Image: Alexander Petrosyan
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 89th 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 Isn’t Taking a Vacation This Year
The Kremlin has announced that Vladimir Putin won’t be taking a vacation this year because of his enormous responsibilities. Among them are trips abroad where he cannot control the outcomes and travel within Russia where his apparatus is working to ensure that there won’t be any problems.
Residents of Izhevsk for example have been told not to open windows or go on their balconies while Putin is in town.
In addition, he appears to be working on his reelection campaign, one in which a few decisions have been announced: The Kremlin plans to run him on a program of trust and respect with few new policies announced, even though Russians increasingly say they support him even though he isn’t doing what he promises in some key areas.
2. Trumpism has Same Roots as Islamist Terrorism – People’s Desire for Simple Solutions to Complicated Problems, Writer Says
A commentator for Kyiv’s Delovaya stolitsa says that the roots of Trumpism in the United States and ISIS in the Islamic world are the same, the desire of many people for simple solutions to complicated problems.
3. Fourteen Million Russians Don’t Have Enough Money Even for Food
- Two-thirds of these people are really poor because they do not have enough money to put food on their tables on a daily basis.
- Ever more stores and restaurants are closing in Moscow.
- The economic situation in Russia’s regions is deteriorating even more rapidly than in the capitals.
- Dacha prices have collapsed to fire-sale levels as Russians try to raise cash.
- Housing vacancies in Moscow are rising as people are unwilling or unable to pay the prices asked.
- And experts are warning that the Russian banking system is heading toward collapse, even as Vladimir Putin and his propagandists paint a rosy picture of economic improvement.
4. Problems of Russian Society Diversify and Intensify
Social problems in Russia are diversifying with ever more sectors facing difficulties and intensifying in often unexpected ways.
Among such developments this week are the following:
- In some regions, the authorities can’t find anyone willing to take a position as mayor.
- The demographic collapse in Russia – births are down 10 percent this year compared to last – is now so severe that even the Kremlin has had to acknowledge it.
- Russians are reportedly drinking and smoking less but gaining weight as they shift to less expensive foods.
- Unidentified hooligans are blocking efforts by rights activists to investigate torture in prisons.</li
- The Moscow Patriarchate wants Russian schools to teach old church Slavonic.
- Russian young people increasingly say they want to be priests or policemen, two growth professions under Putin.
- Russian screening for cancer isn’t working and fails to find tumors which might be successfully treated.
- Moscow is ending subsidies to farmers for equipment almost certainly ensuring new rises for food products.
- A school director has found an interesting way to boost her salary: she has fired most teachers and taken theirs.
- Suit by Aeroflot stewardesses dismissed because of age and weight gains the support of a petition drive.
- Some Russians are angry that the language used by Russian scholars is excessively anglicized.
- And Russian parents face a difficult summer: camps for their children are now fewer in number and much more expensive than even a year ago.
5. Moscow Treats Chechnya Even More Differently than Many Thought
Most federal subjects have to go through a lengthy process of presenting their budgetary needs and then negotiating with Moscow over how much they will get, but the country’s finance minister says that one subject doesn’t have to do that. Chechnya simply prepares its budget, indicates how much it needs, and Moscow sends the money needed to make up any deficit (znak.com/2017-06-26/ministr_finansov_rossii_rasskazal_kak_napolnyaetsya_byudzhet_chechni).
Other developments on the nationalities front this week include the following:
- Buryatia’s incumbent government is seeking to use shamans and spirit forces to help it win re-election.
- Because they drink less, residents of Ingushetia and Daghestan have longer life expectancies than do Russians in Moscow.
- North Caucasians identify corruption among officials as most serious problem they face.
- Khanty-Mansiisk leaders reject charges that they are separatists.
- Altay head accused of exacerbating ethnic tensions.
- Russian Orthodox churchman says his organization played key role in development of Sakha nation.
- Women still tortured in Mordvin camps.
- Pressed to use Russian more, some republics back down while others double down in support of their own languages.
6. Russian Regions Want Referenda and Elected Mayors
The predominantly ethnic federal subjects have taken the lead in calling for the expanded use of referenda and restoring the election of mayors.
The regions, which are often ignored, also are leaders in the development of civil society, especially among Siberian cities.
And some of them are now thinking about joining trans-border groups like the Northern Council of Scandinavian Countries.
7. Murmansk Protesters Win Big Victory
One of the reasons protests continue to spread in Russia is that people there have no other way to express their views; but another that may be becoming increasingly important is that protests work, forcing officials to modify objectionable policies or even to back down completely.
A case of the latter happened in Murmansk this week where residents successfully protested against the electric company which had been charging them for heat for the last ten years but had not provided them with any.
Two other new protests were notable: In Yugra, the Russian Orthodox bishopric launched a petition drive to can the controversial film Mathilda and in Irkutsk, residents staged a demonstration to demand the restoration of elected governors.
