Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 94

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 5 -- 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.      Putin’s Three Greatest ‘Achievements’ -- Unifying Ukraine, the US and the West. Various Russian and Ukrainian commentators have pointed out that Vladimir Putin can count among his greatest “achievements” three things he certainly didn’t want: a unified Ukraine, a unified US, and a unified West ( Moreover, some of them are suggesting that the arrest of the late Uzbekistan dictator’s daughter has frightened him more than the new Western sanctions (, even though they, like the Magnitsky list, are intended to send Putin’s entourage the message that the Kremlin leader can  no longer defend them ( Other Putin news this past week: he was named a friend of Muslims by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (, he managed to avoid saying anything about the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Terror (, and he refused to agree to become the coach of the Russian football team although he did say he would think about running for president again ( Meanwhile, an anti-Putin site in a satirical piece suggested that Russian scholars are working on a special medication to allow Putin to live another 60 or 70 years so that he can run for president five or six more times (политика/dlya-putina-sozdayut-lekarstvo-kotoroe-prodlit-emu-zhizn/).

2.      Trump, ‘Weak and No Longer Ours,” Sees His Support in Russia Fall by More than 50 Percent. Following the overwhelming Congressional vote to increase sanctions on Russia and not allow the president to change them without legislative approval and Donald Trump’s announcement that he would sign the measure, Dmitry Medvedev described the US president as “weak” and “no longer ours.” That led Trump to criticize the Congress for its action ( Meanwhile, a new poll found that only 18 percent of Russians have a positive view of Trump, down from 38 percent earlier this year (  And Russian outlets picked up on US commentaries suggesting that “Trump is a minor figure in Russian organized crimes” (

3.      Russian Politics Changing in ‘Agony of a Dying Democracy.’ A leading Moscow newspaper says that the upcoming presidential election in Russia is emblematic of the fact that the country is living through “the agony of a dying democracy” ( But as that happens, there are some political changes worth noting: Vladimir Zhirinovsky has called for the three systemic opposition parties to unite (,an analysis of the Duma shows that in the last Duma, 17 deputies did absolutely nothing (, United Russia is setting up a Soviet-style party school for its apparatchiks (, and analysts are suggesting that Putin’s presidential plenipotentiary system has exhausted its utility for the Kremlin (

4.      Russian Central Bank Urges Russians ‘to Think Less’ about Economic Problems.  The Kremlin media report on the problems of the Russian economy less than they deserve, but even so Russians are very much aware that things are tough. Now the Central Bank has come up with a new “solution.” It says that Russians should “think less” about problems in the economy like inflation ( Among other bad economic news: Russia’s GDP has now fallen back to its 2012 level (, more than half of Russians now fear that they won’t be paid in a timely manner (, and experts say that the government won’t be able to pay its employees their salaries by the end of this year now that reserves are gone (, another poll found that 42 percent of Russians don’t think Moscow will help them get with their economic difficulties (, and only four percent think the state will allow them to get out of poverty (, and a third of Russians are now relying on private plots for food much as they did in Soviet times ( Other disturbing news included: reports that Western pension funds now own millions of hectares of Russian land (, industrial production has fallen by six percent so far this year (, purchases of high-end dachas have fallen by 30 percent since last year (, housing construction has collapsed (, real incomes are down 20 percent since 2014  (, and savings are disappearing (  Russian economists are saying that even if the Kremlin can cope with sanctions in the short term, their long term impact will leave Russia ever further behind the West ( and Not surprisingly, ever more articles in the Russian media include headlines like “Life in Russia  is getting worse with each day” (
5.      Polls Showing Russians Upbeat Reflect Fact that They Believe Things are Worse in Ukraine. Analysts say that recent polls, much celebrated by the regime, showing that a greater share of Russians are happy today than ever before reflect not a judgment on their own situation but rather their sense that things are even worse in neighboring Ukraine (  and Other disturbing social news this week included: residents of six districts in the Kuban say that serfdom has returned there (, family violence is spreading across Russia (, fewer than a million Russian marriages occurred last year, the smallest number since 2004 ( ), workplace suicides are on the rise (, a Leningrad oblast man took out a loan to pay for the murder of his wife (, surveys show that young Russians are less patriotic, less collectivist and less interested in religious values than their parents (, and half of Russians still say you can’t do business without paying bribes (

6.      Being Orthodox Doesn’t Mean Pro-Putin, Expert Says. The Kremlin mistakenly assumes that those who identify as Orthodox are invariably pro-Putin but that is not the case (, despite the fact that the church cooperates with the state in attacking secularism ( The church has its own agenda – it recently attacked all those who study abroad (, is pushing for an ever greater voice in educational matters, something that is sparking dissent (, and is successfully demanding the “return” of property that was never its in the first place ( and Meanwhile, in another religious development, the RIA news agency reported that the Orthodox church is increasingly hiring Muslim workers to build new churches in Moscow (

