Stanford, VA, October 7, 2016 – 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 52nd 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 Orthodox Advised on How They Should Pray for Putin. Lest Russians come up for a prayer for Vladimir Putin like the one the Jews famously had in tsarist times (“May the Lord God Preserve and Keep the Tsar Far Away from Me!”), Russian Orthodox hierarchs have now come up with recommendations on how Russians should pray for the current Kremlin ruler.
2. Caligula’s Horse Strategy Doesn’t Work Out in Kaliningrad. Putin’s appointment of his bodyguard to be governor of Kaliningrad has ended in failure, with the Kremlin leader conceding by replacing him so quickly that being a Putin bodyguard may not be sufficient training for someone who is charged with running a region.
3. ‘Russians Must Know Where Their Bomb Shelters Are’ and Other Signs of War. Forty million Russians are currently going through civil defense drills where officials are telling them among other things that they should know where their bomb shelters are. Supporters of Putin’s warmongering say that the West’s demonization of Russia is a sign that it finally respects Russia, while opponents say that Putin, having made Russia into “a besieged fortress” is now on his way to making it into “an armed camp” with defense spending both reported and secret going up dramatically. Indeed, the only line item the defense ministry appears interested in cutting is that for funerals of senior Russian officials.
Other signs of war fever in Russia include: a foreign ministry warning that Russians travelling abroad are in danger, the appearance of Buk-shaped toys and beds for children, launcher used against the Malaysian aircraft, polls showing that Russians are overwhelmingly opposed to having a woman as president because the job of the state is to fight wars, the restoration of armored trains in the Russian military, and the formation of what are de facto ethnic units in the Russian land forces, something Moscow has been reluctant to agree to except in time of war.
4. Statue Wars Heat Up Across Russia. The statue wars continue in Russia, with people in St. Petersburg opposed to putting up a monument to Admiral Kolchak and angry that some museum officials want to take down a memorial cross to Rasputin in Tsarskoye selo. Elsewhere, statues of Stalin and Ivan the Terrible are going up, even as graffiti artists deface war memorials in Kaliningrad. Meanwhile, some are proposing a new statue for Moscow’s Red Square. It would have Mickey Mouse, a stand in for Russians today, being escorted by Lenin and Jesus Christ.
5. Putin ‘Surprised’ by Teacher’s Small Salary – But He Shouldn’t Be as He Cut It. Vladimir Putin expressed surprise when Russia’s teacher of the year told him how little she makes. He shouldn’t have been as he has been responsible for cutting the budget for education, healthcare and other social services in order to finance his military operations. In other bad economic news this week, it was reported that officials now think two-thirds of Russians don’t need higher educations, ever more people are leaving their home regions in search of work, Russia’s elderly can’t count on state assistance in many areas, Russian incomes fell to a seven year low, and 55 percent of university instructors now have to subsidize their own publications. But some Russians are doing well. Media outlets reported that the new Duma deputies were expensively attired, that the descendants of Soviet leaders are now living well in the West, and that the man who carried the Russian flag at the Para-Olympics has been given an apartment in Moscow.
Meanwhile, Russians are even cutting back on their drinking, although they have cut their consumption of beer more than the amount of vodka they drink, and Russian Muslims were offered special “economy” rate haj tickets this year. Ever more Russians are protesting specific problems while some are now posing the question: why does Moscow have enough money to help people abroad but not to help Russians at home.
6. Officials Want to Replace Tolstoy and Shakespeare with the Bible and Second Foreign Languages with Astronomy Classes. In actions reminiscent of the concluding frames of Costa-Gavras’ classic film “Z,” Russian officials and activists seem to have stepped up their competition over which of them can come up with the most original bans. A group of educational leaders say that Russian pupils should stop reading Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Shakespear and read the Bible instead. Meanwhile, the education minister says that legends can’t be challenged by historical research. In other steps highlighting Russia’s increasing isolation and retreat to the past, the Penza authorities refused to allow a gay rights parade because they said there is nowhere in the city children might not appear, a Russian court said it is entirely appropriate for people to compare atheists with circus bears, but another court said it is wrong to use the slogan “Death to the Anti-Christ” in public. And officials in St. Petersburg have now been ordered to report any contacts they have with foreigners.
