Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Video Medvedev’s Awkward Crimea Moment: ‘There’s Just No Money. But You Take Care!’

Medvedev On Pensions: 'We Don't Have The Money'i
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May 24, 2016
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said his government does not have the money to raise monthly benefit payments for pensioners. During a visit to Crimea on May 23, he tried to answer complaints from a retired woman, who said the system has failed to keep up with the cost of living. (KafaNews/YouTube)
WATCH: Medvedev On Pensions: 'We Don't Have The Money'

Politics in Russia is normally tightly scripted by the Kremlin, but every once in a while a bit of reality shines through.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev got a dose of that kind of reality during a May 23 visit to the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which was forcibly seized by Russia in 2014.

A video widely shared on social media (above) shows Medvedev being pummeled by relentless questions from irate locals who say their Russian pensions have not been indexed to the rising cost of living.

Initially, Medvedev tries to wave off the interrogation by saying “pensions are a separate topic,” but an angry woman off camera refuses to let him off the hook.

“They are wiping their feet on us,” she shouts, saying that her pension of 8,000 rubles ($120) is “nothing.” 

After enduring a bit more haranguing, Medvedev concedes that no one in Russia has had their pensions adjusted for inflation yet for a very simple reason: “There just isn’t any money now. When we find money, we’ll make the adjustment.”

He then beats a hasty retreat, shouting over his dissatisfied interlocutor: “You hang in there. Best wishes! Cheers! Take care!”

And to underscore his “tomorrow, tomorrow, the sun will come out tomorrow” theme, a few hours later Medvedev posted to his Instagram account a lovely photograph of a Crimean rainbow.

When Russia was preparing the ground for the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation, Moscow promised dramatic increases in pensions and salaries for state-sector workers. And the Kremlin has delivered to some extent, bringing those payments in line with those across the rest of Russia.

However, the country’s economy has been sorely hit by a combination of low global energy prices and the effects of international sanctions (and Russian countersanctions) over Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Inflation has also been high in Crimea since Kyiv banned trade between the occupied region and the rest of the country last year. Russia is building a bridge between Crimea and Russia, but it will not be completed until late 2018 at the earliest.

Medvedev’s awkward exchange with the disappointed Crimean pensioner quickly became the stuff of memes on social media. In one angry one, he is shown making a rude gesture over the caption: “Dear Crimeans. There is no money and there isn’t going to be any soon. But you hang in there. Take care!”

In another, he is shown praying before an Orthodox icon that says to him plainly: “There is no money!”

And a third transforms Medvedev’s words into an election slogan for the ruling United Russia party -- which the prime minister heads -- and its campaign for the September State Duma elections: “There is no money. But you hang in there!”

#FindKadyrovsCat: Comic John Oliver Joins Chechen Leader's Feline Hunt 

Real gone cats

Deana Kjuka

It's been a week since Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov launched an appeal via Instagram asking his 1.8 million followers to search for his cat, which had gone missing 10 days earlier.

The cat is a toyger, a breed of domestic cat resembling a "toy tiger," as Kadyrov points out. 

While Kadyrov’s post received tens of thousands of likes and comments, it's unclear whether the cat has been found.

But now, British-born U.S. comedian John Oliver has joined the search. 

In the latest episode of his weekly Last Week Tonight With John Oliver show, Oliver appealed to his millions of viewers to put #FindKadyrovsCat and Kadyrov's Twitter and Instagram handles to use. 

"...Kadyrov being upset about his lost cat is not good," Oliver said. "This is a man whose security forces have been accused of kidnappings and torture, and whose Wikipedia page has an entire section dedicated to 'Accusations of human rights abuses.' And the mere existence of that [section] is pretty damning.... You don't even need to know the details to know that it cannot be good." 

He went on to note Kadyrov's brutal methods and his affection for clothes emblazoned with likenesses of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and cites Chechen authorities' reported questioning of more than 1,000 wedding guests -- "including children" -- after he lost his phone.

"When Kadyrov can't find something, he goes a little nuts," Oliver said:

Oliver also launched the appeal on his Twitter and Facebook accounts: 

The hashtag #FindKadyrovsCat has since received a considerable number of replies with mock offers to help:

Others took to Photoshop to combine some of Kadyrov’s two favorite things on Instagram: Putin and animals.

There was even a Game of Thrones reference featuring a lifeless carcass of a cat that resembles his own:

This Twitter user insinuated that Kadyrov’s cat had escaped of its own will, fleeing his repressive regime:

Others, including the Twitter account of the humanitarian-aid NGO People In Need, used the hashtag to highlight the human rights abuses that many have allegedly suffered under Kadyrov's rule. 

