A memorial plaque installed at Russia's 17th Guard Motorized Infantry Brigade to commemorate its troopers killed in August 2014, at the early stages of Putin's military aggression in Ukraine (Image: mignews.com.ua)
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 90th 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’s Spiritual Advisor Comes Out Against Restoring the Monarchy
In the clearest indication yet that Vladimir Putin has no plans to become tsar, despite the promotion of that idea by some Orthodox and Russian nationalist leaders, the Kremlin head’s spiritual advisor, Bishop Tikhon says that he is against the idea.
Other neglected Putin stories this week included:
- Putin has allowed for the classification of all elite property holdings including his own as state secrets thus creating the basis for criminal charges against anyone who talks about them
- Russians are evenly divided on Oliver Stone’s film about Putin with a third having seen it and a third not having heard of it at all
- An art critic says that Putin’s aesthetic like that of most dictators is fundamentally boring
- Putin himself announced that he plans to have a new domestically produced limousine by the end of 2018
- Putin appears to be planning to ditch his connection with United Russia at exactly the point when that party is becoming more popular among Russians
- And a Moscow commentator suggests that Putin’s “negative consolidation” of Russian society reflects an “old-fashioned sexuality” of teenage thugs from the 1950s.
2. Two Photo Expositions Putin and Trump Should Have Seen in Hamburg But Probably Didn’t
During the G-20 meetings in Hamburg at which the Russian and US presidents had their first face-to-face meeting, two sets of photographs were brought to the city by activists for Chechnya and Ukraine respectively.
The first called attention to what it described as Putin’s “final solution” of the Chechen problem and the second one is a billboard that invited passersby to look at the faces of Ukrainian soldiers who are now “protecting the borders of civilization.”
In another Trump related development, the Belarusian government registered the Trump brand trademark allowing the US president to make money in that country.
3. Russians Increasingly Paying for Counter-Sanctions Out of Their Own Pockets
Vladimir Putin’s counter-sanctions regime is something ordinary Russians are having to pay for out of their own pockets at a time when they are being forced to cut back on nearly all purchases, according to Russian experts (svpressa.ru/omy/article/175943/).
Among the things they are cutting back on are:
And despite what the Kremlin says, pensioners in Russia are working only because they need the money, not in order to find fulfillment.
4. Business Climate, Not Geopolitics, Driving Investors Out of Russia
To hear the Kremlin tell it, Western investors would come flooding into Russia again if sanctions were lifted; but Moscow experts say that much of the massive and rising disinvestment now taking place reflects problems with the domestic business climate rather than geopolitics.
Moreover, they say, that climate and the level of poverty in Russia will be much worse in 2019 and not better as the Kremlin is suggesting.
5. Boosting Pension Age Will Give Moscow Large but Short-Lived Infusion of Funds
Experts say that if Moscow raises the pension ages by several years as it now plans, the government will get a large but very short term boost in revenues because it will not have to put money in pension funds. But this boost will rapidly disappear in the out years, they say.
6. More Social Problems of All Kinds. Russians are suffering from an increasing variety and intensity of social problems
Reports this last week, for example, noted that:
- According to the government, 20 percent of the milk and 50 percent of the fish in Russian markets are adulterated
- More than 19,000 Russians died from impure water in the last year
- Russia’s war on illegal drugs is failing
- Russian single mothers are suffering more than almost any other group
- Russian neo-pagans are taking over the country’s national parks and forest preserves
- The Moscow Times newspaper is shutting down its print edition
- The Soviet nostalgia market is growing by leaps and bounds
- And Russians are stealing from restaurants when they can afford to go to them.
7. Agriculture Minister Views Wine in Place of Vodka as Solution to Demographic Problems
Russia’s minister for agriculture argues that if Russians would stop drinking vodka and drink more wine, that in itself would solve Russia’s demographic problems.
But the health sector more generally is in trouble: in many places, there are no medicines available even of the kind most widely prescribed.
