Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 96

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 19 -- 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 96th 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.      Russians Search Online for Porn Three Times as Often as They Do for Putin. A new survey finds that when Russians go online, they search for pornography three times more often than they do for Putin. The study also found important regional differences in the kind of pornography residents of Russia like and in the length of time they spend at porn sites ( and The Putin “shirtless challenge” has spread across the Russian blogosphere with numerous people posting pictures of themselves in Putin poses ( And Putin this week was compared with Mussolini and Nicholas II, comparisons he may not welcome ( and And it is entirely possible he might have been compared with Chingiz Khan had Russian media not censored the interview with Game of Thrones creator George Martin (

2.      Russians Notice Trump Condemns Everyone Except Putin and Neo-Nazis.  A Moscow newspaper has pointed out that US President Donald Trump is quick to attack and condemn everyone except Vladimir Putin and neo-Nazi extremists, implicitly suggesting a link between the two ( Meanwhile, the Russian media has distorted results from an international poll in order to claim that Trump is now less popular than the Kremlin leader ( and

3.      Putin System Fraying at the Edges.  Various news reports this week suggest that however powerful Putin remains, his system is beginning to fray at the edges with subordinates acting increasingly at odds with what he might prefer or in ways that will only land the Kremlin leader in greater difficulty.  Among these stories are the following: Moscow sought to ignore or at least downgrade any commemoration of the 26th anniversary of the August 1991 coup (, Sakha residents want “against all” brought back to ballots thereby reversing one of Putin’s innovations (, polls show that half of Rusisans think a current high profile court case is nothing but “a show trial” (, Russians are complaining openly that it is hard to get a government job without connections or bribes ( and that the only cuts in staffing are at the bottom of the pyramid and not those near the Kremlin (, the Accounting Chamber has found that more than a trillion rubles (16 billion US dollars) has disappeared without a trace from the government budget (, and most tellingly of all, Putin has been forced to warn government agencies not to think that their internal decisions can take precedence over Russian laws (

4.      A Virtual War has Broken Out Between ‘Last Soviet Fathers’ and First ‘Post-Soviet Children.’ Underlying much of what is going on in Russia today, a virtual war has broken out between “the last Soviet fathers” who still rule the country and the first generation of “post-Soviet children” who don’t but who now form an increasing fraction of the population and will soon make up more than half, according to one Russian commentator (

5.      Russians’ Real Incomes a Third Less than Government Says. Russians’ real income is now a third less than the government says not only because inflation is much higher for those who live on their pay than those who don’t ( and but also and especially because wage arrears are accelerating at a rapid rate and Russians aren’t receiving the money they are supposed to ( But even the official figures are bad: last month, Russians’ real income according to the government fell by more than three percent, continuing declines in all but one of the last 33 months, with no end in sight to that trend  (, and Russians have only been able to maintain or even increase spending by living on credit cards or with microloans, something unsustainable for long because of stratospheric interest rates (, and And there is no cushion: a third of Russians say they have no savings at all ( Not surprisingly, they aren’t going out to eat as much as they did or buying as much champagne as a year ago ( and None of this affects the ultrarich, however. Purchases by Russians of London property has risen 30 percent this year over last ( At the macro level as well, the news is anything  but good: Russian economic growth is slowing much faster than expected (, capital flight is accelerating again (, calls to “de-dollarize” the Russian economy only highlight its weaknesses (, and Russian banks are beginning to be cut off from the SWIFT payments system (

6.      Russians’ Social Well-Being Now Below that of Philippinos.  An international ranking of social well-being finds that Russians now rank below the Philippinos on that measure (, not only reflecting real problems in rural areas (, but also in the major cities. Moscow is now on the list of the top five cities of the world where live has become more uncomfortable over the last year ( Social problems are mounting as a result: divorces are now running at more than 60 percent of new marriages ( and Russian women are paid only 72 percent on average what men are ( But Russian companies are taking advantage of all Russians even so: Aeroflot says it won’t charge at least for now for coats being carried onto flights by passengers ( but it has dramatically boosted fares for those travelling from the Far East to European portions of the country (

