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 113th 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’s Press Conference Subjected to Intense Fact Checking
The Kremlin leader said so many things that were either completely false or highly distorted that numerous Russian media outlets published fact-checking articles pointing this out (newsland.com, newsland.com, and polit.ru).
Putin also attracted more attention to opposition figure Alexei Navalny by his pointedly avoiding saying his name (themoscowtimes.com). But polls show Russians continue to give Putin credit for good things while not holding him responsible for bad ones (burckina-new.livejournal.com).
Happily, at least one Russian commentator has now said that “Putin isn’t god” (svobodaradio.livejournal.com), and ever more are suggesting that his next term will be a catastrophe for the country (ej.ru and echo.msk.ru).
Two personal items about Putin:
- He was a bit player in movies in the 1970s, playing in one instance a German soldier (snob.ru);
- Exploiting the president’s passion for fitness, one Russian firm is now selling dumbbells in the shape of Putin’s head (facebook.com).
2. Putin System Becoming Ever More Nepotistic
The son of the former governor of Ulyanovsk oblast gets his father’s old job, the latest indication of the extent to which the Putin elite is doing what it can to make itself hereditary and thus more like the tsarist-era ruling strata than ever before (idelreal.org). That development, however, was overshadowed in the media by Putin’s call for the rotation of cadres and his dispatch of future governors to Singapore and Malaysia to learn how to govern (rbc.ru and politsovet.ru).
Meanwhile, the Levada Center found that almost 40 percent of Russians have never read the constitution (novayagazeta.ru), but almost half think that budget moneys are being spent incorrectly (newsland.com).
Nezavisimaya gazeta suggests that the Duma missed a major opportunity to be useful by its failure to hold hearings on the doping scandal (ng.ru). In other developments affecting the future of the political system in Russia, the speaker of the Federation Council is increasingly positioning herself as an advocate for the regions (realtribune.ru), opposition groups in an increasing number of federal subjects are forming shadow governments to better challenge the authorities (asiarussia.ru), and some regions and republics, fearful Putin is about to amalgamate them, are working on their own ideas of how to combine them (idelreal.org).
3. Putin Wants to Present Himself as Leader of the Nation and So Won’t Be a Party Candidate
Putin has decided that he will nominate himself instead of being the candidate of one or another party, so that he can present himself as “leader of the nation” (realtribune.ru). His support is rising, from 54 percent last month to 61 percent now (themoscowtimes.com), likely because the media have been ordered to be more upbeat about events in Russia (ucoz.ru). But participation is still predicted to be at a record low, something some in the opposition believe can be used to delegitimize the Kremlin leader (spektr.press and kasparov.ru).
Meanwhile, opposition candidate Kseniya Sobchak still has not garnered more than single digit support, although she avoided a problem when the FSB said it didn’t find her remarks about Crimea an advocacy of separatism (politsovet.ru and echo.msk.ru).
While there is general consensus that no real election is possible in Russia today (echo.msk.ru), many are arguing that opposition candidates and parties will play a useful role in setting the stage for a time when real elections can take place (kasparov.ru).
Meanwhile, the OSCE says that Moscow has ignored almost all of its recommendations for improving Russian voting (vedomosti.ru and novayagazeta.ru). And experts remain divided on whether there will be protests after the March 18 vote (kasparov.ru).
4. Putin, Trump Now on First Name Basis
An exchange of telephone calls between Putin and Trump over Putin’s praise for Trump’s economic achievements and Trump’s supplying of information that helped foil a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg has led Putin to declare that he and the American president are now on “a first name basis” (bloomberg.com and stoletie.ru).
But if personal relations between the two presidents are warm, those between their two countries remain quite cold:
- Moscow won’t allow US diplomats to function as election observers (kasparov.ru),
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Russia didn’t interfere in the US elections but that the US routinely does in Russian ones (stoletie.ru),
- Washington bans use of Kaspersky Lab software in the US government (kasparov.ru), and
- Moscow commentators say Trump is on his way to becoming the most odious American president ever (politikus.ru) while complaining that Washington is trying to set the Russian oligarchs and Putin at odds (ria.ru).
