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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
June 17, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ever Fewer Russians are Paying Attention to Ukraine, Survey Finds
Staunton, VA, June 17, 2016 - Ever fewer Russians are paying attention to Ukraine and Russia’s role there, a trend that makes the Russian-Ukrainian conflict less useful for Vladimir Putin as an ideological tool but that is positive news for Ukraine because the Levada Center poll also found more Russians accept the idea that Ukraine is a separate country, according to Vladislav Girman.

Those trends, the most important this poll showed, have been largely ignored by Moscow outlets which have trumpeted the self-celebrating fact that Russians have a more positive attitude toward Ukrainians than they did, the commentator for Kyiv’s Delovaya Stolitsya argues.

What is most striking about the poll results is that they show that Putin’s propaganda machine has been able to boost the share of Russians who believe that Russians and Ukrainians area not two nations but one people only marginally and thus do little about the decline in the share of Russians who thought that in 2005 as compared to now.

In 2005, 81 percent of Russians told the Levada Center that they believed that Russians and Ukrainians are one people. Now, only 49 percent do. The latter figure is up three percent from last year, but the small size of the increase does little to change the fundamental vector and highlights the limits on Putin’s propaganda to change views on this issue, Girman says.

Moreover, far more Russians – 36 percent – now say they believe the border between Russia and Ukraine should be a normal one, controlled with visa requirements and customs, a figure far higher than the 19 percent who said that three years ago. At the same time, a majority would like open borders without any visa requirement, the same as in 2008 and 2013.

Girman says that this shift in Russian attitudes is also reflected in a story that two former Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia have told. They say that their Russian fellow prisoners indicated that they “envied” the two for their Ukrainian citizenship, something hardly consistent with the Putin line.

The Levada Center poll also shows that Russians are paying far less attention to Ukraine than they did. Sixteen percent say they have ceased to follow events there, and the share declaring that they follow developments in Ukraine carefully has fallen from half in 2014 to only slightly more than a quarter (29 percent) now.

This shift limits the ability of the Kremlin to exploit Ukrainian issues for its own purposes, Girman says, and is likely both caused by and one of the reasons Moscow has shifted its attention to other issues such as Syria and NATO.

A majority of Russians believe that Crimea is now permanently theirs and will never be returned to Ukraine. At the same time, the poll shows, two-thirds believe that the ceasefire is working; and a majority believe that the current situation of “a frozen conflict” will continue well into the future.

In short, Girman sums up, for Russians, “the conflict is ever less interesting and the hysteria of hatred is somewhat reduced but what has been seized from someone else as before is considered to be theirs.” Soon, he says, one can expect from Russians questions of the kind “’why don’t you love us?’” – the kind of queries some in the West may take at face value.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Is Moscow Bringing Back Notorious Line Five on Nationality via the Back Door?
Staunton, VA, June 17, 2016 - Whenever citizens of the Russian Federation have to register with the authorities, according to a draft 48-page Justice Ministry order, they will be asked their nationality and their answers will be collected in a country-wide data base, thus effectively restoring the notorious Line Five of Soviet-era passports.

Because the Russian Constitution prohibits requiring anyone to declare his or her nationality, the decision to answer is a voluntary one, but in reporting this plan, Vladislav Kulikov of Rossiiskaya Gazeta says the government needs the data and thus it is “better” to answer.

On the one hand, this order, assuming it is implemented, changes less than meets the eye. Russians have been asked these questions in registration offices since at least 1999, and the country’s parliament passed a law in 2013 legalizing the practice which allows scholars and officials to track ethnic changes in the population.

But on the other, one aspect of the new order is worrisome because of the ways it might be misused. At present, all registration offices are under the control of regional governments and each has maintained its own data base. Now, the Federal Tax Service will gather this data into a single Russian Federation-wide computerized data base.

Depending on who has access to this new data base and what controls might be imposed to limit the dissemination of information about individuals, this new country-wide data base could be used by some officials in the discriminatory way Line Five of Soviet passports was used against Jews and other minorities.

And given the nationalizing impulse which animates much of Vladimir Putin’s approach, this is not the only danger. The existence of such a data base and knowledge among the population about it will almost certainly lead more people in the short run to declare that they are ethnic Russians, the politically correct and preferred answer, even if they are not.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 36
Staunton, VA, June 16, 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 36th 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 Heads an Occupation Regime, Yakovenko Says. Vladimir Putin’s regime like Pol Pot’s in Cambodia is an occupation regime even though it has been imposed by people who are nominally part of the titular nationality, according to Igor Yakovenko. And it is one with a unique national idea, according to pro-communist writers. That idea is “steal as much as you can while you are still able."

2. Yeltsin Gradually Displacing Gorbachev as Chief Demon for Russian Nationalists. For Russian nationalists and imperialists who view the end of the USSR as the chief geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, Mikhail Gorbachev has long been their chief demon, but now ever more Russians, including people from these groups, see Boris Yeltsin as bearing even more responsibility. That has fed into a new discussion of the ways in which Russia’s failure to face up to its past in the early 1990s has led to the recrudescence of Sovietism and Soviet-type crimes under Putin.

3. Petersburgers Outraged by Honors Given to ‘Those Who Killed Russians. Russians are upset by the decision of officials to rename a bridge for Akhmed Zakayev and put up a plaque honoring Marshal Mannerheim, decisions the Kremlin has defended  The complaint in both cases is that these two men “killed Russians.” If that becomes the standard, there are a lot of domestic Russian leaders whose statues will have to be taken down and plagues removed.  Meanwhile, Russian officials say they will not rename a railroad station or a boulevard in Moscow currently named for Kyiv.

