Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 100

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 16 -- 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 100th 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 Passes Brezhnev for Time in Office but has Only Half as Many Awards.  Vladimir Putin is now the second longest-serving Russian leader since 1917 – only Stalin was in charge longer. He has just passed Leonid Brezhnev but wits note that he has far fewer medals and awards than did the aging Soviet leader ( Commentators continued to try to define the current Kremlin leader by considering other rulers from the past. One this week drew a parallel between Putin and Aleksandr Nevsky (  But one thing Putin is not is a dog. A German periodical that had suggested that was forced to apologize (, and a Russian commentator suggested that calling Putin a dog was an insult to dogs because they are  not sadistic or cruel ( Meanwhile, the daughter of Putin’s press secretary was caught plagiarizing in one of her first public efforts (

2.      Kremlin Confirms It’s Delivered Plan to Trump to Restore Ties.  Despite rising tensions and a continuing diplomatic flap between Moscow and Washington ( and, the Kremlin has not given up on the idea of a new deal between Russia and the US and has confirmed reports it has sent a plan to achieve that to the White House ( At the same time, Russian analysts are suggesting that relations between the two leaders may be less a matter of collusion than of common values (

3.      Municipal Elections Show Parties – and Elections – Becoming Ever Less Important in Russia. Russian observers say that the September 10 municipal elections show that political parties are ever less significant actors ( and participation rates show that they are ever less important to the population ( Despite upbeat official coverage, the voting was marred by serious and increasingly bald-faced cheating (  and, and because participation was so low, one candidate won after getting a single vote ( and ten percent of candidates in one republic (Chuvashia) got no votes at all (  In the wake of the voting, one commentator suggested that constant talk about the enormous support the population supposedly has for Putin is sapping the moral and even physical energy of Russians ( Two other developments in the political system were also noteworthy: the Kremlin has set up “a school for governors” to prepare people Putin may name to those positions (, and a new study has pointed out that if Russian courts were to begin finding more people not guilty, prosecutors would be sending fewer cases to them (

4.      Russia but Not Russians Experiencing Economic Growth. Overall GDP in Russia is growing again but Russians are seeing their incomes and standard of living continuing to decline and are increasingly unhappy about that (, ,, and And this pattern is projected to continue with pensions slated to fall in real terms at least through 2020 ( and Other economic news of note this week included: the government has banned officials from purchasing foreign furniture for the next two years in order to save money (, nearly eight million Russians are now at the edge of bankruptcy (, and, many Russian banks are at risk because of bad loans and inadequate reserves (, schools are forcing parents to pay for things that their children used to get for free (, there is no bread in at least one Sverdlovsk oblast city (, the metallurgy and electronics sectors of the economy are projected to be the closest to disaster (, five million Russians with jobs are below the poverty line and another five million are close to that (, and capital flight continues ( Summing up the week, one analyst suggested that the best one could say is that Russians are getting poorer but no one is yet starving (

5.      Moscow’s Economic Problems Hitting Russians in Other Ways. There is no money for vacations for invalids or orphans and 200,000 residents of children’s homes have been effectively converted into homeless people ( and Women continue to earn much less than men ( The number of migrants arriving in Russia has reached a six year low but conflicts between them and the population have not declined as much as expected ( and But Russia has “grown” in two ways: it now is producing ever more plastic bags even as the world seeks to avoid their use to protect the environment ( and Russia now has surpassed all European countries in terms of visits to pornography sites showing transgender sex (

