Staunton, November 25 -- 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 59th 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 Explains and Displays His Priorities. Vladimir Putin said this week that Russia’s borders have no end, a statement possibly made in jest but one that is reminding many of the old Soviet anecdote that the USSR has borders with any country it wants to (graniru.org/opinion/milshtein/m.256952.html and ej.ru/?a=note&id=30445). In another development, a Ukrainian portal has unearthed Putin’s first public interview in 1991 in which he said that he saw no reason he, a former KGB officer, couldn’t be president given that George H.W. Bush, a former head of the CIA, had become president of the US (meduza.io/short/2016/11/25/rovno-25-let-nazad-vladimir-putin-ob-yasnil-pochemu-chelovek-iz-kgb-vpolne-mozhet-rukovodit-stranoy-tsitata). But as always, Putin’s actions speak larger than his words: He has announced that he is ready to empty the country’s reserve fund to pay for his spending on military activity (thebarentsobserver.com/en/security/2016/11/russia-empties-reserve-fund-makes-priority-defense-secto), and one commentator has calculated that over the past five years, his Russia has closed 12 schools for each of the 5,000 plus churches it has opened (burckina-new.livejournal.com/315950.html). And another has suggested that the best Russians can hope for is not the end of corruption but the appearance of “corruption-lite” in place of the all-embracing corruption of today (znak.com/2016-11-22/korrupciyu_v_rossii_ne_pobedit_no_mozhno_prevratit_ee_v_korrupciyu_light https://republic.ru/posts/76413).
2. Russian State TV Calls Trump ‘an Alpha Male’ and Obama ‘a Eunuch.’ Russian state television has described US President-elect Donald Trump “an alpha male” while denouncing incumbent President Barach Obama as “a eunuch (twitter.com/BBCSteveR/status/800413054122991616). But as offensive as these terms are, Moscow TV used even more offensive ones about Obama and had to edit them out afterwards (themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-propaganda-edits-out-racist-comment-about-obama-56254). In related stories, the Cossacks of another region have named Trump an honorary member of their community, leading some to recall that the American Indians did the same for Stalin in 1942 (twitter.com/bbcstever/status/799931750927499264 and forum-msk.org/material/news/12513155.html). Meanwhile, Russians in two Russian regions have staged pro-Trump rallies and asked him to help them (mobile.twitter.com/sputnikipogrom/status/800024137754234880 and rferl.org/a/russia-obninsk-pro-trump-rally/28125768.html), and a Tatar historian has suggested that Trump is a descendant of the Jewish Khazarite kingdom (business-gazeta.ru/article/329151).
3. Putin’s Wars Increasingly Coming Home to Roost. The Russian defense ministry apparently by accident released figures showing that it has buried more than a thousand Russian soldiers in recent years, just one of the ways in which Putin’s wars are coming home to Russia (rufabula.com/news/2016/11/23/soldiers-death). Other ways include: the foreign ministry says that more than 3200 Russian citizens are now fighting for ISIS (gazeta.ru/social/news/2016/11/21/n_9357503.shtml), a Transbaikal resident has shot one of Putin’s National Guard (rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/58326aa89a79470f295e6762?from=main), and activists in St. Petersburg are stepping up their protests against Moscow’s Anschluss of Crimea and in support of the Crimean Tatars (qha.com.ua/ru/obschestvo/v-peterburge-proshla-volna-piketov-v-podderjku-krimskih-tatar/167954/).
4. Flood of Bad Economic News Continues. Sergey Glazyyev says that the Russian economy today is like that of an individual who has just suffered a heart attack (ava.md/2016/11/22/v-kremle-rossiyskoy-ekonomike-postavili). Other bad news includes: figures show that in 1991, the Russian economy was three times the size of China’s while today China’s is six times the size of Russia’s, a measure of both Chinese growth and Russia’s decay (ng.ru/ideas/2016-11-25/5_6869_illusions.html), declines in Russian incomes are accelerating (.apn.ru/index.php?newsid=35716), inflation is accelerating (ng.ru/economics/2016-11-24/1_6867_prices.html the concentration of wealth is increasing (ng.ru/economics/2016-11-23/4_6866_poor.html), and the amount of bribes needed to get medicines has dramatically increased (ngs24.ru/news/more/50169191/). Moreover, the future looks even bleaker now than it did only a week ago: pensions may not simply be cut but even in some cases eliminated (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2016/11/24/70655-pochemu-u-nas-ne-budet-pensiy), the transportation ministry says that it is going to reduce the amount of road repair by 67 percent (newsland.com/community/4765/content/mintrans-predlozhil-v-tri-raza-rezhe-remontirovat-dorogi/5566165), the government is preparing to raise taxes on tobacco and alcohol (newsland.com/community/129/content/gosduma-povysila-aktsizy-na-alkogol-tabak-i-dizelnoe-toplivo/5559766), and the Russian government has classified details on military sales abroad, an indication that they may be falling (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=35719).
