Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 118

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 21 -- 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 118th 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 Hates Lies and Incompetence.  Vladimir Putin hates lies and incompetence, his press spokesman says, a possible projection of his own problems onto the rest of the world ( As for Peskov, he implausibly insists that Putin can’t affect the Russian media ( Others say he is more like Aleksandr III or that he is tired of being cast as an Orthodox Emperor (  and In the past week, the Kremlin leader attracted the most attention for his descent into icy waters as part of a Russian Orthodox celebration, the kind of “new eroticism” that wins points with a population increasingly given to selfies as a way of self-expression (  and Putin did go to a meeting on small cities and promised to help them because they are the locations where the traditions of Russia are being preserved (, and, and as a candidate for president, Putin began to make populist statements, asking why Duma members are having their salaries adjusted by twice as much as are those of ordinary Russians (

2.      March Vote First Russian Presidential Election When Moscow is in Conflict with the West. There are many ways in which the upcoming presidential vote in Russia is special, but one of the most consequential may be that it is occurring at a time when Moscow and the West are in conflict, something that hasn’t happened to this extent before. As such, one analyst says, it is “a stress test” for the Putin system ( Many assume that there is no question that Putin will win. Indeed, Google news has already declared him the victor ( Nonetheless, there are some interesting details coming out: the Putin 2018 website has been in operation since 2008 ( Putin’s support varies widely by region and some say the Russian Far East with all its problems may give him a lower percentage of the vote than people elsewhere ( Nonetheless, the enthusiasm of Putin supporters is so great that his aides weren’t able to get people to stop collecting signatures on his behalf ( The Putin campaign is looking at putting together a new Internet social network directed at pensioners as a means of getting them to the polls ( It is also promising pupils better grades if they go to Putin rallies and worse marks if they don’t ( They Kremlin reportedly had also decided that it doesn’t want any region to take independent action to boost participation: Instead, all regions must follow Moscow’s guidance ( To make sure everything goes as desired, the Putin command is enlisting the  Russian Guard to keep track of everything connected with the election ( The Russian Constitutional Court has blocked Aleksey Navalny from any chance of running (, and consequently, his staff has shifted from a campaign for votes to a campaign for boycott (, prompting the government authorities to crack down on its activities in that regard ( and But one district in Novosibirsk has decided to go along and has declared its voters won’t go to the polls ( Meanwhile, analysts are suggesting that the main opponent of Putin is not any one of the candidates but rather indifference ( More than half of Russians think there will be violations in the elections but almost two-thirds say the campaign will be open ( and But a lot isn’t going to be known: the Levada Center, having been declared “a foreign agent,” says it won’t do polls about the voting (

3.      Could an Estonian Succeed Medvedev as Russian Prime Minister? Among the rumors circulating in Moscow is one that suggests Vladimir Putin will fire Dmitry Medvedev after the March elections and replace him with Anton Vaino, his chief of staff who also happens to be an ethnic Estonian.  Most commentators do not think that is likely ( Meanwhile, in other comments about the Russian political system, Freedom House declared that the Russian Federation is not a free country (, a Moscow commentator suggests that fascism is probable after the departure of Putin (, and a third says the real “Soviet mummy” isn’t Lenin’s body in the mausoleum but rather the ethno-federal system left over from Soviet times (  Much has been made of the populist appeal of Putin’s tax amnesty but experts say only one Russian in seven will benefit ( and Meanwhile, other experts calculate that maintaining the Duma deputies in the style to which they wish to be accustomed costs ordinary Russians 10 billion rubles a year (160 million US dollars) ( The traffic cops Putin has fired are likely to turn into common criminals, according to some activists ( And the government is both saving money and reducing the amount of information it releases by planning for a single website for all government agencies (

4.      Lavrov Says Trump is the Obama of Today. Russia’s foreign minister says there is no difference between the foreign policy Donald Trump is pursing with regard to Russia from the one Barack Obama did ( Russians generally think he would like to change but is being prevented from doing so by American elites (, and they note that many of his policies work to Russia’s benefit even if his words do not ( But many are afraid of what the US may do to them via the sanctions regime ( Moscow isn’t happy about Trump’s criticism of Moscow regarding North Korea ( In one amusing note, LDPR presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky has appealed to American hackers to help him win the Russian presidency ( Meanwhile, the finance ministry is setting up a special bank to help defense industries defend against sanctions (

