Staunton, VA, May 20, 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 presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 83rd 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 Unwittingly Explains Why His Policies Have Made Russia a Seedbed of Terrorism. Vladimir Putin says that poverty and enormous income inequality create “a seedbed for terrorism.” Given that his own policies have increased income inequality in Russia to unheard of levels and sent enormous numbers of Russians into poverty, the Kremlin leader thus unwittingly and certainly unintentionally provided an explanation for why the Russian Federation is breeding ground for terrorists, both home-grown and among labor migrant populations. In other comments this week, Putin said that the Muslim world can always count on Russia and that there should be an end to “militaristic rhetoric” around the world. Other Putin news included polls showing that young Russians support Putin even though they are angry about almost everything and commentaries suggesting the Kremlin must do more in schools beginning in kindergarten to ensure that young people don’t turn their anger against Putin.
2. ‘Hold on, President Trump. Russia is With You!’ LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky who celebrated Donald Trump’s election with champagne only to denounce him as little better than Barack Obama earlier this year now says, in the face of investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia that the US president should “hold on” because he must know that “Russia is with you!”. Other Russian commentator continue to struggle to find just the right Russian analogy for Trump. One suggests he is the American Stalin, while another said that all of Trump’s problems arise because he thinks he is Putin and can act like the Russian leader. At least Trump can be pleased that no one in Moscow this week described him as “the anti-Christ,” a term that was applied to the new French president. But while most Russian outlets backed Trump against criticism, at least one – Gazeta – suggested that there is a real basis for his impeachment.
3. How Dire is Russia’s Economic Situation: Moscow TV Encourages Dumpster Diving. A Moscow television channel has encouraged Russians to search for food in the trash if they are desperate, an indication of just how bad Russia’s economic situation is, Vladimir Putin’s brave words notwithstanding. Other bad economic news includes: predictions that the Russian government will use the pension fund to pay current expenses when the reserve fund runs out later this year, findings that one in seven Russians lives in poverty now with the number increasing constantly, capital flight this year has doubled from the same period last year, the government’s budget deficit has passed 500 billion rubles this year, officials have stopped repairing roads in many places, employment by small businesses has fallen by 3.2 million jobs over the last six years, one quarter of Russians can’t afford to pay for utilities and food at the same time, and pensions are slated to drop from 33 percent of wages to 23 percent.
4. Social Conditions in Russia Continue to Deteriorate. Living conditions for Russians of almost all kinds continue to deteriorate. Among the reports this week: officials announced that there is almost no money left for higher educational institutions in the North Caucasus, Moscow has raised tuition at Chelyabinsk higher schools, parents in Irkutsk Region have been told that there now aren’t any places for their children in schools, infant mortality is now higher in Russia than in Belarus, reductions in the number of medical personnel under Putin’s optimization program have led to higher death rates in many places, the number of scientists and scholars is slated to fall by 25 percent over the next three years, HIV infections are up by 5.3 percent this year, Russians in many regions don’t have access to safe potable water, and to add insult to injury, in the poorest major city of the country – Volgograd, all the deputies in the city legislature are millionaires
5. Moscow Becomes Ever More Repressive, Isolationist and Just Strange. The Russian government has decided to keep the list of Russians freed from taxes because of sanctions a state secret lest there be an explosion, the Duma is planning to legalize and license fortune tellers, the government is creating a single data base to keep track of all residents of Russia, officials have banned champagne and live music at wedding palaces in Moscow, the government is spending 25 billion rubles (US $500 million) a year on government media, the FSB has been given the right to confiscate land for government purposes, another rabbi has been expelled from Russia, the culture ministry wants to charge higher prices for those who attend foreign films as compared to those who watch domestically produced ones and to ban drinking in movie houses, a man has been threatened with four years in prison for stealing eight dollars worth of food, debt collectors have become more aggressive and the number of complaints against them has skyrocketed, the government is now requiring cosmonauts to agree to propagandize Russian achievements in space as a condition of employment, Moscow has estimated that there are now as many as ten million illegal immigrants in Russia but says it has no money to deport many of them. Most distressing of all, some Russians are now talking about the death not just of villages and company towns but of entire regions).