7.      Racial Profiling Only Most Visible Ethnic Problem This Week. Russian police are increasingly singling out those who fit the image they have of ethnic minorities and especially Chechens, an approach that is outraging many non-Russians (,  and Other developments included: non-Russians were dramatically underrepresented in Presidential Grants this year (, but the Russian nationalist Night Wolves also came up short, not getting anything for the first time since 2012 ( Stories appeared about efforts to kill Ramzan Kadyrov ( and also about the support he reportedly has among the Jews of Chechnya (  Tatar nationalists of the Vatan organization called on Kazan to defend their republic’s sovereignty against Moscow (, Moscow promotes Kryashen movement against Tatars (, a major court case has arisen as a result of a hospital mistakenly confusing a Bashkir and an ethnic Russian baby and giving them to the wrong parents (, and Russian officials have been throwing up additional obstacles to prevent Circassians from gaining Russian citizenship ( But there was one development this week that may cast an enormous positive shadow on the future: Adgyey librarians have posted online the texts of numerous rare Circassian books from the 1920s and 1930s, a model for other non-Russian nations ( and

8.      Regional Leaders Increasingly Hiring Their Relatives. It is not just in Moscow that nepotism is rampant. In many regions, top leaders are appointing their relatives to key positions ( Many Russians are concerned about both widespread forest fires in Siberia and the Far East and the sale of timber from there to China ( and And the activities of the regional elites have stirred increasing concern in Moscow (

9.      Russia Now has More than One Million Registered HIV Cases. Russian medical officials say that the number of Russians infected with the HIV/AIDS virus and registered with the state has passed one million, with the real total undoubtedly higher ( Other medical news included: commentators say the Russian elite doesn’t care about oncological services in Russia because its members go abroad for treatment. Poorer Russians can’t and are protesting and dying as a result ( and The quality of Russian tap water is so bad that Russians have continued to buy bottled water even when they have cut back on food ( Human DNA has been found in Moscow sausages ( The cost of medicine is increasing three times as fast as overall inflation ( Under Putin’s health optimization program, almost 9,000 of Russia’s 80,000 villages with fewer than 100 residents do not have access to any medical care within an hour’s travel time of their homes (

10.  Protests of All Kinds Continue to Spread. The long-haul truckers have resumed their strike with a convoy through major cities, but the biggest protests of the week were by opponents of the film “Mathilda.”  Those protests which in many cases enjoy the backing of the authorities are backfiring because they have stimulated enormous interest in the move among many Russians (, and Some Russians who wanted to mark the 80th anniversary of the start of the Great Terror were able to; others were blocked by the authorities (, and One protest this week was successful: After officials fired Russia’s teacher of the year for taking part in opposition activities, popular anger forced them to reverse course and return her to the classroom (

