“Putin is a Russian Trump” and other neglected Russian stories

Vladimir Putin, 2016 (Image: kremlin.ru)

Vladimir Putin, 2016 (Image: kremlin.ru) 

2016/11/05 • Analysis & Opinion, Russia

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 presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 56th such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, once again, one could have put out such a listing every day — but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

  1. Is Putin a Russian Trump?
    Trump and Putin. (Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Aleksey Nikolskyi/Getty Images and Jim Watson/Getty Images.)

    Trump / Putin (Image: Slate)

    Many in Russia and the West have suggested that US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is an American Vladimir Putin, but now there are indications that the reverse may be true as well. This week, the Kremlin leader fell victim to one of his own propaganda stories — which wasn’t true — because no one around him is prepared to speak truth to power. Putin had a bad week in other respects as well: he was named one of the world’s greatest enemies of media freedom by Reporters without Borders, and a Russian commentator suggested that Putin couldn’t stop talking about the Boston marathon bombers because he has a guilty conscience about the case. In response, Putin has taken the step so many world leaders have when they find themselves in trouble. He’s making no effort to change his policies, but he is hiring Western public relations firms to improve his image.

  2. More Bad Economic News on All Fronts. Bankruptcies have become so frequent that Kommersant has been forced to publish additional pages this week just to list all of them. China been able to purchase a quarter of Russia’s goldmining industry at firesale prices while Ford has announced that it is ending production at its St. Petersburg plant. The Russian state is now slated to run a deficit until at least 2034 and even military pensioners aren’t getting the one-time payments they were promised because their pensions were not inflation-adjusted. Still worse, 60 percent of Russian employers say they will be cutting back on employment, and the real value of pensions fell by 3.3 percent in September alone. Not surprisingly almost half of Russians are prepared to be paid off the clock and in the shadow sector of the economy. For some Russians, the situation is becoming truly dire: there are reports that school children in Chelyabinsk are being fed with soup with worms, that deaths from flu are up by 300 percent because there isn’t enough medicine available, and that ever more Russians are choosing to die at home rather than go to the hospital for possible treatment.
  3. Lenin and Stalin Mausoleum on the Red Square in Moscow

    Lenin and Stalin Mausoleum on the Red Square in Moscow

    Will Russia’s Statue Wars Never End? Each week brings fresh evidence that fighting over statues and other memorials is for many Russians the most important thing going on in their lives both because of what it says about the past of their country and its future. Among the most notable developments in this sector over the last seven days: LDNR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky wants to rename Moscow’s Lenin Prospekt for Ivan the Terrible. Others want to declare Ivan the forefather of Putin’s new Russian nation. Another commentator has suggested that everything started going wrong when Stalin was removed from the mausoleum on Red Square. At the same time, some statues are being taken down or vandalized, sometimes by the population and sometimes by the authorities. There are also more complaints among Russians that some of the statues reflect the elite’s interest in monarchism.

  4. Russians Increasingly Uneasy about Putin’s War in Syria. While support among Russians for the military operation in Syria remains above 50 percent, according to a Levada poll, there are signs that it is softening with fewer people expressing unqualified backing for the effort than did earlier.
  5. Three More Reasons Russia Should Not Be Allowed to Host World Soccer Cup. The stadium in St. Petersburg despite massive cost overruns has failed to meet FIFA standards. There have been more massive clashes of Russian soccer louts beyond the ability or willingness of the Russian police to stop them. And there are indications that a new wave of Russian doping scandals are about to break.
  6. Instagram Beats Out Facebook in North Caucasus. Ramzan Kadyrov’s use of Instagram has attracted the most attention, but people in the region say that that social medium is vastly more popular in the North Caucasus generally than is Facebook, with the number of friends on it ten times or more than the number on Facebook. Meanwhile, some of the smaller language communities in the Russian Federation are exploring the ways they may be able to use the Internet to save their endangered languages.
  7. Russians Delighted Sovietology Making a Comeback in the West.
    For The Occupation of Washington, D.C. (Image: kasparov.ru)

    “For The Occupation of Washington, D.C.” (Image: kasparov.ru)

    In many ways, Russia behaves like a small country rather than a great power and is obsessed with the attention good or bad it receives anywhere in the world. Some websites track how many articles appear about Russia in this or that country. Now, Novaya Gazeta has published a large survey of what it calls “the return of Sovietology” in the United States. In a not necessarily related development, the Russian media have begun talking about the supposed existence of a Russian military medal to be awarded for “the occupation of Washington, D.C.”

