Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 86

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 10 -- 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 each week presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 86th such compilation, and it is again a double issue. Even then, it is only suggestive and far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1.      Is Putin Now Going to Learn to ‘Love the Bomb?’ Oliver Stone gave Vladimir Putin a copy of Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, at the end of an interview in which Putin said among other things that he didn’t have any “bad days” because “I am not a woman” and declared  that Western Russophobia is the equivalent of anti-Semitism (, and Two Moscow commentators had this to say about Putin now and in the future: One observed that Russians are as tired of Putin as the Israelites were of Moses when he led them through the desert for 40 years (, and another said that the transition in Spain from the fascist Franco to a monarchy shows that countries can recover from authoritarianism without violence (

2.      Trump is to Blame for Everything, Russian Banker Says. Russians have been as entranced as anyone else by the goings on in Washington this week, but most seem to have settled back into the mode that they adopted with Barack Obama and now say, as one Russian banker put it, that it is safe to assume the American president is to blame for everything that goes wrong in Russia and the world (

3.      Russian Economy Now More Dependent on Export of Raw Materials than It Was. Despite expectations, the Russian economy is now more dependent on the export of raw materials than it was before the crisis, an indication that Moscow has utterly failed to change the country’s economic direction, one analysis shows ( Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin admitted that poverty in Russia is now “worse than planned” (, and the divergence between rich and poor is worsening, with those at the top largely unaffected even as the poor get poorer ( Inflation for the poor is running ten to 10 times the official rate because of differences in consumption patterns (, and wage arrears which hit those at the bottom harder than others now increasing again ( and banks turning town increasingly impoverished Russians who are applying for new loans ( People at the top are able to protect themselves with 40 percent of businessmen declaring themselves non-residents and so not paying taxes and with Putin’s efforts to return offshore accounts backfiring ( and Not surprisingly, few Russians think the crisis will end in a year, and many think things will get still worse after the presidential elections ( and Other depressing economic news includes: housing prices in Moscow have fallen ten percent over the last year (, personal indebtedness of those at risk of bankruptcy has reached 25 billion rubles (, and Russian airlines lost 10 billion rubles over the last year as well (

4.      Health Care Becoming Less Accessible, 75 Percent of Russian Doctors Say. Putin’s health optimization is significantly reducing public access to health care, according to three-quarters of Russian doctor (, with many smaller cities no longer having the medical facilities they need (, pensions are so low that many elderly are dying prematurely (, and Russian medical education deteriorating so fast that many medical school graduates shouldn’t be allowed near patients ( Russians are drinking less alcohol purchased in stores but probably more if samogon and surrogates are taken in to account, with ethnic Russians drinking vastly more than Muslims ( and Young Russians are facing ever more problems: fewer than a third of them are now working in the jobs for which they were trained (, a fifth ready to move abroad if possible (, and those who haven’t receiving much lower pay than they expected (  Other unfortunate news from the social front includes: most St. Petersburg beaches this year are unfit for swimming (, patients in one hospital are starving and not being given medicines either (, housing construction in Moscow has collapsed given the large number of unrented apartments ( and, invalids and especially invalid children suffering more than earlier (, the number of Russians suffering from identity theft has risen dramatically (, rapes have gone up for the fifth year in a row (, one region sought briefly before retreating to require doctors to report to the authorities the names of young women who lost their virginity ( while in another parents demanded more sex education than religious instruction (, and the number of bookstores in Russia is declining, especially in the North Caucasus ( and Meanwhile, adding insult to injury, the Duma discussed giving poor Russians 50 cents a day for food (, and Russians recognized that Putin’s requirement that officials and their families declare their income and wealth was too narrow: the adult children and other relatives of officials are now holding wealth so that it can be concealed ( Not surprisingly, given all this, an international rating of social wellbeing shows that Russia has now declined to the level of Mongolia (

5.      Anti-Gay Actions Driving Some in North Caucasus to Join ISIS. The anti-LGBT actions of officials in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus are not only morally wrong but are having a serious and negative practical effect: they are leading more people there to flee and join the ranks of ISIS ( and Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov continued to build his cult of personality by renaming the republic’s football team (, and Meanwhile, there was a report that ethnically mixed marriages in his republic are anything but easy for those involved ( Anti-Kremlin attitudes and activism among Cossacks is increasing and the Kremlin is responding by suppressing what opposition figures among the Cossacks it can (  And in a tragic example of life imitating art, the rising waters of the Volga are washing away graves in a German cemetery along its banks (