8. Russians and Especially Youngest and Brightest Want to Move Abroad
Moscow is hoping to counter this by offering outstanding students draft exemptions if they agree not to leave Russia, but that doesn’t seem to be having much success as ever more university students and scientists continue to leave.
9. Moscow Inserting Ethnic Russians in Posts Long Held by Non-Russians
One of the things non-Russians achieved in the waning days of the USSR was to gain control of more positions in their republics for members of their own nationality. Now, Moscow is reversing that, putting ethnic Russians in posts non-Russians view as properly theirs.
The latest such move was in Karachayevo-Cherkessia this week where an ethnic Russian was named interior minister, the first outsider in many years. That is just one of the developments that is animating demands for more democracy there.
Other “ethnic” developments this week include:
- Fewer than 2000 Chechens apply for the 2600 spaces in this year’s haj quota
- And the head of the Sakha Republic says he doesn’t want foreign workers to be sent into his territory.
Perhaps the most intriguing development, however, is this: Russian officials have long attacked the West for interest in the non-Russian nations but now they are focusing their ire on increasing Western attention to Russian regions instead.
10. Moscow Insists Fines for Public Reading of the Bible Don’t Violate the Constitution
The Russian justice ministry rejects the conclusions of many that sentencing people for collective reading of the Bible in cafes is a violation of Russia’s constitution. It is entirely appropriate, the ministry says, for the government to require that those wishing to read divine texts tell officials of their plans in advance.
Meanwhile, Moscow’s war against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is heating up with one Witness dying after being questioned by police, and analysts suggesting that Moscow has gone after the Witnesses mostly because it wants to gain control of property they have owned.
Controversy over the percentage of Christians and Muslims in Russia continues, but with the upshot being that ever more experts are suggesting that the number of observant Christians is even lower than anyone had thought before.
11. Protests Spread and Diversify
- This week, a rock festival against torture happened in Nizhny Novgorod despite official opposition.
- Coal miners in Gukovo declare a hunger strike.
- Opponents of the demolition of apartment blocks in Moscow appealed to the Constitutional Court.
- Buryats demand free and direct elections.
- The Nogay nation steps up its pressure on Makhachkala with 2,000 Nogays confronting security forces in northern Daghestan (kavkaz-uzel.eu, kavkaz-uzel.eu, kavkazr.com and kavkaz-uzel.eu).
- And Human Rights Watch denounces Moscow for its arbitrary and abusive arrests of demonstrations earlier this month.
12. Repression Spreads and Intensifies Across Russia
The coordinator of Open Russia was forced to flee abroad because Russia is now closed to those who support democracy.
The government approved new and broader rules for forced labor in Russia.
And it showed its disregard for law in two important ways: It convicted five graduates of a Turkish lycee for being members of an organization that doesn’t exist, and it used quasi-private youth and pensioner groups to do its dirty work attacking Navalny’s campaign.
13. Monuments War Eases Slightly
Compared to most weeks, the last has been almost peaceful on this front:
- The commemorative plaque to Admiral Kolchak was taken down in St. Petersburg.
- And plans went ahead for nationality-related monuments in Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria (nazaccent.ru and magazines.russ.ru).
The highpoint in this sector was the announcement that city fathers will mark the 400th anniversary of Uryupinsk, the symbol of provincialism in the eyes of most urban intellectuals in Russia.
14. Russian Guard Units Kill 125 People in Last Year
Vladimir Putin’s Russian Guard reports that since it was created a year ago, its officers have killed 125 people and destroyed 300 camps in the North Caucasus as well as participating in crowd control work elsewhere. One thing the Guard has been looking for are caches of illegal arms, ever more of which are being found (kasparov.ru and lenta.ru).
Meanwhile, officials reported that the military is having serious trouble preparing soldiers and sailors (ok-inform.ru/szfo/murmansk/95828-kak-zapolyare-lishayut-budushchikh-moryakov-i-rybolovov.html).