The toyger breed appeared in Russia in 2008 and can cost up to 100,000 rubles (around $1,500), TASS news agency has reported.

Kadyrov's Instagram account responded late on May 23 with a slightly rambling celebration of Putinism and the attention the cat story was garnering, along with a Photoshopped image of Oliver in a Putin T-shirt and the caption: "I'm tired of jokes. I want to care for cats in Chechnya. By the way, Putin is our leader!"

Video Peppa Pig Meets Russian Political Mudslinging In Putin Party Fight 

A screen-grab of the hugely popular British children’s cartoon character Peppa Pig, who has somehow become involved in a political controversy in Russia.

Carl Schreck

The British children's cartoon character Peppa Pig has been roped into an acrimonious political contest within Russian President Vladimir Putin's ruling party thanks to a campaign event involving a group of kindergarteners.

Two local parliamentarians from the United Russia party in the Urals city of Perm have come under fire after a video was posted online this week showing adults dressed as Peppa Pig and other animated characters stumping for them before kindergarteners.

The video shows one woman dressed as a character from the popular Russian cartoon Fiksiki and another dressed as Peppa urging the pupils to cheer for regional lawmaker Nikolai Dyomkin and Perm city lawmaker Mikhail Cherepanov at a May 19 outdoor event.

Speaking through a microphone with disco music pulsating in the background, the woman dressed as a Fiksiki character tells the kids that the two politicians are "magicians" who have brought "magic surprises" for them.

She urges the children to clap for both the men. After lackluster applause for Dyomkin -- the head of United Russia's regional branch -- she tells them to clap louder, lest he "be insulted.

WATCH: Entertainers Tout Politicians To Russian Kindergartners 

A man dressed as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle later wades into the event to carry a table away.

The preschool political rally came just days ahead of United Russia's primaries in Perm to select candidates for federal and regional parliamentary elections in September that Putin loyalists are expected to dominate with the backing of the Kremlin's media and campaign machine.

United Russia is now facing criticism for roping children into the campaign.

The Moscow-based independent election monitor Golos said on its Twitter feed on May 20 that had formally asked regional prosecutors to investigate whether they even violated a law banning the use of children and public school facilities for political campaigns.

​One unidentified woman interviewed by the local news portal V-kurse.ru expressed dismay.

"At first I thought it was just a kind of celebration," the woman said. "But when they started talking about deputies – I don't know, it doesn't seem right to me. A celebration should be a celebration."

Neither Dyomkin, who recently denounced what he called dirty campaigning, nor Cherepanov had commented publicly on the rally, which garnered national headlines in Russia.

An online clearing house for local political gossip in Perm suggested on May 20 that the event, which garnered national headlines and was discussed on radio talk shows in Russia, may have been organized by their political opponents as a PR stunt to besmirch them.

The website V-kurse.ru, which first broke the story and posted the video, is owned by local businessman and media magnate Dmitry Skrivanov, who is running against Dyomkin in the primaries for a spot as a United Russia candidate for regional parliamentary elections.

Kommersant reported last month that Skrivanov was miffed that he wasn’t selected to run on the party ticket for the federal State Duma elections. It cited a United Russia source as saying that Skrivanov has launched a “systemic, hybrid war against the party.”

But in an interview published later on May 20, Dyomkin appeared to confirm that his team was connected to the kindergarten event. He added, however, that he and his supporters had not instructed the performers to politicize a children’s party.

"One has to choose one’s words and think, because children have no place in politics," Dyomkin told the website Fedpress.ru.

“I understand that this incident might have offended some, and I ask forgiveness from these people,” he added.

Dyomkin said, however, that he is "happy that Peppa Pig supports United Russia."

Obama's 'Tandem': A Kremlinology Spin On U.S. Politics

A Russian political scientist has claimed that U.S. President Barack Obama (left) will hand over the reins of power to his Vice President Joe Biden (right) this year and that the latter will rule the country in a "tandem" agreement similar to the one that allowed Vladimir Putin to continue pulling the strings after he completed his first spell as Russian president in 2008.

Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- Forget Clinton and Trump. Barack Obama has hatched an elaborate plot to ensure that Vice President Joe Biden succeeds him as president, allowing Obama to rule from behind the scenes in an American twist on the "tandem" that allowed Vladimir Putin to run the show in Russia despite a two-term limit on presidents. 

It's the startling -- and somewhat far-fetched -- theory aired by Russian political scientist Vladimir Vasilyev in an interview in the current affairs weekly Ogonyok on May 14 under the headline: What If Obama Doesn't Say Goodbye? 

