Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 93

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 29 -- 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 these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 93rd such compilation, and it is again a double issue with 26 from Russia and 13 from Russia’s neighbors. Even then, it is far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1.      Is Putin a CIA Agent or Only the Richest Man on Earth? Vladimir Putin  has done so much harm to Russia that the only possible conclusion is that he is an agent of Western special services, a charge that recalls those made by Soviet loyalists against Mikhail Gorbachev ( Meanwhile, Willilam Browder, the founder of Hermitge Capital and the man behind the Magnitsky Act, suggests that Putin is “the richest man in the world” with a net worth of perhaps 200 billion US dollars (  Putin is certainly wealth and he has helped his friends to great wealth as well: this week it came out that he had made a dollar billionaire of the man who supervised his kandidat dissertation ( But Putin seems to be losing it in some ways, denying the obvious – there is no censorship of any kind in Russia, the Kremlin leader says, or confusing the figures about the growth or decline of the Russian population ( and He did reveal  his KGB name – Platov ( – and said he maintains his equilibrium by remaining on Moscow time even when he travels (

2.      Criticism of Putin Mounts among Commentators and Officials. It is perhaps no surprise that many Russian commentators are critical of Putin these days: One said that distrust in his regime is so great that Aleksey Navalny looks good by comparison (  But more seriously, some officials are become more if still implicitly critical of the Kremlin leader: Challenged by those who object to new charges for carryon luggage, the transportation ministry said Putin had made the decision, a claim that it may have thought would end discussion but that highlights objections to his policies within the Russian government (

3.      Trump is Like Having Zhirinovsky in Power, Russian Analyst Says. If criticism of Putin is generally circumspect, criticism of the US president Putin had hoped would be his ally is not.  One Russian writer suggested that Donald Trump is the American equivalent of the outrageous LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and is behaving just as Zhirinovsky would if he were in the Kremlin ( Another Russian analyst says that Trump may not be Putin’s agent but he uses many of the same propaganda techniques, an analysis that cuts both ways ( But Russian commentator are suggesting that Trump and Putin are beginning to understand each other better, with the former recognizing that Putin is a real danger and the latter realizing that an American president isn’t all powerful ( and Antoher Russian analyst (Igor Eidman) says that the two are a lot alike but that the US system is in many ways “idiot proof” while the Russian one isn’t (

4.      To Save Economy, Some in Moscow Thinking about Reviving Five-Year Plans.  One measure of how bad the Russian economy now is as compared to Kremlin claims about it is that some officials are now proposing that the Kremlin revive the Soviet practice of five-year plans to organize economic activity ( Such proposals have surfaced as the IMF predicts an economic boom just about everywhere except in the Russian Federation ( and Russian state policies are suppressing entrepreneurialism or driving it underground ( Other distressing economic news this week incudes: housing prices have fallen but not enough to compensate for falling incomes, leading to a collapse in property markets and in the building industry (, and; ever fewer Russians can pay their loans in a timely fashion or qualify for new ones (,,  and, real per capita incomes are back where they were in 2007 (, trade unions are warning of massive unemployment ahead (, business confidence in Russia is declining (, and Moscow is discovering that trying to end run sanctions may make its situation even worse ( One mile post in the economy this week deserves to be noted: the first-ever legal post-Soviet Russian dollar millionaire has died (

5.      Moscow Will Soon Be Divided Between Rich Neighborhoods and Slums. Russians have long been proud that their cities are not divided between rich neighborhoods and slums as is the case in many cities abroad, but the current city government is taking actions that many fear will transform Moscow into a city like any other ( Other unwelcome social news at the individual level: pensioners have been promised only a four US dollar increase in their monthly pensions (, government support for Russian university students ihas fallen behind that of Ukraine, Belarus or Kazakhstan (, the tourism tax has outraged many Russians and convinced them not to travel at all this year (, Russians face the prospect that they soon will not be able to get payday loans (, only a quarter of Russians say they have saved any money for their funerals (, Russians confined to psychiatric facilities are being seriously mistreated, according to a new study (, and the electric commuter trains many Russians now rely on have been declared increasingly unsafe (

