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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
November 11, 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.
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 57

Staunton, VA, November 11, 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 57th 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. Trump’s Election Creating Domestic Problems for Putin. However much Vladimir Putin may have welcomed Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election – and the evidence already is that any honeymoon is likely to be short – the Kremlin leader can hardly be pleased by the two messages that Moscow media have unintentionally highlighted for Russians. Unlike in Russia, their reports point out that in the US, elections aren’t manageable and predictable but can produce unexpected results and that the working class can revolt against a globalized elite.  In response, Kremlin allies are putting out the word that the voters in the US did not dislodge the oligarchs there, that Trump’s victory was somehow organized by a shadowy American elite for its own nefarious and anti-Russian purposes, or even that Trump’s election was not the result of the voters but instead was an act of God. Two other domestic groups in Russia also have suffered as a result of the US vote: bookmakers who lost big on the election and those concerned with the purity of the Russian language who have watched as a flood of “trumpisms” have overwhelmed public discourse.  

2. Russia Wanted to Be the Third Rome But Is Becoming a Second Zimbabwe. Russia’s economic slump has become so deep that one Moscow commentator this week said that Russia may have wanted to become the Third Rome but it has ended up as “the second  Zimbabwe”.  Among this week’s bad economic news: the real incomes of Russians have fallen five to six percent so far this year, according to the government, the authorities, to save money, have reduced the temperature of hot water going to Russian apartment houses this winter, 40 percent of Russians say they now have to choose between food and clothing, and Moscow has blocked Linked In thereby making it more difficult for Russians to find work abroad. Moreover, higher prices for gas, parking and cigarettes are all predicted to kick in this January as well.

3. Drug Abuse Responsible for Seven of Ten Deaths among Young Russians. 70,000 young Russians die each year now as a result of the misuse of drugs, a figure that explains 70 percent of mortality among that cohort. Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS has reached epidemic proportions in ten regions and is responsible for the death of 50 to 60 Russians every day. Budget cuts in the health sector are pushing up mortality rates across the board, officials say, with some now speaking of a health care disaster in Russia

4. Fights Over Monuments Continue to Spread Across Russia. Anti-Stalinist activists in Komi succeeded in closing down a memorial there to the NKVD officials who built the GULAG.  Chechens and Russians have clashed over memorials to Russian military leaders who occupied the North Caucasus, officials and activists are collecting funds to put up monuments to Nicholas II and Rasputin and to open a historical theme park in the Northern capital, and Buddhists are protesting the opening of so-called “Buddha bars” in major Russian cities. 

5. Russian Efforts to Protest Putin’s War in Syria Blocked by Authorities. Moscow officials have refused groups which want to hold protests against Putin’s war in Syria, an indication both of shifting Russian attitudes about that conflict and official concern about that shift. Meanwhile, on the first anniversary of their original protest, long-route truckers in St. Petersburg have resumed their demonstrations against Moscow’s taxes and fees. 

6. Where a Real Cold War is Going On – Peoples of the North versus Russian Developers.  Members of some of the numerically smaller peoples of the Russian far north are retreating from the cities and organizing themselves in what activists call “a cold war” against the depradations of Russian oil and natural resource extraction companies.  That is only the most dramatic development this week in non-Russian activism against Moscow’s Russocentric policies.  A former head of Buryatia says the next head of his republic must be an ethnic Buryat.  Tatarstan plans to keep its presidency and is considering requiring pupils to study the constitution of the republic.  And two more Moscow decisions are likely to spark even more anger among the non-Russians: a discovery that Moscow is using a variable of under the table methods to cut Russian language use and an end of federal money for new roads, something that will  hit the non-Russian republics especially hard. 

7. A Rechtstaat Isn’t Necessarily a Just or Liberal One. Ever more repressive and illiberal ideas are being enshrined in Russian laws even though they contradict not only the Russian constitution but Moscow’s undertakings as a signatory to various international rights accords.   Among the most notorious developments in this area over the past week are the following: The Duma took up a draft bill specifying how to “correctly” beat one’s wife.  A court has found Nazi symbols in an ancient Russian manuscript. Russian officials say that having a visa does not give a visitor the right to pray in Russia. Tortures have become so widespread under new laws and regulations that Russian newspapers have listed the kinds of violence that prisoners can expect from the police and jailors. And a Duma leader wants to impose criminal punishments for any mockery of Russian patriotism.  The future only promises to get worse: laws are being developed to reestablish a new GULAG next year and even to have its facilities operated by for-profit private companies. 

8. More Bad Behavior by Russian Football Fans. Russian fans “mooned” their Turkish opposite numbers, yet another reason why Moscow should be stripped of  the right to hold the 2018 World Cup. 

