Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 102

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 30 -- 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 102nd 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 Views Instability as Boost for His Return as Savior of the Nation. In the view of an increasing number of analysts, Vladimir Putin welcomes the instability that the Mathilda film and the anonymous calls have produced as well as the threat of more clashes between liberals and nationalists in the months ahead as setting the stage for him to return as savior of the nation next spring ( and Another Russian scholar says that Putin has succeeded in returning Russia to what it traditionally  has been, a country at war with the rest of the world (  In other Putin news, some Russians are planning a Soviet-style subbotnik on Putin’s upcoming birthday (, and another analyst says that Putin must look to Russia’s school teachers as his chief defense given that the media is losing influence on the population (

2.      Putin Will Never Forgive Trump for Attack on Russian General in Syria.  While it has not attracted as much attention as many other aspects of the Syrian campaign, Moscow analysts say that Putin will “never forgive” US President Donald Trump for the attack on Russian forces in Syria that cost the life of one of his generals ( and  Russians are also celebrating what they see as the low price Putin paid to install Trump in the White House – only 150,000 US dollars for ads on social media ( and suggest that Putin has outplayed the American president ever since (,1,99521-vladimir-putin-udelal-donalda-trampa.html).

3.      Putin May Eliminate Position of Prime Minister. Gazeta reports that some in the Kremlin are considering moving Russia formally to where it already is: a purely presidential regime without a prime minister ( If so, that would likely be the end of Dmitry Medvedev’s political career, and Putin would stop trying to emulate him or putting up with his sometimes over the top statements ( and  Meanwhile, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has called on the leaders of Russia’s other major political parties to retire and give way to younger people (, a Russian politician has lost his job for being “excessively pro-Kremlin” (, the Putin regime has deployed prostitutes against the Navalny campaign (, the quasi-feudal nature of the Putin regime has been highlighted by a hit and run crime in which the suspect fled in an FSB car (, the finance ministry has again boosted the share of the state budget that is classified as secret (, a study has found that Russians pay more to support their deputies than does any other people (, more reports about the falsification of the recent elections have been surfacing (, and, and a poll has found that most Russians would like to see the direct election of mayors restored (

4.      Russia’s Rich Get Richer, Its Poor Poorer, and Only the Regime Says Everything is Better.  Because of income growth at the top of the pyramid, Russia now has 182,000 dollar millionaires, and the top one percent is getting fat while the rest of the population is suffering ( and Meanwhile, pensions are being cut and one in every  seven Russians live in poverty: with those just above the poverty line doing so almost exclusively by going into debt (, and Dumpster diving for food is spreading even as the authorities spend fabulous amounts of money taking care of members of  the elite ( and And one thoughtful analyst has warned that among the most important lessons of 1917 that Russians and others haven’t learned is that radical income differentiation will ultimately lead to revolt ( Other distressing economic news includes:  Russian banks are running out of hard currency (, major firms are going bankrupt (  and, the banking system may be renationalized (, and the Russian government is looking for money in all the wrong places ( But Rosstat and Russian officials say that life is getting better and better in Russia (

5.      Kremlin Allowing for Outbursts of Aggression to Distract Russians, Some Say. The readers of the opposition Kasparov portal say that Putin is permitting the manifestation of aggression in Russian society as a way of distracting people from their problems ( Russians are indeed focusing on crime and violence (,,,,,, and But they may be drawing very different conclusions than the regime would like, concluding that security under Putin is increasingly illusory and that the authorities themselves are to blame for many of the problems ( and

6.      European University Too European for Russia. The Russian authorities have taken another step to shutter St. Petersburg’s European University, an institution that has proven “too European” for Putin’s Russia and one whose closure reflects the growing crisis in Russian higher education ( and Meanwhile, repression of LGBTs continues to spread across the country (, and And in another social development that highlights the gap between the megalopolises and the rest of the country: there are only 17 crematoria in Russia and most are in Moscow and St. Petersburg (

7.      Electronic Media Spreading into Russia’s Hinterland. Two developments this week, however, show that with regard to access to electronic media, Russia’s hinterlands are rapidly catching up with Moscow. The largest city in the Arctic now has fiber optic cable (, and Muslim cable television, which focuses on the lives of Muslims around the world, is slated to come to Tatarstan and the Middle Volga by the end of the year ( and