Other domestic security issues reported this week include the fact that an elite military brigade has now become a Muslim dominated one because of changes in the draft cohort and a new Duma push to prevent anyone who is deferred from or avoids the draft from serving in the government for ten years, an indication that claims to the contrary notwithstanding, draft evasion may be growing.
It was also reported that Putin has introduced territorial defense units within the Russian order of battle and is directing the construction of new bunkers for the leadership beneath Moscow’s streets.
15. Lavrov Confirms Russian Forces Intervened in Ukraine
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov clumsily but finally acknowledged that Russian forces had “gotten into the fight” in Ukraine, thus confirming what the world knows that Moscow is a direct participant and not the honest broker it always insists it can be.
Meanwhile, bloggers show but the Russian government is hardly likely to confirm that Russian soldiers in Syria have used sledgehammers to torture prisoners there.
16. Planned New Russian Carrier Will Attack Only the Russian Budget, Analysts Say
The Russian defense ministry’s plan to build a new aircraft carrier over the next decade will be capable of attacking only one target: the Russian budget, according to Moscow analysts.
Indeed, ever more voices are being raised against the project as an overly expensive ship that Russia doesn’t need and certainly can’t afford.
17. Russia’s Two Allies Meet Its Two Problems
Russia, it is sometimes said, has only two allies, its army and its fleet, and only two problems, roads and fools. Those four have now come together: Military planners want to shift from trains to trucks to move military equipment about because there are more roads than there are train tracks and thus it will be harder for an enemy to attack them. But such plans, as analysts are pointing out, ignore the fact that Russian roads are in horrific shape and that heavy military trucks will tear them up faster than the government can fix them.
18. Moscow Spending Massively on Lobbying in Europe
Transparency International reports that Russian companies and at least some of them as cover for the Russian government are spending massively on lobbying efforts in European countries.
Meanwhile, in a relative development, a pro-Russian group of deputies is trying to become a formal group in order to gain access to the top positions there.
19. Russian Team will Lose in World Cup – Why Should Russians Finance the Competition?
Russia’s poor showing in Confederation Cup play has led to ever more predictions that it will not do well in the 2018 World Cup and prompted questions as to why Russians should pay for this “show off” campaign in which the country will only be embarrassed.
Despite upbeat comments from international sports officials and Moscow, the Confederation Cup competition was marred by numerous failures that must be corrected soon, Russians say (business-gazeta.ru and ura.news).
Moscow officials have promised that they will ensure that ticket prices next year will be accessible for ordinary Russian fans. But cases of waste and corruption were widespread and those will be hard to root our.
Meanwhile, the IAAF issued tighter rules governing Russian competitors who may have to take part in international meets under neutral flags.
20. Russian Male Life Expectancy Slips Further Behind Female Rating
Russian men now live 11.5 years fewer than Russian women, six months fewer than a year ago and an indication that any efforts the Russian government have made to reduce mortality rates among working-age males have failed.
In other demographic news, experts say that Rosstat state statistics agency’s data on life expectancies in the North Caucasus are the product of statistical sleight of hand.
21. Pushkin, if Published by Soros, Taken Out of Arkhangelsk Oblast Libraries
In what rights activists are calling “a chronicle of idiocy,” officials in Arkhangelsk have ordered books published by the Soros organization to be taken out of libraries there, even if the works involved are republications of Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and other unimpeachably Russian classics.
22. Could a Single Film Destroy Russia? Russian Churchman Thinks So
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin says that if the movie “Mathilda” about the love life of the last tsar is ever shown to the wider public, the Russian Federation “will be condemned” to collapse.
23. Many Soviet Citizens Executed After Stalin’s Death were Innocent but Killed to Meet the Plan
According to a new study, many of the 21,000 Soviet citizens executed by the authorities between 1962 and 1990 were innocent and in many cases even known to be, but they were killed in order to meet plan targets handed out by the center.
24. Falsification of Archive Holdings Continued Under Gorbachev and Yeltsin
The falsification of archival materials under Stalin has been well-documented, but many are unaware that this process continued almost unabated under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, making the writing of the history of their period far more difficult.
