Looking Behind Moscow’s Potemkin Village
Most western observers of Russia fail to look beyond the superficial glitz of postcard Moscow, and thus utterly fail to understand Russia and the hell that Putin has made of it. Here are a few glimpses into the real Russia, beyond the trolls, hackers and Kremlin propaganda.
Debt collectors are taking on a more prominent role in the real Russia, as most Russians are being forced to take on personal debts just to stay warm and fed. What happens next isn’t pretty:
Debt Collection Russia Style
On 5 April, in the town of Iskitim in Novosibirsk oblast, four masked debt collectors broke into the home of Natalia Gorbunova, beat her husband and 17-year-old son, and then raped her in front of them. Gorbunova had taken a 5,000 rouble ($75) microloan from two companies, Money Now and Money Quickly, in 2014. She couldn’t make the payments. .. But how could she? According to them, Gorbunova now owed them 240,000 roubles ($3,586).
… In January, debt collectors in Ulyanovsk threw a Molotov cocktail through the window of a 56-year-old grandfather, severely burning his two-year-old grandson. The grandfather took a 4,000 rouble ($60) loan to buy medicine; the collectors demanded he pay them 40,000 ($598).
In Krasnodar, a debt collector broke a woman’s finger over a 300 rouble ($4.50) debt payment. In Penza, a 54-year-old woman took a microloan for 30,000 rubles ($448) to, once again, buy medicine. She put her home down as collateral. The collectors now say she owes 470,000 rubles ($7,022), and as a result, they’re to seize her home. In Rostov-on-Don a collector was sentenced to ten months in prison for threatening to blow up a kindergarten if an employee didn’t repay his loan.
In Yekaterinburg, collectors “cut the telephone wires and filled the locks with glue” as they locked a debtor’s child in an apartment. Aleksei Selivanov, a Yekaterinburg lawyer who defends debtors against predatory lenders, was threatened by a group of collectors led by Maksim Patrakov, a former Donbas volunteer fighter. According to the jurist, Patrakov threatened to throw him in a car trunk and murder him out in the forest. The media is filled with these stories.
In some cases, the crushing debt and constant threats and harassment are just too much. The only exit many see from this vicious cycle is suicide.
Russia Under Strain
Andrei Kolesnikov writes that the current Russian leadership is bent on “making unfreedom sacred” – since “the new social contract demands that the Russian people surrender their freedom in return for Crimea and a sense of national pride.” Accompanying this surge of pride goes attitudes that bolster it – increased admiration for Stalin, greatly decreased admiration for the United States and the European Union. The bulk of the Russian people are united with the émigré colonel in admiration for displays of raw power.
… “the state ideology offers no overriding concept for the future; its foundation is Russia’s past glory. In this sense, it may have a decidedly limited life span.” Kaplan agrees: “Putin will not be able to shelter his regime from the fallout of economic collapse.”
Unbelievable details of Putin’s latest personal wish-fulfillment — Extreme turbulence ahead, as this plan will ruffle feathers in all corners and crannies of the Kremlin.
Putin Country: Reality Behind the Mask
Ann Garrels has been a Russia observer since the days of the USSR, and needs no interpreter to speak face to face with real Russians who are not paid to lie for the regime.
ANN GARRELS: Well, it became clear to me as I was traveling around Russia as a Moscow-based correspondent that Moscow was not Russia. It was moving forward fast and furiously. There was money there. I mean, everything was focused in Moscow.
But meanwhile, the rest of the country was struggling in very different ways. And it’s as if you were, you know, covering America from New York. So i wanted to find one place where I could get to know people well, follow them over time, and I chose Chelyabinsk…
… You want medical care, and you want to see a doctor in the socialized health system, you’ve got to pay. And, I mean, one woman looked at me and said, I’m embarrassed that I am perpetuating this system of corruption, but my grandchild needs good medical care and the only way for me to see a good doctor is to pay.
Education – if you want to get your kid into a good school, you pay. If you want to buy a piece of property and get permission to build, you pay – every step of the way. And people are just accustomed to it. They’ve almost – they’ve almost stopped fighting it…
… you have a population that is about 150-something million for a country – that’s less than half the U.S. population for a country much larger. They have a real problem down the road of being able to man the country.
… Many of my women friends, you know, just say, you know, we Russian women are just better than Russian men. And if I heard it once, I heard it a million times that because of the Stalin repressions – because of all the men who were killed in the first world war, then the revolution, then the second world war and those who were consigned to the gulags and died, that there’s a depleted gene pool.
The best and the brightest were killed, and those that are left – now, I mean, I’m not saying that this is scientifically proven, but it’s what many, many Russians believe – Russian women, especially – and even Russian men believe.
Russophiles dream of imagined past Russian glories, pretending those fantasies to be true of today’s Russia. In other words, they can’t handle the truth. Why else would propaganda, cyber-war, and espionage take up such a huge chunk of the Muscovy budget? Smokescreens and wishful thinking can only take a failing nation so far.
Putin’s Russia [The failing
democracy despotic empire] … The author of the above book on Putin was murdered.
Journalists killed in Russia Enemies of Putin seem to die, somehow. Usually, for no clear reason.
Putin’s ascent to power was not a clean one.
Putin’s FSB implicated in wave of bloody terror just before Putin reached Kremlin power in Moscow.
Once Upon a Time in Russia: True and bloody story of Putin and the oligarchs
“Russia will be completely unable to revitalize itself as a world power if it does not address its own internal failings,” Trenin argues. “Russia needs to unambiguously prioritize domestic development—not just for the sake of having an international role, but to give itself any kind of future. Russia’s current political and economic order, if it persists, will sooner or later doom it to a tragic failure as a state.”
But Putin is unwilling to address Russia’s internal failings. Such a shift away from foreign mischief-making would denervate Putin’s entire propaganda putsch. Putin only understands making mischief. Trying to make Russia a better place to live, work, and grow healthy families would be quite beyond his feeble powers — and totally outside his sphere of interest.
Putin can send his fighter jets to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad’s vile regime, continue to back fighters in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, and impose sanctions on Turkey after Ankara shot down a Russian military plane that had invaded its airspace. But at home, Putin’s economy is declining fast, and as these papers argue, he is doing nothing to reverse that decline.
In the meantime, some advice: Don’t borrow money in Russia.
… four masked debt collectors broke into the home of Natalia Gorbunova, beat her husband and 17-year-old son, and then raped her in front of them.
Illness among Russian children under the age of 14, Krutelyov says, has increased by 50 percent over the last two decades; and “according to the World Health Organization, no more than 50 percent of 16-year-old boys will live to pension age.” That understates the problem, however.
The WHO estimate is based on a simple “extrapolation” of current trends, he writes. But in fact, any honest evaluation of Russia’s epidemiological situation and of its existing medical system shows that the situation is only getting worse. One can say, he suggests, that “the fabric of health care [in Russia] has been destroyed.”
“Ignoring this fact is irresponsible and criminal,” Krutelyov says. Indeed, “the medical-biological catastrophe has gone beyond the limits of the problems of medical and biological science and become a social, economic, political, demographic and worldview problem” that must be addressed.