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 84th 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 Gains a Competitor in Minds of Russians: The Relics of a Saint
Almost as a high a percentage of Russians say they would like to see the relics of a saint now on display in Moscow as say they support Vladimir Putin (echo.msk.ru/news/1988190-echo.html). But despite the closeness of this “competition,” polls suggest that the Russian people are quite ready for another term for Putin although some in the elite are now (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2017/05/19/1616558.html), and Putin’s own plans are less that clear especially since he stopped the setting up of unofficial re-election staffs in a number of regions this past week (infpol.ru/news/politics/127332-v-rossiyskikh-regionakh-svernuli-formirovanie-neofitsialnykh-shtabov-a/). Meanwhile, a Barnaul politician has proposed renaming that city after Putin so that it could become Putingrad or Putinburg (forum-msk.org/material/news/13235467.html), and officials in other regions the Kremlin leader is scheduled to visit have out-Potemkin Potemkin in trying to make a good impression on Putin (yugopolis.ru/news/k-priezdu-a-v-krasnodare-poyavilis-potemkinskie-derevni-103462, yug.svpressa.ru/politic/article/146796/ and yug.svpressa.ru/politic/article/146796/). Putin did receive praise from one perhaps unexpected place this week: the Beijing media. Chinese commentators said that Putin is truly impressive in his ability to maintain popular support given his economic failures at home (ng.ru/economics/2017-05-26/4_6996.html).
2. Putin Now Said Trying to Orchestrate Trump’s Impeachment
Those who thought the Kremlin leader was simply trying to recruit Donald Trump and have him do Moscow’s bidding while president of the US have not understood what Putin is about. He is interested first and foremost in destabilizing the US as well as other countries and is quite prepared to fish in troubled waters by supporting and then undermining one and the same individual (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=592468D3214E5 and newsland.com/community/4765/content/agent-kremlia-khillari-klinton/5837661).
3. Russian Economy Remains in Deep Trouble
Moscow experts say that the economic situation in Russia continues to deteriorate (mk.ru/omics/2017/05/25/eksperty-rossiyane-budut-stremitelno-bednet.html), and the World Bank has lowered its forecast for Russian growth (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5924306161FFE). Among the reasons for this pessimism are the following: wage arrears have increased by 30 percent since January 1 (https://newsland.com/community/4109/content/zadolzhennost-po-zarplate-s-nachala-goda-vyrosla-na-30/5843093), unemployment among young people is high and rising (iq.hse.ru/news/206096154.html), real disposable incomes among Russians have fallen by eight percent over the last year (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59230875A40B9), housing starts have declined (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59232674E00BB), and prospects for pensions are deteriorating (liberal.ru/articles/7165). But experts also say that Russians remain financially illiterate and thus may be prepared to accept certain claims like the one Dmitry Medvedev made this week that in two years Russian growth will lead the world (iq.hse.ru/news/205933107.html and svpressa.ru/omy/article/172772/).
4. More Bad News on the Social Front
In addition to Russia’s economic problems, it has mounting social ones. Among those noted this week in the Russian media are the following: rural Russia is deteriorating ever more rapidly because of what scholars say is an anti-natural negative social selection of its population (newsland.com/community/4765/content/protivoestestvennyi-otbor-kak-rossiian-uchat-tupet/5841503), Moscow’s plans for a new highway to St. Petersburg ignored ecological problems and environmentalists are now working to block the road (regnum.ru/news/society/2277518.html), ever more Russians are not getting the medicines they need (kommersant.ru/doc/3299816), Russian courts are beginning to address problems of Russian misbehavior on planes (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5922E8BCCE8DB), school officials in some Russian cities are segregating students by income, treating those from wealthier homes better than those from poorer ones (newsland.com/community/5652/content/v-shkolakh-novgoroda-deti-bogatykh-pitaiutsia-otdelno-ot-bednykh/5844606), 15,000 to 20,000 Russian children are vanishing each year (kp.ru/daily/26683.4/3706104/), and Russian officials now recognize that they don’t have enough machines to handle the harvest and so are losing 15 to 20 percent of what is grown (burckina-new.livejournal.com/637058.html). There was one bright spot this week: two Russian cities were allowed to keep the hot water flowing to residences over the summer and Moscow was allowed to keep it going for an extra ten days because of the abnormally cold weather. Normally, officials cut off the hot water in the summer months to save money (versia.ru/v-dvux-rossijskix-gorodax-yetim-letom-ne-budut-otklyuchat-goryachuyu-vodu).