5. Russia’s Social Problems about More than Economics. Increasingly, young Russians feel that there is no hope for the future (narzur.ru/article/9578), at least in part because of the reactionary attitudes of key institutions like the Russian Orthodox Church that wants Putin to close a factory making condoms (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/11/19/eto_plevok_na_nashu_istoriyu/), because an increasing number are being force to drop out of universities (iq.hse.ru/news/196832337.html), and because there are increasing reports that most prison guards engage in torture (xsovietunion.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/ninety-percent-of-prison-service-should.html?view=magazine). Other age groups are also unhappy: 60 percent of Russian firms say they won’t hire anyone over 50 (ng.ru/economics/2016-11-18/1_trump.html). Three other social issues this week: Patriarch Kirill absorbs all Armenians in the diaspora into Russian society (ru.aravot.am/2016/11/22/227243/), more Russians say they are Orthodox but not believers (snob.ru/profile/27058/blog/116934), residents of more than half of Russia’s federal subjects do not have clean water supplies (izvestia.ru/news/646060#ixzz4QzhuMeIl), and new statistics show that Petersburgers don’t live as long as Muscovites but both live far longer than other Russians (demoscope.ru/weekly/2016/0703/rossia01.php#7). Russian experts and officials in turn are either in denial or prepared to try to hide the obvious with one declaring that there are no class conflicts in Russia (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/11/21/v_rossii_ne_suwestvuet_klassovogo_protivostoyaniya/) and another expanding on the argument that the government should not allow the publication of any data about the nationality of those charged with crimes (nazaccent.ru/content/22435-hloponin-prizval-ne-ukazyvat-nacionalnost-prestupnikov.html).
6. A New Front Opens in Russia’s Monument Wars. This week, a new front opened in Russia’s fight over memory and monuments with the publication of a data base listing some 40,000 of Stalin’s executioners, a reminder that once people are able to focus on the past, they will find as much to divide them as to unite them (themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-ngo-publishes-nkvd-personnel-database-from-stalin-era-56286). Meanwhile, the earlier battles in this war have continued: a Samara woman dismantled a statue celebrating Soviet symbols while Astrakhan dedicated a statue to Soviet soldiers and vandals defaced a statue to the victims of Stalin with a picture of the Soviet dictator (www.idelreal.org/a/28130541.html, regnum.ru/news/cultura/2208216.html, newizv.ru/accidents/2016-11-21/249340-vandaly-narisovali-potret-stalina-na-memoriale-zhertvam-repressij-v-tomske.html and meduza.io/news/2016/11/23/memorialnuyu-dosku-kolchaku-v-peterburge-zavesili-plakatom-s-volan-de-mortom). Meanwhile, Oryol officials dug in in their defense of the statue of Ivan the Terrible (newizv.ru/society/2016-11-20/249300-pominovenie-s-objasneniem.html and interfax.ru/russia/538393). And finally, there were two other developments in these campaigns: the Soviet actor who played Stalin in 12 films has died (newsland.com/community/5652/content/umer-glavnyi-stalin-strany-kotoryi-dolzhen-byl-igrat-v-rostovskoi-pese/5559683), and a Russian nationalist is calling for Daghestan’s capital of Makhachkala to be given its earlier Russian name Petrovsk now that an Orthodox cathedral is going up there (http://beregrus.ru/?p=8346).
7. Alcohol Consumption Variations Hitting Some Regional Budgets Harder than Others. While residents of the Russian Federation drink more than those of any other country, there are significant differences among the regions. People living in Magadan drink the most, while those in Muslim Chechnya drink the least (echo.msk.ru/blog/daily_digest/1879156-echo/). Not only does that affect patterns of diabetes and other diseases, but it is having a dramatic effect on regional budgets. Those whose populations are drinking less have less money to spend on other issues, leading some in the regions and in Moscow to think about boosting rather than reducing alcohol consumption (kavpolit.com/articles/kabardino_balkarija_popala_pod_suhoj_zakon-29839/).
8. Alchemy Comes in Many Forms in Russia. Some Russian researchers say they have come up with a chemical process that will turn coal into gold (rt.com/news/367821-coal-gold-technology-russia/). Meanwhile, one Moscow official says that having prisoners work for state companies as the Russian government now plans will convert them to democratic values and in other ways contribute to the growth of the country (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/golodec-ispravitelnye-raboty-v-goskompaniyakh-pomogut-razvitiyu-demokratii-1001537290).
9. Reasons Russia Should Be Stripped of 2018 World Cup Continue to Mount. Moscow tried to buy its way in to the World Anti-Doping Agency by offering that body 300,000 US dollars. WADA rejected the offer (graniru.org/Society/Sports/m.256834.html). Meanwhile, there was more bad behavior by Russian fans and Russian athletes (versia.ru/rossijskie-konkobezhcy-ustroili-pyanyj-debosh-v-nagano and ntv.ru/novosti/1711456/). And Russia’s ranking in FIFA falls to its lowest level ever (sport.rbc.ru/news/5836b9be9a79478acf452578?from=main). Russia’s stadiums aren’t ready for the 2018 event despite Moscow’s importuning of regional governments to pay more and the reassurance by Vitaly Mutko that everything will be ready closer to the date the competition is scheduled to open (meduza.io/short/2016/11/24/vitaliy-mutko-garantiroval-chto-v-peterburge-dostroyat-stadion-tsitata-na-angliyskom and .kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5836A399EF9B5).