7.      In Moscow Today, Don’t Drink the Water or Even Breathe the Air.  Water and air pollution in the Russian capital is now so severe that it is a health hazard, experts say ( and Medical care is also deteriorating, not only because of Putin’s “optimization” campaign which is sparking complaints ( and but also because studies show that Russian doctors are making ever more mistakes in diagnosis and treatment ( Many are turning away from the medical system altogether. Sexually active young people aren’t engaging in safe sex and antibiotic resistant gonorrhea is spreading, although how far is obscured by the failure of the government to keep records ( and Others, no longer able to pay for ever more expensive medications are turning to alternative treatments which often mean they cannot be cured at all ( and Not surprisingly, all this is pushing up mortality rates, and this year, the natural loss of the population has been four times greater than last year (

8.      All Residents of Non-Russian Republics have Moral Obligation to Titular Nations, Chuvash Writer Says. In wake of Putin’s words about language and his decision not to extend the power-sharing accord with Tatarstan, some in the republics are beginning to hit back.  Anatoly Kibech, a distinguished Chuvash writer, says that “every resident” of a non-Russian republic, including ethnic Russians, has “a moral obligation” to support and even defer to the titular nation ( The head of Bashkortostan has announced that no language teachers will be laid off, effectively freezing current instructional requirements in Bashkir ( And in Tatarstan, opinion is radicalizing about relations with Moscow, with some pushing even harder for their rights than they did earlier and thus highlighting one of the risks Putin took in deciding not to extend the agreement (,  and Meanwhile, a new survey in the North Caucasus shows that corruption and economic decline are undermining ethnic relations there (, and controversy is swirling over a Russian effort to ban the public performance of the lezginka ( Family violence appears to be getting worse in Chechnya (, imams in Saratov oblast are learning Kazakh because one-third of the residents of that Russian region now are ethnic Kazakhs (, and troubles continue in  two amalgamated non-Russian areas with Buryats from the former Agin district moving in large numbers to Buryatia (, and a road that was never built, despite official promises, in Yamalo-Nenets, now needing repairs, an indication of massive Rusisan corruption  there (

9.      For First Time Since 2012, Demand for Haj Places Exceeds Supply in Tatarstan. In an indication that the economic situation in Tatarstan is not as dire as it was and that interest in Islam is increasing in that Middle Volga republic, for the first time in five years, the number of Tatars seeking to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca this year exceeded the number Moscow had allocated to them ( Meanwhile, in another religion story likely to cast a shadow on the future, Russian nationalists are denying that there was ever a mass murder of priests a the Butov polygon, a place the Moscow Patriarchate has devoted a great deal of effort to present as a monument to the victimization of religion under Stalin (

10.  Talk of Debt-Driven Regional Amalgamation Gains Ground in Urals. There was more talk this week that the mounting debts of federal subjects will force them to amalgamate into larger and presumably more economically viable units, thus restarting in an indirect way Putin’s effort in that regard (  Other regional news included a report that a museum in Pskov ignored the city’s entire history until the time it was absorbed by Moscow (, a second that civil society has degraded in Kaliningrad (, the rapid Ingermandlandization of toponomy in northwestern Russia (, and a third that residents in “New Moscow” will have significantly fewer rights than those living in the original city (  But perhaps the most important report was a fourth. It noted that in the capitals, those the regime doesn’t like are treated significantly less brutally than they are when they are in regions far from the center and thus out of the site of Western journalists and diplomats (

11.  Church and State Begin to Distance Themselves from Anti-Mathilda Movement. Both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state distanced themselves this week from the leadership of the anti-Mathilda movement, with the former calling for prayers rather than protests and suggesting the movement was harming the church ( and and the latter threatening criminal prosecution of protest leaders (  Other protest issues included the outing  of the corruption wealth of Peskov’s son by Aleksey Navalny (, conflicts over a Russian Orthodox cathedral in a Muslim republic (, Kalmyk protests over water shortages there ( ), Cossack protests about land losses in Stavropol (, an attack on a gay pride march in St. Petersburg (, and a convoy by veterans of the Soviet security services in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Cheka ( Two other developments will provide new data in this area, a photo expedition to a GULAG uranium mine ( and a new website,, that promises to post photographs of those charged with extremism.