6.      Protests and Strikes Spread. In addition to the long-haul truckers strike which has attracted some attention and the conflict over demolition of the khrushchoby in Moscow which has attracted more because of where it is taking place, protests and strikes of various kinds have increased in number and targets across Russia, with officials frequently making the situation worse by punishing people for things that aren’t crimes even by the Russian government’s elastic standards. An example of the latter is a fine that was imposed on a Navalny organizer for calling on people to join a legally permitted protest (  Among the protests and strikes reported this week were: a picket against juvenile justice laws in Volgograd (, a Cherkessk demand that a senior justice ministry official be fired (, a strike broke out on a Russian cargo ship (,  and Nikel residents demonstrated against the collapse of health care in their city ( So many actions are occurring that one group of analysts has now rated the cities of the country in terms of their potential for protest (, and another has prepared an interactive map of the number of participants and the number of arrests in the March 26 demonstrations (

7.      Russia Becomes More Repressive Day by Day. Vladimir Putin’s regime has not imposed repression all at once, something that might have provoked more outcry at least abroad. Instead, it has taken steps, some small, some large, bit by bit so that things are getting much worse but without generating the kind of reaction that one might expect.  This week was a clear example of that. Among the many things Russian officials did were the following: The Federation Council proposed applying the foreign agent restrictions to individuals as well as NGOs (, the Duma voted to ban anonymizers to make it more difficult for people to end run Internet bans (, the culture minister called for boosting the share of Russian films in Russian theaters to 30 percent ( – had Ukraine done this, there would have been howls of complaint – more NGOs were raided by the police ( and, Putin’s Russian Guard opens camps for Sverdlovsk youth (, the Moscow authorities announced that the Panama dossier on corruption will remain classified (, the first sentence in Russia was handed down against someone who fought Russia in Ukraine (, Russia expands the use of facial recognition technology to assist in monitoring protesters (расследования/1014701/vsiekh_uchastnikov_niezakonnykh_mitinghov_raspoznaiet_sistiema_sova), the former director of the Ukrainian library in Moscow is given a four-year suspended sentence for extremism (, the Federation Council sets up a body to monitor and fight foreign influence (, more opposition publications are closed or end their print versions ( and, Sochi residents fined for distributing books not held to be extremist (, proposed new law would allow more generals and marshals to become members of Federation Council (, the first trial of a Russian charged with being a foreign agent begins (, and the interior ministry is pressing for a law that would make “slavish obedience” to the police a legal requirement (

8.      Urals Group Collects Money to Mint ‘Judas Medal’ for Gorbachev. Anti-Perestroika activists in the Urals are collecting money to mint a five-kilogram silver “Judas medal” for the first and last president of the USSR ( That was perhaps the most amusing action on the monuments front this week. Other skirmishes included: an expanded debate on just where to put a new cathedral in Yekaterinburg (, another statue of Feliks Dzerzinsky goes up on Lenin Street in Kirov ( while a memorial to Nicholas II goes up in Ryazan ( and a statue of Lenin is torn down in Kaluga (, a statue honoring Russian missionaries goes up in the Altay ( while a memorial to the revolutionaries of 1905 is taken down in Perm (, conflicts over renaming streets in Stavropol intensified (, and conflicts raged over just where to put a statue of Ivan the Terrible (  Meanwhile, Yeltsin and the Yeltsin Museum continued to be at the center of controversy, the former because of his widow’s insistence that the 1990s should be viewed positively, prompting demands that she be dispatched to a convent ( and the latter because of its apparent financial difficulties ( Meanwhile, an analysis of what happened after 1917 and then after 1991 concluded that “there wasn’t de-sovietization [in the latter case] but there was de-Russification [in the former]” ( And finally, Patriarch Kirill set the stage for still more fights over church property when he declared that his plan for 200 new churches in Moscow was insufficient: the Russian capital needs far more than that number (

9.      More Countries Call for Russia to Be Banned for 2018 Olympiad. A growing list of national sports federations has called on the IOC to ban Russian athletes from competing at the 2018 Olympiad given the still unresolved drug abuse scandal ( Meanwhile, Moscow’s preparations for hosting the 2018 World Cup have left many Russian regions without any money for local teams, even as Russia’s premier team loses yet another player ( and And a new problem has arisen about Russia hosting any international athletic competition: Because Moscow has ordered that X-ray units not be used in venue cities, doctors say there is a good chance this will lead to an increase in the number of cancer deaths (

