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The Real Russia. Today. Fallout from Navalny's #RussiaGate bombshell, fourth graders learn about the glory of Putin; and Meduza summarizes a new report on Internet freedom in Russia


Friday, February 9, 2018

  • A day after Alexey Navalny's bombshell #RussiaGate allegations against a Kremlin official and an oligarch
  • Another Russian cryptocurrency mining operation goes awry
  • Fourth graders in Krasnodar spend class time lecturing each other about Putin's re-election
  • Russia sends another former governor to the slammer over bribery
  • The teenager in trouble for putting out a cigarette on a religious icon's face is now in jail for disobeying police orders
  • Tens of thousands line up in Voronezh to pay their respects to a fallen soldier
  • Meduza summarizes the federal anti-corruption crackdown that's turned the Dagestani government on its head
  • Meduza summarizes a new report on Russian Internet freedom
  • A beleaguered journalist gets the green light to flee Russia

Story of the day: Fallout from Navalny's latest bombshell 💣

In a post on Instagram, Oleg Deripaska responded on Friday to allegations by politician Alexey Navalny, who claims the oligarch bribed Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko with a luxurious and sex-filled excursion aboard his private yacht. Deripaska is threatening to go to court to defend his reputation against unspecified “false accusations,” calling attempts to discredit him “the inventions of a group of people“ and “part of an organized” defamation campaign. He quickly disabled comments on the Instagram post, but not before Navalny was able to ask him to specify exactly which “false accusations” he has in mind.

What's all this about? 🛥

On February 8, Navalny published allegations against Deripaska and Prikhodko, claiming that the two met aboard Deripaska’s yacht in August 2016 off the coast of Norway, possibly to discuss the oligarch’s relationship with Paul Manafort and his role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Navalny says bribery is the only rational explanation for Prikhodko’s luxurious property holdings, and he’s called on President Putin and federal law enforcement to investigate the matter.

What's the source of all this salacious info? 👄

Navalny attributes his evidence of the yacht trip to a self-described escort who calls herself Nastya Rybka. He says he first became aware of Nastya after she announced a “Navalny hunt” in September 2017, threatening, “Lyosha, one of us will find you, screw you, and upload the video to the Web.” After Navalny published the allegations against Deripaska and Prikhodko, Nastya posted a video on Instagram claiming that she’d actually been gang-raped aboard Deripaska’s yacht, saying that she would press charges if the oligarch doesn’t marry her and agree to appear alongside her on tabloid television. Hours later, she shared another video saying that she was only “trolling.”

  • Spokespeople for President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have refused to comment on Navalny’s allegations. “I couldn’t comment and I wouldn’t want to do it,” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Friday.

The dangers of mining cryptocurrency at work, when work is a center for developing nuclear weapons ⛏

Federal agents detained multiple employees at the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov (a closed town in the Nizhny Novgorod region) after they were caught using the facility’s supercomputers for personal reasons, including the mining of cryptocurrency. The center confirmed to the website TJournal that a criminal investigation is underway, though it wouldn’t specify the charges. According to the tabloid-affiliated Telegram channel Mash, two engineers face treason charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The Federal Nuclear Center also told TJournal that law enforcement officials have uncovered attempts to mine cryptocurrency using industrial computers “at a whole range of large companies,” though spokesperson again refused to clarify.

What is “mining cryptocurrency”? 💵

In cryptocurrency networks, “miners” are rewarded for contributing to the processing power of a cryptocurrency's network. Miners are constantly trying to build cheaper-yet-efficient machines to carry out this computer processing work, managing the cost of the machines themselves, cooling facilities, and electricity needs.

  • On February 6, an apartment building in the Russian city of Artyom caught fire on February 6 because of a short circuit allegedly caused by overheated machinery being used to mine cryptocurrency. Read about it at Meduza.

Five minutes of glory for Putin 👩‍🏫

Fourth graders at a school in Gelendzhik had a very special “five-minute information session” on January 15, when students reportedly stood up before their classmates and told each other about the nationwide effort to collect signatures endorsing Vladimir Putin’s re-election campaign. The information first appeared on the school’s own website, but it later disappeared after the website drew attention to the story.

  • In September 2017, education officials in the Krasnodar region required all local schools to conduct weekly “five-minute information sessions,” where students are expected to discuss current events. The “information sessions” are required for all students, from first to 11th grade, and fall into the following themes: “Glory to Russia,” “The Story Says,” “News of the Week,” and “We Live in the Kuban.” Students must prepare “information presentations” for their classes with the help of teachers. Parents in Krasnodar have told reporters that their children are sometimes instructed to watch news broadcasts on state television and describe the reports in class.
  • In Soviet schools, students had lessons in “political information,” where they discussed political news reported on state television and in state newspapers.

