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‘Putin now a sex symbol only for pensioners’ and other neglected Russian stories

‘Putin now a sex symbol only for pensioners’ 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 each week presents a selection of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 95th 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 Now a Sex Symbol Only for Pensioners, Commentator Says

Igor Eidman says that Vladimir Putin may show his chest as often as he likes but with age, he is becoming a sex symbol only for Russian pensioners, his political base (

Meanwhile, Russian bloggers and participants on social networks are laughing at the Kremlin leader’s latest expedition, this time to catch a fish (, and some are now asking a question that would have been unthinkable in the past: do you really care about Putin’s personal life? (

One group that has to continue to care are Russian politicians and officials: Duma members have been given a book on Putin’s life, one that eerily recalls Brezhnev’s Little Motherland of 40 years ago ( Some suggest that this is all about creating “Putinism with a human face” in advance of the elections ( But the deification of Putin has a downside for him. As one Buryat communist put it, if Putin is responsible for everything, then he is guilty of everything that has gone wrong (

Other members of Russian elites are becoming increasingly critical of the Kremlin leader, with businesses blaming him for the new sanctions and the Party of Growth suggesting he shouldn’t run for another term ( and

But others are more sanguine about what Putin is capable of. Some are saying openly that he would be quite prepared to launch another Great Terror if he feels threatened (

2. Putin Urged to Thank Trump for Sanctions

Donald Trump’s expression of gratitude for expelling US diplomats and thus saving Washington money provides a model for Vladimir Putin: he should thank the Americans for sanctions because they have allowed the Kremlin leader to cut so many things in the Russian budget ( But this week, Russians focused on two things about Trmp, other than the North Korean crisis of course.

They were delighted that Trump will now be using airplanes that originally had been intended for sale to Russia (, nervous that 90 percent of Americans, but not the US president, say Russia is a threat to the West (, and amused that Congresswoman Maxine Walters called for the impeachment of Putin, confusing him with US vice president Mike Pence (

3. Navalny Estimates His Chances at Being Assassinated at 50-50

Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny says that he estimates his chances of being assassinated sometime in the coming months as about 50-50, a frightening indication of just how widespread political murders in Russia have become under Putin (

4. Putin Running Out of Money to Keep Oligarchs Happy

Vladimir Putin’s system is build on corruption but there is less and less money to spread about; and some commentators are suggesting that even if he appears strong, he is losing control over key sectors where he can no longer buy people’s support (,, and

One indication of this is that various parts of what had been the loyal nomenklatura are not only fighting among themselves but increasingly critical of the Kremlin’s personnel decisions (, and

5. Nearly a Third of Russians Say There’s No Need for a Duma

A measure of the de-institutionalization of Russian political life under Putin is that 30 percent of Russians now say that there is no reason to have a Duma (

6. Two-Thirds of Russians think Crisis Will Be Worse Next Year – and the Numbers Support Them

Despite Kremlin hype about a small, debt-fueled uptick in economic activity in the last quarter, two out of every three Russians think the crisis is not only continuing but will get worse next year ( Among the developments that justify such conclusions:

  • Moody’s says that capital flight will continue accelerate (,
  • there is no market for housing even after significant price cuts by sellers (,
  • more than half of Russia’s pensioners don’t have enough money to eat or purchase clothing (,
  • corruption continues at enormously high levels and has cost Russia more than two billion US dollars over the last two years ( corruption cost Russia 130 billion rubles (2 billion usd) over the last two years (,
  • Russians now say that their country is a paradise only for millionaires but a horror for everyone else (,
  • every fourth Russian is working or trying to find a second job to make ends meet ( and,
  • and even the richest Russian companies are bleeding resources at unprecedented rates (

7. Russians have Few Good Vacation Options This Year

This is vacation season, but Russians have fewer vacation options than ever before. Many can’t go at all or are forced to take work with them (, others are finding it cheaper to go to Türkiye than to Crimea but are getting sick in the former (, and many are facing ecological disasters in the Caucasus if they choose to go there as many are now compelled to do ( and But wherever they go, they are cutting back on souvenirs and other purchases (

Some of the other social problems getting attention this week:

  • Russia’s educational system is collapsing with the country seen becoming “a nation of poorly educated fools” (,,
  • the quality and selection of foods in Russian markets are declining (,
  • city life is becoming so unpleasant that some Russians are now contemplating fleeing to the countryside (,
  • and officials, faced with roads that don’t meet standards are now promising only to fix a small percentage of them because of budget shortages (

