A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 47

September 2, 2016
Major General Heinz Guderian, the Commander of German XIX Corps, and Kombrig (Brigadier) Semyon Krivoshein, the Commander of the Soviet 29th Tank Brigade, on September 22, 1939, on the stage during the joint Nazi-Soviet victory parade in the captured town of Brześć Litewski (Brest-Litovsk). Via Imperial War Museums

Putin has Provoked US into Taking Steps that Threaten Gazprom, His Own ‘Purse,’ Portnikov Says

September 2, 2016 –  In advance of the G-20 summit in China, both Moscow and Washington have sent powerful signals of their intentions. In hopes of forcing the West to put pressure on Kyiv and to cut back or lift sanctions on Russia, the Kremlin increased its military presence not only near the Ukrainian border but in Syria, Vitaly Portnikov says. 

But those aggressive moves instead of intimidating the West have had exactly the opposite effect, the Ukrainian analyst says. Instead of backing down in the face of Russian pressure, the United States has signaled that it is now prepared to take an even harder line than it has in the past and even to threaten Putin’s “purse” – the gas giant Gazprom.

In a comment to Ukraine’s Gordon news agency, Portnikov says explicitly that “the US has sent a signal that in principle Putin can lose control of his purse, Gazprom,” because the new sanctions the US is planning to counter Russian aggression will “seriously hurt this company and all its projects including those in Europe”.

That possibility, now very real thanks to the expansion of the sanctions regime announced by the US this week is something both Putin and those who want a more conciliatory policy toward Moscow “must take into consideration.”
All the sanctions that the “civilized world” has imposed on Russia “are having a cumulative effect,” Portnikov argues, because they are weakening the Russian economy and hence the Russian regime which depends on the Russian economy for the money it needs to carry out all of its projects.
Especially in their new format, when they will hit Russian firms as well as imports, “will inevitably achieve their goal” of forcing the regime to change course or to collapse. “After the destruction of the regime in Russia,” Portnikov continues, “Ukraine can play a significant role in the development of civil society in its neighbor.”
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 47

Staunton, VA, September 2, 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 47th 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. The Soviet Union Didn’t Invade Poland in 1939, Russian Supreme Court Rules. In Moscow’s latest Orwellian move, the Russian Supreme Court has ruled that the USSR did not  invade Poland in September 1939, declaring that those who say otherwise are rewriting history and promoting extremism .  Other Russian agencies appear behind hacker attacks on the World Anti-Doping Agency and anyone who helps it expose Russia’s massive doping program, and SOVA notes that Russian courts are increasingly banning the use of anonymizers arguing that they allow Russians to gain access to extremist materials. The direction things are going in Russia was perhaps best summed up by the governor of Murmansk: she declared that her city and by implication her country  doesn’t need journalists.

2. Putin Regime has Spurred Nostalgia for USSR by Behaving Like Soviet Caricature of Capitalism, ‘Pravda’ Says. One way the Putin regime has promoted nostalgia for Soviet times is by its members’ behaving like the caricatures of capitalists offered by Soviet publications, according to “Pravda”. According to a new international ranking, Russia now has the most unequal and hence most unjust economy in the world.  And Russians are routinely treated to stories about the fabulously wealthy and even about Putin’s excesses. This week, one outlet talked about Putin’s “flying palaces,” comparing his planes to those other world leaders use.

3. Was Dostoyevsky Wrong about Russians?  New surveys show that even though the Russian economy continues to deteriorate and people there are forced to cut back even on essentials, Russians are defying Dostoyevsky’s dictum and showing that they can get used to anything, adjusting and even accepting the new economic reality. They are likely to be tested in that by government forecasts that the situation is going to get even worse and at a faster rate in the years ahead, by the fact that some Russian firms are gouging them by raising prices for essential medicines by as much as 16,000 percent, or by Moscow’s announcement that in 2017 Russia may produce as much meat per capita as the tsarist authorities did during the first year of World War I.  They may also be challenged in their acceptance of the Kremlin’s new order of things by reports that the regime’s suggestion that it can make a lot of money by selling arms abroad is false: This week, Forbes.ru reported that China earns four times as much by selling shoes abroad as Russia does by selling arms.  Some Russians are protesting with marches and tractor drives and most recently by simply seizing uncompleted housing in a Moscow suburb in order to at least have someplace to life. 

4. Kremlin Imposes Media Blackout on Those Protesting Past Actions Putin Doesn’t Want Discussed. The government media studiously ignored the protests of the mothers of the Beslan tragedy on the 12th anniversary of a crime in which the Putin regime is ever more clearly implicated and took the additional step of fining and sentencing to community service some of them.  Earlier, the government media and the authorities did the same thing for those who assembled to honor Soviet-era dissidents who protested the USSR’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. 

5. At Least the Posters in the Duma Election are Interesting. Given the near universal view that the upcoming Duma elections will not lead to any real change even though ever fewer Russians say they support the ruling United Russia Party, Russians are focusing on amusing campaign posters featuring cats, dogs and even a sexy image of Lenin. (See here and here).  But there are some real things going on: officials are banning opposition candidates in many places and seeking to professionalize poll watchers to control them. But  in some places none of this may matter: some regions say they don’t have enough money to conduct the vote. 

