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 111th 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. One Place Putin Won’t Be: Right on the Money
Meanwhile, Putin made history by becoming the first Russian leader to visit an assembly of the Russian Orthodox Church (newsland.com).
He came out again as a defender of family values and called on Russians to prepare for war, although he did not specify just who Russia’s enemy in such a conflict would be (politsovet.ru and forum-msk.org).
Once again the Moscow media was filled with stories about Putin’s supposed “secret” daughter (ej.ru and newsland.com). And Putin shocked some by putting on shoes with enormously high heels so that he would appear almost as tall as Alyaksandr Lukashenka (by24.org).
2. Russian Business Leaders Distancing Themselves from Putin Because of Sanctions Threat
The threat that Russian business leaders will be targeted by American sanctions early next year has caused many of them to put as much distance as they can between themselves and the Russian president (republic.ru), even though the Kremlin is now allowing Russian firms to mislead buyers by misidentifying transfer companies to hide their role and thus escape existing sanctions (apn.ru).
The US Congress has stripped RT journalists of their accreditation to cover the American legislature, and in response, deputies at both the all-Russian and local levels are seeking to do the same with US journalists in Russia (snob.ru, politsovet.ru and kasparov.ru).
Meanwhile, in another sign of worsening relations between Russia and the US, officials in the Russian Far East are refusing to meet with the new American ambassador (rbc.ru).
3. Russians Urged to Remember What Putin has Promised and Then Not Done
Opponents of the Kremlin leader say that Russians should remember all the things that Vladimir Putin has promised to do but not in fact done when they go to vote, something that those who still support him have managed to avoid doing (censoru.net).
- Meanwhile, Moscow has cut the number of outside observers it will allow for the March vote (newsland.com) and promoted regional referenda and regional media coverage to enhance participation (newsland.com and fedpress.ru),
- Kseniya Sobchak has briefly suggested she may withdraw from the race (newsland.com),
- Aleksey Navalny’s campaign has been accused of lobbying for more anti-Russian sanctions (newsland.com),
- Russian courts have forced Navalny to return some of the contributions he has received (newsland.com), even as Navalny has picked up more advocates for the idea that he should be allowed to take part in the race (newsland.com) and as Boris Titov has declared his candidacy (newsland.com).
4. 80 Percent of United Russia Party Staff Reportedly to Be Purged
Sources close to the ruling party say that the Kremlin plans to purge up to 80 percent of all party workers, the first mass purge of that organization and a warning sign about the future (ura.news).
Constitutional Court head Valery Zorkin says that Russia is turning into a society in which a small elite manipulates everyone else (newsland.com).
Rumors are swirling that a new Russian constitution has in fact already been written (profile.ru). And the finance ministry says that too many Russians get support from the state (echo.msk.ru/news/2100676-echo.html).
5. Ruble Predicted to Collapse by Early 2018
Ever more experts are saying that the Russian ruble will collapse by the beginning of next year (rusmonitor.com).
- More Russian banks are in trouble (newsland.com).
- Economists say that the Russian economy is not going to grow by two percent this year despite government claims (ng.ru).
- Seven Russian regions now have debt loads greater than their annual incomes (kasparov.ru).
- And a new study finds that relations between corporations and investors in Russia are more fraught than in most countries (iq.hse.ru).
6. Russian Suffering Increased by Rising Inflation
Many Russians now can’t afford to buy food, housing and medicine all at the same time, not only because of reduced incomes (despite the same or even more hours of work) but because prices are rising far higher than the government says. Real inflation this year for basic needs is running at 10 to 12 percent, experts say (newsland.com, regnum.ru and rosbalt.ru).
And stories continue to come in of people offering to sell precious things in order to eat: One Russian this week offered to sell or exchange his World War II medals to get enough money to smoke (newsland.com).
7. Putin’s Demographic Proposals Savaged as Ineffective
Experts say that Vladimir Putin’s proposal to provide subsidies to Russian women who have a first child won’t help solve Russia’s demographic problems (snob.ru and svpressa.ru). Instead, they say, the government must massively invest in health care, something it isn’t doing, and subsidize third and fourth children in order to raise the fertility rate to about 2.1 (kasparov.ru, echo.msk.ru and newsland.com).
Indeed, this week there has been a public outcry against the closing of birthing facilities in ten Moscow districts, something that will push infant and maternal mortality up, exactly the reverse of what Putin says he wants (openrussia.org).
8. Russians More Afraid of Getting Sick than Going to War, Levada Center Says
Russians say that they are most afraid of getting sick, far more so than of their country going to war (thinktanks.by).
