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‘Desperate Pensioner Asks Putin to Send Him a Coffin’ and other neglected Russian stories

The grave digger wearing a t-shirt of Russia's ruling party "United Russia." (Image: social media)
Russian grave digger wearing a t-shirt of Putin’s “United Russia” party. Photo: social media
‘Desperate Pensioner Asks Putin to Send Him a Coffin’ 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 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 105th 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 Says West Won 1917 Russian Revolution

Vladimir Putin finally found a way to deal with the 1917 revolutions in Russia: he told the Valdai Club conference that the West had won them because they had weakened Russia, on the one hand, and introduced a certain social discipline into Western capitalism, on the other (

While Putin is set for re-election, ever more commentators in Russia say that the interesting question is what Russia will be like in 2024 and who will finally succeed him then ( Meanwhile, some Russians are taking advantage of his incumbency by monetarizing his image and even, according to one report, his distinctive smell (

2. ‘A Russian Election is When We Elect Putin’

Russians have understood that despite all the hype about possible opponents, the fix is in and “a Russian election is when we elect Putin,” in the words of some (

At the same time, some commentators are suggesting that Putin can’t win an election because no such things actually occur in Russia ( But Putin, although undeclared, is acting like a candidate, adopting populist measures like declaring he and other senior officials will take a pay cut ( and apparently definitively deciding that he won’t allow Aleksey Navalny to run against him (

When the Kremlin decided that its preferred opponent is Kseniya Sobchak, one observer said that Russians should remember that “Caligula made his horse a senator” and Putin himself said she could win because “in our country anything is possible” ( and

Polls suggest she can’t possibly win: a majority of Russians say they don’t want a woman president and 60 percent say they don’t like Sobchak ( and

3. Weinstein Supplants Trump as US Person of Interest for Russians

The Russian media for the first time in weeks devoted more attention to another American than to Donald Trump. Outlets focused on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, with some Russian actresses actually expressing support for the embattled movie mogul (, but most Russians horrified if not always outspoken (,, and

Not surprisingly, Russian government media could not resist focusing on Weinstein’s ties to the Clintons ( One reason for this interest besides the obvious is that a new gender equality bill is before the Duma, but Russian commentators suggest that will do little to improve the situation Russian women now face (

4. Trump Still Celebrated as Pro-Russian, But Washington Said Behaving Like Weinstein

As for US President Donald Trump, Putin still celebrated him as pro-Russian but still effectively blocked in the pursuit of better relations by Russophobic American elites (

And not surprisingly, one Moscow commentator while upbeat about Trump attacked American diplomacy for “copying the behavior of Harvey Weinstein” (

5. Putin’s Personalist Dictatorship Preventing Russia from Attracting Investment

Putin’s personalist dictatorship, one that requires an easily ruled archaic population, has created conditions which make Russia highly unattractive for outside investors, commentators say ( and

Another Moscow writer suggested that Putin is losing the support of the major cities and thus is becoming “the president of the periphery” (

Meanwhile, Putin warned regional heads that he may dismiss more of them in the coming weeks ( But the Putin system takes care of its own, finding a job for the recently dismissed head of Daghestan – he’ll be a coordinator for Caspian policy – and allowing Culture Minister Vladimir Medynsky to keep his degree despite his plagiarized dissertation ( and

6. 70 Percent of Russian Government Spending ‘Useless’

An expert examination of the Russian government’s spending concludes that 70 percent of it doesn’t accomplish what it intends, but of course it may have an unspoken goal: buying off Russian elites ( and

In related developments:

  • Russian officials are calling on wealthy Russians to bring their children and parents back from abroad in order to serve the country (,
  • The Russian government has proposed a whistle blower protection law (,
  • Officials are facing new restrictions on leaving Russia or entering the US ( and

One intriguing story this week was that some officials are trying to identify those Kremlin officials who leak to the media and then are later proved to be inaccurate (

And then there was the news report that isn’t news: the Russian Parliament, one writer said, is now “fully integrated” into Putin’s power vertical (

7. After Brief Uptick, Russian Industry Returns to ‘Negative Stagnation’

After a brief “uptick” at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017, as documented by Sergey Shelin (, Russian industrial production and economic growth has returned to “negative stagnation,” i.e., it is declining not growing (