12.  American Monument Dispute Adds to Russian Monuments War. A call by the mayor of Seattle mayor to take down a statue of Lenin at the same time as statues of Confederate leaders has sparked outrage among some Russians ( But the American conflict is in no way as intense as the Russian one with fights over figures from tsarist grand dukes to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, all of which some say is splitting Russian society irreparably (,  / and But in a lead article, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta argue that too much is being  made of these disputes and others about history because Russians today aren’t interested about the past but only about their current problems (

13.  Culture Minister Says Cover Harvest, Construction Projects Not Political Disputes.  Russia’s culture minister has called on the media to stop focusing on political disputes and instead report about harvests and construction achievements, much as the Soviet media did ( Others too seem prepared to go back to Soviet approaches: the head of Ingushetia calls for restoring censorship (, and investigators announced there was no evidence of torture in a Krasnoyarsk prison despite more than 50 complaints from inmates (  Also reminiscent of the past: more journalists were beaten ( as was a Moscow opposition deputy (  The authorities did report one move away from repression: the number of warnings issued to the media for using curse words has declined over the last year (

14.  Putin State No Longer Protecting Its Citizens, Gudkov Says. The Russian government is failing to fulfill its primary obligation to protect the lives of its citizens, opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov says ( Other developments with domestic security implications included: Moscow is allowing the defense ministry to avoid paying for communal services ( and to seize land from the population (, more armed crimes are being committed (, officials often get handguns as rewards (, the security services want officials to drop any use of foreign IT programs (, fights are intensifying over defense ministry spending in the next several years (, the defense ministry has had to concede that it did service some MREs that were contaminated to soldiers (, and reflecting Russia’s demographic problems, women are now in aviation training academies (

15.  Iranian-Russian Military Cooperation Continuing in Violation of UN Sanctions. Moscow and Tehran have continued to cooperate in the military industry in violation of UN sanctions, European papers report ( Meanwhile, India has shown itself ever less interested in purchasing Russian weapons ( And Liliya Shevtsova notes that Russia has suffered the worst possible outcome of the North Korean conflict: it has been completely sidelined and ignored ( That may be one of the reasons that prompted it to push the story, false, that Ukraine supplied missile components to Pyongyang.

16.  More Sports Doping Scandals, Problems with World Cup Venues. More Russian athletes were exposed as having used illegal drugs and suspended or stripped of medals this week (, and Russian athletes have also been forced to compete under neutral flags, offending many Russians but approved of by Dmitry Medvedev (, and And there were additional reports that venues for the 2018 World Cup are far from ready ( and To try to get out of the doghouse on illegal doping, Moscow very publicly set up a new national anti-doping laboratory (

17.  Russia Now has More Prostitutes than Doctors, Farmers and Firemen Combined. There are now well over one million prostitutes in the Russian Federation, a figure that is higher than the combined total of doctors, farmers, and firemen, official statistics show (

18.  Russia Viewed Positively by a Majority in Only Three Countries. Moscow devotes a lot of effort to claiming how much support it has abroad, but international polls show that it has a majority positive rating only in Greece, Vietnam and the Philippines. It may also garner that kind of support in repressive countries like North Korea but polls aren’t allowed in such places (

19.  Russia ‘All the Same isn’t an African Country.’ Most Russian discussions on where that country fits into the world either stress its uniqueness or its European ties, but a spate of comparisons with some of the most impoverished countries in sub-Saharan Africa, comparisons which often do not show Russia at an advantage, have let some Russians to insist that “all the same, Russia isn’t an African country” (

20.  Lavrov Warns Washington Against Interfering in Upcoming Russian Presidential Vote. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that Washington must not interfere in the upcoming Russian presidential elections or it will face serious consequences.  This has sparked new discussions about American assistance to Boris Yeltsin and his re-election effort in 1996 (

21.  Moscow Warns Russians of Bubonic Plague in US.  Russian propaganda efforts are becoming ever more hyperbolic, with health officials warning Russians against going to the US because of a supposed mass outbreak of Bubonic plague (  Another propaganda creation, one so extreme that commentators have labelled it “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Part II,” circulated a completely made-up interview of a former British intelligence officer (

22.  Russians Favor Increasing Security over Boosting Prestige. A new poll shows that Russians believe that their government should pursue a foreign policy intended to boost their security rather than one that raises its prestige, exactly the opposite view to the one the Kremlin has sought to promote (

23.  Zinovyev’s Widow Says Source of Russophobia is Russia Itself. Olga Zinovyeva, the widow of the novelist and essayist Aleksandr Zinovyev, says the source of Russophobia is to be found in Russia itself rather than in the machinations of elites in other countries (

24.  NKVD Sought Medicine to Make Soviet Leaders Immortal. A new study says that officers of the Soviet secret police sought to produce a drug that would allow Soviet leaders to live forever, a goal many have had and still have including perhaps some of the leaders of post-Soviet Russia (

