Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 107

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 4-- 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 107th 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 on the Hijab. Chechen fashion designers have come up with a new style: hijabs and other objects of Muslim dress featuring pictures of Vladimir Putin ( Meanwhile, a group of Russian psychologists says that fewer than one Russian in five has the ability to think critically about the information flowing by; the rest, it adds, are prepared to support Vladimir Putin ( Putin attracted attention this week by suggesting that Western agents were trying to steal Russians’ biological materials, a statement that prompted much hilarity by Russian experts but led the Duma to go into action to ban such seizures and thus protect “the biological security of Russians” ( In another comment, Putin said that he didn’t see any hysteria or obscurantism around him in Russia (  Other Putin news this week includes: one commentator suggests that Putin is rapidly becoming both tsar and Rasputin (, another says that he is the embodiment of national unity (, a Russian hockey star in the US is forming a group to campaign for Putin (, a Kamchatka caricaturist says drawing Putin is boring (, and in another Potemkin-style move, Chelyabinsk officials arrested and expelled the homeless in advance of a Putin visit (

2.      Russian Election Degenerates into a Reality Show. With the addition of a porn actress and other minor players, the Russian presidential elections, the outcome of which has never been in doubt, have degenerated into a bad reality show ( and and made Russians even more skeptical about the possibilities for any positive change ( and Nonetheless, the campaign continued, with Aleksey Navalny, who has been denied a place on the ballot, filing a longshot suit against Putin ( and, and Kseniya Sobchak suffering from doubts as to whether she is a real candidate or a prop for Putin ( or a Russian version of Donald Trump(, while staking out positions designed to attract more attention than anything else ( , and

3.      Putin Fires Rockets as Oligarchs Fear Economic ‘Armageddon’ Next February. Russian oligarchs increasingly fear that the new round of US sanctions scheduled to go into force next February will be their “Armageddon” ( To try to show that Russia still matters, Vladimir Putin launched four missiles in what some see as a response to the sanctions ( Moscow’s troll factory as expected denies involvement in US elections ( even as the Russian foreign ministry uses its own fake to make false claims about Hillary Clinton ( and watches the indictments against Trump associates with concern ( One Russian commentator suggested that Trump is “an American Yanukovich” (, but a Russian Jewish leader suggested that “loser” is not a Russian word and shouldn’t be used, as it has been by Trump and others about him (

4.      Putin Softens the Blow to Governors He Ousted.  Vladimir Putin’s hybridity sometimes leads to the sending of mixed messages. While insisting that he was punishing governors who had not measured up in one way or another by dismissing them, the Kremlin leader then turned about and asked them to help their successors and said he would reward them ( and The Kremlin also injected yet more money into its television propaganda effort (, even as ever more voices have been raised calling for genuine self-government at the regional and local level (

5.      Russian Central Bank Will Save Only Other Banks Too Big to Fail. Russia has acquired its own “too big to fail” problem with the Central Bank declaring that it won’t try to save all banks but only the very largest – and most politically well-connected – ones ( Scholars at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics confirmed that Russia is sliding rapidly into ever deeper stagnation ( and the finance ministry says that Moscow should finance its budget deficits by borrowing ( Meanwhile, in a highly visible infrastructure failure, the cargo terminal at a Moscow airport that the Kremlin had held up as a breakthrough project collapsed before being put into operation (

6.      Russians Lack the Money to File for Bankruptcy. Russians who should file for bankruptcy are now so deep in the whole that they can’t afford to pay lawyers and court fees to do so, thus keeping filings lower than they should be ( Russians’ standard of living continued to fall for the 35th month in a row (, more than three million Russians are unemployed with more expected in coming weeks ( Russian elites see talking about patriotism as a way to distract poorer Russians from complaints ( Milk has risen in price and Russians are cutting back their purchases of that essential food ( Medical prices and the cost of communal services are projected to jump after the elections ( and And Russians are asking why they didn’t get more of the oil wealth than they did (

7.      Most Russians Lack the Skills and Habits the Russian Economy Needs. Eighty percent of Russians lack the skills and habits needed for a modern economy (, and Russia is projected to have a shortfall of ten million professionals in the next decade ( In other social developments, attacks on migrants have not ended (, Russian prostitutes complain that the police are their worst and most violent customers (, increasing numbers of unmarried people living together are drawing fire from the Russian Orthodox Church (, using sex to pay for rent and other services and goods spreads across Russia (, but the government doesn’t want any discussion of condoms even in programs directed at preventing HIV/AIDS ( and