5. Three Non-Russian Nations Fight to Save Their Languages
The Buryats have concluded that the only salvation for their language is to make it more like Mongol so they can take advantage of the existence of the neighboring independent country (asiarussia.ru/news/16382/). A group of Volga Tatars is calling on all members of that nation to have and raise at least three Tatar-speaking children (business-gazeta.ru/article/346366), and Circassians have concluded that the only salvation for their language, now that it is being pushed out of state schools, is to require that it be used in government offices (caucasustimes.com/ru/spasti-cherkesskij-jazyk-mozhet-deloproizvodstvo/). Other nationalities news this week included: reports that immigration officers at Moscow airports are mistreating anyone they think is a Muslim (onkavkaz.com/news/1704-shevchenko-kak-izdevayutsja-nad-rossiiskimi-musulmanami-v-moskovskih-aeroportah-kadyrova-na-nih.html?fromslider), an experts’ finding that oppression of journalists is worse in the North Caucasus than in any other part of Russia (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303163/), Russian blocking of Circassian, Chechen and Avar businessmen living in the Middle East from returning to or even investing in their homelands (onkavkaz.com/news/1693-cherkesam-chechencam-avarcam-blizhnego-vostoka-ne-vernutsja-na-istoricheskuyu-rodinu-dazhe-cher.html?fromslider), a call by Karelian officials to include their republic in the Arctic zone and thus make it eligible for special subsidies (regnum.ru/news/economy/2277342.html), a widely reported story that immigrant workers are responsible for 12 percent of the rapes in the Russian Federation (takiedela.ru/2017/05/takaya-rossiya-iznasilovaniy/), and the failure of an effort by athletes to rename their football club for Ingria (freeingria.org/2017/05/futbolnogo-kluba-ingriya-v-rfpl-ne-budet-vopreki-pozhelaniyam-bolelshhikov-ostayotsya-tosno/).
6. Politicizing Demonstrations Said Helping to Bring Out New Supporters
A major debate among Russian protesters is whether politicizing them by focusing on particular political figures helps or hurts, with ever more demonstrators arguing that it helps (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59208B7007918). Politicizing an issue may prompt the Kremlin to distance itself from an issue as it has with the khrushchoby in Moscow and thus give demonstrators greater chances to influence more junior officials (forum-msk.org/material/news/13252268.html). However that may be, officials are working hard to limit the size of demonstrations, banning young people from taking part (graniru.org/Politics/Russia/Parliament/Sovfed/m.261123.html and idelreal.org/a/28503046.html), linking protests with radicals or foreigners (newsland.com/community/4489/content/razoblachena-provokatsiia-banderovtsev-v-moskve/5838558), and putting out stories suggesting that few people support the demonstrators or their agendas (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5922E93D22740).
7. Moscow Patriarchate Wants More than Just What Used to Belong to It
There are growing suspicions about and anger toward what many see as a power grab by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox church which many think is trying to grab as much property as possible whether it ever belonged to the church in the past or not and allowing itself to be used by the authorities to impose tighter control on the population and on anyone, including deputies, who opposes the church (regnum.ru/news/society/2277258.html, rbc.ru/politics/25/05/2017/592680669a794784e699d24d?from=main, and regnum.ru/news/polit/2279440.html). Perhaps because of the growth of these suspicions, many are fighting the church and even having some success. Tomsk residents, for example, blocked plans for a new cathedral there (sobkorr.ru/news/591EF7205A209.html), and Yekaterinburg officials appear to be backing away from plans to build a cathedral on the water (politsovet.ru/55406-proekt-hrama-na-vode-razocharoval-veruyuschih.html and ura.news/news/1052290439).
