Staunton, October 28 -- 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 55th 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, Russia’s ‘Biggest Teller of Tales,’ Said Like Tsars Vasily III and Aleksey Mikhailovich. Russian commentator German Obukhov says that Putin’s problems with the truth mean that he is “the biggest teller of tales” in Russian history (svoboda.org/a/28070040.html). Meanwhile, Patriarch Kirill added his voice to those trying to fix Putin’s place in the pantheon of Russian leaders. He suggested that Putin is very much like Vasily III and Aleksey Mikhailovich (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/10/27/patriarh_kirill_putin_preemnik_vasiliya_iii_i_alekseya_mihajlovicha/). But at least one event this week likely brought a smile to Putin’s face, if he was informed of it. An Italian woman visiting Moscow stripped in Red Square and said she was ready to marry the Kremlin leader (forum-msk.org/material/news/12388534.html).
2. Russia Risks Disintegration if It Engages in New Arms Race, Expert Says. As Moscow has announced that it will boost defense spending over the next three years, a Russian expert has warned that the country can’t afford a new arms race and that if it gets into one, it is likely to suffer the fate of the USSR which couldn’t keep up with the West and the American Star Wars program (rbc.ru/politics/23/10/2016/580a526d9a7947cb56546df8?from=main and ura.ru/articles/1036269329).
3. Bring Back Stalin’s Five Year Plans, St. Petersburg Vice Governor Urges. In yet another indication that many in the Russian elite can come up with proposals for the future only by looking to the past, the vice governor of the city of St. Petersburg has said that Moscow should reintroduce the five year plan system Stalin employed in order to address critical economic problems (tvrain.ru/news/pyatiletka-419650/).
4. Young Russians No More Liberal than Their Parents but May be More Brutal. According to the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” surveys show that younger Russians are no more liberal or inclined to protest in defense of their rights than are their parents (ng.ru/editorial/2016-10-27/2_6845_red.html). But another study suggests that they may be more brutal, at least online with cyberbullying having become a serious problem among Russians on social networks (meduza.io/cards/rossiya-lider-po-kiberbullingu-eto-serieznaya-problema).
5. Can Moscow Hold the North Caucasus If It Cuts Spending There by Half? Moscow has kept control of the North Caucasus only by massive spending and the use of equally massive force. Now, because of budgetary problems, the central Russian government says it will reduce spending in the region by 50 percent (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/291317/). That could cost it the loyalty of regional elites and lead to more violence, especially if Moscow decides that it has to use more force to keep order given that many were pointing to a new threat of popular risings across North Caucasus even before the latest announcement was made (kavkazr.com/a/severny-kavkaz-podtalkivayut-k-buntu/28058284.html, kavpolit.com/articles/kavkaz_lidiruet_po_kolichestvu_prolitoj_krovi-28868/ apn.ru/index.php?newsid=35585). Adding to this danger is that Vladimir Putin has intimated that he plans to reduce aid to those nations which were deported in the past (rg.ru/2016/10/26/reg-ufo/vladimira-putina-priglasili-na-krymsko-tatarskij-prazdnik.html).
6. An Expanding Flood of Bad Economic News in Russia. The economic situation in Russia is becoming ever more dire, except in the eyes of the state media and Russian apologists. Among the stories this week: Ever more women and now men are being driven into prostitution to make ends meet (yug.svpressa.ru/society/article/141168/). Most Russian women having abortions cite poverty as the cause (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=76267). The number of suicides is high and rising, experts say (tech24news.ru/kuda-uxodit-detstvo/). Duma members declare cars a “luxury” good rather than a real need http://regions.ru/news/2593938/). International air travel on Russian carriers down by 25 percent over the last year (regnum.ru/news/economy/2198099.html). Russian meet consumption down to one kilogram of meat per person per month (svpressa.ru/economy/article/159042/). And the government is pressing to impose a tax on those without work (club-rf.ru/news/43696). But the Russian state statistics administration says life is becoming better at least in Moscow (profile.ru/obsch/item/111879-dostupnee-bystree-udobnee), and Muscovites say that stagnation will help Russia develop (youtube.com/watch?v=uml6Db6rUjc). Meanwhile, there was a report that may help explain why the refrigerator is losing to the television: Russian refrigerator manufacturers are having problems converting to more environmentally friendly methods of cooling (regnum.ru/news/innovatio/2196933.html).
