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‘Kim Jong Un guarded by former KGB officers’ and other neglected Russian stories

Kim Jong Un, the "Supreme Leader" of North Korea, supervises the April 22 test-launch of a missile from a submerged platform. (Image source: KCNA)
Kim Jong Un, the “Supreme Leader” of North Korea, supervises the April 22 test-launch of a missile from a submerged platform. (Image source: KCNA)
‘Kim Jong Un guarded by former KGB officers’ 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 98th 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. Will ‘a Woman, a Monkey or a Horse’ Run Against Putin Next Year?

No one thinks that any opponent could defeat Vladimir Putin in next year’s presidential race, but the Kremlin leader and his regime are concerned about boosting participation which threatens to be quite low given that everyone knows what they outcome will be. Among the strategies being discussed, Moscow observers say, is running “a woman, a monkey and a horse” against him to add interest ( and

While Putin’s poll numbers remain high inside Russia where saying one doesn’t support him could lead to problems, Russians abroad are increasingly turning away from him ( and, in part because fact-checking shows he often doesn’t get things right (7×, in part because of increasing repression (–na-mirovoi-arene-nikolai-zubkov-arestovan-sudom-za-prizyvy-k-ekstremizmu/5978036), and in part because of ever more evidence of a hyperbolic personality cult (

Meanwhile, for the second year in a row, Putin won’t attend the UN General Assembly meeting in New York (

At home, he faces problems protecting his daughter and the daughter of his press secretary from legal harassment ( and That has sparked suggestions that Putin’s circle is narrowing or even that the US is trying to set Russian big businessmen against him ( and But if the latter is the case, Washington appears to have failed. According to the Bloomberg news agency, Russia’s billionaires have seen their wealth grow by 17 billion US dollars since the start of this year (

2. Moscow Calls US Visa Slowdown Act of Genocide

The Russian foreign ministry in its increasingly hyperbolic way accused the US of “genocide” against Russians by its announcement that Russians would face longer wait times to get American visas, an implicit recognition of just how desperate some Russians are to get to the US for medical treatment or other reasons ( Moscow said it wouldn’t respond immediately to this mistaken American action, but in fact, it has, increasing its Internet-based attacks on the US since the Charlottesville demonstrations ( and

Some Russians are upset that they are losing jobs following the Moscow-mandated reduction in US personnel in Russia (, but others are so enthusiastic about the break that they want Moscow to close all US consulates in Russia, including the one in Vladivostok (

And Russia got a black eye when the US closed the Russian consulate in San Francisco, a major espionage center directed at Silicon Valley, when some of its employees asked for political asylum in the US rather than being required to return to their homeland (

3. Is the Russian Revolution of 1991 ‘Devouring Its Own’ or Keeping the State a Terrorist Organization?

Russian commentaries this week continued their tradition of trying to fit the current Putin regime into earlier Russian models. One pro-communist one suggested that “the criminal feudal revolution of 1991-1993” was now “devouring its own children ( Another liberal one argued that Putin’s regime is one in which the powers that be are little more than a terrorist organization (

Meanwhile, more than half of ordinary Russians say they aren’t interested in Russian politics at all (, with a third saying that it would have been better if Russia had never given up the monarchy ( and

Two new analyses suggest that Russians still have trouble coping with democracy, viewing elections as referenda and therefore requiring huge majorities rather than 50 percent plus one as in other countries ( and

Finally, a St. Petersburg historian has called for limited lustration. He says that those who have served in the KGB or FSB should lose their rights to hold political office (

4. Is Toilet Paper Again Going to Become a Deficit Good in Russia Today?

Shortages are spreading in many regions of Russia, leading some to speculate that toilet paper, in infamously short supply in Soviet times, may soon disappear from the shelves of Russian stores ( Perfumes and cosmetics are among the things that have already disappeared (

As ever more Russians face difficulties finding work, Moscow says that the decline in the share of the population at work is a good thing for Russia (

Russians are cutting back on foreign travel and spending less on their children for school supplies ( and

One intriguing development is that the record grain harvest may lead to record deflation in August (

Other economic news this week includes:

5. Even Well-Off Russians Don’t See a Future in Russia for Themselves and Their Children

Even those Russians who are middle class or better don’t think that they or their children can expect to have a bright future if they remain in Russia (news/articles/1036271970). In the minds of many, “nothing good” happens in Russia (

Moreover, ever more Russians are taking note of the fact that many Russians who were born in the USSR have done far better even spectacularly so after emigrating to the West (

6. 26,300 Russian Schools have Been Closed Since Putin Came to Power

The Russian Federation largely maintained the number of schools that had existed in the RSFSR until Vladimir Putin took office when they began to close, especially in rural areas, in massive numbers ( and ru/articles/113220/). In some places, rural schools no longer provide free bus rides for pupils (, and some feel that the only thing children will be taught now is that “Crimea is Ours” ( and that Pavlik Morozov, who denounced his father to the Soviet authorities, is a model for how children should behave (

As a result, Russians are now homeschooling some 100,000 children, a dramatic increase from almost none in 1991 ( The situation may soon get worse. Some in the defense ministry want to link every school to a military unit (

7. Russians, Raised with Soviet Homogeneity, Find Diversity Daunting

Given the gray monotony of Soviet life when everyone was encouraged to be like everyone else, many Russians find the diversity that has emerged since 1991 a challenge, and this is a major reason they often express distaste at those who are different (ru/questions/38072/pochemu-sredi-naseleniya-sovremennoi-rossii-tak-plokho-razvita-lyubogo-vida-tolerantnost).

Often, because whole Russian families move to cities, their traditional way of life clashes with the new urban realities ( and And Moscow’s plans to subsidize domestic travel may spark reactions as Russians discover just how diverse their country now is (

8. ‘90 Percent of Russians Live in Stress; the Remainder Live Abroad’

That is a line that has been circulating on Russian and Western social media (

The deteriorating economic situation is leading to more divorces and fewer marriages and that in turn is pushing down the birthrate in many places ( and, putting more burdens on the declining number of working-age Russians (

Russians have been warned that the death rate is likely to increase this winter as a result of a flu epidemic (, and Russians with CML leukemia are dying who don’t have to because they cannot obtain the new miracle drugs available in the West (

And STDs are spreading because Russians do not want to have contacts with doctors to get contraceptive advice and techniques (

9. Voynovich Says Tatarstan Can Be an Independent Country

Russian émigré writer Vladimir Voynovich says that the Republic of Tatarstan has everything necessary to become an independent country ( His words have encouraged many Tatars because Moscow commentators believe that their hard line against Kazan has blocked Tatarstan from moving in a Ukrainian direction (

Other news from the nationalities front this week includes:

10. One Russian in Four has Never Been to Moscow and Most Don’t Want to Live There

New research shows that a quarter of all Russians have never visited Moscow and that most Russians do not have any desire to live in the city ( and

An Omsk scholar says what many think: if Moscow would allow the regions to keep the tax money they collect, they wouldn’t need subsidies from the center (

One commentator in Tatarstan says that Moscow has created a unique system, “unitary federalism,” one in which the country calls itself a federation but in fact is a unitary state (

Meanwhile, there are indications that regionalism is intensifying in many places across the country (,, and

11. Could Moscow Make Roman Catholicism a ‘Traditional’ Russian Faith?

Some are speculating that the Russian government might decide to add Catholicism to the list of traditional faiths given its growth in many regions and the desire of the Kremlin to ally itself with the Vatican on conservative issues (ru/news/polit/2314594.html and

Other news from the religions front this week includes:

12. Moscow has Evacuated Russians Living Near the North Korean Border

As tensions between Pyongyang and the US intensify, Moscow has evacuated Russians living near the Russian-North Korean border (

Other stories reflecting domestic concerns about security include:

13. Moscow Doesn’t Want Western Observers at Zapad Exercise Lest They See Its Weaknesses, Golts Says

Aleksandr Golts, a leading independent Moscow military analyst, says that the reason Moscow doesn’t want Western observers at exercises like Zapad-2017 is that the Kremlin fears that they will see just how many problems its military is suffering from (