6.      Russia has Become European Hub for Illegal Drugs. Every fifth Russian now uses one or another illegal drug, and as a result, Russia itself has become Europe’s “hub” for the drug trade ( The number of abortions in Russia fell last year to 648,000 but that number is still half of the number of live births there and represents a national rate five times that of the European average ( A new poll finds that 40 percent of Russians now favor forced cures for alcoholics ( Putin’s health optimization program is reducing Russian life expectancy and sparking protests among those who no longer have access to medical facilities ( and In other health news, Russian experts say that half of all deaths of children are the result of doctors’ mistakes ( and that medical training both in school and afterwards is in terrible shape ( and In many areas, there are now far fewer specialists than there used to be ( HIV/AIDS treatment is not even available in all locations (, and Russians are being warned that they face a deadly virus from China in the coming months ( Because of poor diet, 12 percent of Russian children now are overweight (, and Chemical and even radiological contamination is a problem ( and Demographic losses mean that Moscow is going to have to force more women and especially women pensioners work by 2030 in order to maintain the size of the labor force ( And one Rusisan rector has suggested that a quarter of all Russians take more from society than they give, although he did not suggest how that situation should be remedied (

7.      Putin Worried about Security in North Caucasus. Vladimir Putin says more must be done to ensure stability in the North Caucasus ( One step that has been announced is the creation of a new district there for the Russian Guard ( Other news from the nationalities front this week: a new study documents the negative slur words Russians use for other nations in their country (, teachers of non-Russian languages fear they soon won’t have jobs and so younger people aren’t likely to go into that profession ( Moscow’s efforts to reduce non-Russian language instruction are sparking real opposition and protests in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan (,,, and Another nation is seeking to have the patronymics used in its language made officially permitted ( Enthusiasts and representatives of non-Russian areas are promoting non-Russian language instruction in Moscow ( Some Circassians are complaining that the Chechens haven’t spoken out about the fate of their nation in the Middle East even as Grozny has protested what is happening to the Rohingja in Myanmar ( And in an action some Russians won’t like: The Evenks have pointed out that their non-Russian republic is  at the exact center of Russia (

8.      Molotov Cocktail Thrown at Jewish Center in Moscow.  In an action that some have called the beginning of a pogrom, persons unknown have thrown a Molotov cocktail at the building housing the Federation of Jewish Communities in Moscow ( and Even as repression of  Jehovah’s Witnesses continues throughout Russia, the community is appealing the decision of a Russian court to declare it an extremist group ( and Ever more commentators are suggesting that Putin’s tilt toward Russian Orthodoxy has opened the way for Orthodox fundamentalism and terrorism (, and The Moscow Patriarchate has responded by demanding that the Duma pass a law depriving anyone except the church from calling itself “Orthodox” ( Meanwhile, Russia’s Buddhists face the prospect that one of their monasteries in that country will be closed (, and officials report that the number of mosques in Tatarstan has risen from 24 in 1991 to more than 1500 now (

9.      Pskov Leader Says There are Now ‘Two Russias’ – Moscow and Everything Else. A leader in Pskov oblast says that today there are two Russias not one and that the border between them is the ring road about the capital (  And some in the second Russia are beginning to say that their Russia doesn’t need the other one (

10.  Police Do Nothing about Violent Actions by SERB Against Nemtsov Monument. In what is becoming a commonplace, Russian police have ignored violence by some informal groups that attack people the regime doesn’t like, most prominently this week by the SERB nationalist group against a plaque on a house in which the murdered Boris Nemtsov once lived (, and Instead of arresting the perpetrators who took public credit for their actions, the best the authorities could do was to suggest that the sign be put back up but out of public view ( Other protests overshadowed by the Mathilda crisis, described below,, include one by the parents of invalids about the mistreatment of their children (, new protests about conditions in prisons (, and debtors who threaten to blow up their houses (, and protesters in Yekaterinburg who actually continue to burn cars (