5. Industrial Production Falls 3.6 Percent Over Last Year
Despite some positive news and even more upbeat claims, the Russian economy is not doing well:
- Industrial production dropped 3.6 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest decline in eight years (newizv.ru, charter97.org and gks.ru).
- While Moscow celebrated its grain harvest, analysts showed that Russian grain harvests had grown only a few percent since 1978 while the rest of the world’s had grown more than 90 percent in that period (echo.msk.ru).
- The Russian government has in effect ended all aid to small businesses despite many claims to the contrary (eurasianet.org).
- Russia’s Baltic port of Primorsk saw a decline in turnover in 2017 while all others saw increases (iarex.ru).
- To help the declining economy in Russian-occupied Crimea, Moscow may force Russian restaurants and stores to sell at least 30 percent of Crimean wine (lenta.ru).
- Concerned that the Russian ruble may soon be devalued, stores in Manchuria are refusing to accept rubles in payment (asiarussia.ru).
- And capital flight rose 3.4 times this year over last (newsland.com).
6. 67 Percent of Russians Say Economy in Bad Shape and 90 Percent have Cut Spending
Poll numbers like those continue to bring more bad news that calls into question the accuracy of the Kremlin’s upbeat message (kasparov.ru and kommersant.ru). Perhaps the worst survey result is that 42 percent of Russians say they have only enough money for eating; and 15 percent say they do not have even that much (regnum.ru). Ever more voices are calling for the government to change course, to stop saving banks and start saving people (newizv.ru).
Experts say that the newly poor feel their situation far more intensely than those who have always been in that status (hse.ru), and their incomes are especially hard to take given that Duma deputies now make 20 times what average Russians do (newsland.com).
On the basis of their daily experience, Russians overwhelmingly say that inflation is now running at twice the rate the government says and express fears that it will go up more in the new year (kasparov.ru, vedomosti.ru and newsland.com). Meanwhile, in another unfortunate development, the government’s introduction of new banknotes has sparked an explosion of counterfeiting across the country (nakanune.ru).
7. Russians Increasingly Living According to the Principle ‘Apres Moi, Le Deluge’
Given how bad things are and how little they are expected to improve anytime soon, Russians are increasingly living according to the principle that they should live for today because tomorrow will be worse (kasparov.ru). They also are now saying more often that “other countries have a mafia; only in Russia does the mafia have a country” (newsland.com) and expressing the view that only a total purge of the ruling class can save the situation (svpressa.ru).
On the family front, children are beaten in 98 percent of poor families and in 50 percent of well-off ones (ttolk.ru), every 40 minutes a Russian woman is killed by a family member (newsland.com), and Russians who have tried to adopt are returning 5,000 children a year to orphanages because of psychological problems (snob.ru).
A study has found that Russian scholars are declining in number (hse.ru). The authorities are now setting more restrictive rules on family plots in Russian cemeteries (ura.news), and media report that underground gambling is widespread in St. Petersburg (gorod-812.ru).
8. Only Eight Percent of Russia’s Doctors Receive What Health Ministry Says is Average Salary
One of the reasons many doctors and other medical professionals are angry is that they receive far less than the Russian government says they do. One example: according to a new survey, only one doctor in twelve receives what Moscow says should be the average salary (versia.ru). Many are thus leaving the profession outright.As a result, many regions are suffering from a serious shortage of medical personnel (politsovet.ru).
At the same time, new statistics show that a higher percentage of Russians are suffering from mental illnesses and from various kinds of cancer than ever before (lenta.ru and mk.ru). Meanwhile, new genetic tests suggest that 11 percent of Russians have genes that dispose them to particular diseases (snob.ru).
9. Putin Refuses to End State Financing for Abortions
To the consternation of the Russian Orthodox Church, Vladimir Putin has announced that he will not end state financing for abortions despite cutbacks in medical spending (rusk.ru). His decision will put further downward pressure on the demographic future of Russians and given ethnic differences accelerate the relative growth of Muslim nations within the Russian Federation.