11.  Moscow Worried Repression May Be Increasing Protests. Some Russian officials believe that the amount of repression the government has used has not intimidated people but rather sparked more dissent. Some want to cut back on repression, but others likely believe that the only answer to protest is more repression (, and (Presumably no one is suggesting doing what Stalin did when he launched the great terror: introducing champagne and ice cream in Soviet stores for the first time (  At least repression appears to be on the rise: the Federation Council has called on the FSB to check all academic papers before publication (, the FSB has stepped up checks on St. Petersburg metro riders to the anger of many ( Attacks on journalists and rights activists have increased, including violent ones by “private” citizens (,,, and More evidence of torture and extrajudicial murder has surfaced in Chechnya ( Pro-Putin groups have continued to attack the offices of opposition figure Aleksey Navalny ( Russia’s answer to Jerry Springer quit saying that there was too much political pressure on his show ( Siloviki broke up a Roma village in Tatarstan ( Evidence surfaced about mistreatment of people in a Bryansk psychiatric facility ( But an FSB officer who murdered his wife and children got off by means of a psychiatric defense: his lawyers claimed he is a schizophrenic (
12.  FSB Says It has Captured Underground Criminal Group Producing and Selling Arms to Population.  The FSB says it has succeeded in arresting the members of a criminal group that had been selling weapons to the population ( That announcement came as a group of criminals tried to shoot their way out of a Moscow court (, the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee complained about rising violence in the military (, and as polls in several cities showed that many people don’t feel safe anymore ( Meanwhile, an anonymous caller said he was prepared to blow up all railroad stations in Russia unless he was paid off. He has not yet been captured (
13.  Reuters Says Russian Forces Have Lost 40 Killed in Syria.  The Reuters news agency says that Russian forces have suffered 40 killed in action in Syria, vastly more than Moscow has acknowledged. Russian officials immediately denounced the agency report as a provocation (  Meanwhile, the travails of Russia’s defense industry were highlighted this week by a continuing debate on whether Russia can build six aircraft carriers as Putin has called for (, why Moscow officials think they can build ships at a yard that it now in ruins (, and how the country can be a naval power given that only 47 of its 291 capital ships were built in Putin’s time. Most go back to the era of the Soviet Union ( But the Kremlin thinks it has a magic bullet: the daughter of Putin’s press spokesman who despite lacking any experience is now giving directions at a shipyard in Sevastopol (
14.  Putin Promises to Keep Lenin in Mausoleum until at Least 2024, Zyuganov Says. The head of the KPRF says Putin has told him that he won’t bury Lenin before the centenary of the Bolshevik leader’s death. Zyganov also opined that the mausoleum constituted a Russian Orthodox funeral and should be respected as such (   and On other fronts of the monuments war, the Moscow Patriarchate says it will take control of St. Isaac’s in the near future (, officials in the Transbaikal are defending their decision to keep Soviet monuments up by saying that this will attract Chinese tourists (, the demand for states of older Russian imperial heroes is so great that sculptures are copying Greek and Roman antiquities when they don’t have a reliable picture of the individual in question (, a new state of Nicholas II has gone up and other has been attacked ( and, and yet another memorial to a leader of the pre-1917 Black Hundreds organization has been erected (
15.  Pressure Mounts at Home and Abroad to Strip Moscow of 2018 World Cup Competition. Igor Eidman has detailed the increasing acceptance of the arguments of those who say Russia should not be allowed to host the 2018 World Cup (  Eigiht US senators have urged FIFA to take the competition away from Moscow ( And FIFA itself has launched an investigation into Moscow’s exploitation of North Korean workers to build its stadiums ( Meanwhile, WADA has said that Moscow must accept the McClaren anti-doping report in full to be rehabilitated in international competition (, and more Russian athletes have been disqualified and stripped of their medals for illegal drug use in the past ( and The IAAF has banned Russian athletes from using the flag during competition, something Moscow says it doesn’t consider insulting ( and More Russians are protesting the construction of a parking lot for the competition on the Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, incuding local people, architects, deputies, and the Navalny campaign (,, and Meanwhile, regional governments are complaining about the costs they are having to bear in support of the competition (, and Moscow is talking about the modern drunk tanks it plans for those attending, a discussion that calls attention to what is a real matter of concern (

16.  Ever More Russians Blame Elites rather than West for Their Problems.  Polls show that ever more Russians believe that their problems arise from the behavior of Russian elites rather than from any action by the West (

17.  Ruble Now Increasingly Delinked from Oil Prices. In the past, the value of the Russian ruble rose when oil prices did and fell when they fell, but now because of other economic problems and the lower price for oil, the two are not nearly as directly linked. As a result, the ruble may fall when oil prices go up and vice versa, Moscow experts say (

18.  One-Third of World’s Population Views Russia as ‘a Serious Threat.’ A new Pew poll finds that a third of the population of the earth now considers Russia to be a serious threat to the rest of the world (

19.  Dogs of Rich Russians have Better Holidays than Most Russians Do.  Photographs of the pampered canines of the Russian rich on vacation have gone viral, highlighting the unfortunate reality that dogs of the rich have much better holidays than do poor Russians ( Russian tourists also face problems in that Turkish hoteliers have imposed special fees on Russians because they eat or waste more food than other visitors (

20.  Regions Want to Revive Regional Air Carriers. Given the collapse of domestic air carriers in Russia, some regional governments are now hoping to promote new regional carriers to fill the gap and link them and their neighbors together ( and

21.  Rosneft Names Former German Chancellor to Its Board. Russia’s Rosneft company has named Gerhard Schroeder to its board, yet another way that politics and economics have been combined in Moscow strategy (

22.  Putin’s Inconsistent Actions on the Environment. Vladimir Putin has ordered the elimination of restrictions on economic activity near Lake Baikal, further threating that national treasure ( even as he has very publicly promised to do more to clean up that body of water ( Many Russian businesses are pressing for the elimination of even more environmental restrictions arguing that such things are leading to the de-industrialization of the country (

23.  One Russian in Five has Never Used the Internet. According to a new survey, 19 percent of Rsusians have never once gone on line (, even though for the other four Internet use is rising fast (

24.  Fools and Roads Convert in Yekaterinburg. A road construction crew in Yekaterinburg confronted with a car parked where it was scheduled to repave the street solved the problem by simply paving over much of the car (

