Staunton, VA, March 17, 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 presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 74th such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, once again, one could have put out such a listing every day — but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.
1. Russian Occupation Leaders in Crimea Push for Putin to Become Tsar. Since the Crimean Anschluss three years ago, Vladimir Putin has used that Ukrainian peninsula as a testing ground for various policies he has then extended to the Russian Federation. That makes calls by occupation officials there for the restoration of the monarchy with Putin as tsar intriguing if not necessarily compelling. There is widespread support for the restoration of post of tsar or atleast of a president for life. KPRF chief Gennady Zyuganov for example wants “Holy Russia Plus Soviet Justice”, and the Izborsky Club is pushing for a tsarist-style rule as the basis for an ideology it says is necessary to save the country. But there is opposition to the idea as a whole, and many have pointed out that there are many people who have a better right to succeed to the throne than a former KGB lieutenant colonel. In other Putin news, the Kremlin leader publicly acknowledged that his handwriting is often so bad that he can’t read what he has written, and one commentator argued that the best way to understand Putin’s popularity with the ethnic Russian core of the country is that he has successfully cast himself as the protector of the majority’s identity against attacks from various minorities. However that may be, Putin took three steps this past week to shore up his support or at the very least minimize sources of opposition: He pushed legislation that will free from Russian taxes anyone who has been sanctioned by the West. He moved to ban all MVD officers from leaving the country without specific authorization. And with an eye to possible demonstrations against himself in the upcoming campaign, he moved to block any government official from taking part in any political protest.
2. Only Defense of Private Property in Russia is European Human Rights Court. The Russian legal and political situation is so feudal that the only defense owners of private property have in that country is to appeal to the European Human Rights Court and hope that the Kremlin will agree to enforce its decisions. Other economic news from the last week: capital flight to Switzerland set a record last year with US $5.1 billion flowing out of Russia to that country, a Russian analyst has pointed out that adjusting tax rates will do little or nothing to address Russia’s fundamental economic problems given that the Russian economy is, in the words of another, “a patient that is more dead than alive”, the average size of a bribe in Russia rose 75 percent over the last year, and Russian media have been struggling with what is for that country a new concept, the working poor. And polls show that Russians do not support engaging in a struggle against Western sanctions.
3. Social Problems Intensify Across Russia. As a result of the economic crisis and government incompetence, social problems are intensifying across the Russian Federation; but by their very nature, they are so diverse that it is almost impossible either for Russians or for analysts to provide a comprehensive picture. Among this week’s stories which represent some of the facets of this development are the following:
Russia is now losing more from environmental pollution than it does from terrorism, medicine shortages are so great in many hospitals that doctors are buying medicines in the marketplace to be able to help their patients, Russians both recent and descendants of the first Russian emigration are returning to Russia as a result of growing hostility to Russians in many countries, women scholars are paid 25 percent less than their male counterparts in Russian research institutions, extremist crimes are up or down depending on what statistics one uses, 56 percent of Russians think judges in Russia are corrupt or manipulated by those in power, Russian Rail bans smoking on long-haul routes, old people in Yakutsk are starving in the cold in a home for the elderly, Russian government gives environmental protection award to biggest polluter in the Arctic, Norilsk Nickel; Russian roads often keep doctors from reaching patients before they die; wage arrests have grown 12 percent in the last month; HIV/AIDS cases up 40 percent in last 12 months in Chuvashia; 80 percent of Russian workers now at risk to their health and lives while at the workplace; foreign trips by Russians fall by eight percent in 2016, Russians have stopped buying meat and fruit and substituted potatoes instead, and 40 percent of Russians say they now have money only to pay for food and nothing else.
4. Court Kills Challenge to Transfer of St. Isaac’s. The fight over the Russian government’s plan to hand St. Isaac’s back to the Russian Orthodox Church appears to be over now that an appeals court has ruled against the challengers. But the monuments war intensified in other locations. The conflict over whether to bury Lenin broke up again . Surveys show that Russia’s young people are just as divided about the 1917 revolution as their parents or grandparents, the Russian Orthodox Church has announced plans to erect a monument in St. Petersburg later this year to priests and bishops killed by the Bolsheviks, conflicts over the use of the name Alania in the North Caucasus continued to spread, one Russian in four now favors erecting a permanent memorial to Boris Nemtsov, and a “last address” monument goes up in Rostov.
