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‘For Putin’s Visit, Perm Becomes Ultimate Potemkin Village’ and other neglected Russian stories

One of the large photographs installed to hide city eyesores from Putin before his visit in Perm. September 2017 (Image: social media)
One of the large photographs installed to hide city eyesores from Putin before his visit in Perm. September 2017 (Image: social media)
‘For Putin’s Visit, Perm Becomes Ultimate Potemkin Village’ 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 99th 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. For Putin’s Visit, Perm Becomes Ultimate Potemkin Village

Many cities and regions of Russia have long welcomed visits by the countries leaders because they know that local officials will do what they can to spruce things up, something that residents may occasionally benefit from. But this week, when Putin came to Perm, officials there put up huge photographs to cover entire streets, something that ended by embarrassing the officials and provoking demonstrations by Perm residents (,,, and

The Potemkin village strategy arose in tsarist times, and Putin during his Siberian tour personally displayed another tendency of Russian and Soviet leaders that lives on today: a propensity for gigantism. Rather than taking real steps that might solve actual problems, Putin called for the construction of a bridge-tunnel network linking Japan and Sakhalin, something that would cost more than Moscow can afford and almost certainly will never be built but may become a cash cow for the oligarchs (

Putin did get one good piece of news: the leader of South Korea said that the Kremlin leader as “the soul of a Siberian tiger” (

2. The Trump-Putin Bromance is Definitely Over

Speaking in Beijing, Vladimir Putin said that the US president isn’t his “bride” and that he isn’t Trump’s “groom” ( The Russian president also opined that the US secretary of state whom he had counted a friend had unfortunately fallen in with “bad company” (

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry helpfully suggested that Trump may not serve his full term (, and Putin himself said he was ready to reduce the number of US diplomats in Russia by another 155 (

Looking at the situation between the two leaders, one commentator suggested that clearly Trump isn’t Reagan and equally clearly that Putin isn’t Andropov (

3. But One Russian Nationalist Still Backs Trump

A Russian nationalist now standing trial for extremism continues to back Donald Trump and announced that he has sent the American president a contribution to be used to fight LGBT people and Democrats. His contribution, however, is not especially large: 14.88 rubles or just about 25 US cents (

4. Is Putin’s Power Vertical Shaking?

Increasingly, Russian commentators are not only looking beyond Putin but suggesting that his system is coming apart. One insists that no power vertical exists (, and others say Putin has failed to institutionalize his rule in any serious way ( and

Putin has reached back to the Soviet period for one new institution: he has created a university for United Russia Party cadres (

5. Moscow Mayor Promotes His Own Cult of Personality

Many news outlets had fun this week with the surfacing of a directive requiring all Moscow news outlets to mention the name of the Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin at least three times in any story about the city (

6. Nearly Half of Russians Don’t Think Courts Dispense Justice

According to a new poll, 45 percent of Russians say that the courts in their country don’t dispense justice but rather reflect the will of the powers that be. Many say they would like to see judges elected to make them more responsible (

There is a widespread sense that the law is not written for those with money and power but only for those without those things ( And this week, various observers suggested that one aspect of this situation is that senior officials and business types now prefer to get their bribes in suitcases to keep things quiet (

7. Mixed Signals on Promoting Participation in Elections

Much of the discussion of the upcoming presidential election in Russia is about how the Kremlin can produce high turnout, given that there is no question who will win. But this week officials sent very mixed signals about how much participation they want in other races if not in that one. Some regions are using raffles and rap concerts to get young people to the polls (, businesses are handing out instrucitons to workers about showing up and how to vote, including at the Uralvagonzavod defense company which was held up as a center of Putin support in 2012 (, Moscow officials were divided in how much participation they wanted, reducing coverage in advance and even signally that low participation would ensure that the incumbents would all win easily ( and, and the central election body called for eliminating all “dead souls” on voter lists, something it probably wouldn’t do if all it was concerned about was boosting participation (

