Dirty Linen

burdenkoBurdenko Neurosurgery Institute in Moscow. Photo courtesy of TASS and  Current Time

Moscow Doctor Summoned to Prosecutor’s Office over Interview on Shortage of Protective Equipment
OVD Info
April 7, 2020

The Agora International Human Rights Group has reported on the Telegram channel Coronavirus Legal Aid Headquarters that the Tverskaya Inter-District Prosecutor’s Office has launched a probe of the Burdenko Neurosurgery Institute.

The probe was prompted by a interview, published on the website Current Time, in which Vsevolod Shurkhay, a neurosurgeon at the institute, said that doctors lacked personal protection equipment. As part of the probe, Shurkhay himself was summoned to the prosecutor’s office for questioning.

Entitled “One Mercury Thermometer for Forty People, and House Calls Without Protection: Russian Doctors Talk About Lack of Protection Against Coronavirus,” the article was published on March 24.  In the interview, Shurkhay discusses the shortage of face respirators for doctors in his department and UV lamps for air purification. In addition, according to Shurkhay, doctors in the department were asked to take their own temperature and issued a single mercury thermometer for forty employees.

According to Current Time, Shurkhay sent a written request to institute management, asking them to solve the problem, but they advised him not to “escalate” the situation. It was then that the doctor contacted supervisory bodies and journalists.

According to Agora’s legal aid headquarters, on March 25, Shurkhay was asked by the institute’s head physician to give a written explanation for the Current Time article. The human rights organization writes that Shurkhay was given to understand he could be dismissed for washing the institute’s “dirty linen” in public and reproached for immediately contacting the media.

Translated by the Russian Reader. You can read all my posts about the coronavirus epidemic in Russia here.

Petersburg Activist Faces Criminal Investigation for Posting “Fake News” About Coronavirus

Criminal Investigation Launched Against Activist in Petersburg for Post About Coronavirus
Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
April 3, 2020

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Activist Anna Shushpanova has been placed under criminal investigation for disseminating fake information about the coronavirus. Officers of the Investigative Committee are searching her home, according to activist Krasimir Vransky. His report to Sever.Realii has been corroborated by Shushpanova’s sister Alyona.

Investigative Committee officers arrived at the Shushpanova home around 5 p.m. According to Alyona, her sister was shown the order to open the investigation. The officer are currently searching the home and have confiscated Anna Shushpanova’s telephone and computer. There are five Investigative Committee officers in the apartment. According to Alyona, the criminal investigation was launched due to a post Anna had published on the VK group page Sestroretsk Activist Group [Sestroretskii akvtiv].

According to Vransky, on April 2, Shushpanova posted information that a local outpatient medical clinic had, allegedly, sent home a patient diagnosed with the coronavirus who was exhibiting mild symptoms. The doctor who allegedly let the person with the coronavirus go home could have been asked to resign voluntarily. The incident was reported to Shushpanova by a local resident who witnessed the alleged situation.

“[Shushpanova] is a voting member of the local election commission, so there are special procedures for her. That is probably why the Investigative Committee came to her house. Instead of doctors who may have been negligent, they harass an activist,” said Vransky.

On Tuesday (March 31, 2020), the Federation Council approved the law on criminal liability  for spreading “fake news” about the coronavirus.

For spreading knowingly false information about the infection, the law stipulates a fine of 300,000 to 700,000 rubles [approx. 3,600 to 8,500 euros], one year of community service or three years’ imprisonment. If spreading the fake news caused harm to a person’s health, the stipulated criminal penalties are more severe: a fine of 700,000 to 1.5 million rubles [approx. 18,000 euros], three years of forced labor or three years’ imprisonment. If a person dies, a a fine of 1.5 million to 2 million rubles [approx. 27,000 euros], five years of forced labor or five years’ imprisonment are stipulated.

Thanks to Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko for the heads-up. Photo of Shushpanova courtesy of Grani.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Doctors at Petersburg Hospital Rebel over Coronavirus Unpreparedness

Doctors at Pokrovskaya Hospital in Petersburg Rebel over Lack of Protective Equipment, Oxygen and Drugs
Fontanka.ru
April 3, 2020

Doctors at Pokrovskaya Hospital have recorded a collective video message appealing for help. After their hospital was redesignated to treat patients with pneumonia, they do not have enough protective equipment and medications, and they claim not to have running oxygen in the wards. Management had threatened reprisals if they complained.

“We, employees of Pokrovskaya Hospital, appeal to the media for help. What prompted us to do this is that our hospital has been admitting all the pneumonia cases [in Petersburg], including pneumonia caused by the coronavirus. We have no protective equipment. What you see us wearing is no means of protection against viral infection,” begins the video message, which Fontanka.ru received on April 3.

“We are not refusing to work. We love our patients and want everyone to recover. But it is not possible to work in such unprotected conditions. No one is immune to infection. Nor does the status of doctor protect one: the virus is not selective. It spares no one: neither doctors, nor young people, nor the elderly,” the doctors said.

