Monday, October 30, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 106

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 28-- 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 106th 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 has the Money and the Power but Far From Universal Support. Research has shown the enormous wealth that Putin has concentrated in his hands and those of his cronies ( and polls show that just over half of all Russians say they would vote for him ( But many Russians are very much opposed to the Kremlin leader, reminding him with a banner, quickly taken down, that he will be held responsible for Nord Ost ( and that despite official moves against them, slogans like “Russia Will Be Free” and “Russia without Putin” are signs of what many really feel (  One commentator has said that Putin is now promoting “Stalinist globalism” (, and another has said that he is pushing an updated version of Soviet totalitarianism, albeit with hybrid touches that deceive some but not all (

2.      The Russian Election Becomes a Spectacle Rather than a Contest. Given that Putin will win re-election if he wants to by hook or by crook, the presidential race has become a spectacle rather than a contest about choice. Indeed. One commentator says that whatever happens, the next Russian president will come from “the house of Putin” and little will change ( Some think however that the Kremlin may be regretting its backing of Kseniya Sobchak because of her outspokenness, raising issues the leadership would prefer not to have discussed (, but Sobchak continues to say good things about Putin (  Meanwhile, the Russian government has worked hard against Aleksey Navalny, denying him the chance to organize in major cities while allowing him to go ahead in smaller ones ( ). Many of Navalny’s most passionate supporters are in the megalopolises, as evidenced by signs against Putin that have appeared in Moscow ( Mikhail Khodorkovsky has come out against a boycott of the March elections (, and the KPRF and monarchists are seeking to unite behind a single candidate ( and

3.      Moscow Angry at US but Very Pleased with Trump. Russian commentators say that the Kremlin is quite angry at the US for new sanctions but very pleased with Donald Trump for his attitudes and his statements about Russian collusion, including his promise to pay legal bills of anyone who falls under that investigation ( and To show its agency and to ensure that the new US sanctions, which hit primarily the elite, will be viewed by Russians as hitting them as well, Moscow has broadened its counter-sanctiosn regime as well ( Moscow did suffer a serious set-back when Interpol told governments to ignore Russian demands for the arrest of William Browder (

4.      Is the Valdai Club Now Putin’s Surrogate Parliament?  The Russian parliament no longer functions as a place to debate policy, and one analyst has suggested that the Valdai Club is its hybrid version ( The regime continues to protect its loyalist as the case of Medynsky and his plagiarized dissertation shows ( More leaks from the budget into corrupt hands have been identified (, and the social councils which are supposed to oversee government operations have been captured by officials and no longer serve a useful purpose ( One interesting development in governance: ever more attention is being given to the wives of new senior officials (

5.      Russia has Eaten Through Six Trillion US Dollars of Its Soviet Inheritance.  Russia’s economic situation would be even worse if it were not for the fact that since 1991, experts say, it has eaten up 422 trillion rubles left from Soviet times ( The Russian currency may be in trouble, and the finance ministry wants the power to block ruble convertibility in the event of a crisis ( The federal government has made clear that it has no interest in feeding Russia’s poor ( The construction industry is collapsing in many places ( Ever more companies are unprofitable (, and many others are losing confidence that they will soon return to growth (

6.      Russian Consumption Fell More from 2014 to 2016 than in the 1990s. Andrey Illarionov has documented that Russian consumption levels fell more between 2014 when Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine and 2016 than they did during the entire 1990s. As a result, Russia has seen its consumption decline in the last three years more than all the countries of the world except for Congo, Zimbabwe, and its victim Ukraine ( Wage arrears continue to spread, sparking protests and court cases ( was a sharp drop in the total number of Russians with jobs in September ( And Russians continue to borrow not for new spending but to pay off old loans (

