Staunton, VA, May 5, 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 81st 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, Russia’s ‘Teflon President,’ Losing Trust and Support of Many Russians. Even though Vladimir Putin is like Teflon in that everything he could be criticized for seems to slide off of him, fails to have his orders fulfilled, and his control of the media ensures that he will be viewed as he wants to be most of the time, new polls show that the share of Russians saying they trust him has declined even among those who say they will vote for him and the share who say they will do so is now under 50 percent. Opposition commentators are increasingly critical of Putin personally: One said that Putin doesn’t have an ideology but does have a religion (war), and another said that he may choose to appoint his bodyguard as his successor. The Kremlin has decided, however, that the next vote on the presidency will be conducted as a referendum in which it needs an overwhelming majority rather than an election in which 50 percent plus one is enough.
2. Trump Rates as a Russophobe by Upper House of Russian Parliament. Less than three months since its members were among those in Moscow drinking champagne over the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections, members of the Federation Council held a session at which they reflected the swing in Moscow and considered how much of a Russophobe Trump really is.
3. The Russian Economy, Already Bad, Is Only Going to Get Worse. Russian economists have concluded that the Russian economy, already in a bad way, can’t grow without radical structural reforms and that in their absence it will get even worse. As a result, the growth in the number of poor people in that country will continue to accelerate and the pension system will collapse unless some way is found to reduce the number of those receiving pensions, something that will require more than just raising the pension age.
4. Russia has Highest Death Rates Among Working Age Males in World, Experts Say. Not only are fewer young people entering the workforce because of declines in the number of children reaching 18 because Putin’s maternal capital program isn’t working and because ever more women are concluding that having children will drive them into poverty, but more Russian males of working age are dying than in any other country. Russia is also suffering from a severe shortage of critical medications and of specialist doctors like oncologists. Meanwhile, Moscow’s failure to focus on education and its plans to eliminate dissertation requirements mean, experts say, that Russia will never catch up even with Portugal as Putin promised earlier. The Russian government seems set on taking more counterproductive actions: it is considering a measure to prevent anyone who is unemployed or self-employed from travelling abroad, and it has issued an order that bans librarians from talking about religion or politics online. And yet another scandal has broken in Russia’s penal system as officials investigate Sverdlovsk jailors for sexually torturing inmates there.
5. Petersburgers Ready to Be Friends with Chinese but Prefer to Marry Americans. A new survey in the northern capital shows that Petersburgers are quite willing to make friends with Chinese people but don’t want to marry them, preferring marriage with Americans instead. Other news from the nationality front this week includes complaints that Putin has done nothing to protect Chechens against Ramzan Kadyrov, a group of Russian extremists beat up a Bashkir just because of ethnicity, Kalmyks step up demands that Moscow live up to its law on the restoration of the rights of repressed peoples, Buryats say that the sexual revolution has now arrived in their republic, Moscow cancels a Finno-Ugric festival in Vyborg, movement of people from villages to cities has stopped in Sakha, and Chuvash flashmob calls for protecting national language.
6. Monument Wars Continue Unabated. As Moscow makes plans to celebrate Victory Day in the most modest way in recent years, the monument wars continued across Russia last week. Among the most interesting: opponents of a new Russian cathedral in Yekaterinburg put up signs that have Lenin declaring he’s against it too, the Nanai nationality pushes for a monument to one of its own, a prominent sniper in Soviet forces in World War II, the Saami nationality want a monument to their reindeer battalion, the struggle between supporters and opponents of the Yeltsin Center, St. Isaacs and the Roerich Museum intensified; activists want to erect a statue honoring the Czechoslovak legion in Siberia during the Russian Civil War, Russian nationalists want to restore an arch honoring the visit of then tsarevich Nicholas to Khabarovsk, Jewish and Muslim leaders call for burying Lenin, the Old Believers erect a monument to their church in Moscow, and the restoration of a memorial in the Kremlin to a murdered grand duke has sparked serious controversy.
7. Protests Increase in Number, Targets and Locations. Over the last week, Russians protested more often, on more issues, and in more locations than at any point in the last five years. A major reason for this is that while the authorities typically responded with repressive measures, in some cases as in that of the possible demolition of five-storey apartment blocks in Moscow, they responded by making concessions, thus demonstrating that collective action can work. Among the protests were those by peoples of the North against oil companies, support for Navalny and the Russian opposition in Tomsk, 1000 Buryats demanded the ouster of a local district head. Nonetheless, the powers that be continued to think about taking steps that almost certainly will guarantee more protests and use various repressive actions and threats against protesters.