  8. Russia’s Buddhists Say They have Law but Not Always Officials on Their Side. Russia’s Buddhist community is becoming increasingly active, and its leaders say that now they have law on their side but not yet officials who are charged with enforcing it. As a result, there is open discrimination against them in places where they are supposed to have full rights. Unfortunately, that pattern holds for most of Russia’s religions where new laws are being used by officials not to go after extremism but rather after those Christian denominations that the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate doesn’t like.
  9. Number of Political Prisoners in Russia Doubled over Last Year, Memorial Says. The Memorial human rights organization which is increasingly being hamstrung by Russian officials says that the number of political prisoners in Russia has doubled over the course of the last year to more than a hundred.
  10. For Russian Media, Liberals Play the Role Witches Did in Earlier Centuries. A Novaya Gazeta commentary suggests that under Putin, liberals have come to play the role witches did in earlier centuries, a powerful and evil force that must be vanquished again and again. Meanwhile, on Halloween, parents in Moscow were urged not to let their children wear Hitler, Stalin or Putin masks because these might prove too frightening for others.
  11. North Caucasians Whose Houses are Damaged During Counter-Terrorist Operations Can’t Hope for Compensation. Budget cuts are having another serious consequence for people in the North Caucasus. Those whose residences or farms are damaged by Russian military or special services during counter-terrorist operations now have no hope of getting any compensation, something that will only add to their anger at Moscow.
  12. Russian Blogger Suggests Opening Danzig-Like Corridor to Kaliningrad. A Russian blogger says that Moscow should use force to create a Russian corridor through Belarus and/or Lithuania so that the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad won’t be isolated. He argues that this is especially important because of rising military tensions in the Baltic region. That Kaliningrad is now in trouble is suggested by reports that the city’s mayor has put his town hall on the market in order to try to raise money to bridge a budget gap.
  13. Russians Don’t Recognize Russians Wearing Traditional Dress as Russians. There is a famous story about two 19th century Slavophiles who dressed up as Russian peasants and who each assumed that the other was a Persian or some other foreigner as a result. Now, in an updated version of the same story, a group of Russians has tried wearing traditional Russian dress in Russian cities only to discover that other Russians can’t imagine where they are coming from.

And six more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

  1. Ukrainian Intelligence Agency Symbol Appears to Be Striking Russia with a Sword.
    Symbol of the Ukrainian military intelligence adopted in November 2016: an owl carrying a sword over Eurasia. Top phrase in Ukrainian says "Military Intelligence of Ukraine." Bottom phrase in Latin means "The wise man will master the stars."

    Symbol of the Ukrainian military intelligence adopted in November 2016: an owl carrying a sword over Eurasia. Top phrase in Ukrainian says “Military Intelligence of Ukraine.” Bottom phrase in Latin means “The wise man will master the stars.”

    Ukraine’s national intelligence service has adopted a new symbol and because it appears to have a sword ready to strike Russia, many in Moscow are furious.

  2. Ukraine Finds Pulling Down Communist Symbols May Not Be Having Desired Effect. Some Ukrainians are concerned and some Russians are delighted by new polls showing that in Ukraine, the pulling down of communist-era statues is not at least yet contributing to the elimination of all sympathy for the Soviet past.
  3. Tajik Officials No Longer Allowed to Have Russian Dual Citizenship. In yet another sign of the unpacking of empire, Dushanbe has ruled that Tajik officials must not have dual Russian citizenship. If they want to keep their jobs, they must give up such attachments.
  4. Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan Reach Border Accord. Tashkent and Bishkek have defused a potentially explosive situation by reaching agreement on 49 disputed areas along their common border. Those have been the site of violence in the last several months.
  5. Kazakhstan Should Be Written as Qazakstan in English, Astana Officials Say. Senior parliamentarians in Kazakhstan say that the name of their country should be written in English as Qazakstan and not Kazakhstan. That may seem a small thing, but it in fact opens the way to a larger shift away from the Russian script to a Latin script in that Central Asian country.
  6. Baltic Countries Prepare Their Citizens for War, as Russians Buy Up Land in Finland. Estonia and Lithuania have issued special pamphlets for their citizens explaining what they should do if Russia invades. Meanwhile, in a sign that Putin’s “hybrid” war has yet another aspect, Finnish officials report that Russians are buying up property in Finland that could be used as military staging areas in the event of a Russian invasion.

