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‘Russian Banking System on Brink of Collapse’ and other neglected Russian stories

‘Russian Banking System on Brink of Collapse’ 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 101st 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. New Wave of Jokes about Putin No Laughing Matter

Russians are beginning to tell more jokes about Vladimir Putin, a sure sign, one commentator says, that like Brezhnev who was a target of humor in Soviet times, his reign is approaching its end ( Not surprisingly, the authorities are trying to suppress the spread of such jokes, banning Moscow’s First Channel TV from telling jokes about the Kremlin leader ( and going after a Saratov editor for making jokes about Putin’s elections (

Other signs that Putin no longer has the overwhelming support he likes to claim and that many others assume is that Russians are beginning to question his priorities not only in giving money to other countries when he has cut spending at home ( but increasingly criticizing him for spending so much on military operations and so little on social needs (

Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR and Chairman of the CPSU (Image:
Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR and Chairman of the CPSU (Image:

At the same time, two out of three Russians say they want to see Putin continue as president given the alternatives (, and the Kremlin leader picked up a qualified endorsement from his predecessor Mikhail Gorbachev who said that Putin has “more pluses than minuses” (

2. Morgan Freeman Replaces Trump as Object of Moscow’s Ire

This week, the Russian media shifted from their recent criticism of Donald Trump in favor of attacking Morgan Freeman, the actor who has set up an organization to investigate and counter Russian interference in American elections and who has compared Putin to Hitler, perhaps the most unforgivable sin in the view of many in the Russian capital ( and

The downgrading of Trump in Moscow was also reflected in official statements that “Putin doesn’t listen to Trump” (, and its dismissive statements about suggestions that it purchased political ads on Facebook last year (

3. Putin’s Siloviki Increasingly Fighting Among Themselves

There have always been tensions among the various security agencies of the Russian state, but new reports suggest that conflicts among them may be intensifying at the local and regional level, a trend that could make their cooperation in Moscow far more difficult (

Other commentaries on the state of the Russian political system under Putin this week emphasized the importance to the regime of keeping people poor as the basis for maintain their support of the regime (, and others saying that Russian preferences for justice over law means that the country will have to start “from square one or even worse” if it is ever to build a law-based state, again something Putin can rely on at least for now (

Regional leaders faced new challenges: the Kremlin indicated that it doesn’t plan to rely on governors in the upcoming presidential elections (, and the governors are now struggling to protect their websites from hacker attacks (

United Russia party Putin phoneThe meaning and value of elections in Russia are also up for grabs: One observer said that in a Vladivostok voting district there were far more votes counted than voters (, and Russians told pollsters they’d back someone in the election who doesn’t even exist (

In other developments, Moscow announced that the Russian Supreme Court won’t be moved to St. Petersburg until at least 2022 (, and observers say that the propensity to erect “Potemkin villages” of various kinds to deceive senior officials is again on the rise (

4. Russian Banking System on Brink of Collapse

The Russian banking system is on the brink of collapse according to Russian officials, commentators, and the population (, and

Russians not only are losing confidence in banks but purchasing dollars in order to protect themselves in case of a banking collapse ( and

In other macro-economic news:

  • Two-thirds of Russians now say that the country’s economic course should be changed (,
  • But half of all Russians say they doubt the state can do anything positive to help overcome the crisis (,
  • "Topol ICBMs are not afraid of the [Western] sanctions!" and "Sanctions? Don't make laugh my Iskander missiles!" - Moscow propaganda t-shirts said in 2014. (Image: social media)
    “A Topol ICBM is not afraid of the [Western] sanctions!” and “Sanctions? Don’t make my Iskander missiles laugh!” – Moscow propaganda t-shirts said in 2014 after the sanctions were introduced. (Image: social media)
    The UN says that Russia has lost some 55 billion US dollars in income because of the post-Crimea sanctions (,
  • Capital flight has intensified (,
  • The quantity of imports has fallen to a record low (,
  • The number of cars sold in Russia has fallen by more than half since 2012 (, and
  • Demand for new construction in Moscow has fallen as well (

5. 70 Percent of Russians Now Can’t Make Their Income Last from One Paycheck to the Next

Seventy percent of Russians say that their pay doesn’t last from one paycheck to the next, 63 percent say they are experiencing the inflation the authorities deny is happening, and 70 percent are at or near the poverty level (, and, wallet, rubles, income, poverty, economy, poor (Image: AiF)

