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The Real Russia. Today. Russian TV glorifies Putin in Kemerovo, Meduza debunks a conspiracy theory, and Moscow laughs at London

Meduza

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

  • Russian television glorifies Putin's response to the Kemerovo fire
  • A court sanctions the arrests of several staff at the incinerated mall
  • Kemerovo's governor fires two senior staffers
  • Meduza debunks conspiracy theories about a higher death toll in Kemerovo
  • Police charge a Ukrainian prankster with calling several morgues in Kemerovo
  • A press tour in the Vladimir region goes very wrong
  • A newspaper leaks a British slideshow about Russian aggression, and Moscow ain't impressed
  • Another human rights activist is attacked in Dagestan
  • The voice of “The Musicians of Bremen” dies

Story of the day: The fallout in Kemerovo 🔥

The deadly fire at a shopping center in Kemerovo on Sunday has dominated Russia’s national TV networks since Monday, becoming the focus of both news programs and daytime and evening talk shows. On Tuesday, however, the conversation shifted suddenly to talk of Vladimir Putin’s role in addressing problems in Kemerovo, following his visit to the city and meetings with local officials. Meduza reviewed how the networks covered the president’s handling of the tragedy that claimed 64 lives. Here are a few excerpts:

  • “We should hardly be surprised that any tragedy in our country will be used against us.” ~Nikolai Starikov, writer
  • “Well just look at what’s happening. Foreign enemies are at war with us, and our children are dying from enemies at home.” ~Olga Belova, TV show host
  • “I would like to express my condolences and offer my support to our leader, Mr. Vladimir Putin. [...] For him, this is a stab in the back. [...] He is our spiritual warrior. He is strong. But he also needs our support!” ~Elena Mizulina, member of the Federation Council
  • “These people are even trying to turn the public’s grief into one of these political protests! In other words, there’s nothing sacred to these people!” ~Vladimir Solovyov, host

Read Meduza’s full report here.

👮‍♂️ The arrests

A regional court in Kemerovo has sanctioned the arrest of the security guard at the “Winter Cherry” shopping center who is being blamed for mishandling the mall’s fire alarm system. The guard, Sergey Antyushin, ignored the first notification he received on his computer, when the fire started, and then failed to activate the building’s main fire alarm system, saying he panicked when he realized what was happening.

He's not alone. Antyushin isn’t the only one from the Kemerovo disaster now behind bars. A local court also arrested Nadezhda Suddenok, the shopping center’s director. Police have detained another three people working at the mall on charges including negligent homicide, failure to obey fire safety requirements, and offering services that fail to meet safety standards.

🏢 Housecleaning in Kemerovo

On Wednesday, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev reportedly fired one of his deputies, Alexey Zelenin, and the head of his internal policy department, Nina Lopatina. At the time of this writing, there was no official explanation for the dismissals. Firing senior regional staff was one of the chief demands of a 10-hour protest outside the region’s administrative building on Tuesday. Kemerovo locals — many of whom lost loved ones in Sunday’s deadly tragedy — have also accused the authorities of hiding information about more than a dozen people who supposedly perished in the blaze. Officials deny these allegations, saying the death toll was 64 people.

This may not have been about Sunday's disaster. According to a report by the newsletter The Bell, Governor Tuleyev missed three months of work in 2017 because of a medical operation. During his absence, rumors circulated that he had died. When Tuleyev returned to work, he reportedly criticized Zelenin and Lopatina for failing to squash the gossip about his supposed death.

🗞 Fake news about a real tragedy

Many people in Kemerovo and other cities across Russia don’t believe the official death toll announced for Sunday’s fire at the “Winter Cherry” shopping center. Victims’ relatives and others say there were far more than 64 fatalities, and they have accused the authorities of trying to conceal all the facts. In a special report, Meduza asks and answers the following questions:

  • What happened?
  • Do the authorities claim to have recovered all the bodies already?
  • Could there still be victims the authorities don't know about?
  • How could emergency workers find people’s remains after just a day? Wouldn’t some of the victims have burned completely to ash?
  • Why are some claiming that 400 people died?
  • So this is all just a bunch of rumors?
  • If the authorities aren’t lying, then why is there so much information about “hundreds of dead”?

😳 Laugh it up, prankster boy

Russian federal investigators have opened a criminal case against a Ukrainian citizen known online as “Evgeny Volnov.” Actually named Nikita Kuvikov, he’s charged with hate speech for prank calling several morgues in the Kemerovo region. Posing as an emergency worker, Kuvikov told the morgues to expect hundreds of bodies from the deadly fire that incinerated a shopping mall, and later published audio recordings of the phone calls. These prank calls helped launch unfounded conspiracy theories that the authorities in Kemerovo have understated the death toll of Sunday’s fire.