According to them, oxygen is required for the treatment of viral pneumonia, but there is no running supply of it to the wards at Pokrovskaya Hospital. Either this must be done urgently or oxygen tanks must be provided. The hospital does not have the necessary medications. The doctors say that management has already refused to help them, and has promised to “deal” with anyone who complains.

“But we are not afraid, because our lives and the lives of our loved ones are also dear to us. All of us have families, all of us return home after our shifts. And we want to go back to work healthy, and for the people near and dear to us to be healthy,” said the doctors.

The city’s public health committee has promised to comment on the situation later.

Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

pokrov

Employees at Pokrovskaya Hospital recorded a video message about the lack of protective equipment. Their management says this is not true
Bumaga
April 3, 2020

Employees of the Pokrovskaya Hospital in Petersburg, which has been repurposed to treat patients with pneumonia, recorded a video message complaining about working conditions, as reported by Fontanka.ru.

In the video, employees talk about the lack of personal protective equipment, and also note that oxygen has not been supplied to the wards (to operate ventilators). Marina Bakholdina, head physician at Pokrovskaya Hospital, says that what her staff claimed was “not true.”

The city’s public health committee has commented on the appeal by the employees—they say that Pokrovskaya Hospital does not admit patients with the coronavirus. The committee explained that pneumonia is not an infectious disease, so doctors do not need anti-plague suits [sic] to work with patients.

At the same time, the committee admitted that the hospital does not have enough personal protective equipment.

Public Health Committee Press Service

In Petersburg, as in the rest of the world, there is a shortage of personal protective equipment. However, the city is increasing the volume of personal protective equipment. In the near future, the Ministry of Industry and Trade is planning to supply personal protective equipment to all regions of Russia, including Petersburg.

Earlier, the cardiology department at Pokrovskaya Hospital was closed for quarantine due to a patient with COVID-19.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Parents Demand Release of Network Defendants Due to Coronavirus

networkThe Network defendants in the courtroom in Penza. Photo by Yevgeny Malyshev. Courtesy of 7X7

Parents Demand Release of Network Defendants from Remand Prison Due to Coronavirus
Ekaterina Malysheva
7X7
April 1, 2020

Parents of the young men convicted in the Penza portion of the Network Case have demanded their children be transferred to house arrest due to the coronavirus. They have written appeals to this effect to the president of the Russian Federation, the prosecutor general, the heads of the Investigate Committee and the Federal Penitentiary Service, and the commissioner for human rights, as reported to 7X7 by Svetlana Pchelintseva, the mother of Dmitry Pchelintsev, one of the convicted men.

The parents also demanded that safety measures be put in place at detention facilities. They argue that being in remand prison during the COVID-19 outbreak is life-threatening. Of all the quarantine regulations, the parents say, only the ban on visits from relatives has been enforced at the remand prison since March 16.

“Not only is there no guarantee of protection from infection at the remand prison, but it is simply impossible,” the letter says. “Our sons are denied the right to remain alive during the global coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, the issue of safeguarding the health of people confined to detention facilities is not on the agenda today. And, of course, qualified specialized medical care, especially involving the hospitalization of inmates from remand prisons and penal colonies in civilian medical facilities, is not feasible. It is a myth.”

The parents claim that no preventive measures have been enacted at the Penza Remand Prison: disinfection and sanitation procedures have not been carried out, and employees don’t have masks. The greatest danger, according to the authors of the appeal, are the detention facility’s employees themselves, who are potential carriers of the virus. The parents note that reducing the number of inmates in the federal penitentiary system would help prevent disease.

The parents point out that Vladimir Putin said nothing about measures to protect inmates during his address to the Russian people about the coronavirus outbreak. According to the parents, none of the regulations on laboratory testing for COVID-19 defends the rights of people in detention facilities. The authors of the letter claim that inmates will not be tested or treat if they are infected.

Two of the young men convicted in the Network Case, the parents recall, have contracted tuberculosis in remand prison. This puts them at high risk during a pandemic and could be “tantamount to a death sentence.”

On March 30, the Penza regional office of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service reported that in addition to the ban on visits to inmates in the system, visitors and employees with high temperatures and everyone who had been abroad in the last fourteen days were categorically prohibited from entering their facilities.

The office’s press service reported that a set of sanitary and anti-epidemic (preventive) was being organized and implemented at its facilities. It noted that if prisoners were suspected of having the coronavirus disease, the management of the regional office would hospitalize them in health care facilities.

The lawyers of the men convicted in the Network Case continue to visit their clients at Penza Remand Prison No. 1. According to them, conditions at the detention facility make it impossible to ensure the health and safety of prisoners during the epidemic. The lawyers are not allowed to bring certain personal protection gear into the facility. For example, latex medical gloves are not on the list of permitted items.