25. Russian Young People Far Less Altruistic and Concerned about Justice than Many Think
A review of some 122 sociological studies of the attitudes of post-Soviet Russian youth finds that this cohort is far less altruistic and concerned about justice and far more pragmatic and selfish than many are now inclined to think.
26. Portable Toilets Attack Crowds in Moscow
Vladimir Putin’s famous remark about drowning people in the outhouse has taken on a whole new meaning now that a set of portable toilets set up in Moscow on Russia’s national day got loose and began sliding down into a crowd, causing chaos and leading Russians to flee for their lives.
And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Six of Top Eight Countries Russians Identify as Enemies are Their Neighbors
In the yearly enemies list, six of the top ten countries Russians name as enemies are neighbors of their country. In descending order, these are Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Georgia. The only two others to make the list are the US, which leads, and Germany.
2. Ukraine Creates Territorial Defense Units to Respond to Zapad 2017 Threat
Kyiv has ordered the creation of special territorial units of defense in response to the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises (Zapad 2017) planned for this fall.
3. Kyiv Billboards Say Using Russian ‘Harms Central Nervous System’
Billboards have appeared in the Ukrainian capital telling residents that speaking Russian will harm their central nervous systems.
4. Russians Fear Belarus Following Ukraine’s Language Policy
Minsk is following in the footsteps of Ukraine’s anti-Russian language policy and what Ukraine is doing now, Belarus almost certainly will do soon if Moscow doesn’t do anything to stop it, according to Russian analysts.
5. Putin Can Never Leave Donbas – There are Too Many Witnesses for a Hague Trial
According to one Ukrainian commentator, there is yet another reason to think that whatever he says, Vladimir Putin will never return control of the Donbas to Ukraine: There are simply too many witnesses to Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity who could testify in the Hague.
6. Discipline among Moscow Mercenaries in Donbas Said Collapsing
Ukrainian officials say there is growing evidence that discipline among the paramilitary units supporting Moscow’s invasion of the Donbas is deteriorating rapidly.
7. Russia Moves Border Further into Georgia
8. Belarus to Use Chinese Yuan not Russian Ruble as Main Reserve Currency
The Belarusian government has announced that it will now use the Chinese currency rather than the Russian one for its national reserves, another blow to the Russia-Belarus union state.
9. Moscow Sharply Criticizes Baku for Failing to Protect Russian Citizens
The Russian foreign ministry has criticized Azerbaijan for failing to protect the rights of Russian citizens on its territory, a criticism that has raised questions about the possibility of a new Moscow tilt against Baku and for Yerevan.
10. Tajikistan Tilts Away from Iran and toward Saudi Arabia
Tajikistan, whose titular nationality speaks a language very close to Persian but follows Sunni rather than Shiia Islam, is moving quickly to reduce its various informal links with Tehran and to increase them with Saudi Arabia.
11. Masonic Lodge in Belarus Raises Its Profile
12. Only a Third of Azerbaijan’s 2200 Mosques are Registered with the State
More than 1400 mosques in Azerbaijan remain unregistered and thus potentially a source of radicalism in Azerbaijan.
13. EU May Sanction Lithuania for Having Too Many Outhouses
The European Union is threatening to impose sanctions on Lithuania because of the large percentage of housing in rural areas that does not have indoor plumbing.
- ’14 million Russians don’t have enough money even for food’ and other neglected Russian stories
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- “Moscow’s appropriation of Ukrainian history not limited to Queen Anna Yaroslavivna” and other neglected Russian stories
- “Putin said to orchestrate Trump’s impeachment” and other neglected Russian stories
- “Putin tells why Russia is seedbed of terrorism” and other neglected Russian stories
- ‘3 million people fled from Russia-occupied Donbas’ and other neglected Russian stories
- “Putin backers to ‘bare their breasts’ for Kremlin leader” and other neglected Russian stories