Friday, January 20, 2017

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 67

Paul Goble

         Staunton, January 20 -- 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 67th 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.      Question of the Week: Why Did Putin Say Russia’s Prostitutes were ‘Best in the World’? Vladimir Putin’s comments about reports that Donald Trump cavorted with prostitutes in Moscow continues to fascinate Russians, with many of them asking what prompted the Kremlin leader to say that Russia’s prostitutes are “the best in the world.” Some think he did so just because for him, everything in Russia is better, but others wonder whether this reflects his own experience either professionally or personally (  In other Putin news this week: pay to play has come to Russia with officials being told that if they want to see Putin, they have to put down large amounts of cash (  and, officials confirming that a special hospital is being built just for Putin (, and his press spokesman insisting that 90 percent of Russians support Putin, a new high above the much-ballyhooed 86 percennt ( There was one funny-sad story about the Kremlin dictator: someone imitating Putin’s voice is now making radio ads to sell products, something that has irritated at least a few Russians (

2.      Trump’s Right on the Money – Russian Money. A Russian arms manufacturer has minted a one kilo silver coin in honor of Donald Trump’s inauguration at US president and plans to send him a copy (  In other Trump-Russia-related stories, one group of Russian citizens wants to rename a street in honor of the new American president ( and, in a more serious development, Kremlin-controlled media changed their headlines immediately when a story about a Putin-Trump meeting that the Kremlin had floated turned out not to be true ( Meanwhile, an international men’s magazine has offered a million dollars to anyone who can confirm the story about Trump’s alleged involvement with Russian prostitutes, an effort that will likely keep this story alive at least for a time (

3.      Pskov Residents Fear Poverty More than They Fear NATO.  Russians in Pskov oblast which border the  NATO countries of Estonia and Latvia say they are more afraid of falling into poverty than being attacked by the forces of the Western alliance ( worsening economic situation in Russia entirely justifies their fears. Among the dozens of stories about the Russian economic collapse, the following are especially striking: The Russian government plans to change its definition of poor because it now can help only the poorest of the poor (, the Duma is considering taxing mushroom collecting (, the culture ministry wants to begin closing libraries to save money (, Russian preschool institutions won’t do medical exams for incoming pupils because of budget shortfalls (, Sakha residents won’t be allowed to vote “against all” because the government lacks the funds to hold repeat elections (, one official has called for seizing the children of people who don't or can’t pay their bills (, the Russian government is considering cutting its anti-crisis program by 80 percent (, all of Russia’s reserve funds are running out and things will be even worse when they do (, fewer than one Russian in three is likely to get a government pension in the future (, Moscow admits it doesn’t have enough money to hold or deport criminals (, Russian inequality of incomes is now at the highest point ever (, and Russians are now using credit cards to pay for food and cutting back even on that (, and  But Putin’s spokesman offers this reassuring assessment: Russians will eat snow if they have to, although they’d prefer other Russian delicacies (

4.      Moscow’s Repressive Measures Only Get Worse. According to one commentator, Russian legislators “liberalized” only two things last year: they passed a law allowing parents to beat their children and they passed a second allowing jailors to do the same thing ( The Kudrin Center says that Russian laws are becoming increasingly repressive across the board (, and many say that the situation will only deteriorate further in the coming months ( and  There are certainly enough straws in the wind pointing in that direction: the first case has been brought against a Russian for failing to turn somebody in  (, and an Orthodox commentator has denounced the Western calendar as “the fruits of Catholic imperialism” ( The FSB is seeking and almost certainly will get more money to enforce the new repressive laws (, and Russian parents are taking the hint: a new poll shows they want their children to become policemen or siloviki rather than lawyers or doctors (

5.      Monuments War Expands and Goes International The fight over whether St. Isaac’s cathedral in St. Petersburg should be returned to the Russian Orthodox church dominated the news in this sector over the past week, with many furious that the Russian government plans to continue to subsidize it once it is privatized but to allow the church to keep all the profits ( and, but that was far from the only story. Among the others the following are noteworthy: The Yeltsin Center deepened its problems with Russian nationalists when its leaders described the Vlasovites as the dissidents of the 1940s (, and the fight over removing Lenin from the mausoleum heated up with some saying he should be kept there “without  heart or a brain” as “an art object” ( and others insisting that he should be removed along with all other statues to that Bolshevik murderer (  In related developments, the Russian Orthodox Church put out a list of all the jobs priests can’t take, including bankers (, and the descendants of the Northern Crusaders demanded that Moscow return the Vyborg Castle to them (

6.      Russian Participation in International Athletic Competitions Increasingly at Risk. Russian participation in international athletic competitions and its ability to host any of them, including the 2018 World Cup, appears increasingly unlikely.  Not only are more foreign athletes and sports organizations calling for a ban on Russian participation and hosting ( and, but Russian commentators are now openly acknowledging that Russia will lose the World Cup if enough countries refuse to take part ( and Vitaly Mutko, who oversees Russian sports for the Kremlin and apparently was deeply involved in Moscow’s doping effort, has now proposed a fallback position. He says that it will be entirely OK if Russian athletes take part in competitions under a neutral flag because, he says, “we will know that they are Russians” (

