10 Dark Truths About Russia

10 Disturbing Facts About Russia 10) JOURNALISTS UNDER THREAT Journalism is a cornerstone of a free society, with those in authority investigated and held to account by the Fourth Estate However approximately 83 journalists and media workers have been killed in Russia since 1992; Many in questionable circumstances

One of the most high profile deaths was Anna Politkovskaya, whose coverage of human rights abuses in Chechnya led numerous acts of violence, arrests and even a mock execution In October 2006 Politkovskaya was killed by a bullet fired at point blank range, and while the assassins were caught, the sponsor has yet to been found More recently in April 2018 Maxim Borodin, who had been investigating local corruption and Russian mercenaries in Syria, died after a fall from his fifth floor apartment This occurred just two weeks after being assaulted and hospitalised The coroner's report ruled “suicide”, however his friends dispute this, as he was due to be married

9) MIGRANT WORKERS In preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Russia poured an estimated $234 billion into facilities and infrastructure around the Black Sea resort of Sochi Such a large construction project called for a huge labour force, including 16,000 migrant workers, recruited mostly from Central Asia However according to Human Rights Watch, these workers were forced to work seven days a week, in 12 hour shifts, with usually a day off every fortnight In exchange employers would withhold wages, sometimes for months, and even then would be paid a fraction of the sum promised

Food and shelter was provided, however it was all too often substandard, at subtracted from their eventual paycheck In some documented cases, migrant workers who complained of the injustice were reported to the immigration authorities by their employers, resulting in their deportation Russian Authorities and the construction companies responsible have denied the allegations, and sadly the abuse of migrant workers is not unique to Russia 8) DEMOCRACY IN NAME ONLY There was little doubt that Putin would win the recent Russian election, not just because of his popularity, but also because of the deficits in the democratic process The only effective opposition to Putin is Alexei Navalny, yet he was excluded from the ballot by the Central Election Commission

The reason? He has a criminal record But his conviction of embezzlement was a result of a questionable prosecution which was criticised by the European Court of Human Rights and many suspect of being politically motivated He was lucky Boris Nemtsov was a prominent critic of Putin in the Duma, and was assassinated in February 2015 Even voting itself doesn’t appear immune from allegations of rigging

According to Golos, a Russian election monitor, approximately 1,500 voting violations during the recent Presidential election If all else fails though, they could stuff the ballot box In 2012 Chechnya delivered a result of 1,482 votes for Putin; A turnout of 107% of the electorate 7) ALCOHOLISM According to the World Health Organisation, Russia’s reputation for hard drinking is well founded In 2011 annual per capita consumption was the fourth highest in Europe, and according to a study in The Lancet in 2014, 25% of Russian men die before they turn 55, mostly due to alcoholism

For comparison, the UK rate is 7% The study, of three Siberian industrial towns, found that 52% of deaths in people between the ages of 15 and 54 were a direct result of alcohol abuse The death rate has widely been regarded as a national tragedy, and the Government has attempted to slow this trend by banning the sale of spirits after certain hours and raising taxes, with some moderate success However that’s just shop bought consumption, and doesn’t take into account the cottage industry of homemade alcohol In December 2016, 49 people died from methanol poisoning after drinking poorly made local brews

6) ANTI-LGBT SENTIMENT A law “for the purpose of protecting children from information advocating for a denial of traditional family values” was unanimously approved by the state Duma in June 2013 More commonly known as the “Gay Propaganda Law”, it prevents any normalisation of homosexuality in public life As a result homophobia has seen a rise in the country, with vigilante gangs baiting gay young men online, before attacking and humiliating them in public In 2016 Dmitry Tsilikin, a theatre critic, fell victim to such a trap, and was murdered by a student who referred to himself as “The Cleaner” However it’s not just European Russia that has seen a rise in attacks