Russia was further embarrassed by the crash of one of its planes at an airshow ( ) as well as by reports that many Russian weapons systems have not worked well in Syria (

Further, it was caught out by Russian sources for understating to the UN its spending on the military by 42 percent ( and by German investigations of Russian corruption of German elites ( and

14. Ever More Russians Believe They Live in an Unjust Country

Ever more Russians believe that the Russia of Vladimir Putin is an unjust country and a share of them are prepared to protest against that (

Other protests included:

15. Moscow Introduces New Police Vehicle to Combat Mass Demonstrations

Belarusian media are reporting that Russian police have just taken delivery of a special vehicle designed to fight mass demonstrations (org/2017/08/27/new_police_truck_with_codename_shit_for_fighting_against_protesters_presented_in_russia/).

Meanwhile, the United Nations called on Moscow to end its practice of declaring publications extremist and keeping them on a list (

16. Moscow Gets an Appropriate Monument: to Gun Designer Kalashnikov

Moscow has many statues but none more appropriate is to the designer of the AK-47 (

In other parts of the monuments front this week:

17. UN Body Calls on Russia to Root Out Racism among Football Fans

The UN commission responsible for fighting racism has called on Russia to combat racism among its football fans, even as yet another case of that surfaced in Germany (ru/content/25176-v-oon-prizvali-rossiyu-iskorenit-rasizm.html and

Meanwhile, Moscow adopted a harder line against WADA charges of doping (, and Russian commentators speculated that Russia might be excluded from the Olympics ( even as the Russian sports minister said such an exclusion was unthinkable (

Further, there were more reports that 2018 FIFA World Cup stadiums in Russia aren’t ready and complaints that officials are destroying historic buildings to prepare for that competition (, and

18. North Korean Dictator Guarded by Former Russian KGB Officers

Tokyo’s Asahi Shimbun reports that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is guarded by officers who served in the Soviet KGB, a report that raises serious questions given Captain Aleksandr Nikitin’s famous remark that “there are no ex-KGB officers just as there are no ex-German Shepherds” ( and

19. Putin Cuts Back on Environmental Inspections

Russian media have trumpeted the fact that the number of Russians charged with environmental crimes has fallen by more than 80 percent over the last seven years. But this decline has more to do with a significant cutback in enforcement efforts over that period rather than any improvement in the behavior of Russian companies and officials ( and

20. Soviet ‘Detroit’ Dies in Sea of ‘Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Alcohol.’

The city of Tavda in Sverdlovsk oblast, once known as “the Soviet Detroit,” is dying with its population taking refuge in the only things still left to it: “sex, drugs, and cheap alcohol” (

21. Children of Immigrants Account for All the Increase in New Pupils in Russia

Moscow officials have celebrated an increase in the number of children entering school this year, but a close analysis shows that all of the increase came from children of immigrant workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus rather than from children of indigenous ethnic Russians (

22. Chinese Tourists Flood into Russia to Visit 1917 Revolution Sites

The centenary of the Bolshevik revolution is attracting thousands of Chinese tourists into Russia (ru/articles/17472/). Many of them are staying in illegal, unregistered hotels that Chinese firms have set up and act as if they own the places already (

Some Russian commentators warn that there are now so many Chinese in the Russian Far East that Beijing could invoke Putin’s Crimean strategy to take the Russian Far East and parts of Siberia whenever it wants (

23. Rural Doctors and Teachers Rely to Internet to Keep Their Sanity

Newly-minted doctors and teachers who are given supplementary pay to work in rural portions of the Russian Federation say that the only thing that keeps them sane is the availability of Internet connectivity (ru/selected/entry/128391).