5.      The Soviets Aspired to Catch Up with the US; the Early Putin, with Portugal; Now, the Kremlin Hopes to Overtake Thailand – and Russians are Taking Note.  A Siberian commentator has pointed out that Russians are very much aware that the Kremlin has significantly reduced its aspirations as far as catching up with other countries is concerned ( Meanwhile, Russia has been suffering from record capital flight (, with more than a trillion US dollars now documented as being abroad ( Russians are angry about the oligarchs’ use of bankruptcies to enrich themselves while leaving workers with nothing ( But the workers got some good news: the Supreme Court has declared that companies can’t pay less than minimum wages by arguing that the workers get supplements from the state ( Foreign companies are pulling up stakes and leaving Russia at a record pace ( And scholars at the Higher School of Economics say that if Moscow maintains its current foreign policy, any growth in the Russian economy will be only a third of what it might be otherwise (

6.      Russians Borrowing More to Try to Maintain Standard of Living. Russians are borrowing far more money from banks and moneylenders of various kinds than they did only a year ago, landing many of them in “micro-finance slavery” (, and Meanwhile, while the rich get richer, ever more Russians are falling into poverty, with some estimates putting the total number of poor at half the population ( and Poverty is leaving people angry and forcing some to go to extreme measures, including selling their daughters’ virginity to make money ( and One in every six of the Russian poor has a job ( every sixth working russian is poor Russian trust in banks is falling but every fifth young Russian has a bank card ( and Teachers in several places aren’t being paid ( Russian airline companies are increasingly in debt, and one place was seized in Mexico to cover unpaid bills ( and

7.      Putin Regime Promoting Nostalgia – Even for Serfdom.  The Putin government is promoting all kinds of nostalgia for the Russian past, but perhaps the strangest is for the oppressive regime of serfdom most Russians lived until the mid-19th century ( Russian academics have warned Putin that science in Russia is in such dire straits that it may not survive until his inauguration ( More fake dissertations and the ways they are approved have been identified ( and Russian women still face a glass ceiling in Russian science and get paid on average 30 percent less than men in the same jobs in all fields ( and Meanwhile, in a move that will slow the Russian economy still further, the Duma is considering imposing penalties on any firm that engages in planned obsolescence for its products ( As the election approaches, the Russian authorities are engaged in various sleights of hand to suggest they are taking money from the security sector to give it to the population ( and Many firms are still refusing to accept the new 200 and 2000 ruble notes ( Warmer weather is leading to the collapse of ice roads ( The elite is buying ever more expensive new cars while activists say that buses for the masses are ever more dangerous ( and The FSB has uncovered a criminal practice in which gas station owners collect more money than they are owed ( And organized crime is now said to be so strong that any weakening of the fight against it will mean a return to the 1990s, especially as more young people are being recruited into its ranks ( and

8.      Putin Optimization Program Forces One Hospital to Open ‘Self-Service Morgue.’  Cutbacks in hospital personnel mean that one hospital has announced that those who need to put someone in the morgue can do so on their own without the benefit of any assistance, an announcement that has attracted widespread attention, condemnation and an investigation ( In other health-related news, experts say that 140,000 Russians are now dying prematurely every year because of dirty air (, a study finds that most Soviets who ended up in sobering up stations did so after drinking inexpensive wine rather than more expensive vodka (, and hook up culture is spreading among young Russians increasing the risk of STDs (

9.      Experts Say Official Claims that Russians are Drinking and Smoking Less are Overblown. Russians may be drinking and smoking less than a decade ago, health experts say; but they have not cut back to the extent that the health ministry is claiming (,  and The Russian government continues to take action to reduce alcoholism with the Federation Council voting to cut the average proof of vodka from 80 to 75 ( and the government said preparing a law that would forcibly treat those found guilty of alcoholism ( Meanwhile, women in three villages have assembled to pray that their husbands will stop drinking ( One commentator suggests that Russians may have more sex and thus more children now that they are being moved out of khrushchoby to new kinds of residences. The reason? “In the Khrushchevy, there is no sex” (  Demographers say that Russians with lower levels of education are now living 15 to 17 years less than those with university degrees ( Another demographic problem is that the number of Russians moving abroad has been increasing every year for the last ten and now amounts to some 10 million since 1991 ( Moscow is reducing the number and size of orphanages: Over the last four years, the number of children in them has fallen from 119,000 to 60,000 ( Because of immigration, fewer than one St. Petersburg resident in ten is a genuine native of the northern capital ( and And officials estimate that because of the collapse of the rural population, some 20 to 40 million hectares of land are now lying fallow (

