Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2204

Skripal scandal deepens;
Fudging the numbers on Russian mortality

April 9, 2018

March 8:

As the controversy over the poisoning in Britain of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal continues to expand, Russian authorities have formally denied any association with the incident. Informally, however, the Kremlin and its supporters are using the attack on Skripal as a cautionary tale to deter future traitors. Skripal is "by training, a traitor to his country," Kirill Kleimenov, the host of the "Vremya Novostei" program on Channel One, one of Russia's main broadcast channels, outlined during a recent broadcast. "I don't wish death on anyone, but for purely educational purposes, for anyone who dreams of such a career, I have a warning: being a traitor is one of the most dangerous professions in the world,"
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty cites Kleimenov as saying.

The government of British Prime Minister Theresa May is weighing its options in responding to the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
The Voice of America reports that pressure is mounting on May to respond to the incident, which saw the 66-year-old Russian turncoat and his 33-year-old daughter intentionally poisoned by still-unknown means in their new hometown of Salisbury, England. Mounting circumstantial evidence points to the fact that the nerve agent used in the incident being of Russian origin, raising the stakes for the British government to muster a resolute response. Among the options now reportedly being explored by Number 10 Downing Street include the expulsion of Russia's ambassador to the UK, as well as a mass ouster of Russian spies known to be in the Kingdom.

March 9:

Russia's government is implementing ill-advised domestic policies that are contributing to the outright eradication of the Russian village, a leading analyst has observed. "Vladimir Putin's destruction of the health care system in rural Russia, his failure to invest in roads outside the largest cities, and the elimination of bus routes that carried those without cars to medical treatment is leading to the disappearance of over 1,000 cities a year,"
notes Paul Goble in his Window on Eurasia blog. "But this is not some natural death of rural Russia; it is the direct result of Putin's optimization program and represents what can only be called the murder of Russian villages and thus of an entire way of life and national culture, moves that Soviet intellectuals protested against 50 years ago but are largely silent about now."

Citing new figures from ROSSTAT, Russia's state statistics agency, Goble notes that "the number of hospitals in Russia fell from 10,700 in 2000 when Putin came to power to 5400 in 2015; and if the current rate continues, with a loss of 353 mostly rural hospitals a year, in three to four years, Russia will have the same number of hospitals the Russian Empire had in 1913..." The results, according to him, have been profound. "Under Putin's rule, the population of rural Russia has fallen consistently, with many people fleeing and others dying prematurely, both of which are not [the result of] some natural and inevitable force but rather of Kremlin policies that even Putin is now being forced to at least say are indefensible."

March 10:

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has taken to social media to telegraph his country's desire for NATO membership. In a recent Facebook post, Poroshenko called a Membership Action Plan with the Alliance the country's "next ambition," adding that he had communicated these intentions in a February letter to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Poroshenko's post was a response to NATO's decision to list Ukraine as an aspirant country on its website. Ukraine has indeed indicated strong interest in joining the Alliance since 2014, and codified this priority in a June 2017 law. However, NATO officials have been quick to point out that the Alliance's policy toward Ukrainian membership remains unchanged, and many hurdles to membership remain.

March 11:

Are Russians becoming healthier? "Since 2012,"
Russia's Vedomosti newspaper reports, "Russians have become less likely to die from the diseases that President Vladimir Putin instructed to concentrate on in May decrees, and more often - from rare diseases and unidentified causes, analysts of the Russian Academy of Science [have] found." Yet the shift, Vedomosti notes, is less about meaningful changes in Russian health trends, and more about politically pleasing the Kremlin. This has been done, the Russian Academy of Science researchers found, by manipulating the data and "chang[ing] the rules for coding the causes of death" so that diseases, like cardiovascular illness, which the Kremlin mandated must be reduced by 2018, appear less prevalent than before.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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