Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 85

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 2 -- 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 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 85th such compilation, and it is again a double issue. Even then, it is only suggestive and far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1.      Putin Issues New Non-Denial Denial on Russian Interference in US Elections. Vladimir Putin shift positions on Russian interference in the US elections from a flat denial that Moscow had no role to a Nixonian non-denial denial in which he said that the Russian state didn’t but that “patriotic” Russian hackers might have, although he discounted the notion that hackers and bloggers could influence the outcome of elections anywhere as they certainly don’t in Russia (,, and Putin’s most controversial move of the week, however, came elsewhere: he meet with the head of Russia’s Old Believers, something no Russian ruler has done since the 17th century, and an action that has infuriated many Russian Orthodox faithful, who suggested that Old Believers had worked for the Bolsheviks against the Moscow church ( and In addition, Putin made a number of comments about the world that merit being recorded: He said that cultural multiplicity in Russia is important as long as it does nothing to harm national unity ( He said it is useless to try to “contain Russia” ( And he said that he completely trusts those who guard him around the clock ( But despite his still sky-high approval ratings, there was some evidence that the Kremlin leader may not occupy the unchallenged position he did: A picture showing that even dogs are repelled by him went viral on the Russian Internet (, and a leading human rights activists said that Putin should retire to a monastery in order to reflect upon his sins (

2.      The Putin-Trump Bromance Returns.  Vladimir Putin said that one of Donald Trump’s most impressive qualities is that unlike most politicians, the US president is “sincere,” something the Kremlin leader says he highly values ( But because of the twists and turns in Moscow’s official position on Trump, some Russians do not appear to have gotten the word about this latest uptick in affection. One commentator pointed out to his readers that “America is not with us and Trump is not ours” (  But most Russians appeared this week to be devoting most attention to Trump’s typo in one tweet, with “covfefe” becoming not only a meme in Russia but a brand name there as well ( and

3.      Russian Economy Getting Better, Officials Say, But Russian Incomes Continue to Fall.  Russian officials this week repeatedly suggested, picking up on Vladimir Putin’s line, that the Russian economy is showing “positive dynamics.”  But improved incomes for Russians aren’t one of them: those continue to fall ( Major factories are now laying off workers (, wage arrears are spreading across the economy (, prices for basic goods are rising and a third of Russians are now cutting back on such foodstuffs ( and, six million Russians have fallen into “debt slavery” as they now much pay more than 50 percent of their incomes to bankers to service loans (, and the Russian government is considering a plan to confiscate housing from those who owe more than 4,000 US dollars on their mortgages ( But perhaps the worst news for Russians came in comparisons with other countries and the past. Chinese pay now exceeds Russian on average by a third ( and there has been no net increase in Russians’ average pay relative to prices since 1913 ( Moreover, there were increasing reports that government subsidies in Russia are hurting rather than helping the economy ( and that Russia’s younger generation are condemned to poverty for the foreseeable future (

4.      Hungry Russians Urged Not to Steal Nuts Squirrels have Buried. Yet another indication of how bad things are in some parts of Russia is a sign in Omsk urging hungry Russians not to dig up for their own consumption nuts that squirrels have buried for their food (  More generally, begging is now spreading across the Russian urban landscape, sparking complaints about the Russian Orthodox Church for building new facilities even as people go hungry ( and Other developments on the social front include: Patriarch Kirill says gay marriage is fascist (, post offices are at risk of closing in many rural villages (, half of the road accidents in Orenburg oblast are the result of bad roads, a pattern likely true elsewhere as well (, physical abuse within families continues to be high, falling a few places but rising in others (, and, and the interior ministry wants a new law introducing the presumption of trust in the actions of the police following a massive outcry against police actions against a boy in Moscow who was simply declaiming Shakespeare ( and

5.      Moscow Gives Foreigners a Right It Doesn’t Give Its Own Non-Russians. The Russian government has announced that it will allow foreigners studying in Russian universities the right to defend their dissertations in their own language, a right Moscow has not consistently extended to its own non-Russians in theirs ( Among other developments on the nationalities and regional front are the readiness of young Circassians to exploit officially permitted groups to push their own anti-Moscow agendas (, the triumph in Cannes of a film about the love between a Karbardin and a Jew (, reports of continuing extremely high infant and child mortality in the North Caucasus (, the Buryats now have a Vkontakte page in their national language (, and police arrest and beat regionalist activists in Kaliningrad (  and

6.      Monuments to Solzhenitsyn and Dzerzhinsky Go Up in Same Week.  In a perfect reflection of Russia’s problems with its own past, monuments to dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Cheka founder Feliks Dzerzinsky went up in the same week sparking controversy among those who objected to one or the other (, and  Meanwhile, conflicts continued to swirl around both the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg and the St. Isaac’s cathedral in St. Petersburg whose interim director quit after only three days in office ( and And activists published a set of photographs on the remains of Stalin-era GULAG camps (
7.      Entire Russian Village Declares Hunger Strike to Protest Environmental Damage. All the residents of a village near Moscow have declared a hunger strike in order to attract the attention of officials to the actions of a local plant that is destroying the environment where they live ( Despite some reports that Russians are ever less willing to take part in meetings whether they are officially permitted or not (, ever more of them appear to be protesting on ever more issues in ever more places. Among those this week: demonstrations in Moscow, Volgograd and other cities against bans on protests ( and, repeated protests calling for the outster of local officials (, student demonstrations in Kaluga (,  Chelyabinsk protests against the local children’s ombudsman (, and Voronezh protests against corruption (  Russians are joining protests, analysts say, not only because they have no other way to make their views heard given the official stranglehold on elections but also because they pick up support from broader groups for their particular causes and perhaps most important they are leading officials to back down, at least in part, as in the case of the protests against the demolition of the khrushchoby in Moscow ( and