8.      Demographic Decline of Ethnic Russian Nation Accelerating. The size of the decline in the size of the Russian population has accelerated 50 times between 2016 and this year, experts say (, with ethnic Russians accounting for almost all of that fall (  The number of Russians marrying before 25, the group that traditionally had provided the largest number of new births, has fallen to only a third of what it was 50 years ago ( Air quality in many regions and especially in the Urals has deteriorated (, and Moscow is rapidly running out of potable water ( Russians are discovering that even if they check into hospitals, they may now not be able to get the medicines they need as many medical facilities don’t have them ( Optimization is increasingly recognized as a disaster with officials combining facilities that should never be combined (, and statistics show that more Russians per capita kill themselves outside of Moscow than inside its borders (

9.      Conflicts between Northern Peoples and Russian Corporations Expand. Ever more conflicts are breaking out between the indigenous peoples of the North and Russian corporations, with the former protesting and the latter threatening to leave the population in the lurch unless it agrees to everything the companies want ( and The Russian authorities continue to oppress the Shapsugs and the Circassians more generally ( and They also have expanded their efforts to shut down Russian nationalist websites ( Meanwhile, Muslims are mulling the introduction of halal cryto-currency to do an end run around the ruble (, and a new study suggests that Jewish contacts with the Chuvash during the Russian revolution were an important channel for the introduction of ideas about autonomy into Russian thinking (

10.  Tatars Ready to Use All Legal Means to Defend Their Language. Kazan officials and activists say they will use all legal means to defend their language rights, but it is increasingly obvious that legal defense will do little to stop the illegal and unconstitutional actions of the Russian state (, and  But individual Russians show they are ready to use the legal system even in support of Moscow’s illegal aims by filing suit against the Tatar authorities ( Elsewhere, the Chuvash Congress has denounced Putin’s language policies as national nihilism ( and And Daghestanis have found that the government is simply not providing enough textbooks in native languages to make instruction realistically possible (

11.  Russian State Not Russian Believers Decides Who’s Been Offended. Putin and his supporters have argued that a Russian law blocking any statements or actions that offend believers is a protection for believers, but a study has found that it is the Russian state and not Russian believers that decides who has been offended and who not ( Russian Orthodox activists meanwhile are complaining about state oppression of themselves (, even as Patriarch Kirill denounces as dangerous calls for freedom, equality and brotherhood (, and Moscow analysts insist that Russian Protestants aren’t like their Western counterparts ( Muslims are seeking to prevent schools from becoming places of religious competition (, but they have won one victory: Moscow hotels are now adapting to needs of Muslim tourists ( The Russian authorities are continuing their crackdown against the Jehovah’s Witnesses and expanding it to include some Buddhist groups ( and Other religious groups Moscow considers sects are also suffering from official abuse ( and But Moscow very publicly celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Bahai faith (, and Russian officials encouraged shamans to pray for the salvation of Lake Baikal (

12.  How Many Regions will Go Bankrupt Before System Changes? Moscow’s imposition of unfunded liabilities on the regions mean that ever more of them will go bankrupt, prompting questions in many regions as to when and how all this will end ( In other regional developments, RFE/RL has opened a new regional portal devoted to Siberia and the Russian Far East ( Despite Moscow’s efforts, few are investing in the North Caucasus ( A new novel celebrating the Prussian past of Kaliningrad has been condemned as anti-Russian (, even as more officials there are swept up in a purge (

13.  Russian Intelligentsia Appeals to Putin to End Oppression of Intelligentsia. In a move that epitomizes the problems of protest in Russia, members of the Russian intelligentsia have appealed to Putin to end the oppression of their numbers ( The commemorations of Stalin’s victims attracted sizeable crowds (, and Migrants staged a hunger strike in Daghestan (, a man in Tatarstan killed himself to protest police brutality (, the long-haul truckers announced they will resume their strike on December 15 ( Activists wanted to wear gas masks when Putin came to Chelyabinsk but officials banned that ( And more people demonstrated in support of the European University in St. Petersburg (