But Russians have other social problems as well:
- Airline prices are predicted to soar next year (svpressa.ru),
- Crime is rising in predominantly ethnic Russian regions (versia.ru),
- New restrictions on the sale of alcohol have been imposed in some places (apn.ru),
- Red caviar a staple of New Year’s celebrations has disappeared from stores (momenty.org),
- And the housing market is at the edge of collapse in many parts of Moscow (newsland.com, newsland.com and newsland.com).
9. Which is Better — Standing in Line for Sausage in Soviet Times or for Doctors Now?
Russians are asking whether they have made real gains since Soviet times. Then, they had to stand in line for basic foodstuffs but now thanks to Putin’s optimization plan they have to stand in line when they are sick to see a doctor (newsland.com), and if they have cancer, they may find treatments both expensive and useless (versia.ru).
And Russia now ranks third in the world in terms of new HIV cases, with heterosexual sex having become the main channel of infection and 52 regions reporting that they have no anti-HIV medicines at all (newsru.com, snob.ru, snob.ru and ura.news).
10. As with Chernobyl, Europeans Point to Radiation Leak in Russia Before Moscow Does
Western European governments have identified a radiation leak in the Urals before the central Russian government has acknowledged any problem, a sad recapitulation of what happened at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear accident (freeural.org, newsland.com and kasparov.ru).
But radiation is far from the only environmental problem in Russia:
- Coal is spreading a dark cloud over many formerly pristine areas, contamination that is so widespread that it is now being mapped (chornobyl.in.ua and thebarentsobserver.com).
- And Lake Baikal is at risk because of water sales to China and government policies that have allowed its water level to fall by two meters (ng.ru, newsland.com and newsland.com).
11. Ever More Non-Russians Say Putin Wants to Destroy All Non-Russian Republics
Given Putin’s language policies and his regional amalgamation plans, ever more non-Russians say that the Kremlin leader wants to disband all non-Russian republics, something many ethnic Russians favor but that non-Russians fear (apn-spb.ru). But at least one republic has people who say that their nation will long outlive Putin (idelreal.org).
In other nationality news this week:
- Moscow completed the liquidation of the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress (nazaccent.ru),
- Rights activists demanded that Moscow enforce Russian law in Chechnya (kavkaz-uzel.eu),
- And Ramzan Kadyrov talked about attacks on him and his desire to eventually retire (lenta.ru and znak.com).
12. Putin’s Language Policies Unwittingly Create Two Russian Language
Putin’s new pro-Russian language policies have unwittingly created two distinct Russian languages in the schools of the non-Russian republics: Russian as a state language for those for whom it isn’t native and as a native language for those for whom it is (afterempire.info).
The Council of Europe has sharply criticized Moscow’s new language approach (idelreal.org/a/28885938.html).
Russian and Tatar officials are split on what is going on in schools and society there with Russian ones talking about the failure of schools to teach enough Russian and the Tatars talking about the need for young people to speak more Tatar (echo.msk.ru, nazaccent.ru, business-gazeta.ru and interfax-religion.ru).
13. Putin Helping to Form Siberian Nation, Some There Say
Just as Putin’s attack on Ukraine has helped unify Ukrainians, so his failure to help Russians east of the Urals is having the effect of leading more people there to re-identify as Siberians and even as a distinct Siberian nation (crusmonitor.om).
That is true in other regions as well, but some Moscow commentators dismiss the possibility that regional identities are even possible within the Russian nation, an attitude that may further promote them (forum-msk.org).
One regional movement, that of Ingriya, has announced that its preferred borders are those of Novgorod before the Muscovites came (afterempire.info), and many in the regions say they were better off under the Mongol Horde than they are under Moscow (afterempire.info).
14. Suggestion Imperial Family Was Killed as a Ritual Murder Divides Russians
The Moscow Patriarchate’s suggestion that there is much evidence that Nicholas II and his family were killed as part of a ritual murder has attracted government investigators but much anger among some Orthodox and many Jews and opposition politicians (portal-credo.ru, politsovet.ru, ng.ru, rusk.ru and portal-credo.ru).
So much attention was lavished on this issue that many other steps the Moscow Patriarchate took this week were ignored, but they merit recording at least:
- The Russian Orthodox Church banned marriages of gays, transsexuals and heretics (regnum.ru),
- It prohibited anyone from being married more than three times (charter97.org),
- It allowed Russians to venerate 28 Ukrainian saints (rusk.ru),
- It denounced priests who spend too much time in the media (politsovet.ru),
- It said it wants to take the lead in Christianizing space (lenta.ru).
It also provided new data on the size of the church: the Moscow patriarchate now has 303 bishoprics, ten more than last year and 144 more than when Kirill became patriarch, and 36,000 parishes (rusk.ru).
Meanwhile, one anti-Muslim commentator said that the super-MSD Council of Muftis of Russia is near collapse (ruskline.ru).
