Staunton, March 24 -- 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 75th 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 is the Bin Laden of Today.’ In the wak of the murder of a former Duma deputy in Kyiv who was a declared enemy of the Kremlin leader, independent Russian commentators have placed the blame for this latest outrage squarely on Vladimmir Putin. Igor Eidman, for example, said that “Putin is the bin Laden of today,” “the number one terrorist in the world” (facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1425171550879153&id=100001589654713); and Viktor Shenderovich has described the Putin regime as a band of murders unrestrained by the norms of morality (ixtc.org/2017/03/blog-viktora-shenderovicha-v-rossii-u-vlasti-ubiytsy/newsland.com/community/5862/content/putinskii-rezhim-nedostatochno-krovavyi/5741462newsland.com/community/88/content/na-stroitelstve-rezidentsii-putina-ukrali-bolee-200-millionov-rublei/5744793), Vladislav Surkov published a novel on how the Putin era will end (znak.com/2017-03-24/natan_dubovickiy_vladislav_surkov_napisal_roman_o_tom_kak_zakonchitsya_period_putinaprofile.ru/obsch/item/116150-korona-rossijskoj-imperii and newsland.com/community/7451/content/aksenov-zakhotel-sdelat-putina-pozhiznennym-prezidentom/5737086politsovet.ru/54841-storonnik-zagovora-rotshildov-i-rokfellerov-voshel-v-nauchnyy-sovet-pri-sovbeze-rf.html), and rumors swirled that Putin will restore Soviet-style exit visa requirements after he is reelected president (newsland.com/community/4109/content/vvedut-li-vyezdnye-vizy-dlia-rossiian-posle-prezidentskikh-vyborov-2018-goda/5741430). But Putin’s biggest public statement this week concerned his plans to boost life expectancy among Russians from 72 to 79, a plan that likely overstates where Russia is now given that it is ranked 129th in the world in terms of life expectancy (newsland.com/community/5652/content/sredniaia-prodolzhitelnost-zhizni-v-rossii-i-stranakh-mira-v-2016-godu/5736868echo.msk.ru/blog/nikolaev_i/1948080-echo/).
2. Trump Says Putin is ‘A Tough Nut.’ US President Donald Trump offered his own description of Vladimir Putin: He said that the Kremlin leader is “a tough nut” (echo.msk.ru/blog/day_video/1946938-echo/). Meanwhile, Russian citizens continue to appeal to Trump to help them either directly or via his influence on Putin (newsland.com/community/4765/content/v-khakasii-stroiteli-obratilis-za-pomoshchiu-k-donaldu-trampu/5743625).
3. Russian Economy Deteriorating So Putin Takes Steps So No One Will Know. Russia’s economic performance in February was worse on almost all measures than at any point since the 1990s (newsland.com/community/4765/content/fevralskaia-ekonomicheskaia-statistika-khuzhe-nekuda/5743169newsland.com/community/4788/content/posle-perekhoda-rosstata-pod-kontrol-mer-doverie-k-ego-dannym-budet-poteriano-okonchatelno/5744322). So even though the impoverishment of Russians is likely to continue, for those who rely on official statistics alone, life will truly be happier and more joyous. In many ways, there are in reality two Russias now: the top one or two percent who have never suffered very much and are now doing better than they have since 2008 (newsland.com/community/5862/content/rossiia-plodit-milliarderov-na-fone-massovogo-obnishchaniia-naseleniia/5740614, newsland.com/community/129/content/v-rossii-rastet-sotsialnaia-propast/5738699 and regnum.ru/news/it/2252829.html), and the other 98 percent whose real incomes are falling (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=58D1663A50C5D) and who face higher than average inflation for the services they can’t do without (newsland.com/community/4701/content/teplo-voda-i-raznye-truby/5744092) and an increasingly intrusive state when they try to help themselves by gatherin mushrooms or fishing (newsland.com/community/4788/content/u-nishchikh-otberut-poslednee-litsenziia-na-griby-i-rybu/5743000forum-msk.org/material/news/12961663.html).
