Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 110

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 25 -- 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 110th such compilation, and it is again a double issue with 26 from Russia and 13 from Russia’s neighbors. Even then, it is far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1.      Russians Say Putin Backs the Siloviki and Oligarchs, Not the Russian People.  Russians tell pollsters that they view Vladimir Putin as the defender of the siloviki and the oligarchs and as someone who doesn’t pay much attention to the rest of the population (,опрос-путин-выражает-интересы-силовиков-и-олигархов/a-41458516 and They say that one of the Kremlin leader’s biggest “minuses” in their mind is his selection and retention of Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister ( Russian businessmen aren’t happy with Putin either, complaining that he has failed to free them from onerous levels of taxation ( and  And he may be even more unpopular in some quarters than that: His press spokesman said that people had called in more than 60 false bomb threats along Putin’s route in St. Petersburg ( There was one reassuring report this week: one Russian commentator says that whatever happens, there will never be another Putin (

2.      Did Moscow Encourage Trump to Run for President? There is growing evidence that Moscow in various ways sought to promote the election of Donald Trump as US president, but this week Politico reported that Trump had never thought about running for president until he visited Moscow in the 1980s, implying that Russians even then may have encouraged him to run (  According to one Moscow report, Putin has been dragging his feet in announcing his candidacy for re-election in the hope of some deal with Trump (, and Moscow media have returned to their original notion that Trump will help Russia if he can overcome the resistance of the American establishment ( But Russians are angry with the US for many reasons, and one of their responses is to promote legislation that would officially recognize the killing off of American Indians as an act of genocide (

3.      ‘It’s Not Easy to Get Russians to Vote for Putin.’ That is the judgment of a Siberian regional deputy who is supposed to be supporting him (  In other election news, the Kremlin hasn’t yet decided whether to allow Kseniiya Sobchak to register even though her candidacy was promoted by the central authorities ( One reason for that appears to be the investigation of her remarks about Crimea ( LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has launched his flamboyant campaign with promises to paint the Kremlin white if he wins and to ensure that the media will never give bad news more than 10 percent of the space ( and; he also says that there was more democracy under the tsars than there is in Russia today and that Russians lived better then as well ( The justice ministry continues to harass the Navalny campaign effort but the opposition leader did pick up support from Aleksey Kudrin who said Navalny must be allowed to run (  and Russian businessmen are talking about nominating one of their own to oppose Putin ( And the Kremlin appears ready to allow more regional referenda to occur next march in a bid to boost participation rates (

4.      Is Putin Planning to Dispense with Oblasts, Krays and Republics and Rely on Federal Districts Alone?  An almost unnoticed development this week could point to a radical restructuring of the Russian federal system.  The ruling United Russia Party subdivided itself not according to oblasts, krays and republics as it had earlier but rather in terms of the federal districts, a decision that may mean Putin plans for a renewed Russian Federation of eight federal districts rather than more than 80 federal subjects as now ( The Kremlin leader could present this as a cost-saving measure, but it would create many problems, not least of which is that the smaller number of federal units, the more likely the disintegration of the country would become, to judge from history. It is also being reported that Putin will name eight to ten new governors next year but only after the election (  All this will require constitutional change and many are preparing the way for that with one Duma deputy saying that “Russia’s constitution was written by liberals” and thus must be changed (, and others talking about the possibility of a rewrite even though the Duma failed to pass a bill that would have established the rules for a constitutional assembly ( and Another study found that in the last six years, the average age of the Russian political elite has gone up by three years ( The Kremlin has rushed to defend an oligarch arrested in France, but prosecutors have shown no interest in bringing a case against someone who tried to buy a governorship for himself ( and

5.      Russian Economy Stagnating While Those of Neighbors are Booming. As hard as it is to live in a stagnating economy, it is even worse if one can look over the border and see that others are moving forward.  That is the situation Russians now find themselves in ( The government has tried to hide this by laying with the figures: its current projections of the rate of inflation are 40 times lower than the one found by independent experts ( and Moreover, new research shows that Russian products are not replacing those blocked by counter-sanctions (, and the wave of bankruptcies personal and corporate only underscores the weakness of the Russian economy (

