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‘State Reserve Fund Running Out, Ruble Collapse Predicted’ and other neglected Russian stories

Russia’s recent banknote designs memorialize its aggression against neighboring Ukraine. This 200-ruble bill released in 2017 depicts landmarks in the Crimean city of Sevastopol annexed by Putin’s regime in 2014. (Image: Russian Central Bank)
‘State Reserve Fund Running Out, Ruble Collapse Predicted’ 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 112th 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. What’s the Difference Between Putin and God? God Doesn’t Think He’s Putin
One Russian analyst says that Putin thinks he’s god, an observation that brings to mind the old Soviet anecdote about the differences between God and Brezhnev (

Now that Putin has announced he will run for office again, Russians are focusing on what that means and why he is doing it. By the end of his rule, they say, the Kremlin leader will leave 100 million Russians in poverty (, and some of them suggest that Putin has decided he must remain in office because no one could guarantee his safety or even freedom were he to leave it (

They also suggest that he has been ineffective increasing a stable autocracy despite all the power he has amassed ( and Nonetheless, he remains popular for one reason or another and has been crowned “Super Putin” at a Moscow art exhibit and his name appears now not only on vodka brands but even candy ( and

2. Russians Say Trump’s Move on Jerusalem Will Help Him Shift on Crimea
Russian analysts say that Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite all the opposition it has generated indicates that at some point he will extend recognition to another “reality,” Russia’s control of Crimea and Sevastopol ( They have also been pleased by the American president’s declaration that the US won’t come to the aid of NATO allies who don’t pay their full dues to the Western alliance (

One Russian analyst, however, writes in Vedomosti that Trump may face impeachment even though the chances for that so far are small ( Russian admirers of Trump say he should open his own account on the Russian social network VKontakte (

But while the US has resumed issuing visas at consulates in the regions (, the broader Russian-American relationship continues to deteriorate. Because of sanctions, Russians are pulling money from abroad and Americans with property in Russia are trying to sell it (rusmonitor.coml and

Moscow has accused Pepsi of industrial espionage ( It has declared nine foreign broadcasters extremists and denied their journalists access to the State Duma ( and And it has briefly detained another American journalist in the Russian capital ( The foreign ministry has accused the US special services of trying to recruit Russian journalists (, and the Russian ambassador to Washington has met with leaders of American Indian tribes, something that recalls the worst of Cold War times (

3. The Election’s Only Unknowns: How Few People Will Turn Out? and Who’ll Finish Second?
Now that Putin has announced, there is no doubt that he will win. Instead, the big questions are whether the percentage of Russians who will take part will fall as far as many experts predict or whether the Kremlin’s political technologists can boost turnout ( Polls are not entirely helpful but they suggest that two-thirds of young people are prepared to vote for the incumbent (, that one in five Russians is ready to vote for anybody but Putin (, and that neither Kseniya Sobchak nor Alexei Navalny who’s unlikely to be on the ballot will attract more than low single digits ( and Instead, the person likely to come in second is LDNR showman Vladimir Zhirinovsky (

One commentator said that Putin had “made his horse”—Sobchak – a candidate much as a Roman emperor won’t made his a senator (, and to highlight the meaningless of the election, some want to nominate a robot to run against Putin ( The most intriguing outcome of the vote may be that Sobchak, even though she is certain to lose, will create her own political party in the process (

4. Moody’s Says Russian Central Bank Should Enforce Existing Rules Before Adopting New Ones
The western rating agency put its finger on a more general Russian problem when it suggested that Russia’s Central Bank would achieve more by enforcing existing regulations rather than coming up with ever new ones (

Other news reflecting the nature of the political system includes:

  • Analysts have concluded that the chief reason the Kremlin uses public opinion surveys is to oppress people into conformity by suggesting significant portions of the population support whatever it does (
  • Moscow is facing a problem in many places because technocrats aren’t capable of dealing with political problems (
  • According to one analyst, the systemic opposition is ever more systemic and ever less an opposition (
  • To protect the reputations of officials, the authorities in some cities won’t get rid of obviously corrupt deputies or allow people to photograph the residences of officials ( and
  • But when members of the elite do fall from grace, they suffer. The former head of Mari El remains in detention where he is complaining about the food he is served ( and
  • And in a development that may presage an attack on lawyers or a further degradation of the rights of Russian citizens, the government has announced that one need not be trained as a lawyer to act as one in court (