10.  Russia’s Biggest Environmental Effort is to Silence Environmentalists.  Russian officials across the country have launched a campaign to suppress the actions of environmentalists, even as the government continues to deny there is any reason to worry about the problems that they report (,, and

11.  Tishkov Calls for Reducing Number of Nations to Be Listed in 2020 Census.  Academician Valery Tishkov, who advises Putin on ethnic issues, says that the number of separate nations that should be included in summary reports on the 2020 census should be reduced with many “subgroups” no longer listed ( Debates about what the Russian nation is or whether it even exists continue to swirl (  Tatars cut a hole in ice for Epiphany in the shame of a Muslim crescent moon, attracting attention but sparking anger among Orthodox Russians ( Former Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev marked his 80th birthday and received plaudits from all over ( Putin’s new man in Makhachkala, Vladimir Vasiliyev, annouinced that a purge of republic officials is coming ( The KPRF is calling for a new ministry for nationality affairs, while the current agency responsible for that is uniting ethnic organizations into a Pro-Russia movement ( and

12.  Moscow Uses Various Strategies to Reduce Instruction in Non-Russian Languages.  Russian officials are using direct intimidation and investigations to try to reduce the number and size of courses conducted in non-Russian languages ( and Many parents are resisting, however ( and, and some non-Russian officials are insisting that even non-titular nationality children and their parents want to study the non-Russian languages of their republics ( Non-Russian activists are also organizing independent courses in their languages to fill gaps ( and And more than one commentator has pointed out that Moscow is doing to the non-Russian languages inside Russia exactly what it is complaining about when Riga does the same to Russian instruction in Latvia (

13.  Orthodox Priests Say Girls Should Marry and Give Birth at 17 Rather than Wasting Time on Education.  Nezavisimaya gazeta reports that some Orthodox priests are urging girls to get married as teenagers and immediately give birth rather than “wasting time on education” (  Other Orthodox are organizing special Orthodox dating services to ensure members of that faith marry other members of the faith (, and some are calling for the restoration of the pre-1917 Julian calendar for civil society in addition to the church ( A poll shows that half of those who call themselves Orthodox do not believe in heaven or hell, and only one percent of Muscovites participated in the icy baptisms on Epiphany (  and  The Moscow Patriarchate reports that it now has 1054 churches in the Moscow bishopric (, and the government says it made 900 million rubles (15 million US dollars) from entrance fees to St. Isaac’s cathedral last year (

14.  Moscow Continues Crackdown on Regionalists. A writer for the After Empire portal has been detained by the police and the Free Ural portal has been blocked ( and Russia’s hard-pressed regions are pulling out of the compatriots settlement program because Moscow isn’t providing the funding it promised ( And some regions now being promised money are wondering whether it is worth taking the risk that the center will once again leave them high and dry ( and Even Russian commentators are now accepting that Siberians are very different than other Russians ( And one regionalist movement, that in Kaliningrad, has picked up support from abroad as Poles picket Russian embassy in  Warsaw in support of the group (

15.  More Protests on More Issues in More Places. Rights activists are calling for the retirement of the FSB director ( Kurgan teachers are demanding that they be paid ( Deceived debtors are demanding help with housing construction ( Theater operators are complaining about the culture ministry’s censorship and say they won’t obey it ( and Pulkovo astronomers have resumed their protests about pay and support ( City transport workers in the Far East are striking as result of pay cuts ( Other Russians are holding various kinds of demonstrations about the upcoming elections (, about gas price increases and restrictions on parking (, in support of Crimean Tatars (, against Putin’s lying (, against Ramzan Kadyrov’s authoritarianism (, against the banks (, and against wage arrears and other problems at Putin’s favorite factory ( Meanwhile, the case of a bawdy dance, which some view as a protest, has sparked imitators in many places ( and  And some protests are becoming more dramatic as well, with one man setting himself on fire (

16.  Putin’s Russian Guard Acquiring Sniper Weaponry. In a sign of how the Russian Guard might be used, its commanders say its units are acquiring sniper weapons ( and Officials are moving against Open Russia activists across Russia ( North Caucasus regimes are taking preventive actions in anticipation of more protests ahead ( nc takes action in expectation of more protests ahead Ever more cities are declaring whole sections of their areas permanently off limits for demonstrations ( Repression in Chechnya both in jails and outside intensifies (,, and Police got a surprise when they went looking for drugs in a nationalist group in St. Petersburg: they found instead guns guarded by a real live crocodile ( Censorship is spreading (, and And Russian police offering ever greater rewards for those who turn in criminals (