8.      In Supplemental Budget, Putin Allocates Six Times as Much for MVD as for Education. In a clear indication of his priorities and perhaps his fears, Vladimir Putin is allocating six times as much in additional funding for the interior ministry as for Russia’s schools ( His Russian Guard is also attracting criticism for its restoration of the names “Dzerzhinsky” and “Red Banner” for its subunits ( More seriously, the defense ministry wants to block soldiers from using social media accounts ( But there is one “bright” spot in Russia’s security build up: it is helping some distant regions to reverse population declines by bringing in more military personnel and those who support them (

9.      Russia Now a Country Whose Rockets Don’t Work and Whose Cosmodrome is Empty.  The Kremlin has long been famous for having a cannon that never fired and a bell that never rang, but now Russia is becoming a country whose rockets don’t work because of a lack of spare parts and whose cosmodrome has dropped working because of back pay disputes, lack of funds for equipment and other problems (,,  and Meanwhile, in other defense-related developments, some Moscow analysts say Russia doesn’t have the funds to carry out Putin’s defense plans (, others suggest Moscow’s effort to build helicopter carriers is condemned to failure in advance (, and there are reports that Moscow’s military losses in Syria are mounting even though Russia media remains largely silent on the details ( At home, an outbreak of hepatitis at a Russian base in the Far East has attracted attention as evidence of continuing problems with food for servicemen (  and Perhaps because of all these problems with conventional weaponry and soldiers, Moscow has launched a program to test white wales for possible use against Western ships in the Arctic (

10.  Russian Government Budget Increasingly Classified. Russians will know ever less about what their government is doing now that the Kremlin has classified an ever-increasing share of the budget ( And even pro-Kremlin deputies are complaining that the statistics they are given are unreliable about important social issues (

11.  First Deputy Charged with ‘Crime’ of Meeting with His Electorate. A Moscow city deputy has been charged with the crime of meeting with voters in his constituency something new laws say constitute a meeting without permission ( But as bad as that is, the situation may get worse: a former Buryat official says that severe limits should be placed on parliamentarians to discuss government-proposed measures (

12.  Russians Come Up with Workaround Drug for WADA Banned One. In yet another indication that Moscow won’t play by the rules unless forced to, Russian medical researchers have come up with a drug that has the same athletic ability enhancing properties as one that WADA has banned but that has a slightly different chemical composition and thus should pass muster, Russian officials say ( Other sports news from Russia this week was equally discouraging: Moscow announced the introduction of special hotel registration requirements for visitors to Federation Cup competition games (, more details came out on the mistreatment of North Koreans working on the World Cup venue in St. Petersburg (, there were more complaints about that stadium in the Russian media, including suggestions that its field is unsafe for athletes (, and a past Russian Olympian has returned her medal to the IOC because of what she says is the “low quality” of the metal it is made of (

13.  Political Pornography Comes to Moscow. After a Moscow court ordered Aleksey Navalny to take down his film on corruption (, Russia’s largest pornography site, Pornhub, agreed to post it on its portal (  That led to two other developments: A Russian parliamentarian proposed classifying pornography as a drug and requiring that all those who want to view it to get a prescription from their doctors (, and Pornhub provided the Russian government with its access code to its “premium” services (

14.  Even Opposition Politicians are Dependent on Kremlin, Kasparov Says. Émigré Russian political leader Gary Kasparov says that even opposition politicians in Russia are one way or another dependent on the Kremlin, an indication of the ways in which Vladimir Putin effectively gelds many of them (

15.  Ukrainian Librarian in Moscow has Back Broken While in Police Custody. The librarian of the now-closed Ukrainian library in Moscow had her back broken while in Russian police custody. She is currently being tried for “extremism” and is at risk of receiving a five-year term in a Russian prison (

16.  An Anniversary Moscow isn’t Marking. Thirty years ago this week, West German pilot Matthias Rust landed his private plane in Moscow’s Red Square on Border Guards Day, embarrassing the Soviet defense system and setting the stage for Mikhail Gorbachev’s purge or it top ranks (

17.  Someone is Killing Russia’s UFO Specialists.  Russia has many uniquely Russian problems as well as problems that many other countries have. One problem that appears to straddle this divide surfaced this week: a party or parties unknown is killing off that country’s small group of specialists on unidentified flying objects (