6.      Reducing Number of Hospital Beds Improving Access to Russian Health Care, Officials Say. Last year, the Russian government as part of Putin’s optimization campaign reduced the number of hospital beds in the country by 23,000. This week, the health ministry insisted that this improved access to health care in Russia ( and  There was more bad news on  the health front, including a report that there is now only one doctor for every 85 residents in St. Petersburg which is better served than many other cities (, a serious reduction in the amount of government money going to help those with Alzheimer’s (, and  showing that two-thirds of Russians are now suffering health problems because of environmental problems, including dirty air ( and Meanwhile, a controversies broke out about the high prices and  low availability of condoms in Russia ( and about corruption in medication supply chains ( But perhaps the most disturbing reports of all concern increases in the number of Russians suffering and dying from cancer. At present, 1,000 of them are dying of that disease every day ( and the incidence of cancer is increasing in all age groups ( One hospital has come up with an idea to “improve” the situation: medical personnel will be docked 500 rubles (eight US dollars) for each patient who dies on their watch (

7.      Kremlin Behind Kadyrov’s Offer to Go to Jerusalem, Israeli Analyst Says.  Avraam Shmulyevich says that Ramzan Kadyrov’s offer to resign and go to Jerusalem to solve the conflicts over access to the Temple Mount is a Kremlin stunt designed to distract attention from Moscow’s failure to extend the power-sharing accord with Tatarstan and to mollify Russia’s Muslims who often feel that the Russian government doesn’t do enough for them ( Other developments on the nationalities front this week include: studies show that the Kremlin’s program to distribute free land in the Far East is harming the indigenous population (, the Chuvash have taken the lead in opposing Putin’s line on non-Russian languages (, the situation in Daghestan is slipping out of control with fewer people supporting the Moscow-installed regime, more officials kidnapped, and continuing tensions about the Nogays (,, and, protests have erupted in Bashkortostan against the Moscow-imposed ruler there (/, the 650,000 ethnic Kazakhs living in Russia are forming an all-Russian organization to defend their interests (, the Hilton hotel chain is planning to open a hotel in Sakha (, the ousted president of Mari El is appealing to the outside world with his own poetry (, officials are playing games with the Russian language examination to keep Circassians from Syria from gaining Russian citizenship (, and hostility in the North Caucasus to people from Central Asia appears to be on the rise (

8.      Liberal Russians Failing to Protest State’s Effort to Declare Bible Translation ‘Extremist.’ The Russian government is continuing its efforts to have a translation of the Bible prepared by the Jehovah’s Witnesses declared “extremist” in contravention of Russian law (, but unfortunately, Russian liberals aren’t protesting this egregious action, according to a Moscow commentator ( Meanwhile, despite complaints that the Russian Orthodox Church isn’t maintaining buildings returned to it, many in the legislature are pressing for giving it even more buildings including empty houses that the church had never owned before (, and The Moscow Patriarchate has also reached agreement with the culture ministry to prepare joint texts to promote the “correct” views about Russian classics (

9.      Moscow, Local Governments Step Up Fight Against Regionalist Movements. Governments in various parts of the Russian Federation have joined with Moscow to try to suppress regionalist movements (,, and Among the things powering regionalism is Moscow’s reduction in subsidies for key issues like demography and the impact of global warming on the Russian north (,, and