17.  Weapons Cache Found in Moscow School. Russian police report they’ve found an arsenal hidden in a Moscow school ( In other domestic security developments, armed violence in the streets is increasing (, military personnel say dedovshchina must be accepted as normal (, Russian rules governing Chinese presence in Siberia are said to contain so many loopholes that Beijing can do whatever it likes (, Russia’s winter snow roads increasingly unreliable (, and Moscow has issued new more restrictive rules for border areas ( and

18.  Moscow Lacks Resources to Help North Koreans Much. According to one commentator, Moscow wants to help Pyongyang in its challenge to the US but lacks the resources to do so ( In other foreign security news, Twitter finds more than 2,000 accounts connected to Russian intelligence services (, Russia sells 14 billion US dollars of arms to other countries in 2017 (, France demands that Russia pay what it owes on tsarist bonds (, Duma deputies consider denouncing friendship treaty with Ukraine (, and officials say the treaty that created the Russian-Belarusian union state may be modified ( More controversy swirls about whether Moscow should legalize mercenary groups (, and Moscow has scrapped its largest Soviet atomic submarine even as construction of new one is slowed by contract disputes between ministry and shipyard ( and Dmitry Rogozin says that US to blame for all Russia’s problems in its space program (, even as more corruption and incompetence within it is reported ( and Poland’s foreign ministry has fired all of its employees who studied at MGIMO (, and Russia has increased its involvement in Central Asian infrastructure projects (

19.  Stalin Monument to Go Up in Occupied Sevastopol While Lenin May Come Down in Yekaterinburg. The monuments war continues with Stalin going up where Moscow has total control and Lenin coming down where it doesn’t ( and Meanwhile, Stirlits gets a monument in Vladivostok (, Eduard Rossel rejects the idea of having a street in Yekaterinburg named for him (, and Controversy swirls as well over calls to rename Sverdlovsk oblast ( Tyumen deputies oppose renaming streets even as Kazan officials promote the idea ( and And the controversy over the Lenin mausoleum has led some to call for renaming the facility for Putin (

20.  IOC Restrictions on Russia at the Olympiad Prompt Talk of Sanctions Against WADA. The Federation Council is preparing sanctions to be imposed against WADA for its part in the IOC sanctions against Russia ( More immediately, there are reports that there have been threats against the life of the whistleblower who exposed the Russian state doping operation ( Moscow officials are increasingly confident that they will not lose the right to host the 2018 World Cup, but they are concerned that criticism of Russia will undermine both the performance of its athletes and the interest of fans (, even though FIFA reportedly is looking into doping problems among Russian footballers ( But World Cup venues in Rostov and Sverdlovsk are not yet ready for the competition and the cities are having trouble coming up with needed funds ( and There is a great deal of popular anger that some venues won’t sell alcohol and even more about the killing of homeless animals in advance of the competition ( and Rental rates for housing in World Cup cities are going through the roof but Moscow is trying to make it easier for foreigners to come by allowing foreign air carriers to fly to venue cities ( and Meanwhile, there are reports that terrorist groups are threatening to stage attacks during the competition ( Meanwhile, many Russian competitors pulled out of a regional competition after they were told there would be random drug tests (, and several Olympic facilities in Sochi were destroyed by a winter storm (

22.  Every Third Young Russian Now Prepared to Rely on Internet Exclusively.  One in every three young Russians says he or she no longer watches television news or reads the printed media but instead relies exclusively on Internet reporting (

23.  Khrushchev Destroyed Compromat on Politburo Members Beria had Gathered. Nikita Khrushchev arranged to destroy all the compromising information Stalin’s last secret police chief Lavrenty Beria had gathered on other members of the Politburo ( Beria remains noteworthy, another commentary says, because he was the last senior Soviet official to be declared “an enemy of the people” before being executed by his former comrades (

24.  Had the Soviet Union Become Truly Voluntary, Russia Would have Remained Alone with the Central Asians. Some historians argue that a voluntary USSR might have been possible, but one commentator says that if membership in it had been truly voluntary, what would have been left would have been the RSFSR and the five Central Asian republics (