5. State Reserve Fund Running Out, Ruble Collapse Predicted
The Reserve Fund of Russia will be empty by the end of December, officials say (; and the ruble may collapse according to some Russian analysts and George Soros ( and

Independent economists say there will be no “New Year’s miracle” for the economy with stagnation continuing well into 2018 and even beyond (

Ever larger figures are being mentioned as the costs to the economy from corruption and from waste, fraud and abuse ( and

Moreover, there is increasing recognition among Russian experts that the economy’s problems are not primarily the result of sanctions (, although sanctions have hit key sectors including banking ( And Standard&Poors warns that the close relationship between banks and companies could mean that problems in that sector will spread rapidly in the event of a crisis (

6. Dumpster Diving for Food Spreads in Russia
Rising poverty rates are forcing some Russians in the regions to cut back on quality food and even to engage in search for something to eat in dumpsters and trash heaps ( and

The Russian economy is now so unstable, experts say, that almost anyone could lose his or her job at any time ( Even the wealthiest Russians are beginning to feel the pinch in some areas (, but of course it is the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid who are suffering most, with wages lower than Moscow says and with wage arrears increasing in many areas (, and

And Russians have been warned that they face higher prices for gas and electricity in the coming year and also new taxes, developments that will further depress their standard of living ( and

7. Russian Far East Leads Country in Per Capita Champagne Consumption
Russians in the Far East lead the country in drinking champagne but other regions are not far behind, with the authorities conceding defeat on limiting drinking of this kind and promising round-the-clock sales of champagne over the New Year’s holiday (, and

In other social news:

  • The government is training children-propagandists fearing that if it doesn’t appeal to children, opposition politicians or terrorist groups will ( and,
  • A new study finds that Russians move from one region to another at much younger ages than do people in Western countries ( and,
  • Some Russians are now spending as much on grave markers as others do for houses or apartments (,
  • Prices for toys are rising four times faster than the official rate of inflation (,
  • Regional governments are turning off street cameras because they can’t pay for them thus allowing crime to go up (,
  • A quarter of all Russians say they have had to give bribes more or less regularly (,
  • And the country’s economic decline means that it will need 20 percent fewer workers from abroad next year than this (

8. Communicable Diseases Rising Across the Board
The number of Russians suffering from hepatitis A is up 47 percent this year, the number suffering from typhus up 220 percent, and officials are predicting epidemics of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS ( and

Unfortunately, public ignorance about health issues is making the situation even worse: a quarter of all Russians think that HIV/AIDS comes most often from mosquito bites and slightly more think that praying will cure it ( and

Suicide is on the increase in many places especially in Siberia and the Far East (, and Russians are complaining that funeral services haven’t improved since Soviet times (

9. Russia Faces Demographic Decline But Some Say That May Not Be a Bad Thing
Some Russian commentators are suggesting that the projected decline in the number of Russians, driven by high rates of illness, lack of access to medical care, and both pollution and alcohol consumption, may not be an entirely bad thing because in their view Russia doesn’t need as many people as it has (

Officials note that this year mortality is three percent higher than Moscow had projected a year ago ( But most people are horrified by the impact on public health from Putin’s “optimization” campaign especially in rural areas ( and In some regions, people have to travel more than 50 kilometers for basic medical services like dialysis (, and indications are that this bad situation will soon be getting even worse with more medical personnel losing their positions (

The government’s response to all this? Some officials are now talking about imposing a tax on childless couples as soon as next year (

10. Russian Government, Independent Experts Disagree on Source of Radiation
The government says that the radiation leaks reported came from a satellite that crashed into the earth and that Russia isn’t to blame for anything (,, and But Greenpeace experts say the government is wrong and covering up its own failures (