15. ‘Soon Everyone in Russia Will Be a Foreign Agent, Except Putin, Of Course’
Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov says that the sobriquet ‘foreign agent’ is being tossed around to casually that soon almost all Russians, except Putin, may be labelled as such (msk.ru).
Despite this, protests of various kinds and about various issues continue to grow and spread (kavkaz-uzel.eu, newsland.com, kavpolit.com, and meduza.io), even as more are denounced as the work of foreign agents and police harassment has increased (kasparov.ru, novayagazeta.ru and graniru.org).
The authorities are cracking down on more groups:
- Lowering the age at which children can be tried as adults (znak.com),
- Making the work of ESP adepts illegal (politsovet.ru),
- Restricting the use of anonymizers (newsland.com), and
- Focusing on the need to restrict using internet chats within computer games (profile.ru).
Meanwhile one analyst pointed out what should have been obvious: the purpose of Kremlin propaganda is to get people to think that what the powers that be want is their own idea (kasparov.ru).
16. Telephone Bomb Threats, Evacuations Continue Unabated
Russia now is ranked in the top ten countries in the world in terms of terrorist threats (lenta.ru), and Russians say they are more frightened of conflicts now than in the past (nazaccent.ru), at least in part because of the Ukrainian spy mania the authorities appear to be promoting (newsland.com and kasparov.ru).
More worrisome, a trainee at the military-space academy has been accused of plotting to carry out a terrorist action (novayagazeta.ru).
17. Russian Military Faces Serious Problems Because of Lack of Decent Roads
Russia’s lack of high-quality roads imposes serious limits on Moscow’s ability to move forces around or launch attacks in a rapid way, experts say (afterempire.info).
In other military news:
- Vladislav Surkov says that Russians are the world’s most effective peacekeepers (newsland.com),
- A Russian senator says Moscow is prepared to create a military base in Sudan (newsland.com),
- New draftees are required to denounce their parents as extremists in Voronezh (kasparov.ru),
- And Ramzan Kadyrov says there are more than 100 Russians in Baghdad jails (snob.ru).
18. Doping Scandal Continues to Grow
As ever more evidence of a doping program organized by the Russian government has surfaced, Russian officials remain in denial and attack mode, claiming simultaneously that the charges are part of an effort by the West to make Russia into a member of “the axis of evil” (versia.ru) and that the information about them is totally false (novayagazeta.ru, meduza.io, kasparov.ru and graniru.org).
And in advance of the IOC decision on banning Russia from the Olympics, Moscow has threatened to cost the organization money by not broadcasting the competition, even as some in the Russian capital have insisted that Russia would benefit by being kept out of the games (themoscowtimes.com, iarex.ru and newsland.com).
19. Russia’s Hosting of World Cup Next Year Becomes Ever More Problematic
Now that the Olympics is out of reach, Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup has become more problematic as well:
- The United Nations has weighed in against Russian restrictions on HIV-infected participants (kommersant.ru).
- Gay activists have put out guidance on how LGBTs will have to behave if they want to avoid problems in Russian venue cities (babr24.com).
- The doping scandal that has hit other parts of Russian sports is spreading to football as well (newsland.com and regnum.ru).
- Moscow insists it is clean and ready for the competition (regnum.ru), but some are worried that racism by Russian fans could lead to forfeited matches (themoscowtimes.com and meduza.io).
Meanwhile, a debate has broken out as to whether the competition will bring a profit. Most experts say Moscow may benefit briefly but will lose over time; other venue cities will lose from the outset from this 13 billion US dollar effort (ng.ru, themoscowtimes.com, regnum.ru and rbc.ru).
As ever more Russian athletes are stripped of their medals from the Sochi Games, that Putin achievement is turning to dust with Russia predicted to fall to anywhere between third and fifth place in the total national medal count (kasparov.ru, newsland.com and newsland.com).
20. Monument Wars Continue Non-Stop
- Fighting over toponymy in St. Petersburg has reached new levels (ng.ru, gorod-812.ru and afterempire.info).
- Opposition to the Islam Karimov statue planned for Moscow grows (fergananews.com).
- Volgograd’s Jewish community puts up a monument for Holocaust victims (ng.ru).
- The young Russian who expressed sympathy for German POWs gets an anti-monument in response (politikus.ru).
- Sverdlovsk oblast residents press for renaming their region perhaps in honor of the murdered imperial family (newsland.com).
- A school in Krasnodar is renamed for Cheka founder Feliks Dzerzinsky (newsru.com).
- And the controversial film Mathilda has earned at the box office only five percent of what was spent on it, opponents say (newsland.com and vz.ru).
21. Moscow Now Using Cloned Dogs as Guards at Siberian Labor Camp
The Russian penal system has begun testing the use of specially cloned dogs as part of the guards force at a force labor camp near Yakutsk in the Russian Far East (sibereantimes.com).
