Currently, Vladimir Putin (with his regime) is one of the biggest real life bogeymen in the entire world. However, while people in the West are often told that Russia is not a good example of a well run country, and that Putin is a dangerous leader, they often aren’t told the details of exactly why Russia isn’t a great place to live. Now we do want to be clear that Russia is certainly not on the level of North Korea or other such tyrannical regimes, but freedom can be lost slowly, and over time. In today’s article, we will go over 10 grim realities of living in Putin’s Russia, and why under his rule the Russian’s are slowly becoming less and less of a free people.
10. Russian Orphanages Were A Grim Place, Then Putin Banned US Adoptions
Back in 2012 Putin signed a law that banned Americans from adopting Russian children, as revenge for our own laws against his country regarding economic sanctions. Now, despite the high profile nature of the situation, most people are still not aware of what kind of place Russian orphanages are, or why international adoptions were such a big thing from a developed country like Russia. The fact of the matter is that many of the children in Russian orphanages aren’t actually parentless. Russia offers pretty much no resources to help parents who are struggling to take care of their children, aside from simply taking them from the parent for the state to raise.
The issue here is that the state is overburdened and doesn’t have the appropriate infrastructure. An expert who has visited several Russian orphanages and has studied their system noted that roughly 165,000 of the orphans are disabled in some way, which is about half of their entire orphanage system. These children are often neglected, and the healthy ones rarely get much better care. The orphanages don’t have enough funding, or teachers and caretakers, and most native Russian parents aren’t interested in adoption. This problem is compounded by many in the government not wanting foreigners to adopt because it makes Russia look like it cannot take care of its own.
9. Putin Signed A Law Allowing Him To Punish Those Spreading What He Deems “Fake News”
In late March 2019, in all the chaos of other world news, Putin signed a new law that went unnoticed by many. His lawmakers pushed through a new piece of legislation for him, that allows the government to punish people who post “fake news” online. Of course, the problem here is that the Russian government has always been big on censorship and even pravda, and they get to decide what is or isn’t “fake news.”
To make matters worse, the law also states that it is now illegal to say anything blatantly disrespectful about the state, its symbols, its constitution, or its ruler. Those who repeatedly break the law can be fined with up to 1.5 million rubles (which amounts to almost $23,000 US), and sentenced to 15 days in jail for each offense. Opponents of the law called it direct censorship, but the Kremlin denied that is in fact what’s transpiring.
8. Being A Journalist In Russia Who Investigates Corruption Is A Very Dangerous Job
The Committee to Protect Journalists and the Glasnost Foundation allege that dozens of journalists have been murdered in Russia since 2000 (shortly after President Putin took power). Many of these journalists were investigating powerful interests, and while Putin comes to mind, he is certainly not the only one who has been targeted by journalists. Many rich oligarchs and other corrupt officials who get tracked down by investigative reporters, allegedly find ways to simply make them disappear, and Putin’s government, even if it is not involved, doesn’t seem particularly interested in ending this trend, especially with the draconian new laws against “fake news.”
At least six high profile journalists who were investigating Putin or other powerful interests died after having a very suspicious fall of one kind or another, and in many of the cases the person was ruled as suicidal, even though there was no note and no evidence of such whatsoever. One death, that of a lawyer named Nikolai Gorokhov, comes across as particularly suspicious. The man was lawyer for a man named Sergei Magnitsky who died suspiciously in a Moscow jail, and was alleged to have information damaging to Putin. He “fell” out of a fourth story window, and the official story was that he managed to stumble all the way out the window while “moving a bathtub.”
7. Russia Has Extreme Problems When It Comes To Income Inequality And Poverty
Since 2008, Putin has claimed he wants to restore the Russian middle class and fix the income inequality issues, but so far he has largely come across as mostly talk, as he hasn’t really changed much. A comprehensive look at the numbers from PBS in 2015 shows a stark problem with Russia’s economy that isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon, and not without drastic changes. For starters, at the time of the report, 111 billionaires controlled 19% of the country’s wealth. On top of that, 85% of the country’s entire household wealth was owned by the top 10% of the country.