10. Two Russian Anniversaries Most Countries Wouldn’t Celebrate. Two anniversaries were marked in Russia this week that most countries would try to ignore if something analogous happened in their histories: the 460th anniversary of the first punishment of a Russian found guilty of bribery (stoletie.ru/vzglyad/vorujut_371.htm) and the centennial of the founding of the notoriously anti-Semitic organization, the Union of the Russian People (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=76496).
11. Moscow Always Forgets the Little Things. It is a longstanding Russian tradition to launch gigantic projects but ignore the small things that really matter. Tour firms in the Republic of Sakha say in this regard that the authorities would attract far more visitors if they would drop plans to spend money on building Moscow-promoted “tourist clusters” that often do little besides funnel money into the hands of friends of those in power and instead focus on ensuring that people coming to the republic have access to warm indoor toilets rather than be forced to use outhouses (regnum.ru/news/society/2207650.html).
12. Moscow Officials Go After Legal Bookmakers but Not Underground Ones. In yet another action that will do nothing to encourage those in the shadow economy to leave it, Russian officials have decided to declare war on legal bookmakers but to do nothing about those who operate underground (ixtc.org/2016/11/srochno-protiv-ildara-dadina-sobirayutsya-vozbudit-novoe-ugolovnoe-delo/ and profile.ru/obsch/item/112800-vlasti-snova-voshli-v-azart).
13. How Bad is Russian Disinformation? So Bad Some Russian Outlets Now Condemn Others for It. The Russian media is now so full of disinformation that a new phenomenon has arisen: Even mainstream media outlets are now attacking others of their number for featuring propaganda stories that are so obviously false that they strain credibility and cast doubt on the media as a whole (kommersant.ru/doc/3143053 and ria.ru/society/20161114/1481312362.html).
And six more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Number of Mosques in Kyrgyzstan Increases from 39 in 1991 to 2743 Today. That there has been an explosive growth in the number of mosques across the post-Soviet space since the end of the USSR is common ground, but few figures show this more compelling than the latest data from Kyrgyzstan (24.kg/obschestvo/40314_za_godyi_nezavisimosti_chislo_mechetey_v_kyirgyizstane_vyiroslo_v_70_raz/).
2. Kazakhstan President’s Personality Cult Still has a Long Way to Go to Catch His Tajik Counterpart’s. Three signs this week that the personality cult around Nursultan Nazarbayev has reached new highs: his parliament wants to rename the capital of the country after him (regnum.ru/news/polit/2208840.html), his face now adorns Kazakhstan currency (ansar.ru/rfsng/nazarbaev-popal-na-dengi), and his supporters are trumpeting the fact that he is a descendant of Chingiz Khan (asiarussia.ru/news/14368/). But he has some distance to go before reaching the level already achieved by Emomali Rahmon who now styles himself as “the founder of the world” (camonitor.kz/26251-prezident-tadzhikistana-priznal-sebya-osnovatelem-mira.html).
3. Ukraine Plans to Build Railroads with European Rather than Russian Width Tracks. Ukrainian officials say they are going to build a rail line with European rather than Russian width tracks, a step that will aid their integration into the West and mark the clearest break yet from the Russian world (segodnya.ua/economics/transport/omelyan-anonsiroval-stroitelstvo-novoy-zheleznoy-dorogi-s-koleey-po-evrostandartu-771463.html).
4. Moscow ‘De-Ukrainianizing’ Crimea in Small Ways as Well as Large. The criminal behavior of Russian occupation officials in Crimea is so great, including the spreading use of psychiatric confinement as a means of repression (qha.com.ua/ru/obschestvo/advokati-konstatiruyut-usilenie-tempov-karatelnoi-psihiatrii/167996/) that many fail to note the numerous small ways, including changing signs and license plates that they are engaged in to make that Ukrainain peninsula less Ukrainian. For a list of 12 of these smaller but nonetheless significant ways, see echo.msk.ru/blog/belsasha/1879238-echo/.
5. Meskhetians End Their Horrible Odyssey by Moving from Ukraine to Turkey. The remnants of one of the most punished peoples in the Soviet and post-Soviet space may finally have found a permanent home. Having been deported from Georgia to Central Asia by Stalin, having found it difficult to return to their home regions later, and feeling still out of place in a much more welcoming Ukraine, the surviving members of this community this week have moved from Ukraine to Turkey (turantoday.com/2016/11/ahiska-turks-turkey-ukraine.html).
6. Real Division in Ukraine Isn’t Ethnic or Geographic, Commentator Says. The real division in Ukrainian society is not among Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Russian-speaking Russians or among east, west, and center but rather between those Ukrainian citizens who are socially active and prepared to take responsibility for their own lives and those who passively expect the state to take care of everything, according to Pavel Kazarin. And that means that the struggle for the future is not confined by either ethnicity or geography (nv.ua/opinion/kazarin/pod-odnoj-kryshej-278690.html).
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