8. 50 Percent of Russian Couples Now Say They Want No Children or Only One

Russia is now being affected by the same demographic trend that is hitting other modern societies. Ever fewer couples want children or more than one, guaranteeing that Russia’s population will continue to decline for as long into the future as one can see ( and /

Pro-natalist policies are doing little to change that, despite much hype from the Kremlin (, and experts argue that the only thing that could change this trend is to address underlying poverty in a serious way, something the regime lacks the money and stomach to do (

Meanwhile, many Russians are suffering from Putin’s health optimization program: HIV victims in the Urals can’t get the medicines they need to survive (, and the medical system in rural areas continues on the road ot complete collapse, meaning that death rates there will only increase (

9. Udmurt Head Says Officials Must Know … English

In the wake of Putin’s push for Russian and against non-Russian language instruction, regional leaders are staking out a variety of positions. The head of the Udmurt republic says that officials there need to learn English (, the head of Bashkortostan says Bashkir should become an elective rather than a required subject (, and Tatarstan has announced that even students in Russian language schools will be tested for their knowledge of Tatar (

Other news from the nationalities front:

  • Some activists argue that indigenous peoples must be paid rent by the state for natural resources taken from their lands (,
  • the Altay peoples are protesting against the development of gold mining in their republic (,
  • Moscow city officials are refusing to allow children of some immigrants to attend school (,
  • the Selkup nation is now down to six real speakers (,
  • Moscow has cut financing for Daghestani auls and for Russia’s Father Frost celebrations ( and,
  • and street crime is now reportedly lower in the North Caucasus than in any other part of Russia (

10. Moscow Now Trying to Have Bible Declared Extremist

Even though Russian law says that the holy books of Russia’s traditional religions can’t be found extremist, Russian prosecutors are seeking to have a Bible translation prepared by the Jehovah’s Witnesses banned on that basis. Their reasoning? The Jehovah’s Witness Bible doesn’t call itself the Bible on the cover and therefore isn’t protected by Russian law (

More news from the religious sector this week included:

  • the arrest of an Orthodox priest for involvement with prostitution ( and,
  • a proposal by the Moscow Patriarchate to canonize Anatoly Sobchak even though his former deputy, Vladimir Putin, didn’t come to the erection of his memorial ( and,
  • a report by Yandex that the most common search among Russians on subways in the mornings is for prayers (,
  • and the completion of an Armenian church in Vladimir that had been under construction for a decade (

11. Mathilda Sparks ‘Soft Parade of Sovereignties’ in Russia

Conflict over the soon to be released film on the last tsar has sparked what one commentator calls “a soft parade of sovereignties” with various regional and republic leaders staking out positions often at odds with Moscow’s official approval (,,,, and

Opponents of the film are even suggesting that the film will undermine Kremlin power in the North Caucasus (

12. Will Burger King Get Bridge Naming Rights in Tyumen?

Because there is a Burger King restaurant at each end of a bridge in Tyumen, the corporation is seeking to have the bridge renamed after itself (

Other clashes in the monuments wars were less amusing:

  • In Novosibirsk, Stalinists have gone to court to try to have the statue of Nicholas II there torn down (
  • In another city, someone chopped off the head of a Lenin statue (
  • In the Urals, activists are pressing ahead with plans to create a memorial to the Russian Imperial Army (
  • Meanwhile, in Moscow, construction is beginning on a wall in memory of the victims of Stalin’s GULAG (

13. Confessions Get Convictions, But Some Beginning to Talk about Being Beaten to Give Them

As in Stalin’s times, confessions or denunciations are now considered the gold standard in getting convictions, something Russian courts now manage in 99.64 percent of all cases ( and ). But some who have been tortured to provide confessions are now talking about that in court ( Most convicts, however, have few good choices if they are beaten. In a Bryansk prison, inmates say they can either go on hunger strike or commit suicide in response (

The Russian government is becoming more repressive albeit sometimes in absurd ways:

  • Pioneers meeting in Chuvashia were detained for supposedly taking part in unsanctioned meetings (,
  • Moscow wants to fine people who distribute foreign newspapers and magazines ( and,
  • those who call for referenda, a constitutional right, are being convicted and sent to the camps (,
  • in the name of protecting public morality, a school director has banned trousers for female students (,
  • and a court has ordered the editing of Navalny’s anti-corruption film (

But there were at least two positive developments in this area:

  • a Krasnodar court punished police for failing to defend a Navalny office from attack by Putin loyalists (,
  • and a Russian court for the first time began a case against a holocaust denier (

14. Push for Right to Bear Arms Running into Resistance

One measure of the strength of efforts to allow Russians to carry firearms, including pistols, is that the Russian Orthodox Church has now weighed in against the idea ( It says that such a law would virtually give Russians the right to murder one another.