14.  Russians Blame Moscow for Repression Even When Local Officials Carry It Out. The Kremlin has tried to deflect criticism for repression by having regional officials rather than its own carry out most such actions, but this isn’t working, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta; and today, most Russians blame not those carrying out the orders but those who have given them ( Across Russia, rules against protests are being tightened (, pupils and their parents are being threatened if either takes part in demonstrations ( and In the best Stalinist tradition, a Chechen has been forced to apologize publicly for criticizing the police force ( Activists say there is now no freedom of assembly in Russia ( The ban on anonymizers has gone into effect (, but Russian IP providers say they can’t afford to enforce Russian government restrictions ( Russia now ranks fifth in the world in terms of the number of unsolved murders of journalists (, although Putin sees no link between attacks on them and freedom of the press ( In symbolic moves, the Russian Guard puts down a revolt in a mental hospital (, and Russian police mark the day of victims of political repressions with more arrests (

15.  Another 500,000 Russians Evacuated in Second Month of Bomb Scares.  Half a million Russians in 52 cities were evacuated during the second month of telephone bomb scares ( Meanwhile, a real underground bomb factory was discovered (, veterans complained to Putin about their mistreatment and the mistreatment of serving officers ( Ever fewer Russians support Putin’s policies in the Donbass although most continue to approve annexation of Crimea ( and Putin’s Russian Guard is expanding by a third and taking on new functions (  and And the Russian government has set up a special anti-drone force (

16.  Moscow Certain It has Nuclear Superiority Over US, Russian Senator Says. A Russian senator on the Federation Council’s defense and security committee says that Moscow is confident that it has nuclear superiority over the US ( Other Russian officials said that NATO tried but failed to disrupt the Zapad 2017 exercises ( But problems remain: the Russian draft system has been denounced as archaic and ineffective (, Russian arms sales are projected to fall next year (, and another helicopter crash raises qusitons about security ( As far as soft power is concerned, the Russian education ministry wants the Cyrillic alphabet to be used in all CIS member countries (, Moscow has threatened to close Russian airspace to Dutch airlines if that country goes ahead with investigations on the Malaysian plane disaster (, and more coverage in Russia has surfaced about how Russian trolls organized both sides of an anti-Muslim protest in Houston (

17.  Monuments War Spreads from Mathilda to Wall of Shame to Beyond. Now that Mathilda is in theaters and most are finding it something less than promised or threatened (, and, Moscow media have shifted to other issues, including calls for placing a Stalin statue next to the memorial to his victims to promote balance ( Once again, Russia’s day of national unity was a bust with half of Russians saying they don’t know what it is about and slightly more saying they have no plans to mark it other than to take the day off ( and A planned restaging of the seizure of the Winter Palace was replaced by a light show (, and victims of the Soviet regime complained about the Kremlin’s efforts to promote itself as their supporters ( and Meanwhile, a statue to Bolshevik revolutionaries was taken down in Irkutsk (, St. Petersburg was changing more street names and restoring pre-1917 ones (, a monument to FSB officers who lost their lives has gone up in Ingushetia (, some have called for the KPRF to pay for maintenance of the mausoleum while others have pointed out that the Yeltsin center costs more to operate than the mausoleum does ( and as part of the latest controversy over whether Lenin should finally be buried (,,,,  and And a new campaign has been launched in opposition to Russian government plans to erect a statue to Islam Karimov in Moscow in the future (

18.  West Continues to Use International Sports Federations to Persecute Russia, Moscow Says. Russian officials say that the West and especially the US are using the IOC and WADA to unfairly persecute Russian athletes with their constant talk about doping and other problems (,,, and Russia is presumably even more unhappy with a FIFA action concerning the World Cup: the international group has sold television rights to the competition in Russia next year to China ( The Islamic State has released a poster calling for the execution of athletes who take part in the 2018 World Cup competition ( Moscow says venues are ready but FIFA questions that ( and The Russian government announced that there is no chance Russian athletes will compete in the South Korean Olympiad under neutral flags (  and Russian and Chinese hockey players engaged in a  violent fight during a game ( But one thing will happen next year: the Russian authorities are committed to marking the anniversary of the centenary of the murder of the Imperial Family during the World Cup competition (
19.  Moscow Fuses February and October Revolutions for Its Own Purposes. The Kremlin has purposely blurred the February and October revolutions of 1917 because it does not want to highlight the fact that the Provisional Government brought democracy while the Bolshevik one suppressed it, according to one Moscow commentator (

20.  71 Percent of Russians Say Stalin Didn’t Repress Any of Their Family Members.  According to a new poll, nearly three out of four Russians say that Stalin didn’t repress any member of their extended families, a far lower figure than used to be cited in perestroika times (

21.  Russian Airline Now Names Planes for Russian Saints. A regional Russian carrier has given each of its planes the name of a Russian saint, a reflection of the growing role of Orthodoxy in life there (

