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“How to pray for Putin” and other neglected Russian stories

Edited by: A. N.

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 52nd 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. Russian Orthodox Advised on How They Should Pray for Putin. Lest Russians come up for a prayer for Vladimir Putin like the one the Jews famously had in tsarist times (“May the Lord God Preserve and Keep the Tsar Far Away from Me!”), Russian Orthodox hierarchs have now come up with recommendations on how Russians should pray for the current Kremlin ruler.
  2. Caligula’s Horse Strategy Doesn’t Work Out in Kaliningrad. Putin’s appointment of his bodyguard to be governor of Kaliningrad has ended in failure, with the Kremlin leader conceding by replacing him so quickly that being a Putin bodyguard may not be sufficient training for someone who is charged with running a region.
  3. ‘Russians Must Know Where Their Bomb Shelters Are’ and Other Signs of War. Forty million Russians are currently going through civil defense drills where officials are telling them among other things that they should know where their bomb shelters are. Supporters of Putin’s warmongering say that the West’s demonization of Russia is a sign that it finally respects Russia, while opponents say that Putin, having made Russia into “a besieged fortress” is now on his way to making it into “an armed camp” with defense spending both reported and secret going up dramatically. Indeed, the only line item the defense ministry appears interested in cutting is that for funerals of senior Russian officials. Other signs of war fever in Russia include: a foreign ministry warning that Russians traveling abroad are in danger, the appearance of Buk-shaped toys and beds for children, missile launcher used against the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, polls showing that Russians are overwhelmingly opposed to having a woman as president because the job of the state is to fight wars, the restoration of armored trains in the Russian military, and the formation of what are de facto ethnic military units in the Russian land forces, something Moscow has been reluctant to agree to except in time of war.
  4. Statue Wars Heat Up Across Russia. The statue wars continue in Russia, with people in St. Petersburg opposed to putting up a monument to Admiral Kolchak and angry that some museum officials want to take down a memorial cross to Rasputin in Tsarskoye Selo. Elsewhere, statues of Stalin and Ivan the Terrible are going up, even as graffiti artists deface war memorials in Kaliningrad. Meanwhile, some are proposing a new statue for Moscow’s Red Square. It would have Mickey Mouse, a stand in for Russians today, being escorted by Lenin and Jesus Christ.
  5. Putin ‘Surprised’ by Teacher’s Small Salary – But He Shouldn’t Be as He Cut It. Vladimir Putin expressed surprise when Russia’s teacher of the year told him how little she makes. He shouldn’t have been as he has been responsible for cutting the budget for education, healthcare and other social services in order to finance his military operations. In other bad economic news this week, it was reported that officials now think two-thirds of Russians don’t need higher educations, ever more people are leaving their home regions in search of work, Russia’s elderly can’t count on state assistance in many areas, Russian incomes fell to a seven year low, and 55 percent of university instructors now have to subsidize their own publications. But some Russians are doing well. Media outlets reported that the new Duma deputies were expensively attired, that the descendants of Soviet leaders are now living well in the West, and that the man who carried the Russian flag at the Paralympics has been given an apartment in Moscow. Meanwhile, Russians are even cutting back on their drinking, although they have cut their consumption of beer more than the amount of vodka they drink, and Russian Muslims were offered special “economy” rate hajj tickets this year. Ever more Russians are protesting specific problems while some are now posing the question: why does Moscow have enough money to help people abroad but not to help Russians at home.
  6. Officials Want to Replace Tolstoy and Shakespeare with the Bible and Second Foreign Languages with Astronomy Classes. In actions reminiscent of the concluding frames of Costa-Gavras’ classic film “Z,” Russian officials and activists seem to have stepped up their competition over which of them can come up with the most original bans. A group of educational leaders say that Russian pupils should stop reading Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare and read the Bible instead. Meanwhile, the education minister says that legends can’t be challenged by historical research. In other steps highlighting Russia’s increasing isolation and retreat to the past, the Penza authorities refused to allow a gay rights parade because they said there is nowhere in the city children might not appear, a Russian court said it is entirely appropriate for people to compare atheists with circus bears, but another court said it is wrong to use the slogan “Death to the Anti-Christ” in public. And officials in St. Petersburg have now been ordered to report any contacts they have with foreigners.
  7. FSB Spies on Magistrates with Bugged Samovar. The KGB infamously spied on the American ambassador by giving the US embassy in Moscow a carved plaque to put on its wall. The FSB has now gone one better: it has given the magistrates office a bugged samovar so that the security services can listen in on what the investigators are discussing.
  8. Tatars, Kalmyks Infuriate Russians This Week. Tatars have infuriated Moscow by taking two steps this week: the republic’s president visited Latvia and discussed bilateral relations as if Tatarstan were an independent country, while in Kazan, some Tatar officials asked that the street signs in the republic be in Tatar as well as in Russian. Meanwhile, the Kalmyks have upset some in the Russian capital by starting research to determine how many of them are direct descendants of Genghis Khan and talking about something Russians prefer not to have discussed: the Kalmyk ancestry of Lenin.
  9. Siberian and Far Eastern Pensioners Moving to Moscow Suburbs. Ninety percent of those purchasing property in Moscow oblast in recent months are pensioners from east of the Urals, a movement of population that undercuts the Kremlin’s efforts to get Russians to move there in order to hold that region within Russia.
  10. Death Squadrons Increase Activity in North Caucasus. Even though Moscow seeks to present the situation in the North Caucasus as ever more calm, there are new reports of increased activity by death squadrons and by those who kidnap people for ransom coming, Memorial says.
  11. Coming to a Wine Store near You: Chateau Permafrost from Siberia. Global warming is making possible something few expected only a decade ago: Siberians are now growing grapes and plan to make wine from areas whose terroir had been covered with permafrost until recently. Meanwhile, Tatarstan is boosting its production of cognac, and some in Kazan are daring to suggest that it might be better than the original from France.
  12. Russian Company Now Offers Radioactive Tours. A Russian tour company is seeking to compensate for its losses as far as travel abroad are concerned by offering tours to Semipalatinsk, a Soviet-era nuclear test site. Among the things those going on its excursions can expect to be offered are radioactive mushrooms.
  13. Ukrainian Church in Moscow Ordered Destroyed, as Russian Church Puts Vinyl Siding on Classic Wooden Russian Ones. A Russian court has ordered the demolition of an Orthodox church in Moscow that is subordinate to the Kyiv patriarchate. Meanwhile, Russian Orthodox priests are putting gup vinyl siding on some of Russia’s famed wooden churches in hopes of saving them from destruction by the elements.