25.  Young Turning to First Channel for Entertainment, Not News. Russian officials have celebrated recent poll findings showing that young Russians view the First Channel more often than any other, but analysts say they do so because that outlet has the best entertainment programs not because the young people rely on it for news (

26.  Russian Who hasn’t Left His Apartment Since Soviet Times an Internet Sensation.  In Soviet times, newspapers occasionally reported about people who had lived so isolated from the country that they didn’t know that Russia wasn’t governed by a tsar. Now, the Internet has made a hero out of an urban Russia who has remained in his apartment every minute since 1991 and as a result is almost as out of touch (

                And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1.      Moscow’s War Against Ukraine Shouldn’t Be Minimized by Calling It ‘Hybrid,’ CIA Director Says. The director of the US Central Intelligence Agency says that Russia’s war against Ukraine is a war pure and simple and should not be minimized by calling it “hybrid” or some other adjective ( That does not mean there aren’t some unusual and even “hybrid” elements, but they don’t define the conflict (

2.      Ukrainians More Divided by Class than by Language, Commentator Says. Many observers argue that Ukrainians are divided between those who speak Ukrainian and those who speak Russian, but one commentator argues that divisions between rich and poor are far more important for an understanding of Ukrainian politics (

3.      Moscow Close to Finishing Rail and Highway Projects Bypassing Ukraine. Since 2014, Moscow has committed itself to ensuring that its rail and highway networks remain within the borders of the Russian Federation rather than cross Ukrainian territory. Now officials say that it is close to completing both the rail and highway changes needed to make that happen ( and

4.      Ukrainians Attack Separatist Monument in Luhansk; Moscow Occupiers Plan to Put Up Castro Statue in Crimea.  A monument to pro-Moscow separatists in Luhansk was blown up by Ukrainians last week ( Meanwhile, Russian occupiers in Crimea announced that they will soon erect a state to Fidel Castro on the Ukrainian peninsula ( Whether that will do anything to fill the peninsula’s hotels, which remain one third vacant at this peak season, remains to be seen (

5.      US Said Promoting Intermarium; EU Actively Pushing Poland to Black Sea Waterway.  Russian commentators say the United States is behind the Intermarium security discussions linking states between the Russian Federation and the EU ( Meanwhile, the EU is very publicly promoting the development to a waterway between Poland and the Black Sea via Belarus and Ukraine ( Moscow is concerned about both: As Putin’s spokesman put it, Russia doesn’t mind if the countries to its west cooperate on a one-to-one relationship with Western countries but very much opposes their joining any Western structures that moves the borders of these organizations toward Russia (

6.       Belarusians Increasingly Conscious of Their Differences with Russia.  Belarusians don’t look like Russians, a new study finds ( Their language is so different that a dictionary has been compiled of Belarusian words which don’t exist in Russian ( And a series of new articles points to the ways Moscow worked to destroy Belarusian national identity in the past ( and

7.      Moldova Declares Rogozin Persona non Grata. Following Dmitry Rogozin’s tirade against Moldova for not allowing his plane to pass through Moldovan airspace, a tirade he subsequently felt compelled to remove, Chisinau declared that the Russian official is now persona non grata as far as it is concerned (  and

8.      Religion Playing Ever Smaller Role in Latvia.  A new sociological study finds that religion is playing a declining role in the lives of Latvians (

9.      Tashkent Opens Second Chance University. The Uzbekistan government has opened a special pedagogical institute for those who failed to get into its regular university system (

10.  Fewer Tajiks Using Mobile Phones, Internet. Rising prices and government opposition have led Tajiks to cut back on their use of mobile telephones and of the Internet (

11.  Tensions Rising on Daghestan-Azerbaijan Border as Demarcation Remains in Dispute. Neither Makhachkala nor Baku have been able to agree on the demarcation of the border between their two republics, in large measure because several ethnic communities are divided by that line and because of issues concerning the division of water from the river that defines the border now (

12.  Kazakhstan Says No Kazakh is to Go Abroad to Study Islam.  Like other Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan has taken a number of steps to restrict Kazakh Muslims from studying abroad. Astana has now banned all of them from going abroad to study in religious institutions ( It is likely to discover, as Turkmenistan  has, that taking that step is unlikely to dramatically affect the situation at home (

13.  Kyrgyz Muslims Ask Mullahs to Determine Which Sex Toys are Halal.  Muslims require that their religious authorities certify that food and other goods are halal, that is, pure according to Islamic norms. Now a group of Muslims in Kyrgyzstan has taken the next logical step and asked mullahs there to identify which sex toys are halal and acceptable and those which are haram and thus banned (

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