The imagined scenario includes current front-runner Hillary Clinton crashing out of the race for the Democratic nomination due to a criminal case against her "ordered from the very top," after which Biden is "parachuted" in as a replacement at the 11th hour.

It is also reminiscent of the four-year ruling arrangement established between Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in 2008, in which Putin became prime minister and allowed Medvedev to take up office in the Kremlin for four years. The political maneuver meant Putin maintained power and influence through his close ally, while honoring the Russian Constitution, which prohibits presidents from serving more than two consecutive terms.

Three Reasons

Vasilyev, head of research at the United States and Canada Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, listed three reasons for his conspiracy theory. 
First, Vasilyev claimed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will soon open a criminal case into Clinton "or something like that," casting her campaign into question. "The order for that development of events has clearly been made at the very top," he added.

Second, Vasilyev drew attention to a reported comment by John Boehner, a Republican former speaker of the House of Representatives, in which Boehner "did not rule out" that there will be a "process" -- some kind of political operation -- to remove Clinton from the Democrat ticket two weeks before the nominating convention. Vasilyev asserted that this "process" would be managed by Obama and that "the objective of this process is to remove Hillary from the presidential race, and to 'parachute' in Biden in her place."
For his third point, Vasilyev zeroed in on comments made by Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner on April 30 -- a mostly annual event since 1920 at which humor is the main dish and presidents have historically been the butt of jokes and served up their own humor -- in which he lavished praise on Biden while jesting about the two leading Democrat candidates, former Secretary of State Clinton and independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Vasilyev's theory seems likely to get short shrift in the West. 

But for Vasilyev, Obama's motivation for such a scheme is clear, even if directly at odds with U.S. history: It would allow him to stay in power. 

"Obama can remain at the helm of the authorities on the condition that he can reach an agreement with his replacement. This is hardly a possibility with [Clinton], and with Sanders even less so, but with Biden, it really is."

"If Biden makes it to the finishing line of this election marathon, he will definitely know who he owes and how much."

Russian Eurovision Contestant's Surprising View On Crimea 

Russia's Sergei Lazarev has been tipped by many to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest with the tune You Are The Only One.

Claire Bigg

When Ukrainians selected a Crimean Tatar singer to represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest earlier this year, many Russians were indignant.

The song performed by Jamala evokes the deportation of Crimean Tatars by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and is widely viewed as a thinly-veiled criticism of Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

But Russia's own Eurovision entrant, a favorite to win this weekend's contest, can hardly be described as an admirer of the Kremlin's seizure of the peninsula or the jingoism behind it.

A video showing Russian contender Sergei Lazarev discussing the Crimean takeover has surfaced online, creating a stir among both fans and foes.

In the two-year-old interview to Ukrainian television, Lazarev said he still considered Crimea to be part of Ukraine. 

"Maybe my own Russian fans will throw tomatoes at me, but this is the way it is for me," he said. "When I travel to Yalta, for me it's Ukraine."

He added that he "won't take part" in concerts where Russian performers chant from the stage that Crimea and Russia are one nation. 

"I don't share this general euphoria," he said. 

Lazarev, whose grandmother is Ukrainian, also revealed that he had turned down invitations to tour Crimea. 

"At this stage I'm not ready to go there," he said. 

While Lazarev plans to sing about love at the upcoming Eurovision contest, his offstage comments have already sparked calls for a boycott from some Russian viewers.

"I'll skip Eurovision this year," tweeted Dmitry Smirnov, a correspondent at the pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid.

"He doesn't support Russia but performs in its name on the European arena?" reads another tweet. 

His remarks mark a striking departure from the vast majority of Russian performers, who have either thrown their weight behind Crimea's annexation or kept their views to themselves. 

Those who have dared challenge the Kremlin about its actions in Ukraine, like veteran rock star Andrei Makarevich, have suffered a vicious backlash and lost countless fans in Russia.

Lazarev, however, has substantially toned down his criticism since the 2014 interview. In subsequent comments on Ukrainian television, he claimed that his words had been taken out of context. 

And in April 2016, he refused to share his views on Crimea, telling the reporter that he no longer answered questions about politics. 

Lazarev was nonetheless reportedly spotted at a Eurovision event in this year's host city, Stockholm, wearing clothes by a Ukrainian designer, in what has been interpreted by some as a discreet gesture of support for his grandmother's homeland.

The second semifinal of the contest takes place in the Swedish capital on May 12, and the final -- which Lazarev qualified for in the first semifinal on May 11 -- will be held on May 14.

Putin Loses Handle On Military Inspection

Russia President Vladimir Putin looks on, bemused, as the handle on the door of the armored SUV comes off in the hand of General Aleksandr Shevchenko, while the chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, looks on, appalled.