10.  Blood Drawings Not Acceptable for Security Services’ Anniversary. Pupils in a Siberian school have been told that their offerings in a drawing competition on the occasion of the anniversary of Russia’s security services won’t be accepted if they are drawn in blood as some of the children planned ( and Other protests this week including a demonstration against migration in Ingushetia that was forcibly suppressed by police (, complaints by Russians about officials who increase their own pay when others are suffering (, a Moscow demonstration in favor of Internet freedom that led to the arrest of one man with a sign reading “Putin lies” ( and, more protests about renovation plans in Moscow with the likelihood that these will spread now that the center has decided to extend the renovation plan to the entire country (,,  and, miners declared a  hunger strike and sued the VTsIOM director for his dismissive comments ( and, Kazan residents protest against the construction of a mosque there (, Derbent residents demonstrate against handling of trash (, Pulkovo astronomers who complained to Putin are fired (, Yaroslavl people picket against cutting down trees in city center (, and liberals and Russian naitonalists work together in Penza to call for the freedom of all political prisoners (

11.  Too Much Knowledge about Repressions a Threat to Russian Identity, Teachers Say. Teachers in Perm say that children should not be given too much information about repressions in the past (and presumably in the present?) lest it undermine their Russian national identities ( Meanwhile, in other measures of repression, fewer officials were charged with corruption and bribery over the last six months than a year ago ( and, but only one in every 500 ordinary Russians charged in Sverdlovsk oblast was found not guilty (, more than half of Chelyabinsk residents say they don’t trust the police (, the authorities have brought extremism charges against a Magnitogorsk witch for supposedly threatening them (, officials seeking power to shutter websites without a court hearing (, other officials have been caught using sexual torture against students who take part in protests (, Moscow wants to ban those who beg on behalf of sick children (, inmates have been tortured to change their testimony and confess  (, and, definition of bribery may be expanded to include non-monetary gifts, thus opening the way for more to be charged (, the Kremlin has appointed a new official to oversee the Internet (, and officials have launched a case against a glossy journal for photographs of models in a non-working church (

12.  GULAG Not Only Continues Under Putin But is Getting Worse. Russia’s prison camps remain an integral part of its economy and penal system, and conditions in them are in fact getting worse after compared to their state at the end of Soviet times (  and This week, reports about a secret FSB prison near Moscow, one that some Russian writers christened “the Russian Guantanmo” because it houses suspected terrorists from Central Asa, sparked a sharp debate about the GULAG more generally, with activists and former inmates talking about torture and other forms of terror and repression while officials denied such facilities even exist (,,,,,, and

13.  Radical Russian Nationalists Caught Illegally Selling Guns to Population. Russian officials have lost control of the gun market, as two reports this week showed: According to one, a group of Russian neo-Nazis were selling guns to anyone who wanted them (, and according to the second, Daghestan’s effort to buy back guns in private hands has collapsed ( Significantly, those who want to buy guns this way want to buy foreign made ones which are considered to be of higher quality despite their higher prices (  Putin’s Russian Guard which  has made fighting illegal private gun ownership one of its targets got its own aviation wing this week as well as promises to organize companies of scientists to help it do its job ( and But its overreaching has sparked opposition: a group of Russians in a Moscow suburb blocked its efforts to build a new facility there ( And in another indication of the domestic security situation, two women appealed to Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to end the conflict so that their sons and the sons of others could return home (

14.  Only Honest Part of Putin’s Defense Plan is Provision Saying It Will Be Cut if Budget Requires. Putin’s ambitious defense plan will not be realized, experts say who point out that the only honest provision is one that says it will be modified according to the amount of money available ( (Indeed, Dmitry Medvedev has already indicated it won’t be fulfilled as far as its Arctic sector plans are concerned (  Instead, Putin seems set on spending massively on public demonstrations of force without really building things up (, and Many ships will be in drydock far longer than the plan specifies and Russia is unlikely to be able to catch up with the US in key technology areas ( and Russia is also wrestling with a shortage of draft age males. This week, the Russian ombudsman proposed allowing the drafting of women but this has sparked much negative comment (,  and  Meanwhile, recognizing that it has few friends and allies and thus little soft power ( and, Russian officials and businesses are hiring more lobbyists but in fact, because of the budget, spending less on them than they were ( In other defense news, Moscow approved a unified group of forces with Armenia ( and took a 49 year lease on an airbase in Syria (