8. US Says Russia Operates Labor Camps for North Korea
The US says that the Russian government is operating labor camps whose inmates are North Koreans who have reportedly been used as slave laborers. Given earlier reports about the use of North Korean slave laborers on World Cup construction projects, such a charge is entirely plausible; but Moscow will do everything it can to prevent anyone from finding out.
9. Poetic ‘Justice’
Ousted Mari El head Leonid Markelov has appealed to Vladimir Putin for pardon in a poem he has written from jail.
Meanwhile, Russian Orthodox activists have decided to go above Putin’s head to secure a ban on the Mathilda film: they are praying to God that he take steps to make sure that happens.
10. Moscow Comes Up with a New Way to Fight the Internet
The Russian government, convinced that the Internet threatens Russia with revolution (apostrophe.ua and kasparov.ru) has come up with a new way of fighting it: planning increases in tariffs on computers so that fewer Russians will be able to afford to go online.
Meanwhile, however, it has kept up all its old tactics: blocking stories it doesn’t like, continuing to impose sanctions and fines on provides, and proposing legislation that would require foreign Russian language media to register with Moscow as foreign agents.
11. ‘Honored’ Russian Citizens and Dishonored Ones
A Russian senator has proposed creating the status of “honored citizen” in order to distinguish those who are more worthy than most but not about to receive more serious awards.
Meanwhile, a St. Petersburg legislator wants to impose criminal penalties on Russian men who betray their wives.
12. Two Capitals Divide on Monuments War
One Ingrian commentator has suggested that “a metaphysical border” exists between St. Petersburg where people are fighting over a Mannerheim memorial and Moscow where they are debating one to Stalin, even though he concedes there are many similar problems in both cities.
In St. Petersburg, the Russian Orthodox Church has shifted to a longer-term strategy to get back St. Isaac’s, confident that it has the government in its corner (portal-credo.ru, novayagazeta.ru and spektr.press).
The monuments war continued elsewhere as well: the Russian Orthodox Church wants to take over and close the Gagarin Museum, possibly because of the cosmonaut’s dismissive words about god (znak.com), and conservative activists continue to press for the closure of the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg.
13. Russia’s Hosting of 2018 World Cup Threatened from Within and Without
Ever more voices are being raised against what many Russians see as the wasteful spending for venues for the 2018 World Cup. They point out that the money could be better used to help increasingly impoverished Russians, and Sochi residents are pointing out that despite Moscow’s promises, athletic facilities are often white elephants that pass into disuse after competitions (kavpolit.com and newsland.com).
Such appeals are gaining traction because of reports that officials are destroying the houses of some residents to build facilities without informing the residents in advance.
Moscow writers also suspect that Ukraine is planning to demonstratively refuse to take part in order to cause other countries to follow.
The doping scandal continues to spread: the International Anti-Doping Agency says Russia’s counterpart can only conduct tests under international supervision. And now some Russians are asking the unthinkable: will Russia itself be allowed to take part in the 2018 World Cup.
14. Russia Restricts Entry of Those Bearing Only “LNR” and “DNR” Passports
Fearful that those who have been taking part in Moscow’s war against Ukraine in the Donbas may reimport violence into Russia, the Russian authorities have stopped admitting people who hold only “LNR” or “DNR” passports.
In a related development, official treatment of the mother of a soldier who died in the Donbas highlighted for all that Moscow is failing to keep it promises to the families of those killed in battle.
15. Has Russia Slipped to Third Place among World’s Navies?
To the outrage of some in Russia, Chinese media are suggesting that China, not Russia, now ranks second among the world’s navies with Russia’s only advantage over China now being in submarines.
The Chinese claims are exaggerated but that they can be made at all reflects both China’s rise and Russia’s fall in defense matters. Moscow is cutting the military budget by five percent this year, its military industry is in trouble, and officials acknowledge it won’t have a real aircraft carrier until at least 2030 (apostrophe.ua, svpressa.ru and forum-msk.org). It is claiming increased arms sales but since most of the information about them is classified, no one is sure whether Moscow is exaggerating on this point (iz.ru and svpressa.ru).
And in one development with important defense implications, Daghestani analysts are reporting that Russia is losing out to other Caspian littoral states because it has failed to develop its own ports.
16. Russia Cutting Itself Off from World Growth, Kudrin Group Says
By moving in the direction of autarchy, Aleksey Kudrin’s group of analysts says, Russia is marginalizing itself from growth in the rest of the world and thus falling further and further behind. Only reintegration and soon can slow this process, it says.
17. Russians Don’t Trust Businessmen Except Themselves
Russians have a very negative view of businessmen, according to a new study, but they are more entrepreneurial than many think and will find ways to end run any effort to ban self-employment as the government would like to do.