25.  First Load of Nuclear Waste Arrives in North Russia. Ecologists are worried that Russian actions to store nuclear waste in the Far North will have serious environmental consequences, a fear exacerbated by the fact that there are more than 18,000 nuclear objects left over from the Soviet period at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean ( and
26.  Moscow Inspectors Thought They’d Find a Courtroom; Instead, They Found a Pool Hall. Inspectors from the Russian Accounting Chamber thought they would be inspecting a new court facility in the Yamal peninsula, but instead, they discovered that the money had been spent to build a pool hall (

            And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Last Lenin Statue Falls in Ukraine. Kyiv has declared victory on one segment of its struggle with the communist past: the last statue of Lenin has been removed and either destroyed or sent to the dump ( ).

2.      Ukrainians Unfurl Largest Ever Independent Chechen Flag. Ukrainians and pro-independence Chechens joined together to unfurl the largest flag of Ichkeria in Kyiv’s Maidan Square, a symbolic act of support for the Chechen national cause and something certain to infuriate Moscow (

3.      New Crimean Tatar Radio Begins Broadcasting. A new Ukrainian-backed Crimean Tatar station, Radio Hayat, has begun broadcasting to Russian-occupied Crimea from unoccupied Ukraine, thereby helping to break the information blockade the Russian authorities have sought to impose (

4.      Russian Occupiers of Crimea Run Out of Gas – Literally. The Russian occupation forces in Ukraine’s Crimea have almost completely run out of gas for their vehicles, a symbolic indication of the problems those forces face in controlling the peninsula all the hoopla about it notwithstanding (

5.      Lukashenka Wants to But Can’t Double Belarus Population. Alyaksandr Lukashenka says that he would like to see the population of Belarus double in the coming years, but the Belarusian leader is unlikely to be able to achieve his goal. Not only are many Belarusians seeking to escape his authoritarian rule by fleeing abroad, but fertility rates in Belarus are dropping rather than increasing as would be necessary (

6.      Lukashenka Plans to Put Teachers in Uniform. The Belarusian leader is more likely to succeed with another of his projects: he wants to put teachers in his country in uniform, yet another authoritarian return to the past (

7.      Alexiyevich Says Belarusian National Idea is Independent State with Its Own Language. Belarusian Nobelist Svetlana Alexiyevich says that the national idea of Belarusians is to have an independent state which uses its own language rather than the language of another (

8.      Moscow Again Tries to Make an Issue of Latvia’s Latgale.  Despite indications that it won’t be successful in doing so, Moscow appears to be again focusing on the impoverished region of southeastern Latvia, Latgale, whose people speak their own dialect or Russian rather than formal Latvian, as a possible wedge to be used against Riga (

9.      Some Armenians Want to Block Andranik Migranyan from Entering Their Country. A group of Armenians offended by the statements and actions of Andranik Migranyan, an ethnic Armenian who has become a Russian nationalist spokesman more Orthodox than the Patriarch in both Russia and the West, are seeking to have him put on a list of those who are not allowed to enter Armenia (

10.  Four Latin Scripts for Kazakh Now Under Active Consideration. Scholars and officials in Astana are studying four possible Latin-based scripts for Kazakh which is now written in a Cyrillic alphabet but is slated to go over to Latin in the coming years ( Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has sought to calm Russian fears about this: he said this week that the alphabet change will affect only Kazakh and not Russian (

11.  Uzbekistan Opens Consulate in Vladivostok. Reflecting the increasing flow of Uzbek gastarbeiters not to Moscow and St. Petersburg but rather to the Russian Far East, Tashkent is opening a consulate general in Vladivostok (во-владивостоке-откроется-генконсул.html).

12.  Collapse of Social Lifts, Not Foreign Agents, Behind Islamist Radicalism in Central Asia.  Russian and Central Asian experts say that economic problems and the lack of possibilities for upward social mobility among young people are playing a bigger role in the rise of Islamist radicalism in Central Asia than any combination of foreign influences (

13.  Moscow Thinks Returning Migrants Can be Soft Power Resource for Russia in Central Asia.  Russian observers are suggesting that Central Asians who have worked in Russia and then return to their homeland can serve as an instrument of “soft power” for Moscow because of their knowledge of Russian and Russian life ( That contrasts with the observation of many that such returnees having been exposed to Russian xenophobia are even more hostile to Russia than they were before working there.

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