6.      Nearly Half of Russian Families Can’t Afford Food and Clothing They Need.  According to a new survey, almost 40 percent of Russian families say they don’t have enough income now to pay for the food and clothing they need (, and half of all families are financing their daily expenditures with credit card debt ( Payday loans are becoming ever more common ( and more than half of Russians are behind in debt repayment ( and  The decline in incomes has accelerated by a factor of four over the last year (, with 70 percent of Russians now saying they are unhappy with their rate of pay ( But Russians face other problems driven by the economic crisis: Governments are cutting back on the heating of apothecary shops and beauty salons (, pensioners who work will not have their pensions indexed for inflation ( Intercity bus lines are being suspended because there is no money for fuel ( Wage arrears are up dramatically across the country ( and, with the poor getting poorer and the rich richer ( Prices for consumer services rose four percent in October alone ( The number of freelancers has almost doubled to 18 percent of all workers in the last year (, and estimages of the number of Russians working off the clock range from 13 to 40 million ( Despite a record harvest, the peasants are poorer this year than last, and the quality of bread in the cities is down ( And when they mark the new year, Russians will have to make do with cheaper foods because the prices of their favorite holiday meals have shot up ( and

7.      A Third of Russians Don’t Believe Government Promises of a Bright Future. They may support Putin, but three Russians out of ten tell pollsters that they don’t believe that the future for them is going to be good ( In other social news, Russia has fallen behind even Kazakhstan as an attractive place for highly educated specialists (, and it is ever less attractive even for low skill gastarbeiters as well (, and Russia’s cookie cutter approach to urban planning is reducing the attractiveness of many cities ( and In a feel good action most experts say will have no effect, the Duma has voted to ban criminal subcultures like AUE ( and The environments in Russian cities is deteriorating ( Black Friday in Russia came and went without significant markdowns ( The Russian government is making it almost impossible for private museums to exist ( Moscow has finally imposed significant criminal penalties for those who are cruel to animals ( According to officials, 40 percent of the cognac sold in Russia is adulterated or simply fake (; and to save money, Russians are giving up cigarettes and going back to the odious makhorka (

8.      Rural Russia Dying from Putin’s Health Optimization – and Cities Suffering as Well. Putin’s health optimization plan is killing off rural Russia, experts say and care in the cities has deteriorated as well. As a result, Russians are overwhelming unhappy with the state of health care (,  and Tuberculosis has broken out in parts of the country ( as has polio ( According to the World Health Organization, Russia is now the second most unhealthy country in the world ( The Russian government wants a law to ban the sale of alcohol to those who are already drunk (  and Many vaccines are not available, and inexpensive medicines are predicted to disappear more or less completely by early 2018 ( and Highlighting just how bad Russian medical facilities are was a video clip that went viral showing a seriously ill man on the floor of a hospital who was completely ignored by passing doctors and nurses (, and underscoring just how unreliable Russian government claims are in this area is an expose of how the fight against drug abuse in Chechnya was more or less invented out of whole cloth (

9.      Half of Russians Say They Won’t have Children Because of Poverty. The Russian economic crisis is having a serious impact on Russian demography, with half of the population now saying that they won’t have children because of the costs of doing so ( In other demographic news, Russia retains its status as the country with the greatest difference in life expectancies between men and women (, Rosstat’s demographic figures have been shown to be problematic at best and outright falsifications at worst (, and two headlines this week raise questions no healthy society is going to be asking: Does Russia need people at all? Or does it just need “new people” ( and

10.  Sobyanin Sees No Need for Migrants to Adapt to Russian Norms. The Moscow mayor has set off a firestorm of criticism by suggesting that the Russian authorities need not bother trying to adapt gastarbeiters to Russian realities. In his opinion, they can continue to live apart from their Russian neighbors ( North Caucasians returning from fighting for ISIS have landed in Russian prisons despite Moscow’s promises ( The Russian government has announced plans to introduce special passports for members of the numerically small peoples of the North and also to force them to pay for the land on which they have traditionally lived ( and The fight over native language instruction continues in Tatarstan and in other non-Russian republics (, and

11.   Patriarch Kill Says West Today ‘Worse than Soviet Union.’ The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church says that by its immoral laws, the West today is much worse than was the Soviet Union ( He also has launched a new website of his remarks, yet another step in promoting a cult of personality, even though Vladimir Putin has suggested he shouldn’t be working so hard ( and Despite the fears of some and the hopes of others, experts say there is no chance for a revolution within the Moscow patriarchate even if Bishop Shevkunov continues to win more support. Kirill has simply packed with hierarchy with too many of his own supporters (,,  and Meanwhile, a leading Russian Muslim commentator has warned the Kremlin that the country’s Muslims will be watching what the government does to them and to other religious groups (