The lawyers have seen a mask only on the prison employee who inspects people at the entrance to the facility—the other employees were not wearing masks. According to the lawyers, the parents got the runaround in response to their previous complaints and appeals.

The last letter they sent, on February 5, was a request to Russian Federal Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov to investigate all the circumstances in the Network Case and launch a criminal case based on allegations that their children had been tortured by officers in the FSB’s Penza regional office.

In a response dated March 10, the prosecutor general’s office advised the parents to appeal (during the appeals phase of the main verdict in the Network Case) the admissibility of the evidence gathered. All the defendants and their defense lawyers have filed appeals with the Military Appeals Court in Moscow.

The parents organized a solidarity group of relatives against political repression, the Parents Network in spring 2018. In early November 2019, the relatives of defendants in several high-profile cases followed their example by uniting in the movement Mothers Against Political Repression. The movement has its own website, as well as group pages on Telegram and Facebook.

On February 10, the defendants in the Penza portion of the Network Trial were sentenced to terms in prison from six to eighteen years.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network Case, and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and share the articles I have posted on these subjects.

In the Land of Great Achievements

IMG_6258“Citizens! Given our level of indifference, this side of life is the most dangerous!”

Sergei Medvedev
Facebook
March 14, 2020

The cowardly “recommendations” of [Moscow Mayor Sergei] Sobyanin and the Defense Ministry regarding “voluntary attendance” of schools and universities instead of closing them altogether is a very bad sign. It means the authorities fear panic more than the virus itself and have chosen a cowardly hybrid strategy for evading responsibility. “Parents in this case know better,” it says in Sobyanin’s decree. Hang on a minute! This means parents will decide whether their children become potential carriers of the virus, not doctors or the federal epidemic headquarters. This is not just absurd, it is criminal. Just as you cannot be a little bit pregnant, you cannot declare a partial, optional quarantine. Either there is a quarantine or there isn’t one. Even one person who is not quarantined upsets the whole system.

It seems the authorities are torn between the growing need for a full quarantine (as the avalanche of news from abroad can no longer be hidden) and the impossibility of taking this step. The impossibility, as it seems to me, is purely technical: Russia simply does not have the level of governmental and public organization, the kind of screening, testing, equipment, discipline, and strict enforcement of the law that we have seen in China and,  in part, in Italy. Can you imagine the Moscow subway being closed? It would be a disaster not just for the city but for the country: if this megalopolis of twenty million people ground to a halt, it would be like cardiac arrest for the whole country. And secondly, for purely political reasons you cannot declare a state of emergency before April 22 [the scheduled date of a nationwide “referendum” on proposed changes to the Russian constitution] and May 9 [the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in WWII]. They must be marked in the pompous atmosphere of national holidays, not in the post-apocalyptic trappings of Wuhan, dressed in hazmat suits, getting doused with chlorhexidine.

Therefore there will be no quarantine, only cowardly half-measures like voluntary school attendance, “recommendations” for cutting down on public events (when the authorities want to ban a protest rally, they ban it, with no ifs, ands or buts), the partial restrictions on air travel (just take the ridiculous ban on flights to Europe, but not to the UK, dear to the hearts of oligarchs and members of parliament because they have children, families, and houses there), and so forth. Excuse the pun, but the regime has washed its hands of the problem and told the population that it is to up to the drowning to save themselves. You decide how to protect yourselves, and if something happens, well, we gave you “recommendations,” so we’re off the hook.

Meanwhile, the populace has been eating up tall tales about “just another flu,” reposting memes about more people dying every year from mosquito bites, shaming “alarmists” and “hysterics,” and leading a carefree life. It’s the typical infantile reaction of an unfree, patriarchal, closed society, which denies threats, displaces fear, and is ostentatiously careless.

Meanwhile, the virus has been here for a long time already, and hardly anyone believes the ridiculous figures of 59 people infected in a country of 146 million that is open on all sides. (Before the quarantine went into effect in China, the Chinese freely walked and drove back and forth over the Amur River in Russia’s Far East, while in European Russia, tens of thousands of our compatriots traveled to and from the most infected regions of Europe throughout February and March.) The longer this goes on, the more ridiculous the official figures will be, but the real figures will be ferreted away in overall mortality statistics for the elderly, among figures for “seasonal flu” and “community-acquired pneumonia,” while death certificates will contain phrases like “acute heart failure,” which is what they also write when someone is tortured to death. Just try and object: heart failure really did occur, and facts don’t lie!

I remember the terrible summer of 2010, when there was a heat wave, and the forests were on fire. Moscow swam in a scalding smog, and up to 40,000 old people died, according to unofficial estimates. Among them was my 83-year-old father. When the policeman came, wiping the sweat from his face, to a draw up the death report, he lowered his voice and told me that his precinct alone had been processing hundreds of people day, and that there were tens of thousands of such people citywide. However, there were no statistics on heatwave-induced deaths: the whole thing was disappeared into the usual causes of death for old people.