Related:

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Turtler

    Sometimes I wonder why I still keep coming here.

    “Many in Russia and the West have suggested
    that US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is an American
    Vladimir Putin,”

    And many in Russia and the West are biased hacks who will sling any kind of mud just to see if it sticks. (And no, this is not limited to people against Trump). Am I supposed to take whatever anal droppings they give out at face value?

    As much as those who demonize him (ironically often to help a demon who is the closest thing America has seen to a Putin in about two centuries) may wish otherwise, last I checked there is zero indication Trump was an operative of a Secret Police organization. We have no indication that he seriously considered backing a coup (as Putin did with the Soviet coup) only to back away not due to moral or ethical qualms but to save his own sorry job and connections.

    And there is also no evidence that Trump has treated matters of state- such as….say… classified emails?- as his private dominion to lord over as he wishes.

    “but now there are indications that the reverse may be
    true as well.”

    So, now there’s evidence that Putin wears a toupee?

    “This week, the Kremlin leader fell victim to one of his own propaganda
    stories — which wasn’t true — because no one around him is prepared to
    speak truth to power.”

    Seriously?

    THIS is the basis for your comparison?

    Yes, Trump is a blowhard. Yes, he quite blatantly will contradict himself and often trot over people in his way. And no, this is not for wanting to correct him (As we know several have).

    But in order for this to be such a conclusive match, it would have to be rather unique to Putin and Trump. This blatantly is not the case.

    And we have the quite proven example of his enemy, Hillary Clinton. Who need I remind people has publicly lied to Congress under oath (and had to be corrected by the FBI director)? And who we know- thanks to Putin’s leaking mouthpieces- had SEVERAL people trying to speak truth to her about her conduct only to get brushed aside?

    So by needlessly trying to single out Trump, this thing is showing great bias- which can be justified- and ignorance- which cannot.

    “Putin had a bad week in other respects as well:”

    Problem: Trump has on average been having a GREAT week, especially since the Weiner news has shown so much of what he was saying was true.

    So another place where this comparison fails/

    “he was named one of the world’s greatest enemies of media freedom by Reporters without Borders,”

    As is absolutely justified. Couldn’t happen to a nicer scumbag.

    “and a Russian commentator suggested that Putin couldn’t stop talking about the Boston marathon bombers because he has a guilty conscience about the case.”

    I return to my first point on that, and whether I am supposed to take the generally unsourced”talking” about something is evidence of it?

    The key thing I would say is that the evidence for Putin having a conscience at all is pitifully marginal, let alone one that would actually feel guilty about something like a terrorist bombing.

    It might simply be that talking about it serves another role. Like it being a useful political tool and weapon. You know, it’s not like he hasn’t done that for COUNTLESS OTHER THINGS like Maidans, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army of WWII (and just prior), or the like right?

    “In response, Putin has taken the step so many world leaders have when they find themselves in trouble. He’s making no effort to change his policies, but he is hiring Western public relations firms to improve his image.”

    Typical political move, I just fear he will do it well.

    So in the end, the attempt to connect this to Trump was insanely lazy, unfounded, and in bad taste. It only attempted to make the connection in one of the things it mentioned (others being labeled as an enemy of Reporters without Borders and the talking about the Boston Bombing because he supposedly has a guilty conscience.)

    And yet by making the comparison, they are trying to imply what they cannot actually PROVE. To associate Trump with all the rest of these things.

    This is not just dishonest, it’s freaking incompetent. It isn’t even a good attack piece.

    And I am sick and tired of the attack pieces from here.

  • Turtler

    Now on to the other stuff….