Out of entrepreneurs surveyed in Russia, 90% said that they had faced some kind of corruption while trying to do business, and some experts estimate that corruption is costing the Russian government in the ballpark of a third of their entire economic output. If that wasn’t enough, the corruption problem hits normal households so badly that your average household considered it, when surveyed, the second most important issue in the country after meeting people’s basic housing needs. And the final bit is that the report estimates that four out of five Russians had less than $10,000 in personal wealth at the time of the PBS report.
Now, some signs show the middle class is still growing slightly despite these factors, but only at the bottom technical level of middle class, and the numbers suggest many people drop in and out of the middle class, suggesting a lack of stability. Also, a couple years later, in 2017, another report on the Russian economy found them to now have the highest income disparity among major countries, with 10% of the country now owning 87% of the country’s wealth. This means that while some people are going from being below middle class to middle class, the vast majority of the wealth transfer is still from the bottom to the very top.
6. Alcoholism Is Rampant Among The Youth, And Corruption Again Plays A Role
While it has long been acknowledged that Russian adults do a lot of drinking, the Russian government and society at large has been worried as of late by a teen drinking problem that they have been trying to curb. NGO’s (non-government organizations that provide aid or other services in foreign countries) have estimated somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000 teenage alcoholics in Russia, according to a report by Russia Today. The problem, as reported by the Kremlin-funded newspaper, is that while the law does restrict liquor sales to 18+ (which some already consider a bit young), it isn’t always obeyed as it should be.
When reporters from Russia Today followed teens through a supermarket they were pleased to see the clerks demand ID, and refuse the sale. However, when they went to a kiosk outside along the street, they were given the sale for a beer with no ID whatsoever. These kiosks pop up all over the city streets, and they just want to make their sales. With no serious consequences for selling to minors like there are in the United States and many Western European countries, the shop-owners see no reason to be a little corrupt and just get those extra sales regardless of the law, or of how it might hurt society overall. Until the law is changed in Russia and there are strong penalties for selling to minors, the practice will likely continue unabated.
5. Russia Has Its Own “Facebook” Called VKontakte Which Often Isolates Them
While Russia doesn’t censor the internet nearly as heavily as some countries such as China, and Russian hackers are good enough they can usually get around most censorship anyway, the truth is that Russia has still been largely successful in creating their own national websites and mail services and such partly due to good old Russian national pride. Along with mail.ru and other services, Russia has their own version of Facebook called “VKontakte,” which basically translates to “In Contact.” This isn’t exactly a dark and evil machination of the government as you aren’t banned from using Facebook, but most Russians simply don’t use it in their day to day lives, which makes it easier for the government to keep their viewpoints isolated from the rest of the world.
Now, there are some Russians who do use Facebook to keep in touch with their international friends, but many of them simply don’t bother with the social network at all. For this reason, if you see someone with a suspiciously low friend count from Russia, and very few international friends in particular, who seems to be spending most of their time talking about politics (especially American politics, and most especially of the divisive variety), then there is a chance it is not a normal Russian citizen using their personal Facebook account. Instead, it’s likely a “troll” account created by someone working in a building in Russia somewhere for a Putin controlled agency called the IRA, or Internet Research Agency, whose job it is to spread propaganda and misinformation online.
4. Putin Has Been Trying To Suppress Homosexuality And Gay “Propaganda”
In 2013, the DUMA passed a law that Putin quickly signed, now known as the “gay propaganda law.” The law states that those who disseminate propaganda about non-traditional sexual relations to minors (essentially telling kids that being gay exists) can be hit with heavy fines. If you are just found to be spreading the information to kids in a relatively small setting, it is only a fine of what amounts to about 100 Euros, but it can reach 2,000 Euros if you are talking to the media or on the internet (which can include social media), and up to 20,000 Euros if you are an organization flouting the decree.