So, I’m afraid we will remain in the mode of “voluntary attendance,” of voluntary quarantines and voluntary mortality, a regime in which even getting diagnosed will be voluntary because we are the freest country in the world! The regime’s evasion of responsibility, the mighty smokescreen concealing the epidemic’s true scale, and the habitual carelessness of the populace (aggravated by the atomization of Russian society, its low levels of social capital, the absence of trust, discipline, and social solidarity, and the Gulag principle of “you die today, I die tomorrow”) will all boomerang back on us. Yes, the epidemic will reach its natural limits by summer, and maybe Merkel is right that sixty to seventy percent of the population will be infected, and many of these people will not even suspect they are sick. At the same time, however, not only will the [Russian] constitution and Putin’s [previous] terms [as president] be nullified, but so will many lives that could have been saved if not for the things mentioned above. But when did human lives ever count for anything in the land of great achievements?

Sergei Medvedev teaches at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Fedor Pogorelov: “A grand charge. We’re all going to die!” Footage of Zenit fans chanting “We’re all going to die” on March 14 at Gazprom Arena Petersburg.

 

Thousands of Zenit Fans Chant “We’re All Going to Die” at Match
Radio Svoboda
March 15, 2020

More than 30,000 fans attended Saturday’s match in St. Petersburg between Zenit and Ural in the Russian football championship. It was one of the last mass events in the city before restrictions were imposed due to the coronavirus infection. The restrictive measures come into force on March 16.

Fans of the Petersburg club chanted “We’re all going to die” several times.

They also hung up a banner reading “We’re all sick with football and will die for Zenit.” It is reported that the fans had their temperature checked. Zenit won the match with a score of 7-1.

Despite the threat of the coronavirus, the Russian Football League did not cancel matches this weekend. However, the possibility of taking a pause in the championship has been discussed. All the major European leagues have already announced a break, and play in the Champions League and the Europa League has also been suspended. On March 17, UEFA will discuss whether to postpone the European championship until next years.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Quarantine

china friendlyChinese holidaymakers at the Moscow Station in Petersburg. The coronavirus has “legalized” one of Russia’s favorite pastimes: loathing the Chinese. Photo by Sergei Yermokhin. Courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg

Public Monitoring Commission: Russian National Extradited from China to Be Quarantined in One and a Half Meter Wide Moscow Jail Cell
Mediazona
February 28, 2020

A Russian national extradited from Guangzhou, China, will be quarantined in a solitary confinement cell in Moscow’s Remand Prison No. 4, Marina Litvinovich, a member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission, reported on Facebook.

According to Litvinovich, all other prisoners have been cleared from the inpatient medical facility at the jail. The Russian national will be placed for fourteen days in a three by one and a half meter cell in which the air vents have been blocked. The room will undergo additional disinfecting before his arrival. The prisoner’s temperate will be taken every day, for which purpose a special sheet of paper has been hung on the cell’s door, Litvinovich added.

The guards escorting the man will also be quarantined.

“Not in the remand prison, of course, but somewhere else,” Litvinovich wrote.

She did not specify the offenses for which the Russian national was being extradited.

This past December, an outbreak of a new type of coronavirus occurred in the Chinese city of Wuhan. As of February 28, 83,734 people have been infected with the virus—2,868 have died, while 36,439 people have recovered. On February 18, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin barred Chinese nationals from entering China as part of the fight against the coronavirus.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Tractor Drivers 3

Lipetsk Region Closes Blood Transfusion Station, Tells Doctors to Get Jobs as Tractor Drivers
Alexandra Novikova
Novaya Gazeta
January 13, 2020

Officials in the Lipetsk Region have decided to close a branch of the regional blood transfusion station. Medical personnel will be made redundant. As alternative employment, they were offered jobs as train drivers and tractor drivers, Ivan Konovalov, press secretary of the trade union Doctors Alliance, told Novaya Gazeta.

Konovalov noted that the head of the blood transfusion station in Yelets was offered a doctor’s position in Lipetsk with a salary of 12,000 rubles [approx. $195] a month, which did not meet match his skills and experience. The list of vacancies also included jobs as  tractor drivers, train drivers, and metal workers.

Tractor Drivers (1939)

In addition, doctors and nurses will probably have to commute for work to Lipetsk, located eighty kilometers from Yelets, Konovalov said. Donors who come to the station to give blood for patients are also unhappy with the decision of the authorities.

A source at the Lipetsk Regional Health Directorate told Novaya Gazeta it was not profitable to maintain the branch station since the central blood transfusion station in Lipetsk could supply the entire region with the necessary components.

Authorities made the decision after Olga Eichler, head of the blood service at the Federal Medical and Biological Agency, inspected the Yelets station in November and deemed it ineffective.