In 2017 reports filtered through from Chechnya that anyone suspected of homosexuality was being abducted, imprisoned, tortured and killed As with many items on this list however, Russia is not alone in this tolerance 5) FOREIGN ACTIONS It can feel that recently we’ve slipped back into a Cold War, blaming Russia for the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury However Russia has been implicated in several assassinations on foreign soil before In November 2012 Alexander Perepilichny, a key witness in a case of alleged fraud from the Russian Treasury, collapsed from a heart attack in London

The initial report was a heart attack, however a toxin from a rare plant called Gelsemium was said to have been discovered in his stomach Before him, Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in 2006 by radioactive agent Polonium 210 The man accused of his murder now has a seat in the Duma Not all of those targeted lived in London, or died Former President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, was poisoned during his election campaign in 2005

In six months he went from this… to this, and was found to have ingested a hazardous amount of dioxin TCDD It’s widely, although not universally, believed that his moderate, pro-Euro stance led to Russian harboured assassins intervening 4) DRUG USE and CONSEQUENCES While the rest of the world is busy smoking and snorting, Russia has the highest number of injection drug users in the world, with an estimated 18 million people And according to a 2012 study from The Lancet, this has led to an explosion in HIV and Hepatitis C

In 2016 one million cases of HIV were officially diagnosed in Russia, with an estimated three million cases expected by 2020 Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city, has it worse than most The health department estimates one in fifty residents is a carrier Yet drug abuse is still a major taboo in the country, with addicts likened to other social “degenerates”, such as homosexuals, in the media Addiction treatment is rare, to the point where Methadone therapy has been made illegal, punishable by up to 20 years in prison

This forces many addicts underground, where needle sharing further exacerbates the HIV crisis 3) DOMESTIC ABUSE In February 2017, a legal amendment was introduced that effectively decriminalised domestic abuse Now, if you beat up a family member of whatever age, but stop shy of hospitalising them, you would be fined instead of arrested Supporters say that the bill protects traditional values, however domestic violence is a major problem in Russia, with an estimated 10,000 women dying a year due to spousal abuse Another 36,000 women a day are believed to be victims of non-lethal violence, and decriminalisation has not help decrease the numbers

In Yekaterinburg, the mayor reported a surge in reports of domestic abuse, as perpetrators saw the relaxation of laws as a safety barrier between them and prosecution Even when an abuser is fined, it’s of little comfort to the victim As one case in The Guardian demonstrated, if the couple share a bank account, the victim will be obliged to pay for her attacker 2) CHECHNYA We’ve mentioned Chechnya several times already, and we make it sound as if it’s a loyal republic in Russia However it was not always the case

The majority Muslim province has been at war with Russia several times over the last 300 years, with the last conflict ending in 2009 Both sides have perpetrated what can only be regarded as a war crimes From the Moscow Theatre siege, and Beslan School hostage taking by Chechen separatists… to indiscriminate shelling of civilians and reports of rape, mutilations, and forced disappearances by Russian forces Today Chechnya is under the control of ardent Putin supporter Ramzan Kadyrov, and most dissent has been crushed Yet a small insurgency has been brewing for years in the North Caucasus attracting Jihadists from across the world, which is little reported on

It’s estimated that just over four thousand people have been killed in terrorist attacks and clashes in the region since 2009 10) CULT OF PUTIN At the heart of Russia is Vladimir Putin; The ex-KGB officer turned saviour of the nation who enjoys immense public support He is a polarising figure, not just abroad but in Russia as well Many see him as a modern day Tsar, with a cult following which, depending on your view, is either good or bad Putin’s name and face is plastered around Russia, on campaign posters, TV interviews and even brands

He has a range of vodka, of caviar, and even aftershave Pop stars have written songs about him, a book of his quotes was published, and supporters have literally killed for him Cults of Personality, myths of a strongman leader, are not unique to Putin as Soviet leaders adopted the same approach The difference with Putin is that his cult is not tied on an ideology Free of a standpoint, he can be all things to all men, and be the ultimate personification of Russia

It’s not the Cult of Personality, but the Cult of the Lack of Personality

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