24. Internet Growth Forces Moscow TV to Respond by Changing Programming.

The clearest indication that the Internet is now a power in Russia is that central Russian television channels are changing their programming to respond to and even correspond with Internet media outlets, something the television networks earlier had been reluctant to do (

25. Communists Picking Up Support from Disappointed Young

Young Russians, upset both by the closure of social lifts and the absence of social justice in their country, are turning to the CPRF and other communist groups, some observers suggest (

26. Fulfilling the Plan: Road Built Right Through a House in Novosibirsk Oblast

The plan must be fulfilled, whatever the obstacles, at least among highway builders in Novosibirsk. There, the road builders simply destroyed half a house to put a road through without telling the absent residents who, on their return, discovered that they needed to set up a tent to have a place to sleep now that their house has been wrecked (


And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1. More Bad News from ‘Big’ and ‘Little’ Zones in Russian-Occupied Crimea

Russian occupiers are using electroshocks to torture prisoners in Crimea (, and even those residents of the Ukrainian peninsula not in prison are also suffering with suicides having jumped by 46% in Sevastopol (

2. Ever Fewer Russian Tourists Coming to Crimea

Moscow had expected that Russians would flock to Crimea and boost the economy there, but this year, tour operators say, visits to the Ukrainian peninsula are down 20 percent from the already low levels of a year ago (

3. Belarusian Opposition Warns Zapad Exercise Opens the Way to Russian ‘Hybrid’ Occupation

Belarusian opposition figures are warning the West that the joint Russian-Belarusian Zapad-2017 exercise in September will open the way to “the hybrid occupation” of their country and call for Western countries to monitor the situation closely (

4. Belarusians Demand KGB Archives be Opened

Hundreds of Belarusians staged a demonstration to demand that Minsk allow them access to the archives of the Soviet-era KGB so that they can learn the fate of their relatives under Stalin and other Soviet leaders (

5. Radio Free Europe Opens New Belarusian Broadcast Facility in Lithuania

Radio Free Europe has opened a new broadcasting facility in Lithuania to beam Belarusian language programming into Belarus (

In another linguistic development, the Moscow Patriarchate church in Minsk has released its first ever translation into Belarusian of the New Testament. There are already about a dozen others in circulation (

6. Moldova Deports Russian General

The Moldovan authorities blocked the entrance of a Russian general who was planning to visit the breakaway republic of Transdniestria (

7. Last Independent News Agency Closes in Azerbaijan

After struggling to stay afloat for many years, Turan, the last independent news agency in Azerbaijan, has suspended operations, leaving that country without an alternative domestic voice (

8. If Kazakhstan Doesn’t Federalize, It Will Suffer Fate of Ukraine, Russian Warns

A Russian commentator says that if Astana does not federalize Kazakhstan and give Russian areas autonomy, that country will suffer the fate of Ukraine, a reminder if one is needed that demands for federalization of countries neighboring Russia are a form of aggression in and of themselves (

9. Kazakhstan May Introduce Criminal Penalties for Offending Feelings of Atheists

Astana is contemplating taking the logical next step in laws about offending others. Officials there are considering introducing fines for those who offend atheists (

10. Islam Karimov Monument Goes Up in Tashkent

A year after his death, Islam Karimov now has a monument in the Uzbekistan capital, even though some–although far from all–of the repressive laws he imposed have been changed ( and /год-без-каримова-что-в-узбекистане-изменилось-при-новом-лидере/a-40331932).

11. Tashkent Fears Cellphones Will Allow Uzbeks to Photograph Things They Shouldn’t

Officials in the Uzbekistan capital are concerned that the spread of cellphones throughout the population could restrict the government’s operations because people will be able to use them to photograph actions that the authorities would prefer to keep hidden (ru/news.php?st=1504083060).

12. Tashkent, Bishkek Find Agreement on Borders Easy, on Enclaves Not So Much

Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have made rapid progress on resolving their border dispute in the months since the death of Islam Karimov. They have not made much progress, however, on the far more difficult issue of what to do with the Uzbek enclaves within Kyrgyzstan. Failure to support Uzbeks there will offend not only those people but many Uzbeks in Uzbekistan (ru/cis/2017-08-28/5_7061_tashkent.html).

13. Tajikistan has Highest Birthrate and Only Family Planning Effort in Central Asia

Tajikistan continues to have the highest birthrate of any of the post-Soviet Central Asian countries and thus it is perhaps not surprising that it is the only state in Central Asia actively promoting family planning measures (

Edited by: A. N.
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