Tractor Drivers 2 (1992)

Our source noted that residents of Yelets would still be to donate blood at a special site to be set up at Yelets Municipal Hospital No. 1. She refused, however, to comment on reports that medical staff were offered jobs as tractor drivers and metal workers, saying it was matter for the personnel department.

Optimization of the healthcare system continues in Russia’s regions. Many doctors, nurses, and patients have opposed layoffs, low wages, and the mergers of medical facilities.

Thanks to a Facebook user whose name I’ve forgotten for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Vladislav Inozemtsev: The Foreign Agent in the Kremlin

lakhta wreck

The Foreign Agent in the Kremlin
Vladislav Inozemtsev
The Insider
December 31, 2019

One of the crucial events of the past year was passage of the law on labeling Russian nationals as “foreign agents.” Although the law emphasizes that such “agents” should disseminate information from foreign media outlets and receive financial remuneration from abroad, the notion of “foreign agent” has a quite definite meaning for most Russians: someone who works on behalf of a foreign government to the detriment of their own country.

However, if you think hard about the new law and its implementation (the Justice Ministry has been charged with designating individuals foreign agents, but citizens and NGOs will probably also be able to take the initiative), the first thing that comes to mind is the man who signed it so showily into law on December 2—Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, who took office exactly twenty years ago today, albeit as acting president.

When Putin moved into the Kremlin, Russia was successfully emerging from an economic crisis triggered by a sharp drop in oil prices in the late 1990s and the ruble crisis of 1998. These two events largely brought to a close the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the transition from a planned economy to a market economy. Welcoming the new president, people believed him when he said, “The country’s future, the quality of the Russian economy in the twenty-first century, depends primarily on progress in those industries based on high technology and hi-tech products,” while the world took him at face value when he claimed, “Today we must declare once and for all that the Cold War is over. We abandon our stereotypes and ambitions, and henceforth we will jointly ensure the safety of the European population and the world as a whole.” It seemed that the coming decades should be extremely successful ones for Russia, and the country would inevitably takes its rightful place in the world economy and politics. However, events unfolded following a different scenario, and nearly all the trends that we can now ascertain as well-established suggest that if a CIA officer had taken charge of his country’s recently defeated enemy he would have done less damage to it than Putin has done.

First, Russia in the early noughties had very low labor costs: according to Rosstat, the average salary was $78 a month in 2000. Given that energy prices in Russia were then seven to ten times lower than in Europe, it was self-evident the country should decide to undertake large-scale industrialization by attracting foreign investors. The Central European countries, which in the late nineties and early noughties became successful industrial powers by attracting European capital (we can recall what happened with Škoda’s factories) were an example of the strategy’s wisdom.

However, despite what Russian authorities said at the time, preventing foreign capital from entering strategic industrial sectors became policy. Almost immediately after Putin came to power, the government began renationalizing assets that had been privatized in the nineties: instead of raising taxes on companies owned by Russian oligarchs, the regime commenced buying them out, constantly ratcheting up the price, culminating with Rosneft’s purchase of TNK-BP for $61 billion in 2013. In fact, taxes raised from the competitive sectors of the economy and redistributed through the budget went to buy assets in the extractive sector and were invested in rather dubious projects. Consequently, by the early teens, the share of raw materials (mineral products, ore, and metals) in Russian exports had reached 79–80%, as opposed to 50.4% of Soviet exports in 1989. Finally, in recent years, Russia has begun “diversifying” its raw materials exports by reaching out to China, effectively becoming an “energy appendage” not only of Europe but also of the whole world.

Second, as the economy became ever more dependent on extractive industries, Russia under Putin began to deindustrialize rapidly, resulting in a sharp decline in the demand for skilled workers, who could have been employed to develop the country on new foundations. According to various estimates, 16,000 to 30,000 industrial enterprises, which had employed over 13 million people in the late-Soviet period, were closed between 2000 and 2018. As of 2017, 9.9 million people were employed in Russian processing industries, as opposed to 21.7 million people in the RSFSR in 1989, although there was no significant increase in labor productivity. We can concede, of course, that a good many of these enterprises were not competitive, but most of them were never put up for auctions in which foreign investors were allowed to bid, the Russian government did not provide potential investors guarantees on investments in technically modernizing enterprises, and so on. Essentially, the government adopted a consistent policy of simplifying the industrial infrastructure, increasing dependency on imports, and most significantly, downgrading whole cities that had previously been important industrial centers. It would be no exaggeration to say that the bulk of Soviet industrial enterprises was destroyed not in the “accursed nineties,” but in the noughties and the early teens.

