Staunton, February 24 – Valery Panyushkin today points to a development that, like the dog in the Sherlock Holmes story which didn’t bark, not everyone has noticed because it is about the absence of something rather than its presence – and that is the increasing lack of stories on Russian television about Russia.
It has become so bad, the Moscow writer says, that when one watches Russian television, it is as if one is living not in that country but in Ukraine, a shortcoming that appears to be reinforcing what he sees as a pattern among his fellow residents of that country “no one wants to know about Russia.”
And this problem seems likely to get worse at least in the short term, given that Vladimir Putin’s Russian world idea is best promoted by talking about countries other than his own and that news outlets in Russia are disappearing as a result of government policies and economic hardships.
Nonetheless, much is happening in Russia, and not all of it is directly related to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Here are five news items from the last 24 hours, each of which says something important about Russian life — and each of which may have a greater impact on that country than what Kremlin-controlled television is talking about.
First of all, Russians are drinking less officially produced vodka but buying 300 percent more equipment to produce their own moonshine than they did a year ago.
That could lead to a public health disaster given that “samogon,” as Russians refer to moonshine, not only may be far more alcoholic than the official kind but also may contain dangerous poisons
Second, Russian workers are staging more strikes to get their back pay, to protest firings, and to improve working conditions than they did a year ago, but they are increasingly constrained by rising unemployment – now going up at two percent a week – and by declines in the number of vacancies for other jobs.
Third, ever more dissidents are fleeing Russia not just from Moscow but from the regions, including most recently Kuban State University’s Mikhail Savva, a development that may reduce protests but that will beyond any doubt reduce the amount of information about worsening conditions in Russia’s provinces and non-Russian republics.
Fourth, over the last few weeks, in Moscow alone, eleven people suffering from cancer have committed suicide but not because as is often the case in other countries as well of the pain, suffering and sense of hopelessness that disease produces. Instead, they are killing themselves because the Russian medical system is in such bad shape that they cannot get the chemotherapy drugs they need to stay alive.
And fifth, and most disturbingly because it affects almost all Russians, the government is thinking about “solving” its financial problems by raising the retirement age to the point that many Russians won’t live to collect pensions, a step that may look good on government balance sheets but that may involve an untold number of human tragedies.