many in Belarus or in Moscow entirely happy but that may reduce interest in the latter about working to displace him (regnum.ru/news/polit/2155202.html).
4. Moscow, Tehran and Baku Agree on Rail Link Bypassing Armenia. Although it remains a declaration rather than an accomplished fact, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan have agreed to create a north-south rail link that bypasses Armenia, something that will reduce Yerevan’s influence and its importance in Russian calculations (rusarminfo.ru/moskva-baku-i-tegeran-dogovorilis-o-novom-marshrute-v-obxod-armenii/).
5. Uzbekistan Won’t Send Its Military Officers to Train in Russia. Uzbekistan has become the latest post-Soviet state to declare that it will no longer send its officers for military training in the Russian Federation. Others, like Azerbaijan, however, are resuming that practice (ru.sputniknews-uz.com/society/20160711/3274667.html).
6. Tribalism Sparking Clashes within Turkmenistan’s Army. Turkmenistan remains a tribal society, and young men coming from different tribes who are now serving in its military have clashed on that basis, undermining unit cohesion and raising questions about Ashgabat’s ability to defend against attacks from Afghanistan (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1468239480).
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