8. ‘Two Nations’ Emerge in Russia – Rublovka and Glubinka

In Russia today, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, prompting one commentator to suggest that there are now “two nations” in Russia, Rublovka and Glubinka, an idea that goes back to Friedrich Engels who took it from the title of a Benjamin Disraeli novel (

Among the reports this week that give substance to this argument are the following:

  • 60 percent of the Russian poor are now working families with children (,
  • There are now 69 personal bankruptcies a day in Russia (,
  • The educational system is now divided between the rich and poor as is medical care (,
  • Ordinary Russians say that inflation is 3.5 times higher than the government admits (,
  • Increasingly indebted ordinary Russians are now forced to pay every third ruble of their incomes to serve debt (,
  • Factories are closing in almost every sector (, and
  • The finance ministry says it can’t find the money needed to pay for programs in healthcare or other public services ( and

At the same time, Putin has been taking steps to protect his friends from sanctions, forcing ordinary Russians to pay the bill ( The finance ministry has suggested, however, that officials curb some of their expensive tastes (

Two other pieces of economic news are suggestive:

  • Russian agriculture which Moscow has been boosted as a driver is now a brake on the country’s economic development, experts say (, and
  • One Russian region has acknowledged that there isn’t enough money in the educational budget to offer classes in financial literacy (

9. Ever More Social Problems Surface and Intensify

Russian society faces ever more problems, many of which the regime has brought on itself and some of which may lead to explosions at least down the pike. The regime has imposed new rules that will allow it to seize land and dachas from those who haven’t paid their bills, something that will alarm many (

  • Teachers are increasingly complaining about being overworked and underpaid as Putin’s “optimization” program hits them (,
  • Human trafficking is on the increase in Moscow and other Russian cities (,
  • The Federation Council wants to adopt legislation that would allow the authorities to expel anyone whose actions they deemed “undesirable” regardless of other laws (,
  • No Russian university ranked in the top 100 in the world this year (,
  • Russian scholars were cut off from access to the largest data base of scientific papers (,
  • A new study finds that prostitution like almost everything else in Russian life is highly centralized with those engaged in it able to get the higher prices if they are located near the center of Moscow or at least close to a metro station (

There was one piece of good news: the Aeroflot stewardesses won their cases against the national carrier which had dismissed them because they were older than the company wanted (

10. Putin’s Optimization Costing Russians Access to Health Care and in Some Cases Their Lives

Putin’s cutbacks in health care delivery systems have effectively killed primary care in many places, leaving them without medical assistance when doctors could cure them, and meaning that ever fewer Russians have access to healthcare at all (, and

Because Putin was visiting the Far East, stories about that region were numerous and reported some true horrors: alcoholism among the population there is twice as high as for the country as a whole and 70 percent of male deaths in that region are related to overconsumption of alcohol ( and

11. Russians Say They’d Rather Encounter a Chechen than a Ukrainian on a Dark Night

Media company Ekho Moskvy asked the visitors to its portal whom they would least like to meet on a dark street, a Chechen or a Ukrainian. Those who answered said they’d be more afraid of a Ukrainian (

Other news from the nationalities front:

  • The North Caucasus is at the bottom of foreign language instruction (
  • That region is also ceasing to be a reliably KPRF “belt” (
  • Ninety percent of the ethnic Slavs who were in the Russian Far East in 1989 have left since that time, eliminating hopes to restore a Ukrainian Green Wedge there (
  • The newly installed head of Buryatia says he has Tatar, Jewish, and Circassian ancestors as well as Buryat ones (
  • The situation for ethnic groups in Karelia is so dire that some of them have now appealed to Putin (
  • Leaders of the All-Tatar Social Center (VTOTs) have appealed to Kazan to defend it against being closed down by Moscow (

12. Declared Followers of Little Faith an Increasing Political Problem

People who say they identify with one or another religion but are not really believers in any serious way are an increasing problem because they are the most easily mobilized by radicals for political goals in Russia and other post-Soviet states (