  • Russian banks remain in trouble (,
  • Foreign debt has increased 4.5 percent so far this year (,
  • Few if any factories in Russia have been opened under Putin’s rule (,
  • Moscow has been forced to cut back spending for the much-hyped Northern Rail Route and postpone the highspeed train connection between Moscow and Kazan ( and,
  • People are moving back into khrushchoby because new housing isn’t being built as promised (,
  • The collapse of investment is much worse than the government admits,
  • Experts say and much less than in Soviet times ( and,
  • Regional government project deficits 70 times those Moscow does (,
  • A new law allows the government to collect tolls on any road (, fewer offices are being built (, and
  • Up to ten Russian air carriers are said at the brink of bankruptcy (

And worse may be ahead: experts say Russia is extremely poorly prepared to cope with future challenges in comparison with other countries (

8. 20 Percent of Russians Say Now is the Worst, but 40 Percent Say the Worst is Still Ahead

In a reprise of the old Soviet joke about the difference between optimists and pessimists, twice as many Russians say the worst is yet to come than say the country is now in the worst shape ever economically (

There is reason for their feelings:

  • Pensioners are finding out that the government will only give them more after most are dead (,
  • Some analysts say that half of the population now counts as poor (,
  • 800,000 Russians are at the brink of bankruptcy (,
  • Wage arrears are rising in many parts of the country (,
  • Even the government admits real incomes have fallen since the start of 2017 (, and
  • The government’s three-year program shows little hope for the future (

What is surprising is that one study has concluded that the Russian government is contributing a higher share of the incomes of Russians now than did the Soviet government under Brezhnev, with some 65 million Russians getting money from the state (

9. Desperate Pensioner Asks Putin to Send Him a Coffin

A Russian pensioner who said he was giving up because things are so bad for him asked the Kremlin leader to just send him a casket so he could be buried without expense to his family ( In response, the authorities found money to give him half of the pension he is supposed to be receiving (

Other social news of note this week:

  • Some say Putin is methodically converting Russians into “a nation of snitches” (,
  • The government wants to ban coverage of sex crimes against children (,
  • Animal cruelty is on the rise (, and,
  • Government bans stories on social networks about riding on roofs of trams (,
  • One Duma deputy says condoms are a threat to Russian national security even as some schools promote them ( and,
  • A moonshine festival was held in Lipetsk (,
  • 20 young Russians try to commit suicide for every one who succeeds (,
  • Russian purchases of sex toys are down but interest in bondage is up ( and,
  • Russian wives are increasingly accusing their husbands of pedophilia (, and
  • One Duma deputy wants to legally ban any Russian from celebrating Halloween (

Meanwhile, the interior ministry says that there are now 2.6 million illegal immigrants in Russia (

10. Moscow Proud It has Cut Number of Hospital Beds

Most governments express regret if economic conditions force them to cut the number of hospital beds available to their citizens, but Russia is different. There, the health ministry announced that the reduction in the number of such beds was the most important thing it had accomplished recently (

The result of Putin’s infamous “optimization” program, these cutbacks have led some to call the Russian healthcare system today “a conveyer of death” ( and sparked calls for doctors to protest, even as the best of them are being forced out of the system entirely by sizeable paycuts ( , and

But that isn’t the only threat to health in Russia:

  • A Urals city mayor has told his citizens that well water there may kill fish but it is entirely safe for people (,
  • Environmentalists say that pollution is killing an entire Russian city (,
  • This past year, Russia rose to one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of deaths caused by heat (,
  • The country’s ambulance system isn’t working in many places (,
  • There is no insulin in places for children who need it (,
  • Everyone but the Russian government considers the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia to be a catastrophe (,
  • There is a rising tide of dementia and a hepatitis A outbreak in the northern capital ( and, and
  • Ethnic Russian regions continue to outpace Muslim ones in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related deaths (

11. Moscow Miscalculates in Banning Azerbaijani Organization in Russia

The Russian government declared the main Azerbaijani organization in Russia a foreign agent, effectively banning it; but the Azerbaijanis of Russia took the obvious step: they have now united with the Turkish organization there, creating a new and very different problem for the Russian authorities (

In other ethnic news:

  • Three Finno-Ugric peoples near St. Petersburg are said headed toward extinction (,
  • Moscow’s promises notwithstanding, the number of schools in Chechnya with three shifts has now risen to 45, a reflection of the baby boom there (,
  • Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov continues to raise his profile by traveling to Tashkent and meeting the Uzbekistan president (,
  • Russian officials want to cut Daghestani language instruction from three hours a week to one and have ordered the Tatarstan nationalist group VTOTs to conduct its sessions at least in part in Russian ( and,
  • Ingush elders are calling for the restoration of elected governors (, and
  • Russia’s Sberbank plans to introduce shariat banking in the North Caucasus (