22.  Russians Mark 48th Anniversary of First Soviet-Made Toilet Paper. The Soviet Union introduced domestically produced toilet paper only in 1969, and several writers have celebrated that event on this anniversary (

23.  Only a Bare Majority of Russians Think Russians are United. A new poll finds that only 54 percent of Russians say that the Russian people are united. The remainder either say that its members aren’t or do not want to offer an opinion (

24.  Gender Gap in Russia Said Widening. The gap between men and women is widening in Russia whether measured by power or money, a new study says, with women increasingly left behind and politically alienated as a result (

25.  More than One Million People in Russia Kept in Slavery. The Global Slavery index says that more than one million residents of Russia, almost one percent of  the population, are now kept in conditions of slavery. This means that Russia now ranks seventh among the countries of the world in terms of the number of slaves. Most in Russia are sex slaves, the index says ( and

26.  Today’s Russian ‘Thieves in Law’ Live in Cyprus and are Acknowledged via Skype.  The so-called “thieves in law,” the elite of the Russian criminal world, are today very different from their predecessors. In the past, they were at the top of the heap of prisons and camps. Now, they are more likely to be living abroad in Cyprus and to be recognized in that status by their fellow thieves via Skype (

            And 13 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Is US Delinking Donbass and Crimea? The US special representative for Ukraine has proposed not mentioning Crimea in any decision about the Donbass. Although he says that the US does not and will not accept Russian occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula, some Ukrainians fear that Washington is now delinking the two issues as the Kremlin clearly wants (

2.      Nearly 50 Percent of Ukrainians Now Favor Visa Regime with Russia. In the latest indication of Ukraine’s increasing separation from Moscow, almost half of all Ukrainians now back the introduction of a visa requirement for Russians who want to come to Ukraine (

3.      Odessa Ceasing to Be a Russian-Speaking City. Odessa, long a stronghold of the Russian language, is rapidly ceasing to be a Russian-speaking city, to the delight of Ukrainians and to the dismay of at least some Russians (

4.      Pro-Ukrainian Chechen Woman Fighter Assassinated in Ukraine. Amina Okuyeva, a Chechen who came to Ukraine to fight for its independence from Russia, was murdered, a case that has reignited fears that Russian agents are now able to carry out such attacks and get away with them as well (

5.      Russian Occupiers in Crimea Justify Repression by Inventing Terrorist Conspiracies. In order to justify their increasing repression against the population of the occupied Ukrainian peninsula, Russian officials there are creating legends about the existence of terrorist groups (

6.      Massive Repressions Resume in Belarus, UN Report Says.  The Lukashenka regime has resumed its policy of mass repression, according to a new United Nations report ( One consequence of that is that ever more people and especially younger wants want to move abroad (

7.      Belarusian Army No Longer Looks Soviet But Still Soviet in Spirit. The Belarusian military has adopted new uniforms which make its soldiers and officers look less like Soviet ones, but one of the plagues of the Soviet military – dedovshchina – continues, claiming yet another soldier’s life this week (  and

8.      Moldovan High Court Opens Way for Reidentifying Moldovan as Romanian – and Possibly More. The Supreme Court of Moldova has issued a ruling that could allow that country to reidentify its national language as Romanian and possibly even to join Romania and thus become a NATO country via the backdoor ( and

9.      First Container from Kazakhstan Reaches Turkey via Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway. In a clear indication that the railroads from Central Asia via the Caucasus to Turkey are now integrated, the first container from Kazakhstan has reached the Turkish city of Kars (

10.  First Kazakh Newspaper in New Latin Script Appears. Now that Astana has approved the new Kazakh Latin script, the first newspaper in that alphabet is being published (

11.  Restrictions on Media Intensifying in Central Asia, OSCE Says. The countries in Central Asia are increasingly restricting media freedom, according to a new report by the OSCE. The organization stresses that journalists are at risk not only of repression but even of loss of life (

12.  Riga Puts All who Fought Against Latvia in World War II in Same Category. A legal move by the Latvian parliament to count in the same way veterans who fought against Latvia both in the German army and the Soviet one has sparked furor in Moscow which views this move as yet another effort to equate Stalinism and Nazism ( and

13.  Estonia May Introduce Ukrainian as Language of Instruction in Some Narva Schools. The Estonian government is considering introducing Ukrainian as a language of instruction in some of the schools in the northeastern portion of the country given that many of the people there now counted as ethnic Russians are in fact from Ukraine (

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