Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 109

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 18 -- 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 109th 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.      60 False Bomb Threats on Putin’s Route into St. Petersburg. According to the Kremlin, anonymous callers said that they had placed 60 bombs along Putin’s route into the northern capital. None of the bombs were found ( Meanwhile, some Russian communists have warned the Kremlin leader that he risks sharing the fate of Muammar Qadaffi (  and One Russian commentator says that Putin is very much aware that he is a dictator and that dictators don’t always have happy ends (, but former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma compares Putin to a God, and gods often have happier ends  ( This week, the Kremlin leader was honored with a new statue showing him as a winged bear (  Putin attracted most attention this weak for speaking directly by telephone with the heads of the DNR and LNR in Ukraine, something that led to predictions that he is getting ready to announce some major deal about their futures and is even dragging out his announcement of his presidential  candidacy for that reason (, and But a cautionary note has been sounded by Turkish President Racip Erdogan who points out that Putin doesn’t want to resolve the Karabakh dispute because not solving it works to his benefit (

2.      Russians Know Putin Lies to Them Even if Trump Doesn’t. Russians are very aware that Putin lies to them regularly even if US President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand that, a Russian commentator says ( and The Kremlin seems pleased with that state of affairs and blames all problems in bilateral ties on the US establishment rather than Trump ( Meanwhile, Russia has opened another troll factory, this one in Yugra far from prying Western eyes (, some are speculating that the sex scandals which began with Weinstein will ultimately spread to Trump as well (, Russians are upset that the US embassy is turning down the highest percentage of Russian visa applicants in the last ten years ( with some in the Duma calling for breaking off diplomatic relations with the US (, and opposition candidate Kseniya Sobchak has made it clear that she unlike Putin doesn’t have any particular sympathy for the American president (

3.      Protests Connected with Economic Situation and Tightening of Screws, Not Election. The Kremlin maintains that protests of various kinds around Russia are the result of the upcoming election, but a new sociological study concludes that they are the product of the economic situation and repression ( The Kremlin is correct to be concerned about participation: unexpectedly high participation in one local election in Pskov oblast allowed opposition candidates to win ( and The Russian Orthodox Church is having problems with this election, on the one hand speaking out against Sobchak but on the other saying priests must not advocate voting for any particular candidate ( and As for Sobchak herself, she is organizing in the regions but has no plan to do so in the North Caucasus ( and To boost Putin, the Kremlin has called on media to report more good news ( Meanwhile, an effort in Sakha to restore the voting against all line on the ballot failed ( The majority of Russians now say that they cannot have any influence on government decisions, and experts conclude that only a conspiracy within the elite could topple the current regime (  and A United Russia official says there are no divisions or influence groups within that party (, and those who want to rewrite the Constitution say that is necessary because it was “written by liberals,” in the words of one Duma deputy ( And in yet another indication that Putin takes care of his own even if he removes someone from one position, the Kremlin leader decorated the former head of Daghestan (  and gave a former Vagner paramilitary commander the chance to enrich himself as a restauranteur (

4.      Russian Economy Stagnating, Incomes Down, Business Profits Down and Bankruptcies Up. This past week brought little good economic news.  Russians’ real incomes continue to decline for the fourth year in a row (, business production has stagnated again (, industry is facing collapse (, bankruptcies are near historic highs ( and, bank profits fell and most businesses feel that ( and, the pension fund is almost exhausted (, inflation is rising and most people expect it to continue to do so ( and, studies show that families having three or more children are condemned to poverty (, and the wealthy are working ever harder to hide their money (

5.      Russians Will Have to Pay More to Celebrate Less at New Year’s. Prices for champagne, salmon and caviar are all up dramatically ( and Many workers are angry because they are told that their productivity has risen but their wages have declined ( Russians now rank 38th in the world in terms of knowledge of English ( Animal rights activists continue their protests at the Duma ( Nearly 50,000 Russians now go missing each year ( And Russians say tha they won’t increase consumption to pre-crisis levels even if their incomes eventually rise (

6.      Most Russians are Unhappy with Their Medical Care After Putin’s Optimization.  Cutbacks in medical spending by the government under Putin’s program have left a large majority of Russians upset about the quality of medical care they are receiving (  and Many can no longer get even basic vaccines (, and And unless Putin makes a visit when officials shut down factories to clear the air, ever more Russians are getting sick because of pollution (,,  and On the demographic front, marriages and divorces are both down, but divorces outnumber marriages (