10. What Dreaming of a White Christmas Really Means in North Russia
Russians living in the far northern portions of the country are now dreaming of a white Christmas because the major industrial plants there that have left the snow there anything but white are shutting down, some for the holidays and some forever (thebarentsobserver.com).
Greenpeace Russia says the only positive change in Russia’s Year of Ecology was greater attention to the problems. Unfortunately, it says, the government generally made things worse in the name of boosting economic output (kasparov.ru).
Krasnoyarsk residents are angry because they not only are not given clean air to breathe but have been denied all chances to find out why that is the case (novayagazeta.ru).
Meanwhile, in other developments:
- The air in Moscow has had a foul smell, almost certainly because of the burning of trash (polit.ru),
- Russian officials now admit they were wrong about the source of a radioactive leak in the Urals (ura.news),
- Members of the Khanty nation for the first time have begun to speak about the nuclear accident their homeland suffered 40 years ago in Soviet times (ura.news), and
- Moscow to the delight of hunters and the horror of environmentalists has dropped numerous animals from its restricted “red list” to allow more shooting of endangered species (babr24.com).
11. Moscow Patriarchate has No Problem with Documents Showing Stalin Set Up Church Because It has No Problem with Stalin, Critics Say
Critics of the Moscow Patriarchate say that the Russian Orthodox Church has reacted calmly to new documents showing the Stalin and his security services controlled the restoration of the church hierarchy during World War II because the church leaders have no problems with the Soviet dictator (portal-credo.ru).
Several analysts have pointed out that the notion that the Imperial Family was killed in an act of ritual murder as Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov suggests was examined and rejected in the 1990s (interfax-.ru and interfax-.ru).
In the North Caucasus, three new Orthodox churches have been opened in Chechnya, but the construction of a new Orthodox Cathedral in Daghestan’s capital remains controversial because it would deprive the city of a major park (kavpolit.com and onkavkaz.com).
12. Chechen Demands for Apologies Prompt Ingush and Other to Do the Same
Non-Russians across the North Caucasus are following Ramzan Kadyrov’s precedent and demanding that Russians who make fun of them apologize. That in turn has prompted Russians to complain that the North Caucasians are too sensitive and shouldn’t be upset by a little humor (republic.ru, vz.ru and nazaccent.ru).
Meanwhile, the numerically small peoples of the Far North are going to get what is in effect a nationality line in their passports to prevent others from demanding that they get the special benefits allocated to these peoples (nazaccent.ru). The action follows Vladimir Putin’s statement that the rights of northern peoples must be respected (regnum.ru).
In other ethnic developments:
- Russian nationalists say that their party is organizing to seize power in Buryatia (babr24.com),
- Daghestanis are beginning to record a film on Imam Shamil (kavpolit.com),
- Sociologists say that clans are declining in importance in most north Caucasus republics (nazaccent.ru),
- Chechnya’s nationality minister backs a proposed law defining what the Russian nation is (kavpolit.com), and
- Tatar and Mari nationalists agree to cooperate in the face of what they say is the Russian threat to their existence (idelreal.org).
13. Perm Scholars List 32 Autonomies in Russia, Including Six that ‘Don’t Exist Just Now’
A group of scholars has compiled a map of autonomies in countries around the world including Russia. The most interesting detail is that the map specifies that in Russia there are 32 autonomies, “including six that ‘don’t exist just now’” (nazaccent.ru).
Siberian commentators were dismissive of Putin’s remarks about economic development suggesting they’ve heard enough promises (regnum.ru).
St. Petersburg officials and scholars have been charged with coordinating development plans for the Russian North (fedpress.ru). And many in the regions often shift from local identities to that of citizens of the world, thus bypassing any common Russian identity (momenty.org).
14. Only Seven Percent of Tatars Said Agitated by Language Controversy
A poll in Tatarstan finds that only seven percent of Tatars are upset by the language controversy that is roiling much of the elite and many Russians (business-gazeta.ru). Both Grigory Yavlinsky and Kseniya Sobchak have called for an end to attacks on Kazan’s position (idelreal.org and nazaccent.ru).