22. Anti-Moscow Revolutions and Armageddon Share the Color Orange, Tajuddin Says
Talgat Tajuddin, who sometimes styles himself as the Supreme Mufti of Holy Russia, says that orange revolutions and the end of the world have this in common – their color (business-gazeta.ru).
23. Ayn Rand Hated Not Only Communism but Russians Too
Ayn Rand, the novelist and philosopher of libertarianism, hated both communism and the Russians because of her early experience in fleeing the Bolsheviks, a new study says (ttolk.ru).
24. War and Talk of War Allows Russians to Escape from Memories, Conscience, Belkovsky Says
One of the reasons Vladimir Putin keeps Russia on a war footing is that it helps him ensure that Russians can escape from their memories and their consciences which otherwise might cause them to revolt against him, Moscow commentator Stanislav Belkovsky says (msk.ru).
25. When Moscow Runs Out of Carrots, Russians in the Regions will Revolt
Analysts from Russia’s regions say that their populations are not unlike people elsewhere and that when Moscow finally runs out of carrots, physical and psychological, the Russian people will revolt against it (fedpress.ru).
26. Russia’s Biggest Problem: Moscow Cares More about Territory than about Russians
Moscow analysts say that Russia’s problems throughout history reflect its rulers’ desire to acquire territory even if the needs of the people have to be ignored or sacrificed (newsland.com).
And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Four Out of Five Ukrainians Say Putin is an Enemy of Their Country
With new studies showing that the Kremlin leader has inflicted more than 15 billion US dollars in damages to Ukraine not to mention deaths and the displacement of populations, 82 percent of Ukrainians say that Vladimir Putin is the enemy of their country (stoletie.ru and twitter.com/lvivSF).
2. Ever More Russians Fleeing Moscow’s Oppression for Ukraine
Almost every day another Russian flees his country for Ukraine, a culturally similar but far freer place than his own and a trend that represents perhaps the biggest threat to the future of Putin’s regime (dsnews.ua and sobkorr.ru).
3. Donbas Occupiers Show Their True Russian Colors
The pro-Moscow forces have now put up Russian flags on their “government” buildings thus revealing their true colors however much Moscow and some in the West still deny that fact (novayagazeta.ru).
4. Kyiv Worried about Bleeding of Weaponry from Front into Society
More than five million guns have bled back into Ukraine with soldiers from the frontlines against the Russian occupation forces (politikus.ru).
5. Ukrainians Will Now Get Both Eastern and Western Christmas Off
Since 1991, Ukrainians have gotten a day off for Eastern Christmas; they will now get one for Western Christmas as well (msk.ru).
6. Russian Repression of Crimean Tatars Intensifies, Becomes More Deadly
While it does not get the attention it did earlier, Russian oppression of the Crimean Tatars on the occupied Ukrainian peninsula is not only intensifying but claiming more victims, including an 82-year-old woman who died after questioning (newsland.com and novayagazeta.ru).
7. Ukrainian President Calls on Moscow to Express Remorse about Holodomor
President Petro Poroshenko says that Moscow should express remorse for Stalin’s Holodomor (msk.ru).
8. Lithuania Adopts a Magnitsky Law Against Russia
Lithuania has become the latest country to adopt a version of the US Magnitsky Law to punish those responsible for his death (charter97.org).
9. Details of Future Tallinn-Helsinki Tunnel Presented
Officials in Estonia and Finland have provided new details about the construction of a rail and highway tunnel between the two countries sometime in the coming decades (regnum.ru).
10. Kazakhstan Muslim Leaders Seek to Define a National Version of Islam
The leaders of Kazakhstan’s Muslim community are developing what they say will be a uniquely Kazakh version of Islam, one shorn of inappropriate foreign borrowings and reflecting the traditions of that nation alone (kazislam.kz).
11. Terror in Turkmenistan Said Now an Everyday Thing
The government in Ashgabat is so repressive that those few people who can study it say it has thoroughly penetrated all aspects of life there (fergananews.com).
12. Kyrgyz Elections Make Possible First Normal Transfer of Power in Central Asia
The just-completed presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan mean that country is the first in Central Asia to have a peaceful transfer of power from one living president to his successor, a remarkable achievement in a region where that hasn’t happened before (forum-msk.org).
13. Uzbek TV Airs Criticism of Tashkent’s Security Service for First Time
Yet another breakthrough under the new Uzbekistan president is that the media appears to be getting freer and can now criticize some government institutions, including the formerly sacrosanct national security agency (fergananews.com).
And in another development reflecting the changes that are coming to post-Karimov Uzbekistan, some hotels there are placing Korans, Bibles and Torahs in all guest rooms (kazislam.kz).
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