6. Kadyrov Could Become Russian President – or Face Trial in the Hague. Ramzan Kadyrov continues to be a focus of Russian discussions with speculation ranging from the possibility that he could succeed Vladimir Putin as Russian president or end his career by being charged at the International Criminal Court, two fates that of course are not mutually exclusive. Other “ethnic” developments in Russia this week: Buryats have announced a new campaign to speak only Buryat over the next month, Russian officials have “liquidated” a Tatar organization that no longer exists, Buryatia may now license shamans, tuberculosis has become epidemic in Daghestan, Russian scholars have found a non-Russian language they had declared dead still has one speaker left, Bashkir activists attack what they say is Tatar historical imperialism, antagonisms between Russians and Cossacks are on the rise, and the head of Daghestan has publicly compared himself to Imam Shamil.
7. Khrushchoby Fight Makes Moscow a Hotspot But Kremlin Says It Won’t Interfere. Fights between supporters and opponents of tearing down the ubiquitous five-storey apartment building in Moscow have transformed that city into a hotspot, but the Kremlin insists it is a local matter and that it won’t interfere. Opponents of the renovations say that demolishing these buildings is really about money-aundering and that the government is ignoring “no” votes in a referendum on whether to go ahead. Meanwhile, protests continue to spread across the country about a variety of issues with the authorities seeking as much as possible to block them. Among the most notable developments in this front over the last week are the following: Yekaterinburg has banned the latest monstration that it had permitted earlier, Russia’s Satanists have come out against religious extremism, Kazan residents demonstrated against local banks, Komi residents demand Lukoil apologize for its depradation of their land, Kurgan residents protest the arbitrariness of the legal system, and Chelyabinsk residents demonstrated against the erection of a statue to the founder of the Soviet nuclear program. Given these protests, one Moscow commentator has suggested that those whose targets today are lower level officials may soon turn their anger against Putin himself.
8. Old Fronts and New in Russia’s Monuments War. The fight over St. Isaacs continues with some suggesting the Russian Orthodox Church will seek to get the Hermitage back next and others urging that the whole dispute be put off until after the presidential election. Other monument developments this week include: the reburial of two Tatar khans in Kazan’s Kremlin, a new outburst of conflict over the possibility of a monument to peasant revolts against Soviet power, a fight over whether Ilham Aliyev’s grandfather will get a monument in Makhachkala, renewed conflict about memorializing the place of mass execution of priests in Moscow under Stalin, a new museum to the repressed planned for Magadan, and a conflict about the possibility of establishing a museum to Boris Nemtsov breaks out.
9. Moscow Cutting Back Defense Spending in Many Areas. For all of Moscow’s rhetoric that Russia is back as a military power, the Russian government has been cutting back spending in almost all areas of the military and shifting what resources it has to less expensive branches like the infantry rather than the more expensive like the navy. The Kremin has created cyberforces but has decided it can’t afford another icebreaker. In addition, it has gone after soldiers in Syria for losing even one gun and is considering ending cooperation with the International Space Station.
10. Another Governor Creates His Own Personal Guards Force. The governor of Stavropol Territory has become the second federation subject head – after Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya – to create his own personal armed guard force. Other domestic security news includes: Moscow is devoting as much effort to promoting spiritual values as to fighting terrorism, Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t apply for alternative service now that their faith has been officially banned, the Russian military has again stopped drafting Chechens, apparently because they are being taken into special Chechen units, and one in every five men called to the draft in Kaluga Region are found to be physically unfit.
11. Doping Scandal, Other Sports Problems Continue to Dog Moscow. The World Anti-Doping Agency has told Moscow that if it wants to get back in the organization’s good graces it must come clean and get rid of most of the senior people in its own problem-filled anti-doping operation. It is far from clear that Moscow will be willing to do so. That was only one of the problems this week threatening Russia’s involvement in international athletic competitions and its hosting of the World Cup in 2018 and other games. Venues being prepared for the World Cup continue to have problems with athletes complaining that they could be injured in some of them, and officials acknowledging chemical contaminations in others. The new Rosgvardiya (National Guard) will be providing security. And then there were two new and unusual difficulties: Russian television may not get the rights to broadcast the World Cup because Moscow says it shouldn’t have to pay FIFA’s price, and Russian fans who own guns complained that they should be allowed to carry during the competition even though they are notoriously violent and Putin has issued a ban on such a practice.
