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, I present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 34th 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.
- Just How Many Putins are There? The differences in Vladimir Putin’s appearance at various public functions is so great that many suspect that age, exercise and Botox cannot explain the variation. One analyst has tried to estimate just how many “doubles” the Russian president may have. What is clear is that even the original is one too many.
- Another ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ Moment. After Dmitry Medvedev’s remark that there is no money but have a nice day [he said it in a meeting with retirees in Crimea impoverished by runaway prices after Russia’s annexation – Ed.] it did not seem likely that any Russian official would approach the level of Marie Antoinette’s infamous comment. But one has. Faced with the fact that Russians are being forced to cut back on food, one official has observed that it is “a Russian custom to eat poorly.”
- Moscow Wants Pollsters to Stop Focusing on Poverty but Government Statistics Tell the Tale. The Russian government wants pollsters to stop asking about poverty because the Kremlin is insisting that life is getting better and more joyous. But the regime’s own statistics show how widespread poverty is in Russia: one in four lives in housing with sewer connections and one in three lives in housing without connection to natural gas lines. And this week brought new and damning indications of how things are getting worse: For the first time ever, Russians purchased fewer medicines in the first quarter of this year, even as reports spread about hospitals running out of critical vaccines.
- Ural Police Train to Disperse Worker Protests. If in Moscow, the police appear most concerned about demonstrations by middle-class groups, in the Urals, the police are now training specifically to counter any working class revolts. At the same time, the Kremlin is seeking to make sure of its generals’ loyalty: they and their wives are being paid more and are richer than ever before, according to an RBCstudy.
- Chelyabinsk Police Propose Burning Harmful Books and Those Who Read Them. Police in Chelyabinsk have called for burning all harmful books and those who read them, a task that may pose a challenge given that Russians, short of cash, areshifting from real books to online versions.
- West’s Information War ‘Stronger Now than During Cold War,’ Moscow Historian Says. A Russian historian says that the West’s information campaign against Russia is now “stronger” than it was during the Cold War, forcing Moscow in his words to come up with ways of countering it. His remarks come as Washington ended Radio Liberty’s shortwave broadcasting to Russia.
- One Wrong Post Can ‘Screw Up Your Whole Life,’ Russian Official Says. The reason that Moscow appears to be hunting down those who post articles and pictures or likes that the Kremlin doesn’t like is that giving people a criminal record means that your entire life will be “screwed up.” Given how many are being rounded up by this campaign, Moscow may be creating its own nemesis.
- Russia Gets Its Own Renaming Controversies. Decisions by officials to name abridge in St. Petersburg after Akhmet Kadyrov, a neighborhood in Irkutsk after Ramzan not Akhmet, and a street in Yekaterinburg where the last tsar and his family were murdered “Tsarist” have created a serious problem with renaming in Russia and sparked widespread debate over what it means and whether the Russian authorities plan to rename the Neva the Terek, a river in the North Caucasus.
- RISI Blames US for Spread of HIV/AIDS in Russia, Says Condoms Don’t Work Against It. The Russian Institute for Strategic Studies which is attached to the office of the Russian president and frequently gives Vladimir Putin advice says the US is responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS in Russia and that condoms do not provide protection against its spread.
- Moscow Calls for a Russian Internet but Russians Now Use Google More than Yandex. Russian officials want to create a Russian version of almost everything including the Internet as part of the Kremlin’s import substitution effort, but even as they are making such demands, Russians are increasingly using Western search engines rather than Russian ones. In April, for the first time, Russians used Google more than Yandex when they went online.
- Russia Must Make Plans to Destroy Merchant Shipping of NATO Countries, Analyst Says. Aleksandr Verkhoturov, a Russian analyst with close ties to the Russian government, says that Russian defense planners have focused too much on destroying NATO aircraft carriers and should devote more attention to sinking the ships of the merchant marine of NATO countries. That will leave Russia in a stronger position after any war, he argues.
- Yakutsk Newspaper Warns of Disinformation on Moscow TV Station. In a curious act of a local media outlet protesting the propaganda on a national TV, a newspaper in the Sakha capital has put a warning at the top of its TV schedule listings warning viewers that NTV is full of disinformation and thus should be approached cautiously.
- More Revenants from the Soviet (or Even Older) Past. Increasingly, attacks on Western authors resemble the bourgeois falsifier articles of Soviet times, something that means the Western arguments are getting through because they are repeated, albeit in a distorted way, to make Moscow’s points. Collective farms are slated to return in Irkutsk oblast which has a KPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation – Ed.] governor. Cossacks are again guarding Russian borders, like many centuries ago. And the word “imperial” is ever more often found in the names of Russian stores, restaurants, and hotels.
And six more from countries neighboring Russia:
- Tajik Gastarbeiters Increasingly Marrying Russians. In a trend that people in Tajikistan say they do not oppose but that some Russian nationalists are upset by, ever more Tajik gastarbeiters in Russian cities are marrying local Russian women.
- Anti-Putin Slogans Now More Widespread in Donets than in Ukraine. According to one observer, visitors are more likely to encounter anti-Putin slogans among the population of the DNR and LNR than they are to see or hear them in Ukraine itself.
- Dnipro Was Always What Local Residents Called Dnipropetrovsk. Many in the Ukrainian city now known as Dnipro always called it that informally and are only surprised that officials should want to make what had been a kind of identifier of local residents into an official name.
- China Now Investing More in Kazakhstan than in Russia. Moscow may have turned toward Beijing politically, but Chinese business interests are now investing far more in Kazakhstan than in the Russian Federation.
- Defenders of Anti-Russian Group Emerge in Kazakhstan. After Astana began to repress an organization that was openly pro-Kazakh and anti-Russian, a group defending that organization has emerged and thus spread the message of the group.
- ‘Baltic Amazons’ Back – This Time in Ukraine. Some propaganda tropes are just too good to give up. Now, 25 years after Moscow blamed them for all sorts of anti-Soviet and anti-Russian activities, Russian propagandists are again talking about Baltic amazons and suggesting that they are actively working against Moscow in Ukraine.