The government is claiming that this is all about protecting traditional values and especially the children, but some activists are not convinced that Putin is really even all that interested in suppressing gay people. Rather, even though being gay was decriminalized in 1993 after the end of the Soviet Union, there was still a lot of antipathy toward it since those days, and Putin has read the room. Some people have noticed that many of Putin’s biggest critics are homosexual, and feel that he may simply be using the traditional values thing as a smokescreen to quiet many of his most dangerous political opponents.
3. You May Not Realize That Russian Troll Farms Are Also Used On The Russian People
Many people know of Russia’s so-called “Troll farms” and how they were used by the Russian government in order to sow chaos in advance of the Brexit vote, and also in advance of the 2016 United States presidential election. These troll farms are basically buildings where Russian citizens, funded in some way by the government, are taught and directed on spreading misinformation. However, what many people in the Western world, and plenty in Russia do not realize, is that long before Putin aimed them at the rest of the world, he was testing them and using them on his own people in order to consolidate power.
Back in 2015 a brave investigative reporter infiltrated a facility that contained 400 people, but now reports say the same operation has reached 1,000 people and moved to a building three times the size. This Putin-controlled agency is known as the IRA, or Internet Research Agency. According to a report by The Atlantic, in the run-up to Putin’s latest landslide election victory, his state-controlled media and troll farms went on a blitz mainly to get out the vote, because Putin doesn’t just want an appearance of democracy, but also the appearance of a strong, participatory democracy that almost entirely wants him at the helm. As far as anyone can tell, his efforts succeeded, as he boasted a 65% turnout, which is relatively impressive even if the 73% vote count in Putin’s favor was in some way manipulated by his government.
2. Putin’s Opponents Tend To Disappear Before The Elections Actually Occur
While opposition parties are allowed in Russia, ones who make enough waves and get popular enough to oppose Putin may just find their political party banned for arbitrary reasons. Putin also has a habit of shutting down protests, and laws against protests have ramped up in recent years. While it isn’t illegal just yet to run against Putin, the truth is that there is never really a truly popular challenger against him on the ballot, because Putin won’t allow it. Whenever someone gets big enough that Putin fears they could get a significant portion of the vote, they tend to find themselves arrested on trumped up charges of some kind, or ineligible for some other reason.
Boris Nemtsov was formerly a deputy prime minister and had been mounting a serious challenge to Putin. However, his People’s Freedom Party was clearly threatening to someone, because he was shot on a bridge in front of the Kremlin in 2015. There is, of course, no direct link of any kind to suggest it was anyone from the government, but it is quite obvious which people would have had means, motive, and opportunity. Regardless, Putin doesn’t necessarily need to rely on challengers being mysteriously shot. Alexei Navalny was judged by Putin’s courts as not allowed to run, after they charged him with embezzlement. Some people may think this is a fair reason to keep an opponent off the ballot, but there is reason to believe the charges were trumped up and the trial was unfair, as the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Navalny was deprived of a fair trial and that the law was applied in an arbitrary fashion.
1. Some People Think The Russian People Are Dupes, Or Putin Loyalists, But It’s Complicated
Many people probably think of the Russian people as either easily duped, or happily into whatever awful thing Putin may be doing, and are gladly loyal to him for that reason. However, while people like that will always exist in any acting dictatorship, the truth is that there is reason to believe that some of Putin’s popularity is inflated. As we mentioned earlier, a serious challenger never seems to manage to make their way to the general election against him, and with the entire media basically on his side it would be hard for anyone to mount a proper challenge even if they didn’t conveniently disappear or get caught for some alleged crime.
To make matters worse, international observers often report being suppressed, and those who do manage to do their jobs have reported all corruption such as alleged ballot stuffing, and even carousel voting, where buses of public workers are driven from one polling place to another to inflate numbers for their dear leader. On top of that, many of the people who show up to vote do so because the government offered free medical exams, or potential prizes like iPhones or cars for election selfies, or even free or discounted food, which is a carryover from the Soviet days.
If people who don’t have a lot of money see a chance to win prizes, or get other free stuff, or they are being bused to the polls as part of their job, then it really should be no surprise that the turnout numbers are high, and people keep voting for the person giving them the free stuff when there is no realistic challenger on the ballot anyway.