Staunton, May 20 -- 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 32nd 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. Even Head of Russia’s Constitutional Court Says Russia is Not a State of Law. Valery Zorkin says that Russia has not become completely a legal state, a remarkable admission for the country’s senior justice (rbc.ru/politics/17/05/2016/573aea3b9a7947864ecb6860?from=main).
2. Putin Sets Up Civic Religion with Himself as Chief Priest. Moscow commentator Igor Eidman says that Vladimir Putin has established a civic religion not a civic nation and has made himself its chief priest (dw.com/ru/комментарий-с-нами-путин-и-христос/a-19256744). But there is one way in which he has used his power that is perhaps more typical of a political than religious leader: he takes bribes, according to someone who gave him some (svoboda.org/articleprintview/27728152.html).
3. Which Will End Putinism Sooner – Reforms or More Adventures? Moscow commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov wonders which will end Putinism more quickly, a new set of reforms given that as many have noted the most dangerous time for a bad polity is when it begins to reform itself or new foreign adventures that will leave the country overstretched, isolated and angry (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=573EA2357558C).
4. Extremist Crime Down by Anti-Extremist Cases Up. In a clear indication that Moscow is using its anti-extremist legislation less against real extremists than against its political opponents, statistics show that the number of crimes classed as extremist has declined but the number of cases brought under such laws has increased (vestnikcivitas.ru/pbls/3966). That should surprise no one given Putin’s pass actions and the views of many of his supporters who insist that the foreign and domestic enemies of Russia have almost exactly the same goals (svpressa.ru/war21/news/148722/).
5. Chinese Comparing North Korea and Russia Laugh at Russia. Chinese tourists visiting the point at which China, North Korea and Russia come together have compared the situation in the three countries and have found that the situation in the Russian border area is laughably much worse than in the other two, a story that has gone viral on the Runet (lystok.com/turisty-iz-kitaya-smotryat-na-rossiyu-i-smeyutsya-foto-11569).
6. Russians Least Willing Among 27 Countries Polled to Accept Refugees, Amnesty Says. On the basis of polls in 27 countries, Amnesty International says that Russians rank last as far as their willingness to take in those who have been forced to flee their own countries as a result of violence or oppression (gordonua.com/news/worldnews/amnesty-international-rossiyane-menshe-vseh-hotyat-prinimat-bezhencev-v-svoey-strane-133182.html).
7. Sex Shops One of Few Booming Businesses in Russia. Sex shops in the Urals region are among the only companies which have seen their business and profits rise in the current economic time of troubles (ura.ru/articles/1036267857). Other economic news from Russia this week has been uniformly bad: Russian workers are now paid less than Chinese workers (finobzor.ru/13091-padenie-zarplat-sovershit-v-rossii-kitayskoe-chudo.html), some debt collectors are now using rape and the threat of rape to collect money owed (snob.ru/selected/entry/108615), and Russians are learning about certain absurdities in their country’s economic behavior such as importing all its sea salt from Cyprus even though Russia has the largest ocean coastline of any country in the world (forum-msk.org/material/news/11786898.html).
8. Russians’ Alcohol Consumption Down but Still at Alarming Levels. Russian officials are celebrating the decline in per capita alcohol consumption this year. Russian adults are said to be drinking “only” 14 liters of pure alcohol annually. But that figure is still horrific: it is six liters above what the WHO says is a level that damages the genetic pool of a nation and it does not include samogon many Russians use when prices for state-regulated alcohol go up as they have this year (echo.msk.ru/news/1768828-echo.html and rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=74969).
9. As Fires Spread in Siberia, Moscow Lies about Their Size and Reduces Number of Firemen. Satellite photographs show that the size of fires in Siberia this year is more than ten times the number Russian officials say (sobkorr.ru/news/573ADA7113078.html and greenpeace.org/russia/ru/news/2016/05-16-zabaikalye/). But despite the massive fires, far larger than those in Canada, budgetary shortfalls have led to a reduction in the number of Russian firemen, although not in the number of their commanders (regnum.ru/news/polit/2133959.html). This is only one of Russia’s worsening infrastructure problems. Four were highlighted this past week alone: there is no money for any new metro construction or major repairs (realty.mail.ru/news/33089/po_vsej_rossii_zamorazhivajut_stroitelstvo_metro/?social=fbnovayagazeta.ru/news/1703492.htmlstoletie.ru/obschestvo/volzhskije_meli_179.htm), and bridges in the far east are compounding Russia’s transportation problems there: 500 in the Amur Region are said to be unsafe with four having collapsed completely since the start of 2016 (regnum.ru/news/society/2134098.html and shipilov.com/aship-news/875-posypalos.html).