4. Russian Schools Now at Level They Were in Nazi-Occupied Territories, Shvydkoy Says. Mikhail Shvydkov, Putin’s coordinator for relations with social groups, says that Russian schools have deteriorated to the point that they are no better than were schools in German-occupied portions of the USSR during World War II (newsland.com/community/4765/content/shvydkoi-sravnil-shkolnoe-obrazovanie-s-urovnem-okkupirovannykh-natsistami-territorii/5734870newsland.com/community/4788/content/roven-innovatsii-v-rossii-po-sravneniiu-s-sovetskim-soiuzom-snizilsia-v-5-7-raz/5736979Those are truly damning conclusions about a country that earned so much from the oil boom a decade ago. But for average Russians, they may not be as meaningful as some other social indicators this past week. Among the most prominent were reports that vodka prices have risen significantly (https://republic.ru/posts/80979https://snob.ru/selected/entry/122047polit.ru/article/2017/03/18/mosobl/kasparov.ru/material.php?id=58D13CC69A69Cregnum.ru/news/economy/2251254.htmlnazaccent.ru/content/23516-preduprezhden-znachit-vooruzhen.html), polls showing that Muscovites don’t think they benefitted from the annexation of Crimea (en.sobytiya.info/moscow-residents-believe-that-the-annexation-of-crimea-did-not-redound-to-advantage.htmlsnob.ru/selected/entry/122122).
5. Are Plastic Demonstrators the Future of Protests in Russia? Now that the Russian constitutional court has said that police can disband demonstrations in the name of protecting public health (ixtc.org/2017/03/konstitutsionnyy-sud-nashel-povod-okonchatelno-zapretit-pikety/ixtc.org/2017/03/miting-rezinovyh-zhenschin-u-zaksobraniya-peterburga/). But that is just the tip of the iceberg of a mounting number of public protests and sources of protest of various kinds now to be found throughout the Russian Federation, including plans for a meeting against Medvedev that the authorities have threatened to suppress (politsovet.ru/54846-policiya-prigrozila-arestom-uchastnikam-mitinga-protiv-medvedeva-v-ekaterinburge.html), increasing complaints that counter-sanctions introduced by Vladimir Putin hurt Russians more than they hurt foreign countries (politsovet.ru/54845-vse-bolshe-rossiyan-ne-odobryaet-kontrsankcii.html and rbc.ru/politics/24/03/2017/58d4db539a7947b59bd0c25d?from=main), 3,000 people in Makhachkala have now been put on extremist lists (regnum.ru/news/society/2254108.html), 17 percent of Russians tell pollsters that they don’t consider themselves patriots (regnum.ru/news/society/2254068.html), Russians are increasingly being forced to take loans to buy food and then not paying them back (ng.ru/economics/2017-03-24/4_6957_kredit.html), Russians are seeing their personal data stolen on line up more than 80 percent over the past year alone (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=58D3B5F89A770 and rufabula.com/news/2017/03/23/leaks), taxes on longhaul truckers are slated to go up 25 percent in mid-April (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=58D4CAF883A40), the restrictions imposed in St. Petersburg on local deputies meeting with their constituents have now been extended to Moscow city (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2016/12/22/670835-moskovskim-deputatam-zapretyat), cartoons about the regime paying for people to demonstrate on its behalf have gone viral online (twitter.com/Sergey_Elkin/status/843760906538553345/photo/1), and speculation is rife that Russian universities could become the next hotspots in demonstrations in that country (forum-msk.org/material/society/12954295.html). But despite all these problems, some analysts say that Russians are unlikely to protest about anything other than their own immediate problems because they lack the empathy to be concerned about broader issues that affect others more than themselves (graniru.org/opinion/milshtein/m.259540.html).
