Friday, January 26, 2018

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 115

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 31 -- 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 115th 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 Said Bringing Back Concept of ‘Enemy of the People.’ In December 1958, the Khrushchev government banned “enemy of the people” as a legal concept, but several Moscow commentators say that Vladimir Putin wants to bring it back with his amendments to the foreign agents law ( and Multiple commentators suggested that the Kremlin’s main achievement in 2017 was to make Russia an outcast internationally and to mobilize international opposition to it (  In another move, Putin said that rising poverty over the last year in Russia is entirely the result of actions by foreigners rather than any mistakes or failures by his government (

2.      Putin Nominates Himself to Underline His Unique Role as National Leader. Instead of using his United Russia Party as a vehicle, Putin has nominated himself to demonstrate that he is above all that as leader of the nation ( Immediately, however, various groups in the population came out in support of his re-election (e.g., and, and he began acting like a candidate who needed to win votes by raising the salaries of key votes and promising other goodies once he is elected to his fourth term ( Meanwhile, other candidates real and otherwise were busy. Kseniya Sobchak appealed to Tatar nationalists to become her campaign workers ( Aleksey Navalny says he has the needed 100,000 signatures but continues to be rejected by the authorities as a candidate ( He is now calling for a boycott, an effort that Navalny says more people will join now that he has been refused registration as a candidate ( sharing his view that only by reducing turnout can they hurt Putin ( Despite the opposition of the authorities, legal experts say that calls for a boycott are completely legal (  Meanwhile, even as Vedomosti selected Navalny as politician of the year (, his supporters were again forced to turn to the Pornhub portal to get his message out ( And LDPR candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky came out in support of celebrating Western Christmas as well as the Eastern one ( One unexpected place where the various candidates may get votes is the network of psychiatric hospitals where officials said polling places would be opened (

3.      Russians Should Stop Speaking of Putin Stability: It Doesn’t Exist, Commentators Say.  Like many things in Putin’s Russia, the much-ballyhooed “Putin stability” is ersatz, various writers say. It is more appropriate to speak of “the Putin collapse” ( In other political developments, Russians in the Transbaikal are accusing an oligarch of wrecking Lake Baikal (, one analyst says new arrests in Rosatom are the first move in an attack on Kiriyenko (, Putin replaced his plenipotentiary representatives in two federal districts (, the Moscow mayor’s office was discovered to have paid 40,000 rubles (650 US dollars) for a single post on social networks (, Duma deputy Elena Misulina was attacked for supposedly mobilizing the country to attack fake pedophiles while allowing real rapists to go free (, several federal subjects have begun talking about the possibility of moving their capital cities (, the government reminded bureaucrats that they can’t use government funds for holiday presents (, and for the first time and only a few days before the Kremlin took it down, the finance ministry published the salaries of Russian ministers and other senior officials (

4.      Putin Seeks to Bring a Trillion Dollars of Russian Money Before New Sanctions Take Effect.  Vladimir Putin, fearful that the new personal sanctions the US is slated to introduce on February 2 will put the wealth he and other oligarchs have stashed abroad and is working overtime to attract that money back to Russia (  (In a related move, Putin loosened financial controls for those Russians who live abroad ( Meanwhile, Western investors have pulled 900 million US dollars out of Russian equity markets because of analogous fears ( Moscow and Washington traded actions with Russian reducing the amount of territory open for the Open Skies Program (, arossii/103142-menshe-otkrytogo-neba-rossiya-dala-zerkalnyy-otvet-ssha.html), Moscow denying a visa to a US senator (, and Russian social sites rumored to have lifted the accounts of Donald and Melania Trump (

5.      The Russian Economy is Growing ‘Only in Putin’s Dreams,’ Analyst Says. Aleksandr Ryklin says the Russian economy is growing “only in Putin’s dreams.” Indeed, other officials confirm this (, and The Kremlin is also lying about the level of inflation as Russians see every day (, and The reserve fund is now empty (, and commentators say foreigners are refusing to invest in Russia not because of sanctions but because of Moscow’s policies and practices ( Some experts are projecting a serious Russian government deficit in 2018 ( even with the price of oil going up ( More than 1000 Russian firms are now going bankrupt each month ( and given that a third of all companies are now operating at a loss (, and violations of financial rules have soared over the last 12 months (  As a result of all this, Russia is falling ever further behind the economies of other countries and experts say its economy will be smaller than Turkey’s by 2032 ( and  

6.      More than a Third of Russians Say Country is Economically at a Dead End.  A new poll finds that more than one in every three Russians think the economy is headed into a dead end and that Moscow must change course ( There are all kinds of evidence for this conclusion: Russians in Moscow are using credit cards to get tattoos (, Russians say that anyone who has children under Putin is condemning himself or herself and the children to poverty (, and every other pensioner now lacks enough money to buy both food and clothing (rus There have been some real horror stories, albeit anecdotal: A Krasnoyarsk man has sold his liver in order to feed his children (, and Russians in Irkutsk oblast have been exchanging soap rather than holiday presents because they need the soap more ( As some Russians say, when you can only celebrate small things, that is what you do (

7.      Russians Crown New Number One Thief in Law – and It isn’t Putin.  Vasya Voskres has been recognized by the criminal community in Russia as the new thief in law ( The percentage of optimists among Russians fell by 50 percent at the end of 2017 ( Moscow to allow hunters to kill formerly protected endangered species ( Russian legislators want to reduce vodka’s alcohol content from 40 percent (80 proof) to 37.5 percent (75 proof) ( Health officials urge Russians not to use mayonnaise ( And news on the education front was uniformly bad: 94 percent of Russian university graduates said unprepared for work (, Russian scholars complain to Putin that science in their country is dying (, and one of their number acknowledges that paper claims have replaced real achievements in that sector (

8.      Psychologically, Residents of Russia Today Said Like Residents of Medieval Muscovy. Although the number of Russians today who do not have representatives of other ethnic groups in their backgrounds is very small, most Russians now are psychologically very similar to the residents of Muscovy, observers say ( and Russian government crushes most organized Russian nationalist groups over the last six months, SOVA says ( A Buryat deputy is sharply criticized for negative comments about ethnic Russians in the non-Russian republics ( The Kalmyks remember their deportation by Stalin ( The Turkic Nogays stage protests to demand their ethnic rights in Karachayevo-Cherkessia (  And the Siberian Cossack Host is becoming ever more active and gaining official recognition (

9.      After Language Debacle, Komis Say to Putin ‘You are Not Our President!’ Members of the Komi nation, infuriated by Putin’s insistence that the study of their language be only voluntary, have protested with signs declaring that he is “not our president” any longer ( And Putin’s campaign against the non-Russian languages continues to outrage many non-Russians (,, and, even while some Russians are complaining  that he isn’t pushing hard enough to promote Russian as against non-Russian languages (

10.  Moscow Says Navalny Coordinator an Ingermanland Separatist. The Russian authorities say that the coordinator of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny’s staff has promoted Ingermanlander separatism ( and Regional leaders say that Moscow is not redistributing the wealth of the country from the rich to the poor as it has claimed (  Regionalist groups are trying to figure out how to advertise their feelings with clothing during cold weather ( Campaign to move Moscow disparaged: what is needed is genuine decentralization, many say ( Putin’s first regional amalgamation project failing, its victims say ( Regions are now ranking themselves by intelligence: Yekaterinburg said to be “stupider” than Kazan but “smarter” than Novosibirsk ( and  And regional online news agencies are experiencing explosive growth in the number of visitors (

11.  Despite Record Cold in Siberia, Russia Experienced Warmest Year on Record in 2017.  Scientists say that global warming has brought Russia its warmest year ever over the past 12 months, leading to the melting of permafrost in the European north but also to record cold in the northern regions east of the Urals (  When it has snowed in Russian cities, many are discovering just how much pollution there now is. In. St. Petersburg, for instance, some of the snowfall is now blue and violet (

12.  Moscow Patriarchate Plans to Double Number of Churches in Russia by 2050. Despite declining populations, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church says it plans to double the number of churches in Russia over the next three decades ( It also plans to promote religious tourism ( but says the time has not come to return to the pre-1917 calendar ( Kaliningrad officials have finally given the Muslim community there land for a mosque, but others in Kemerovo have blocked Muslim requests for property (  and Moscow commentators said that 1917 had been marked by the return of Soviet-style militant atheism with the attacks on Jehovah’s witnesses (  One fallout from that campaign has been that draft officials are not allowing Jehovah’s Witnesses called up to perform alternative service because that denomination has been banned in Russia (  Meanwhile, Pope Francis has called on Russian Catholics to pray for victory in the struggle against corruption (

13.  Now Smaller Cities Dying Just Like Villages. Statistics show that the death of Russian population centers is spreading from villages, more than a thousand of which are ceasing to have any residents each year, to smaller cities as well (  Many people are leaving them but others are dying because medical services are no longer available ( and Many doubt Putin’s latest pro-natalist policies will work, although there was some good news: Rosstat reported that mortality had fallen by 3.1 percent across all age groups ( and Meanwhile, Russians outside of Moscow continue to complain about the capital mayor’s dismissive comments about them: Russia needs the people he called “superfluous,” they say (

14.  Unemployed in Khabarovsk Stage Armed Attack Against Those Who Let Them Go. A group of unemployed workers in Khabarovsk armed themselves with guns and threatened to wreak vengeance on those who had cost them their jobs ( Protesters in Yekaterinburg increasingly political and anti-Putin ( Daghestani villagers protest against plans to keep an oil processing plant that is polluting their area open ( Some 500 people take part in a demonstration in Moscow in favor of free elections despite an official prohibition on that action ( and Derbent residents demand that the authorities clean up the air in that southern Daghestani city ( And demonstrations against banks and officials who say that the banks deceived them continued in many cities (

15.  Eleven Gays Testify They were Tortured in Chechnya. Eleven members of the LGBT community in Chechnya say they were torture, and the first says that he was forced to apologize to the authorities there (  and Meanwhile, in a move that may help or hurt Russia’s gay community, the Federation Council has adopted a measure that equalizes the treatment of animals and that of defenders of sexual minorities ( The Duma also adopted a measure that appears likely to ban future hearings on key issues there (  A St. Petersburg court says that reports Moscow is involved in terrorism are “extremist” (, and the interior ministry issues a ban on any materials that discredit the authorities or call for people to attend meetings the authorities have not sanctioned ( Three neo-pagans were  declared guilty of disseminating extremism in the Kuban ( Russia’s parliament adopts a law making anyone who recruits people to work as terrorists liable to a sentence of life in prison (, and Russian courts begin sentencing those charged with failing to report on those planning terrorist acts ( In a move with potentially positive but also negative consequences, Moscow has established a registry of those convicted of corruption ( Meanwhile, persons unknown but thought to be linked to the authorities have beaten a leader of the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus (

16.  Telephone Bomb Threats Continue to Force Evacuations across Russia. While the central media seldom mentions there, telephone bomb threats continue to force the evacuation of public buildings and apartment blocks in cities and towns across Russia (,,,, and More reports about official incompetence in dealing with terrorists and in securing the country’s nuclear power facilities surfaced ( and Reports of violence by individuals became more common (, and some Russians began expressing outrage that Russian gun producers are pushing too many people to arm themselves, possibly even against the state ( And Putin’s Russian Guard announced that it would retain all fines it collects to help finance its activities (

17.  Moscow Continuing to Help North Korea with Trade and Advice.  Despite the international embargo which Russian says it supports, Russian ships continue to ply their way between Vladivostok and North Korea and Russian experts reportedly continue to provide expertise to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs (, and  Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin says 50,000 Russians have served in his military operation in Syria ( The St. Petersburg troll factory has been forced to move into bigger quarters as it has expanded its operations ( ). British intelligence says that Moscow was responsible for shooting down the Malaysian jetliner ( Moscow restricts foreign shipping in the Arctic (  Moscow says it will build a new aircraft carrier sometime in the future, but budgetary constraints are limiting its production of naval vessels and aircraft now (, and One measure of Moscow’s desperate search for cash is a Russian proposal to turn the international space station into a hotel for rich tourists ( Chinese poaching and smuggling is an increasing problem in the Russian Far East as the discovery of the paws of illegally slain bears seized by Russian customs officials show (  The  FSB said it would ease the approval process for those seeking to visit border areas. Now its answer will come within one month and not three or more as in the past (

18.  Officials Keep Tearing Down Nemtsov Memorial.  Russian government officials keep knocking down the temporary memorial to slain Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov; but his supporters quickly re-erect it each time ( The Russian culture minister continues to be mired in controversies from St. Isaac’s – he says he isn’t against giving back to the church – to clashes with the Presidential Arts and Culture Council which has in a remarkable step lambasted him for his failing ( and Meanwhile, some Orthodox Russian nationalists have marked the anniversary of Grigory Rasputin’s murder ( while communists says that “Trotskyites and Yeltsinites” are behind recent attacks of the FSB ( Buryat activists oppose plans to rename a street in their republic in Stalin’s anger (, and activists in the Khanty-Mansi  District have honored the memory of deported Crimean Tatars only to be criticized by others for their defense of “collaborationists” ( And on a historical note, the British archives have announced that they have misplaced the Zinoviev Letter which sparked a diplomatic crisis between London and Moscow in 1927 (

19.  WADA Says Doping Continues in Russia. The World Anti-Doping Agency says that Moscow has not stopped its doping program despite promises to do so (  The official who oversaw that program has officially resigned his positions in Russian sports but continues to speak as if he were still in office ( and An intense debate continues in Russia as to whether athletes either individually or collectively should not go to the South Korean Olympiad now that the IOC has banned their appearance there under the Russian flag (, and With regard to the upcoming World Cup in Russia, experts say that Moscow will not recoup even one-half of one percent of the money it has spent getting reading for that competition (  Moscow did agree to “de-communize” the public space in venue cities ( It is imposing greater fines for the illegal resale of tickets (, but the Russian authorities have not been able to prevent dramatic increases in air fares and hotel rates at the time of the competition ( and And a new survey finds that as a result of the scandals involving Russian athletes, Russians still believe in their military but they don’t believe in their national athletes (