15.  Ivan the Terrible, Nicholas II and Dzerzhinsky Statues Go Up as Gogol Monument Crumbles. In order to get a statue of Ivan the Terrible up in Moscow quickly, the authorities moved one there from Vladimir Oblast ( and,1,97242-vazhnoe-sobytie-v-centre-moskvy-ustanovlen-pamyatnik-ivanu-groznomu.html). Also going up is one to Nicholas II and the Imperial Family ( and to Cheka founder Feliks Dzerzhinsky ( But an older statue of Nikolay Gogol in Moscow fell apart into the street because of lack of repairs ( The Constitutional Court said it would not consider an appeal against handing St. Isaac’s back to the Russian Orthodox Church (, but conflicts continued over the film “Mathilda” ( and a statue to a Soveit general who suppressed Manchukuo in 1945 ( Ecologists have now weighed in against the construction of the Church on the Waters in Yekaterinburg ( And controversy is likely ahead in the cases of two monuments planned to honor the victims of Soviet power: those who died in the Great Terror ( and those Russian officers killed in the Red Terror in 1918 (

16.  Russians Furious Over Desecration to Volgograd’s Mamayev Kurgan to build World Cup Parking. Vladimir Putin’s regime may have done more to block the 2018 World Cup being held in Russia than any of his foreign opponents. Moscow has ordered the construction of a parking lot on some of the holiest land in Russia: the site of the Soviet defense of Stalingrad against the Germans in World War II. Russians are furious and there is no indication that their fury won’t extend to the entire world cup effort (,  and  Giving Russians free tickets won’t do the trick ( Moreover, none of the old problems has disappeared: the construction of venues has been corrupt and incompetent ( and, and  the doping scandal shows no sign of disappearing although it has received less coverage in recent weeks (, and Also unchanged has been Russia’s response: to blame the West for Russia’s failures ( and to threaten to organize its own games to which Western athletes won’t be invited (

17.  Bring Back ‘Comrade’ as Russian Greeting, KPRF Says.  Russian communists have called on Moscow to drop the use of “mister” and use the Soviet-era term “comrade” as the proper greeting of one Russian to another (

18.  Russian Justice ‘More Perfect’ than European Human Rights Court, Moscow Ombudsman Says. In the increasingly Orwellian discourse of Russian officials, this week’s prize for the most outrageous remark in the Russian Federation goes to the Russian human rights ombudsman who says that Russian justice is “more perfect” than that of the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg (

19.  Wallenberg Family Sues FSB for Release of Information on Family Patriarch.  The family of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved hundreds of Jews at the end of World War II before disappearing into the maw of the Soviet occupation organs, has sued the FSB for the release of information about him ( and

20.  Nothing New Under the Sun: Femen has Roots in Tsarist Okhrana Practice.  The radical femen movement which uses nudity to make political points can trace its origins not to the hippies of the West in the 1960s but to some of the tactics the tsarist secret police used against Nicholas II’s enemies, according to a new study (

21.  Gigantist Russian State Projects Allow for More Corruption. One reason that Moscow likes gigantist projects is the importance of size in all things to Russian officials; but another and more compelling reason, a Moscow commentator says, is that large projects offer many more opportunities for corruption and theft (

22.  Russian Officials Working Hard to Remove Data about Themselves from Internet.  Russian officials are Internet-savvy enough to know that any information that goes on the web will be mined by others and possibly used against them. They are not savvy enough to recognize that almost everything is cached and therefore retrievable even if it is removed by those who put it up (

23.  ‘You Can Take Russians Out of the 1990s But You Can’t Take the 1990s Out of Russians.’ A Moscow blogger points out that it is not only a question of removing Soviet values from contemporary Russians but also removing some of the highly distorted ones that were widespread in the first decade after the end of the USSR and suggests that doing that may prove far harder than anyone now thinks (

24.  Russian Internet Posters May Not Be Becoming Smarter but They are Using Bigger Words. A massive new study of online posts by Russians finds that these increasingly feature longer words and thus concludes that Russians are becoming smarter, an intellectual leap many might challenge (