Moscow officials are now promoting the restoration of property not only to the Russian Orthodox Church but to the Roman Catholics as well ( prompting Old Believers to step up their campaign for similar treatment (

Natalya Poklonskaya’s campaign against the film Mathilda, based on radical Orthodoxy, has been criticized as a threat to Putin’s regime (

The compilation of a list of the 100 most well-known ethnic Russian Muslims has been condemned as a witch hung ( And the Muslims of the Middle Volga have finally opened the Bulgar Islamic Academy which they suggest will be the leading center of Islamic thought in Russia (

13. Chinese Billionaire Says Russian Far East Should Be Renamed ‘Pacific Region’

A Chinese billionaire has suggested that calling the easternmost part of Russia the Russian Far East is out of date because it suggests that Russia is centered in Europe not Asia and that Moscow should move promptly to rename it “the Pacific Region.” However much logic he has on his side, this suggestion will simultaneously terrify and outrage many Russians (

Most analysts suggested that Putin’s visit to the region will do little or nothing to solve its underlying problems (, and Meanwhile, it was announced that almost a third of all the housing in Russia could be fixed up for what the center is spending on renovations in Moscow alone (

Other regionalist news this week: a Kuban activist was punished for promoting separatism in a Russian region (, and Perm and Krasnodar tried to keep and gain respectively the status of “millionaire” cities, a term introduced in Soviet times that still affects budgetary allocations and not just bragging rights ( and

14. Russia has Its Very Own Columbine Incident

A shooting incident at a school near Moscow has been called Russia’s Columbine, a reference to the murderous rampage in an American school in Colorado several years ago ( Such violence, and other outbreaks across the country, has put Russians on edge and made them less confident of their personal security ( and

It has led to the publication of special guides on how those in such circumstances should behave ( and to warnings that fear of attacks can become a source of instability on its own (

15. 49 Percent of Russians Want an End to Syrian Campaign

According to a new poll, 49 percent of Russians want Russia to end its military operation in Syria; only 30 percent favor continuing the Kremlin’s approach ( This shift in public attitudes away from Putin reflects both the difficulties Russians are experiencing in their own lives, difficulties the regime says it can’t address because of the costs of security operations and the rise in the number of casualties from the conflict ( and

Even the defense ministry is feeling the pinch of budget shortages: Soviet-era tanks are being modernized rather than replaced (, and reformers are proposing cutting defense spending to modernize the economy (

Putin’s foreign policy on the cheap is increasingly backfiring or at least being exposed. Russian Germans are ever more alienated, polls show (, and the US has exposed Russian penetration and disordering of various public functions abroad (, and

16. Kadyrov Demonstration in Grozny Far Smaller than Initially Claimed

Ramzan Kadyrov’s demonstration against Myanmar’s war against Muslims there attracted only about 100,000 people and not the million that many reported at the time ( That helps to explain both Kadyrov’s own greater deference to Moscow afterwards ( and Moscow’s decision not to allow another Muslim demonstration in front of the Myanmar embassy there (

There were demonstrations on various issues across Russia this week, but the most interesting development was that some of them took up issues other than the ones that had originally animated the protesters, suggesting that there is greater willingness to make alliances against the regime ( and

17. Education Ministry Wants to Exclude Foreign Words from School Curriculum

Russia’s educational minister says she wants all foreign words to be excluded from the curriculum of schools in her country, a demand that many critics are now questioning ( and But her call reflects an increasingly repressive environment across the board:

  • St. Petersburg now wants to find ways to fill up all squares where protests might otherwise occur (,
  • Putin began this year of ecology by declaring an environmental group a foreign agent (,
  • Postal workers are being celebrated for identifying extremist materials in the mail (,
  • A Petersburg dissident has been confined in a psychiatric hospital (,
  • Kuban pupils have been forced to report each day about what is on First Channel TV news to ensure that they watch it rather than getting their information online (,
  • The Kultura TV channel has stopped carrying Euronews (, and
  • The Russian government has imposed new restrictions on Russians who want to purchase planes or ships manufactured abroad (

