Friday, August 12, 2016

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 44

Paul Goble

         Staunton, August 12 -- 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 44th 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.      Putin Losing ‘Sympathy’ of Russians. A new poll shows that Vladimir Putin is losing the sympathy he has enjoyed with Russians, an indication that his political support is softening even if other polls show it to remain at high levels ( But the promotion of a Putin cult continues, with tours now being offered to “Putin places” in his native St. Petersburg ( And there are reasons to think that his strongman tactics will continue to garner him the backing of many Russians. After all, according to some surveys, one Russian in five thinks even Putin’s regime is too weak ( 

2.      How Bad is the Russian Economy? Russians Again Stealing Power Lines. In the 1990s, some Russians stole power lines to earn money for food. Now that practice is back ( Other economic news is equally bleak: Russia is exporting 45 percent less electric power than a year ago (, trade with China in which Putin has placed such hopes continues to fall (, migrants are bringing more money to the Russian budget than are oil and gas revenues (, Russia pumping more oil even though prices have fallen – just as Soviets did in 1987 (, Moscow can find only 16 percent of money needed to prevent disaster in company towns (, foreigners are pulling money out of Russian stock funds at an unprecedented rate (, the North Caucasus has sunk into an economic depression (, and sales of apartments in new Moscow highrises have stopped because there is no money and no demand (

3.      Is Foreign Ministry Spokesman Revealing Everything but the Truth?  Some Russians are outraged that Maria Zakharova, Sergey Lavrov’s spokesman, has appeared in a fetching pose in an American fashion magazine, something they suggest does little or nothing to improve Moscow’s image, although it might improve hers given her track record as far as truthfulness is concerned (

4.      First Russian Gold Medal Winner at Rio Doesn’t Sing National Anthem.  Beslan Murdanov, a judoist from the North Caucasus, infuriated many Russians when he failed to sing the Russian national anthem after winning gold at Rio games. He explained that he simply doesn’t know how to sing but some suspect more is involved (  In other sports news, officials in St. Petersburg have changed the construction company responsible for building the delay-plagued facility there so that it may be ready for the 2018 World cup (

5.      Another New Crime in Russia: Sitting Too Long on a Public Toilet.  Russian officials seem committed to finding new things to criminalize perhaps to display their loyalty to the Kremlin with good and easy to boost anti-crime statistics but also to extract bribes from the population.  The latest move in this direction was the detention of a woman for allegedly remaining in a public toilet too long (

6.      Two-Thirds of Russia’s HIV Infected Not Receiving Treatment.  According to experts, two out of every three of the 1.3 million Russian infected with the HIV virus are not receiving treatment, either because the authorities no longer have sufficient supplies of medicines or because those who suspect they are infected are afraid to apply for them (  That failure to treat what could be controlled points to an explosion of full-blown AIDS cases in the future as does the increasing hostility, in the name of the defense of “Russian national values,” against the use of condoms (

7.      Russians Upset by False Report that Moscow has Blocked Access to ‘Protocols of Elders of Zion.’  Russians turned to the Internet to complain about the decision of Russian officials to block access to sites featuring the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”  The rumors proved untrue.  Russian officials have blocked access to many sites, including those promoting democracy; but they haven’t blocked those carrying this infamous work (

8.      Three Russians in Four Favor Limiting Religious Freedom to Combat Terrorism. A new poll shows that Russians are quite prepared to sacrifice religious freedom if the authorities tell them that that is the only way to combat the spread of radicalism and terrorism (

9.      Yabloko Party Criticism of Islam Prompts Ingush Officials to Defend It. Religion has entered the Duma campaign but in a somewhat unexpected way. The liberal Yabloko Party has criticized Islamic leaders for failing to condemn terrorism. That has prompted officials in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia to come to the defense of Islam far more than they ever have in the past (

10.  ‘I’m Siberian’ Brand Denounced as Separatism. Russian officials have accused those who sell or display the “I’m a Siberian” brand of promoting separatism, something that the latter absolutely deny. They argue that they are doing no more than Russians elsewhere who want to boost the status of their regions ( But this could lead to serious consequences: SOVA reports an ethnic Russian was found guilty in 2015 of promoting separatism in the Komi Republic (

11.  Some Extremists Escape Punishment by Paying Off Officials.  Russian police and siloviki have long profited from Russian laws against this or that phenomenon, extracting bribes from those against whom they might bring charges in order to ignore what the latter have done. This week, a case was opened in Samara against officers responsible for fighting extremism who agreed to look the other way after being paid off (

12.  Another Russian Official with a Geography Problem. A senior Russian official visiting Kazan referred to Tatarstan three times as Kazakhstan, to the amusement and anger of many Tatars who are definitely not Kazakhs (

13.  ‘Pokemon Raped Me,’ Moscow Woman Says. The Pokemon Go craze continues to sweep through Russia with millions of people now playing the game. For some, it has had some bad consequences, including arrests for trespass and the like. But perhaps the worst case, if true, is a report by one resident of the Russian capital that she had been “raped by Pokemon” (

            And six more from countries near Russia:

1.      ‘If You Think It’s Hard to Be a Russian in Kyrgyzstan, Try Being a Kyrgyz in Russia!’ Infuriated by a rising tide of Russian articles complaining about how Russians are mistreated in their country, some Kyrgyz have responded by pointing out just how difficult life is for Kyrgyz who live and work in the Russian Federation (

2.      Central Asian Governments Putting Internet Access Out of Reach by Price.  Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have found a way to restrict the access of their populations to the Internet that is less likely to be criticized by Western governments and rights activists: they have raised the price of Internet access to the point that most of their citizens can’t afford it ( and

3.      A New and Welcome Form of Friendship of the Peoples. In Soviet times, it was sometimes said that friendship of the peoples meant that representatives of two or more nationalities would come together to beat up a third. Now, in Kazakhstan, there is a new form: Kazakhs have come to the aid of a Ukrainian being beaten up by Russians (

4.      Kazakhs Say They Too Were Victims of a Terror Famine. Angering some in Russia, Kazakhs are now insisting that like the Ukrainians, they were victims of a terror famine, and they are demanding that Moscow recognize and apologize for that action as well as for the tsarist government’s brutal suppression of the 1916 risings (

5.      Russian Occupiers Tell Crimean Imams Even Their Traditional Prayers May Be Illegal. The Russian occupation has told leaders of the Muslim communities on the Ukrainian peninsula that even the prayers they have long offered may be declared illegal, an indication that the Russian authorities there are imposing a system of controls over religious life that increasingly recalls one of the worst features of the Soviet system (

6.      For Lukashenka, No Polls Means No Problem. The government of Alyaksandr Lukashenka is moving to close down the last independent sociological service in Belarus apparently on the principle that if there are no polls, there is no public opinion and thus no problem from the population for the regime (

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