8. Russians Now Prouder of Their Military than Their Culture. A new Levada Center poll finds that Russians are increasingly proud of their armed forces and today are more proud of it than they are of their national culture. But their military faces increasing problems: it has had again to delay tests of the Proton rocket because of problems, its bold plans for modernization are not being met on schedule because of the diversion of funds to corruption and other uses, and reports now say that some 1,500 Russian army soldiers have died in the Donbass since 2014. At the end of the week, Russian officials at all levels expressed outrage at a US Congressional measure calling on the US administration to monitor Russian ports near North Korea. Some compared this action to “a declaration of war”, and commentators in the Russian Far East reminded everyone that Vladivostok is only 100 kilometers from the North Korean border.
9. Illegal Guns Continue to Flow into Russia. Russian investigators have uncovered another channel by which illegal guns are flowing into the Russian Federation from Ukraine. Meanwhile, police reported discovering 100 kilograms of high explosive in a St. Petersburg apartment.
10. More European Challenges to Russian Hosting of 2018 World Cup. German deputies have called for Russia to be excluded from the Olympics in 2018, an appeal that may put more pressure on FIFA to strip Moscow of the right to host the World Cup. And French magistrates have expanded their investigation into what many suspect are the corrupt means that the Kremlin employed to secure the World Cup. Meanwhile, more Russian athletes were found guilty of using illegal drugs, and there was another outbreak of Russian fan violence at a football match, something Moscow sought unsuccessfully to play down.
11. What’s a Russian Quartet? The Bolshoi Orchestra After a Foreign Tour. Life increasingly imitates art, and Russian life former Soviet jokes. As a result of Vladimir Putin’s increasingly repressive regime, eight former Duma deputies now live in exile abroad. Not yet a quorum but a remarkable figure nonetheless.
12. Navalny has a Passport But in Russia Today, That Isn’t Enough to Leave. The Kremlin’s decision to give Aleksey Navalny a passport supposedly so he could go abroad to have his eye treated after persons unknown threw paint and other chemicals in it won Moscow 24 hours of positive stories, but then it turned out that the regime said he couldn’t leave despite having a passport. The Putin regime clearly doesn’t know exactly what to do with Navalny who is attracting ever more attention: Between December and April, the number of references to him in the Russian media rose 500 percent. [Navalny was ultimately allowed to travel to Barcelona for an eye operation.]
13. Russia’s Northern Peoples Have Been Reduced to the Status of Serfs, Sulyandziga Says. The Northern people’s activist now seeking political asylum in the United States says that he plans to set up a center in the United States to encourage attention to their plight and thus promote their interests.
14. Russian Justice Ministry Officially Registers Church of Flying Macaroni Monster. Even as they repress genuine religions, Russian officials have offered legal registration to a group of people who say they have formed the Church of the Flying Macaroni Monster.
15. Dress Your Child in the NKVD Officer Uniform He May Eventually Wear to Work. Children’s stores in Moscow are offering child-sized NKVD officer uniforms for children, something that might be amusing were it not for the fact that Russia is drifting in the direction where such uniforms will be appropriate for all. Worse, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church is now setting up special camps to train young people how to shoot and engage in the martial arts to defeat Russia’s enemies just like Putin does.
16. Kremlin Ready to Attack Any Anti-Imperial Sentiments Among Russian Opposition. Several opposition activists say Russia needs an anti-imperialist political party, but the Kremlin stands ready to attack any such effort or even opposition to the most extreme imperialist by suggesting that all anti-imperialists are ultimately Nazis.
17. Forest Fires in Siberia and the Far East Burning Out of Control. The area of fires in Siberia increased by 600 percent in a single day and forced the authorities to declare a draconian state of emergency across the region in the hope of avoiding a further spread.
18. Soviets Repressed More than a Million People on Ethnic Grounds in 1930sAlone. Defenders of the Soviet system and Stalin always insist that it punished people for their specific crimes or their class origins, but in fact, the USSR repressed more than a million people on ethnic grounds alone in the late 1930s and shot more than a quarter of them. Many more died in the GULAG. This figure is for the period before the notorious deportations Stalin carried out during and after World War II.
19. Moscow’s Divide and Rule Policies Applied by Its Minions in the Regions and Republics. Leonid Markelov, the now imprisoned former leader of Mari El, promoted divisions among the population of that republic in order to ensure his own power, just as Moscow has done for the country as a whole. Unfortunately, while Markelov is gone, the team that has replaced him consists of people he selected and who are likely to follow the same approach.
20. Fortunately the Russians Don’t Have Votes in France. A new poll shows that 61 percent of Russians in the Russian Federation would vote for Marine Le Pen, and only eight percent for her more moderate opponent, a reflection of the Kremlin’s tilt to the nationalist leader who is committed to dismantling the EU and pursuing pro-Moscow policies.