  • Forty percent of Russians say they had to change their vacation plans because of a lack of funds (,
  • Officials blocked 12,000 Russians from going abroad this summer because they had unpaid debts (,
  • Wage arrears and protests over them are both increasing across the country (, and,
  • To add insult to injury, the Russian government has cut pensions even as experts say the average Russian pension is 30 percent smaller than the official statistics suggest ( and, and
  • The government has rejected out of hand proposals that the government share with Russians some of the money it gets from the sale of oil and other natural resources abroad (

6. Russia Can’t Afford to Live With or Without Gastarbeiters

The Russian economy can’t function without the labor of gastarbeiters from Central Asia and the Caucasus, but officials say that they don’t have the money to integrate them (, no surprise given that Moscow isn’t meeting its social obligations to native born Russians either (

Other social news this week:

  • Gender inequality and discrimination are increasing (,
  • Russia’s dirtiest cities include those where millions of Russians live (,
  • Russian scholars working abroad are now afraid to come back to Russia, a survey shows (,
  • Many Russians who earlier returned from former Soviet republics remain second class citizens in what is supposed to be their homeland (, and
  • The number of Russians working in science has declined by two-thirds since 1989 (

7. Tuberculosis, Polio Again on the Rise in Russia

Tuberculosis is on the rise in Russia, officials say, after Moscow expelled or suppressed foreign NGOs working against the disease. The country now ranks fifth in terms of the number of TB-infected people ( Also returning are cases of polio, at least some of which are traceable to Tajikistan (

  • The Duma refused to cut taxes on families with large numbers of children, a failure that will make promoting more births more difficult (,
  • Russians now show less trust to doctors and are more angry about the rising costs of medical care and their lack of insurance to protect themselves (, and,
  • Doctors are also unhappy with low pay and poor working conditions and in some cases are beginning to organize protests ( and

8. Chechen War Continuing ‘By Other Means’

Vladimir Putin has taken credit for ending the Chechen war, but observers say that that war is in fact continuing “by other means” with anti-Moscow Chechens fighting in Ukraine, in the Middle East, and in the North Caucasus itself (

The ruins of the city of Grozny after Russian artillery shelling and airplane bombing in effort to exterminate the defenders of the capitol of rebellious Chechnya during the Second Chechen War. March 1995
The ruins of the city of Grozny after Russian artillery shelling and airplane bombing in effort to exterminate the defenders of the capitol of rebellious Chechnya during the Second Chechen War. March 1995

Moscow is having ever more problems with the numerically small peoples of the North given its cutbacks in subsidies even as oil companies become rich ( and

In other ethnic news, the kidnappings of Uzbeks living in the Russian Federation are continuing (; and in a move likely to have echoes in the North Caucasus among Circassians, the Russian government has approved a plan allowing for the resettlement in Tatarstan of Tatars now living abroad (

9. Putin’s Language Policies Anger Ever More Non-Russians

Russian state language policy: In Russia you may speak any language, as long as it is Russian (Image: Euromaidan Press)
Image: Euromaidan Press

Most commentaries about Putin’s Russian language first policy have focused on its application in Tatarstan and the resistance it has sparked there, but in fact, it is infuriating ever more non-Russians around the country (,, and

The Kremlin leader is under pressure to continue, however, from Russians who say that promoting universal Russian use is the only way to prevent the country’s disintegration ( But perhaps the most important development in this controversy is that ever more non-Russians are suggesting that in the face of Russian pressure, they have to take the situation into their own hands. In the words of one group, “Only Tatars can save Tatar” (

10. Patriarch Kirill Tightening Control over Orthodox Church

Patriarch Kirill, although now being criticized for “legalizing” hatred in Russia (, has been taking a series of steps to tighten his control over the Russian Orthodox Church and its independence from the state:Moscow Patriarch Kirill with Putin

  • He has told dissenting priests that he may strip them of their pensions unless they stop (,
  • He has declared that the church wants full control of all monuments returned to it without any subsequent state control ( and, and
  • He has denounced various groups within the church for criticizing him and limiting the church’s activities ( and

Meanwhile, in other religion-related developments:

  • Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has sought to calm anti-Buddhist attitudes among Chechens (,
  • While the Buddhists have had a mixed week, gaining a stupa in Moscow but facing increasing divisions relative to the Dalai Lama (,, and,
  • The Muslim community of Kaliningrad has demanded compensation for the mosque it has not been allowed to complete (, and
  • Attacks both official and deniably plausible unofficial against Jehovah’s Witnesses continue in various parts of Russia ( and