Meanwhile, Russians must fight what some call “the Anglo-Saxon linguicide” of Russian by getting rid of all English loaned words (ruskline.ru).
15. Protests Become More Widespread, More Diverse and More Political
Demonstrations occurred in more places about more subjects and with a greater political dimension this week than at any time this year. For a sampling of these, see among others these reports: kavkazr.com, kavkazr.com, themoscowtimes.com, kasparov.ru, regnum.ru, ura.news, newsland.com, znak.com, kavkaz-uzel.eu, openrussia.org, regnum.ru, newsland.com, openrussia.org and ura.news.
Meanwhile, to promote interest in the history of Soviet repressions, the Memorial organization has made the GULAG into a card game (svoboda.org); and in an unusual turn, some used attendance at the Nureyev ballet to press for freedom for Kirill Serebrennnikov (sobkorr.ru).
16. Russia Becoming ‘a Closed Camp’
Given increasing repression, commentators say, Russia is losing the last vestiges of democratic institutions and becoming “a closed camp” (ehorussia.com). That is especially the case in the Internet where ever more sites are blocked even as many activists promote workarounds (lenta.ru, agonia-ru.com, ruskline.ru, cho.msk.ru and openrussia.org).
The flight of Russians persecuted by the authorities to Ukraine, the Baltic countries, Europe and the US is well known; but conditions are now so dire that some Russians in the Urals are fleeing to China lest they be incarcerated in Russia (momenty.org).
The Duma has passed a new law dramatically increasing criminal penalties for anyone who recruits for terrorist activity (graniru.org). And both the young Russian who said positive things about German POWs and his teachers have been subject to intense persecution (rbc.ru and kasparov.ru).
17. Anonymous Bomb Threats Continue Forcing More Evacuations
Ever more telephone bomb threats appear to be coming in, forcing Russians to evacuate more facilities in more places, with officials seeking to blame someone, anyone, from outside the country for these outrages (politsovet.ru and znak.com).
In an indication of a more serious threat, the FSB and Interior Ministry announced they had arrested illegal arms traders in 14 different federal subjects (regnum.ru) and had arrested more than 1,000 terrorists plotting real actions during the upcoming elections (regnum.ru and echo.msk.ru). Islamist radicals are increasingly organized in Russian prisons and recruiting new followers in many of them (kavkazr.com and nakanune.ru).
The Russian government took another step to tighten control over immigrant workers declaring that they could be certified only in government clinics (nazaccent.ru).
In Daghestan, people are complaining about the installation of military and security officers as representatives of Makachkala in that republics’ regions (kavkaz-uzel.eu). One reason that may be happening is that large number of Daghestanis are returning home after fighting for ISIS (chernovik.net).
And some in Moscow are complaining that 23 years after Russia invaded Chechnya, the central government has done almost nothing for the ethnic Russian victims of the conflict (apn.ru).
18. Putin Says No One Should Use Terrorists for Their Own Ends
After Putin made this declaration (islamrf.ru), Russian officials launched a major media campaign to suggest that the US was doing just that (meduza.io). Putin also suggested that Russian soldiers after their victory in Syria over ISIS could feel themselves to be “gods of war” (kp.ru).
Many commentators suggested Putin was right to pull Russian forces out of Syria lest a Vietnam syndrome set in (echo.msk.ru), but in fact he left about a third of Russian forces there despite proclaiming victory (meduza.io).
Moscow officials say they may begin to regulate troll factories in Russia (znak.com).
The European Union has expressed concern about the increasing Russian military presence in Kaliningrad and Russian-occupied Crimea (vz.ru). LDNR head Vladimir Zhirinovsky says Moscow should have done with Ukraine and force NATO out of the Baltic countries (newsland.com and baltnews.ee).
Faced with ever more failures in its space program, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has called for introducing personal criminal liability for any failures in the sector (og.ru).