18. Russian Tourists Caught Stealing Toilet Paper from Turkish Hotel
A group of Russian tourists in Turkey was caught stealing toilet paper from the rooms of a hotel there.
19. Russian Nationalists Say They’re Open to Alliances with All Opposition Groups
Ivan Beletsky, a leading Russian extra-systemic nationalist, says that Russian nationalists are now ready to form alliances with any group that opposes the reelection of Vladimir Putin.
20. Russia a Paradise of Criminologists, One of Their Number Says
Not only is there a lot of crime in Russia, but various government agencies collect an impressive volume of data about it, thus making that country “a paradise” for those who study crime, according to one Russian criminologist.
21. By Two to One, Russians Favor Restoring Moscow’s Control over Former Soviet States
A new poll shows that Russians support by a margin of two to one Vladimir Putin’s efforts to restore Russian influence in and even control over former Soviet republics on Russia’s periphery.
22. It’s Easier to Become a Saint in Russia than Almost Anywhere Else
The Moscow Patriarchate official who oversees canonization says that the Russian Orthodox Church currently venerates about 5,000 saints, half of which were made saints only over the last 25 years.
23. New Muslim Internet Radio in Syria Broadcasts in Russian, Other Post-Soviet Languages
A new Internet radio project in Syria which positions itself as an independent Islamic voice is now broadcasting in Russian as well as the languages of Central Asia and the Caucasus, an indication of the numbers of people from those locations now in Syria on various sides of the conflict.
24. Kremlin Pollster Says 15 Percent of Russians are ‘Unpatriotic Shit’
VTsIOM pollster Valery Fedorov says that “25 percent of Russians are unpatriotic shit,” presumably including in that number all those who are ready to declare that they do not support Vladimir Putin and his policies.
25. What is Best for Russia: Revolution, Chaos or Disintegration?
A Moscow commentator says that the situation in his country is now so dire that it is time to ask which of the three most likely outcomes would be the worst for the country: revolution, a descent into chaos, or disintegration.
26. There are Good Russians
Two women in Volgograd are part of an organization that sends people to the homes of those who are sick and have no family members or friends to look after them, but in reporting this story, Takie Dela notes that there are only two of them in a city with a million people.
And twelve more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. In Belarus, There Really is a Russian Bear in the Woods
Residents of eastern Belarus have been terrorized by a Russian bear which has wandered over the border from his homeland.
2. Belarusians Petition for Cancelling Future Military Parades
After the latest victory day military parade in Minsk tore up the streets and led to the destruction of numerous trees along the roadside, a group of Belarusians has petitioned to cancel all future military parades there (charter97.org and charter97.org).
3. Belarus Gets Its First Zombie Apocalypse Novel
The first-ever zombie apocalypse novel has now appeared in Belarusian, a development that reflects the expanding role of the titular language there.
4. 75 Percent of Targets of Petya Virus were in Ukraine
While some commentators suggested that the Petyah virus had originated in Ukraine, subsequent research has shown that 75 percent of the institutions targeted by it were in Ukraine, a pattern that suggests it and not anyone else was the target and that Russian forces were almost certainly behind it.
5. Ukraine Passes Russia on World Social Progress Index
Ukraine now ranks 64th on the Social Progress Index, surpassing Russia which now ranks 67th.
6. Few in Ukraine Want to Admit They’ve Fought on Russian Side
A major problem with statistics about losses as a result of Russian intervention in Ukraine is that ethnic Ukrainians and even some Russians now do not want to acknowledge that they or their relatives fought for the pro-Moscow side.
7. Many in Donbas Now Hate Russia But Don’t Necessarily Want to Be Part of Ukraine
Many assume that residents in the Donbas look either to Moscow or to Kyiv, but new surveys suggest that an increasing fraction of them now hate Russia because it hasn’t supported them as they expected. At the same time, however, many of them don’t want to be part of Ukraine either.
8. Newspeak Spreads in Russian-Occupied Portions of Ukraine
Those in control of Russian-occupied portions of Ukraine are now employing a language of euphemisms and distortions that resembles nothing so much as the newspeak George Orwell described in his novel 1984.
9. Russia’s Kerch Bridge Already Harming Environment
10. Russian Occupiers in Sevastopol Now Give 17 Times as Much Money to Cossacks as to Invalids
A measure of the priorities of the illegal Russian occupation of Crimea is that officials in Sevastopol are now giving 17 times as much money to Cossack organizations than to the care of invalids in the population as a whole).
11. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Deny Moscow Reports They’ll Be Sending Troops to Syria
Both Astana and Bishkek deny reports in the Russian media that they plan to send troops in support of Russia’s war effort in Syria.
12. Nazarbayev Wants to Accelerate Shift to Latin Script
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has indicated that he wants to push for a more rapid shift from Cyrillic to the Latin script for his country’s national language, a move that has infuriated Moscow and may spark further ethnic Russian outmigration from Kazakhstan.
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