And six others from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

  1. Ukrainian Hackers Give Moscow Occupiers a Taste of Their Own Medicine. Russian hackers routinely disrupt things in Ukraine and elsewhere. Now, a group of Ukrainian hackers has given Russians a taste of their own medicine by hacking into official sites in occupied Crimea and playing the Ukrainian national anthem over them.
  2. Ukrainians Like Americans Believe in Melting Pot; Russians Don’t. Ukrainians believe that their country is a melting pot of peoples just as Americans do, an attitude commentators say that sets the two apart from the Russians who can’t accept that idea.
  3. Karimov’s Daughter Tweets for Help Even as Her Father’s Grave Becomes Pilgrimage Site. The daughter of the late Uzbek president has turned to Twitter to seek help for herself now that she doesn’t enjoy his protection. Meanwhile, however, her father’s grave has already become a pilgrimage site for Uzbeks.
  4. Post-Soviet States Still Can’t Agree on Borders. Twenty-five years ago, far from all of the former Soviet republics have been able to reach agreement on the borders between them. Two pairs of countries – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Belarus and Ukraine – announced problems in that regard this week alone.
  5. Dushanbe Puts Video Monitors in Mosques. The Tajikistan government has installed video cameras in the country’s major mosques in order to follow what goes on there as part of its fight against extremism. Officials also want to require that imams use only Tajik and not Arabic in services, perhaps for the same reason.
  6. Lukashenka’s Economic Miracle: Belarus Exports Five Times as Many Apples to Russia as It Grows. Alyaksandr Lukashenka has achieved another Soviet-style economic miracle: his country exports to Russia five times as many apples as it grows. His secret? His firms are buying apples in the West and then re-exporting them to Russia to make money by end-running the sanctions regime.

Edited by: A. N.
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February 27: Russia has concentrated 63500 of its military near the border with Ukraine

February 27 – 3 Ukrainian military were killed and 7 injured in the ATO area in the last 24 hours, – informed NSDC spokesman Andriy Lysenko.

February 27 – Russia plans to seize those parts of Ukraine that are needed create a corridor to Crimea (attack on Mariupol is possible in the spring), – stated Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

February 27 – Organizers of Kharkiv terrorist attacks have received weapons and funding from the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces, – stated at a press conference on Friday the Chief of Security Service of Ukraine Valentyn Nalyvaichenko. He said that for the attack, the terrorists were given mines from the army main office in Belgorod. They also received 10 000 US dollars as a payment for Kharkiv terrorist attack.

