Monday, June 19, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 87

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 16 -- 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 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 87th such compilation, and it is again a double issue. Even then, it is only suggestive and far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1.      Putin Increasingly Authoritarian at his ‘Direct Line’ Session. While some Western commentaries suggested that the Kremlin leader had assumed his preferred role as Mr. Fix-It, someone Russians could turn to in order to get their problems solved, in fact, Vladimir Putin used his annual session with the Russian people to take out an ever more authoritarian and even neo-Soviet position on a variety of issues – when he wasn’t openly lying or being contemptuous of the suffering the Russian people are experiencing because of his policies.  He said that NATO countries are US “vassals rather than allies” (, that the US supports Chechen terrorists and Al Qaeda against Russia (, that the demonization of Stalin represents an attack on Russia (, that Moscow doesn’t control the Russian media (, that Russians and Ukrainians are “almost one people” (, that Russia’s demographic losses in the 1990s were comparable to those of the Soviet population during World War II (, that a Russian cancer victim shouldn’t complain because “there are problems with health care everywhere” (, that the repressive Yarovaya package is good for the country (, and that the economic crisis was over even though more Russians are becoming poor (  When cornered with issues where there is no easy answer, Putin generally punted in the best political tradition: Concerning the dispute about St. Isaac’s cathedral in St. Petersburg, he essentially said both sides have a case and some “compromise” needs to be found (

2.      Will Russia’s Cemeteries Come In for Putin in 2018?  Proposals to allow the dead in World War II to vote in next year’s presidential election continue to swirl in Moscow. Were these corpses, which some now estimate at 42 million, be allowed to vote, Vladimir Putin would have no trouble reaching the 70-70 level he hopes for, given that he and no one else could say for sure how these people would vote ( and

3.      Trump’s Pro-Russian Positions Said Blocked by US Establishment. Russian commentators who have had to struggle with their earlier expectations that Donald Trump would open the way to warmer ties between Washington and Moscow and the reality that the situation is going in the opposite direction have now come up with a more-or-less settled position. Trump they say wants to have close ties with Putin but the US establishment won’t let him ( But that is far from the only thing Russian writers are saying: Some insist that Trump will be “the last US president” (, and others continue to have fun with his statements and tweets. One favorite concerns the way in which Smirnoff Vodka, a product with origins in Russia but that now is produced in the US, has launched a new advertising campaign based on the slogan “Made in America. But we will be happy to talk about our links with Russia under oath” (

4.      Inflation in Food Prices Ten Times Overall Rate.  Moscow has been proud that it has kept inflation under control, but the figures it gives ignore sectoral differences. Prices for food are now going up at a rate ten times that of the overall figure, and because food is such a major component in the budgets of poorer Russians, they are suffering more not only because they have lower incomes but because they are victims of growing wage arrears across the country (,, and But there are also macroeconomic figures that show the Kremlin’s optimism to be false or misplaced: more than 2.2 trillion rubles in construction has been stopped or left incomplete at the present time ( 2.2), capital flight has doubled in recent months (, and Russian experts now say that projected declines in Russia’s production of oil mean that the country can never again rely on the sale of petroleum to save it (

5.      How Bad are Things in Russian Society? Even the Moscow Patriarchate is Complaining. Many are upset by the condition of Russian society today, but its problems are now so great that even the Russian Orthodox Church is complaining about the situation  (  Among the most horrific problems reported this week are the following: Moscow has defunded an HIV/AIDS prevention center (, Moscow has acknowledged that the country faces a shortage of doctors of all kinds (, experts say that new construction is so shoddy that it often threatens the lives of those who live or work in it (, the OMON raided a gay club in Yekaterinburg (, major industrial plants are shutting down or moving away from places where they are the economic anchor of entire regions (, officials say 34,000 Russian villages have ceased to exist over the last 20 years (, Russian deputies want to limit the number of pets Russians can keep (, and the Moscow Kultura television channel has had to let go a third of its employees because of economic problems ( Two other developments this week are especially noteworthy: Ever more regions are the subject of articles detailing all their social problems (for an example, see, and there are increasing complaints about how expensive the 2020 census will be, an indication that Moscow may be planning to cut back or even cancel that enumeration to save money (