11. Divide Between Moscow and Regions Deepens into an Abyss

Russia is ever more two countries, not one: Moscow and everyone else. Moscow’s schools are among the best in the world, but schools beyond the ring road lag far behind (

Complicating the regional question is an expanded argument by the Kudrin Center that Moscow should focus not on the regions and republics but on the country’s 20 largest cities (

Other developments on the regional front this week include:

  • The sentencing to a psychiatric prison of a man who called for an independent Siberia (,
  • A new call to rename Kaliningrad not its former name of Koenigsberg but rather “The Russian Oblast” (,
  • A regionalist call for those in the regions to contest Moscow over place names and history ( and,
  • The growing recognition that the authorities will destroy a third of old Moscow with their renovation plans (, and
  • The first decision by a court to strip a Russian of his ownership of a Far Eastern hectare, something that will undercut that Kremlin program as well (

12. Russians Fear ‘Telephone Terrorism’ will Lead to Real Bombings

The continuing evacuation of public buildings throughout Russia after callers warned they have been bombed has led at least some Russians to conclude that eventually there will be real bombs planted and explosions will occur ( and

That is only one of the developments this week that have undermined Russian confidence that their lives are secure. Others include:

  • The disappearance of 30 grenades from a Urals military base (,
  • An upsurge in the smuggling into prisons of prohibited items (,
  • More deaths reported from the combat in Syria and in various military exercises
    The grave digger wearing a t-shirt of Russia's ruling party "United Russia." (Image: social media)
    The grave digger wearing a t-shirt of Russia’s ruling party “United Russia.” (Image: social media)

    ( and,

  • New and disturbing cases of corruption among Russian military officials (,
  • A high-profile theft of a safe containing gold in the presidential plenipotentiary’s office in St. Petersburg (,
  • Another demonstration in the Northern Capital against Putin’s wars (,
  • A call by the Russian Guard to license air pistols (, and
  • A defense ministry proposal to punish any soldier who talks about his experiences in the military on the Internet (

13. Moscow’s Military Shortcomings Increasingly on Public View

The Russian government has not been able to hide some of the problems with its military:

  • During the Zapad-2017 military exercise, tanks got bogged down in swamps and helicopters fired on the wrong people (,, and,
  • The story came out that Moscow had paid a UN official 50,000 US dollars to prepare a report favorable to Russia (,
  • Russian media reported that the military is having difficulty supplying its forces in Syria by air (, and
  • Chinese students pray for the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 at Yangzhou UniversityMoscow faces the possibility that its role in shooting down the Malaysian airline will now be examined by an international tribunal backed by five countries (

Even pro-active measures sparked concern: the defense ministry announced that it has prepared a new law on how the draft will be conducted in time of war (

14. More Protests in More Places about More Things

Among the things Russians protested successfully or not this week were:

  • Pilot salaries and working conditions (,
  • Soviet slogans – with one activist arrested for sign calling on “proletarians of the world to unite” (,
  • Debtors (,
  • Supporters of opposition activist Aleksey Navalny (,
  • A protest against American pressure on North Korea – called by the KPRF in Novosibirsk (, and
  • More protests back and forth about a new cathedral in Yekaterinburg (

15. Moscow May Block Mobile Telephones to Prevent Demonstrations

The Russian government is making plans to set up a mechanism to block mobile phones in the event of mass protests ( and is actively studying Western and Turkmen efforts at crowd control ( and

Officials credit the Yarovaya Laws with reducing extremism although many don’t accept their arguments ( Instead, they could point to the revival of Soviet methods:

  • The same man who attacked Lyudmila Alekseyeva in 1990 is suspected of attacking a Navalny aide now ( although in the best Soviet tradition, the authorities say that the aide had paid to have himself attacked (, and
  • A Russian court has begun fining people for failing to denounce others, another survival of the past being resuscitated (

But there are some new twists: a group of neo-Cossacks are oppressing minorities in the Far North (, and private entrepreneurs are arranging to have environmental activists sent to prison (

But the most ominous development this week in this sector was the announcement that the authorities will no longer allow any NGO observers to visit prisons (

16. ’More Royalist than the King’ – an Explanation for the Anti-Mathilda Phenomenon

A leading Russian commentator has suggested that the attacks on Mathilda are an anti-elite protest by lumpen elements that want to show themselves to be “more royalist than the king” (

