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 58th 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. Putin’s Rating Falls as Russians Trust Their Own Eyes More and His TV Less. Polls show that Vladimir Putin’s rating is falling even though it remains high relative to other Russian institutions and international standards. Some of the decline appears to reflect the feeling many Russians have that their country is already a world power and should not think more about its own problems than those of other countries. But another and related reason is that polls show that Russians have ever less trust in the chief prop of the Putin regime, government controlled television and news outlets. They are beginning to trust Internet news more, but still by a margin of more than two to one, Russians say they favor censoring the Internet.
2. Can Russia Afford Putin’s Foreign Policy for Much Longer? There are increasing indications that Russia can’t afford Putin’s aggressive foreign policy for the long term. Its military now is seeking the right to use draftees in Syria, something the Kremlin leader earlier promised would be unnecessary but presumably feels compelled to do because it can’t afford to hire enough professional soldiers to do the job. And Moscow can’t find anyone willing to build a military base on the Ukrainian border even after boosting the amount it was willing to pay, an indication that Russian firms fear they won’t be paid if they build it.
One consequence of this lack of cash is that the Kremlin is increasingly turning to public relations, a much less expensive tool, to advance its interests. Among the examples of this in the last ten days are a foreign ministry call to make Russian an official language in all former Soviet republics, a demand that the US rescind the Captive Nations Week resolution, efforts to ban anti-Putin songs in Scandinavia, and promotion of ideas like California separatism. All too many people in Russia and the West see such bombast as a sign of Russian strength; in fact, it is almost certainly an indication of Russian weakness.
3. Russian Economy Now So Bad That Russians are Losing Faith in the Future. Every day brings fresh indications that the Russian economy under Vladimir Putin is disastrous now and will become more disastrous in the future. The World Bank says half of Russians are now at risk of falling into poverty, and polls show that three out of four Russians say they are already suffering. Surveys also show the faith Russians have in the future is rapidly slipping away. Among other bad news stories this week are the following: Britain has now passed Russia as the second biggest arms exporter, Russian gold and silver production are down sharply, poor Russians are now selling themselves as marriage partners to immigrants who want to gain permanent residence status in Russia, Russia is now the largest economy in the world that doesn’t produce its own machine tools, hidden forms of slavery are spreading throughout the Russian Federation, Moscow may soon have shortages of gasoline, Transbaikal officials announce they are cutting all social subsidies except for funerals, and Moscow is making it easier for people to declare bankruptcy. Not surprisingly, Russia has slipped to 56th position in the world happiness scale. Two new steps under consideration may push its ranking down further: Some in Moscow want to create a day of destroyed products to commemorate losses from the Kremlin’s countersanctions actions, and more immediately, the government may impose new taxes on champagne just before New Year’s.
4. Under Lenin Portrait, Officials Find One of Nicholas II – and Other Dispatches from Monument Wars. If one needed a symbol of the problems the Kremlin faces with its promotion of monuments as a way of distracting Russians from their problems, it surfaced this week when officials discovered that under a portrait of Vladimir Lenin was a picture of Tsar Nicholas II. But that was far from the only dispatch from this Russian front. Among the others: activists in Khabarovsk want to put up a monument to animals victimized by Russians, others are calling for a statue of Baty Khan, activists are calling for Putin to defend a memorial to Rasputin in Tsarskoye, people in Nizhny Novgorod want to erect a memorial to Boris Nemtsov, vandals have desecrated the Kolchak plaque in St. Petersburg, Russians begin thinking about Lenin’s brutal suppression of Tambov uprising now that Moscow has made the Tambov wolf a symbol for 2017, Ryazan residents want to rename Godless Street for Donald Trump, Vladimir Zhirinovsky wants St. Petersburg to be called Petrograd once again, and vandals turn a Soviet symbol into Spongebob’s Patrick in Voronezh. But perhaps the biggest proposal for new monuments is one that is calling on Moscow to erect statues of Aleksandr Nevsky along the border of Russia to defend the country. As Russia heads into the centenary year of the 1917 revolutions, such monument battles will only heat up further.
5. Would You Like an Americano, a Rusiano or a Cossackino? Medvedev Gets in Trouble Again. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has landed in trouble again for one of his off-hand remarks. He joked recently that Russians should stop calling ordinary coffee Americano and call it instead Rusiano. He may have intended that as a joke, but some Russian outlets have taken him seriously, prompting much humor on Russian social networks. But the damage hasn’t been limited to that: a Cossack group in St. Petersburg now wants people to call a coffee its group offers “Kazachino” and has applied for a patent on that. Other groups are likely to follow.
6. Moscow Patriarchate Blesses Revival of State Terrorism But May Become Its Victim. A Russian activist says that the Moscow Patriarchate has effectively blessed the revival of state terrorism in Putin’s Russia by its uncritical support for what the Kremlin has been doing. That may come back to haunt the church itself: One of its officials has gone so far as to call on the Kremlin to use the methods of the late 1930s against dissenters in the church, a move that would be unlikely to stop with just those Patriarch Kirill doesn’t like.
