Friday, September 23, 2016

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 50

Paul Goble

         Staunton, September 23 -- 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 50th 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 Retires ‘Last Dictator in Europe’ Competition Undefeated.  Many in the West have long denounced Alyaksandr Lukashenka as “the last dictator in Europe.” But to the extent that part of Russia is in Europe, Vladimir Putin has taken that title away from the Belarusian leader on a permanent basis. After the latest elections in the two countries, there are more opposition figures in the Belarusian parliament – two – than there are in the Russian one – zero (  Other signs of the Kremlin leader’s victory in that race are reports that the author of the notorious Yarovaya repressive laws will head the Duma’s constitutional affairs committee and the head of Putin’s “Russian world” project will head the Duma’s foreign affairs committee ( and And in this week’s Russian Marie Antoinette moment, Dmitry Medvedev again came on top but this time for what he didn’t say: he talked at length about Russia’s economic problems and never mentioned overcoming corruption and bribery (

2.      Patriarch Wants Fewer but Larger Churches. Moscow Patriarch Kirill has triggered many protests because he has sought to build ever more churches including in parks where Russians have been accustomed to relaxing. Now, in what may be a concession to those protests, the church leader says he favors fewer but bitter churches, thus dispensing with his earlier call that there should be an Orthodox church within walking distance of every Russian ( Meanwhile, in other religious affairs developments, the Russian siloviki have come up with a guide for their officers on how to struggle with missionaries (, and a Pussy Riot-style scandal has broken out in Kazan after a young woman danced in front of a mosque there in what many thought were excessively revealing clothes (

3.      More Instances of Russian Racism.  Even as Valery Tishkov says that things are getting better on the inter-ethnic scene in Russia thanks to the Sochi Olympiad and the Anschluss of Crimea (, more instances of Russian racism continue to surface. The two worst this week: officials at a St. Petersburg university photoshopped a picture to remove a Bashkir face and to replace it with a Russian one (, and Russian siloviki hung from a rope dangling from a helicopter the bodies of Daghestani militants in order to intimidate people in that North Caucasus republic who live in isolated areas ( More such racism is likely to surface given Putin’s plan to move up to one million predominantly Muslim North Caucasians to Slavic areas of the Russian Far East (

4.      Chechnya to Gain Control of Its Oil Industry. Ramzan Kadyrov is about to get what Moscow when it launched its first war against Chechnya said Grozny must never have: independent control of its oil industry, as the Russian firm that owns it prepares to hand it over to the Chechen authorities (

5.      Moscow Announces Visa Free Travel with Vanuatu. Ukraine and many other post-Soviet states are getting visa-free travel arrangements with the EU and other Western countries. Not to be outdone, Moscow has announced that it now has similar arrangements not with a Western country but with one of its smallest allies, the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, a measure of Russia’s isolation and decline ( fwer6-09-21/rossiya_i_vanuatu_zaklyuchili_soglashenie_ob_otmene_viz).

6.      The Avalanche of Bad Economic News Continues.  Russian incomes last month fell not only in real terms but in nominal ones as well, something even more Russians will notice ( Surveys show that almost half of Russians couldn’t afford to take vacations this year ( And for some in Russia, the situation is beyond bad: they have been forced into slavery ( decline in incomes is hitting Russians in other ways as well: Russians now rank alongside North Korea in terms of their health, according to a British study ( The World Bank and other expert organizations say that things are only going to get worse in the near term, with the bank’s analysts pointing out that the only regions in Russia that are going to do at all well are those which somehow have been able to maintain links with foreign firms (, and The deteriorating situation in forcing some Russian women to go to China where they are earning high pay as prostitutes (, but it has also forced Moscow to decide not to pay ethnic Russians living abroad the onetime pension bonus it had promised, thus further undermining the Russian world idea ( Russian flight has become such a problem that the Kremlin has blocked sites which explain to Russians how they can flee the country illegally (  Many Russians have given up and come to terms with their new lower standard of living (, but others are protesting even if their demonstrations seldom attract the attention of the Moscow and Western media (