Meanwhile, at the end of 12 months Putin had christened Russia’s Year of Ecology, a survey of his record in this sector shows that under his rule, Russia has lost ground in all key areas of environment protection (

Trash is an increasing problem as is pollution, but this week, an incident in which raw sewage flowed down the street of a Russian city attracted widespread attention (

11. Russian Orthodox Continue to Insist Killing of Imperial Family was a Ritual Murder
Both Russian Orthodox activists and some members of the church hierarchy itself continue to insist that the killing of the Imperial Family was an act of ritual murder, with some making it clear that they believe it was a Jewish action while others blame it on the Bolsheviks alone ( and Behind the controversy, it is said, lies a struggle for power in the Moscow Patriarchate and even access to tsarist gold supposedly held in British banks ( and The head of the House of Romanov says that the murder was not a ritual one (, and Jews in Russia are divided with some leaders reassured by Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov)’s assertion that the whole idea has nothing to do with the blood libel while others are not so sure and fear the consequences of the continued discussion of the issue (

In other church news:

  • Patriarch Kirill has displayed his subservience to the Kremlin by explicitly changing his views on the apocalypse to bring them into line with Kremlin propaganda (,
  • He has shown that he is quite prepared to take a page of Putin’s book, announcing that any priests who do not obey his orders must quit or retire from the priesthood (
  • Some Russians are concerned about the fact that in nominally secular Russia, priests are being asked to bless nuclear rockets (, and others are concerned about attacks on pagan groups (, evangelicals (, and Jehovah’s Witnesses whose persecution appears to be intensifying (,,
  • Meanwhile, there is a big debate in Daghestan about the limits of moderate Islam (, and a Tatarstan mufti has expressed the hope that Moscow’s moves against his republic won’t lead to a ban on hijabs (

12. Putin’s Plan to Destroy Tatarstan, Other Republics Moving Ahead at Full Steam, Tatars Say
Tatar intellectuals say that Moscow has a long history of trying to destroy Tatarstan but that the effort has now accelerated under Vladimir Putin ( and Some Tatar activists are now calling for a joint non-Russian effort to defend all the republics from Putin’s plans ( But in this fight, the central government may have ignored one important fact: forcing non-Russians to learn Russian and give up their culturally defined identities may not make them into Russians but rather into more committed anti-Russian activists or even self-identified globalists who view Moscow as the problem (

Other ethnic developments of note this week include:

  • Grozny has banned the sale of all alcohol there (,
  • A Buryat commentator says that Buryats have more in common with Russians than with Mongolians (,
  • Four ethnic Russians in Khabarovsk have been arrested for planning attacks on groups there who “don’t look Slavic” (,
  • Armenians living in the Russian Federation are increasingly upset by the anti-Armenian tone of the Moscow media (,
  • The new head of Buryatia says he has been accepted by the spirits of the place (,
  • Taymyr residents complain that they have not been provided with adequate cemeteries ( and,
  • Moscow gives Daghestan 200 million rubles ($3 million US dollars) to fund the resettlement of two Lezgin villages from Azerbaijan (,
  • New Russian government figures show that 38 percent of those who have taken Russian citizenship in the last year are Ukrainians (,
  • A comparison of the governments of Kalmykia and Buryatia shows that the political skills of their respective elites determine how much freedom of action they have (, and
  • Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s daughter has opened a boutique in Grozny which offers erotic underwear ( and

13. Kazan Tries to Keep the Lid On After Caving to Moscow on Language Issue
The government of the Republic of Tatarstan is trying to keep its population in line after giving in to Vladimir Putin’s demands on language, repeatedly denying permission to pro-Tatar activists to demonstrate in favor of retaining obligatory instruction in the state language ( and sacking the republic education ministry who did speak out against what Moscow wants (

Meanwhile, the mufti of Moscow called on both sides of the conflict not to politicize what should be an educational question (