8. Elsewhere on the monument front…
Communists pressed for erecting a memorial to Pavlik Morozov in Moscow (govoritmoskva.ru/news/120830/), residents put up a statue to the city’s namesakes in Borisoglebsk (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=78078), and one Lenin statue was defaced while another was taken down in regions far from Moscow (fedpress.ru/news/28/society/1791842 and forum-msk.org/material/news/13237885.html). Meanwhile, officials tried to muddy the water of 19th century Russian imperial expansion by erecting a monument in Cherkessk to all the victims of the wars that involved and not just those who were killed or expelled by the Russian army (nazaccent.ru/content/24130-v-cherkesske-otkryli-pamyatnik-zhertvam-kavkazskoj.html).
9. Moscow Approves Anti-Doping Plan
The Russian government has approved an anti-doping plan in hopes of regaining access to international athletic competitions and ensuring that it will retain the right to host the 2018 World Cup (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5924425867E96). The IOC welcomed this step but the WADA was skeptical saying that it wanted informers in place to ensure Russian compliance. That sparked a reaction from Vladimir Putin who suggested that any use of informers was inherently dangerous because it could spread to other areas of life (business-gazeta.ru/article/346708, kp.ru/daily/26681/3705431/ and regnum.ru/news/sport/2279534.html). One danger sign about Russian compliance: Since Moscow broke ranks with the international sports community and legalized the use of Meldonin, sales of that performance-enhancing drug there have gone up 250 percent (znak.com/2017-05-23/vedomosti_prodazhi_meldoniya_vyrosli_v_2_5_raza_posle_dopingovogo_skandala).
10. Russia’s Defense Build-Up Literally Hollow
In all the hullaballoo about the launch of a new atomic-powered Russian warship, few noticed that the ship did not contain any power plant or other machinery to allow it to function (versia.ru/pochti-vse-dostizheniya-goskorporacii-za-poslednie-10-let-mozhno-nazvat-butaforskimi). That is just one of the ways in which the budget crunch is hitting the Russian defense system. Others include: the CIS missile defense shield will cost Russia more money that it may have (ng.ru/politics/2017-05-26/2_6996_zontic.html), budget cuts already mean that Russia will test fewer missiles in the coming years (versia.ru/roskosmosu-stoit-poprobovat-xotya-by-chastichno-zhit-na-svoi), Moscow has conceded that it won’t get a helicopter carrier for five years (regnum.ru/news/polit/2279935.html), and experts are questioning whether such ships make sense given that Russia can’t afford to support a real aircraft carrier (forum-msk.org/material/news/13250324.html and ng.ru/armies/2017-05-25/100_kuzprichal.html). But there is an even more serious problem for Russia’s defense system: Vladimir Putin continues to privatize defense plants and many of their new owners value strip them, leaving Russia without key factories (regnum.ru/news/polit/2279848.html).
11. Russia’s Siloviki Retirees are Not Happy
The first rule of an autocracy is to make sure that the military and police are content with their lot. The second rule is that those who work for the force structures need to be able to count on a good retirement. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is violating at least the second because siloviki retirees are now complaining ever more often about the size of their pensions and the way they are treated after ending their careers (forum-msk.org/material/news/13231332.html). Two other stories also highlight some problems for Moscow as far as domestic security is concerned: Dmitry Rogozin says that the Russian Guard must be “armed to the teeth” in order to do its work” (newsland.com/community/129/content/rogozin-zaiavil-chto-rosgvardiia-dolzhna-byt-vooruzhena-do-zubov/5844574), and some analysts are making the argument that promoting demographic growth would do more for Russia’s national security than any number of new Iskander missiles (newsland.com/community/8/content/trista-millionov-russkikh-gorazdo-nadezhnee-iskanderov/5842171).