7.      Moscow Now a Leader among Dictatorships Making Secret Flights to Switzerland. Russians love to know where their country is a leader except when where they are a leader is anything but a point of honor and dignity (cf. According to a new international report, Russia has now joined the very top of dictatorships in the world sending secret flights to Switzerland, presumably to put cash into numbered accounts ( Moscow also achieved new leadership status in the rate of its decline as an innovator. Last year, it fell further on that list than any other country ( It also appears to have retired the trophy for the most lies told by any government anywhere (

8.      Moscow’s Comic Book Guide for Immigrants Denounced as Patronizing, Ineffectual. The Moscow city government has issued a 100-page comic book using figures from Russian history and mythology to tell gastarbeiters in the city how they should behave ( But both experts on Muslims and on immigrants say this tactic will be counterproductive with most migrants viewing it as patronizing or worse ( and 

9.      Kremlin Urged to Start a Real Cold War in the Arctic. Moscow should have responded to Western sanctions by declaring a cold war where it is really cold, the Arctic, one Moscow analyst says ( The Russian military has been busily building up its forces and bases there over the past year. Indeed, according to statistics, it was this effort rather than trade that was responsible for much of the growth in shipping over the Northern Sea Route (

10.  The Demographic Disaster Putin Doesn’t Want to Face but Russia Can’t Avoid.  Russian demographers say that the number of residents of the Russian Federation will stabilize for the next two decades but only because of immigration from Central Asia and the Caucasus and high birthrates among Muslim nationalities. As a result, over that period, the ethnic Russian share of the population will continue to decline (

11.  Skies over Russia Now So Polluted Russians are Protesting.  Pollution in many Russian cities not only constitutes a health risk for their residence but is sparking public protests. In the last week, Chelyabinsk residents have protested about the situation there (, Yekaterinburg residents have launched a petition drive to rename the Urals capital, “Dirty City” (, and astronomers at the Pulkovo Observatory near St. Petersburg have staged a demonstration as well (

12.  FSB HQ in Kaliningrad Shown on Google Maps as ‘Gestapo HQ in East Prussia.’  Russians have another reason not to like Google: Google maps identified the FSB headquarters in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad as “Gestapo HQ in East Prussia,” highlighting in an unwelcome way just how much those two organizations and the regimes that created them have in common (

13.  A Reminder to Putin: Stalin’s Great Grandson is Unemployed. People of great power or wealth always assume that their descendants will be well taken care of.  But it doesn’t always work out that way, and a news story this week called attention to that fact to Russia’s current bosses: Stalin’s great grandson is unemployed and spends his time trying to make ends meet and collecting Soviet toys (

                And six more from countries in the neighborhood of Russia:

1.      Lithuania Wants to Build Wall on Kaliningrad Border – and Kaliningrad Wants to Sell It the Bricks.  The Lithuanian government says that it wants to erect a wall along its western border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, and in response, the Kaliningrad authorities say they will be happy to sell Vilnius the bricks to do it ( and

2.      Another Russian Crime in Ukraine: Russian Invasion Making Ukrainians Aggresive. Wars and invasions often have terrible consequences far from the war zone proper. One of them is the spread of aggression among the people who have been attacked as well as among those who have done the attacking. That has happened in Ukraine now as a result of Moscow’s actions, officials say (

3.      Nakhchivan Again Emerges from the Shadows. Twenty-six years ago today as Soviet troops attacked Baku in what has become known as Black January, the Azerbaijani  exclave of Nakhchivan voted to leave the USSR, two months before Lithuania voted to recover its independence ( Now, that non-contiguous territory of Azerbaijan is again attracting attention because Baku has placed new weapons there and some Armenians fear that Baku may attack their country from that direction ( and

4.      There is Life in Belarus Outside of Minsk. In all too many post-Soviet states and not just there, many people assume that the only places that matter are the major cities especially when the political capital is in  the same place as the economic and social one. But in Belarus as in some others, some young people are moving to what others denigrate as “the provinces” and bringing new life to depressed areas (

5.      Seven Million Crimean Tatars Now Live in Turkey, Ukrainian Ambassador Says. Ukraine’s ambassador to Ankara says that there are now some seven million Crimean Tatars living in Turkey, a figure which is almost 30 times their number in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula and a reminder of what would happen were they to return there (

6.      To Maintain Stability, Astana Says It Must Slow or Stop Reforms.  Kazakhstan has become the latest country in Eurasia to argue that it must slow or even stop reforms in order to maintain political stability, an argument that does not bode well for the future there or elsewhere (

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