11.  Matvienko Says Duma has Not Adopted Any Law Restricting Russians’ Freedom. Federation Council speaker Valentina Matvienko may have retired the Orwellian newspeak award this week when she declared that the Russian parliament has never adopted a law that has limited the freedoms of Russians in any way ( Even as she said that, the legislature continues to grind out measures that do exactly that. One proposal has called for a ban on the use of Christian or Islamic terrorism (, and another restricts meetings to those who declare exactly what they will be protesting about in advance (  Other acts of repression this week include: the blocking of the site (, the forcing of commentator Yuliya Latynina to leave the country (, preventing union leaders from meeting with still-striking long-haul truckers (, opening an investigation against the SOVA religious and human rights center (, attacking more Navalny offices and blocking his group’s meetings ( and, warning parents against allowing their children to take part in demonstrations (, and the firebombing of the apartment of a Moscow opposition journalist (

12.  Many of Russia’s Two Million Private Security Guards Said Incompetent.  Many of the more than two million Russians – that is one for every 70 people in the population --  now employed as private security guards are incompetent or worse, according to some experts (, and a new study finds that police forces organized by local officials are often not much better and carry with them serious risks to the legitimacy of the government ( One development this week that doesn’t fit neatly into any category but may have consequences for law and order in Russia is this: veterans of military actions say that prostitutes have provided them with needed services and deserve to be protected rather than harassed by officials (

13.  Even Bulgaria Now Says Russia is Threat to Its Neighbors. Bulgaria, the only country in the world that twice unsuccessfully tried to join the Soviet Union, now says that Putin’s Russia is a threat to it and to other countries as well ( Other “security” developments include: 45 percent of Russians – an all-time high – say they fully approve the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its consequences ( Moscow has discovered that its aircraft carrier can’t handle its latest planes ( and that Russia’s Pacific Fleet is entirely outclassed by the US ones there (  The Russian military has launched a campaign to tell Russians that conditions in the military are better than have been reported ( Moscow media have focused on the death sentence handed down against a Russian in Iraq (, and for the first time, Russian officials have released data showing that 64 Soviet soldiers lost their lives during the Cuban Missile Crisis (

14.  Support Growing for Restoring Dzerzinsky Statue in Moscow.  One of the signal events of 1991 may now be reversed: support in Russia appears to be growing to restore the statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, to the pedestal in front of the Lubyanka ( Also this week, busts of Stalin, Gorbachev and Yeltsin appeared in Moscow with varying degrees of support (; “Russia Parks” open in Stavropol and Yekaterinburg (, and conflicts over statues have now spread to Russian-occupied Crimea as well (

15.  Is the Mathilda Dispute Today’s Equivalent of the Avrora’s Guns in 1917?  At least one commentator suggests that it is and that the divide that the controversy over the film about the last tsar’s love life could point toward revolution or civil war ( Theaters, governors, organizations, and ordinary Russians are lining up on the two sides, with each warning of the direst of consequences if the other wins ( ),,,, and The level of passions and even violence is causing some to back away: the Russian Orthodox Church has warned against any violence in this area (, one politician has suggested that the leader of the anti-Mathilda movement should be examined by a psychiatrist (, and a commentator has conclude that the whole thing reflects “the Crimeanization” of Russian politics, given that Natalya Poklonskaya comes from there, a trend he says that may be as fateful as Chechenization has been (

16.  17 National Anti-Doping Agencies Call for Russian Athletes to Be Banned from 2018 Olympiad. The anti-doping agencies of 17 countries have signed a joint appeal calling for imposing a ban on Russian athletes at next year’s Olympic Games ( That appeal has largely gotten lost in coverage of a New York Times report that WADA has concluded that it has insufficient evidence about doing actions in Russia, even though the organization still believes that Moscow organized such an effort (,, and Moscow is outraged and some are calling for disbanding WADA and bringing criminal charges against the author of the original report about Russian doping at Sochi (  Meanwhile, more Russian athletes have tested positive for illegal drugs ( and Within Russia, ever more people are discovering that Putin’s push for the World Cup will have negative consequences for them: World Cup cities, it has been announced, won’t hold school graduation balls next year (, people in those cities are already having to pay a price for the construction of stadiums and other facilities and don’t like it (, and students in some venue cities are going to be displaced in order to provide housing for security officers (  Moreover, few Russians will be able to afford to attend many of the competitions – the most expensive seats will be 66,000 rubles (more than 1,000 US dollars) (; and Ukraine has announced that it won’t broadcast any World Cup competition held in Russia (