Other measures in this area of domestic security this week included:

  • an increase in complaints that Moscow is wasting money abroad, including on the Crimean bridge, rather than helping Russians at home (, and,
  • an argument that Russian fighters in the Donbas are now better than ISIS radicals (7×,
  • and the spread of militarized youth groups like the Youth Army ( and

Russian officials have also moved to take cell phones away from draftees so that they can’t report on abuse against them (

15. Russia Takes More than Twice as Long to Build a Warship as US Does

Vladimir Putin’s much-ballyhooed naval build up won’t happen as fast as he and others suggest, according to Moscow experts who point out that Russian shipyards take on average more than twice as many years – over six – than do American yards to build a ship ( A major reason is massive corruption (

Three other foreign security developments this week worthy of note:

  • Moscow blocked and then unblocked the Kerch strait demonstrating that it can do that at will ( and,
  • pro-Moscow forces in the Donbas see the return of refugees as a source of new fighters for them (,
  • and Moscow has ramped up meetings of union state institutions with Belarus (

16. Russian Team isn’t Ready for World Cup but Aeroflot Very Much Is

FIFA released its latest rankings of soccer teams. Russia’s remains mired way down the list at 62, sparking discussion that it won’t be ready for next year’s World Cup (, but Russia’s national airline Aeroflot is: it has already boosted fares to World Cup cities (

However, problems remain at many Russian venues including a major fire at one in Taganrog (

Other sports news affecting the Russian hosting of the competition:

  • Moscow expands the list of banned drugs to try to get on FIFA’s good side (,
  • a new film in the West highlights how Putin’s people stole the Sochi Games (,
  • a Russian Olympic medalist becomes an American citizen (,
  • and Moscow propagandists say that American athletes are the worst drug abusers of all (

17. Putin has Done Nothing for Siberia, People There Say

Siberians say that Vladimir Putin despite all his talk has done nothing for them ( Instead, he has made promises of making Vladivostok an open port but hasn’t done it ( and has sold off their patrimony to China ( and

One analyst suggests that the key to Stalin’s resurgent popularity in Russia is that the Soviet dictator replaced Lenin’s communist ideology with naked imperialistic ideas (

19. Russians Said Even More Easy to Deceive than Americans Are

A commentator has suggested that Russians are far more easy to deceive than even Americans are, one of the reasons that they are often led in the wrong direction by their leaders (

20. Chinese Near Russian Border Now Singing Russian Songs in Chinese

There are few things that frighten Russians more than the possibility of Chinese moves into Siberia and the Russian Far East. This week a report appeared certain to scare even more of them: Chinese living near the Russian border are now singing Russian songs but only after changing the lyrics into Chinese (

21. Yekaterinburg Fears It May Lose US Consulate General

Many people in Yekaterinburg and the Urals region fear that they will lose the US consulate general there. Not only will that make it more difficult and costly to get a US visa, but this diplomatic spat will deprive them of an important symbol of their importance relative to Moscow (

22. Lavrov Invokes Protection of Russian ‘Genetic Code’ as Reason for Moscow’s Intervention in Ukraine

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says that Moscow had no choice but to come to the aid of ethnic Russians in Ukraine because it had to defend “the genetic code” of the Russian nation, language long connected with the furthest of the far right among Russian nationalists (

23. ‘Russia Too Backward to Be of Interest to China’

Some in the Russian Far East are now saying that their country is “too backward” to be of much interest to China except as a supplier of raw materials (

24. New Musical Comedy Film on ‘The Death of Stalin’ Released in Britain

In what must be the most outrageous political film since The Producers included a play entitled “Springtime for Hitler,” a British director has produced a musical comedy called The Death of Stalin (