6.      North Caucasus Would Need 114 New Schools Just to End Three-Shift Schedules.  Many, having heard that the birthrate in the North Caucasus has been declining, forget that larger increases earlier mean that there are more women and hence more children even with those declines. One measure of that is that while schools are closing throughout most of the Russian Federation, in the North Caucasus federal district, the government would have to build 114 new schools just to end the three-shift schedules in some of them. Meanwhile, hundreds of others are operating on double shifts ( Other “ethnic” news this week includes: the head of Ingushetia said that Slavs, including Russians, will never be Europeans (, the kind of statement that inevitably inflames interethnic attitudes in the country (, many in Moscow appear to have lost confidence that the Cossacks can hold the Russian community in the North Caucasus as the center had expected (, Tatarstan deputies want to put criminal teeth in their law protecting the Tatar language from Russian encroachments (, football players in Chechnya oppose renaming their team as Ramzan Kadyrov wants (, Moscow has banned illegal immigrants from working in Russian cemeteries (, the wife of ousted Mari El governor turns out to be extremely wealthy (, and Ingria is emerging as a republic in the thinking of many in northwestern Russia (

7.      Putin’s Authoritarianism at New Level: Verdict Against Jehovah’s Witnesses Announced without Trial. A Russian verdict against the Jehovah’s Witnesses was published in a Moscow newspaper before any trial took place, an indication of the meaninglessness of Russian courts in politically sensitive cases ( Other indications of increasing repression in Russia today this week alone include: the continuing disbanding of local self-government institutions in Moscow oblast (, parliamentary recognition that the special services should take the lead in fighting foreign influence (, a court ruling that calling someone a foreign agent isn’t an insult (, a Russian government ban on the Uzbek organization in Russia like the one it earlier imposed on the Azerbaijani counterpart (, accusations by one government agency that another has blocked sites that haven’t been banned (, an AGORA study showing how freedom of speech has been restricted in Russia since the Crimean Anschluss (, and a new blogger campaign suggesting that those who join Aleksey Navalny’s anti-corruption campaign will become gays or lesbians (

8.      ‘Better to Sit in Jail 15 Days than Live in Putin’s Russia 20 Years.’  That remark by a participant in the anti-corruption demonstrations on Monday summarized the feeling of many about protests that overwhelmed the Western media coverage of Russia this week although they were largely ignored by Russian outlets ( But in their coverage of the Navalny demonstrations, most Western outlets downplayed the amount of repression the Putin regime brought to bear on those who might or did demonstrate against the Kremlin and the increasing anger of the so-called Putin majority to those who do so ( Also generally neglected were other protests, including gastarbeiter strikes against Russian companies for failing to pay wages in a timely way (, debtors strikes in Volgograd (, and the occupation of the office of the central bank when Putin refused to take a question from mortgagees ( Also generally ignored were the continuing truckers’ strike and the continuing protests about St. Isaacs and the planned destruction of the khrushchoby in Moscow and other Russian cities ( Perhaps the  most interesting article of the week was one speculating on the growth and limits of social solidarity among Russians with regard to protest activity (

9.      Oligarch Gets First Statue to Living Russian.  The erection of a statue to oligarch Iosif Kobzon in the Transbaikal breaks a hitherto effective ban on monuments to living Russians (  But that was only one battle on the monuments front this week. Others include: a call to eliminate all toponyms in  honor of those who killed a grand duke a century ago (, fights over building an Orthodox church in Daghestan and a Protestant one in Chita ( and, the announcement of plans for a museum of Stalinist propaganda art in Moscow (, and the erection of a monument to Internet users in Samara ( Meanwhile, Moscow expanded the monuments war to Armenia by complaining about Yerevan’s decision to put up a monument to a less than pro-Russian Armenian hero ( In the past, Moscow has complained mostly about the dismantling of Soviet statuary in the non-Russian countries.