10.  Russia’s Military Industries Not Producing What World Wants to Buy Now, Omsk Governor Says. The head of Omsk oblast says that a major reason Russia’s defense industry is in trouble is that it is not producing updated weapons that other countries want to buy. As a result, it is continuing to contract ( Russia is also losing another key group of specialists: Russia’s pilots can make so much more money in China – often four times as much – that they are leaving the country’s civil aviation arm much depleted (  Meanwhile, there is growing evidence of the bleeding of military equipment into private hands where it is being used for or resold even to terrorists  ( That has prompted the Kremlin  to order the Russian Guard to crack down hard on private gun ownership (, and  And Russia is having more trouble convincing military veterans that they will be taken care of in the way they have been promised (,-komu-to-sanuzel).  The Russian government has come up with one original domestic defense system: From now on, falcons will be used to supplement the existing defenses of the Moscow Kremlin itself (

11.  Rising Costs Forcing Moscow to Cut Back Military Purchases. The cost of new military aircraft is rising so fast that the Russian government is having to purchase fewer (, and a billion dollar price tag on refitting Russia’s only aircraft carrier means that it is unlikely to be completed on schedule ( and  The same thing may be true regarding Moscow’s plans to modernize four nuclear submarines ( Meanwhile, Russia is having other military problems both large – bears invading closed nuclear facilities and fires burning military sites ( and And it is also having problems maintaining its force size in Syria given losses and the decision to use North Caucasian units there ( and  But this week did feature a report about a Russian defense resource that Moscow has not used very much recently: Old Believers in Siberia are teaching Chinese troops how to live off the land in extreme conditions (

12.  Putin’s National Unity Combines What Can’t Be Combined. A Moscow commentator has pointed out that Putin’s “unity of the nation is when one and the same group of people scurry into church build in memory of those who were inoocently killed and inscribe on their banners the name of the executioner who killed these innocents” (

13.  Putin Includes Ever More People in the Kleptocracy to Save His Regime. Vladimir Putin is constantly expanding the number of people involved in his kleptocracy so they will have a vested interest in his and its survival ( Another commentator has suggested that the real clash of civilizations in Russia is between those who actually earn their living and those who are in a position simply to take (

14.  More than a Third of Russians Say Views Different than the Kremlin’s Shouldn’t Be Expressed. A new poll finds that more than a third of Russians oppose anyone expressing views at odds with those of Vladimir Putin, although half say that expressing such views is entirely appropriate (

15.  Russia builds a Road to Nowhere – Literally … Russia has in fact build a federal road which simply runs out in a forest ( Meanwhile, Russia’s notoriously bad roads are so bad in some places that officials are asking for divine intervention to fix them (, and in others, officials have declared an emergency situation because they are impassable (

16.  … And Some Want to Legalize and Tax Prostitution to Pay for Roads. Omsk officials are proposing that Russia legalize prostitution and then tax it to raise money for highways (

17.  Moscow Patriarchate Gets Ahead of Kremlin on War in Ukraine. A Russian Orthodox church near Moscow has put up a marble plinth with the names of those Russian soldiers who have died in the war in Ukraine, yet another way in which the Moscow Patriarchate has gotten ahead, at least in terms of propaganda themes, of the Kremlin on this issue (

18.  Kaliningraders Have No One to Blame for Their Problems Except Putin.  Commentators in the Baltic region point out that Vladimir Putin’s insistence that the exclave be treated no differently than any other Russian region is the primary source of the difficulties Kaliningraders now  face (

19.  Moscow Rarely Gives Refugee Status to Anyone. Only three percent of those who apply for refugee status in the Russian Federation now receive it. Of that small number, Ukrainians form 97 percent of the total (

20.  Putin Using Russians Abroad Much as Hitler Did Germans Abroad Before 1940, Kirillova Says. US-based Russian analyst Kseniya Kirillova says that Vladimir Putin’s government is now seeking to use ethnic Russians living outside the Russian Federation in much the same way Adolf Hitler used ethnic Germans abroad in the runup to World War II (

21.  Russian Librarians have Begun to Fear Their Books. The Russian government has declared so many publications “extremist” that librarians in that country have begun to fear their books, not certain which ones may fall on the prohibited list next (