Third, the process went hand in glove with a demonstrative lack of attention to infrastructural problems and managing Russia’s vast expanses. About 700 airports were closed between 2000 and 2010, domestic passenger traffic dropped below international passenger traffic, and so many roads fell into disrepair and collapse that since 2012 city streets have been counted as roads in order to buff up the statistics. Infrastructure projects have been concentrated either in Moscow (e.g., the Moscow Ring Road, the Central Ring Road, expansion of the Moscow subway) or on the country’s borders as a kind of exercise in “flag waving” (e.g., Petersburg and environs, Sochi, Chechnya, the Crimean Bridge, the reconstruction of Vladivostok and Russky Island).

Consequently, rural settlements have begun dying out massively in most regions of the country: since 2000, around 30,000 villages in Russia have disappeared, and nearly 10,000 of them have eight or fewer residents. The number of residents in cities with populations ranging from 50,000 of 200,000 people has decreased: population reductions have been recorded in 70% of these cities, while the population has dropped by a quarter in more than 200 such cities. There has been a massive exodus of people from the Russian Far East.  Even the solution of longstanding problems that were handled for better or worse in the nineties has been abandoned, including disposing solid wastes, minimizing harmful emissions, and storing hazardous industrial waste. Russian infrastructure is close to collapse: depreciation of the power grids exceeds 70%, while 75% of the heating network is obsolete. Only 52.8% of local roads meet Russia’s poor standards. All attempts to remedy the situation are propaganda tricks more than anything, and yet budget funds for infrastructure are allocated regularly, just as taxes are collected from the populace.

Fourth, despite formal achievements, such as increasing life expectancy and reducing per capita alcohol consumption, the nation’s physical and mental health is verging on the disastrous. From 2000 to 2016, the number of HIV-infected Russians increased almost twelve times, reaching 1.06 million people, meaning that the threshold for an epidemic has been crossed. Spending on health care has remained extremely low. It is usually measured as a percentage of GDP, but a comparison of absolute figures is much more telling: in 2019, the government and insurance companies allocated only 23,200 rubles or €330 for every Russian, which was 14.2 times less than in Germany, and 29 times less than in the US, not counting out-of-pocket expenses.

Despite the huge influx of immigrants and migrant workers during Putin’s rule, the population of Russia (without Crimea) decreased by 2.7 million people from 2000 to 2019. Drug addiction has been spreading rapidly, becoming one of the leading causes of death among relatively young people in small towns. And yet the authorities see none of these things as a problem, limiting access to high-quality foreign medicines and accessible medical care (the number of hospitals has been halved since 2000, while the number of clinics has decreased by 40%), all the while believing the HIV crisis can be solved by promoting moral lifestyles. There is little doubt that Russia’s population should began dying off at a furious pace now that the reserves of economic growth have been exhausted.

Fifth, the formation of a bureaucratic oligarchy, able to appropriate at will what the authorities see less as “public property” and more as “budget flows,” has generated enormous corruption and blatantly inefficient public spending. A sizeable increase in spending on the space program—from 9.4 billion rubles in 2000 to 260 billion rubles in 2019—producced a drop in the number of successful launches from 34 to 22. Despite promises in 2006 to build almost 60 new nuclear power units, only 12 units have been brought online over the last twenty years. Programs for growing the military-industrial complex have not been consistently implemented: production of new weapons has been minuscule, amounting to only ten to twenty percent of Soviet-era production. The country’s only aircraft carrier has for the second time suffered combat-like damage during an “upgrade,” while its only 4.5-generation fighter has just crashed during a test flight.

The latest challenges posed to Russia by the development of information technology around the world have elicited no response whatsoever from the regime. On the contrary, the bureaucrats and siloviki have consistently acted to discourage researchers and innovators. The dominance of the siloviki in most government decision-making, their utter lack of oversight, and unprecedented incompetence have meant that much of the money that could be used effectively in the military sector and open up new frontiers for Russia has been simply been embezzled.

Sixth, Putin’s rule has been marked by the impressive “gifts” he has made to countries which the Kremlin has often identified as potential enemies. Around $780 billion was spirited from Russia between 2009 and 2019, whereas less than $120 billion was taken out of the country during the entirety of the nineties. The most important cause of this outflow was a law, passed in 2001, establishing a nine-percent tax on dividends paid to “foreign investors” or, rather, the offshore companies registered as owners of Russian assets. (The subsequent abolition of this measure in 2015 has changed little.) Much of this money was invested in passive sources of income in the west or spent on the luxurious lifestyles of Russian billionaires, thus supporting local economies in other countries.

Even more “generous,” however, was Putin’s gift to west in the form of the four million Russian citizens who have left Russia during his presidency: mainly young and middle-aged, well-educated, willing to take risks and engage in business, they now control assets outside the country that are comparable to the Russian Federation’s GDP. This wealth has been generated from scratch by talented people the Russian regime regarded as dead weight. The destruction of human capital is the biggest blow Putin has dealt to Russia, and it is no wonder western analysts argue Russia will need a hundred years at best to bridge the emerging gap.