12. ‘Liberal Advance into Russia More Horrific than War with Hitler,’ Delyagin Says. Russian nationalist commentator Mikhail Delyagin made that remark in the wake of commemorations of Victory Day. Unfortunately, such outrageous statements are so common that they have become part of the background in Russian media and so are often not reported and denounced, although both things should be done.
13. Moscow Mayor Wants to Rename Street in Front of US Embassy for Jefferson Davis. Angry that the US Congress has mandated renaming the street in front of the Russian embassy in Washington for the murdered Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has announced a petition drive to rename the street in front of the US embassy in Moscow for Jefferson Davis, the president of the slave-holding Confederacy in the 1860s. This appears to be part of the tit-for-tat response to US actions at the end of last year that Vladimir Putin famously did not react to. Now, Moscow is going far further than diplomatic protocol usually mandates (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5915C7F386842).
14. Stalin is Everywhere: You can Even Get an Exact Copy of a Knife Beria Gave Him. Wherever you look in Russia today, you see Stalin be it in the metro, in public offices, or even in unexpected places. This week, for example, it was announced that an arms factory in the Urals is now making exact copies of the knife notorious Soviet secret police chief Lavrenty Beria had made to present to Stalin, a must for collectors.
15. Russian Orthodox Abroad Aren’t Religious But They Do Believe in the Kremlin. Many Russian Orthodox people living abroad don’t practice their religion or even believe in God, experts say; but they do believe in a strong Russia led by a strong Kremlin – and are thus extremely useful allies for the Russian special services.
16. ‘Atheism is Also a Traditional Russian Value.’ Many Russians as a result of Soviet anti-religious efforts are atheists, and an increasing number of them are demanding that the Russian government recognize their absence of faith as “a traditional Russian value” that ties members of the Russian nation together.
17. Moscow Hosts International Moonshine Producers Conference. The Russian capital has rarely been the venue for a conference more unusual than one that took place last week: an international gathering of producers of moonshine or samogon, as it is known in Russia. Many of them come from countries where such production is legal or barely so, but they were pleased to share trade secrets of their craft.
18. Russian Villages Seen as Going Extinct in a Decade. The village, the basis of much of Russian life, will not survive more than another ten years, according to Moscow experts who say that the institutions that held it together are simply falling apart and that in large swaths of Russia there will be no one left in the areas between large urban agglomerations.
19. Russia has Never Fulfilled All Provisions of Any Treaty It has Signed. A survey of the record over the last three hundred years finds that the Russian state in any of its various guises has never fulfilled all the provisions of any treaty or international agreement it has signed.
20. Duma Creates Its Own Office to Fight Extremism. Fighting extremism being the politically correct and useful thing to do in Moscow, Duma deputies led by their ambitious speaker Vyacheslav Volodin have set up their own office to fight extremism in culture.
21. Art Fraud Becomes a Big Business in Russia. As prices for Russian art of the 19th and 20th centuries have risen, criminals have moved in to offer fake reproductions as the real thing. As a result, experts say, art fraud is a booming business in Russia today.
22. Russian Gun Enthusiasts Push for Copying US Approach to Weaponry. Russian advocates of gun ownership favor adopting American-style stand your ground and right to defend your home laws and the radical expansion of gun ownership to defend Russians from growing threats (svpressa.ru/society/article/172658/ andpolit.ru/article/2017/05/17/selfprotection/).
23. Government Failing to Prosecute Russians Who Call for Dismembering Russia, Nationalist Says. The Russian authorities are failing to prosecute what he says are the increasing number of Russians who one way or another are violating the law prohibiting calls for dismembering the Russian Federation. That must be stopped or things will get out of hand, he says.
24. Good Russian People, Bad Russian Officials, and a Happy Ending for a Small Russian Dog. Russian pensioners for three years fed a dog that had taken shelter under a concrete walkway after being abandoned by his owners. The dog grew so much because of their help that he couldn’t climb through the hole he had first climbed into. The pensioners asked officials to help but the officials did nothing. Then the pensioners turned to animal rights groups in Russia and abroad. The latter helped and now the dog is in a loving family in Germany.