8.      Russians Can’t Afford the Medicines They Need. Fifty percent of Russians say they have cut back their spending on medications, and most now buy them only if they are in extremis ( and  Residents in some parts of Russia are again suffering from iodine deficiency, the result of the still-widespread use of non-iodized salt ( And financial problems are now so severe that Russians have cut back on the bribes they give to doctors ( Another cutback is that 78 of the country’s federal subjects do not bother to keep track of alcohol purchases, thus missing a great deal of revenue and failing to see where they need to intervene to prevent deaths from alcoholism (

9.      Ever More Non-Russians Say ‘A Nation without Schools in Its Language Sooner or Later Dies.’ Vladimir Putin’s campaign against non-Russian languages is sparking a sharp reaction in ever more non-Russian areas with people seeing the Kremlin leader’s action as a direct threat to their national survival and choosing to protest or to subvert his orders (,, and And as for Putin’s suggestion that studying a non-native language should be voluntary, many non-Russians are pointing out that we don’t make the study of math or biology “voluntary” (Якутия:_Мы_же_не_требуем_согласия_родителей_на_изучение_математики_или_биологии). But worse seems likely to be ahead now that the education ministry has said that it won’t allow for the study of two “foreign” languages because that would cut into other subjects too heavily (

10.  New Push for a New Ministry for Nationality Affairs.  Duma deputies and outside experts have again called for the establishment of a ministry for nationality affairs to replace the Federal Agency that they do not believe has enough bureaucratic clout to deal with the situation ( Other developments this week on the nationalities front include: a call for a new census of indigenous peoples (, new problems among Meskhetians who have resettled in Turkey (, increasing outrage among Circassians over the Gvashev case and Moscow’s efforts to obliterate Circassian history (, and widespread concern that new clashes between Russians and Central Asians in Moscow have entered a dangerous stage beyond the control of the authorities (,,,  and

11.  Rights Activists Fear Kremlin Will Now Target Scientologists. Having gone after the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are now appealing the decisions against them, the Kremlin, according to human rights activists, is likely to target Scientologists. They have appealed to Vladimir Putin not to do so ( and  Orthodox Russian nationalists are outraged by suggestions that there is such a thing as “an Orthodox Jihad” ( Meanwhile, the Moscow Patriarchate has adapted its missionary work to conform to the Yarovaya package of restrictive measures ( But all has not gone will for the church: its effort to recover three buildings in Yekaterinburg has been turned down by the courts ( Perhaps as a result and to show itself more royalist than the king, the church ahs called for “nationalizing” Soviet songs (

12.  Catalonia, Kurdistan Inspire Russia’s Regionalists. Efforts by the Catalans and the Kurds to achieve independent statehood have inspired many regionalists in Russia. some have even travelled to Catalonia ( and But Moscow has responded even more harshly to their efforts, an action that is only further radicalizing the regionalists ( and Meanwhile, contributing to regionalist activism are declining populations and failing infrastructure in many places ( and But the most powerful stimulus is the behavior of Moscow: the city and oblast now buy 20 percent of the hard liquor in Russia (, and the city leads in almost all categories of crime despite having far higher incomes ( and

13.  Moscow’s Fear: Social and Regional Protests Could Combine with Navalny Campaign.  Many in the Russian government are now worried that Aleksey Navalny’s travel around the country may allow him to tap into social and regional protests in order to power his campaign ( Such  concerns only grew when the Navalny campaign said it would ignore illegal rulings against its right to hold meetings ( and Other protests of note this week: an anti-Putin picket in Voronezh (, Circassian demonstrations in support of Gvashev (, more protests by debtors and those owed back wages ( and, and an actors’ protest against theater managers in Irkutsk (

14.  ‘Repression is Increasing Because Propaganda No Longer Works,’ Navalny Says.  Opposition presidential candidate Aleksey Navalny says that the Putin regime is increasing repression because it has discovered that its propaganda no longer has the impact it once did (  Repression is on the rise in prisons where a new site allows outsiders to track official abuse (, officials are now reading Russians’ letters and  not just their electronic posts (, Mosow says it may block Facebook in Russia (, the Central Banks wants to block employees of banks in trouble from leaving the country (, Russians abroad must now register more things with consular officials (, and the number of paintings that educators can’t reproduce in textbooks has expanded (