17.  Anonymous Bomb Threats Called Hybrid War Against Russia. The wave of anonymous calls about the supposed planting of bombs in Russian cities that have forced the authorities to evacuate more than 100,000 people has been called a hybrid war against Russia, the response of outside forces to the Zapad 2017 exercises ( Such hyperbolic rumors have happened because the authorities have refused to comment about them, saying that any report would spread panic or spark copycat crimes ( That reaction in turn has led one commentator to draw the disquieting parallel between the government-organized explosions that marked the rise of Vladimir Putin in 1999 and these latest threats which so far have proved to be without foundation (

18.  Muscovites Vandalize Park Where Rossiya Hotel Once Stood. In the immediate wake of the opening of a park on the site where the Rossiya Hotel once stood, Muscovites stole plants and destroyed infrastructure, prompting suggestions that this reflected a dangerous infantilism among the residents of the Russian capital and the Russian mentality more generally (,,, and

19.  Methane Bubbles from Melting Permafrost Continue to Disrupt Russian North. Huge bubbles of methane gas, which has escaped from melting permafrost, are destroying infrastructure in the Russian North. The Siberian Times provides a video of one such bubble (

20.  Moscow’s Embassy in London Says Mount Everest is Part of Russia. Granted that Vladimir Putin has said that Russia has no borders and that others have suggested its borders are anywhere it wants them, the Russian embassy in London nonetheless has provoked negative comment by suggesting that Mount Everest is within the Russian Federation (

21.  Russian Passport Less Useful This Year than Last. Russians keep careful track of where their nation’s passport will allow them to travel without visas or other constraints. After becoming more useful in the early years of this century, in the last year, its value as measured in those terms has again declined (

22.  Russia to Cut Support for Donbass to Finance Two Other Exclaves.  The Russian government has announced that due to budgetary stringencies it is reducing its subsidies to the Russian-occupied Donbass in order to spend more on Russian-occupied Crimea and Kaliningrad (

23.  An All Too Typical Russian Question: Was Yeltsin a Jew? Whenever a former Russian leader comes to be despised, some Russians can be counted on to ask whether he had hidden Jewish ancestry. That has now happened with Boris Yeltsin, but researchers say that the available genealogical resources do not allow for that conclusion (

24.  Indifference, Superstition and Avoiding Foreign Travel Allow Russians to be Happy. According to one commentator, Russians can in fact be happy if they display indifference to their surroundings, believe superstitiously that everything can at some point be magically transformed, and avoid travelling abroad where they might reach unwelcome conclusions about their own country (

25.  Moose on the Loose Shows Moscow Really is One Big Village. A moose rampaged through the streets of Moscow this week, disrupting traffic and otherwise creating chaos ( Meanwhile, a review of the capital’s 5700 streets found some that were especially humorous or in appropriate. One broken-down neighborhood had a Happy Street, for example (

26.  Omsk Residents Fill Potholes with Potatoes.  Fed up with the failure of officials to repair their roads, residents of the Siberian city of Omsk have come up with an original way of doing it themselves: they have filled the holes in the streets and highways with potatoes (

                And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1.      Belarusians Politely Ask Russian Troops to Go Home. Both before and now during the Zapad 2017 exercise, Belarusian activists have politely asked that Russian troops that Moscow and Minsk have agreed will be in their country for maneuvers stay at home and challenged their knowledge of geography, pointing out that “Belarus is Not Russia” and informing them that they might as well do so because “there’s no vodka here” (,,,, and