14. Splitting Off from Moscow isn’t Separatism; It’s an Act of Evacuation, Urals Activists Say
Moscow is inclined to label as separatism any moves to give regions or republics more power. But one group that actually seeks independence says its drive shouldn’t be called separatism because in the case of Putin’s Russia, the Free Ural organization maintains, splitting off to form an independent state isn’t separatism: it is a kind of evacuation of a self-destroying entity (

Other regions and republics may not be as unhappy with Moscow’s control as is usually assumed because that means they aren’t likely to be held accountable ( One analyst has suggested that in the case of the next political crisis, the first part of Russia to leave will be Kaliningrad (, while another has pointed out that Novgorod Veliky, a remarkably democratic place before Muscovy sacked it, had a population that largely consisted not of Slavs but of Balts, Finns, and Normans (

15. Protests and Strikes Spread, Becoming More Political
Teachers, doctors, miners, deceived debtors, people excluded from their homes or not being provided with civic services have all gone on strike or staged protest demonstrations over the last week in various part of Russia, and the long-haul truckers are gearing up for a more politicized countrywide strike scheduled to start on December 15 and to call for Putin’s ouster (, and

Meanwhile, the authorities are becoming more repressive in various ways, with police asking detainees for their cell phones and then downloading the contents ( and Putin calling for and the justice ministry setting a listing of all “foreign agents” ( and One bittersweet result of this: various Russians have been declaring that Freedom (as Radio Svoboda is translated from Russian) is a now a foreign agent in Russia ( Local and regional officials are now following Moscow’s lead and demanding all media outlets they don’t like to be blocked or closed down (

In other repressive moves:

  • Russian officials have expelled 20 Scandinavian students from Petersburg universities (,
  • Opposition deputies in the Moscow city council are now being drafted to get them out of the way (,
  • A Tomsk meeting in defense of the Russian constitution was banned as extremist (,
  • Some Duma deputies want to impose criminal penalties on fortune tellers (,
  • Participants in the Free Russia Forum in Vilnius noted that they could only meet outside of Russia ( as the police raided an Open Russia conference in Moscow (,
  • Charges of extremism are being deployed ever more often against Russian nationalist groups (,
  • A Russian was sent to prison for criticizing Putin (,
  • Officials want to impose criminal punishments on those who say Crimea belongs to Ukraine (,
  • Three Russian teenagers judged to have been insulting to the Russian flag are to be tried as criminals (,
  • The government has allocated 15 million rubles ($250,000 US dollars) to pay those who turn others in (,
  • Prisoners in a Murmansk camp revolted ( and,
  • The Federal Council chairman says prohibitions are becoming increasingly absurd (,
  • Russian officials have charged Pepsi employees with industrial espionage (,
  • And in perhaps the most disturbing report this week, a new poll finds that a majority of Russians favor taking children away from parents identified as members of religious sects (

16. More than 2.3 Million Russians have Been Evacuated Because of Bomb Threats
Since the wave of telephone bomb threats began in early September, more than 2.3 million Russians have been evacuated from public spaces and government offices, including most recently Domodedovo Airport and FSB headquarters in the Lubyanka (, and The Duma has passed a law making such threats punishable by up to five years in prison (

Worried by the spread of personal violence, Moscow has now restricted further the sale and use of pneumatic pistols ( And another part of the Russian bureaucracy has displayed its incompetence, with one draft board calling to the colors several seven year old boys (

17. Ukrainian Sanctions Have Reduced Russia’s Nuclear Potential by 20 Percent
The sanctions the Ukrainian government has imposed on Russia, sanctions that primarily hit the defense arrangements the two countries had had before Russia’s invasion, have reduced Russia’s nuclear capacity by as much as 20 percent, a new study suggests (

Moscow is also running out of money for many military projects: It announced and then ended because of lack of cash a program to develop nuclear-tipped rockets mounted on trains ( and

The Russian military still suffers from enormous corruption, something likely to be made worse by the defense minister’s request of Putin to be allowed to let one trillion rubles ($40 billion US dollars) in contracts without any competitive bidding (

Another new study suggests that productivity in the Russian military-industrial complex has now fallen ten to fifteen percent from what it was in Soviet times (

