Tainted liquor supplies confiscated by authorities. Photo by Krasnoyarsk Police.
Staunton, VA, April 23, 2017 – 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 epresents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 79th 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. Support for Putin ‘a Ritual Not a Reality.’ Russian commentator Tatyana Stanovaya says that the high levels of support for Vladimir Putin should be viewed as a public ritual rather than a reality, and other experts say that Putin is going to have to choose between getting 70 percent support and 70 percent participation in the upcoming elections. He can’t get both as his aides say he wants. Other Putin news this week: he takes care of his friends and has changed traffic rules to benefit his biker buddies, Cossacks say that a good Cossack can’t oppose Putin and exclude one of their own who does, and farmers in Volgograd want to use Putin’s name as a magic wand – they are pressing to rename their market for the Kremlin leader in the expectation that local officials won’t close anything bearing his name. Meanwhile, in Western Ukraine, a fresco has appeared in a Lviv church showing Putin as many would like to see him, burning in hell at the last judgment, includes a picture of the fresco).
2. Kremlin Seeks to Reign In Anti-Trump Tide. Having promoted a groundswell in support of Donald Trump last year and then an equally powerful one against the new US president when he didn’t perform as Moscow expected, the Kremlin is now taking steps to reign in, at least a little, anti-Trump statements on Russian television. It sharply criticized one host for comparing Trump to the North Korean dictator and . The Kremlin may have been rattled by poll results showing that one Russian in seven thinks that Russia is now at war with the US and by concerns that anti-Trump rhetoric will preclude some kind of a deal. According to one commentator, if Moscow plays its cards right, Trump will agree to having Russia serve as a regional hegemon, backing Moscow “as a local sheriff dealing with Indians”. Whether a more moderate approach to Trump will work is unclear, especially in the wake of new Western reports about Moscow’s meddling in the US elections last year, something the US administration can effectively counter only by adopting a hard line on Russia.
3. IMF Says Russian Economy ‘Condemned to Falling Ever Further Behind’ West. With Russian commentators pointing out Kremlin claims about improvements in the country’s economy fall within the margin of error, the International Monetary Fund has released a study showing that Russia is “condemned to falling ever further behind” the economies of the rest of the world. There was certainly plenty of evidence this week for such unfortunate conclusions: bank deposits are at their lowest point ever, the country’s reserve fund is at the lowest point since its founding, government employees’ incomes are growing twice as fast as those of the population, 70 percent of Russian families are said to be at the edge of survival, 40 percent of Russians are now part of the black or gray market economy as firms seek to avoid taxes, the Russian government has again reduced the minimum standard of living figures in order to avoid having to report growing poverty, economists say that sanctions have reduced the Russian standard of living by ten percent, ever more Russians are taking out new loans to cover old ones they can’t pay, and Russian consumer demand is now too low to support growth. Indeed, there was only one “bright” spot in the Russian economy this week: analysts reported that the Russian pornography industry continues to grow at double-digit rates.
4. Russian Adults Now Consuming 30 Liters of Pure Alcohol Every Year. Although Moscow claims that Russians are drinking less, experts say that in reality, Russians are drinking far more alcohol, as much as 30 liters a year, if one includes not only samogon but increasingly dangerous surrogates, thus exacerbating what is already the most serious national alcohol problem in the world. Other social problems reported this week: a hospital in the Altay has appealed to the population to bring it potatoes so patients won’t starve, a Duma deputy has called for ending subsidies to single mothers lest the authorities encourage such an alternative life style, schools in some parts of Russia are feeding rich children better than poor ones, many university instructors and researchers are now losing their jobs, some Russians are complaining that Moscow falsifies news even when there is no reason for it to do so, the Aeroflot stewardness who sued the airline for her dismissal because she didn’t meet appearance standards has lost her case, the sharp deterioration of Russians’ diets means that Russia now ranks third in the world in terms of the share of overweight people, government officials may be able to continue to work until 70 under a new bill thus protecting their incomes and perhaps maintaining their loyalty, the government is preparing a new law to ban all anonymizers in its effort to restrict internet access, and as things deteriorate, the KPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] has urged that the government assume all costs for burials to ensure that at the end of their lives, Russians won’t be further embarrassed by their poverty.
5. Discrimination Against Non-Russians Begins at the Russian Border. Non-Russians say they are subject to discriminatory behavior by Russian officials from the moment they arrive at an airport in that country and that the discrimination continues as they move throughout Russian society. Other news this week from the nationalities front: a Russian commentator says Moscow destroyed the Tatar banking system to show Kazan’s weakness in advance of talks about extending the power-sharing agreement, Moscow is whipping up the Bashkirs against the Tatars as part of this effort, a Tatar writer says that she cannot earn enough money writing in Tatar alone, North Caucasian officials are being condemned for past support of the idea of national self-determination for the Circassians, and there are no so many Muslims in Russian prisons that special courses for jailers have been organized to teach them how to interact with Islamists.