Statue Wars Said Transforming Russia into a Cemetery without a Future. One commentator has suggested that Russia’s current obsession with putting up statues to despots of the past is transforming Russia into a cemetery without a future (dw.com/ru/комментарий-памятники-в-россии-прошлое-вместо-будущего/a-36133120). The latest statue to go up is one of Moscow’s first atomic bomb, something whose original really could have achieved that end (uvao.mos.ru/presscenter/news/detail/3725698.htmlrusskiy-malchik.livejournal.com/784717.html
9. novayagazeta.ru/articles/2016/10/22/70272-50-ottenkov-serogo). Second, in an indication of just what any foreign visitors could expect in Russia if the competition does take place there, Moscow has announced that it will re-introduce the ubiquitous and notorious drunk tanks of Soviet times to deal with fans (themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-to-re-introduce-drunk-tanks-for-2018-world-cup-55820). And third, in an indication of just what will be left behind after the competition, it was reported this week that Sochi, the site of Putin’s 2014 Olympiad, has now become a major center of sex tourism in Russia (yug.svpressa.ru/society/article/140841/?cbt=1).
10. Russia’s Cities Become ‘Enclaves of the Rich and Ghettoes for the Poor.’ The radical income differentiation of Russian cities has transformed them into “enclaves of the rich and ghettoes for the poor,” Forbes reports (forbes.ru/mneniya-column/tsennosti/331053-gorod-dlya-burzhua-v-moskve-stroyat-vnutrennyuyu-zagranitsu-v-predel), with the two living increasingly apart because of the way in which the Russian authorities have failed to develop public transport in a way that would integrate them (iq.hse.ru/news/195000545.html). But the cities aren’t the only places where the failure to develop transportation nets and roads is hurting Russians. In many rural areas, there are no roads or any public transit for school children to get to school without walking long distances often through snow and cold (regnum.ru/news/society/2196321.html).
11. What If an Oblast Doesn’t Have a Capital City? Despite Moscow’s efforts to homogenize the landscape of Russia, there are some anomalies. One of them is that Leningrad oblast doesn’t have a capital city, and that creates problems for its managers, however “effective” they may be otherwise. This issue has periodically been raised by those who want to combine the oblast and the city of St. Petersburg. That it has come up now suggests there may be a new push in that direction undoubtedly in the name of efficiency and cost savings (svpressa.ru/society/news/159219/).
12. Grayness of Russian Life Said Driving Young Russians to Look for Heroes like Motorola. Especially outside the major cities, Russian life under Vladimir Putin is becoming grayer, a trend that some say is pushing young Russians out of boredom if nothing else to look for “bright” heroes like Motorola and even to seek to emulate them (ura.ru/articles/1036269321 and ixtc.org/2016/10/viktor-davydov-ivan-motorolovich-groznyy/).
13. If It isn’t Reported, It Didn’t Happen, Russian Police Say. In the ever more Orwellian world of Putin’s Russia, the police have now declared that if no one reports a clash or other problem, that clash or problem didn’t happen (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=580DBAC8AF373).
And six more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Poroshenko to Putin: ‘You Should Just Stop Shooting.” In what may come to be viewed as an echo of Ronald Reagan’s call for Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin wall, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told Vladimir Putin to his face that the problems in Ukraine would be on their way to solution if “you would just stop shooting,” a reminder that what is happening in Ukraine is not a Ukrainian problem as many say but rather Russian aggression against Ukraine (newsweek.com/poroshenko-told-putin-halt-fire-ukraine-513049?rx=us). Meanwhile, another regional leader, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius came up with a remark that is almost as significant. He said that today “Russia isn’t a super power; it’s a super problem” (belaruspartisan.org/politic/360101/).
2. Last Lenin Statue Comes Down in Ukraine. At a time when Russians are putting up statues to Ivan the Terrible and Joseph Stalin, Ukraine has demonstrated that it is not Russia and this week took down the last statue of the founder of the Soviet state on its territory (meduza.io/news/2016/10/24/na-ukraine-snesli-posledniy-pamyatnik-leninu).
3. People in Russian Occupied Donbass Compelled to Attend Motorola’s Future. Russians in Russia may be enthusiastic about terrorists like Motorola and thus saddened by his demise, but residents of the Moscow-occupied Donbass aren’t. They had to be compelled to attend his funeral with threats of job losses or worse if they didn’t (apostrophe.ua/article/society/2016-10-23/donetsku-veleli-skorbet-na-pohoronyi-motorolyi-lyudey-sgonyali-pod-strahom-uvolneniya/7921).
Barbed Wire Painted into Hair of Belarusian on Poster with Russian. A Belarusian artist has modified a billboard in Minsk celebrating Russian-Belarusian “friendship” to show the Belarusian girl portrayed on it in a happy walk with a Russian boy having barbed wire in her hair, perhaps the clearest indication of how many Belarusians see the fate of their country in the era of Vladimir Putin (meduza.io/short/2016/10/24/v-graffiti-o-druzhbe-minska-i-moskvy-dobavili-kolyuchuyu-provoloku-fotografiya
6. Far Fewer Armenians View Russia as a Friend than a Year Ago. Seventeen percent fewer Armenians think that Russia is a friend of their country than did a year ago, an indication that ever more Armenians recognize that Moscow is happy to make use of Armenia’s often desperate situation but only for its own ends and that the Russian government will betray Armenia whenever it thinks that will do it more good (regnum.ru/news/polit/2197651.html).