7.      In Chicago, the Cemeteries Sometimes Vote; in Russia, the Jails Always Do.  Russian jails reported that 100 percent of their inmates had voted in the recent Duma elections. That not only boosted participation rates in the vote but also likely gave the party of power more support (  Ever more stories about the election suggest that falsification of the results was widespread, with United Russia winning up to 45 percent of its vote via that means (  In addition, while the campaign does not appear to have exacerbated ethnic tensions as much as many expected, the day of voting may have done more: Those who asked for ballots in their native language, something they have the right to do under the Russian Constitution, were abused in often ugly ways (
8.      Russian Officials Complete Destruction of Ukrainian Library in Moscow. Having arrested the director of the Ukrainian library in the Russian capital, Moscow officials have now closed it completely and amalgamated it into a pan-Slavic facility, something consistent with Putin’s insistence that Ukrainians are not a separate people (

9.      Baron Wrangel Statue Goes Up in Kerch; Lenin Statue Goes Down in New York.  The statue wars continue: Some Russians are anything but happy by the decision to put up a statue to Baron Wrangel, the leader of the anti-Bolshevik White Russian movement at the end of the Russian civil war, in Kerch ( Others are still fuming about the decision to put up a statue of Ivan the Terrible in Oryol, suggesting that officials there sparked the controversy to hide their corruption ( But there was one piece of good news this week: the statue of Lenin that had been in New York since the early 1990s has finally been taken down (

10.  Putin’s Separatist Congress Having Trouble Finding a Venue. Moscow’s President Hotel has announced that it is not prepared to be the venue this year for Putin’s Separatist Congress that brings together activists from around the world who are promoting secession, an action that if they were doing it inside Russia would be subject to criminal penalties (

11.  Moscow Won’t Negotiate with Terrorists But Will with Pornographers.  The Russian media and Internet have had a field day with the fact that the Russian officials who blocked the Russian version of Pornhub were quite prepared to enter into negotiations with the operators of that international pornography site about its reopening ( and

12.  Return of KGB Will Lead to Return of the GULAG and That will Lead to … Reports that Putin plans to consolidate the security agencies into something like the Soviet-era KGB has led some Russians to predict that this will lead to a reopening of the GULAG (, and others to discuss the ways in which a new KGB will penetrate all aspects of Russian life. Some have pointed to the creation of a special office in the education ministry to work with the siloviki as evidence that officials are getting ready for this return to the Soviet past ( and to the fact that police in Moscow are using torture to boost their crime-fighting statistics (  But members of the Duma seem quite prepared to support this recrudescence of the past. One newly elected deputy has called on Russians to view 1937 in positive terms (

13.  Oil Coming Out of Taps in Sakha Apartments as Another Lake Turns Red from Pollution. Last week a river turned red because of the discharge of chemicals from a Russian plant in the far north. Now another body of water in Russia has turned red, apparently from a similar source ( But some in Russia are getting a more immediate taste of the pollution Moscow’s policies have allowed: in Sakha, some residents now find that when they turn on the water taps in their apartments, oil, not water, flows out of them (

And six more from countries neighboring Russia:

14.  Russia’s Neighbors Must Make Themselves ‘Unfuckwithable,’ Estonian President Says. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Toomas Hendrik Ilves has introduced a new term that Russia’s neighbors need to become familiar with. To resist Russian aggressive, they must make themselves into states that are “unfuckwithable” from Moscow’s perspective (

15.  Activists Urge Senior Kazakhstan Leaders Be Supplied with ‘Sex Secretaries.’ To help the leaders of Kazakhstan better cope with the pressures of office, some nationalist activists say, the country should supply them with new assistants to service their sexual needs (  Others in Kazakhstan may now face a less solicitous regime: many ethnic Russians there now have to leave the country to get medical treatment (

16.  Deported Tajik Gastarbeiters Try to Walk Back to Russia. The situation in Tajikistan is now so dire that some Tajiks who had been working in Russia until they were expelled have tried to return to that country on foot (
17.  Annexation of Western Belarus Led to 1991, Belarusian Activists Say. Many have argued that Stalin made a major mistake in annexing the Baltic countries and Western Ukraine under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but far fewer have pointed to his annexation of Western Belarus as one of the causes of the ultimate collapse of the USSR. Now,, some Belarusian activists are making that point for their nation (
18.  ‘We’re Out of Putin’s. Would you Like a Stalin?’ Visitors to a gift shop in occupied Crimea have been told that statues of Vladimir Putin have been sold out but that it still has busts of Stalin (
19.  Kissing Putin and Trump are Smoking Something, Lithuanian Graffiti Now Suggests. Graffiti artists in Lithuania have embellished a picture showing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump embracing and kissing in the manner of Brezhnev and an East German leader with additions suggesting that the two current leaders are smoking marijuana (  ).

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