15.  Matviyenko Says Russia Faces Destabilization Efforts in Coming Months. Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko says that outside forces are planning to try to destabilize Russia in the run up to the elections and that the government must take measures to block them (  The FSB announced that it has broken up an underground arms trading organization that had been operating in 21 federal subjects (  Putin’s Russian Guard wants to block arms sales to “potential” criminals and to impose the same rules on pneumatic pistols that now exist for regular weapons ( and But the siloviki have suffered some embarrassment this week: the Russian Guard was discovered to have spent fabulous sums for shoulder boards for its officers and a defense ministry official was charged with taking the largest bribe on record ( and

16.  Zapad Exercise Appears to Have Cost Senior Officer His Job. The Zapad-2017 exercise may not have gone as well as Moscow hoped: at least one senior general has been fired in its wake ( and there has been much speculation about why Putin didn’t travel to Belarus during the event ( Meanwhile, in other defense news, it has been reported that Russia’s heavy rockets have not been functioning well in recent trials ( and that the US purchased Russian rocket engines not because they were better but because they were cheaper (  There has been much discussion as well about the length of time the refitting of capital ships is taking and about the US report on the Russian military that suggests draftees are less than fully motivated (, and Meanwhile, there are indications that Moscow is still trying to conduct foreign policy on the cheap, not only backing Catalonian independence ( and, but not even bothering to update old Russian slogans like “worse thana  Tatar” in its campaign efforts in Germany (

17.  Russians Almost Equally Divided on Whether They’ll Go to See Mathilda. Only slightly more Russians say they won’t go to see the controversial film than say that they will ( The Moscow Patriarchate has refused to issue a blanket prohibition on attending but it has put up 300 billboards in Moscow celebrating the love between Nicholas II and his wife Aleksandra (, and The Mathilda director has declared that the use of religion to oppose something opens the door to opposing almost anything ( And in the latest twist of the Mathilda saga, a Russian pornographer says he plans to make a porno version of the film and is ready to emigrate if he has to (

18.  Kalashnikov Statue Keeps Giving Moscow Problems. The German gun that was mistakenly portrayed on the Kalashnikov statue has been removed, but careful observers have noted that there are masonic symbols elsewhere that haven’t been touched ( In addition, the statue has become the focus of anti-war protesters ( The authorities are trying to hold the line,  arresting those who pointed out the mistakes ( Two other monument stories of note: the largest memorial to Stalin’s victims in Russia opened in the Butovo polygon (, and a Perm statue showing a bear and a panda to celebrate Russian-Chinese friendship has been criticized for its depiction of the Russian side (
19.  US, Ukraine Anti-Doping Agencies Say Russia Shouldn’t Be at Next Olympics. The US and the Ukrainian anti-doping organizations say that Russia has failed to address its doping problems and that Russian athletes should be banned from the Olympics until they are ( and FIFA has inspected the Yekaterinburg stadium and reports it is 90 percent ready ( More racist behavior among Russian football fans takes place ( Feeling under pressure from foreign countries, Russian officials are beginning to consider that Russian athletes may be blocked from participating in the Olympics and to argues that the world has launched  a conspiracy against Russia ( and  And the Kremlin has lashed out, issuing an Interpol arrest warrant for the man who informed WADA about Russian doping (

20.  Moscow Offers Citizenship to Anyone Investing 10 Million US Dollars in Russian Far East. In yet another effort to stem the depopulation of its Pacific rim, the Russian government has offered to give citizenship to anyone who agrees to invest ten million US dollars or more in the region (

21.  Russians Can’t Get Enough of Krasnodar Cannibal Story.  Other issues may be more important, but Russian readers and television viewers have been focused this week on the story of two Krasnodar cannibals for have killed, eaten, and offered for sale the flesh of many Russians over the last 20 years ( and

22.  Only 423 Russians Visited North Korea Last Year. Despite efforts by Pyongyang and new transportation connections between North Korea and the Russian Federation, only 423 Russians, most from the Far East, visited the outlaw country last year (

23.  Russian Officials Not Only Killing Homeless Animals But Want to Fine Those Who Feed Them. In advance of what they hope will be the hosting of the World Cup next year, Russian officials have launched a major campaign to get homeless animals off the streets. But now some of these officials have gone further and are seeking to fine those who feed homeless animals or birds as well (, and