And 12 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Kremlin Completely Controls DNR and LNR, Former Officials There Say. The Kremlin via its agents maintains complete and total control over the activities of the two pseudo-statelets in Ukraine’s Donbass, a finding that means Moscow must be held accountable for everything that happens there rather than being allowed to present itself as a sympathetic outsider.
2. Moscow has Plenty of Money to Rearm DNR and LNR Forces But None to Prevent a Humanitarian Disaster. The Russian government has been rearming its forces in the Donbass with ever more modern weapons. But despite having the funds to do that, it has no money to prevent a humanitarian disaster there that the United Nations says now is hitting 1.3 million people. Moscow prefers to blame Kyiv for this, and tragically some people who should know better accept that duplicity.
3 . Russian Occupation Forces Block Crimean Tatars from Commemorating Deportation. The Russian occupiers of the Ukrainian peninsula prevented Crimean Tatars from commemorating the anniversary of their 1944 deportation by Stalin. That was in stark contrast to the rest of Ukraine and many other countries where that horrific event was recalled. Some of the dwindling band of those who were actually deported at that time told journalists that at the time, they expected that Stalin would kill them just as Hitler killed the Jews.
4. West Fails to See How Russian World is Expanding into Belarus. Belarusian opposition leader Andrey Sanikov says that the West is failing to see how far and how fast Alyaksandr Lukashenka is integrating Belarus into the Russian world by forming analogues of Russian parties, symbols and institutions even as he tries to present himself as an independent figure.
5. Only 50 Percent of Belarusians Say They’d Like Their Descendants to Live in Belarus. Half of all Belarusians, according to a new survey, say that they would prefer to see their children and grandchildren live and work abroad rather than in the conditions of Belarus under and eventually after Lukashenka.
6. Uzbek Officials for the First Time Allow Commemorations of Andizhan Tragedy. For the first time ever – and only because Islam Karimov, the author of that tragedy, is no longer around – Uzbekistan officials allowed human rights activists to commemorate the 2005 massacre in which Uzbek forces killed upwards of 900 people, with Tashkent claiming that they were Islamic radicals.
7. Turkmenistan is Lurching Toward Instability, Russian Analyst Says. Turkmenistan, the most closed and at least nominally tightly controlled former Soviet republic, is in fact lurching toward instability both because of the threat from Afghanistan and because of domestic policies which have terrified but also alienated its population, according to a Russian analyst.
8. One of Last Leaders of 1953 Norilsk Uprising Dies. Yevhen Hrytsyak, a Ukrainian who led the uprising of GULAG prisoners in Norilsk in 1953, has died at the age of 90. He and his Ukrainian fellow prisoners played a disproportionate role in showing to Moscow that Stalin’s camp system could not long survive the dictator.
9. Ukrainian President Admits Not Recognizing a Crimean Tatar Autonomy Earlier was ‘a Mistake.’ Petro Poroshenko says that previous Ukrainian governments had erred by not recognizing the ethno-territorial autonomy of the Crimean Tatars but that he is committed to ending that mistake and ensuring that there will be a Crimean Tatar autonomy within Ukraine once Kyiv recovers the Crimea from Russian occupation.
10. Will an Angry Baku Invite Turkey to Establish a Military Base in Azerbaijan? Azerbaijanis are outraged at Moscow for its decision to liquidate the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress in which the Aliyev family had so much invested, and the Baku authorities have said that they will examine all Russian organizations operating in Azerbaijan to see if they should be “liquidated” in response. Azerbaijani anger is so great that some are speculating that Baku might even choose to invite Turkey to establish a military base on Azerbaijani territory, something that would outrage Moscow but that would be fully consistent with Baku’s “balanced” foreign policy.
11. Moscow Says Tallinn Cyber Defense Center Directed Against Russia. Estonia’s cyber defense center, set up in cooperation with NATO, to defend that country against the kind of cyber attacks Moscow has launched there and elsewhere is increasingly effective. The best evidence of this includes Russian attacks on the center as an “offensive” weapon directed against Moscow.
12. Tbilisi Furious at EU Representative’s Comments in Abkhazia. Some incautious remarks that Abkhaz and Russian media have trumpeted as an indication that Europe is edging closer toward recognizing that unrecognized state have infuriated the Republic of Georgia, although it is unclear whether the remarks were intended as a statement of official position or were simply taken out of context by Abkhaz and Russian officials to try to stir up trouble for Tbilisi.