Friday, July 8, 2016

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 39

Paul Goble

         Staunton, July 8 -- 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 39th 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.      Cost of Putin’s New Limo Equals Average Annual Incomes of 22,500 Russians.  At a time of economic stringency, the Kremlin leader isn’t cutting back. He has now purchased a new limousine whose price equals the average annual incomes of 22,500 Russians who often don’t have enough money for food and clothing (

2.      Putin May Make a Mistake Sometime But He is Never Wrong. The discovery that Vladimir Putin had signed the text of a law that differed significantly from the bill the federal legislature passed led to the usual flurry of spreading the blame for this on everyone except the president (, and

3.      Putin has Transformed Chekists into Tonton Macouts. Increasingly offensive behavior by FSB officers has prompted one Russian commentator to observe that the Kremlin leader has transformed the Chekists into a Russian version of Haiti’s Tonton Macouts ( and  But others say that the FSB is just becoming more active in order to justify its demand for an expanded budget (

4. Selection of Ethnic Karel to Head Finno-Ugric Group Said Intended to Promote Helsinki’s Notion of ‘Greater Finland.’ The selection of Tatyana Kleyerova, an ethnic Karel, to head the International Consultative Committee of Finno-Ugric Peoples, is ultimately not about boosting her nation but rather about promoting Finnish influence at Russia's expense over all Finno-Ugric groups in Russia, according to Moscow commentators (

5.      Unpaid Russians Forced to Beg for Food.  The economic situation for many in Russia is now so dire that some are forced to beg for food ( In other economic news, wage arrears continue to grow (, and an ever-increasing share of highly educated Russians, a group Moscow can’t easily or quickly replace, are leaving the country and calling it future growth even more into question (,.

6.      Russians Losing Faith in Orthodoxy, Turning to Protestantism and Islam. Because the Moscow Patriarchate has not spoken out for justice in these tough economic times, many Russians are turning to Protestant denominations ( or even to Islam, which some of those doing say is “a religion of stability” (

7.      Soviet ‘Coordination’ of Media Returning Full Force. The Kremlin’s latest attacks on Ekho Moskvy and RBC have attracted widespread attention, but another part of the Russian government’s moves to take complete control of the media has not. It involves instructions to journalists on what they should and should not do. The media have been told not to link suicides to the economic situation ( They have been directed not to publish the texts of court decisions ( And in Karelia, at least, they have been told to “coordinate” their news coverage with republic officials so as to not make mistakes (

8.      Another Repetition of the Soviet Experience – ‘Russification without a Russian Nation.’  Soviet policy, Sergey Sergeyev says, was designed to russify the non-Russian peoples without allowing the Russians to take their place in the sun.  The same thing is happening again now, he suggests (  His conclusions are supported by the grants the Presidential Administration has chosen to make for studies of de-russification and Russophobia ( and

9.      Being an Informer Now a Real Job with Full Pension Benefits. Moscow may not be able to meet its promises to pay Russia’s pensioners in general, but the Russian government has decided that those who inform on their fellow citizens to the authorities are performing a real job and deserve to get real pension benefits ( and

10.  Muscovites Protest High Density Construction. Residents of the Russian capital are upset by the plans of officials to build ever higher density housing and to eliminate their parks and playgrounds, the result of a new law that the Russian media celebrated as creating “green spaces” in Russian cities but that in fact has opened the way to precisely the opposite outcome ( and

11.  Beyond the Ring Road, Things are Getting Worse Fast.  Russian analysts are warning that the most likely source of instability in Russia is the degradation of institutions in the regions ( Reports from many of them suggest why: Some in the far eastern part of the country say that their land is “not yet Chinese but no longer Russian” ( Kaliningraders have lost their special visa arrangements with Poland ( Buryats are asking questions about Russian elections given their close observance ( And Karels are upset that officials have ignored the law and refused to print ballots in their republic’s titular language (

12.  Idel-Ural Gets Its Own Radio Station.  Facing cutbacks because of the economic crisis, broadcasters in the six republics of the Middle Volga have set up a radio station that will broadcast to all of them and thereby promote the common regional identity Moscow has worked so hard to undermine (  and

13.  There is No Room for Satire in Russia Today. Forty years ago, Tom Lehrer stopped writing his satirical songs because he said there was no room for satire in a world where Henry Kissinger had been given the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, a Russian commentator has said the same thing about his country – there is no room for satire in Russia today – not because of the decision of the Nobel Foundation but because of Moscow’s actions (

                And six more from countries in the region:

1.      ‘We’ll Give Back Crimea When You Give Back Alaska.’  The occupation authorities in Crimea have put up a new monument which specifies that “we’ll give back Crimea [to Ukraine] when [the US] gives back Alaska [to Russia]” (

2.      Estonia Leads the World in Production of Top Models Per Capita. Estonia may be small, but it takes pride in its accomplishments. The latest? Journalists there say that in per capita terms, more top models on the international fashion circuit are Estonians in per capita terms than are members of any other nation on earth (

3.      Belarus Passes Zimbabwe in Terms of Number of Currency Revaluations. This week, Minsk again dropped some of the zeros from its currency, thus surpassing Zimbabwe for the number of revaluations of a national currency in recent decades (

4.      Russian Share of Dushanbe’s Population Now Less than One Percent.  At the end of Soviet times, ethnic Russians formed 70 percent of the population of Tajikistan’s capital; now, thanks to civil war and economic problems, the share of ethnic Russians there is below one percent (

5.      Is Georgia Putin’s Next Target? The Russian media have been full of reports since the start of July about Georgia as a supposed haven of Islamist terrorists, the kind of articles that could presage a new Russian attack on that country ( and

6.      Russian Military Threat to Ukraine Will Never End, Gorbulin Says. Vladimir Gorbulin, the director of Kyiv’s National Institute for Strategic Studies, says that Russia’s military threat to Ukraine will never end regardless of the outcome of the current conflict. He also likens Putin’s “Russian world” to the Islamist threat: the Kremlin leader’s notion is nothing but “an Orthodox ISIS” (

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