18. Moscow Says It Can’t Afford to Bury Lenin

The Russian government has offered many excuses for not closing the mausoleum on Red Square and burying the founder of the Soviet state, but now, it has come up with a new one: Moscow can’t afford to bury Lenin because of budgetary shortfalls (

The conflict over the Mathilda film continues to heat up:

  • One theater has been firebombed (,
  • Poklonskaya charged that the film was paid for corruptly (,
  • Some Russians suggesting that Moscow should keep Crimea but send Poklonskaya back (, and
  • One governor now coming out in support of her and her call for a ban on the film (

Other clashes on the monument front:

  • A monument to the founder of the Soviet cheka secret police (predecessor of the KGB) has gone up with others now in prospect (https://7× and,
  • A third of Russians saying they want memorials to Stalin (,
  • A fight between supporters of the murdered opposition figure Boris Nemtsov and Moscow city over whether there can be any memorial to him of even the smallest kind ( and,
  • A new conflict in Chelyabinsk over a monument to the anti-Bolshevik Czech Legion (
  • And an older one in Yekaterinburg over the construction of a cathedral there has intensified ( and,
  • A conflict over a new monument in Moscow to Kabards (
  • And one over the savior of Baikal in the Far East ( and
  • A new conflict in Moscow over memorials to churchmen and tsarist officials killed by Bolsheviks (

Indeed, there are now reports that entire cities are divided more over monuments than anything else (

19. WADA Official Denies Moscow Reports It is Dropping Its Doping Charges Against Russians

The Kremlin put out stories this week that the World Anti-Doping Agency plans to drop its charges against Moscow and thus allow Russia out of the doghouse, but the author of the report that has so outraged the Russian authorities denies that is the case (,

In response, some Russian writers have suggested that WADA wants Russian blood and will do anything it has to in order to get it ( and

Meanwhile, construction projects for the FIFA World Cup 2018 continued to be behind schedule and overbudget with Russians asking how the money might better be used for social needs (,,, and

In addition, Russian athletes were banned from the 2018 Paraolympics ( and from another competition as well (

20. Northern Sea Route now ‘Completely Ice Free’

The Northern Sea Route that Russia hopes will link Europe and Asia has become “completely ice free” in this summer season as a result of global warming; and traffic along it has jumped with nearly 100 ships now in transit (

21. Medvedev Fires Russia’s Top Weatherman

Because unexpected weather embarrassed the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev has fired Russia’s top weatherman, the latest case of shooting the messenger in Russia (

22. Majority of Russians Say They Regret Collapse of USSR

The share of Russians who say they regret the disintegration of the Soviet Union has now passed 50 percent, a reflection of Vladimir Putin’s oft-repeated suggestion that that event was “the greatest geopolitical disaster” of the 20th century (

23. Ever More Russians Seeking Patents of Nobility from the House of Romanov

When you have just about everything else, you can now apply to get a patent of nobility from the House of Romanov. That is what numerous wealthy and powerful Russians are now doing ( Such patents don’t give their bearers any particular rights; but in the minds of some, they do confer real status.

24. ‘Where are the Cossacks with Their Whips?’ Russians Ask after Muslim Demo in Moscow

Some Russians apparently would like to go back to one of the more ugly features of the Russian Imperial past. After Muslims demonstrated in front of the Myanmar Embassy, some Russians were heard to ask “where are the Cossacks with their nagaikas” when you need them? (

25. Russia Gets Another Road to Nowhere – This Time in Udmurtia

Russian road construction plans often lead to the building of roads that don’t actually connect anything but instead simply end in the middle of nowhere. Yet another one of these roads, this time in the Middle Volga republic of Udmurtia, has drawn attention and sparked criticism this week (

26. Sakhalin Officials Give Blind Activist a TV

Bad staff work or simple incompetence has led to a decision by officials in Sakhalin to award a television set to a blind activist there, an action that has sparked comment across the country (


And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1. Kyiv Paper Describes Putin’s ‘Peacekeeping’ Initiative as ‘War-Keeping’

The Kyiv Post says that Putin’s proposal for “peacekeepers” in the Donbas should be described as “warkeeping” ( The author of these lines has always felt that Moscow does believe in “piece-keeping,” a different spelling with a different meaning altogether.