7. FSB Spies on Magistrates with Bugged Samovar. The KGB infamously spied on the American ambassador by giving the US embassy in Moscow a carved plaque to put on its wall. The FSB has now gone one better: it has given the magistrates office a bugged samovar so that the security services can listen in on what the investigators are discussing.
8. Tatars, Kalmyks Infuriate Russians This Week. Tatars have infuriated Moscow by taking two steps this week: the republic’s president visited Latvia and discussed bilateral relations as if Tatarstan were an independent country, while in Kazan, some Tatar officials asked that the street signs in the republic be in Tatar as well as in Russian. Meanwhile, the Kalmyks have upset some in the Russian capital by starting research to determine how many of them are direct descendants of Chingiz Khan and talking about something Russians prefer not to have discussed: the Kalmyk ancestry of Lenin.
9. Siberian and Far Eastern Pensioners Moving to Moscow Suburbs. Ninety percent of those purchasing property in Moscow Region in recent months are pensioners from east of the Urals, a movement of population that undercuts the Kremlin’s efforts to get Russians to move there in order to hold that region within Russia.
10. Death Squads Increase Activity in North Caucasus. Even though Moscow seeks to present the situation in the North Caucasus as ever more calm, there are new reports of increased activity by death squadrons and by those who kidnap people for ransom coming, Memorial says.
11. Coming to a Wine Store near You: Chateau Permafrost from Siberia. Global warming is making possible something few expected only a decade ago: Siberians are now growing grapes and plan to make wine from areas whose terroir had been covered with permafrost until recently. Meanwhile, Tatarstan is boosting its production of cognac, and some in Kazan are daring to suggest that it might be better than the original from France.
12. Russian Company Now Offers Radioactive Tours. A Russian tour company is seeking to compensate for its losses as far as travel abroad are concerned by offering tours to Semipalatinsk, a Soviet-era nuclear test site. Among the things those going on its excursions can expect to be offered are radioactive mushrooms.
13. Ukrainian Church in Moscow Ordered Destroyed, as Russian Church Puts Vinyl Siding on Classic Wooden Russian Ones. A Russian court has ordered the demolition of an Orthodox church in Moscow that is subordinate to the Kyiv patriarchate. Meanwhile, Russian Orthodox priests are putting gup vinyl siding on some of Russia’s famed wooden churches in hopes of saving them from destruction by the elements.
And six others from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:
1. Ukrainian Hackers Give Moscow Occupiers a Taste of Their Own Medicine. Russian hackers routinely disrupt things in Ukraine and elsewhere. Now, a group of Ukrainian hackers has given Russians a taste of their own medicine by hacking into official sites in occupied Crimea and playing the Ukrainian national anthem over them.
2. Ukrainians Like Americans Believe in Melting Pot; Russians Don’t. Ukrainians believe that their country is a melting pot of peoples just as Americans do, an attitude commentators say that sets the two apart from the Russians who can’t accept that idea.
3. Karimov’s Daughter Tweets for Help Even as Her Father’s Grave Becomes Pilgrimage Site. The daughter of the late Uzbek president has turned to Twitter to seek help for herself now that she doesn’t enjoy his protection. Meanwhile, however, her father’s grave has already become a pilgrimage site for Uzbeks.
4. Post-Soviet States Still Can’t Agree on Borders. Twenty-five years ago, far from all of the former Soviet republics have been able to reach agreement on the borders between them. Two pairs of countries – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Belarus and Ukraine ––announced problems in that regard this week alone.
5. Dushanbe Puts Video Monitors in Mosques. The Tajikistan government has installed video cameras in the country’s major mosques in order to follow what goes on there as part of its fight against extremism. Officials also want to require that imams use only Tajik and not Arabic in services, perhaps for the same reason.
6. Lukashenka’s Economic Miracle: Belarus Exports Five Times as Many Apples to Russia as It Grows. Alyaksandr Lukashenka has achieved another Soviet-style economic miracle: his country exports to Russia five times as many apples as it grows. His secret? His firms are buying apples in the West and then re-exporting them to Russia to make money by endrunning the sanctions regime.