5. Moscow Plays Up Problems in WADA Report and Arguments of Athletic Officials that Innocent Athletes Shouldn’t be Blocked from Competing. Russian media outlets have played up acknowledgements and claims by some in the West that the WADA anti-doping report contains mistakes and calls by the leaders of some athletic associations not to block any innocent athlete even if he comes from a country where there are problems. Meanwhile, Russian outlets have been discussing the way Russian football fans could be a resource for Moscow in the future. And in a measure of how tough the Russian economy has been on even the most prominent athletes, one Olympic champion to whom Putin gave a car has been forced to sell it to make ends meet.
6. More than 60 Russian Cities Apply to Demonstrate Against Medvedev. One measure of the impact of reports about Dmitry Medvedev’s corruption is that activists in more than 60 Russian cities have applied for official permission to hold demonstrations calling for Medvedev to resign. Among other protests this week were ones involving back wages and housing and gay rights in the North Caucasus. Another indication of protests is that some Dagestanis have attacked police there who they say have abused their powers.
7. ‘Human Rights Aren’t Russian Values,’ Putin Spokesman Says. In the clearest indication yet that Vladimir Putin rejects human rights as the foundation for the state and the international order, his press spokesman has declared that “human rights aren’t Russian values”.
8. Russia Isn’t a Nation State or a State of Nations But Rather a Conglomerate of Various Kinds of Identity, Eurasianist Says. Russia is not a nation state or a state which includes various nations but rather an imperial conglomerate of ethnic and other kinds of communities that coexist with one another under Moscow’s rule, according to a Eurasianist theorist.
9. Putin to Balance the Budget on Backs of Pensioners. Like his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Vladimir Putin plans to extract money from those living on pensions in order to pay for his buildup of the defense and internal security sectors, a strategy that will further depress the standard of living of Russia’s older people and may spark some to demonstrate against such an approach.
10. Now Even Large Russian Cities are Beginning to Die. For more than half a century, Russians have talked about the dying out of that country’s villages and for the last two decades they have focused on the dying out of company towns. But now there is evidence that even large Russian cities outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg are losing their economic base and their population. This process is being driven by super-high mortality among ethnic Russians and by declines in the number of legal immigrants.
11. Russia Still has More Prisoners per Capita than Any Other Country in Europe. Moscow trumpeted the fact this week that the number of people officially incarcerated in the Russian penal system has declined in recent months, driven down by an effort on the part of the authorities to save money by de-institutionalizing convicts. But despite this decline, Russia still has more prisoners per capita than any other country in Europe.
12. Sexual Favors Now Currency of Last Resort in Buryatia. Given declines in cash income as a result of the economic crisis, residents of Buryatia are now using sexual favors to pay for plumbing, car maintenance, mobile phones and even dog walking.
13. Russians Can Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day Today or on March 30. Now that the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has decided to mark St. Patrick’s Day, a decision attacked by many Russian traditionalists and anti-ecumenical commentators, Russians can, thanks to the church’s use of the old style calendar celebrate this holiday either today or 13 days from now.
And six more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. General Einseln Dies at 85. Aleksander Einseln, an Estonian refugee who rose to the rank of colonel in the US army and then served as commander of Estonia’s defense forces in the 1990s, has died after a long illness. He played a key role in preparing the Estonian military for integration into NATO.
2. Radical Islam Spreading in Central Asia Because of Injustice, Expert Says. A Kazakhstan expert on religion and society says that Islamic radicalism is spreading in his country and in the region because people there have a sense that their governments are fundamentally unjust. Unless the governments in that region change course, other specialists say, there is little chance that these countries will remain secular states.
3. Fewer Belarusians Migrating to Russia than are Any Other CIS Nation. Despite the economic difficulties they face under Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime, fewer Belarusians have elected to migrate to the Russian Federation than have representatives of any other CIS titular nation.
4. Lukashenka’s Anti-Vagrancy Tax Insulted the Dignity of the Belarusian People. Many have interpreted the protests in Belarus narrowly as the response of people there to an attack on their economic well-being, but Minsk analysts say that in fact the decision of Belarusians to continue to go into the streets reflects the fact that Lukashenka by his action insulted the dignity of Belarusians. Even worse, they say, his actions demonstrated that the social contract he had offered the Belarusians in the past has collapsed and that there is little prospect for its recovery.
5. Moscow’s Creeping Annexation of South Ossetia Continues. The Kremlin took another step toward the integration of the breakaway Georgian republic of South Ossetia into the Russian Federation by agreeing to integrate that statelet’s military into the Russian armed forces.
6. Russian Occupiers Want to Rename Crimea’s Kerch Pantakalei. Activists from the Russian Federation among the occupation forces in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula say they will press to rename the city of Kerch Pantakalei, a name that they say is more historical than the one Ukrainians and Russians have long used.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick