Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 116

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 7 -- 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 116th 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 Joins Roads and Fools as ‘Third Misfortune of Russia,’ Demonstrator Says. Russians have always said that their chief misfortunes are roads and fools; a protester has held up a placard suggesting that Vladimir Putin should be added to that list as “the third misfortune of Russia” (  Some Russian news outlets have been having fun with the notion that Putin has actually cut the size of the military when two decrees he issued did not have the same number of soldiers in them. The two were off by only 300 ( Meanwhile, Putin gave a geography lesson to the world reminding everyone that Franz Joseph Land in the Arctic belongs to Russia and no one else (

2.      More than 60 Russians Apply to Run Against Putin. The Central Election Commission reports that 64 people have submitted applications to run against Putin for the position of Russian president. Some have been dismissed already, and the actual number of candidates is likely to be fewer than ten ( One presidential candidate, since withdrawn, proposed changing her name to make it more Russian-sounding, and a female Muslim applicant was dropped on technicalities ( and Meanwhile, the staff of Aleksey Navalny, who has been blocked from running, has been transformed into a staff to promote a boycott of the elections (

3.      Moscow Removes Data on Ministers’ Incomes from Website. After winning plaudits for openness when it published data online about the incomes of senior government officials, the Russian authorities showed just whose opinion mattered when they took down that data only a few days later (  On a related matter, a new study said that officials were not taking as many bribes as they had been ( Meanwhile, Moscow took a harder line against obeying decisions by the European Court for Human Rights (, Putin fired 10,000 traffic policemen (, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky proposed a streamlined procedure for the possible impeachment of a Russian president (, and one commentator suggested that there are now only about five liberals left in the Russian Federation (

4.      Russia’s Reserve Fund Ceases to Exist. The Russian government’s reserve fund, built up during the times of high oil prices, is no empty and has ceased to exist, having been combined with other government funds ( Pro-government outlets have savagely attacked the Alpha Bank for seeking to avoid Western sanctions by not funding Russian defense industries ( Despite promises, the Russian government will provide assistance to only part of the companies subjected to sanctions or suffering from the recession ( And the Russian government is preparing itself and the population for what it expects will be a decision by the West to cut Russia off from the SWIFT bank settlements arrangement (

5.      Russia Continues Soviet Tradition of Erecting Old Buildings. In Soviet times, it was sometimes said, Russian builders pioneered in putting up buildings that were already old when they were new. Now, the Russian government is continuing that tradition ( Putin’s claims notwithstanding, poverty is spreading throughout Russia (, and rising gas prices are not only contributing to that but increasing income inequality in Russia (

6.      Russian Hunters Oppose Proposed Ban on Bear Baiting.  Russian hunters say that baiting bears is a national tradition that should be continued and not banned as some in Moscow want to do ( Many Russians are now making a profitable living as bounty hunters who turn in criminals the police haven’t caught ( Despite widespread suspicions to the contrary, Russian officials say there is no evidence of arson in the Rostov fires last August ( And no Russian airline managed to crack the top 20 in the world in terms of safety in 2017 (

7.      Last Year, ‘Tatarstan Returned to Russia,’ Some Say. As a result of Vladimir Putin’s moves against Kazan, some analysts say, last year, “Tatarstan returned to Russia” ( Russia’s regions did make one breakthrough in a positive direction: ever more are now producing their own films (, and Saami activists succeeded in getting Murmansk to put up street signs in their language there ( Meanwhile, ethnographers and others tracked the passing of traditional societies especially among the most numerically small peoples of the north ( and

8.      Moscow Extracting Ever More from Regions and Giving Ever Less Back. Russia’s regions are complaining that Moscow is taking ever more of their resources and giving ever less back so that it can finance its own programs, including building up the military ( In another piece of regional news, people in the Urals are now talking about their distinctive “Urals identity,” one they say is at odds with that of other Russians (

9.      Moscow Patriarchate Behaves Ever Less Like a Religious Organization.  A commentator says that it is long past time to refer to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate as a religious organization given its openly political character and its violation of religious principles ( Meanwhile, some recall the appearance of the “600 Seconds” television program at the end of Soviet times and its role in sparking a religious renaissance in Russia (  The Muslims of Russia had a mixed record in 2017, with more mosques but also more controversies within their ranks ( And the year opened with a new pinup calendar of Russian Orthodox biker priests (

10.  More Evidence of Leak of Radioactivity in Urals. Despite Moscow’s efforts to throw a blanket over the story, ever more evidence is coming in that there was a serious radioactive leak in the Urals last fall ( And despite official claims that alcohol consumption among Russians is down, officials are calling for stores to hide alcohol so as to decrease sales and ban alcoholic energy drinks ( and

11.  Russia Suffering ‘a Crisis of Fatherhood,’ Experts Say. In Moscow’s push for increasing birthrates, fathers have been the neglected figures; and partially as a result, experts say, the country is suffering from “a crisis of fatherhood” in which men no longer know what their roles should be ( Meanwhile, Chinese men are coming to Russia in ever larger numbers to acquire Russian wives, driving up the new field of “marriage tourism” in Beijing ( and

12.  Copying Some Americans, Russian Protesters Adopt ‘Make Russia Great Again’ as a Slogan. Demonstrators in Novosibirsk have begun to use the slogan “Make Russia Great Again” at their meetings ( Officials have banned meetings in so many places that activists have now produced an interactive map to show where it probably isn’t worth applying for a permit (  Environmental activists are now debating whether street protests can help them protect the environment (, even as Daghestanis continue their protests against a polluting refinery there (

13.  Extremist Charges Become Ever More Ridiculous in Last 12 Months. Russians are being charged with extremism on ever more flimsy and absurd bases, rights activists say ( One interesting debate did break out on whether an act of violence should be termed “terrorist.” If it is, that has a profound impact on compensation by the state (

14.  Bomb Threats Continue to Empty Buildings, Including Sobchak’s Apartment. There has been no let up in the number of telephone bomb threats that are emptying buildings across Russia, including apartment blocks in the capital and even the building in which presidential candidate Kseniya Sobchak has her residence ( and  The Russian police have arrested one suspected telephone terrorist but otherwise not made notable progress in stopping this plague (  In another security related matter, Moscow illegally drafted 5,000 men in occupied Crimea (

15.  Given that Russia Can’t Produce Enough Toilet Paper, How Can Anyone Expect It to Have a Modern Military? The Kremlin keeps talking about how the Russian military is now a serious force, but one commentator has asked how the country can possibly have a decent army when it can’t produce enough toilet paper for the population ( The Russian base in Syria suffered far more damage than Moscow has acknowledged, suggesting that its defenses were and remain inadequate (, and Meanwhile, Moscow said that it was building up its military infrastructure and activities in the Arctic area (  and

16.  Russian Monarchist Poklonskaya Still a Ukrainian Citizen, Kyiv Says. Despite all her Russian nationalism and monarchism, Natalya Poklonskaya, formerly a prosecutor in Crimea, remains a Ukrainian citizen ( Russian celebrations of the new year were marred by high costs and public disasters ( and   Meanwhile, over the holidays, Russians put up a statue to pelmeni in the Urals and to Stalin in Rostov oblast ( and

17.  Moscow Officials Say 2017 was ‘Very Successful’ for Russian Athletes. Despite the doping scandal and other problems, Moscow sports officials said that the past year has been “very successful for Russian athletes” ( But evidence that such claims were without foundation continue to come in, with more footballers suspected of doping, a group of Russian sports figures’ suspensions sustained, and reports that neither St. Petersburg nor Kaliningrad are ready for the World Cup competition (, and

18.  For West, End of the World a Catastrophe, for Russian Orthodox, It’s a Good Thing, Mystic Says. A prominent Russian Orthodox mystic says that while for the West, the end of the world would be a catastrophe, for Russian believers, it would be positive development (

19.  Amalrik’s Study of Origins of Russian State Finally Published. In the forward to his classic essay, “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?” Soviet-era dissident Andrey Amalrik said he was focusing on the future of that country because the Soviets refused to give him a degree for his study of the origins of the Russian state. Now, many years later, his original study has been published (

20.  Russian Guard Exhibit Ignores Soviet Period, Sparking Controversy. An exhibit on the history of the Russian Guard covers the pre-Soviet and post-Soviet periods of its existence, but it makes no mention of guards units in the Soviet Union, sparking the fury of some nationalist groups (

21.  A Russian Future: Cities but Not Countries? More than the citizens of any other country in the world, Russians are fascinated and frightened by a Western scholar’s suggestion that 50 years from now, the world will consist of 600 cities rather than 218 countries (

22.  Kerch Bridge Won’t Open Completely in 2018. Despite Moscow’s claims, even Russian experts say that the bridge from Russia to occupied Crimea will not be completely ready before the end of 2018, although it may carry some traffic before that time (

23.  The First Residents of Alaska were Russians, Moscow Scholars Say. Now that genetic testing has shown that some of the first people to populate Alaska were nomads from Siberia more than 20,000 years ago, some Moscow scholars are describing those people as “Russians” in order to claim that “the first residents of America were Russians” (

24.  China Now Surpasses Russia on Number of Space Launches. During 2017, China launched more rockets for space exploration than any country other than the United States, putting Russia in third place by that measure (

25.  2018 Likely to Resemble 2008 or 1998, Kommersant Says. Analysts for the Moscow business paper say that the coming year is likely to be like 2008 when the international economy went into recession or 1998 when Russia suffered default (

26.  A Nuclear War in Koreas Could Leave Russia without Access to Pacific, Far Easterners Say. A commentator from the Russian Far East says that a nuclear war in the Koreas could leave his region devastated and the Russian Federation without any access to the Pacific Ocean (

            And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      To Combat Russian Intelligence Operations, Kyiv Increases Budget of Its Security Services. Faced with mounting evidence of Russian penetration of its government, Kyiv has dramatically boosted the budgets of its special services (

2.      Belarus Closes Consulate General in Odessa. Belarus has closed its consulate general in Odessa. Although the move was likely taken for economic reasons, it will certainly please the Russian authorities (

3.      In Belarus Now, Answer in Russian and You’ll Pay a Fine. In Minsk at least, anyone in a public shop who answers a query in Russian rather than in Belarusian risks paying a fine (

4.      Moldovan Constitutional Court Suspends Powers of President. The Moldovan constitutional court is playing an increasing role in the standoff between the pro-Russian president and the pro-independence parliament: it has suspended the powers of the president to make many key decisions (

5.      Georgian Court Sentences Saakashvili to Three Years for Abuse of Power. A Tbilisi court has sentenced former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili in absentia to three years in prison for misusing his position, reducing the chances he will ever return there (

6.      Georgian Public TV Goes Off the Air. The public television channel in Georgia has gone off the air, the victim of budget cuts, low viewership and the lack of a developed advertising sector (

7.      Georgian Wine Exports Set New Record. Georgian wines are gaining an ever larger following abroad. As a result, in the last year, they set a record as an export good (

8.      Dushanbe Allows Tajiks to Celebrate New Year. Many Muslim-majority countries do not celebrate the secular new year because many in the ulema believe that it is a pagan holiday and prefer to follow a calendar based on the anniversary of Mohammed’s Hijra. Tajikistan was among those who banned its celebration, but this year, it has lifted that bad (

9.      Tajik Imam Blames Iran for Civil War in Tajikistan. A senior Tajikistan imam says that the Iranian government played a major role in inciting the civil war in his country in the 1990s and thus in the losses it suffered (

10.  Turkmenistan Bans Women Drivers, Black Cars. Women can no longer legally drive in Turkmenistan, and anyone with a black car will be subject to fines there, two more indications of the increasingly repressive and archaic nature of the Ashgabat regime ( and

11.  Uzbek Academy of Sciences Gets New Members for First Time in 20 Years. Yet another change in post-Karimov Uzbekistan is that the republic’s Academy of Science has been allowed to elect new members for the first time in 20 years (

12.  Russia Can No Longer Conquer Estonia in a Few Days, Estonian General Says. An Estonian general says that improvements in his country’s defense posture with the help of NATO allies ensure that Estonia can no longer be occupied in a few days as Western defense planners have suggested in the past ( Another Estonian general pointed out that Russia’s Zapad 2017 exercises  involved a simulated Russian attack not just on the Baltic countries but on Europe more generally (

13.  Latvia Puts Soviet and German World War II Veterans in Same Category.  Riga has classified Soviet and German veterans of World War II among its citizens as having the same legal position regarding pensions and other rights, a decision that has outraged Moscow ( The Latvian authorities have also angered Russia by their expulsion of Russian journalists (

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