10.  Moscow Using Slave Labor to Build World Cup Venues, HRW Says. Human Rights Watch has documented Moscow’s use of slave labor to build venues for the 2018 World Cup competition, yet another reason why Moscow should be stripped of the right to host that event ( and But there are many others: Moscow’s continuing unwillingness to come completely clean on drug use has now put its hosting of an international figure skating competition at risk (, racism has broken out at Russian competitions in the Federation Cup (, the Federation Cup meets have shown just how unprepared Moscow is for the World Cup (,, and But Moscow continues to make plans for the 2018 competition, announcing that it will ban the sale of alcohol where games are scheduled ( and may introduce visas on Belarusians who want to attend ( and

11.  Military Personnel May have to Serve 25 not 20 Years to Get Pensions. Faced with budgetary stringencies, the Russian government is considering requiring Russian officers to serve 25 years before getting a pension, not the 20 they now must, an extremely unpopular move (  Also this week, the media reported serious problems in the country’s shipyards and with corruption in the military high command ( and In another move suggesting the authorities are worried about the loyalty of noncoms, the defense ministry has now limited the use by professional soldiers of social media (  And in an indication of what is likely a far broader problem, a Russian news agency is reporting that hunting clubs in Russian-occupied Crimea are illegally handing out weapons to the civilian population (

12.  Russian Courts Begin Trying Russians who Fought for Ukraine. A Russian court has brought in the first sentence against a Russian who fought in Ukraine against Moscow ( Other foreign security items this week include: Russia’s Baikonur space facility is dying even before its Vostochny one can overcome its building problems (,   and, discussion has begun about the possibility that Moscow will build a new navy port in Daghestan for its Caspian flotilla (, and Moscow has succeeded in expanding the Shanghai Cooperation Organization but only by gutting it of any real meaning, Russian commentators say ( as evidenced by the fact that China has stopped buying Russian natural gas ( But some Russians celebrated as a triumph of Russian foreign policy the shipping link between Vladivostok and North Korea (

13.  33 Million Russians Now Paid Directly from State Budget.  One of the greatest levers the Kremlin has over the population and its electoral behavior is the current arrangement in which 33 million workers – nearly one Russian in four -- are paid directly by the government, all people who know that they could lose their incomes if they oppose the regime (

14.  Soviet Archives have Been Stripped.  Many assume that once the Soviet archives are open, everything will become known. But that ignores two things: many of the most important documents have been removed and destroyed, and others have been falsified in the expectations that many will believe anything that is described as archival. Both of these problems can be seen in the case of materials about the mass murder of Russian Orthodox churchmen under Stalin at the Butovo polygon near Moscow (

15.  Russia’s Roads Really May Become ‘Shitty.’ Russians and others have long complained about the horrors of Russian roads and used a variety of negative words to describe them, “shitty” being perhaps the least offensive. But now there is evidence that such a designation may be entirely appropriate: Given that spending cutbacks mean that roads won’t be fixed as often (,  some people in Ryazan have decided to pave some roads there with human excrement (

16.  Calendars Become Latest Political Advertisements in Russia.  Calendars have now joined graffiti and regular posters as political advertisements in Russia, with the penal system putting out one showing various forms of execution, even though such things have been ended or suspended in Russia today ( and, and with democratic activists issuing another with pictures of some of Russia’s most notoriously corrupt figures on it (

17.  Can Russophiles and Russophobes Find Common Ground? According to one Russian commentator, the two groups, despite their differences, can find common ground in that they both recognize just how important Russia is (

18.  Efforts to bring Reds and Whites Together Seen as Dangerous.  Moscow’s current effort to promote reconciliation between those who support the Bolsheviks and those who back the anti-Bolshevik Whites are dangerous not only because they call into question the values of each but because they distract attention from the far more important task of talking about the future, according to one Russian commentator (

19.  Can Moscow Transform Far East into a Klondike?  Moscow has changed the rules governing prospecting in the hopes of attracting gold seekers to Siberia and the Far East, but the program, intended to have positive demographic consequences for that region, instead is likely to lead to a boom and bust pattern that ultimately will do no one any good (

20.  Russia to Load Nuclear Fuel onto Floating Atomic Power Station in St. Petersburg. To the despair of environmental activists who warn of disaster, the Russian government is going ahead with plans to load nuclear fuel onto its new floating atomic power station within the city limits of the northern capital, an action that could put millions of people at risk if there is any accident.  Such dangers are in addition to all those that a floating atomic power station presents on its own (