9. Get Your 2017 Stalin Calendars Now. A new calendar for 2017 featuring pictures every month of the Soviet dictator has now gone on sale in Russia. 

10. Moscow’s Support for Separatism Abroad May Boomerang on Russia. A Catalonian activist has visited several non-Russian republics, something that reflects Moscow’s support of separatism in the West but that may provoke even more interest in separatism among non-Russians and Russian regionalists in Russia itself. 

11. Yekaterinburg Officials Prohibit March of Heterosexuals In a move that recalls a Mad magazine parody of the absurdity of some US politicians, officials in the Urals city have refused permission to a group of heterosexuals who want to promote their lifestyle.   The city fathers also denied permission to a group of nudists who wanted to demonstrate as well. Meanwhile a teacher in Dagestan lost her job for stripping in front of her class in that Muslim republic

12. History has Become ‘a Military Operation’ in Russia. Military and educational officials say that history is now “a zone of military operations” in which Moscow must fight off everything they deem to  be a falsification of Russian history and must promote myths rather than facts in order to serve the Kremlin Among the falsifications that they say must be fought are Western “inventions” like the well-documented secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact by which Hitler and Stalin divided up Eastern Europe. 

13. The Continuing Shadow of an Ancient Evil. Polls show that 57 percent of Russians think that Jews care more about money than about other people, an indication that anti-Semitic stereotypes remain strong there. 

And six more from countries in Russia’s neighborhood:

1. Minsk Says that It Can’t Afford to Conduct a New Census.  The Belarusian government says it doesn’t have enough money to carry out a census and is seeking assistance from other governments or private sources. 

2. Moscow Complains Belarus Failing to Protect Russian Orthodox Priests.  As part of its ongoing campaign to blacken the image of Belarus in the international media, Russian media outlets are complaining that Belarusian officials are not doing enough to protect Russian Orthodox priests in that country from anti-Russian attacks. 

3. Ukraine Imposes Quotas to Boost Ukrainian Songs on Radio.  In order to promote Ukrainian, Kyiv has imposed quotas requiring broadcasters to air a certain percentage of Ukrainian language songs on their programs.  Meanwhile, a Ukrainian has celebrated his language and its distinctiveness by pointing out the many words that exist in Ukrainian that don’t exist in Russian

4. FSB Again Proves Itself an Incompetent Falsifier in Occupied Crimea.  A Ukrainian commentator has pointed out that Russian claims about a supposed Ukrainian terrorist unit collapse on their own weight because the FSB got so many facts wrong about the Ukrainian groups it sought to link these “terrorists” to. 

5. Chisinau Politician Says Gagauz Would Benefit if Moldova Joined Romania. A Chisinau politician says that the Orthodox Christian Turkic minority would only benefit if the two countries combined. And also this week, the US announced that it is funding a Gagauz folklore project. 

6. Central Asians Profoundly Divided on What a Trump Presidency Will Mean for Them. When The Open Asia portal surveyed opinions in the region about that, it found that there were at least nine different predictions ranging from a dramatic improvement to an equally dramatic deterioration in ties between their countries and Washington.

See here for the previous issue, no. 56. 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
For Putin, Trump is Not an End in Himself But a Means to the End of Weakening the US and the West
In the wake of the November 8 election in the United States, all too many commentators in the West appear to have forgotten that Vladimir Putin has been backing Donald Trump not because they are soul mates but rather as a means to a much larger end: the weakening of the US and the destruction of key institutions of Western integration like NATO.

Putin may prove to be wrong in assuming that Trump will be an effective means to that end, but it is clear the Kremlin leader is far more pleased by the impact of the conflicts that have broken out in the US and by speculation in Western capitals about Washington’s loss of influence than simply by having Trump on his way to the White House.

At least that is suggested by the Schadenfreude of most Russian news reports about the anti-Trump demonstrations and the plans for a referendum on Californian independence as well as by the enthusiastic support Moscow media have given to all discussions in the West suggesting that Trump’s election will weaken US influence and Western alliances.

And it is also suggested by three new commentaries -- here,here and here - that point to a larger and longer-range Russian policy.

None of this is to say that Putin isn’t pleased to have someone in the White House who is at odds with so much of the American establishment and the establishment of Western countries. Rather it is to insist that he is far more concerned about the consequences of that than he is about any personal relationship he may have with Trump now or in the future.

As has been so often in the case, Putin may overplay his hand and produce exactly the opposite of what he intends – Invading Ukraine led to the strengthening of NATO not its disintegration – but he can be countered if and only if the goals he has are clearly understood and not obscured by mistaken idea that he cares about personal ties as much as do many in the West.