7.       Seventy-Three Years after Deportation, Meskhetians Still Can’t Go Home. On the 73rd anniversary of their deportation by Stalin, the Meskhetians, perhaps the most “punished people” of Soviet times, still can’t go home again ( The first Chechen to come out as gay apologizes for the furor he caused ( A Daghestani court blocks further construction at least for a time of a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Makhachkala ( The situation in that republic is deteriorating as well with more protests and some even accusing the Makhachkala regime of sabotage (, and And Moscow’s pressure on Tatarstan is splitting elites there and creating problems far beyond the language issue (

8.      How Many Tatars Speak Tatar? As the fight over required instruction in Tatar heats up, so too have disputes about just how many Tatars use their national language rather than Russian in their daily lives, with figures ranging from as low as five percent to a majority for the population at large ( and roughly 50 percent of actors and actresses on the Kazan stage ( Just how sensitive the issue has become is indicated by the fact that Moscow officials have postponed two promised meetings on the subject even as the new policy hits the teaching staff of Tatar schools hard (, and  More protests took place against the Putin language policy (  and But probably the most important  development in the language wars took place not in Moscow but in Strasbourg where the European Court has taken up a case of a Chuvash convicted for seeking to defend his language (,,  and

9.      Russian Orthodox Church Says Men and Women are ‘Unequal by Nature.’  A Russian Orthodox priest says that men and women are “unequal by nature” and that efforts to ignore that are doomed to fail while promoting depravity ( Meanwhile, the Moscow Patriarchate says it supports some sex education in schools but far less than the government has proposed ( Following sharp criticism by Patriarch Kirill, Bishop Shevkunov, long rumored to be Putin’s spiritual advisor, has denied that he is close to the Kremlin leader ( and One Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) has called for introducing religious instruction from the fourth to the 11th grades ( The cornerstone of the first mosque in Karelia has been laid (, a Buddhist center has opened in Moscow (, and attacks continue on Jehovah’s Witnesses ( In other developments, Moscow media report that Satanists now threaten both Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Russia (, and members of traditional pagan faiths in Russia have asked the state for help in defending themselves against other religious denominations (

10.  Under Putin, Russia’s Regions Being Crushed, Zubarevich Says.  Putin’s policies are destroying the regions of the Russian Federation, Natalya Zubarevich says, by demanding that they do more with ever less ( Many Russian regionalists are inclined to take a “plague on both your houses” to political disputes in Moscow (, but others note that if Moscow forms larger units as Putin wants to do, he may face more opposition from the new regions than he does now if European attitudes are any guide ( The Free Ingria movement has issued its manifesto on the future ( A major divide in media use patterns splits Moscow and the rest of the country ( And the Russian government has warned the Siberian Realities portal of RFE/RL that it is at risk of being listed as a foreign agent (

11.  Moscow Sought to Keep Protests at a Minimum on Revolutionary Anniversary. There were fewer protests in Russia in the days just before and just after the November 7 anniversary as Moscow officials sought not to take any risks that a meeting for one purpose could attract supporters of other causes and get out of hand. Nonetheless, there were demonstrations of various kinds across the country, from protests by reindeer herders to calls for freedom for dolphins to defense of the European University in St. Petersburg (,,,,,  and

12.  Putin’s Russian Guard Rapidly Becoming His Personal KGB. The Russian Guard that Vladimir Putin established is rapidly growing in size and gaining ever more powers, an indication that it rather than a revamped FSB may serve as Putin’s personal KGB in the future (, and

13.  Moscow Increases Repression. The Constitutional Court approved the ban on deputies meeting constituents in groups without permission (, the Duma approved the foreign agents law but did not act on a proposal to make all foreigners working in Russia foreign agents by definition or agree to a proposal requiring that all volunteers for any activity be registered  (, and  Meanwhile, journalists report that Moscow’s plans to struggle against anonymizers have not really begun ( and that its efforts to get Russians off Linked In have failed. After a year of trying, 60 percent of Russians signed on to it still are ( Russians continued to be convicted of extremism for all sorts of reasons this past week (, including for the promotion of vegetarianism ( But Moscow officials refused to start a case against a Russian woman who used offensive terms about North Caucasians ( Memorial recognizes eight Muslims detained in Tatarstan as political prisoners (, the culture ministry now posts its own black list of people unwelcome in Russia (, officials say RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service is to be registered as a foreign agent (, and a leading Russian nationalist activist seeks and gets asylum in Europe (

14.  Radical Islamists Said Seeking Arrest in Russia to Recruit Muslim Prisoners. There are now so many Muslims in Russian prisons that radical Islamists are committing crimes precisely in order to get behind bars and thus be in a position to recruit in jails and camps there ( There have been arrests for the gas explosion in Izhevsk which may not have been the accident officials first described it as being ( More gunfights took place in the streets of Moscow ( and, and another two Russian soldiers have died during an explosion at a military exercise ( Mass evacuations in response to telephone bomb threats continue across the country and in Moscow itself (,, and The manager of the Russian government bunker has been arrested and charged with corruption ( The Russian government has decided to fire all overweight policemen ( And Russian gun enthusiasts have published guidance on what to do if the government tries to take away anyone’s firearms (