22.  Russian Weathermen Will Only Predict Stormy Weather Ever Again. Stung by calls to impose criminal penalties on those weathermen who do not predict storms and some shocking errors, including predicting winter weather in Moscow this month, some Russian weathermen say they will invariably predict storms, confident that will prevent them from getting in trouble with the government (, and

23.  Russian Opposition Reopens Discussion of Lustration. Russian opposition parties which have shied away from any discussion of lustration in recent years have returned to it, arguing that it may be the only way to prevent new disasters ( and

24.  Duma Commits to Spending 350 Million Rubles for Polls about Itself. Having closed down most of the channels of popular influence on deputies, the Duma now plans to spend 350 million rubles (6.8 million US dollars) to find out what the Russian people think about its doings (  and

25.  Central Asians Now Outnumber Ethnic Chinese in Russian Far East.  Russians have long been worried about the influx of Chinese into the Russian Far East, but now, local officials say, the number of migrant workers there from Central Asia exceeds the number of ethnic Chinese (

26.  Rasputin’s Collected Works Published for the First Time. Various collections of the letters and articles of Rasputin have been published in the emigration and in Russia over the last 25 years, but now for the first time, supporters of the Siberian monk have assembled all his known writings and published them in a single volume (

            And 12 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Ukraine Again Sets NATO Membership as Its Goal.  As a result of Vladimir Putin’s aggression, Ukrainians want to be members of the Western alliance, according to Vitaly Portnikov (  A majority of Ukrainians again after 20 years favors seeking NATO membership and the Verkhovna Rada has adopted a resolution declaring that as the nation’s goal ( and  Perhaps equally indicative of Ukraine’s turn to the West is that ever more Ukrainians are choosing to study Polish rather than Russian as a second language (

2.      Moscow’s Appropriation of Ukrainian History Not Limited to Queen Anna Yaroslavivna. A Ukrainian commentator argues that Russia has blatantly stolen from Ukraine far more of its past than it has done from any other country and that Ukrainians share some of the blame because they have not consistently resisted this theft (

3.      Many in Ukraine’s Moscow Patriarchate Churches Now Identifying as ‘Just Orthodox.’  Many members of parishes nominally subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate are now identifying as “just Orthodox,” a shift not much noticed up to now but one that makes it likely that ever more of them will eventually choose to become members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (

4.      NATO Exercises Focus on Suwalki Corridor.  The Western alliance exercises in Poland and the Baltic countries are focusing on the Suwalaki gap (, a corridor that Russia might exploit in some future conflict.  In relate measures, Lithuania is working to complete its wall on the border with Russia ( and it is tightening control on Russian troops in civilian clothese transitting Lithuania to Kaliningrad, people who could perhaps play the role of “little green men” (

5.      Two-Thirds of Russians Say Annexation of Belarus ‘Impossible.’ A new poll finds that two out of three Russians say that annexing Belarus is absolutely impossible (

6.      Demand for Belarusian Language Schooling Increasing in Minsk.  Ever more parents in the Belarusian capital want their children to receive their schooling in Belarusian rather than Russian (

7.      Armenians May Not have as Many Friends in Moscow as They Think.  According to a new Russian poll, only one Russian in eight – 12 percent – says that Armenia is a friendly country as far as they are concerned (

8.      US Promotion of Sunni Alliance Creating Problems in Azerbaijan. Because Azerbaijan is simultaneously a Shiia majority country with a large number of Shiia Azeris in Iran and an alliance with Sunni Turkey, the US promotion of a Sunni alliance against Shiia Iran has created both foreign and domestic policy challenges in Baku, especially for the Shiia-led Muslim Spiritual Administration ( and

9.      50 Percent of Ashgabat’s Population Said Unemployed. Turkmenistan’s deepening economic problems are highlighted in a study which finds that more than half of the population in that Central Asian country’s capital are currently without full-time work (

10.   Saudi Arabia Sets Up Muslim University in Tajikistan.  Riyadh has opened a branch of Medina’s Islamic University in Dushanbe, a move that will expand Saudi influence there even as it limits demand by Tajiks to study at Islamic institutions abroad ( and

11.  Uzbek-Language Education Dying Out in Kyrgyzstan. Despite improving relations between Tashkent and Bishkek, Uzbek-language education in Kyrgyzstan is rapidly dying out (

12.   Tashkent Estimates There are Five Million Uzbeks in Russia.  Although Moscow says that there are fewer than two million Uzbeks in the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan officials now put the number at five million – or approximately one of every six Uzbeks (

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