12. Moscow Continues to Oppress Jehovah’s Witnesses, Goes After Mormons and Scientologists Too

Having launched its campaign against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Russian government is now going after Mormons and Scientologists as well, even suggesting that it will remove children from the homes of followers of these “sects” (, and (A religious affairs expert has pointed out that Protestantism in Russia has always been very different than it is in Europe (

In other religious news:

  • Some say that the Russian Orthodox Church is providing the shock troops for Putin’s conservative revolution (,
  • The Moscow Patriarchate is building churches rather than clinics in Moscow (,
  • The Russian church has been attacked by some for its willingness to cooperate with Finnish churches (,
  • A Muslim leader has complained of a serious mullah shortage, noting that most mullahs in Russia are over 60 (,
  • Orthodox in Perm have complained to Putin about Hasidic plans to build a center there (, and
  • Russian Jewish leaders say that many Jews in Russia still prefer not to advertise their identity. According to one, it is best to measure the number of Jews by the one million who buy matso rather than the 270,000 who tell census takers they are Jewish (

13. Had the USSR Fallen into 50 Pieces, Most Would have Integrated with the West, Regionalists Say

Had the Soviet Union disintegrated further, most of the pieces, not constrained by existing communist party organizations and structures, would have successfully transformed themselves into democracies and integrated into the West, according to Russian regionalists ( That is one of the reasons the Putin regime is afraid of them: this week it blocked a prominent regionalist site (

Other regionalist developments included:

  • The finding that Muscovites dislike provincial Russians in much the same way the latter dislike them (,
  • Reports (later denied) said that Moscow as taking so much granite from Siberia that there was none left for Siberian gravestones ( and,
  • The first Russian sentenced for separatism was freed but promises to continue to promote regionalist issues in the Kuban ( and,
  • Karelia became the first region to acknowledge that it lacks the funds to index social payments (,
  • Volgograd wants a referendum to go off Moscow time (,
  • Some say wage arrears are the new symbol of the Russian Far East (,
  • Ethnic tensions in that region may heat up if the Duma decides to give settlers ten free hectares rather than one (,
  • People in the Urals are becoming conscious of the losses their region is taking in the Syrian war (, and
  • People of the Urals now insist that they speak Urals, not Russian (

Finally, Natalya Zubarevich, one of Moscow’s leading authorities on the regions, says that Putin’s policy is to try to convince Russians that no reginal autonomy is needed (

14. St. Petersburgers Protesting More than Muscovites

Moscow is no longer the center of protests; the Northern capital is, surveys suggest (; and, while they seldom get as much attention, other cities are becoming hubs of more or less constant protests on various subjects (

Among this week’s protest news:

  • 49 people who picketed in support of the Crimean Tatars in Russia-occupied Crimea were detained by Russian security forces (,
  • Vladikavkaz residents protested against the sale of energy drinks (,
  • Altay region residents protested against mistreatment of various kinds (,
  • Sellers in Makhachkala’s markets protested against restrictions on their operation (, and
  • Workers in Perm and Orenburg struck to seek the recovery of unpaid back wages (

15. Russia Jails More and Recidivism Remains Extremely High

Russia is sending more people to jail than in the past and sentencing them to longer terms, but recidivism is extremely high – more than 47 percent of convicts commit new crimes on release, which is far higher than in Western countries (россия-и-европа-рецидив-и-огромные-сро/).

Other domestic security news this week included:

  • Reports that former FSB officers are now working for Russian companies to engage in espionage both at home and abroad (,
  • The Supreme Court has called for a new law that will expedite declaring materials extremist (,
  • Russian police can now stop people more often and in more places under new rules (,
  • The interior ministry wants to make gay propaganda crime and one deputy minister wants to ban the latest issue of Playboy which has a transvestite on its cover ( and,
  • The Duma may make falsification of financial documents a crime (,
  • The first in Russia is charged with offending the feelings of atheists (,
  • The Russian Guard is fitting itself out with new electroshock shields (,
  • Poison was used in attack on Yuliya Latynina and her family (,
  • Oppressions continue against Navalny demonstrators with teachers and parents warned against allowing minors to participate in protests (, and, and
  • One nationalist commentator calls for a massive purge of gays and defeatists at home to make Russian army invincible (

16. Telephone Terror, Violence Continue as Moscow Angers Siloviki Veterans

Evacuations continued across Russia with thousands being forced to leave schools, businesses, government offices and other facilities in many cities (,,,, and Central media continued to remain mostly silent about these events, except to report that the Duma was considering a measure to increase criminal penalties for those making bomb threats to ten years in prison (