15.  Russian Archives Show What Moscow Denies: Red Army Entered Eastern Europe as an Occupier. A new archivally based study shows that the Red Army went into Eastern Europe as an occupier and not just as a liberator as Moscow invariably insists (, and one Duma deputy even acknowledged that the Soviet Union “occupied” part of Finland ( Meanwhile, Putin increased the size of the military and announced a 300 billion US dollar ten-year program of defense modernization, putting Russia on course to spend more than 5.3 percent of its GDP on the military (, and Elsewhere, Russia suffered an embarrassment with contractors building its embassy in Panama City ( and ceded back to Kazakhstan part of the Baikonur space launch facility ( Many commentators suggested British Prime Minister Teresa May’s speech was an update of Churchill’s iron curtain speech of 1946 ( A UN commission condemned Russia for violating human rights in occupied Crimea (, and the European Court ruled against Moscow for its treatment of LGBT citizens ( But Moscow was able to block via a veto a UN investigation into the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime it supports ( But with the war in Syria winding down, some are wondering whether Putin will launch a new aggressive move somewhere else, possibly against Ukraine (

16.  Sainthood Urged for Poklonskaya, the Opponent of the Mathilda Movie. A group of Orthodox activists has called for Natalya Poklonskaya to be put in line for sainthood for her opposition to Mathilda even though she did not succeed in getting the film banned and may have only attracted more attention to it (

17.  Is Lenin Already Buried? The controversy about whether to bury Lenin has intensified with the culture ministry coming out against ( and many Russians attacking his monuments or replacing them with statues of Ivan the Terrible ( and But there is one curious twist: some are suggesting that Lenin is already buried because his body is now two meters below ground, possibly as a result of Stalin’s theological training (

18.  Fights over Monuments of All Kinds Continue. Russian Orthodox activists want to have the Kremlin towers feature two-headed eagles rather than red stars and to have all streets in Russian cities named for new martyrs rather than for the people who killed them ( and A group in St. Petersburg wants to try to put up a monument to Marshal Mannerheim despite earlier controversy ( has discovered a new holiday, the stand against the Mongols in 1480 ( Memorials are slated to go up to Nicholas II and a tsarist general in St. Petersburg ( Activists in Siberian cities have joined the “last address” movement in memory of Stalin’s victims ( Following complaints, Stalin’s visage has been removed from advertising in one city ( A bust of Ivan the Terrible is dedicated in Vladimir (, and a monument to the ingatherers of Russian lands is opened in Kaluga ( A monument to victims of the Holocaust is opened in Stavropol (, but a monument to Admiral Kolchak is removed in Yekaterinburg (

19.  IOC to Decide December 5 on Russian Participation in South Korean Olympics. The International Olympic Committee has announced that it will decide whether and how Russian athletes can take part in next year’s Olympiad now that WADA has not restored RUSADA to full membership because Moscow refuses to admit any guilt (, and Adding Russia’s problems are reports about more Russian athletes being exposed for using illegal drugs ( and The Kremlin has responded by denouncing WADA as a branch office of NATO (, claiming the US is using the IOC to meddle in Russian politics (, and declaring that Russia won’t broadcast the games if Russian athletes aren’t there ( More immediately, Moscow still faces real problems with its preparations for the World Cup. Hotels and venues aren’t ready ( and, access to tickets is already a problem (, and Russian fans are upset that Moscow is imposing tighter controls over their behavior as FIFA has demanded ( and

20.  Russian Compatriots Abroad Moscow’s True ‘Soft Power’ There. Moscow should do more to exploit its most important soft power tools, ethnic Russians living abroad, according to Russian commentators in Moscow ( But over the last decade, 675,000 of them have returned to Russia (за-последнее-десятилетие-в-россию-вер.html), 90,000 of them in the past year alone  (

21.  Fearing Counterfeits, Khabarovsk Stores Refuse to Accept New Banknotes.  Stores in Khabarovsk say they are so afraid that the new 200 and 2000-ruble banknotes are going to be counterfeited that they are refusing to accept them for purchases (

22.  Successful People in Moscow Increasingly Choosing to Move to the Countryside. Russians who are doing well in their positions in the city of Moscow are increasingly choosing to move to the countryside to avoid congestion, to take advantage of distance work opportunities, and to rely on improved transportation networks (