7. Putin Regime Increasingly Uses ‘Deniables’ to Do Its Dirty Work. One of the most troubling developments in Putin’s Russia in recent months has been the Kremlin’s increasing proclivity to use groups that are nominally not part of the state but that in fact are controlled by it to attack its enemies or even, as in the North Caucasus, to kill them. Bellona has complained about regime provocateurs who come to meetings to undermine the environmental movement. And rights activists in the North Caucasus say that such regime “deniables” form the core of death squads being used against Moscow’s opponents there.
8. Now that Russian Internet is Less Free than Zimbabwe’s, Cossacks will Defend It. Russia has now fallen below Zimbabwe in terms of Internet freedom. It may slip further now that the Cossacks have been given a new task by Moscow officials: to defend the Internet against unwelcome Western influence.
9. Ethnic Clans at War in Moscow. Violence within, among and by ethnic mafias in Moscow has been given more attention again in the Russian media, although it is far from clear whether there has been a real uptick in their activities or whether the powers that be simply want to play up xenophobia now that the boost they received from annexing Crimea appears to be wearing off.
10. Russian Women Dying from Domestic Violence as Duma Debates How Husbands Should Beat Them. One Russian woman now dies every 40 minutes as a result of domestic abuse. It is far from clear whether that the situation will improve if the Duma adopts a proposed law on how Russian men should beat their wives in accords with Russian national traditions.
11. HIV/AIDS and Other STDs Experiencing Explosive Growth across Russia. Sexually transmitted diseases are growing at explosive rates across Russia, even though Moscow officials have tried to suggest that things are not so bad. One indication of the level of the problem is that prostitutes in some regions are insisting on engaging only in safe sex and doctors are being ordered to report on any young people they see who have had sexual contacts.
12. Russians Brew Their Own Moonshine to Avoid High Prices and Dangerous Surrogates. Moscow has celebrated slight declines in the amount of alcohol Russians are buying, but those declines do not reflect the reality of the situation. Not only are some Russians turning to illegal producers but far more are now purchasing stills and producing their own moonshine lest they be forced to pay high prices in state stores or risk getting dangerous and often fatal surrogates from others. In this situation, a far better measure of alcohol consumption is likely to be the amount of sugar Russians are buying and the price for that basic component of alcoholic production.
13. Memorial Head Says Russia Now ‘Center of Evil’ in the World. Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” but now Sergey Kovalev, the head of the Memorial human rights organization, suggests that Putin’s Russia has become “the center of evil” in today’s world.
And six others from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. NATO Office Closes in Tashkent. In a small but symbolic indication of the direction things are moving in Eurasia, the Western alliance has closed its information office in the capital of Uzbekistan.
2. Is Ukraine Finally Going to Leave the CIS? Even though Russia has invaded Ukraine, Kyiv has been dissuaded from breaking diplomatic ties with Moscow; and even though it has suspended most of its ties with the Moscow-dominated CIS, Ukraine still remains a member. The second of these may finally be about to change now that the Verkhovna Rada has taken up a bill to exit the organization of former Soviet republics. If Kyiv does so, the CIS will have only nine members besides Russia.
3. Belarusian Nobelist’s Works to Be Published in Belarusian. A five-volume collection of the works of Svetlana Aleksiyevich is now to be published in Minsk, yet another indication of the growing importance of that language regardless of what Alyaksandr Lukashenka may say about the role of Russian there. Meanwhile, another indication of Belarusian influence has suffered: a Belarusian cinematographer says he and his colleagues are now responsible for 60 percent of the successful TV films in Moscow.
4. Minsk Gets a Mosque and a Mufti But Not Without a Scandal. Belarus’ Muslims now have a cathedral mosque in their national capital and have elected a new mufti. But the events attended by Muslim and Turkish dignitaries could not pass without scandal: Alyaksandr Lukashenka offended many when he kissed a Koran.
5. Moscow Backs Down from Requiring Ethnic Russians in Baltics Born Since 1992 to Get Visas. One of Moscow’s most counter-productive (from its own position) and most criticized (by Russian nationalists and supporters of “the Russian world”) moves regarding the ethnic Russians in the Baltic countries has now been reversed. The Russian government will not require ethnic Russians without citizenship in Estonia and Latvia and who were born since 1992 to get a visa in order to visit Russia.
6. Are Non-Russian Countries Now Being Hurt by Lack of Russian or English News Outlets? An Estonian commentator has pointed to a problem the Baltic countries and former Soviet republics increasingly have. As the number of Russian language outlets in their countries has declined and the number of English ones has not increased, he says, many foreign countries are losing access to accurate information about what is going in them and drawing wild and incorrect conclusions.