Mike Eckel

As presidential inspections of Russian military equipment go, this was not a good one.
President Vladimir Putin traveled to the Black Sea city of Sochi on May 12, where he met with military officials and weapons suppliers eager to show off some of Russia's latest technology and equipment.
According to Russian news reports, the man who served as Putin’s tour guide -- General Aleksandr Shevchenko, the director of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Armored Directorate -- was eager to show Putin the specially built armored model of an SUV built by the Russian automotive giant UAZ.

With television cameras rolling, the entourage -- which included the chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov -- walked to the front passenger-side door and Putin tried to open the door. An officer appearing to be Shevchenko went to help him, pulling on the door handle -- until he pulled it off.

As Putin appeared to smirk, and with Gerasimov visibly appalled, video broadcast by the Kremlin-friendly TV channel LifeNews showed Shevchenko tossing the broken handle through the open window onto the passenger seat, and then reaching in and struggling to open the door from the inside. 

“Well done,” Putin was quoted as saying by Vedomosti.

After failing to open the front door, Shevchenko then goes to the rear passenger door and opens it, though it’s unclear from the video whether Putin ended up climbing in.

The incident wasn’t the first time that Putin has found himself at the mercy of malfunctioning machinery.
Five years ago, he was treated to a test drive of a new- model Lada, whose manufacturer has a less-than-stellar reputation for quality. Putin took the wheel in front of the cameras but had a hard time getting the car to start. 

There have been other smirk-worthy equipment malfunctions in recent years, too.

In 2015, during the Victory Day parade in Red Square-- where Russian and Soviet weaponry has been shown off for decades -- a next generation T-14 Armata tank stalled and had to be towed away by another vehicle.

During the same event, in the procession leading up to Red Square, a Buk M-1 antiaircraft missile launcher appeared to catch fire, spewing smoke across the thousands of parade watchers. Firefighters ultimately showed up to extinguish the blaze.

Stalin Statue's A Bust So Far For Slovak Collector

The online advert for Milan's Stalin statue.

Kristyna Foltynova

Two years after Milan M. put his statue of the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin up for sale, the enterprising collector from northwestern Slovakia acknowledges he's had no takers.

Milan says he might be willing to lower his 45,000-euro asking price on a Slovak online shop for the 3.5-meter-high bronze figure.

But for now, Stalin stands alone up high on his plinth in the collector's garden in Povazska Bystrica. 

Milan's statue was cast in 1953 at a Czechoslovak factory called Zukov, one of the biggest sculpture workshops at that time. It was originally placed in a park in the city of Litomerice but was removed under subsequent de-Stalinization policies. Decades later, in 2010, Litomerice officials decided to sell it and use the proceeds for a new sculpture -- this time of Czech romantic poet Karel Hynek Macha. 

Milan is the statue's second private owner, and possibly its last. 

Because whether or not you regard his and other seemingly perfunctory tributes to late Soviet leaders as "art," it is difficult to make a case for "unique."

Tribute statues of Stalin once filled public squares across the Soviet bloc, at least until the de-Stalinization that Nikita Khrushchev announced three years after Stalin's death in 1953. Those that somehow remained were in many cases melted down or discreetly scrapped after the fall of the U.S.S.R. But some of the statues still turn up among public monuments to World War II, and others have become glib public mementos or garden decorations for wealthy collectors in the West.

Within the former Soviet Union, their place in the eyes of the public has proved complex. 

In Stalin's birthplace in current-day Georgia, statues of the man whose policies resulted in millions of Soviet deaths continue to divide communities.

In Ukraine, removing monuments to Soviet life and renaming public places related to Soviet historical figures -- particularly ones from Russia, which seized Crimea and is backing a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine -- is reaching its peak.

Every once in a while, public tussles over Stalin statues or busts erupt in places like Kazakhstan.

In Russia, meanwhile, Stalin remains among the country's most popular historical figures. He's even back in Moscow's subway system. And various efforts have been afoot to rehabilitate the image of the man blamed by most historians for millions of unnecessary deaths, whether through forced collectivization and manmade famine or politically motivated persecution.

They have included attemps to whitewash the tragic legacy of the GULAG, an elaborate prison system that was used to punish perceived "enemies of society," as well as exhibitions to highlight Stalin's roles in the "restoration of the Russian Orthodox Church" and his "contribution to victory" and "role in evacuating Soviet industry" during what Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War.

But if you're still not in the market for a massive token to Stalin's tyranny, Milan has also got a 2-meter-high steel likeness of communist revolutionary V. I. Lenin he's willing to sell.

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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