Seventh, we cannot ignore the holy of holies: national security. We have already touched on the military sector in passing. It is a realm in which technological progress has largely boiled down to showing cartoons to members of the Russian Federal Assembly: space launches are still carried out using Soviet Proton rockets, designed in the sixties; the last of the Tu-22M strategic bombers rolled off the line in 1993; the Su-57 is based on groundwork done while designing the Su-47 during the late eighties;  and the advanced Angara (S-200) missile was developed as part of the Soviet Albatross program from 1987 to 1991. Things are no better in the secret services: agents sent on secret missions set off Geiger counters, like Lugovoy and Kovtun, blow their cover wherever they can, like Mishkin and Chepiga, or get caught in the act, as was the case with Krasikov.

The elementary inability to carry out their work in secret is the height of unprofessionalism: a handful of journalists can dig up nearly all the dirt on Russian agents, using information freely available on the internet. The same applies, among many other things, to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Donbass and the regime’s use of unprofessional, incompetent mercenaries from various private military companies.

Finally, eighth, President Putin’s foreign policy deserves special attention. Over the past ten years or so, the Kremlin’s own efforts have led to the creation of a buffer zone of neighboring countries that fear or hate Russia. If something like this could be expected from the Baltic states, which sought for decades to restore the independence they lost in 1940, no one could have imagined twenty years ago that Russia would make Georgia and Ukraine its worst enemies. However, our country’s principal “patriot”—whose daily bedtime reading seemingly consists of the works of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who once argued that Russia’s “imperial backbone” would be broken only when it lost Ukraine once and for all—has consistently sought to make Kiev recognize Moscow as its principal existential threat.

Similar sentiments have emerged in Minsk, where the authorities and populace of the country that suffered the greatest losses in the Great Patriotic War for the sake of the Soviet Union’s common victory have been nearly unanimous in their opposition to further rapprochement with Russia. We won’t even mention Russia’s damaged relations with the US and the EU: at the behest of Moscow, which is immeasurably weaker than the collective west, a new cold war has been launched that the Kremlin has no chance of winning but that could lead Russia to the same collapse suffered by the Soviet Union during the previous cold war. Meanwhile, Moscow’s hollow propaganda and its theatrical micro-militarism have been a genuine godsend to western military chiefs, who have been securing nearly unlimited defense budgets, just like the designers of advanced technology, who have been developing new weapons and gadgets in leaps and bounds.

I will not catalogue the current president’s other achievements—from destroying the Russian education system and nourishing a cult of power in society, thus generating a crisis of the family, to undermining Russian federalism and nurturing an unchecked power center in Chechnya. I will only emphasize once again that not just any foreign agent, after spending decades infiltrating the highest echelons of power in an enemy country, would be able to inflict such damage. I don’t consider Putin a foreign agent in the literal sense of the word, of course, but if it is now comme il faut in Russia to identify those who are working, allegedly, for hostile powers and thus inflicting damage on their own country, it is impossible to ignore what Putin has done over the past twenty years.

The current head of the Russian state should have a place of honor on the list of “foreign agents,” just as “Party card number one” was always reserved for Lenin in bygone days. And the west should be advised not to seek to undermine Putin’s regime but, on the contrary, do its utmost to extend his term in the Kremlin, simply because as long as Russia is so inefficient, backward, and profligate it poses no threat to the rest of the world, however much the strategists at the Pentagon try and convince the top brass otherwise.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

“About Your Articles about Russia”

Inkedyour articles_LIA concerned reader sent me this letter the other day. I was especially touched by the closing sentence: “When I was in Russia it appeared that common citizens were living comfortably, more-so than in USA.” The reader’s keen observations about life in Russia (about which I know next to nothing, despite having lived there for twenty-five years or so) are borne out by the article below.

Staff at Russia’s Main Cancer Center Quit En Masse, Citing Low Wages and Dire Conditions
Matthew Luxmoore
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
October 01, 2019

MOSCOW—Russia’s main cancer treatment center has been rocked by a wave of resignations amid complaints about low wages and deteriorating conditions at its wards, in the latest indication of what medical professionals say is a systemic crisis that is endangering the quality and availability of critical care in the country.

At least 10 doctors have resigned over the past two days from the N.N. Blokhin Cancer Research Center, which bills itself as the biggest oncology clinic in Europe, following the publication of a video address from 26 staff members of its childhood cancer institute calling for the institution to reform its management and improve conditions for employees.

In the clip, which was posted to YouTube on September 30, four doctors from the institute decry falling salaries and alleged intimidation on the part of management and paint a picture of a health-care center that has fallen into serious disrepair.

“For years, children with cancer have been treated in terrible conditions. There’s no ventilation, mold is eating through the walls, and the wards are overcrowded with sick patients,” they say in their video address, which had gathered almost 250,000 views by the afternoon of October 1.