7.      Russians Taking Out Their Frustrations on Their Children. Hard-pressed parents are maiming or killing their children in large numbers and refusing to contest the government’s efforts to take their children away from them ( One source of tension: 16 percent of children do not ever more away from their parents’ homes because of housing problems ( Half of Russians say they aren’t impressed by government’s show trials against siloviki ( Remarkably, new data show that property crimes are declining in number even as incomes fall ( Fewer Russians can afford to go to restaurants, and those who do are ever less inclined to complain ( The Baikal cellulose plant Putin got so much praise for closing is continuing to pollute the sacred lake because clean-up efforts were inadequate ( Aeroflot has announced that it won’t give refunds to ticket holders who subsequently learn that they can’t get visas to the country of their destination ( Russians are again increasingly interested in spy stories in films and on television ( Prison hospitals have been called “death factories” because so many die in them ( The intellectual degradation of the education system means that Russia will soon have a deficit of 10 million trained specialists, something the government doesn’t seem concerned about (,, and And some Russians are bemoaning the fact that many traditional Russian curse words are no longer in common use (

8.      Regional Health Ministry Says Rise in Mortality among Elderly ‘A Good Thing.’ The health minister of Sverdlovsk oblast says that rising mortality rates among older groups is a good thing because it reduces pressure on the pension fund (  and People in Vladimir Oblast have complained to Putin about the sad state of hospitals there (, and health experts say the rising number of materal deaths in Russian villages reflects the growth in illegal abortions because of the absence of facilities, yet another a result of Putin’s optimization program ( A horrific case in which an ambulance driver asked a patient for money for gas attracted widespread attention, condemnation, and ultimately a criminal charge against the driver (  and A lack of polio vaccines threatens to spark a polio epidemic in Russia ( There is also a serious shortage of insulin in the Russian Far East (, and Russian pharmacy companies have stopped making needed but less profitable medicines (  The Western sanctions regime and Russian counter-sanctions is pushing Russian demographic figures down, provoking outmigration, and helping to drive fertility rates down even faster than the rate of decline in the number of women in prime child-bearing cohorts ( , and And a new report confirms that Muscovites live longer than anyone else in Russia, except for people in Muslim areas where alcohol consumption is much lower (

9.      Patriarch’s Problems Mount. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is hated by liberals in society but also by conservatives within the church itself who believe he is guilty of heresy ( He has maintained tight control over financial flows ensuring that money collected goes up to him rather than down to the poor ( and over efforts to reclaim church property in many places across the country ( An analyst has suggested that new Orthodox converts like new Muslim ones are more inclined to radicalism ( The Moscow patriarchate has called on the faithful to study the Bible so that they can counter the influence of Protestants who do ( The Russian Orthodox television channel, Tsargrad, has stopped broadcasting via cable (, and Orthodox missionary work is increasingly tied to the Internet (

10.  Russia Again Busts Saudi Haj Quota. Reflecting both demand and Moscow’s unwillingness to live according to the rules, 23,401 Muslims from Russia made the haj this year, more than the Saudi quota of 20,500 (, while an anti-Muslim activist says Moscow shouldn’t fear political explosions from ordering mosques to be torn down ( Religion touched Russian foreign policy this week as well: The Lutherans were given back a church in Moscow that the Soviets had confiscated during a visit by the German president (, and Israel is seeking an explanation for anti-Semitic acts at the Sochi youth forum (

11.  Ethnic Groups Becoming More Politically Active. Elders of non-Russian nations in the North Caucasus have called for the restoration of direct elections there ( Anniversary of the death of Imam Shamil who fought the Russian advance into the region ( Wepsy enthusiasts have opened the first Wepsy national restaurant in St. Petersburg ( Inter-ethnic hostility continues to simmer in Moscow between Tajiks and Russians ( Russian commentators are worried that Chuvashia, a Christian-Turkic republic, may be a link between Muslim protests and national ones ( Chechnya leads the country in magazine and newspaper subscriptions per capita ( The Russian Jewish Center says that there are 1.5 million Jews or people with Jewish ties in Russia, far more than the census shows ( A military-style youth camp opens in Chechnya ( And the head of Buryatia has apologized for not yet having learned the language of the people he governs (