Isn't this illegal? 🤷‍♂️🤷‍♀️

Well, it's true that Russian education laws prohibit teachers from conducting political propaganda in the classroom or imposing any political views on students.

Another former governor has a very bad day in court ⚖️

Another ex-governor is going to prison for a long, long time. On Friday, a court sentenced Alexander Khoroshavin, the former head of Sakhalin, to 13 years behind bars, also fining him 500 million rubles ($8.6 million). Khoroshavin was convicted of money laundering and bribery. Prosecutors say he and his subordinates received 522 million rubles from businessmen in exchange for lucrative state contracts. Khoroshavin has maintained his innocence.

  • On February 1, former Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh was sentenced to eight years in prison, also on bribery charges. In mid-December 2017, former Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev was convicted of soliciting a bribe from Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, and a court sentenced him to eight years in prison. Both Belykh and Ulyukayev deny the charges against them.

The inventor of Russia's worst ashtray is arrested for nine days 🚬

On Thursday, law enforcement in Krasnodar started investigating an apparent hate crime against a local church carried out by an 18-year-old named Egor Grishin. The young man recently shared a photograph on Instagram showing him putting out a cigarette on the face of an icon of the Archangel Michael. On Thursday evening, officers came to Grishin’s technical institute and ended up arresting him for disobeying police orders. The teenager will spend the next nine days in jail, as the authorities continue to review the cigarette-icon incident.

Tens of thousands turn out for funeral of Russian pilot shot down in Syria last weekend 🇸🇾🇷🇺

Vadim Savitsky / Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

On February 8, the Russian pilot Roman Filipov was laid to rest in Voronezh, days after his plane was shot down in Syria. Filipov made national headlines for killing himself with a grenade in order to keep himself out of enemy hands. According to the Interior Ministry, more than 30,000 people turned out to pay their respects. By executive order, Filipov was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Russia.

A full rundown of how Dagestan got flipped turned upside down 🚨

On Monday, February 5, Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee arrested Abdusamad Gamidov, the acting prime minister of Dagestan, and two of his deputies on charges of large-scale embezzlement. In January, law enforcement agencies also open criminal cases against the chief architect of Makhachkala and the city’s mayor, who is considered to be close to Gamidov. Sources linked these first two cases to a political campaign by the new head of Dagestan, Vladimir Vasiliev, who last December announced that he planned to order a review of the republic’s state agencies with help from Moscow, drawing on the Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, and the Federal Security Service (FSB). This week, Dagestan found out what this plan means in practice.

Meduza summarizes Agora's new report on Internet freedom in Russia 💻

Earlier this week, the Agora International Human Rights Group published a new report titled “Internet Freedom 2017: Creeping Criminalization,” where researchers Damir Gainutdinov and Pavel Chikov assessed the Russian authorities’ approach to regulating the Internet. Agora’s findings are distressing: journalists, bloggers, and online activists continue to face persecution, and the state is expanding the grounds on which it can block or ban certain content.

Meh, what's the gist?

The last 10 years in brief:

  • More than 200 instances of violence or threats against Internet activists, bloggers, and journalists
  • Five murders and several attempted murders
  • 1,449 criminal prosecutions against individuals for online activities;
  • 98 prison sentences
  • Constantly growing pressure on the Russian Internet

2017 averages:

  • 244 web pages were blocked every day
  • One Internet user was attacked or threatened every six days
  • Courts sentenced one Internet user to prison every eight days

Good news for Ali Feruz 🗞

Moscow Basmanny Court judge Elena Lenskaya announced on Friday that Ali Feruz (real name: Khudoberdi Nurmatov) has the right to leave Russia, paving the way for the beleaguered journalist to escape both Russia, where he's been living in a temporary detention center since last summer, and his native country, Uzbekistan, to which Russian officials have twice tried to deport him for violations of travel laws and labor code. Feruz says he will be tortured by the police if he returns to Uzbekistan. On January 24, Russia’s Supreme Court threw out a deportation order from August 2017 (which hadn’t yet been implemented, thanks to a stay order by the European Court of Human Rights), and ordered a retrial. 

Didn't a court already say Feruz can leave Russia? 🛫

There are two trials against Ali Feruz. On February 2, the Moscow City Court ruled that he can leave the country, if he can produce the necessary travel documents, but this was only in connection with the travel-law violations against the journalist. Lenskaya is presiding over the labor-code violations case.

  • Feruz says he doesn’t want to stay in Russia and might go to Germany using papers from the Red Cross. Judge Lenskaya says she'll review these documents as soon as Monday, February 12.

Yours, Meduza