In other foreign security areas:

  • The International Tribunal in the Hague has labelled Russia’s involvement in Ukraine an invasion (,
  • Researchers have released new and higher estimates of Russian combat losses in the first months of the invasion (,
  • Russian outlets are celebrating that as of December 11, all Russian trains will bypass Ukrainian territory (,
  • And Russia has introduced a contingent of military personnel and private military contractors into Sudan (

18. Russians Shouldn’t Have Problems at Olympics without National Flag; That’s How They Invaded Ukraine, Kyiv Journal Notes
Business Ukraine magazine says Russian athletes should not have any problem appearing at the South Korean Olympiad without their nation’s flag as the IOC has now required given the Russian state-sponsored doping program. After all, it says, that is how Russian invaders of Ukraine came, without any identifying marks at all ( But Russians are outraged, with most refusing to admit any guilt and viewing their exclusion as a political act by the West ( and Others were more forthcoming even to the appoint of apologizing in part (, and the Kremlin ultimately agreeing to IOC restrictions, arguing that its first duty was to defend Russian athletes rather than engage in a witch hunt against Russian officials ( and

But before Putin delivered his verdict, some Russian politicians called for pulling out of the Olympics altogether ( and with Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov saying no Chechen athlete would ever compete under a neutral flag ( and commentator Modest Kolerov helpfully reminding everyone that Russians did not raise a white flag over the Reichstag in 1945 ( Some Russians and Belarusians proposed that Russian athletes in the future should compete under a union state flag ( and

19. Russians Think West Will Allow World Cup in Russia if Russian Team is Excluded
Various Russian commentators have suggested that the West now has decided it is too late to move the 2o18 FIFA World Cup from Russia and is focusing instead on excluding the Russian team from taking part in the competition on its own national grounds ( It is certainly the case that FIFA is now considering charges that Russian footballers have used illegal substances and that the WADA says it will make a decision on its participation in the World Cup in January ( and

Russia continues to prepare for the competition, planning to steer visitors away from parts of venue cities where they might run into trouble and compiling a list of the matches most likely to provoke riots ( and

20. Putin Wants a National Monument to the Soviet Secret Police
On the centenary of the founding of Cheka, Vladimir Putin, himself a veteran of the KGB, has called for the erection of a monument to the Soviet secret police ( As if in counterpoint, the Memorial human rights organization has released a new and dramatically expanded list of those who lost their lives because of the actions of the Soviet state. The group stresses that as large as this list now is – 3.1 million names – it is far from complete (, and the former head of the SVR has called for removing all Bolshevik toponyms in Oryol (

On other sectors of the continuing monuments war:

  • Activists in Sverdlovsk want their oblast renamed perhaps in honor of the Romanovs (,
  • Polls show that Russians remain almost exactly split in half as to whether Lenin should remain in the mausoleum on Red Square or be buried (,
  • A mountain in North Ossetia has been renamed in honor of the Special Operations Forces of Russia (,
  • And persons unknown extinguished the eternal flame in the center of Smolensk (

21. Moscow Launches First LNG Ship for Arctic Route
The Russian authorities have launched the first LNG carrier for use on the Northern Sea Route, with officials claiming that this represents “a new era” for that waterway, although problems with the construction of more icebreakers may limit the impact of this development ( and

22. Reading Adam Smith Now a Crime in Russia
Moscow officials detained in November and have now imposed fines on the members of a group of Russians who assembled to read and discuss the works of capitalist theorist Adam Smith (

23. Yakutsk Mayor Insists Muslim Children Eat Pork Because Russians Do
The mayor of the capital of the Sakha Republic has taken a hard line against Muslim children who want to follow Islamic dietary rules. He says they must eat the pork they are served in schools because that is “part of Russian life,” and they must adjust to it (

24. Russia is Not Only Becoming More Medieval But Becoming More Obsessed with Middle Ages
A new study finds that Russians are increasing interested in the Middle Ages even as critics of the Putin regime say that he is making life in that country ever more medieval on various fronts (