6. Russians Want to Celebrate Memory of Paul I and Pobedonostev. In yet another indication of the increasingly archaic quality of Russian public life, Russians now want to celebrate two of the most infamous reactionaries in Russian history, Paul I who was assassinated by his entourage for his sometimes strange behavior and Konstantin Pobedonostev, the notorious advisor to the last several tsars (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2017/03/23/pamyati_gosudarya_pavla_petrovicha/ and politobzor.net/show-126387-chto-nuzhno-russkim-chtoby-postroit-novuyu-imperiyu.html). Meanwhile, the monuments wars continued even though the culture ministry said that the Russian state has better things to do than administer cathedrals (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=77601newsland.com/community/politic/content/istorik-leninoved-esli-by-russkie-uznali-pravdu-o-lenine-ne-ostalos-by-ni-odnogo-pamiatnika/5745538), attacks on the Yeltsin Center increased in intensity (politobzor.net/126403-nash-krizis-politicheskiy-nam-nuzhna-ne-dekommunizaciya-a-deelcinizaciya.htmlnewsland.com/community/5134/content/eltsin-tsentr-tsitadel-rusofobii/5743297regnum.ru/news/society/2253450.html), Circassian activists want the Russian state to help erect a monument to the victims of the Caucasian wars of the 18th and 19th centuries (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/299569/), LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky wants Volgograd to become Stalingrad once again (svpressa.ru/society/news/168817/), the Moscow city government has refused to rename the Lenin subway station for Andrey Rublov (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=77572), Moscow officials have announced a timetable for the construction of a monument to Boris Nemtsov which means that it will not be completed until after the Russian presidential elections (reuters.com/article/us-russia-nemtsov-idUSKBN16R1JO), and the FSB is constructing a monument to officers of the Soviet security services who lost their lives in the defense of the country (ixtc.org/2017/03/fsb-zaymetsya-reabilitatsiey-voysk-nkvd-i-postavit-im-pamyatnik/).
7. Moscow Stripped of Right to Host League of Champions Competition in 2018. The international body that governs the League of Champions football competition has stripped Moscow of the right to host the 2018 final, another step toward Russia’s losing the World Cup in the same year (dsnews.ua/world/rossiya-ne-smozhet-prinyat-final-ligi-chempionov-v-2018-godu--24032017084100). Nonetheless, Moscow continues to put a brave face on its chances to host the World Cup and this week officials talked about denying entry to the Ukrainian team now that Kyiv has blocked Russia’s representative from taking part in the Eurovision competition (newsland.com/community/5512/content/a-chto-esli-rossiia-zapretit-vezd-ukrainskoi-sbornoi-na-chm-po-futbolu-v-2018-godu-v-dzhabarov/5745744yug.svpressa.ru/society/article/145319/), and Moscow is planning to open a series of sobering up stations, infamous in Soviet times, to deal with unruly fans (forum-msk.org/material/news/12981581.html). Meanwhile, yet another Russian source on the doping scandal has fled to the West out of fear for his life (graniru.org/Society/Sports/m.259570.html).
8. Putin Regime Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Russian justice ministry has closed down all Jehovah’s Witness organizations as extremist threats, a step that their leaders say puts Russia today on track to be like Nazi Germany where Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first to be confined to German concentration camps (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=authority&id=2248).
9. Pace Putin, Medvedev Says He hasn’t Been Ill. Vladimir Putin recently said that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev hadn’t appeared in public because he was ill, but that illness apparently was completely political: Medvedev has now declared that he wasn’t ill at all (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=58D3CBC25731B). Meanwhile, Navalny’s investigation into Medvedev’s corrupt practices has led some KPRF Duma deputies to demand an investigation, but the Kremlin remains opposed to that step lest it lead to others (graniru.org/Politics/Russia/Parliament/Duma/m.259712.html).