12.  Defenders of Non-Russian Language Stage Anti-Putin Demonstration. Bashkirs defending their language have broadened their protest to include anti-Putin messages, a measure of the way in which this issue is becoming ever more political ( The president of Tatarstan in his defense of the republic language asks “how can the study of a state language be voluntary?” ( Support for Tatar is coming from every more social groups and organizations, including Muslims ( and, movie stars (, and ethnic organizations ( Defenders of non-Russian languages in Daghestan say there aren’t enough textbooks in their languages, one of the ways Moscow is squeezing them out of the schools ( In response, they have come up with a unique defense: national languages are needed to promote ethno-tourism ( Advocates of Russian over Tatar have also become more active, demanding that a Moscow official who has not pushed hard enough against Tatar be fired ( and in one case, going to court and demanding a million rubles in compensation for forcing her child to study Tatar ( And now some Muscovite outlets have found someone beyond Russia’s border to blame for support of non-Russian languages: the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences ( and

13.  Crackdown on Regionalist Sites Highlights Moscow’s Nervousness. The Russian government continues to block regionalist websites, an indication of its concern about the issue ( Some regionalists are discussing whether crypto-currencies could be the path to genuine ones (  A Kuban independence advocate on release from prison – she was the first to be convicted under Russia’s law against promoting changes in Russia’s borders – says she will continue to promote her ideas (  Pro-communist sites are beginning to focus on what they call “exotic” forms of separatism such as Ingrianism ( and The Mari El republic has been identified as having one of the most degraded economies in Russia ( Moscow wants to make the North Caucasus region into a center of light industry to address unemployment there ( Corruption has prevented the emergence of a Russian “Hong Kong” in the Far East and the governor there has been sharply criticized for suggesting that a circus should be “the visiting card” of his region ( and

14.  Protests about Various Issues Continue Across Russia.  One of the most popular forms of protest on the Internet now consists of articles complaining that Moscow is giving billions of dollars to other countries while Russians are suffering ( But other more traditional protests also continued: an Ulyanovsk man was fined for putting flowers on a monument for those repressed under Stalin (, the miners’ strike in Gukovo showed no signs of resolution (, and various petition drives were launched including one to rein in the chemical industry and prevent it from contaminating air and water across the country (

15.  More Journalists and Activist Flee After Attacks On Their Number. After the murder of a democratic activist in Moscow and the latest attack on an Ekho Moskvy journalists, other journalists are deciding to leave the country rather than become victims of crimes the Russian government will do little to prevent or solve ( and The Russian authorities in Arkhangelsk have sought to end cooperation with foreign NGOs by fining Russian ones that have been working with Norwegian ones (, the Duma is moving forward on a measure that will make it easier for the regime to block sites it doesn’t like (, students are being forced to denounce political and religious enemies of the regime (, and puritan groups in Siberia, confident that the regime will back them, have launched a new campaign against stores and activities that they say violate Russian standards of morality ( This week, the Russian government prosecuted new cases against Tatars, Bashkirs and Russian nationalists ( and refused to consider calls for memorializing Cossacks and the victims of collectivization ( Russian prisons came in for criticism internationally and domestically for moving prisoners about to keep them off balance and for the tiny space allotted to inmates ( and

16.  At Least 131 Russians have Died in Syrian Combat, Embassy Documents Show. Documents from the Russian embassy in Damascus that have been examined by Reuters show that at least 131 Russian combatants have lost their lives in the conflict there ( Meanwhile controversies swirl about Moscow’s failure to provide for the widows of some of these and on the consequences of using Central Asian troops in the Russian military ( and  Moscow has announced that it will build a new naval base in the Kuriles but some Russian admirals have expressed skepticism about the idea ( Because of new sanctions, Moscow has made a single bank responsible for servicing the defense sector ( More problems have emerged at Russia’s Gyumri base in Armenia ( And Russia’s rocket sector is in trouble as a result of the disappearance of billions of rubles, the failure to attract more qualified people to serve as cosmonauts, and the inability of companies working at the Vostochny base to pay their workers on time (,, and