12. Russians Ask: Is Antarctica Now ‘Ours’?
Now that Russian explorers in Antarctica have erected a Russian Orthodox church, some Russians are asking whether this shows that “Antarctica is ours as well” (newsland.com/community/7451/content/antarktika-i-nasha-tozhe/5838317).
13. Would Jesus have Accepted a Land Cruiser? Russian Bishop Says ‘Yes’
A Russian Orthodox bishop has responded to criticism of the lavish lifestyles that he and other church hierarchs maintain by arguing that Jesus Christ would have been more than happy to accept a Land Cruiser if one had been offered to him (themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-bishop-says-jesus-christ-would-have-accepted-this-land-cruiser-too-58068).
14. Moscow’s First Channel Launches Biopic Series on Stalinist ‘Heroes’ like Beria
To the horror of those who know about the crimes of the Stalin era but apparently to the delight of the current rulers in the Kremlin who are basing their own legitimacy on Stalin’s manner of rule, Moscow’s First Channel is airing a series of programs celebrating the second-tier of the Stalinist totalitarian machine, including one dedicated to “Dear Comrade Beria,” the notorious head of the secret police (newsland.com/community/5652/content/dorogoi-tovarishch-beriia-zachem-pervyi-kanal-slavit-stalinskikh-palachei/5844069). Such programming helps to explain why Russians are increasingly positive about Stalin and tolerant of the use of torture (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2017/05/23/690964-rossiyane-otnositsya-repressiyam and politsovet.ru/55371-chetvert-rossiyan-opravdyvaet-stalinskie-repressii.html).
15. Moscow Renovation Fight about More than Moscow
If officials go forward with their plan to demolish and partially replace the five-storey khrushchoby apartment blocks, they won’t have any money left for roads or housing or other things elsewhere in Russia (newizv.ru/comment/boris-kagarlitskiy/22-05-2017/ili-moskva-ili-rossiya-tretiego-ne-dano). Nonetheless, the Just Russia Party is calling for the wholesale demolition of antiquated housing (znak.com/2017-05-24/spravedlivaya_rossiya_podgotovila_zakonoproekt_o_snose_pyatietazhek_po_vsey_rossii). That would lead to massive disappointment but also to situations like one reported in Kaluga this week where officials are pushing people out of their old apartments before any new ones are completed (regnum.ru/news/economy/2277535.html).
16. In Russia, Nearly Everyone Charged is Found Guilty but Few are Really Punished
The Russian legal system finds almost everyone it charges guilty, but in order to avoid having to pay for places of incarceration, many who are found guilty are not subject to serious punishments (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/05/24/72544-lyuboe-nashe-povsednevnoe-deystvie-mozhno-kvalifitsirovat-kak-prestuplenie). One group that is punished in a special way are those siloviki who have violated the rules of their organizations: When they are incarcerated – which doesn’t happen often — they are housed in institutions separate from the rest of the prison population (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/05/25/72569-ya-realno-rab-u-fsina).
17. Kremlin Gave Silent Approval to Repression of Gays in Chechnya, HRW Says
Human Rights Watch says that the Kremlin gave its silent backing to the repression and torture of gays in Chechnya (kavkazr.com/a/ohota-na-geev-s-odobreniya-vlastey/28508660.html and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303291/). In addition, there are reports that the Chechen parliament speaker was present at the torture sessions, thus further implicating Ramzan Kadyrov and his regime (polit.ru/news/2017/05/26/daydov_gays/).
18. Want to Know Which Russians are Posting Extremist Things on the Internet? A List is for Sale
An enterprising group has assembled a list of 100,000 people who have posted what it says are “extremist” articles and clips on the Internet and offered it for sale to all comers (izvestia.ru/news/715565).