24.  Burger King Russia Gets into the Censorship Business. The owners of Burger King restaurants in Russia have gone to court to demand that Russian officials ban a film featuring a clown they say looks like Ronald McDonald and thus constitutes an advertisement for their competitors (

25.  ‘Are You a Real Journalist or from Russia Today?’ Russian opposition groups increasingly are confronting those who question them with a question of their own: “are you a real journalist or are you from Russia today – and thus something else entirely?” (

26.  Urals City Residents Fill Potholes with Mayor’s Picture.  Residents of a small city in the Urals have found a way to make use of campaign pictures of the local mayor: they are using them to fill potholes that the official has failed to repair ( Meanwhile, a study concludes that the city with the worst roads in Russia is Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan (

            And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Belarus is No Longer the Worst Police State in the World. Minsk scholars say that there are now a number of other countries around the world with more police per capita than Belarus ( But if it is not the worst, it is among the leaders; and it is also among the leaders of the most unhealthy countries as well (  Meanwhile, its leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka told visiting Roman Catholic prelates that Belarus’ position at the center of Europe was “ordained by God” (, but a Belarusian religious leader says no more than one percent of the country’s residents are truly Orthodox (

2.      Not Only Did Russia Leave Behind Troops in Belarus After Zapad-2017 But It has Stepped up Training of Belarusian Youths.  Moscow introduced troops into Belarus that it did not announce and has left some behind, Belarusian and Ukrainian officials say ( Perhaps more worrisome, the Russian authorities appear to have stepped up their paramilitary training of Belarusian youths at what Belarusians describe as “neo-Nazi” camps in Russia itself (

3.      Russian Drugs, Prostitutes Behind Explosion in HIV/AIDS in Belarus. Russia has introduced more drugs and prostitutes into Belarus, officials say, sparking a dramatic increase in HIV infections and full-blown cases of AIDS (

4.      Belarusians More Passive than Active, Minsk Scholars Say. A study of popular attitudes finds that Belarusians tend to be more passive than active and thus are less inclined to join protests or even to defend their own immediate interests (

5.      UN Report Says Human Rights have Deteriorated in Crimea Since Russian Occupation. A United Nations study concludes that the Russian occupation has led to a serious deterioration in the state of human rights on the Ukrainian peninsula (

6.      Russian Occupiers in Crimea Add Karaim and Krymchaks to List of Numerically Small Peoples. The Russian occupation authorities, despite their well-documented mistreatment of ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, have added two small nations there, the Karaim and the Krymchaks, to the Russian list of numerically small peoples whose members are entitled to special benefits (

7.      Lithuania Agrees to Call Georgia by Its Own Name. Vilnius officials have announced that they will join other countries who call the country known to most as Georgia by its Georgian name, Sakartvelo (

8.      Anti-Russian Campaigns Spread in Armenia. Armenian activists are campaigning for Yerevan’s exit from Moscow-dominated institutions, an action that has stirred concern in Russia ( and

9.      More Central Asian Women Accompanying Their Husbands to Russia. In the past, most gastarbeiters in Russian from Central Asia were unaccompanied young men who either were unmarried or had left their wives behind, thus indicating that they planned to return relatively quickly. But now, new data published by Rosstat suggest that ever more wives are accompanying them, a pattern that implies many may be planning to remain for the long haul (женская-трудовая-миграция-из-таджики.html and

10.  Transition to Latin Script in Uzbekistan Far from Complete. Even as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are debating if and when to introduce a Latin script, Uzbekistan shows that even if a decision is made to do so that doesn’t end the fight. Many who have grown used to the Soviet-imposed Cyrillic alphabet will continue to use it, and publications will reflect that fact for many years (

11.   Cotton Harvest Again Claims Victims in Uzbekistan.  Several Uzbeks who were forced to harvest cotton died as a result, sparking complaints given that Tashkent had suggested that it would no longer require anyone to do so against their will (

12.  Beijing Establishes Center for Study of Kazakhstan. Reflecting China’s expanding interest in Central Asia, Beijing has now set up a special center for the study of Kazakhstan, an indication that Astana more than any other capital in the region is the focus of Chinese attention (

13.  Kazakhstan Now Imprisons Half as Many People Per Capita as Russia Does.  Central Asian countries have the reputation for being more repressive than the Russian Federation, but new data show that Kazakhstan currently imprisons people at a rate half that of Russia (