February 27 – Russia has concentrated 63500 of its military near the border with Ukraine. According to "Information Resistance" group, most Russian soldiers are located in Crimea (30 thousand). Additionally, near Russia-Ukraine border in Chernihiv direction there are 3350 soldiers, Kharkiv direction – 5150 soldiers, Donetsk direction – 21800 soldiers. Another 3200 Russian soldiers are located in Transnistria.

February 27 – Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko who is illegally detained at the Russian prison, intends to go on a dry hunger strike, – said her lawyer Illya Novikov in a comment to "Dozhd" TV channel.

February 27 – On Friday, the militants have concentrated on shelling Donetsk area, – reports ATO press-centre.

February 27 – In case the situation in Donbas deteriorates, the UK could reconsider a decision to grant Ukraine lethal weapons, – said UK's Foreign Minister Philip Hammond. "At this point we decided not to provide Ukrainian army with lethal weapons, but we can review this decision", – said Hammond.

February 27 – First Deputy to NSDC Secretary Oleg Hladkovskyi has said that Ukraine is receiving lethal weapons from foreign countries. "Where there is no unnecessary hustle, which we, unfortunately, often create ourselves – these countries we do receive lethal weapons from", – he said.

February 27 – During the International Defence Exhibition & Conference IDEX-2015 in Abu Dhabi, Ukrainian delegation has signed a contract for the purchase of remotely piloted aircraft and radioelectronic warfare equipment with French company Thales Group.

February 27 – Security Services of Ukraine state that Vladyslav Surkov, an assistant to the President of RF is sending terrorist organizations "LNR" and "DNR" secret messages about their reaction to the actions of the official authorities in Kyiv. Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, Head of Ukraine's Security Services, stated this at a press conference on Friday by demonstrating a fragment of a circular dated February 2015. In this document, particularly, there is a statement that the decision to invite into Ukraine a peace-keeping contingent of UN is contradictory to the peace agreements. The circular is almost written in the same words as those later used by the leaders of the fighters in their comments on their media resources. Also, according to Nalyvaichenko, the Security Services of Ukraine are continuing to gather proof about the involvement of Surkov in directing the groups of the special staff of the Federation Security Services, who cooperated with the former directors of Security Services of Ukraine at the time of the events on Euromaidan.

February 26 – The situation in the ATO are has slightly stabilized, no attacks of our positions were recorded overnight, – said NSDC spokesman Andriy Lysenko.

February 26 – When speaking at US Congress Defense Committee meeting on February 25th, Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations Philip Breedlove has said that Russian troops are stationed in Transdniestria in order to "prevent Moldova getting closer to the West". Being stationed in Transdniestria they can hit Ukraine as easily as Moldova.

February 26 – National Joint Stock Company "Naftogaz of Ukraine" will take out a loan from the National Bank of China to the amount of 3.6 billion dollars.

February 26 – Russian "Gazprom" has agreed to discuss gas supply to the occupied areas of Donbas separately from overall Ukraine-Russia gas issues.

February 26 – Ukraine has begun the withdrawal of heavy weapons, – stated the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 100mm main guns are being withdrawn from the boundary line. 100-mm howitzers and anti-tank guns "Rapira" are being repositioned. They are being relocated 25 km from the lines identified by Minsk agreements.

February 26 – As a result of joint counter-terrorism activities implemented by the Security Service of Ukraine and the Interior Ministry of Ukraine, the criminals involved in the terrorist attack in Kharkiv on February 22th were detained. 4 people were killed in the attack, – informed NSDC Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov.

February 26 – In the last month Russia has relocated over a thousand units of military equipment, vehicles, tanks, artillery and air defense systems to Donbas, – stated NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

February 26 – Національний банк знизив офіційний курс гривні на 26 лютого до 30,01 гривні за долар.

National Bank of Ukraine lowered the official rate of hryvnia to 30.01 UAH per 1 US dollar for February 26th.

February 26 – During the lastfive months teachers on the territories controlled by "LNR" did not receive salaries or any social payments. ATO Spokesperson Andriy Lysenko announced this during a briefing. According to him the last time that teachers were paid for their work was for September 2014. "Since the majority of families of teachers remain without money, and the fighters continue to rob peaceful civilians, the educators gave an ultimatum to the leadership of "LNR". In case there is no payment of salaries, from March 9th, no school will remain open in Luhansk," he said.

February 26 – Ukraine has already filed with the European Court of Human Rights three law suits against the Russian Federation. The first one that Ukraine filed in the European Court of Human Rights against Russia was back in March 2014, during events which culminated in the annexation of Crimea.

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