19. Chechen Resistance Lost More Fighters Last Year but Gained More and Younger Recruits
A study by the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency says that the anti-Moscow Chechen insurgency suffered more combat losses in 2016 than in the year before but gained more and more youthful fighters to replace them, an indication that claims by Moscow and Grozny of victories are overstated (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303268).
20. Russian Deaths from HIV/AIDS Now Form Almost Half of All Deaths There from Infectious Diseases
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia is growing and spreading, the result of the government’s failure to provide the necessary medications to fight it. As a result, a far higher percentage of people who contract HIV die of the disease than in other countries, and deaths from it now form nearly half of all deaths from infectious diseases there (iq.hse.ru/news/206170088.html).
21. Patriotism Important for Only Four Percent of Russian Young People
Despite Vladimir Putin’s efforts to elevate patriotism to the center of national identity, only one young Russian in 25 accepts that view, according to a new poll (politsovet.ru/55378-patriotizm-okazalsya-znachimym-dlya-4-rossiyskoy-molodezhi.html).
22. Seventy Percent of Russian School Children Can’t Define Corruption
Despite the ubiquity of corruption in Russian, Moscow officials say, 70 percent of pupils are incapable of defining just what it is (novayagazeta.ru/news/2017/05/26/131907-vasilieva-70-molodezhi-ne-smogli-dat-opredelenie-ponyatiyu-korruptsiya). In other corruption news, the children of Ramzan Kadyrov took home more in income than the Chechen president last year (versia.ru/nesovershennoletnie-deti-glavy-chechni-ramzana-kadyrova-v-2016-godu-zarabotali-na-8-millionov-bolshe-chem-otec). And yet another anti-corruption crusading journalist was murdered in Russia (themoscowtimes.com/news/anti-corruption-journalist-murdered-in-russia-58082).
23. ISIS Said Behind Russian Suicide Groups
Internet communities promoting suicide pacts are being used by ISIS as recruiting tools, according to one new study, a conclusion that explains why the Russian Duma has approved a new law prohibiting the promotion of suicide on the web (svpressa.ru/society/article/172940/).
24. Is Russian Going to Shift to the Latin Script via the Backdoor?
Linguists in Russia say that Russians need to learn the Latin script for their language as well as Cyrillic because of the increasing importance of the Internet which still is primarily a Latin-script location. They say that there is no possibility that Moscow will drop Cyrillic anytime soon but repeat arguments made 90 years ago about why that would be a positive step toward the integration of Russia into the West (lenta.ru/articles/2017/05/23/latin/).
25. Sometimes Good Sense Triumphs…
Russian officials sometimes display good sense: After an Orthodox activist sought charges against an artist who had erected a kulich and eggs statue in a city square, judicial authorities decided that there was no basis to bring a charge of extremism against the creator of the statue (sova-center.ru/religion/news/harassment/harassment-protection/2017/05/d37154/).
26. … And Sometimes It Doesn’t
More often, it seems in Russia at least, good sense is pushed out by bad. Russian bloggers have come out against the demolition in the US of statues of Confederate heroes, arguing that such actions go against the positive grain reflected in Russia where statues to Lenin and to those who tried to overthrow his Bolshevik regime coexist side by side (forum-msk.org/material/news/13240086.html).
And 10 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Belarus is ‘Condemned’ to Be With Russia, Minsk Experts Say
However much Belarus would like to pursue a European course, Minsk foreign policy experts say, its geographic location and Moscow’s strategic concerns mean that it is “condemned” to be with Russia rather than against it (rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/26052017-obrechennye-byt-s-rossiey/).
2. Moscow Seeks Permanent Military Repair Facilities in Belarus
In the lead up to this summer’s Zapad 2017 exercise, Russian military officials have said that they want to open on Belarusian territory permanent repair facilities for military equipment, a halfway house toward the possible opening of a base or bases there (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/5/21/250568/).