    And on the whole I like it. It’s quite informative, and the sort of stuff that isn’t really talked about in many other places. This reminds me why I still keep coming here.

    General thoughts….

    2. I feel for the innocents caught up in this, but rot in Putin’s evil empire is always good news. I can only hope that people eventually get tired enough of being abused and cheated that they throw the Polonium Dwarf out.

    3. “Will Russia’s Statue Wars Never End?” Probably not, at least in a certain definition. After all, even in a free country statues and the like are often quite contentious..

    But at least there’s a finite number of Bolshevik and Tsarist statues, and if they go… well, they will be gone.

    “LDNR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky wants to rename Moscow’s Lenin Prospekt for Ivan the Terrible.”

    … don’t shoot me until I finish, but in this case I think this might be a good (or at least less-worse) idea that Zhirinovsky accidentally stumbled over. Because apparently vicious totalitarian stupids can come up with good ideas once in a while.

    But frankly? Lenin murdered and enslaved waaaaay more people than Ivan IV did. And to the extent repent and feel remorse for his atrocities.

    And in terms of historical merit, to the extent that Lenin can be associated with a great Russian city it would be with St. Petersburg- aka Petrograd aka Leningrad. It was where he made his return to the country, where he seized power from the Republic in a coup, and where he spent most of the era commanding his monstrous thugs from. In contrast Ivan ruled from Moscow for most of his life and turned Moscow from being a local power to being a Major Power (albeit often by crimes).

    So on the merits I think swapping it for Ivan would actually be a step in the right direction in a moral, ethical, and historical sense. Not because I adore Tsarist tyranny or like Ivan’s many crimes.

    Who knows? Maybe it might even be an intermediary step towards naming it something *DECENT.*

    As for the rest… keep knocking those statues down boys and girls! We’ll win this yet!

    “Russians Increasingly Uneasy about Putin’s War in Syria. ”

    Translation: War Exhaustion is a thing, especially on long wars, and ones that involve participating massive systematic atrocities.

    Not much news.

    “Three More Reasons Russia Should Not Be Allowed to Host World Soccer Cup. ”

    Absolutely agreed, as well as the endemic cheating regime we know the Kremlin does.

    “Russians Delighted Sovietology Making a Comeback in the West.

    We’ll see how delighted they are after we use the insights from it after a long, naive pause to stop them.

    “Russian media have begun talking about the supposed existence of a Russian military medal to be awarded for “the occupation of Washington, D.C.””

    I can absolutely believe this. In fact, I would almost say it makes sense, and I imagine it isn’t unique to Putin’s tyranny.

    I’m a bit of a history nerd and war buff, and since this is the centennial of WWI I have been doing a lot of that. And I know that- to use just one example- after the smashing Italian defeat at Caporetto the Habsburgs and Germans started minting medals for the occupation of Venice. However, since the Italians changed command, fought heroically, and with the other Western Allies defeated the KuK and Reichswehr they never came even close to using it.

    Though at least they minted it when they were already At War with Italy. In this case it’s a bit more hostile…

    “Russia’s Buddhists Say They have Law but Not Always Officials on Their Side. ”

    The rule of the story: The Law in a tyranny is always weak. Always.

    Do not trust it.

    “Russian Blogger Suggests Opening Danzig-Like Corridor to Kaliningrad.”

    Who is this guy? Is he in any way notable, or is he an unknown troll?

    Sure, it is worth considering because I can imagine the tyrants imitating their trolls in policy ideas. But is it really worth considering THAT Much?

    “Ukrainian Intelligence Agency Symbol Appears to Be Striking Russia with a Sword.

    Symbol of the Ukrainian military intelligence adopted in November 2016: an owl
    carrying a sword over Eurasia. Top phrase in Ukrainian says “Military
    Intelligence of Ukraine.” Bottom phrase in Latin means “The wise man
    will master the stars.”

    Ukraine’s national intelligence service has adopted a new symbol and
    because it appears to have a sword ready to strike Russia, many in
    Moscow are furious.”

    I’ll be honest. I don’t think this design is good. Just the opposite. In fact- at risk of being dogpiled- I’d argue this is better evidence that Ukraine has not totally broken from Russia- cannot emancipate itself from the idea of being linked with it- than all of Putin’s dredge put together. Now please hear me out.