10. Refitting of Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier May Take Three to Five Years. The Russian navy says that the necessary refitting of that country’s only aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov, will take three to five years and cost billions of rubles, thus likely leaving Moscow without that means of projecting power by sea for the intervening period (graniru.org/War/Mil_spending/m.259543.html).
11. ‘Russians have Become Like Sicilians,’ But When Abroad, They Mustn’t Act like Russians. A commentator has suggested that Russians because they are impoverished and dependent on criminal bosses have become like the Sicilians (apostrophe.ua/news/world/ex-ussr/2017-03-19/rossiya-stala-nischey-jurnalist-iz-rf-vyiskazalas-o-posledstviyah-anneksii-kryima/90408). And the Russian Foreign Ministry has issued an advisory suggesting that when Russians travel abroad, they should restrain some of their typical activities lest they spark anger there, a call that has outraged some Russians and amused others (themoscowtimes.com/articles/russias-foreign-ministry-is-telling-citizens-how-to-behave-abroad-and-its-everything-57519 and spektr.press/neveroyatnaya-koncentraciya-ada-socseti-otvetili-na-pamyatku-mida-rosturistam-vzryvom-negodovaniya/).
12. Russia’s ‘Hurrah’ Comes from Mongol. Many Russian economic and political terms have Mongol origins, but one word Russians likely think doesn’t in fact does: “ura” or in English “hurrah.” The term was first used, historians say, by Mongol horsemen on their way to occupying the region that later became Russia (http://asiarussia.ru/articles/15568/).
13. Few Peoples Joined Russia Voluntarily. Moscow has always promoted the idea that the peoples of the Russian Empire, the USSR, and now the Russian Federation joined the Russian state “voluntarily.” But a survey of the periphery of Russia today finds that very few joined on that basis. Most were forced to do so at gunpoint or under threat of Muscovite military action (newsland.com/community/6433/content/zemli-kotorye-dobrovolno-prisoedinilis-k-rossii/5740607).
And six more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. New Push for Intermarium Alliance Against Russia. The former presidents of the countries from the Baltic to the Black Sea are calling for this group of countries to form an alliance to defend themselves against the Russian threat and to put themselves in a better business to negotiate with the West as well (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/22/244487/).
Russia’s War Against Ukraine Continues to Claim Victims. Russian aggression in Ukraine continues with more Ukrainian soldiers and civilians killed and wounded every week (twitter.com/Biz_Ukraine_Mag/status/844896559024234496/photo/1). But Kyiv officials say that Moscow does not have sufficient forces to attack along the entire border at any one time and thus is forced to carefully husband its resources for more narrow efforts to destabilize Ukraine (gordonua.com/news/war/u-voysk-rf-ne-hvataet-sil-deystvovat-po-vsey-linii-soprikosnoveniya-general-leytenant-romanenko-ob-obostrenii-na-mariupolskom-napravlenii-179353.htmlnovayagazeta.ru/news/2017/03/20/129980-pasporta-dnr-i-lnr-v-rossii-priravnyali-k-ukrainskim
svpressa.ru/economy/article/168766/?rpop=1), and a second one finds that Uzbeks are happier than Russians again on average (politsovet.ru/54797-rossiyane-okazalis-neschastnee-uzbekov-i-slovakov.html
5. Belarusian Protesters Warn Lukashenka Regime Loyalists: ‘Shoulderboards Won’t Save You.’ Graffiti that has appeared in Minsk warns the Belarusian force structures that their status as officers will not save them if the revolution happens, a message intended to make the officers think twice about continuing to defend Lukashenka but one that may cause the officers they have nothing to lose by fighting to the end (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/24/244705/).
6. Russia Behind Most Disappearances in Crimea, Rights Activists Say. Russian forces directly or indirectly are behind almost all the disappearances in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea (http://ru.krymr.com/a/news/28386219.htmlhttp://nazaccent.ru/content/23522-krymskoj-krasavicej-2017-stala-grechanka.html).