Staunton, VA, January 1, 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 will present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the seventeenth such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, this week 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. For Putin, Well-Being of Russians Ranks Only Third. In the new security doctrine he signed on December 31, Vladimir Putin listed the well-being of Russians third behind the defense of the country and of his political order.
2. Putin Praises Businesses for Hiding Unemployment. Vladimir Putin thanked Russian businesses for keeping employees on the books even when economic calculations might have caused them to be let go, a pattern that has kept the unemployment rate in Russia from soaring.
3. Rogozin Shoots Himself in the Foot – Literally. Russian politicians like their counterparts elsewhere routinely shoot themselves in the foot figuratively, but Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has taken the next step and done so literally during a military exercise.
4. Officials Denounce Workers at Psychiatric Hospital for Demanding Back Wages. Officials in the Transbaikal have criticized workers at a regional psychiatric hospital for demanding that they be paid the wages they have earned but not paid, an increasing problem across the Russian Federation.
5. Some Russian Radio Broadcasts No Longer Reaching Russian Far East. The Russian Orthodox Radonezh radio can no longer afford to broadcast to the people in what is now the Russian Far East, a situation that some at the station say presages the eventual loss of that part of the country to others.
6. Orthodox Priest Denounces ‘Satanic’ Toys at Moscow’s Detsky Mir. A Russian Orthodox priest is furious that the Russian capital’s largest toy store features games, dolls and other toys that reflect satanic values rather than traditional Russian ones and warns parents against buying them for their children.
7. Helmet of Russia’s Patron Saint Was Made in Mongolia and Features Verses from Koran. The difficulties of using history to fit current political needs have been highlighted by a new discussion of something most Russians prefer to ignore: Aleksandr Nevsky wore a helmut that was made in Karakorum and featured verses from the Koran. Given that he chose to ally with the Mongol Horde against the Christian West, that should come as no surprise; but it doesn’t quite fit Vladimir Putin’s “single stream” of Russian history.
8. Moscow Students Denounce Eurasianist ‘Conservative Terror’ in Education. Students at Moscow’s Institute of Literature held a demonstration to protest the appearance of Aleksandr Dugin and other Eurasianist writers at their school. They said that such people are seeking to launch a wave of “conservative terror” in Russian higher education.
9. Duma Extends Sochi Eminent Domain Rule to All of Russia. The Duma has voted to extend the special rules that allowed officials to confiscate property in Sochi in advance of the Sochi Olympics to the entire country, yet another way in which Russians are still paying for that Putin extravaganza.
10. Flying in Russia Increasingly Unsafe. Private planes in Russian are increasingly unsafe because of the collapse of regulation and inspections, a trend that has increased the number of accidents and deaths in what is already one of the most unsafe air systems in the world.
11. Pskov Region Has Highest Death Rates in Russian Federation. Pskov Region has the highest death rates of any federal subject of the Russian Federation, the result of local policies that have deprived many of the people there of critical medical supplies like insulin and access to doctors and hospitals. As a result, life expectancy there has fallen dramatically, something especially striking because the region abuts Estonia where life expectancy is among the highest in the region.
12. Sakha Head Opposes Giving Land to Russians from Elsewhere. The head of the Republic of Sakha says he is opposed to a Moscow program to give land to Russians from other parts of the country who agree to move to Siberia and the Russian Far East.
13. 70 Percent of Russians in One Poll Say They’re for Trump. Following the enthusiastic endorsement by Vladimir Putin of Donald Trump as a candidate for US president, nearly three-quarters of Russians in one recent poll say they share that view.
And seven more from countries around Russia’s periphery:
1. To the Celebration of New Year’s, There Need Be No End. Many Russians celebrate New Year’s according to both the new calendar and the old, but if they took their lead from non-Russians, they could have a New Year’s holiday any month at all.
2. Ukrainians Petition to Bring Holidays in Line with Those of Civilized Countries. A group of Ukrainians has launched a petition drive to bring church holidays into line with those of “civilized countries” rather than Russia.
3. Ukrainian Renaming on the Cheap. Some are proposing that Dneprpetrovsk remain “Dneprpetrovsk” with only the sources of the name changed and that streets like Luxemburg named for “Roza Luxemberg” keep their names, but be considered in honor of the Grand Duchy rather that the German communist so that the names will remain the same and save money.
4. Ukrainian IDPs Outnumber Muslim Migrants in EU. Ukrainian officials say that Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbass has led to more than a million internally displaced persons, a figure greater than the much-more-attended-to one of Muslim refugees coming into Europe.
5. ‘Anti-Russian Sentiment’ Prompts Lukoil to Pull Out of Baltic Countries.Russia’s Lukoil has closed its stations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, citing the anti-Russian attitudes of the three countries.
6. Tashkent Doesn’t Have Sufficient Funds to Pay for Planned Giant Jail. Economic problems can have positive consequences: the Uzbek government has announced that financial difficulties mean that it will not be able to build the enormous new prison Tashkent had been planning .
7. 95 Ways in which Belarus isn’t Russia. A blogger has come up with a list of 95 facts about Belarus which show that it isn’t the same nation or country as the Russian Federation, a useful guide for the many in Moscow like Vladimir Putin and in the West who don’t view Belarus and Belarusians as separate and distinct.
But Oleg Tsarev, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who has been part of the Kremlin’s Novorossiya project from the beginning, argues in a new article that the United States is unwittingly promoting the restoration of the USSR, something he describes as “a strategic mistake of Washington.”
As perverse as his argument appears to be, his words deserve attention both as an indication of how some pro-Moscow elements in occupied Ukraine feel and as a reflection of the kind of messages Russian propagandists may be delivering not only there but also in other parts of the former Soviet space and more generally.