According to Maksim Rykov, deputy director of the childhood cancer institute and one of the doctors who features in the video, at least 12 of his staff handed in their resignations on October 1 and dozens more are set to follow. He told RFE/RL the walkout may ultimately result in a loss of more than half of the entire cancer center’s workforce, which amounts to over 3,500 people.

Conflicts at the institution arose following the June appointment of Svetlana Varfolomeyeva as director of the childhood cancer institute. Rykov accused Varfolomeyeva, his boss, of using intimidation and manipulation to force out current staff with a view to replacing them with new people.

Staff who opposed changes Varfolomeyeva introduced were pressured to quit, Rykov said, and many were saddled with an extra administrative burden that left less time for treating patients.

“She urged everyone to leave. So we did,” Rykov said in a phone interview. “Management got what they wanted.”

Navalny Support
In their video address, the doctors demanded the dismissal of Varfolomeyeva and her team and a greater degree of transparency in the allocation of pay to employees.

“We reached out to all government representatives, but no one listened to us,” Rykov says in the clip.

Rykov and his colleagues have been given support from the Alliance of Doctors, a medical workers’ union backed by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny which has helped organize dozens of protests over health care in Russia and now has branches in at least 20 regions.

In recent weeks, doctors across Russia have publicly complained about what they say are low salaries and dire work conditions, and many have quit. In Perm, medical workers are staging a mass walkout over a lack of staff and decent pay. In Nizhny Tagil, the entire team of surgeons at the city hospital quit in August, also over wages.

Anastasiya Vasilyeva, the head of the Alliance of Doctors, told RFE/RL that clinics across Russia are reaching the crisis point. In a telephone interview, she called the spate of resignations at the Blokhin Cancer Center “one part of a broken system of health care which exists across Russia” and “a link in the same chain” as the incidents in Nizhny Tagil, Perm, and elsewhere.

She said the trade union’s regional branches are helping doctors speak out and publicizing their efforts, but the various clinics and hospitals that have publicly condemned conditions for its staff are not coordinating activities. “This is all spontaneously happening across the country,” she said.

The management of the Blokhin Cancer Center has been quick to counter the allegations by Rykov and others. In comments to the press on September 30, its director Ivan Stilidi suggested that the doctors who authored the video address “had personal ambitions to take over” Varfolomeyeva’s position.

Stilidi then alleged they were being “steered” by “people outside the cancer center,” appearing to echo a narrative about foreign meddling commonly advanced among officials in Russia. He did not specify what people he was referring to.

But doctors who have quit their jobs at the institution, or claimed to have been pressured to do so, say that the current wave of resignations is likely to continue. Georgy Mentkevich, who appeared in the video address alongside Rykov, said that some may stay temporarily to offer critical care to the patients they oversee, but few plan to remain for long in the current circumstances.

“People see whom they’re being forced to work with, and they see what’s happened with the cancer center over the past two years under this new management,” Mentkevich told the online news site Podyom on September 30. “Today people are giving notice. And they will leave.”

A Holiday in Chernobyl

Watch Kate Brown’s stunning lecture about the real, terrifying aftermath of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant.

Then buy her fabulous, groundbreaking new book Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future and read it from cover to cover.

Once you have done this, ask yourself what kind of cynical lunatics would take people on holidays to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Chernobyl Cooling Tower

Day 5: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Friday, July 31, 2020

Leaving early from our hotel, we’ll travel by private bus to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. We’ll meet our Chernobyl guide, while a documentary film playing on the bus will bring us up to speed on the accident, its causes, and its many repercussions. On our first day in Chernobyl we’ll visit the reactors themselves to witness ground zero of the accident, admire the new containment structure installed in 2016, as well as check out some of the other facilities around the nuclear power plant. Between excursions, we’ll take lunch in the Chernobyl workers’ canteen, surrounded by scientists and engineers currently stationed at the plant. Later, after a long day of exploring, dinner will be served at a restaurant in Chernobyl town. Our accommodation for the night is at a hotel nearby, located inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Day 6: The Streets of Pripyat
Saturday, August 1, 2020

At the time of the Chernobyl accident, the workers’ city Pripyat had a population of 49,000 people. It was evacuated soon after the event, and now survives as one of the world’s most famous ghost towns. Today, we’ll get to know this empty city intimately, walking its desolate streets, and visitings its abandoned schools, hospitals, and theaters. We’ll see all of Pripyat’s main landmarks, including the fairground, swimming pools, and also some fabulous street murals. After lunch back at the Chernobyl canteen, we’ll then get to visit one of the Exclusion Zone’s best-kept secrets: the DUGA radar installation, or “Russian Woodpecker,” that rises to a height of 150 meters at the heart of an abandoned Soviet military base. Late in the day we’ll return to the capital for one last night at our Kyiv hotel.

Source: Atlas Obscura. Photo of Chernobyl Cooling Tower by Darmon Richter. Courtesy of Atlas Obscura. Thanks to Louis Proyect for the heads-up on the lecture.