21. One-Third of Russians Say Kremlin Protects Human Rights. Despite evidence to the contrary, a poll shows that one Russian in three says that the Kremlin is protecting their human rights. Perhaps more important two out of three don’t agree.
22. Patriarch Kirill Cracks the Whip Over His Subordinates. Patriarch Kirill has retired a bishop who compared the defenders of St. Isaac’s with a “death group,” presumably to make the head of the church look less out of step with reality, and sent Archdeacon Kurayev to a monastery for a time as punishment for criticizing the Patriarchate’s policies on a variety of grounds.
23.Petition Calling for Expulsion of ‘Russophobic Foreigners’ from Russia Circulating. A new petition calling on the Russian government to identify and expel from the country all foreigners who express in any way whatsoever Russophobic attitudes is gathering support
24. ‘USSR Never Disintegrated,’ USSR Citizens Movement Says. A group of Russians says that they have evidence that the USSR never fell apart and that they, the USSR Citizens Movement, are living proof of that and the basis for the rebirth of the Soviet Union.
25. Russia Following Post-Colonial Africa in Turning Away from Modernity. Russia today, in its turn away from reform and modernity back toward archaic forms and authoritarianism, is recapitulating a process that has occurred in much of sub-Saharan Africa since the end of colonialism.
26. When Russian Federation Does Come Apart, It will Do So Quickly. History teaches that when the Russian state begins to fall apart, it does so very quickly. That was true in 1917 and 1991, and it will be true, an Ingrian activist says, when the Russian Federation at some point follows in their path.
And 12 more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Second Chinese University Offers Belarusian Language Major. The University of Tsientsin has become the second Chinese higher educational institution to offer a major in the Belarusian language, yet another indication of the extent to which Beijing is outpacing the West in focusing on Belarus.
2. Moscow’s Plan to Make Crimea an Offshore Intended to Weaken Western Opposition to Occupation. The Russian government has announced plans to transform occupied Crimea into a tax haven, something it hopes will attract more investment there and make it likely that at least some in the West will want to take advantage of that and press their governments to end opposition to Putin’s Anschluss.
3. Ever Fewer Belarusians Visit Occupied Crimea. The number of Belarusians who have visited Russian-occupied Crimea has plummeted over the last four years. But the peninsula continues to attract some pro-Moscow politicians from Western countries as well as some Muslim leaders, including the muftis of Belarus and Estonia.
4. China May Be Big Winner When Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway Opens This Summer. The railroad linking Azerbaijan and Turkey via Georgia (the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars route) is likely to be exploited by Beijing as a way of shipping goods to Europe bypassing Russia.
5. Poroshenko Lifts Ukrainian Citizenship from Almost 19,000 People. The Ukrainian president so far in his term has taken action to end the citizenship of more than 18,000 people, the overwhelming majority of whom have chosen to take citizenship in other countries.
6. Children of Central Asian Presidents Doing Very Well. The princes and princesses of Central Asia as the children of the authoritarian presidents of the five countries in that region are known are doing very well thanks to their involvement in state-assisted corporations.
7. Russian Occupied Crimea At Bottom of International Press Freedom Rankings. Since Putin’s Anschluss, Crimea has been transformed from a relatively open media environment to one of the least free in the world, according to new international rankings.
8. Azerbaijan’s Ethnic Russians Tell Aleksandr Dugin Not to Come Back. After some of his typically outrageous remarks, the leaders of Baku’s ethnic Russian community asked that the outspoken Eurasianist not ever come back to their country again.
9. Opposition Activists in Belarus Organizing a Women’s Party. Belarus may soon have its own women’s party if opposition activists succeed in organizing one. Many of the participants in the anti-government protests there earlier this year were women, and the only two opposition deputies in the parliament are also women.
10. Estonia’s Narva Puts Russia’s Ivangorod to Shame. Especially since 1991, Narva has become an ever more modern city while Ivangorod, the city on the Russian side of the border there, has fallen into ruins, something that has so shamed residents that they are calling for government assistance to improve at least the looks of their native city.
11. OSCE Worried by Yerevan’s Decision to Close Organization’s Armenian Office. The OSCE plays a key role in monitoring developments in many countries. Consequently, Yerevan’s decision to shutter the OSCE office there is worrisome because it will limit the ability of the outside world to track what is happening in Armenia.
12. Armenian Workers at Russian Base Strike Because They Haven’t Been Paid. Russia’s failure to pay in a timely manner workers within its borders is notorious, but this bad practice has now spread to Russia’s military bases abroad. Now, Armenian employees at the Russian base there have gone on strike for back wages, yet another reflection of and cause for tensions between Armenia and Russia.