25.  Leader of Black Hundreds Movement Celebrated. A prominent Russian Orthodox nationalist portal this week celebrated the life of the organizer of the notoriously anti-Semitic Black Hundreds movement. The lengthy hagiography praised his activities as reflecting “the conscience” of the Russian people (

26.  Russia is ‘God’s Bad Joke on Humanity.’ A Russian commentator, Igor Yakovenko, says that Russia now as in the past is “God’s bad joke on humanity” (

                And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Superheroes Retake Crimea for Ukraine – at Least in the Comics. A Ukrainian publisher has released a new line of comic books featuring a variety of superheroes. In one of the books, the superheroes combine to oust the occupiers from Crimea and restore Ukrainian sovereignty in that peninsula (

2.      Kyiv Documents Russian Financing of Terrorists in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has turned over thousands of pages of documents to the International Criminal Court that show Moscow has been financing terrorist groups on Ukrainian territory (

3.       More than Eight Million Guns have Leaked into Ukraine, Russia from Donbass War Zone. Military veterans estimate that more than eight million guns have leaked into private hands in Ukraine and Russia. Few of these have been registered with the authorities in either country, and almost all of which create problems for the two societies (

4.       55 Russians Take Ukrainian Citizenship During First Half of 2017.  According to Kyiv officials, 55 former Russian citizens took Ukrainian citizenship during the first six months of this year, a relatively small number but one that suggests such people are betting on Ukraine’s future rather than Russia’s ( ).

5.      Moldova’s Parliament Demands Russia Pull Its Troops from Transdniestria. Even though Moldova has a pro-Russian president, its parliament is solidly anti-Moscow and has now demanded that the Russian government pull its troops out of the breakaway republic of Transdniestria so that Moldovan sovereignty and control can be restored there (

6.      Smolensk Should Again Be Part of Belarus, Many Residents Say. Many people in Smolensk oblast which is now part of the Russian Federation identify with Belarus in which their territory was situated before World War II, and at least some of them now proudly declare that they are “an island of Belarus” within Russia ( and

7.      Lithuanian Visiting Belarus Asks that People Speak Belarusian, Not Russian with Her.  Saying that she is “from Lithuania and doesn’t understand Russian in all cases,” a Lithuanian visiting Belarus has asked her interlocutors there to “speak Belarusian” instead ( and

8.       Kyrgyzstan to Test Officials for Kyrgyz Language Knowledge Beginning Next Year.  Kyrgyzstan has been one of the slowest of the post-Soviet states to go over to the language of its titular nation in official business, but now Bishkek has announced that beginning in 2018, it will require all officials to take and pass a test in Kyrgyz (

9.      Armenians are Learning Azerbaijani. In what must be one of the most unusual linguistic developments in the post-Soviet space, Armenians are now learning Azerbaijani, educational officials say, apparently convinced that knowledge of that language will ultimately be more useful to them than say Russian ( At the same time, there are ever more calls from the opposition for Yerevan to break with Russia (

10.   To Balance Russian Influence, Kazakhstan Seeks Closer Military Ties with the US.  In order to counter Moscow’s attempts to dominate it, Astana is pursuing closer military and other ties with the West in general and the US in particular (

11.  Two-Thirds of Georgians Want to Join the EU, NATO. More than six out of ten citizens of the Republic of Georgia want their country to become a member of the two key Western institutions, the European Union and NATO (

12.   Outmigration and Immigration Changing Ethnic Mix in Post-Soviet States. Lithuania is only one country where the influx of immigrants is compensating for the departure of native Lithuanians, but there as elsewhere, this process is changing in large ways or small the ethnic mix of the populations of these states (

13.  Estonia Treats Pensioners Best in Former Soviet Space; Russia Isn’t Even in Top 30. Estonia pays higher pensions and provides better medical care to its aging population than any other post-Soviet state, according to a new international ranking. Russia in contrast doesn’t even make the top 30 (

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