6. Protests Will Grow Because Russians Lack Other Ways to Make Demands – and Demos Sometimes Work. Russian experts say that the number of Russians taking part in demonstrations will increase because they have no other way to advance their causes and because in some cases, as in Novosibirsk this week, protests actually work with officials changing policies as a result. That may help explain why Vladimir Putin ordered his subordinates to devote more attention to citizen complaints and why his regime is searching for a new youth movement to divert young people from anti-regime protests). Other news this week from the protest front, besides the truckers strike, includes Moscow’s apparent decision to mark the Year of Ecology with expanded arrests and harassment of environmental activists, new data showing far more people were detained on March 26 than had been initially reported, and the detention of a TV Rain television host for appearing at a demonstration dressed as a penis.
7. Russians Favor Burying Lenin But Maybe Not Just Yet. Some 60 percent of Russians now favor burying Lenin, but that figure, widely cited in the West, may be deceptive: Only half of those want that to happen now; the other half want to wait until the older generation has died off. Polls show that Russians have an increasingly positive attitude toward Lenin and that nearly four out of five oppose taking down statues of the founder of the Soviet state. Reflecting this situation, United Russia deputies first supported and then backed away from a Duma measure to call for Lenin’s reburial now, as debate continued over whether there has been enough de-communization in Russia or not. Meanwhile, on other parts of the monuments war front, the Russian Orthodox Church was caught destroying a church it had been given back in the name of “restoring”, a shopping center opened in the controversial Yeltsin Center, activists in Orenburg are promoting the idea of a statue to Russian MIA’s, and the fight over St. Isaac’s in St. Petersburg continues in the courts.
8. More Problems with the 2018 World Cup. Moscow has launched a nice offensive to try to win support for its holding the 2018 World Cup, with Russian athletes now apologizing for their use of drugs in the past, but that effort has been undercut by the announcement of other Russian officials that they have come up with an alternative to one of the banned drugs, continued problems with venues, and the unwillingness of international companies to sponsor advertising for the games. That has led to a petition campaign to strip Moscow of the World Cup and calls by a US senator to shift the competition to other countries, calls that FIFA has so far rejected because it says it doesn’t want to politicize sports.
9. Kremlin’s Greatest Worry: Will the Siloviki Shoot at the People? A Moscow commentator says that anger among the population against some government policies is now so strong that it is infecting members of the siloviki who after all are Russians as well, thus raising the question: will such people follow orders to shoot at protesters or will they go over to the side of the people? One reason for their possible reluctance to shoot is that the population is increasingly armed and even prepared to attack government offices as happened at the FSB headquarters in Khabarovsk this week. Many of the weapons now in private hands are flowing in from the Russian-occupied Donbass.
10. A Third of Russians Oppose Moscow’s Military Operation in Syria. According to a new poll, a third of Russians oppose Moscow’s military operation in Syria, a number that may rise when Russians learn of official efforts to underreport combat losses and of problems in military units their government has dispatched there. But Moscow has other security problems as well: its missile factories are almost at a standstill because of shortages of parts and problems with existing systems, and some of its intelligence operations are collapsing and being exposed as those initially recruited to work for Russia decide to turn the tables. In the face of these problems, Vladimir Putin focused on what must seem a major one to him: he met with the defense minister to discuss ensuring an adequate supply of kvas to Russian soldiers.
11. China Passes Russia in Space Race. Russian commentators say that because of problems in Moscow’s space program, China now ranks ahead of Russia in that competition.
12. Russian Road Repair Truck Swallowed by Pothole. Russia’s roads remain notoriously bad. Emblematic of that is a new report that a road repair truck called to fix a pothole arrived only to fall into it and have to be pulled out by another.
13. California Secessionist Asks for Permanent Residence Status in Russia. A man who presented himself as the leader of Calexit, a plan for the state of California to secede from the United States has now asked for permanent residence status in Russia, the country where he has long been living.
14. Poking Fun at Reporting Requirements, Petersburg Legislator Says He has Land on Mars. A member of the Leningrad Region legislature, apparently upset by requirements that he report his holdings, has declared that he owns land on Mars and also on several stars beyond the solar system.
15. Destruction of Geology in Russia Means More Buildings May Fall Down. A scholar says that Moscow’s cutbacks in support for geological science means that fewer investigations will be conducted to determine whether the soil in particular places can support the buildings businessmen and the government want to erect. As a result, many buildings are likely to go up where they shouldn’t and then collapse.
16. Russia to Be Hit Harder by Global Warming than Anyone Predicted But Climate Change Denial Spreads. A group of American scholars has concluded that every degree of global warming will wipe out a much large area of permafrost than anyone suspected (New York Times, April 13, 2017, p. A7). Russia, the country with the largest permafrost area, will thus be hit harder and more quickly than anyone predicted. Nonetheless and for the same reasons as in the West, climate change denial is spreading in Russia with ever more people advocating that Moscow end climate cooperation with the international community.
17. Moscow Wants to Seize Property from Anyone Charged with Almost Any Crime. The Russian authorities have long confiscated the property of those they have convicted of serious crimes, but now the Russian justice ministry is proposing to seize the property of almost anyone charged with almost any crime.