Meanwhile, more illegal guns were found and the number of guns used in the commission of crimes increased this week (,, and

Moscow’s problems also extended to the siloviki, both pensioners and new draftees:

  • More than 600 retired siloviki have been driven from their apartments in Tyumen and are said ready to protest (,
  • Only a third of the new draftees are fit for assignment in all positions open (,
  • Draft avoidance via corruption remains very much a problem, although efforts to crack down on it have led those who want to avoid service to adopt new techniques (

Meanwhile, a commentator has pointed out the obvious: the secrecy under which the FSB operates routinely allows its officers to engage in illegal and corrupt activities (

17. ’If Moscow’s Goals in Syria are So Noble, Why Hide Its Role There or Fail to Aid Its Soldiers?’

Russians are beginning to ask why Moscow is using mercenaries in Syria, if its goals are as noble as it says they are, and why it is refusing to help Russians caught by others ( and

Commentators are pointing out that massive corruption in the Russian defense establishment is undercutting Russia’s national defense ( and pointing out that Russia doesn’t have sufficient funds to genuinely modernize its fleet as the US is doing (

In other news:

  • Persons unknown threw a smoke bomb at the NATO information office in Moscow (, and
  • The US announced that it is now testing a rocket engine that will replace the ones it had been buying from the Russians (

18. Monuments Going Up for Everything from Homeless Animals to Cruise Missiles

This week, monuments were going up for:

  • Homeless dogs (,
  • For an Orthodox doctor priest who died in the GULAG (,
  • For grieving mothers whose children were in the Soviet camps (
  • Plans were announced for a new Moscow monument in honor of Russian cruise missiles (
  • The Orthodox Church has given up on its much-opposed plan to build a cathedral on the waters in Yekaterinburg ( and
  • The Kalashnikov monument sculptor has refused to make requested error corrections in his design (
  • Russians say Ukrainians plan to blow up a Rostov monument to Russian mercenaries killed while fighting in Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine in the Donbas (

Natalya Poklonskaya asks procuracy to declare the film Mathilda extremist ( The authorities have so far refused but they have made it an adults-only movie to limit attendance ( And the Russian Orthodox Church has put up billboards in St. Petersburg like those in Moscow and Yekaterinburg that contain quotations from the last tsar (

19. Kremlin Says US Trying to Exclude Russia from Olympics

The Kremlin says that the US is behind efforts to get the IOC to keep Russians from participating in the next Olympiad ( To underscore its anger, the Russian government has invited the disgraced head of FIFA to attend the 2018 FIFA World Cup competition next year (

Meanwhile, in other sports developments:

  • A former Soviet Olympian says she was raped by her Olympic team mate ( and,
  • More Russian athletes have been disqualified for doping (,
  • ISIS threatens terrorist attacks against 2018 FIFA World Cup venues in Russia next year (, and
  • The mayor of Kaliningrad, one of those venues, has called on residents to leave the city during the competition and, if they must remain, to avoid hitting foreign visitors (

20. Russians Remember Foreign Events, Forget Those at Home

Unlike most nations and reflecting the focus of the Moscow media, Russians are more inclined to remember events that have happened beyond the borders of their country than those within them (

21. A Russian Exit from Council of Europe Would Leave Russians Without Last Line of Defense

It would be disastrous for Russians if Moscow leaves the Council of Europe and continues to ignore the decisions of the European Court for Human Rights, the last line of defense of Russian rights, according to Moscow lawyers ( and

But besides the decisions the court has made against Russia, Vladimir Putin may have another reason for wanting to avoid hearings in that court. Earlier, cases took years to work their way through the system; now they are often decided in one or two, thus meaning that the political impact of the cases inside Russia is greater (

22. Putin May Want to Return to the Recent Past, But Some Russians Want to Go Back a Millenium

There is much debate about just how far Vladimir Putin wants to take Russia backwards, but about others who would like to return Russia to pre-Christian times, there can’t be any. These groups recently held a congress to promote Russian life of 1,000 years ago (

23. Descendants of White Emigres Won’t Come to Terms with Bolsheviks

The descendants of Russians who fought the Reds during the Russian Civil War before being forced into emigration have no interest in coming to terms with the Bolsheviks and their descendants in power, one of their number told Le Monde (

24. Ever More Senior Russian Officers are Getting Their Own Coats of Arms

One little noticed consequence of Vladimir Putin’s push toward the archaic is that ever more senior generals and defense ministry officials are choosing to get their own coats of arms, with some even reportedly interested in obtaining patents of nobility (

25. Russian Governors Now Setting Up Troll Operations of Their Own

The efforts of Russian government trolls to set one group of Americans against another have attracted enormous attention internationally ( and igures-revealed-59289).