And a scholar has traced an unusual event: when Moscow tried and failed to annex a neighboring country, in this case, Eastern Turkestan or Xinjiang (centrasia.ru).
19. Monuments War Continues, Becomes More Ideological
Both supporters and opponents of monuments and toponym changes are now more inclined to invoke ideologies rather than practical arguments, one commentator suggests (sibreal.org).
Some historians are outraged by the exhibit Russia Is My History being promoted by Bishop Tikhon Shevkun (freeingria.org), and others are upset that the Hermitage Museum did not mark the October Revolution centenary in any significant way (themoscowtimes.com).
The Tatarstan government has come out in opposition to a Russian call to memorialize a defeat of the Mongols (kommersant.ru).
The Duma has opened a can of worms by allowing people to use the Russian coat of arms without official approval (fedpress.ru). The eternal flame in Yekaterinburg was extinguished briefly by trash (politsovet.ru).
And a memorial plaque in honor of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has been erected in Moscow (newsland.com).
20. Mutko May have to Take the Fall but He Wasn’t Responsible
Ever more Russian commentators are arguing that while the sports official may have to take the fall for the doping scandal, it could not have happened without the support of higher ups, including Vladimir Putin (msk.ru and gordonua.com). Putin implicitly acknowledged mistakes when he said that it had been an error to hire the man who turned out to be the whistle blower in this case, but he continued his attacks on what he described as politicized and unjustified actions by WADA (lenta.ru and newsland.com).
In other sports news:
- FIFA confirms that it has received new compromising information on Russian football players (newsland.com).
- Moscow officials say they are sure the attack on Russia’s hosting of the 2018 FIFA World Cup is politically motivated (newsland.com).
- Russian officials are concerned that the doping scandal has hurt the image of sports among ordinary Russians (vedomosti.ru).
- Cities and regions are fighting over who has to bear the costs for hosting world cup cities (sobkorr.ru).
- Russian hotels are engaged in massive price gouging for the time of the World Cup competition (kasparov.ru).
- FIFA has refused to sell World Cup tickets to residents of Russian-occupied Crimea (newsland.com).
- And in an interesting detail, the plant in Latvia that produced one of the drugs that has gotten Russian athletes in trouble for doping has now been closed by police (sputniknewslv.com).
21. Russian Orthodox Hierarchs Visit North Korea, Pray for Peace
Representatives of the Vladivostok bishopric of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate have visited North Korea to offer their support to Pyongyang and to pray for peace on the Korean peninsula (ruskline.ru and vladivostok-eparhia.ru).
22. European Countries, Türkiye Restricting Immigration from Post-Soviet Space
In moves that eliminate one of the escape hatches for many ethnic and religious minorities in the former Soviet space, EU countries and Türkiye have restricted immigration from countries in that region (fergananews.com).
Türkiye has gone further and expanded its arrests of people from the North Caucasus (kavkaz-uzel.eu).
23. Historian Talks about Aging Despots – with Stalin as His Example
In an analysis that some in Moscow are likely to view as anything by historical, historian Oleg Khlevnyuk describes what happens to political systems when their despotic rulers age and approach death using Stalin as an example (znak.com).
24. World War II Japanese POW Moves to Siberia to Care for Graves of His Comrades
An aging Japanese POW has moved to Siberia in order to care for the graves of those Japanese who died in the GULAG after 1945 (sibreal.org).
25. Another Russian Official Needing a Geography Lesson
A Urals communist politician in discussing Germany suggested that the Bundestag was not the parliament of that country but rather a city (politsovet.ru).
26. Catch 22 for Ulan-Ude Residents
The mayor of the capital of Buryatia called on residents to help clean off an early snow fall there, but when they did, he fined them for not doing the job the way he had wanted (newsru.com).
And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Ukraine Spending Far Less Per Capita on the Military than Russia Is
Andrey Illarionov says that official numbers show that Ukraine is spending far less per capita on its military than the Russian Federation is (kasparov.ru).