10. Major Russian Football Clubs Now at the Edge of Bankruptcy. In addition to the drug scandals that are casting a dark shadow on Russian sports and calls by the Ukrainian parliament and athletic organizations in other countries to strip Russia of the 2018 World Cup, Russian football teams are suffering another serious problem: many of them are going bankrupt, the result of not wanting to raise ticket prices because of the worsening economic situation and of declines in subsidies from owners whose own economic situation is far less good than it was (profile.ru/economics/item/106642-pochem-chempionat-dlya-naroda).
11. Duma Deputies Become Ever More Intrusive in Russians’ Lives. Not only has the Duma voted to ban the import of medications for personal use, putting the health of many Russians at risk, but now some deputies want to set up a system to see if married couples who don’t have children are able to have them with the possibility of fining those who choose to be childless (interfax.ru/russia/508528 and m.gazeta.ru/social/news/2016/05/17/n_8644613.shtml).
12. Visa-Free Regime for Kaliningrad Said a Threat to Russian National Security. A Regnum news agency commentator says that suggestions by Russian government officials that there should be a visa-free regime between EU countries and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad represents a threat to Russian national security because it would allow enemies of the state to enter the country there and then move on to the rest of Russia (regnum.ru/news/polit/2131751.html).
13. A Really Bad Diagnosis – Russian Children with Autism Being Classed as Schizophrenics and Confirmed in Psychiatric Facilities. Russian doctors are “treating” autism in a horrific way. Instead of addressing this disease, they are lumping autistic children in the category of schizophrenics and confining them in psychiatric hospitals (rosbalt.ru/piter/2016/04/29/1510755.html).
And eight more from countries neighboring Russia:
14. Kyrgyz Police Use Torture to Get 85 Percent Confession Rate. An investigation has found that militia in Kyrgyzstan now uses torture to get 85 percent of those arrested to confess (rus.azattyk.org/archive/ky_News_in_Russian_ru/20160519/4795/4795.html?id=27745157). Providing them with information about the many ways in which this violates international law and that country’s own constitution may not help. One Kyrgyz reports that many of those now being trained in the militia schools can’t read (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1463521980).
15. Only One Kyrgyz in Five has Plumbing. A disturbing measure of poverty in Central Asia: Only 21 percent of the Kyrgyz population lives in housing attached to the public sewer system (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1463513040).
16. Dushanbe Finds Tajik Gastarbeiters Bringing Tuberculosis Back from Russia. Because of poor living conditions for gastarbeiters in Russia, many Tajiks who work there and then return home bring tuberculosis with them which then spreads to the broader population (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1463552700).
17. Turkmenistan Goes to War Against Satellite Dishes in Rural Areas. Turkmenistan, probably the most repressive country in the post-Soviet space, is now seeking to cut off even more of its population from foreign news. It has launched a campaign to destroy satellite television dishes in rural parts of the country, something it had already done in the cities (rus.azattyq.org/a/turkmenistan-borba-so-sputnikovimi-antennami/27744542.html).
18. Ukraine Renames Dneprpetrovsk Dnepr. Ukraine’s program of replacing names with links to Russian and Soviet rule has now led to the renaming of Dneprpetrovsk, one of the country’s major cities, Dnepr. Needless to say, Russians are outraged (rbc.ru/politics/19/05/2016/573d74319a7947489d79ec14?from=main).
19. Kyiv Urged to Back Creation of Ethnic Russian Republic within Russian Federation. A Ukrainian commentator says Kyiv will only benefit if it backs the creation of an ethnic Russian republic within the current borders of the Russian Federation because that would highlight the extent to which that country remains an empire (nr2.com.ua/blogs/Amir_Olik/Ukraine-vygodno-sozdanie-Russkoy-respubliki-v-sostave-RF-119615.html).
20. 70 Percent of Transdniestria Residents Said Now Want to Join Russian Federation. The breakaway Transdniestria region in Moldova, an area with a Slavic but not a Russian plurality, has conducted a poll which shows that almost three out of four residents want their “republic” to be absorbed into the Russian Federation (regnum.ru/news/society/2132020.html).
21. Latvian Nationalists, Longtime Ethnic Russian Residents of Latvia Agree on Limiting New Influx of Russians – Albeit for Different Reasons. Latvian nationalists would like to impose limits on the number of Russians fleeing Putin’s country and settling in theirs lest it shift Latvia’s ethnic balance. Longtime ethnic Russian residents of that Baltic country would also like to limit this flow because Russians coming in now are anti-Moscow and thus in their view anti-Russian (spektr.press/starye-i-novye-pochemu-latvijskim-russkim-ne-zhal-ponaehavshih/).