17.  What will the Kremlin Use as the Next Mathilda to Divert Attention from Economic Crisis?  Now that the controversial film is in the theaters, some are wondering what will be the next issue the Putin regime will use to divert popular attention from the problems Russia faces (  But right now, it is still effective: seven theaters in Moscow alone have been evacuated because of bomb threats ( and  opponents have clashed with police ( Most intriguingly, twice as great a share of Russians say they plan to view the film precisely because of  the controversy than say it should be banned ( and  But the Mathilda fight is likely to cast a shadow on the future: many Russian nationalists and Orthodox Christians are furious that the government has not heeded their calls to ban what they see as a slander on a Russian saint ( The Mathilda fight overshadowed but did not end other fights about cultural monuments.  The Saami of Murmansk remained deeply split about a monument concerning their history (, activists in Yekaterinburg plan two memorial days in honor of those repressed by Stalin (, the civil war over restoring place names has heated up in both capital cities ( and, monuments to tsarist figures went up in Omsk and St. Petersburg ( and, but there were at least two unfortunate mishaps: a monument to the heroes of Plevna was allowed to disintegrate (, and roadbuilders near St. Petersburg destroyed the graves of Soviet soldiers and civilians from the World War II period (

18.  Moscow Sees US Using Doping Issue Against Russia.  Russian officials and commentators are suggesting that the US sees the doping issue as a weak link in Moscow’s armor and thus continue to raise the issue in order to discredit not only Russian sport but Russia as such ( /александр-емельяненко-у-американцев/ and Vladimir Putin has echoed this line and reiterated that nothing will make Russian athletes compete under a neutral flag as some international athletic federations want ( Meanwhile, more problems have arisen in preparations for the 2018 World Cup. The Russian government has just put in 34.5 billion more rubles (600 million US dollars) (, Russian hoteliers report that they have received the first cancellations of reservations by foreigners for that competition (, and Moscow is making the games ever less user friendly: Russian stadiums won’t accept credit cards next year ( Meanwhile, Russians are learning that even more of them will be discommoded by the competition, with students in one venue told they will have to move out of their dorms ( and some workers being told that their jobs will be suspended during the competition (

19.  Russia Now Leading Source of ISIS Fighters. More people now fighting for the Islamic State come from Russia than from any other country, including Saudi Arabia and the Central Asian countries, although the latter taken together slightly outnumber those ISIS militants from Russia (

20.  Russia’s Size Makes Long-Distance High-Speed Trains Unprofitable; Its Location Makes Its Current Population Location Unwise.  Vladislav Inozemtsev says that Russia because of its size should not consider building long-distance high-speed trains because any rail trip of more than five hours people will prefer to go by air (, and Pavel Pryanikov says that Russia’s population should be moving toward its southern borders where climatic conditions are better and improving (

21.  Kremlin Edits Out Word ‘Annexation’ from German President’s Speech. Russian officials edited out the word “annexation” concerning Crimea from a speech the German president gave in Moscow (

22.  Eighty-Five Percent of Russian TV News about Ukraine or the United States.  Russian media is currently ignoring much of the world, including parts close to Russia. According to a new survey, 85 percent of the subjects of Russian television news is devoted either to Ukraine or to the United States (

23.  Most Russians See No Reason to Focus on 1917. A new poll shows that a third of all Russians can’t give an assessment of the revolutions of 1917 and that a majority see no reason to try to do so at all, all the public discussions about events then during this centenary year ( and At the same time, some Russians are now suggesting that it is time to rehabilitate the 1990s, a period that the Putin regime has consistently demonized (

24.  Putin Introducing His Version of Tsarist Domostroy. The Putin government is promoting the introduction into school curricula an updated version of the notoriously reactionary Domostroy rule book on family life of tsarist times (, and The course is intended to explain to young people that there duty to the state is to marry and have children rather than to study, something the labor ministry says is exactly what it should communicate to the next generation ( and