🙏 How have state officials responded to the deadly fire in Kemerovo?

  • “Why the panic? Why the calls for immediate resignations? Children die every day. Many have AIDS.” ~An regional administrative official in Kemerovo, speaking to protesters and grieving parents
  • “Young man, what do you mean? Do you want to exploit this grief for PR purposes?” ~Lieutenant Governor Sergey Tsivilev, speaking to a man who, he later learned, lost his entire family in Sunday’s fire
  • “I beg your personal forgiveness for what has happened in our region.” ~Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev, speaking to President Vladimir Putin
  • “These people aren’t relatives of the dead. It’s mainly just people who are always causing trouble. We’re working with them and telling them: ‘You can’t do this — it’s sacrilege when you try to use grief to solve your own problems.’” ~Governor Tuleyev, telling Putin about local protesters
  • “We talk about demography and we yet lose so many people. Why? Because of criminal negligence and mismanagement.” ~Vladimir Putin

Read Meduza’s full roundup of official reactions here.

Worst press tour ever 🚌

When you want to show journalists around your region to demonstrate the local shopping centers’ fire safety measures, choose the tour bus carefully. That’s the lesson officials in the Vladimir region learned on Wednesday, when the bus they hired to transport reporters and press staff to different shopping malls in the area suddenly caught fire. The excursion was meant to showcase how a blaze like the one on Sunday in Kemerovo couldn’t happen in Vladimir. All 12 people aboard the bus escaped unharmed, but the story they took to their editors probably wasn’t the one the regional government had hoped for.

Russia's “slam dunk” debunk 🇬🇧🇷🇺

On Tuesday, the newspaper Kommersant published a five-slide presentation the British government made to foreign diplomats at the UK’s embassy in Moscow on March 22. The slides summarize the timeline of the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal, the “new phase of Russian aggression,” the effects of the nerve agent “Novichok,” the “long pattern of Russian malign activity,” and the UK’s “measured and proportionate response.” Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, called the presentation a “failure for Theresa May,” arguing that the slides “reveal” how Britain convinced the West to blame Russia for the attack on Skripal supposedly without real evidence.

This isn't London's whole case. As King’s College London Professor Sam Greene points out, however, the presentation published by Kommersant was merely a handout at a semi-public briefing. “‘Classified files’ are not generally passed around to 80+ embassies,” Greene explained on Twitter.

😤 Moscow takes Britain's evidence against Russia and throws it back at London

In an announcement on Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry declared that the British authorities have “systematically demonstrated their inability to ensure the safety of Russian citizens on their territory.” As examples, Moscow cited the “mysterious suicide” of Boris Berezovsky, the “unexplained deaths” of the businessmen Badri Patarkatsishvili and Alexander Perepilichny, and the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal. Russia says it will continue to suspect London of orchestrating a “political provocation” against Moscow, until the British government comes forward with “convincing evidence” that the nerve agent used to poison the Skirpals originated in Russia.

More violence against “Memorial” in Russia's North Caucasus 👊

Sirazhutdin Datsiev, the head of the Dagestani office of the human rights group “Memorial,” was attacked in the street outside his home on Wednesday morning. A group of men reportedly beat him with either a baseball bat or brass knuckles. He was later admitted to the hospital in a state of shock. Police are investigating the incident.

A chain of events. In early January, Chechen police arrested Oyuba Titiev, the head of Memorial’s local office, on charges of marijuana possession. He says the drugs were planted in his car. If convicted, Titiev faces several years in prison. A week after Titiev’s arrest, a fire destroyed Memorial’s Ingush office in Nazran. Arson is suspected. In Makhachkala, a car used by Titiev’s lawyer was set on fire. Since early January, Memorial’s staff in Dagestan say they’ve been receiving death threats.

An icon of the Soviet silver screen passes ⚱️

Russian and Soviet actor Oleg Anofriyev died on Wednesday, after a long illness. He was 87 years old. Anofriyev appeared in more than 60 feature films, notably “A Tale of Lost Times” and “Incognito from St. Petersburg.” His voice is known to millions of people who grew up watching the 1969 cartoon “The Musicians of Bremen,” where Anofriyev sang every role, except the part of the princess. Watch the film with English captions on YouTube here.

Yours, Meduza