21.  KPRF Organization Disbands in Karelian City.  A communist party committee in Karelia has voted to disband itself, a reflection of changing political winds and one that has its counterparts in the actions of other party organizations across Russia (

22.  Federation Council Blocks Plan to Establish Registry of the Corrupt. A Duma proposal for establishing a registry of all Russians convicted of corrupt has been blocked in the Federation Council (

23.  US Sends National Day Message to Russia – Three Days Late.  After questions were raised about the failure of Washington to send traditional national day messages to Moscow this year, the US Department of State announced that it had done so but only three days after the event itself (

24.  Kirill Meets with Commentators Behind Closed Doors. In the hopes of winning over at least some Russian commentators to the side of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill held a closed-door meeting with some of them to describe his policies and call for support (

25.  Moscow Recognizes Theology as a Science and Gives It More Budgetary Support. The Russian government has officially recognized theology as a scientific discipline and given those studying it more financial support ( and

26.  USSR May Not have Been a Colonial Empire but Russia Suffers from Post-Colonial Symptoms. Many Russians react angrily to any suggestion that the USSR was a colonial empire, but some of those who do are now at least acknowledging that the Russian Federation suffers from the kind of post-colonial problems that other empires have, an implicit acknowledgement of what they have long denied (

            And twelve more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1.      Three Million Guns Illegally in Private Hands in Ukraine. As a result of the Russian invasion and the breakdown in order along the front, there are now three million guns held illegally by private citizens in Ukraine, according to some estimates, a figure that increases the potential for violence and instability in various parts of that country and one that the Russian aggressors are likely to exploit (

2.      Ten Percent of Ukrainians Now have Dual Citizenship.  Including Russian occupied Crimea, one in every ten Ukrainians now has dual citizenship, a situation that is open to exploitation by Russian forces (

3.      Ukrainians Overwhelmingly Turn to Western Social Networks. Following Kyiv’s ban on Russian social networks, Ukrainians rapidly and overwhelmingly have turned to international social networks instead ( and

4.      Ukainians in Occupied Crimea Refuse to Move to Russian Far East.  Despite Moscow’s blandishments, the residents of Russian-occupied Crimea are overwhelmingly refusing calls to resettle in Russia’s Far East (

5.      Moscow Engaging in Systematic Looting and Cultural Geocide in Crimea.  The Russian occupiers are looting and thus engaging in cultural genocide in Ukraine’s Crimea (

6.      China May Become a Major Backer of GUAM.  Initially, the United States and the EU were the primary external backers of the alliance of non-Russian countries that has positioned itself in opposition to the Russian-dominated CIS. Now, China is moving to fill that role (

7.      Belarus Stops Using Ruble as Reserve Currency. In yet another indication that Minsk is pursuing an independent course from Moscow, the Belarusian government has stopped using the Russian ruble as its reserve currency of choice (

8.      Aleksiyevich Says Religious War Possible in Belarus.  Nobelist Svetlana Aleksiyevich says that a religious war could break out in her native Belarus between Orthodox and Catholic groups as stand ins for pro-Moscow and pro-Western forces, a claim that has been denounced by leaders of both denominations (

9.      Tashkent Registers Medrassah as Higher Educational Institution. For the first time, the Uzbek authorities have registered an Islamic medrassah as a higher educational institution in their country and granted it the right to give recognized degrees to its graduates (

10.  Kyrgyzstan Blocks Fergana Agency Site.  Bishkek has blocked the independent Fergana news portal because of its critical coverage of developments in Kyrgyzstan (

11.  Moscow Focuses on Lithuania’s Russian Community.  The Russian government has traditionally focused on the state of the ethnic Russian community in Estonia and Latvia in its efforts to blacken the reputation of these countries and to promote its own influence there.  Now, it is turning its attention to the situation of the much-smaller Russian community in Lithuania to do the same things (

12.  Activists Replace Wooden Crosses at Kuropaty Mass Graves with Metal Ones. As part of their effort to ensure that Kuropaty, the site of mass graves from Stalin’s times in Minsk, will remain forever as a monument to the crimes committed against the Belarusian people, activists there are moving to replace the wooden crosses that had marked the site with more permanent metal ones (

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