25.  Russians Not ‘Psychologically Ready’ for Gun Ownership, Moscow Says.  Russian Guard commanders say that the Russian people have not matured sufficiently to be able to handle gun ownership and thus should not be able to acquire most kinds of weapons ( Such arguments are common in Belarus as well where officials routinely say that the population isn’t ready for democracy either (

26.  Biographer Says Lenin Would Rule by Tweets Were He Alive Today. A new biographer of Lenin argues that the Bolshevik revolutionary would be a frequent user of Twitter and other electronic media were he alive today (  Another writer says that while living in the Soviet Union, he was not a communist but that in Putin’s Russia, he has become one (

                And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Ukraine has a Border Problem with Belarus Too. Ukraine’s problems with its eastern border as a result of the Russian invasion and its western one as a result of Hungarian claims are well-known.  Less well-known are its problems concerning the border with Belarus. Those problems are less political than topographic and technical: changes in rivers have affected the border, and portions of it remains lacking in border posts. Such uncertainties could be exploited by Russia to provoke a problem if Moscow chose to (

2.      Ukraine Faces a New Period of Atamanshchina, Russian Commentator Says. A Russian commentator on the Orthodox television channel Tsargrad says that Ukraine now faces another period of ataman rule similar to the one it suffered through during the Russian Civil War (

3.      Kyiv and Warsaw have Signed an Agreement on Minority Languages. The Ukrainian and Polish governments have signed an agreement on how each will treat minority languages in its educational system, thus ending what had appeared to be a serious conflict between the two nations (

4.      Russian Guard to Stand Watch on Bridge to Occupied Crimea. Fearful that Ukrainian forces may try to blow up the bridge Moscow is building to occupied Crimea, Putin’s Russian Guard has announced that its soldiers will stand guard over the bridge now and in the future (

5.       Russian Forces in Donbass Copy Moscow’s Repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In yet another way that the Russian forces in the Donbass are implementing the worst features of Putin’s Russia, officials there have launched a witch hunt against the Jehovah’s Witnesses (

6.      92 Percent of Belarusians Say Their Economy is in Crisis.  More than nine out of ten Belarusians say that the economic situation in their country has reached a crisis point (  As a result, many are suffering ill health ( or dying prematurely, leading to a population decline  (

7.      Dedovshchina in Belarusian Army Reflects Problems in Belarusian Society.  The mistreatment of Belarusian soldiers while serving in the army, mistreatment that in some cases has led t deaths, has sparked anger among many Belarusians, but one analyst has pointed out that what happens in the military including dedovshchina is only a mirror of what is occurring in Belarusian society at large (

8.      Pope Francis Thanks Belarusian Catholics for Statue of John Paul.  The Vatican has thanked Belarus’ Roman Catholics for erecting a statue to his predecessor who played such a major role in ending Soviet rule in Belarus and other eastern European countries (

9.      American Retirees Urged to Consider Moving to Belarus. A study has found that Belarus is one of the least expensive places for American retirees to live, and a Minsk think thank is promoting the idea that US elderly should consider moving there (

10.  Dedovshchina Doesn’t Exist in Lithuanian Military. Lithuanian officials are taking great pride that there is no dedovshchina in their country’s military, a reflection not only of Lithuanian cultural traditions but also of concerted efforts by commanders to root out this Soviet-era evil (

11.  Finland Establishes Special Ambassadorship for Hybrid Threats.  To respond to the new kind of challenges the Putin regime poses to its neighbor, Helsinki has created the position of special ambassador for hybrid threats to cooperate with other countries in countering them ( and

12.  Yerevan Said Resettling Syrian Armenians in Occupied Territories. Turkish and Azerbaijani sources are reporting that Armenia is resettling Armenians who have fled from Syria in Karabakh and the other occupied territories (

13.  Use of Russian Will Continue to Decline Across Central Asia Unless Moscow Offers a More Attractive Vision.  A new study suggests that Russian will be used by ever fewer Central Asians unless and until Moscow offers a more attractive vision of the Russian world than the one now on offer (

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