25. US Said to Regret Not Having Divided Up Russia While Yeltsin Was President

Russian commentators have reacted to the release of new US government documents about American policy toward the Russian Federation argue that they show that the US today regrets that it didn’t divide up the Russian Federation when Boris Yeltsin was president and the country was much weaker than today (

26. Cossacks Want to Reclaim Darth Vader as One of Their Own

In the latest example of they know not what they are doing, a group of Cossacks in Russia wants the Darth Vader figure to be declared a Cossack. In fact, that character has Cossack roots: the US costume designers, the Mollos, who came up with his outfit were children of a Russian émigré who collected nineteenth century military uniforms and drew heavily on that background in designing the Darth Vader figure ( and


And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1. Some Ukrainians Want to Declare Stalin a National Hero

Because Stalin added so much territory to their country, some Ukrainians want to declare him a national hero (, but most see him as the murderer of their nation, as documented in 110 books that simply list all the names of Ukrainians whom Stalin killed (

2. Moscow Commentator Urges Russia to Recognize Donbas if US Provides Weapons to Ukraine

A Russian writer has suggested that any US move to provide Kyiv with offensive weapons should be met by Moscow’s recognition of the independence of the Donbas (

3. Russian Orthodox Priest Wants Nudist Beach Established in Occupied Crimea

In another and somewhat unusual Russian use of occupied Crimea, a Russian Orthodox priest there has called for establishing a nudist beach on the Ukrainian peninsula ( In Russia itself, nudists have had a much harder time of it, organizing autonomously but failing to gain official recognition or support (, and

4. Has Lukashenka Run Out of Money to Pay the KGB?

Minsk is cutting the budget of the country’s security police, who are still known as the KGB, and closing its offices in many regions. On the one hand, this may simply reflect budgetary stringencies; but on the other, it will make it more difficult for Alyaksandr Lukashenka to control the country or oppose Russian moves against it (

5. Eight to Ten Percent of Belarusians Now Seeking Work Abroad

As many as one in ten Belarusians either is working abroad or wants to do so, according to a new survey by the Minsk Institute of Sociology (

6. Journalist Can’t Find Any Belarusian Who Favors Restoration of USSR

A Belarusian journalist has looked but failed to find anyone in his country who wants to see the Soviet Union return ( Marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of the first book in Belarusian, yet another indication that the Belarusian language is far older than Moscow is willing to admit (

7. Armenians Press to Change Soviet-Era Names of Streets and Schools

An increasing number of Armenians, angry at Russia for what they say its heavy-handed approach to Yerevan, want to drop Soviet names for streets and schools there and replace them with national Armenian ones (

8. Armenian Lobby Still More Powerful than Azerbaijani One

The Armenian lobby in Western countries is still vastly more powerful than the Azerbaijani one despite having less money to spend. According to some observers, its power is exceeded only by the Jewish lobby (

9. Busts of Stalin Appear in Abkhazia and a Putin Park May Soon Follow

Small busts of Stalin are now for sale in Abkhaz stores (, and there is talk that the local Lenin Park will be renamed for Vladimir Putin (

10. Chinese Navy Makes First Fleet Visit to Latvia

In a move highlighting its new global reach and one sure to unsettle many in Moscow, the Chinese navy has made its first ever fleet visit to the Latvian capital of Riga (

11. Average Age in Uzbekistan Now 28, Up from 23 in 1991

Slowing population growth in Central Asia’s most populous country has boosted the average age there from 23 in 1991 to 28 now, an increase that reduces population pressures on the government and society and makes stability more likely ( and

12. Explosive Growth in Islam, Radicalism in Kyrgyzstan

There has been a veritable explosion in the number of mosques in Kyrgyzstan, especially in the southern portions of the country (, and observers suggest that Bishkek is now powerless to stop the expansion of radical Islamist groups like the Wahhabis (

13. Kazakhstan Attracts Attention for Taking Down Airline Ad Featuring Nude Stewardesses

One of the problems many of the countries in Eurasia face is that they attract far more attention for stories with a visual feature than for more substantive moves. Last week, Kazakhstan was one of them: it attracted international attention for suppressing an advertisement for its national airline showing obviously nude stewardesses (, but it received little notice for a far more important move: it adopted one of the toughest anti-doping standards in the post-Soviet space (

Edited by: A. N.
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