25.  Just Under Half of All Passengers Flying from Kazan Go to Moscow. The capital-centric nature of Russia’s transportation network is highlighted by the fact that almost half of all passengers going from Tatarstan’s capital go to Moscow even if that is not their final destination (

26.  China Now Produces More Caviar than Russia Does.  Russia has long styled itself as the homeland of caviar, but now, in yet another setback and from an unexpected direction, China is now producing and selling more caviar both at home and internationally than is the Russian Federation (

And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Russian Aggression in Ukraine ‘Only Conflict in World’ UN Isn’t Involved With. A Ukrainian commentator has pointed out something that is often ignored: Russia’s aggression in Ukraine including its continuing war in the Donbass represents the only violent conflict in the world that the United Nations has not become seriously involved with (

2.      Ukrainian Parliament Says Russia an Occupier But Not that DNR and LNR are Terrorist Groups. The Verkhovna Rada approved a resolution identifying the Russian Federation as an occupier of Ukrainian territory, but it failed to pass one calling the puppet regimes of the DNR and LNR terrorist organizations ( and Freedom House says that the state of democracy in Crimea is at abut the same level as in Afghanistan (, and Ukrainian officials say that most of the 220,000 HIV-infected people in their country are from the war zone ( ).

3.      Kyiv Boosts Its 2018 Military Budget by 37 Percent.  The Ukrainian government will spend 37 percent more on its military this year than last in order to cope with the Russian threat ( Meanwhile, Kyiv has launched a suit against Moscow seeking 50 billion US dollars in reparations for the invasion (

4.      Muslims in Ukraine Say They Face Discrimination. While Muslims in Ukraine are overwhelmingly pro-Ukrainian, their leaders say that believers face discrimination of various kinds including restrictions on official photographs of women wearing the hijab ( Russian occupiers in Crimea are trying to take advantage of such concerns and also to win over at least some Crimean Tatars by promising to return to Muslims five mosques (

5.      Some Ukrainians Say King Arthur Came from Ukraine.  Some scholars say there is archaeological evidence that the legendary King Arthur came originally from Ukraine, although others dismiss this latest effort to extend Ukraine’s origins further in to the past (

6.      Lukashenka Decides Not to Have His Own Party of Power. Many in Minsk assumed that Alyaksandr Lukashenka was going to copy Vladimir Putin and create his own party of power, but despite holding meetings suggesting that might happen, the Belarusian leader has come down against the idea ( and At the same time, he has also come out in opposition to create a Belarusian language university because in his view such an institution would produce nationalists (, but Lukashenka has taken additional steps to promote the Belarusianization of the country’s armed forces (  Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said that Minsk had continued its attack on civil society in Belarus (, something suggested by the increasing use of punitive psychiatry there (

7.      Like Russian Wealthy, Belarus Elite Maintains Numerous Offshore Accounts.  Belarusian elites maintain what for them are large offshore accounts, something that is often overlooked because these are so much smaller than their Russian counterparts but they may be a haven for the latter if the sanctions regime intensifies (

8.      Belarusian Foreign Ministry Cuts Staff at Home and Abroad. To cope with budgetary stringencies, the Belarusian foreign ministry has reduced its central staff by a third and its staffing of embassies abroad by 15 percent in recent months, reducing the country’s ability to conduct foreign relations (

9.      Belarusians Among Most Irreligious Nation in the World.  According to recent surveys, Belarusians are less inclined to identify with any organized religious than are most other nations in the world (

10.  Azerbaijan Rebuilding Railway to Russian Border. In order serve as a transit corridor between Russia and Iran, Baku is rebuilding and modernizing the rail link between the capital city and the Russian border (

11.  Armenians Would Like to Guard Their Own Borders. For some years, Russia has been responsible for guarding Armenia’s borders; but ever more Armenians say they would like to assume responsibility for that on their own (

12.  Uzbeks Least Religious Titular Nation in Central Asia. Only 51 percent of Uzbeks say they are religious, the lowest figure in the region ( One reason for that figure is that Islamic institutions are integrated with the state in Soviet fashion, helping the government to raise money and serving more as tourist facilities than religious outlets (, and

13.  Lustration Proving a Problem in Lithuania. The opening of KGB archives and the identification of current officials and cultural figures who maintained often under compulsion ties with the Soviet security agencies have riled Lithuanian society, with some challenging the reliability of the archival records – the Soviets falsified everything else so why not the archives? – or redefining or downplaying their links to the organs (

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