6. Moscow Flexes Its Military Muscle But Army Can’t Pay Its Utility Bills. Vladimir Putin has staged massive military maneuvers in order to show how powerful Russia has become and defense planners say that Russia will begin building up its forces in Chukotka across the Bering Straits from Alaska. But this new “monster” may have feet of clay: increasingly Russian military units can’t find money to pay their utility bills and some are now having their water supplies cut off.  Another indication that Moscow is trying to project power on the cheap is the announcement that Russia has developed special blankets Russians can throw over themselves to protect against shrapnel in the case of conflicts. 

7. 2016 May Mark the End of Russia’s ‘Thick Journals.’  An editor says that this year may be the last one in which Russia’s famed “thick journals” which have offered literature and commentaries for over a century. Few of them carry advertising or get government support, and fewer can pay the bills on earnings from subscribers alone.  Other publications are in trouble as well. A printing plant has refused to print the opposition journal The New Times, and there was another instance of book burning in Russia last week. In another media-related story, spending on advertising in the Internet in Russia is rapidly catching up with ad spending on television, an indication of where businesses think they can reach consumers. 

8. Medvedev Seen Catching Up With and Surpassing Marie Antoinette.  Russian commentator Mikhail Delyagin says that the Russian prime minister’s recent spate of unfortunate statements means he is the most prominent Marie Antoinette of the 21stcentury. Medvedev continued on this course over the past week, suggesting to pensioners for whom Moscow has no money that they should turn off their televisions and go to the theater as he does and promising to defend Russian speakers wherever they life.

9. Nightclub Insult Triggers Conflict between Tatar Village and Mari One.  When residents of one village concluded that a resident of another had insulted their nationhood, they went into the streets triggering a real inter-ethnic conflict between a Tatar village and a Mari one in the ethnically mixed Middle Volga. 

10. Russian Orthodox Church Urged to Make Stalin a Saint.  A Russian Orthodox nationalist commentator says that the Soviet dictator should be canonized for his services to Orthodoxy and the Russian people, a view many, including many Russian Orthodox, will find truly perverse. Meanwhile, a second region wants to put up a statue of Ivan the Terrible, and Russian activists in Tatarstan want a statue of Stalin there.  Meanwhile, the fight over the memorial to Finnish Marshal Mannerheim continues, with its outcome uncertain. TASS says it is coming down; St. Petersburg officials say it isn’t. 

11. Russian Education Ministry Allows New Stress Patterns in Russian Words as of September 1. In a country where everything has to be officialized, the Russian education ministry has declared that the stress patterns Russians have long been using in the case of some words are to be accepted as of September 1. 

12. Russian Health Ministry Cooks the Books to Hide Rising Mortality Rates. Demographic experts tell Izvestiya that the Russian health ministry in order not to report the reality of rising mortality among Russians has been routinely cooking the books to present an image more acceptable to the powers that be. 

13. Russia Doesn’t Deserve Being Called a Third World Country: It’s Worse, Nesterenko Says.  Yuri Nesterenko compares the economy, political system and other features of Russia and Brazil and says that Russia shouldn’t be called a third world country because it is in fact much worse than those countries usually so classified. 

And six other stories from countries in Russia’s neighborhood: 

1. For Nearly Half of Ukrainians, USSR is a Matter of Historical Interst Only. As ever more years pass since the end of the USSR and the population of Ukraine is increasingly made up of people too young to remember it, the Soviet Union is a matter of history, surveys show, something in their past but not something they know, a pattern true of all the former Soviet republics however much some of their older leaders would like to think otherwise.. 

2. Kyiv Documents Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine in 800 Volumes.  For those who still have problems saying that Russia has invaded Ukraine, Kyiv has collected documentation about Moscow’s role in a collection of 800 volumes. Other evidence is provided by a Bellingcat report concerning the number of medals for work in Ukraine that the Russian command has handed out. That report suggests that tens of thousands of Russian troops have been involved (see also here).

3. Russian Firms Discriminate against Those with Belarusian Accents.  Speaking Russian is not enough: for Russian firms in Brest, you have to do it without a Belarusian accent. If you can’t, you don’t get the job, yet another indication that despite Putin’s claims, the Belarusians are genuinely a separate nation

4. Belarusian-Language Media Outlets Suffer Serious Declines over Last Five Years.  The number and print runs of Belarusian-language magazines and newspapers have declined precipitously, giving lie both to Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s claims to be a supporter of his country’s national language and Russian claims about that. 

5. Clan Identities Survive, Even Strengthen in Kazakhstan.  As Kazakhs increase their predominance in the population of their country, clan and sub-clan divisions within them, many extending into the distant past, have proved remarkably resilient and may even be increasing in some cases, according to a new study. 

6. Muhammed was an Azerbaijani, Baku Politician Says.  Many nations want to adopt historical figures as their own, but only a few have gone as far as some politicians in the post-Soviet states. In Azerbaijan, for example, an opposition politician is now claiming that the Prophet Muhammed as in fact an Azerbaijani.