Friday, October 28, 2016

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 55

Paul Goble

         Staunton, October 28 -- 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 55th 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, Russia’s ‘Biggest Teller of Tales,’ Said Like Tsars Vasily III and Aleksey Mikhailovich.  Russian commentator German Obukhov says that Putin’s problems with the truth mean that he is “the biggest teller of tales” in Russian history (  Meanwhile, Patriarch Kirill added his voice to those trying to fix Putin’s place in the pantheon of Russian leaders. He suggested that Putin is very much like Vasily III and Aleksey Mikhailovich (  But at least one event this week likely brought a smile to Putin’s face, if he was informed of it. An Italian woman visiting Moscow stripped in Red Square and said she was ready to marry the Kremlin leader (

2.      Russia Risks Disintegration if It Engages in New Arms Race, Expert Says. As Moscow has announced that it will boost defense spending over the next three years, a Russian expert has warned that the country can’t afford a new arms race and that if it gets into one, it is likely to suffer the fate of the USSR which couldn’t keep up with the West and the American Star Wars program (  and

3.      Bring Back Stalin’s Five Year Plans, St. Petersburg Vice Governor Urges. In yet another indication that many in the Russian elite can come up with proposals for the future only by looking to the past, the vice governor of the city of St. Petersburg has said that Moscow should reintroduce the five year plan system Stalin employed in order to address critical economic problems (

4.      Young Russians No More Liberal than Their Parents but May be More Brutal.  According to the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” surveys show that younger Russians are no more liberal or inclined to protest in defense of their rights than are their parents (  But another study suggests that they may be more brutal, at least online with cyberbullying having become a serious problem among Russians on social networks (

5.      Can Moscow Hold the North Caucasus If It Cuts Spending There by Half?  Moscow has kept control of the North Caucasus only by massive spending and the use of equally massive force. Now, because of budgetary problems, the central Russian government says it will reduce spending in the region by 50 percent ( That could cost it the loyalty of regional elites and lead to more violence, especially if Moscow decides that it has to use more force to keep order given that many were pointing to a new threat of popular risings across North Caucasus even before the latest announcement was made (, and Adding to this danger is that Vladimir Putin has intimated that he plans to reduce aid to those nations which were deported in the past (

6.      An Expanding Flood of Bad Economic News in Russia. The economic situation in Russia is becoming ever more dire, except in the eyes of the state media and Russian apologists. Among the stories this week:  Ever more women and now men are being driven into prostitution to make ends meet ( Most Russian women having abortions cite poverty as the cause ( The number of suicides is high and rising, experts say (  Duma members declare cars a “luxury” good rather than a real need International air travel on Russian carriers down by 25 percent over the last year ( Russian meet consumption down to one kilogram of meat per person per month ( And the government is pressing to impose a tax on those without work ( But the Russian state statistics administration says life is becoming better at least in Moscow (, and Muscovites say that stagnation will help Russia develop (  Meanwhile, there was a report that may help explain why the refrigerator is losing to the television: Russian refrigerator manufacturers are having problems converting to more environmentally friendly methods of cooling (

7.      Statue Wars Said Transforming Russia into a Cemetery without a Future.  One commentator has suggested that Russia’s current obsession with putting up statues to despots of the past is transforming Russia into a cemetery without a future (комментарий-памятники-в-россии-прошлое-вместо-будущего/a-36133120).  The latest statue to go up is one of Moscow’s first atomic bomb, something whose original really could have achieved that end ( Meanwhile, controversies continue across Russia over statues to Motorola, Mannerheim, Kolchak, Stalin and Ivan the Terrible, prompting one Russian to propose that the only suitable historical figure on whom most Russians could agree is General Brusilov who fought for the tsars, the Provisional Government, and the Soviets ( But perhaps the most odious monument to attract attention this week was one in the Komi Republic which honors those who built the GULAG camps of Stalin’s times (

8.      Three More Russian Demographic Disasters.  First, a Moscow demographer says that despite all the changes of the last two decades, abortion remains the chief means of family planning in Russia just as it was in Soviet times ( Second, the Putin regime’s efforts two save money by closing down orphanages means that the number of homeless orphans has gone way up, analysts report (  And third, in its efforts to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Moscow is focusing almost entirely on drug users and immigrants even though the disease has spread into the general population (

9.      Three More Reasons Why Russia Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Host the 2018 World Cup. As if Vladimir Putin’s aggression, repression, and support for unruly fans and illegal use of drugs by athletes weren’t enough, three more reasons emerged this week for stripping Moscow of the right to host the world football championship.  First, Moscow’s choice of a wolf as the symbol of the games not only offends good sense but highlights how aggressive Russia has become, Russian commentators say ( Second, in an indication of just what any foreign visitors could expect in Russia if the competition does take place there, Moscow has announced that it will re-introduce the ubiquitous and notorious drunk tanks of Soviet times to deal with fans ( And third, in an indication of just what will be left behind after the competition, it was reported this week that Sochi, the site of Putin’s 2014 Olympiad, has now become a major center of sex tourism in Russia (

10.  Russia’s Cities Become ‘Enclaves of the Rich and Ghettoes for the Poor.’  The radical income differentiation of Russian cities has transformed them into “enclaves of the rich and ghettoes for the poor,” Forbes reports (, with the two living increasingly apart because of the way in which the Russian authorities have failed to develop public transport in a way that would integrate them ( But the cities aren’t the only places where the failure to develop transportation nets and roads is hurting Russians. In many rural areas, there are no roads or any public transit for school children to get to school without walking long distances often through snow and cold (