18. Zhirinovsky Says Release of Data on Deputies’ Wealth Could Unsettle Society. Russians might react with anger to information about the holdings of Duma deputies, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky says; and so it would be better for all concerned if such information remained beyond the public eye.
19. Russian Support for Stalin Triples Since 1991. The share of Russians who say they have a positive attitude about the Soviet dictator has tripled since the end of Soviet times
20. Magadan Editor Who Denounced Russian Diplomats as Soccer Louts Fired. The editor of a Magadan newspaper who expressed outrage at the statements of Moscow’s acting permanent representative to the UN and suggested that Russian diplomats should give up their suits and dress as soccer fans has been fired.
21. Even Unequal Animals are Unequal. According to government declaration forms, Duma deputies are significantly more wealthy than Kremlin officials.
22. How Bad are Things in Russia? Some from There are Now Working in North Korea. The economic situation in Russia is now so dire that some Russians have elected to move to North Korea to earn their keep.
23. The Trust Lives! A new history of Feliks Dzerzhinsky’s notorious false flag operation against the Russian emigration and Western intelligence services has been released to rave reviews in Moscow.
24. Russia Becoming ’15 Cities Surrounded by Emptiness and Linked by Bad Roads.’ The emptying out of the Russian countryside means that that enormous country is increasingly being reduced to “15 cities surrounded by emptiness and linked together by bad roads,” according to Moscow commentator Yekaterina Schulmann.
25. A Country Called Russia May Not Exist in 2100, Scholar Says. Andrey Movchan says that if current trends continue, a country named Russia may not survive until the end of the 20th century.
26. If USSR were Restored, Only 46 Percent of Its Population would be Russian. A new Western study has pointed out that there are compelling reasons why Russians should not want to see the restoration of the Soviet Union. Were that entity to be re-established as some in Moscow want, only 46 percent of its population would be ethnic Russian and only 58 percent would speak Russian, figures that would guarantee that the processes of disintegration would simply be reignited.
And 12 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Fourteen of 96 Terrorists Killed by US MOAB Bomb Strike in Afghanistan were Tajiks. Officials confirm that 14 of the 96 terrorists killed by the US-use of the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan were from Tajikistan, yet another indication of the increasing participation of Central Asians in Islamist forces abroad.
2. Soldiers Face Hard Times in Central Asian Armies. A survey of military life in the five armies of Central Asia finds that soldiers in these forces face more than the usual problems of life in uniform with food shortages, brutality and delays in receiving pay common.
3. Moscow Goes to Extreme Lengths to Discredit Balts. In its annual report, Estonia’s security service documents that Moscow security services dispatched a swastika-tattooed Russian skinhead from St. Petersburg to Estonia so that he could be photographed by the Russian media to support Moscow’s claims of a revival of fascism in that Baltic country.
4. ‘Baltic Elves Battle Russian Trolls’ on the Internet. On the front line of Russian cyber-aggression, the Baltic countries have stepped up their defenses against it. Those who fight Russian trolls are now known in Russia at least as “the Baltic Elves”.
5. Latvians Feel Less Secure than Estonians or Lithuanians. Polls show that Latvians continue to feel less secure than their Baltic neighbors to the north and south, the result of Moscow’s greater efforts there and the sense that their large ethnic Russian community makes them more vulnerable to such influence attempts.
6. An Ethnic Russian in Estonia Says He Feels Neither Russian nor Estonian. A man who was born an ethnic Russian but who has learned to speak Estonian and to accept many Estonian values says that he feels trapped between being the ethnicity of his birth and the ethnicity he is rapidly acquiring.
7. 20 Percent of Ukrainians Went to Easter Services: Only Four Percent of Russians Did. Despite much talk in Russia about religion being one of the core national values, only one Russian in 25 attended Easter services this year. In Ukraine, in contrast, one in every five resident did so.
8. Armenian-Georgian Agreement on Transportation Corridor Helps Iran, Hurts Russia. Moscow officials are alarmed that an agreement that will allow Armenian goods to flow through Georgia will hurt Russia by undermining its influence in Yerevan and help Iran by giving it another path to send goods to the West.
9. Is Black Going to Become the New Orange in Kazakhstan? President Nursultan Nazarbayev wants to prohibit women from wearing black except at times of mourning in order to limit the influence of Islamist groups in that country. He also wants to ban beards beyond a certain length.
10. Belarusians Say They Now have a LULAG, not a GULAG. Belarusian opposition figures are now referring to Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s prisons and camps as the LULAG “in honor” of their president.
11. Moscow Promoting a New Kind of Ethnic Change in Occupied Crimea. Because Vladimir Putin has opened the way for more Crimean Tatars to return to Russian-occupied Crimea, Moscow is engaged in another form of ethnic displacement there, a policy in direct violation of international law. According to Russian media, Central Asians are taking advantage of this new Moscow policy to move from their homelands to occupied Crimea.
12. Outmigration from Ukraine Hasn’t Increased But It has Shifted Away from Russia to Europe. Ukrainians continue to move to other countries in search of work, but the total number remains largely unchanged despite Russian media suggestions to the contrary. What has changed is that Ukrainians are not moving to Russia as they once did but rather to EU countries.