2.      ‘Veishnoria’ Attracts Belarusian Supporters. As part of the Zapad exercise, organizers postulated the existence of an imaginary enemy country, “Veishnoria,” in the western part of Belarus and gave the territory its own flag (  But as often happens with Moscow’s plans, this one has had some unintended consequences: Many Belarusians are now identifying with Veishnoria precisely because it is “opposing” Lukashenka and Putin, and a hymn in its defense by one Belarusian band has gone viral ( and

3.      Some Russians Say Belarusians Dream of Being Occupied But More Seem Interested in Joining NATO. A Russian military site suggests that Belarusians have long been “dreaming” that Russia will occupy and absorb their country (, but just how wrong that is and even how such attitudes are proving counterproductive from Moscow’s point of view are reports that the Zapad exercise by itself is leading ever more Belarusians to think that in the future, they would be better off as part of the Western alliance (

4.      Leader Cult Far Less Developed in Belarus than in Many CIS Countries. Many have been talking for so long about Alyaksandr Lukashenka as “the last dictator in Europe” that they have failed to notice that compared to the heads of many other CIS countries, including the Russian Federation, his cult of personality is far less developed. That is because, experts say, the Belarusian people simply won’t support such a development; and that in turn is a reason for some optimism about the future (

5.      Putin Concerned Residents of Occupied Crimea Aren’t Taking Russian Citizenship. Vladimir Putin has expressed concern and called for an investigation into why many residents of the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula are still refusing to take Russian citizenship as the Kremlin has required (  He is probably also concerned that tourist visitors to the peninsula have continued to drop each year since he invaded (

6.      More than 10,000 Dead and 24,000 Wounded Since Military Actions Began in the Donbass. The United Nations has released its latest effort of losses in the region on all sides, concluding that more than 34,000 military and civilian people have been killed or wounded ( ).

7.      Saakashvili Isn’t the Only Former Post-Soviet President Who Can’t Go Home Again.  Mikael Saakashvili’s return to Ukraine and his inability to return to Georgia calls attention to the fact that there are now four former presidents of the post-Soviet states who aren’t able to live in the countries they once headed ( One commentator suggested that Saakashvili’s return to his second homeland reflected the fact that “when God wants to punish Ukraine, he sends in Saakashvili” (

8.      ‘Don’t Call Us “Former Soviet Republics,’” Balts Say. The ambassadors of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Paris issued a joint statement saying that they should not be called “former Soviet republics” because in fact they were occupied countries that continued to be recognized as such internationally ( That opened the way, however, for one Russian commentator to suggest that they were “not post-Soviet” but rather “Soviet” in their approach to many things (

9.      Biggest Shock for Russian Visitors to Baltic Countries: Their Co-Ethnics Do the Dirty Work. Russians often visit the three Baltic countries with varying reactions, but according to one Moscow journalist, what surprises them most is that in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, ethnic Russians do the hard and low-paid work that at home Central Asians and Caucasians do (

10.  Moscow Recruits Smugglers to Penetrate Estonia. Among the ways the Russia security services have of getting into the Baltic countries is to use Russian smugglers as a channel for their efforts to recruit Baltic citizens to work for Moscow (

11.  ISIS Redirecting Its Focus to CIS Countries. Experts in Russia and other post-Soviet countries say the Islamic State, following defeats in the Middle East, is redirecting its efforts toward the CIS and that more terrorism there can thus be expected (

12.  Kazakhs Preparing Film on Soviet Genocide There in 1920s and 1930s. A group of Kazakh filmmakers are preparing a movie on the forcible sedentarization and collectivization of the ethnic Kazakhs by the Soviets that destroyed nearly a third of the population at the end of the 1920s and 1930s. The film is certain to spark a new wave of nationalism in that country (

13.  New Wave of Disappearances in Turkmenistan Sparks Protests. The dictatorial regime in Turkmenistan is “disappearing” ever more of its opponents, an action that is provoking protests among Turkmens beyond the immediate reach of Ashgabat (

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