18.  One Russian Reaction to Brzezinski’s Death: ‘Why Couldn’t It have Been McCain?’ Russian nationalist commentator Yegor Kholmogorov reacted to the death of Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US National Security Advisor and long-time specialist on combatting Russian expansionism, by saying that his first thought was “why couldn’t it have been [anti-Moscow US Senator John] McCain?” (

19.  Massive Vacancies in Upper Reaches of Russian Court System. While the Russian judicial system is notorious for not being about justice but rather about carrying out the will of those in power (, its ability to function even in that capacity is now at risk because of the enormous number of vacancies on appellant courts (

20.  Moscow Should have 80 Mosques, Russian Muslim Leader Says.  Ravil Gainutdin, head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), says that Moscow should have 80 mosques rather than the six it now does to bring it into line with world cities like Beijing and Berlin which have almost that many despite having far fewer Muslims (

21.  Russia Rated a Greater Threat to the World than Iran or North Korea.  The University of Sidney has rated the countries of the world in terms of the threats they pose to world peace. According to its scholars, Russia now poses a greater threat than either Iran or North Korea (

22.  Only One Person in Russia Gets All the Medical Care He Needs, Russians Say. Some Russians, themselves unable to get healthcare because of the Kremlin’s “health optimization” plan which has led to massive closures of hospitals, say there is only one person in Russia who can be sure of getting all the medical care he needs: Vladimir Putin (

23.  Russians Born After USSR Now Among Its Chief Defenders.  As the older generation passes from the scene, some of the main defenders of the Soviet system are people who were born too recently to have had direct experience with communist rule. They are thus more easily convinced by propaganda painting the Soviet past in rosy colors (

24.  Senior Russian Anti-Narcotics Official Arrested for Selling Drugs.  The deputy head of the interior ministry’s section responsible for combatting the spread of illegal drugs has been arrested for selling them (

25.  1917 Revolution Also to Blame for Rise of Fascism. As Russians reflect on the revolutions of 1917 in this centenary year, some are pointing out that among the most serious consequences of those events were the revolutions both pro and con that the Russian events sparked elsewhere. Had there not been a Bolshevik revolution, they say, it is unlikely that the world would have seen the rise of fascism and Nazism (

26.  SOVA Center Appeals for Help to Pay Court Fine. The SOVA Center which provides among the most comprehensive reporting on violations of religious liberty and human rights in the Russian Federation has launched an appeal to collect money so that it can pay an outrageous fine a Russian court has levied on it for its inclusion in the list of “foreign agents” (

            And 12 more from other countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      One Place Where the CIS Matters. Non-Russian countries in the CIS are rarely able to prepare Russian translations of books published beyond the borders of the former USSR because Moscow companies routinely demand and Western publishers agree to the principle that only publishers in Russia can make such translations for sale in the CIS (

2.      Moscow Expels Moldovan and Estonian Diplomats in Tit-for-Tat Fashion. The Russian government expelled five Moldovan and two Estonian diplomats after Chisinau and Tallinn did the same for the same number in their countries, a positive development to the extent that this follows international practice and Russia did not adopt an asymmetrical response (

3.      Are Belarusians to Be the Irish of the Future? Émigré Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova says that Belarusians may be the next nation to follow the Irish pattern of becoming more nationalistic after losing its national language (

4.      Belarusian Authorities Block Nobelist from Meeting with Those in Her Native Region.  Regional officials in Belarus took the ugly step of blocking Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Aleksiyevich from meeting with people in her home area on her birthday (

5.      Lukashenka Said Losing Control over Belarusian Regions. No one doubts that Alyaksandr Lukashenka is in control of the Belarusian central government, but there are growing indications, opposition figures say, that he is gradually losing control over the regions outside of the capital (

6.      Belarus Plunges to the Bottom Ten of Countries on Press Freedom List.  Belarus is now firmly ensconced in the bottom ten of countries around the world in terms of media freedom (

7.      Belarusian Muslims Back Country’s Semi-Legal Christian Democrats. Belarus’ small Muslim community, including both the indigenous Litevtsy and migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus, contributes members to that country’s semi-legal Christian Democratic Party (

8.      Estona’s Jewish Community Center Marks 10th Anniversary. Tallinn’s Jewish community center, the first to exist since 1940, marks its tenth anniversary, the Jerusalem Post reports (

9.      Yandex, Mail.Ru Shutter Operations in Ukraine.  After Kyiv pointed out that the Russian-owned and controlled Yandex search engine was giving Moscow’s intelligence services personnel data on Ukrainians and Ukraine banned the use numerous Russian sites, both Yandex and said they were ending operations in Ukraine (, and

10.  Ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan Will Flee Rather than Fight Alphabet Reform.  Astana’s plans to shift from the Cyrillic to the Latin script will exacerbate what some Moscow commentators describe as the flight of educated Russians from that Central Asian republic (

11.  Kazakhstan Now Outranks Russia in World Competitiveness Scale.  Kazakhstan has now passed Russia in terms of business competition and the ease of doing business among countries of the world (

12.  Kazakhstan Dedicates Statue to Its Holodomor.  Kazakhstan officials have dedicated a monument to the victims of the terror famine Stalin inflicted on the Kazakh population in 1931-33, an action that killed more than a third of all Kazakhs at that time (

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