In another Ukrainian defense item, a Russian source reports that more than half of those called to serve in the Ukrainian military have not turned up at draft centers (antifashist.com).
2. Ukraine Increases Trade with Russia by 26 Percent over 2016
From what had been a very low base, Ukrainian firms increased their trade with the Russian Federation by 26 percent in 2017 over 2016 (qha.com.ua).
3. Majority of Ukrainians Say They Aren’t Interested in Politics
According to a poll reported by the Belarusian portal Think Tanks, a majority of Ukrainians say that politics is of little or no interest to them (thinktanks.by).
4. Is Saakashvili Working for the Russians or the Americans? Ukrainians Aren’t Sure
The recent moves of the former Georgian president in Ukraine have some Ukrainians asking whom is he working for: the Americans, the Russians or just for himself? (versia.ru).
5. More than 10,000 have Died in Donbas Following Russian Invasion, UN Says
The United States says that more than 10,000 people have died in the conflict in the Donbas begun by Russian intervention (newsland.com).
6. Occupied Crimea Ever More Dependent on Moscow as Basic Services Collapse
With each passing month of the occupation, Crimea becomes more financially dependent on Moscow (eurasianet.org), but despite an influx of money, many public services such as the healthcare network have collapsed (krymr.com).
7. Moscow Court Blocks Return of Siemens Generator Illegally Sent to Crimea
The occupation forces say and a Moscow court agrees: we have the Siemens generators and we’re not giving them back (kasparov.ru).
8. Ukrainian-Language Samizdat Appears in Crimea
One indication of just how oppressive the Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea is has been the appearance of Ukrainian-language samizdat and its hand-to-hand distribution in the peninsula (krymr.com).
9. Lukashenka Tightens Control over Belarusian Security Forces
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has used his power to appoint and to allocate resources to tighten his control over his last line of defense – the security services and the military (thinktanks.by).
In a related development, his government has prohibited the collection of signatures against dedovshchina in the Belarusian military (belsat.eu).
10. Minsk Now Rating Impact of Disinformation on Belarusians
The Belarusian authorities have set up a program to monitor how affected Belarusians are by what Minsk sees as disinformation coming in from abroad (thinktanks.by). They have also taken steps to block some of the channels they see as sources of this, including the Poland-based Belsat TV (belaruspartisan.org).
11. Moldovan Parliament Says Moldova’s Official Language is Romanian
Meeting a major demand of Moldovan nationalists, the Moldovan parliament has voted to declare that the language of the country is not Moldovan but Romanian (snob.ru).
12. ILO Says Uzbekistan has Stopped Using Children to Pick Cotton
The International Labor Organization says that Tashkent has ended its longstanding practice of using children as well as many others to pick cotton, a major victory for rights activists there and yet another sign that the post-Karimov regime is very different from its predecessor (globalaffairs.ru).
13. Kazakhstan has More Mosques than Imams
According to the latest official figures, Kazakhstan has far more mosques than it has imams, raising questions as to who is providing religious instruction (centrasia.ru). One consequence of this is that Astana has now banned anyone under 16 from attending mosque (or church) on his or her own (islamsng.com).
Meanwhile, in Tajikistan, there is evidence that the Salafis are expanding their influence on much of the population (centrasia.ru).
- ‘State Reserve Fund Running Out, Ruble Collapse Predicted’ and other neglected Russian stories
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- “Occupiers’ Methadone Ban Fueling HIV Explosion in Crimea” and other neglected Russian stories
- ‘Russians Stripped of More Medals as Doping Scandal Spreads’ and other neglected Russian stories
- “Russia Now Leading Source of ISIS Fighters” and other neglected Russian stories
- ‘Desperate Pensioner Asks Putin to Send Him a Coffin’ and other neglected Russian stories
- ‘Russian Security Agencies Said Increasing Recruitment of Ukrainians’ and other neglected Russian stories
- ‘Russia Disappearing from Radar Screen of Young Ukrainians’ and other neglected Russian stories
- ‘UN: Human Rights in Crimea Have Deteriorated Since Occupation’ and other neglected Russian stories