Others say that that film and the controversy around it has reawakened “all the dark forces” in Russia ( and warn that Mathilda is just the beginning: the Western film, The Death of Stalin, will be next (

17. The Gang that Couldn’t Build a Kalashnikov Monument Right

A worker in Moscow using a tool to erase the image of an earlier and similar German automatic rifle STG-44 from the recently opened monument to the creator of AK-47. (Image: social media)
A worker in Moscow using a tool to erase the image of an earlier and similar German automatic rifle STG-44 from the recently opened monument to the creator of AK-47. (Image: social media)

Rarely has Moscow gotten in more trouble over the erection of a monument than it did this week when it dedicated one to the inventor of the Kalashnikov machine gun. Not only did many liberals condemn the whole idea (, but the sculptor mistakenly included plans for an earlier and similar German gun on the monument itself, forcing a quick set of repairs ( and

Nonetheless, the culture minister declared the Kalashnikov “a Russian brand,” prompting the sculptor to say that “vodka is also a Russian brand” ( and

18. Will House Where Tsar was Killed Soon be Rebuilt?

The Ipatyev House in Yekaterinburg where the Imperial Family was murdered and which Boris Yeltsin was directed to tear down in 1977 may be rebuilt as a shrine (

Other developments on the monuments front this week:

A KGB Order of Felix Dzerzhinsky
A KGB Order of Felix Dzerzhinsky
  • A Felix Dzerzhinsky museum opens in Kirov (,
  • A statue to the founder of the Cheka opens in Magadan (,
  • A monument to religious leaders killed by Stalin opened in Khirino (,
  • People in Buryatia are trying to figure out what to do with the world’s largest Lenin head with some urging that a cap be put on it (,
  • Perm residents defended a gymnasium head for putting up a portrait of Stalin (, and
  • Vandals destroyed a statue in the Urals to children whose fathers have deserted them (

19. 28 Countries Call for Banning Russian Athletes from 2018 Olympiad

Twenty-eight athletic associations and anti-doping groups have called for Russia to be banned from next year’s Olympic games ( Their number is likely to grow now that WADA has made it clear that it has no plans to retract its basic charges against Moscow and after the unexplained deaths of two senior officials who are thought to have been involved in the Russian doping effort ( and

New IOC data show that Russia and its CIS partners lead the world in doping athletes (, and the IOC itself has stripped 75 Olympians of their medals, many from these countries (

Meanwhile, Russia is still hopeful that it will not lose the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Hotels in venue cities are heavily booked (, and officials are predicting that visitors will spend so much money that they will boost Russian inflation rates (

To get ready for that competition, the Russian government has launched a massive program to kill homeless animals in venue cities (

20. ‘Made in Russia’ Brand hasn’t Worked: Will ‘Made in Russian Prisons’ Do Better?

Russian prison, criminal worldEfforts by Moscow to promote the “made in Russia brand” have failed (, and now officials are hoping that a newly registered brand “made in [Russian] prisons” will have better luck (

21. If Russians Hate the West, They Don’t have Time to Hate Central Asians

Because the Russian government has encouraged Russians to hate the West, it has achieved one success: fewer Russians now express xenophobic attitudes about people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. But this is less a change in attitudes toward others than a change in the others to which hatred is directed, some experts suggest (

22. Russian Pensioners Now Turning from TV to the Internet

The Putin regime has counted on television to deliver its message especially to pensioners, but increasingly pensioners too are put off by its ideological bombast. They are turning to the Internet, and companies are now organizing WIFI networks with them in mind (

23. Russian Health Ministry Says Plastic Surgery a Mental Illness

The Russian health ministry says that those who take advantage of plastic surgery have a mental illness, a declaration it made in defense of officials who took children from a woman who had breast reduction surgery, an action rights groups say is indefensible (,,, and

24. Baikal and Even Caspian in Trouble as Bears Besiege Towns in Siberia and Another Moose is Loose in Moscow

Lake Baikal is at the brink of irreversible disaster, environmental activists say (, and even the Caspian Sea is now drying up (

And as if that wasn’t enough bad news, hungry bears are now attacking oil field workers in Siberia and more moose are on the loose in Moscow, disrupting traffic ( and

25. Moscow Will Never Tell the Truth about Wallenberg

Once again, a Russian court has rejected efforts to gain access to archival documents about the death of the Swedish diplomat who saved Jews in Hungary at the end of World War II and then was captured and imprisoned by the Soviets.