    While the tears of Kremlinoid scum are always delicious, I have to ask… is this REALLY the best symbol for Ukraine?

    No, I don’t think for a second it is. Now please hear me out.

    Try to imagine figuring out what nation- or organization- this emblem came from JUST from looking at it. Go on. Try. I’ll wait.

    Frankly, I would say that if I didn’t know better, it would look like it was Russian. Note not only the sword striking Russia (or hovering over it) but also its’ centrality to it all. And what’s more, it is HIGHLIGHTED. Every other country in the world is basically the same color- you can see this most clearly around the China-Mongolia-Central Asia area-, and that INCLUDES Ukraine, while Russia is highlighted as if by the light of providence.

    In effect, Ukrainian military intelligence made an emblem that focuses more on Russia than on their own country. And I believe wholeheartedly this is a bad thing.

    I can already hear a lot of the outrage, especially given Russia’s long history of abusing, attacking, threatening, occupying, and trying to destroy Ukraine. “But Turtler, how can you say this!?! It is this agency’s job to attack Russia!!!”

    And honestly? I’ll say that No. No it isn’t.

    “HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT?!?”

    Because its’ job is to PROTECT UKRAINE. To Safeguard UKRAINE. To Defend Ukrainians. To put its’ nation and its’ people FIRST in this wide world (because Yahweh knows nobody else will).

    Now, this will obviously mean fighting against Russia, as it is the force attacking Ukraine today and is by far the most pressing threat. And if in doing so this agency has to hit Russia across the border…. I say give ’em Fire and Brimstone!

    But this emblem makes it about WHO this agency is fighting (at the moment) not WHAT they are fighting for (and no, historical hatred and spite towards Russia- no matter how richly the Kremlin has deserved it over these long bloody centuries- is not the main thing).

    Because let me tell you a secret: Ultimately, if Ukraine survives it will face other threats. Who this agency might be called upon to fight will change- such as say PRC spies, the Islamists, or what have you. But who they are fighting for WILL NOT.

    Remember that. Because ultimately in order for Ukraine to fully stand it must see Russia as just another nation. Perhaps the largest, its’ oldest neighbor, and greatest threat. But fundamentally just another one on the list. Symbols must be universal, they must be made to stand for all time and fully capture an organization’s mission to oppose ALL COMERS that would harm Ukraine. Not just Russian ones.

    Ukraine must come first, not its’ current enemy.

    If this isn’t clear… can you imagine if the US Navy Jack featured not just a snake and Don’t Tread On Me, but the snake eating a British flag, a lion, or the like?

    Can you imagine how laughably dated and obsolete it would look like?

    The first US Navy Jack was created during its’ war of independence, after much less time of independent existence than Ukraine has. But the US’s founders understood something that got lost in the fog of war. They were fighting to build something as if for all time, and the symbols they adopted for use had to stretch beyond it.

    Because there might come a time when we were fighting someone other than the British (something that happened in just a few short years during the Quasi-War and Barbary Wars), and America was not defined by its’ enemies.

    Ukraine is fighting its’ war of independence today. It is one of the seminal events of modern history and I fully wish it victory. But remember that IT WILL PASS ONE DAY. If you win, there will come a time when THIS TOO will be history.

    Ukraine and its’ military must have the ability to see the future, and that includes knowing what it will be doing in the years after they safeguard Ukraine.

    Anyway, I put this in a second comment here to deal with my reaction to the rest of this stuff, since I am a bit tired of having to deal with the relentless demonization of Trump and his supporters (Including me) on here, and I’d like to talk about something else here too.

  • zorbatheturk

    RuSSians eating worm soup! I bet that is tasty.

    Love the Ukrainian security services owl emblem. Best. Emblem. Ever!

    A land corridor to Kaliningrad which the Soviets stole from Poland and Germany? Nyetsky, Ivan. FO.

    • Alex George

      Interesting that at the foot of that article on worms in the soup is a story about a family in Omsk who found a dead rat in a can of sprat.

      The article adds that the can of sprat originated from occupied crimea (оккупированном Крыму). That sounds like a subtle dig at Putin!

  • Dirk Smith