But they have also attracted attention within Russia with some regional heads setting up their own troll operations to go after their opponents (

26. Chukchis Wish Tsar had Sold Their Land to Americans When Alaska Was

Chukchis, who live just across the Bering Strait from Alaska and have some knowledge how much poorer they are than the people on the other side – a new report finds that the region is producing ever less electricity because of economic declione ( – are ever more often expressing regret that their land wasn’t sold to the US when Alaska was 150 years ago (–18102016100000).


And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1. Kyiv Documents Crimes of Russian Mercenaries for the European Parliament

The Ukrainian government has presented a report to the European Parliament documenting the numerous crimes by Russian mercenaries in the Donbas and in Syria (

Ukrainian activists have also reported that the number of Ukrainians imprisoned in Russia and in occupied Crimea has risen dramatically in recent weeks ( And a new social media group Pan Krym directed at Crimea tells Crimeans that the rest of Ukraine has not forgotten about them (

2. Kyiv Ends Its Agreement with Russia on Enterprises Providing Military Goods and Services

More than three years after Russia invaded Ukraine, Kyiv has ended its agreement with that country to maintain the specialization of enterprises involved in development, manufacturing and testing of military weapons and equipment, as well as providing services for the military (

3. Ukrainian Politicians Urge Belarus to Reduce Use of Russian Language There

Ukrainian deputies have urged the Belarusian authorities and people to reduce their use of Russian to enhance national security ( and

4. Dedovshchina Death in Belarusian Army Sparks Outrage and Calls for Defense Minister to Quit

More than any event since Alyaksandr Lukashenka attempted to impose taxes on those who do not have jobs, the death of a Belarusian soldier in peacetime as a result of mistreatment by fellow soldiers and their commanders has sparked widespread outrage in Belarus and sparked demands that the defense minister be ousted (, and

It has already led one commentator there to say that the soldier’s death means that Belarusians now will cease to be silent (

5. Belarus Faces Increasing Demographic Problems

The age Belarusians marry has risen dramatically over the last year, a trend that suggests already low birthrates will fall still further (

A new study identified that younger Belarusians are now leaving the country in increasing numbers, with the largest number going to Russia and the second largest to the US (

New data also shows that there are significant regional differences in Belarus regarding drug use and mortality rates (

6. New Synagogue Opens in Vitebsk

Vitebsk, once a center of Jewish life in eastern Europe with more than 100 synagogues before World War I, has celebrated the opening of the first new one in decades (

7. 311 Cruise Ships Bring Half a Million Visitors to Tallinn This Year

Estonia’s capital has become an important cruise destination with some 311 cruise ships docking there this season bringing some 500,000 visitors to the city (

8. Latvian Government to Stop Using Transliterations of Russian Names for Ukrainian Places

Riga has announced that from now on it will transliterate the names of Ukrainian places directly from Ukrainian (not via Russian as in the past) and thus will write Kyiv and not Kiev (

9. China to Build University in Tajikistan

In yet another display of its reach into Central Asia, Beijing has announced that it will open a national university in the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe (

10. Internet Too Expensive for Most Turkmens

The repressive Turkmenistan government doesn’t have to restrict access to the Internet by fiat. The prices for Internet service there, now among the top five among the countries of the world, are far beyond the capacity of all but the wealthiest Turkmens to afford (

11. Growing Unhappiness among Turkmen Elites Reported

More reports are reaching the outside world that elites in Turkmenistan, one of the most repressive countries in the former Soviet space, are increasingly unhappy with the country’s president and his policies, attitudes that could prove fateful given challenges from neighboring Afghanistan (

12. Tensions between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan on the Rise

The two formerly nomadic nations have been engaged in an escalating war of words with each side accusing the other of being responsible for a sharp deterioration of relations and Kyrgyzstan’s president declaring that Astana is destroying the Eurasian Union by introducing the Latin script in place of Cyrillic ( and Moscow has intervened diplomatically and Kyrgyzstan appears to be backing down (

13. Tajikistan Arrests Jehovah’s Witnesses for Refusing Military Service

Following Russia’s campaign against the religious group, Tajikistan has felt free to arrest a group of Tajik Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to serve in the military, something that violates their principles (


Edited by: A. N.
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