3. More than 30,000 Ethnic Ukrainians in Russia and Russian-Occupied Crimea Now in Jail
Some 30,000 ethnic Ukrainians are now in Russian jails often after having been convicted on the basis of invented charges, Kyiv officials say (dsnews.ua/politics/v-tyurmah-rossii-i-kryma-po-lipovym-delam-nahodyatsya-bolee-21052017102500).
4. Ukrainian Citizens Form Nearly a Quarter of All Gastarbeiters in Russia
Despite the Russian invasion, citizens of Ukraine represent almost 25 percent of all foreign migrant laborers now working in the Russian economy, easily outnumbering Uzbeks and others (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5927E9792CE79).
5. Surface Area of Aral Sea has Declined by 97 Percent Since 1960
The Aral Sea has almost completely disappeared because of upstream use of the water that had fed it, but now officials in the region are promoting extreme tourism on the ancient seabed that has become dry land (gazeta.uz/ru/2017/05/25/aral/).
6. Some Kyrgyz Call for Killing Sarts, Ancient Name for Uzbeks
Prior to the Bolshevik revolution, the population of Central Asia was divided primarily between longtime sedentaries who were known as “sarts” and nomads. The Uzbeks were the most prominent of the former and the Kyrgyz, then known as the Karakyrgyz, were among the latter. That old division or at least nomenklature as resurfaced in recent months with some Kyrgyz nationalists calling for the killing of Sarts living in Kyrgyz lands (fergananews.com/articles/9421).
7. Ukraine Requires 75 Percent of TV Programming to Be in Ukrainian
As part of its effort to limit the influence of Russian and Russia, the invader nation, the Verkhovna Rada has voted to require that Ukrainian television channels carry 75 percent of their programs in Ukrainian (nr2.lt/News/Ukraine_and_Europe/V-Ukraine-prinyat-zakon-po-yazykovomu-kvotirovaniyu-telekanalov-i-radiostanciy–125483.html).
8. Kyiv Seeks EU Help to Shift from Russian to International Railroad Track Size
The Ukrainian government has asked the European Union to provide it with assistance to change from the wider Russian gauge rail track to the narrower European or International one as part of Kyiv’s effort to detach itself from Russia. Doing so would be enormously expensive, but it would break Ukraine away from Russia more definitively than many other things Moscow usually complains about (newsland.com/community/5512/content/dekommunizatsiia-zheleznoi-dorogi-ukraine-tolko-navredit/5842463).
9. Pope Francis Smiles On Ukrainian Soldiers
After his meeting with Donald Trump in which the Holy Father demonstratively did not smile, Pope Francis was beaming when he met with members of the Ukrainian military who had been on the front lines opposing the Russian invasion of their country (politobzor.net/133062-indulgenciya-na-ubiystvo-v-donbasse-papa-rimskiy-blagoslovil-vsushnikov.html, unn.com.ua/uk/news/1666520-papa-rimskiy-zustrivsya-u-vatikani-iz-ukrayinskimi-biytsyami-ato and http://www.unn.com.ua/uk/news/1666520-papa-rimskiy-zustrivsya-u-vatikani-iz-ukrayinskimi-biytsyami-ato).
10. Estonia Expels Two Russians from Moscow’s Consulate in Narva
Tallinn has expelled two Russian consular officials from the predominantly ethnic Russian city of Narva in Estonia’s northeast, possibly because they were engaged in actions incompatible with the rules governing diplomatic behavior (rus.delfi.ee/daily/virumaa/mid-er-podtverdil-rossijskomu-genkonsulu-i-konsulu-v-narve-vruchili-notu-oni-pokinut-estoniyu?id=78354430).
- “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
- ‘Kremlin’s greatest worry: will the siloviki shoot at the people?’ and other neglected Russian stories