12.  Russia Today is ‘Moscow Against Everyone Else.’ Increasingly, the dividing line in Russian politics is along the ring road around Moscow, dividing the city into which all money and power flow from everyone else ( The Kremlin is trying to counter this by imposing satraps in all regional posts but that is only dividing the regional governments from the population of the regions  ( Ever more regions are considering the implications of the Catalonia conflict for themselves and their future (, and some regions, most notably Siberia, are insisting that they speak their own language ( Meanwhile, in Kaliningrad, officials are worried about the pro-German tilt of local studies at the university (

13.  Protesters Now Turning Russian Government Slogans Against the Government. The Russian authorities have failed so often to live up to their promises that some anti-government protesters are now using earlier government slogans against Moscow ( and Support for the renewal of the long-haul trucker strike is growing (  and Anti-abortion activists sent a petition with one million signatures to Putin asking him to ban abortions ( Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky has launched a new website, “Is Crimea Ours?” (, and the mothers of Russia’s increasing number of political prisoners say they are proud of their children (

14.  Are Ronald McDonald and Col. Sanders About to Become ‘Foreign Agents’? The Russian Duma is considering naming McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken foreign agents, something that presumably would make their mascots that as well ( Meanwhile, the Helsinki Watch group says that every new law the Russian Duma passes makes the situation worse for Russians (, although some might say that a whistleblower protection measure that has moved forward in committee this week was an exception to that ( Nonetheless, more Russians continue to be convicted of extremism on various pretexts (, and more people who are detained suffer tortures ( The authorities are often aided by ordinary Russians who attack people that the regime may not: thus some people threatened to punish the young Russian who expressed sympathy for German POWS (, and others beat up a Voronezh picketer who carried a sign declaring that “Putin is not my president” (

15.  Russian Gun Owners Prepared to React if Government Tries to Restrict Their Rights.  Russians who own guns are concerned that recent statements by the Russian Guard about restrictions on gun rights could limit their ability to own and use firearms and are prepared to defend their rights (  On other issues of domestic security, the authorities are issuing more restrictive rules on the use of drones by private persons (, the Duma wants to impose a penalty of ten years in prison for those who engage in telephone terrorism by making bomb threats (, the Russian Guard acquires more crowd control machinery (, and in a cost-saving measure, the Russian penal authorities say that prisoners will now have to grow food to feed themselves (

16.  Russia Used Bots to Respond to Western Forces in the Baltic Countries. According to NATO, 70 percent of the online messages about the presence of Western armed forces in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were delivered by Russian-language bots (  A video clip showing Russian school children pledging to “die for Putin” has gone viral on the Runet ( Finnish historians have documented that a former Finnish foreign minister worked for Russian intelligence ( And Russia’s atomic fleet is at risk of running out of engines because it has no replacements for any that fail (

17.  Kadyrov Wants to Hand Over Stalin’s Corpse to Georgia. Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, says that Moscow should give Tbilisi Stalin’s corpse and thereby eliminate one conflict over memorials in Moscow (  Some Russian Orthodox radicals would like to canonize Natalya Poklonskaya for her opposition to the film Mathilda ( Russians have proposed naming the bridge to occupied Crimea “the President’s Bridge” ( Deputies are pushing for a  referendum to rename Sverdlovsk oblast ( A proposed memorial to Russian journalists who have been killed while during their work must leave enough room for new names, activists say ( and

18.  Only Three Percent of NGOs in Russia Get Money from Abroad. While the non-governmental organizations that do get financing from abroad receive the most attention from the Russian government, in fact only three percent of all Russian NGOs now receive any money from foreign sources (

19.  Moscow has Become a ‘Limitrophe’ to Russia, Ikhlov Says. Russian commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov says that today, the city of Moscow has become “a limitrophe” for the rest of Russia, thus applying to the center now a term of denigration that many in the USSR and the West used before 1939 for the countries that arose after World War I between east and west (

20.  Officialese Becoming a Separate Russian Language. Under Putin, the vocabulary of officials is increasingly becoming an entirely different language from the ones spoken by other Russians.  And in many cases, some say, it is intentionally or not unintelligible to the population at large (
21.  Dugin Says a Single Humanity Does Not Exist.  In perhaps his most racist remark yet, Aleksandr Dugin, the Eurasianist theorist who has exercised enormous influence on Putin, says that there is no such thing as “a single humanity” and that different rules thus are appropriate to govern the way in which different nations act and are treated by others (