23.  RT, When Registering in US as Foreign Agent, Can’t Say Where Its Money Comes From.  The US demand that RT register as a foreign agent has led to yet another embarrassment for the Russian television station. Its leadership couldn’t – or more likely wouldn’t – say where the network gets its money  (

24.  New Slowness Record on Russian Roads: One Kilometer in 45 Days. Russian roads are notoriously bad, but in what is likely a new record even for them, a driver reports that it took him 45 days to go one kilometer, a rate of speed that would have been exceeded by many species of snails (

25.  Foreigners Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Call Russia ‘Russia.’ A Russian nationalist activist says Moscow must insist that foreigners call the Russian Federation “Rossiya” and not get away with “Russia,” which he claims has negative sound connotations and must be rejected (слово-russia-раша-это-величайшая-диверс/).

26.  New Crimes of Communist Museum Opens on Karl Marx Street in Lenin’s Home Town. Sometimes an address tells it all. People in Ulyanovsk, the hometown of the Bolshevik leader, have opened a new Crimes of Communism Museum on Karl Marx Street (

                And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Occupiers’ Methadone Ban Fueling HIV Explosion in Crimea.  The Russian occupation authorities have banned the use of methadone in Crimea leading to a spark upward in the number of HIV/AIDS cases there ( Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has documented that these same powers that be have stepped up their repression of Crimean Tatar activists (

2.      Gold Found in Donetsk, as Coal from Occupied Donbass is Exported to Six European Countries.  Occupation officials report that gold has been discovered in the DNR, potentially giving Moscow yet another reason to hold on to that territory ( Meanwhile, Russian officials report that coal from the occupied Donbass is now finding its way to six EU countries in violation of international law (

3.      Russians Say Ukrainian Radicals Plan to Promote Revolt against Kadyrov in Chechnya.  Ukrainian radicals, urged on by the West, are planning to launch a war against Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s man in Chechnya, in the hopes of overthrowing him, according to some Moscow commentators (

4.      Moscow Opens Passenger and Freight Rail Line around Ukraine. Russian Rail has announced the completion of the rail network bypassing Ukraine that it began building in 2014. Officials describe this as Moscow’s “final goodbye” to Kyiv (

5.      Belarus Remains Among Most Corrupt Countries in the World. Experts say that Belarus remains “stable” in the bottom half of the most corrupt countries in the world ( It also is one of the three countries of Europe at the bottom the incomes its citizens receive (

6.      Belarusian Orthodox Church Publishes New Testament in Belarusian.  The Belarusian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has published its own translation of the New Testament into Belarusian, completing something it has been working on for two decades ( But despite this, Belarus remains the only country in the post-Soviet space where ever more people are using Russian as opposed to the titular language of the country (

7.      Only One Belarusian in 12 Fears His Country Will Lose Its Sovereignty. Twelve percent of Belarusians say they are afraid that their country  might lose its sovereignty in the relatively near future; the remainder reject that possibility (

8.      Ruutel Recalls How a Friendly Word to Yeltsin Helped Gain His Support for Estonian Independence.  Former Estonian President Arnold Ruutel said at the presentation of a new book about his career that his extension of a friendly word to Boris Yeltsin just after he had left the CPSU caused the Russian leader to promise that he would support Baltic independence when the time came (

9.      Zingeris Says West May Follow Magnitsky List with Nemtsov List. Lithuanian politician Emanuelis Zingeris says the West may soon adopt a Nemtsov List on the same basis as it did the Magnitsky list to go after those Russian officials involved in the murder of the Russian opposition politician (

10.  Tashkent Calls for Formation of Association of Regions within Central Asia.  Following on its proposal for a new union of Central Asian countries, the Uzbekistan government has called for creating an association of the regions of these countries as a first step (

11.  Kyrgyzstan Turns Its Largest Banknote on Its Side. In a move that may confuse consumers but that will certainly attract those who collect currencies, Bishkek has turned the obverse of its 2000-som note 90 degrees so that it has to be viewed lengthwise rather than the other way (

12.  Kazakhstan Suffering from Serious Brain Drain. Kazakhstan is losing doctors, economists and educators faster than it can replace them, putting some of its key sectors in difficulty already and promising more ahead (в-казахстане-отток-специалистов-прев.html and

13.  Turkmen Men Die Before Reaching Pension Age. Turkmenistan faces a demographic problem that may ease its fiscal ones: On average, Turkmen men die before they reach retirement age and thus do not have to be given a pension ( Environmental factors are playing a major role in this, and Ashgabat is trying to plant trees so as to block dangerous dust from the bottom of the now dried up portions of the Aral Sea (

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