20.  Muscovy’s Destruction of Novgorod in 1478 Marked Beginning of Russian Threat to West.  When Muscovy destroyed the Hansa city of Novgorod in 1478, it is commonly said, that event foreclosed the possible development of a more open and democratic Russia. But it also represented the beginning of the Russian threat to the West (

21.  Russians Want Status of Empire Without Its Burdens. A Russian commentator says that Russians want to be an imperial state but are not willing to bear the burdens associated with that status, thus setting the stage for its periodic disintegration and reconstitution (

22.  An Anniversary Unmarked – 95th Anniversary of Formation of USSR.  The Russian government of Vladimir Putin seems interested in promoting commemorations of almost all anniversaries of key Soviet-era events, but the 95th anniversary of the signing of the union treaty that led to the formation of the USSR passed almost entirely unnoticed (

23.  Moscow Can Restore the USSR Whenever It Wants. A KPRF commentator says that the only think preventing Moscow from restoring the Soviet Union is a lack of political will at the center (

24.  Orwell’s 1984 Among Best Selling Books in Russia.  George Orwell’s anti-utopian novel 1984 which many viewed as a portrait of Stalin’s Soviet Union is now among the best-selling books in the Russian Federation (

25.  Moscow Gives World War II Veteran an Apartment – Three Months After His Death.  The failure of the authorities to provide a World War II veteran during his lifetime but only three months after his death not only highlights some of the inefficiencies of the Russian political system but also has angered many Russians who see it as symbolic of the Kremlin’s failure to care about the Russian people (

26.  Russia’s Ice Roads Don’t Always Hold Up.  Because there are almost no roads in the Russian north, residents there rely on deliveries by truck when the rivers freeze and become ice roads.  But the ice isn’t always thick enough; and this year, the Internet was filled with pictures of heavy trucks plunging through the ice in Sakha (

                And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Sixty Percent of Ukrainians Opposed to Making Russian an Official Language. A new poll shows that 60 percent of Ukrainians are now opposed to giving official status to the Russian language, the highest share ever (  In addition, shares favoring Ukrainian membership in the EU and NATO are also at new highs (

2.      Kyiv Imposes Biometric Controls at Russian Border Crossings. In order to ensure tighter control over its borders, Ukraine is now requiring biometric tests of Russian citizens seeking to enter the country (

3.      Moscow Church in Ukraine Claims It’s Growing. Despite reports that many Orthodox parishioners are shifting from the Moscow Patriarchal church to the Kyiv one, leaders of the former insist that they continue to gain new members and to open new parishes in various parts of Ukraine (

4.      Problems Arise in Approaches to Kerch Bridge.  The railways and highways leading up to the bridge between Russia and occupied Crimea are inadequate to carry the amount of traffic projected and thus are likely to become bottlenecks if and when the bridge opens (

5.      Belarusians Protest Against Construction of Chinese Factory. Residents of Svetlogorsk organized a demonstration against a Chinese firm’s decision to build a factory in their town. They fear they will be inundated by ethnic Chinese (

6.      Belarusian Population Declines. Because of the departure of an increasing number of Belarusians to work abroad and a continuing fall off in the number of Belarusians born each year, the population of the republic continued to decline in 2017 (

7.      Inflation in Belarus Running at Three Times Rate Officials Claim.  Minsk maintains that it has kept inflation low, but a survey by experts finds that the underlying rate of inflation is now is three times that figure, putting enormous pressure on the country’s poorest residents (

8.      Catholic Church in Belarus Now Conducts All Its Services in Belarusian. Unlike the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus, the Roman Catholic structures there now conduct all their services in the national language, a powerful message of support for that language and a concern for Moscow (

9.      Armenia, Iran Form Special Economic Zone in Border Region.  Yerevan and Tehran have agreed to form a special economic zone in their border regions to promote trade and investment in both directions (

10.  11,000 IDP Families from Karabakh Conflict Live in Substandard Housing in Baku.  Among the continuing victims of the Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan are some 11,000 IDP families who live in dilapidated housing in the Azerbaijani capital (

11.  70 Percent of Tajikistan’s Residents are Under 30. The continuing, albeit slowly demographic growth of the population in Tajikistan means that more than two out of three of the country’s residents are under 30, a pattern that puts enormous stress on the government and the economy and can become a breeding ground for extremism (

12.  Latvia Boosts Defense Spending to Counter Russian Threat. Riga has voted to double its military budget in response to what it sees as the growing threat from Moscow (новости-россииновости/латвия-за-счёт-россии-втрое-увеличила-свой-военный-бюджет/).

13.  Estonian President to Work in Predominantly Russian City for a Month.  Estonia’s president says she will work for a month in Narva, a predominantly ethnic Russian city in the northeastern part of the country, to underscore Estonia’s commitment to be a country for all its residents (

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