4. What Do Marseilles Prostitutes, the Pro-Kremlin Media and Duma Deputies have in Common? All three praised the behavior of Russian soccer louts at the end of the match with England. The prostitutes of Marseilles offered the Russians special discounts for their services. The pro-Kremlin media ignored the facts and presented the soccer louts as heroes. And Duma deputies praised the Russian thugs as defenders of “the Russian world."  Meanwhile, FIFA not only imposed sanctions against the Russian fans but said they had behaved in a racist manner.

5. Cossacks Threaten Black Students Who Perform Cossack Songs. Racism isn’t confined to the behavior of the Russian soccer louts. It is increasingly found elsewhere in Russian society. A group of African students has appealed to Vladimir Putin for defense against Kuban Cossacks who are upset that the black students dress in Cossack garb and sing Cossack songs. Meanwhile, surveys of African students across Russia show that it is hard to be black in Russia today.

6. Duma Deputies Divorcing in Record Numbers to Hide Wealth. In response to new laws which require Duma deputies to report the income and wealth not only of themselves but of their wives, Russian parliamentarians are divorcing in record numbers in order not to have to report their real worth. Meanwhile in another story about Russian women, the Russian edition of Cosmopolitan put up and then took down a story saying that among foreigners, the earlier fad for marrying Russian women had passed because many men had discovered that the Russian women were more interested in the status of being married than in them because it would allow them to leave the country.

7. ‘For Everything Else,’ There Isn’t Visa – at Least in Some Russian Restaurants. To show their patriotism, some Russian restaurants are refusing to accept Visa or Mastercard from their patrons, although most of these have set up ATMS so that diners can get cash to pay their bills. But because of the economic crisis, fewer Russians are going to restaurants and those who want to go out are going to cafes instead.

8. One Soviet Idea Unlikely to Come Back.  Kommersant reports this week about the times during the early days of television when the Soviet authorities required state registration of all TV sets in the USSR.

9. Half of Russian State Budget Now Goes to Military or Kremlin’s Prestige Projects.  An analysis of the current Russian budget shows that the Putin regime is now spending half of its outlays on the military and other security services and on prestige projects like the World Cup or the building of ice breakers, the first Russian one of which was launched this week after a 40 year gap.  Nonetheless, supporters of the military say that the high command is at risk from Putin’s actions and should take action against the Kremlin leader

10. Putin has Closed More Russian Factories than Hitler Destroyed.  According to one count, more than 35,000 major factories have been closed down since Vladimir Putin became president, a figure that exceeds the number Hitler destroyed when he invaded the USSR during World War II. In other economic news, with the collapse in the price of oil, Russia is now earning more money from the export of food than from the sale of arms and oil.  Putin has closed more major factories – 35,000 – than Hitler destroyed.

11. Economic Crisis Causing More Russians to Turn to Magistrates for Legal Help. The economic crisis in Russia may have at last one positive outcome: it is causing Russians to turn to prosecutors and investigators for legal help, something most of them were loathe to do earlier out of a desire to avoid all officials when possible.

12. Soldiers Say ‘Alaska Should Follow Crimea’ Back to Russia. Some Russian soldiers have written the slogan “Alaska Should Come Back to Russia as Crimea Has” on some of their APCS.

13. Moscow Media Outlets Inventing Both Western Statements but Western Journals. Pro-Kremlin media are now not only claiming that Western officials have said things that they haven’t but inventing journals that do not in fact exist.

And seven more from Russia’s neighbors:

14. EU to Finance Feasability Study on Tallinn-Helsinki Rail Tunnel. The European Union has announced that it will fund a study to determine the possibility of building a tunnel between the Estonian and Finnish capitals, a link that if made would have major geopolitical consequences in Scandinavia and northwest Russia.

15. Few Kazakhs Think Outsiders Were Behind Recent Unrest. Only one Kazakh in four thinks that foreign forces were responsible for the recent wave of unrest in their country; most place the blame on domestic problems. Meanwhile, however, Moscow specialist on Islam Aleksey Malashenko says that Astana should be worried about ethnic Russian converts to Islam.

16. Armenia Points Out the Obvious: Stalin Was Once Hitler’s Ally. Infuriated by Moscow’s criticism of Yerevan’s decision to erect a statue to an Armenian activist who at one point found  himself cooperating with Nazi Germany, Armenian commentators have pointed out the obvious: Moscow has no room to complain about that given that Stalin for almost two years was Hitler’s ally.

17. Ukraine’s Opening of KGB Archives a Problem for Russia. Ukrainian officials say that materials in a KGB archive in Kyiv that they have now opened are creating serious problems for Russia because they provide information on programs and individuals which the Russian authorities have never acknowledge and in some cases may still be active.

18.  Labor Migrants in Russia Sending Back to Central Asia Only One-Quarter as Much as Before Crisis. Transfer payments by Central Asian labor migrants in Russia to their homelands are now only 25 percent of the amount that they were three years ago, a collapse with enormous consequences for the economies of many of the countries in that region.

19. Occupation Powers in Crimea Erect Statue to ‘Polite People.’ The first soldiers in Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of the Ukrainian peninsula now have their own memorial statue, erected by the occupation government.

20. Railway from Mongolia Far Easier to Build to Tuva than One from Russia. In a reminder to those who ignore geography and especially topography, Tuvin commentators have pointed out that it will be far easier for a rail line to come to their republic from Mongolia than from the Russian Federation.