11.  What If an Oblast Doesn’t Have a Capital City?  Despite Moscow’s efforts to homogenize the landscape of Russia, there are some anomalies. One of them is that Leningrad oblast doesn’t have a capital city, and that creates problems for its managers, however “effective” they may be otherwise. This issue has periodically been raised by those who want to combine the oblast and the city of St. Petersburg. That it has come up now suggests there may be a new push in that direction undoubtedly in the name of efficiency and cost savings (

12.  Grayness of Russian Life Said Driving Young Russians to Look for Heroes like Motorola.  Especially outside the major cities, Russian life under Vladimir Putin is becoming grayer, a trend that some say is pushing young Russians out of boredom if nothing else to look for “bright” heroes like Motorola and even to seek to emulate them ( and

13.  If It isn’t Reported, It Didn’t Happen, Russian Police Say.  In the ever more Orwellian world of Putin’s Russia, the police have now declared that if no one reports a clash or other problem, that clash or problem didn’t happen (

            And six more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1.      Poroshenko to Putin: ‘You Should Just Stop Shooting.”  In what may come to be viewed as an echo of Ronald Reagan’s call for Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin wall, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told Vladimir Putin to his face that the problems in Ukraine would be on their way to solution if “you would just stop shooting,” a reminder that what is happening in Ukraine is not a Ukrainian problem as many say but rather Russian aggression against Ukraine ( Meanwhile, another regional leader, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius came up with a remark that is almost as significant. He said that today “Russia isn’t a super power; it’s a super problem” (

2.      Last Lenin Statue Comes Down in Ukraine. At a time when Russians are putting up statues to Ivan the Terrible and Joseph Stalin, Ukraine has demonstrated that it is not Russia and this week took down the last statue of the founder of the Soviet state on its territory (

3.      People in Russian Occupied Donbass Compelled to Attend Motorola’s Future.  Russians in Russia may be enthusiastic about terrorists like Motorola and thus saddened by his demise, but residents of the Moscow-occupied Donbass aren’t. They had to be compelled to attend his funeral with threats of job losses or worse if they didn’t (

4.      Barbed Wire Painted into Hair of Belarusian on Poster with Russian.  A Belarusian artist has modified a billboard in Minsk celebrating Russian-Belarusian “friendship” to show the Belarusian girl portrayed on it in a happy walk with a Russian boy having barbed wire in her hair, perhaps the clearest indication of how many Belarusians see the fate of their country in the era of Vladimir Putin (

5.      Belarus Rated Higher on Rule of Law than Russia. Many are so accustomed to bleating that Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe, they fail to see that Vladimir Putin has taken that dubious award away from Alyaksandr Lukashenka.  The latest indication?  The World Justice Project rates Belarus as displaying greater respect for the rule of law than Russia does (

6.      Far Fewer Armenians View Russia as a Friend than a Year Ago. Seventeen percent fewer Armenians think that Russia is a friend of their country than did a year ago, an indication that ever more Armenians recognize that Moscow is happy to make use of Armenia’s often desperate situation but only for its own ends and that the Russian government will betray Armenia whenever it thinks that will do it more good (

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Putinism a Parody of Sovietism, Not Its Revival, Ikhlov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 27 – Putinism, Yevgeny Ikhlov says, “is not neo-Sovietism but rather its complete opposite as in a camera obscura in which right is left and the top is the bottom” most obviously in its lack of any project for the future and in its playing at actions that may resemble Soviet ones but that lack their specific content.

            Soviet society, the Moscow commentator says, was always about achieving goals. “Everyone participated and recognized themselves as a participant in the pursuit of historical super-tasks which gave specific meaning to their existence.”  There is none of that now however much Vladimir Putin talks about goals (

            In Soviet times, “society was both ascetic and focused on opposing the rest of the world.” Sacrifices were justified, Ikhlov continues, because there was no other way to oppose the outside world and promote the Soviet Union and its goals.  Putinism might like people to feel the same way, but it has provided no reason for them to do so.

            “Putinism in principle is not about ‘projects.’ It is not utopian” but rather a pathetic playing at appearing to have them. Indeed, Ikhlov argues, it is best described as a country not pursuing a utopia but rather one pursuing exactly the reverse: exactly what already exists or that can be achieved with great speed and ease.

            Thus, “it simply plays at being the USSR with its anti-cosmopolitan campaign, straining at being a great power, and Brezhnev-style parades.”  That can be seen in the case of “the only ‘all-national idea’ of Putinism – Crimea is ours, but it, in a record for all human history, was achieved in a couple of weeks.” Before it happened, no one talked about it.

            The rapid increases in Russia’s military spending under Putin have not contributed to the sense of participation and solidarity that similar boosts in spending did in Soviet times, Ikhlov says, because while the masses believe what television tells them  about Putin’s triumphs over the West, the elite (or more precisely pseudo-elite) groups have a more adequate understanding.”

            And that divide, he suggests, “very much interferes with any all-national consolidation on the basis of state greatness.” 

            There is a precedent for what Putin is doing, but it is unlikely to be one he would be happy to cite, Ikhlov continues. During World War II, “Stalin played at tsarism having killed the monarchist ideal at the basis of which was aristocratic honor and not just an animal fear before a despot-tyrant.” But even Stalin, it appears, recognized the dangerous limitations of that.