This week, Ukrainian officials identified “more than 75” Russian military units in the region, undercutting Kremlin claims that there aren’t any there (

2. Kyiv Police Launch Effort to Block Illegal Trade in Guns

The Ukrainian government, facing the bleeding back into Kyiv-controlled territory of guns being used in the war with Russia, has begun a massive program to block such trafficking (

3. Kerch Bridge’s Problems and Price Keep Rising

The Kerch bridge between the Russian Federation and Russian-occupied Crimea faces new problems, including the collapse of part of it into the water (, a rising price tag that will mean if it is ever completed, it will have cost three times as much as the current longest bridge in the world (

4. ‘You Have No Rights,’ Occupiers Tell Crimean Tatar Woman

Russian occupation forces have told a Crimean Tatar woman that she has no rights when it comes to dealing with them ( That statement at least appears less hypocritical than many the occupiers make who continue to repress people on the Ukrainian peninsula.

The latest development: school children there are now forced to participate in five-minute glorification of Russia programs (

5. Belarus Authorities Drop References to Moscow as Third Rome in School Textbooks

The Belarusian government has issued new textbooks which have eliminated any reference to Kyivan Rus as the point of origin of Russian statehood and to the notion of Moscow as the Third Rome (

This week, the Belarusian media also played up the history of the ten years when Minsk was Mensk ( and the 503rd anniversary of a Belarusian defeat of Muscovite forces (

But the Belarusian authorities refused — despite requests — to open the Soviet KGB archives there to investigators (

6. Lukashenka Losing His Political Base

Belarusian demographers report that over the last 20 years, almost all the regions of the country except the city of Minsk have seen a decline in population ( That matters because those regions have been the most significant bastions of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s support and the cities, and especially Minsk, have been where the opposition is strongest.

7. Vilnius Calls for a ‘Military Shengen’ System

The Lithuanian government has proposed establishing a Shengen-like arrangement for military personnel in Europe so as to allow them to move quickly from one place to another to counter threats (

8. Moldovan Army Says It Answers to the Government, Not the President

The Moldovan armed forces, pointing out that their country is a parliamentary republic, say that they take their orders from the government, which is pro-European, rather than from the president, who is pro-Moscow (

9. Georgians Suspect Moscow May have Set Forest Fires in Their Country

Georgians fear that Moscow may have come up with another form of “hybrid” attack. Many of them think that Moscow or its agents are responsible for setting ablaze parts of their country and forcing the government to focus on that rather than on anything else (

10. Kazakhstan’s Muslim Leaders Ban ‘Salafite Sex’

Kazakhstan’s Muslim Spiritual Directorate says that none of the faithful should engage in what it calls “Salafite sex,” the kind of sexual activity that some Salafis call for that deprives women of satisfaction (

11. Kazakhstan Cuts State Share in Economy and Passes Russia in Per Capita Consumption

While Russia is seeing the state sector of the economy grow at the expense of the private one, Kazakhstan is undergoing exactly the reverse process (

That is one of the reasons, experts say, why Kazakhstan now outranks Russia in consumption per capita (

12. Tajik Officials Banned from Disagreeing with Regime Policy in Public

A new code that has been imposed on government officials in Dushanbe bans any employee of the state from expressing dissent about government policies (

13. CIS Leaders, Except Those of Russia and Kyrgyzstan, Use Western Aircraft Rather than Russian Ones

A survey finds that the leaders of CIS countries, except for the presidents of Russia and Kyrgyzstan, have chosen to use Boeing and Airbus planes rather than Russian products, itself an indication of one of the ways these states have reoriented themselves since 1991 (

Edited by: A. N.
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