A leading Russian commentator says that Moscow will never admit what happened even though it is clear that Moscow was responsible for his death (,, and

26. Samara Sociologist Arrested for Reporting Poll Results Bosses Don’t Want to Hear

A sociologist in Samara has been arrested after presenting his employers with poll results different than the ones they wanted, the latest case of shooting the messenger (

27. Novosibirsk Deputies Seek Law to Ban Dogs from Barking

The list of absurd proposals by Russian legislators continues to lengthen. This week brought news that deputies in Novosibirsk believe they can prevent dogs from barking if they pass a law banning that entirely natural act (

28. Dying Russian Village Puts Up a Grave Marker to Itself

Thousands of Russian villages have died or are dying, but few have taken the step one has in erecting a grave marker to itself for all to see (


And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1. ‘Veyshnoria’ More a Threat to Moscow than to Lukashenka

Many commentators as well as ordinary Belarusians have been having fun with the concept of ‘Veyshnoria,’ the imaginary anti-Russian state that the organizers of the Zapad-2017 military exercises set up. But one Belarusian points out that Veyshnoria, whatever Moscow intended, was and is “a threat not for Lukashenka but for Russia” because it highlights Belarusian opposition to the Kremlin (

2. Vodka Sales Jumped Near Russian Encampments for Zapad-2017 Exercises in Belarus

Putin-brand vodka, priced at USD $2-$4 per bottle
Putin-brand vodka, priced at USD $2-$4 per bottle

Belarusian opponents of the Russian exercise on their territory had suggested that Russian troops shouldn’t come to Belarus because supposedly there is no vodka there, but during the exercise, journalists report, there was a sharp jump in vodka purchases wherever Russian forces were present (

3. Occupation? No, Just Visiting … Minsk

The Estonian joke about Russians seeking to visit Tallinn has now become a Belarusian one because given economic and political constraints, Russians are now visiting Minsk in unprecedented numbers and say that it is their most popular destination (

4. Belarusian Firm Makes Dinosaurs for Hollywood

Many have criticized Alyaksandr Lukashenka for keeping Belarus mired in the past, but one group of entrepreneurs there has gone back even further into the past to make a profit: they are building dinosaurs for Hollywood movies (

5. Only One Child in a 1000 in Occupied Crimea is Now Studying in Ukrainian

It is a measure of the Russian occupation authorities intention to suppress Ukrainian identity on the Ukrainian peninsula that they have reduced the number of schools where instruction is in Ukrainian to the point that only 0.1 percent of pupils are now enrolled in them (

6. Most Ukrainians Fighting Russian Invasion Need Psychological Help

According to one psychologist, as many as 93 percent of Ukrainians who have been fighting the Russian invasion of their country need psychological help to adjust to peacetime (

7. Baltic Countries Become Even More Suspicious of Russians

Riga has called for Latvians to be suspicious of foreigners and most likely Russians who are too curious about the situation in that country (

Lithuania has set up an Internet site for people there to report suspicious people and actions there (, while Estonia’s plans to build a wall along the Russian border have drawn fire from Moscow (

8. Russian Base at Gyumri as Source of Tension with Armenia

Problems between soldiers at the Russian base in Gyumri and the surrounding Armenian population have become a source of tension between Moscow and Yerevan (

9. Former Georgian Minister Says Saakashvili was Expelled from College for Distributing Pornography

Igor Giorgadze, who was Georgian interior minister from 1993 to 1995, said on a Russian television channel but provided no proof that former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was expelled from university for distributing pornography (

10. Social Media Played Key Role in Getting Central Asians to Focus on Rohingya Crisis

The growing power of social media in Central Asia has been highlighted by the success of that media in getting people in the five countries of Central Asia to focus on the mistreatment of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, experts say (

11. Kazakhs, Ethnic Russians Increasingly Alienated from Each Other

Studies show that ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Russians are increasingly alienated from each other (, with Kazakh identity strengthening ( even while Islamic identity remains relatively weak (

Many Russian commentators say that Astana’s plans to shift to the Latin script will only deepen this divide (

12. Tajikistan Opposes Iranian Membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Even though Moscow appears set to expand the SCO if it can and even though Tajikistan is heavily dependent on Russian assistance, Dushanbe has come out against Iran becoming a member in that organization (

13. Nearly Half of Tajiks Don’t Have Access to Safe Water Supplies

The World Bank in a new study says that only 58 percent of Tajiks now have access to reliable and clean water, a pattern that helps explain the spread of diseases in that Central Asian country (

Edited by: A. N.
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