25. Some Russians Urge Boycotting the English Language
Given Russian media attacks on the perfidies of the Anglo-Saxons, it is perhaps no surprise that some Russians are now urging a national boycott on the study and use of English (

26. ‘War with Reality’ Now Russia’s National Idea, Moscow Commentator Says
Aleksandr Kots says that Russians can stop looking for a new national idea because they already in the age of Putin have one: mobilizing to carry out “a war with reality” on all fronts (


And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1. Belsat Marks Its 10th anniversery
One of the most successful foreign broadcasting efforts in the region, the Belsat program which from its Polish base reaches some 750,000 Belarusians , has marked its tenth anniversary this week, one that it has achieved despite its journalists having spent 125 days in jail and having paid $27,000 US dollars in fines to the Minsk regime ( and

2. Belarusians Outraged by Soldier’s Death from Dedovshchina as Minsk Rewards Officers who Oversaw It
The mistreatment to the point of death of Belarusian soldiers is mobilizing Belarusian society more than any issue since the regime’s tax on those without specific employment last spring (,, and The government’s response has only added to their fury: the officers in command of the unit where one soldier died after a beating have been decorated (

3. Russian General Linked to Downing of Malaysian Airliner
Yet another investigative report has found evidence linking a senior Russian general to the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner, an issue that continues to rile many given Moscow’s constant denials or efforts to shift blame to Ukrainians without any evidence at all (

4. Former Duma Member Now in Ukrainian Exile Calls for Armed Maidan in Russia
Ilya Ponomaryev, a Russian opposition politician who was forced to flee his country for Ukraine, has issued a call for an armed Maidan to overthrow the Putin regime in Russia (

5. 200 Additional Russian Officers Arrive in the Donbas This Week Alone
In an indication that Moscow is building up rather than drawing down its forces in the Donbas, Russian and Ukrainian sources pointed to the arrival of 200 additional uniformed Russian officers over the last week ( In another Donbas-linked story, the “DNR” has opened an official representation office in Helsinki (

6. Ukraine Renames Kyiv Square for Boris Nemtsov
While debate about renaming the street in front of the Russian embassy for the murdered Russian opposition politician continues, the Ukrainian authorities have acted and renamed a square in their capital for Boris Nemtsov (

7. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Says Ethnic Hungarians “Massively” Leaving Transcarpathia
After Moscow and Budapest had played up the issue of the Hungarian minority in the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine, Kyiv now says that there has been a “massive” departure of ethnic Ukrainians from that region to their homeland (

8. Belarusians and Ukrainians Buying Up Property in Lithuania
Both because of fears about the fates of their homelands and desires to secure residence in the EU, Belarusians and Ukrainians are now buying up property in rural Lithuania. Once they gain residence status there, they will be able to move about Europe far more easily (

9. Could Grybauskaitė Become NATO Head?
Rumors are swirling in Vilnius and Moscow that outcoming Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė might become secretary general of NATO. Similar rumors which did not prove out followed the retirement of former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (

10. Armenians Don’t Like Being Viewed as Part of Russian World
An increasing number of Armenians are reacting to both the insistence of some in Russia that Armenians are part of the Russian world and Moscow’s failure to support Yerevan more actively against Azerbaijan by saying in more places “we are not the Russian world” regardless of what Moscow says (

11. Non-Turkic Minorities and Sunni Muslims Say Baku Oppressing Them
Representatives of the Talysh and Lezgin minorities and members of the Sunni minority say the Azerbaijani authorities are oppressing them in favor of the Turkic Azerbaijanis and the Shiite majority ( and

12. Baku Cracking Down on Draft Evasion
The Azerbaijani authorities have expanded their efforts to track down and force to serve those of their countrymen who are taking Russian Citizenship in order to avoid the draft, yet another issue that is a matter of contention between Moscow and Baku (

13. Human Rights Situation in Uzbekistan Improving, HRW Says
In a new assessment, Human Rights Watch says that since the death of Islam Karimov, the state of human rights in Uzbekistan has improved dramatically despite many remaining problems (


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Edited by: A. N.
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