22.  Russia Ranks Near the Bottom Among All Countries on Laws Protecting Women.  Russia is now found among the 18 countries with the fewest legal protections of women’s rights, according to a new international survey (

23.  Russians Upset Chinese Tourists Don’t Spend More. Chinese tourists are coming to Russia in increasing numbers, but they spend far less than others, a pattern that has angered many Russians who expended a financial windfall from them (

24.  Russian Officials First Ignore, then Deny, then Understate Radiation Leak in the Urals. In a reprise of Moscow’s response to other nuclear accidents, Moscow officials fist ignored reports about it in regional and European media, then denied there had been any leakage, and, when confronted with evidence they couldn’t ignore, played down the problem despite its impact on millions of Russians and Europeans (,,,, news/news/1052313441 and

25.  Petersburg Police Put to Good Use: Fighting Icicles. The police in the northern capital have created a special unit to identify and knock down icicles hanging from the upper floors of buildings there.  Such icicles in past years have killed dozens of people (

26.  There Really is a Russian Bear in the Woods – and He’s Got Two Guns! The Siberian Times reports that a bear that attacked a Russian hunter retreated after seizing and carrying off two guns the hunter had been carrying. It warned Siberians that this Russian bear has to be viewed as armed and dangerous (

And 13 others from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1.      Ukrainians Want Only Minimal Ties with Russia After Peace is Achieved. A new poll finds that almost half of all Ukrainians want only the most minimal diplomatic ties with Russia after peace is achieved, an indication of the ways in which Russian aggression is casting a longer shadow on Ukraine than many now recognize ( One symptom of this is the call from some Ukrainians to stop referring to Russia as Russia but instead call it Muscovy (

2.      UNGA Says Russia is Occupying Crimea and Violating Human Rights There. The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution describing Russia as an occupying power on the Ukrainian peninsula and condemning it for human rights violations there (

3.      To Fight Endemic Dedovshchina, Belarusians Organize Second Soldiers Mothers Committee. Belarusian activists have organized a second and more independent of the government Soldiers Mothers Committee in the hopes of being able to fight the widespread dedovshchina in the ranks of the Belarusian armed services that has recently led to several deaths ( and

4.      Thirty-Nine Percent of Young Belarusians No Longer Watch TV. Some 39 percent of younger Belarusians no longer watch television, thus limiting the ability of that channel to deliver Belarusian and Russian government messages to the population (

5.       Belarusian Arrest of Ukrainian Spy Cools Relations Between Kyiv and Minsk. Belarus may have won points in Moscow with its arrest of a man Minsk’s security services say is a Ukrainian spy, but this action has led to a serious cooling of ties between the two neighboring states (

6.      Moscow Again Training Belarusian Youths in Paramilitary Camps in Russia.  After what appears to have been a brief pause, the Russian authorities via the mercenary company ENOT is again training Belarusian young people in camps, this time located near Moscow. The camps provide not only military instruction but ideological guidance of an extreme right kind (

7.      Erdogan Says Putin Uninterested in Karabakh Settlement. The Turkish president says Vladimir Putin has no interest in finding a solution to the Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia (

8.      Moscow TV Says Symbol of Armenia’s Ruling Party Resembles Nazi One. In an indication of deteriorating relations between Moscow and Yerevan, the Zvezda television network has suggested that the symbols of Armenia’s ruling part recall those of Hitler’s Nazi party (

9.      Turkey Demands Turkic Republics Send Home Gulenist Teachers. Ankara has demanded that the Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union send back to Turkey teachers who follow the Gulenist line, but many of these teachers say that they will be incarcerated or worse if they are sent back to Turkey ( and

10.  Astana Restricts Religious Activities of Government Employees. The government of Kazakhstan has issued a new order that bans government employees from being active leaders of Muslim or other religious communities in that country (

11.   Kazakhstan Seeks to Limit Influence of Retuning ISIS Fighters. Several hundred Kazakhs have returned to their country after fighting for ISIS in the Middle East. Astana is seeking to create a program that will quarantine such people until it can be determined whether they are a threat (

12.  Russia Now Shipping Oil to Uzbekistan. In yet another sign of warming relations between Moscow and Tashkent, the Russian Federation has resumed shipping oil to Uzbekistan (

13.  Kyrgyzstan Seeks Russian Mediation in Conflict with Kazakhstan.  Relations between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have deteriorated to the point that Bishkek has asked Moscow to help resolve their conflict, one that Kyrgyz officials say is isolating their country from Russia (

No comments:

Post a Comment