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The Real Russia. Today. Telegram's Russian doomsday, lawmakers' piracy solution, and a look at ‘defrauded co-investors’

Meduza

Friday, April 13, 2018

  • A Moscow court says the government can start blocking Telegram
  • Russian lawmakers propose more “counter-sanctions,” including a novel plan to steal American intellectual property
  • The police crackdown in Volokolamsk spreads to the home of the town's mayor
  • A Russian Senate commission says a dozen foreign media outlets meddled in Putin's re-election
  • Alexey Ulyukayev is sent back to jail with a token display of mercy
  • Meduza's special report on Russia's tens of thousands of “defrauded co-investors”
  • Celebrating Gagarin's milestone with Soviet illustrations
  • Russian television quietly prepares the public for nuclear war

Story of the day: Telegram's Russian doomsday has arrived ⚰️

After an 18-minute hearing on Friday, Judge Yulia Smolina of the Moscow Tagansky District Court took 40 minutes to deliberate and grant Roskomnadzor’s request to start blocking Telegram in Russia immediately, circumventing the typical legal process whereby the messenger would be able to appeal the verdict and delay when it comes into force. At Telegram CEO Pavel Durov’s request, the company’s lawyers didn’t attend the hearing, trying not to “legitimate” the trial. The legal team says it will appeal Friday’s decision.

So what happens now? Once it has a physical copy of the verdict in its possession, Roskomnadzor will have the legal authority to order Russian Internet Service Providers to start blocking access to Telegram hyperlinks, and it can also demand that Apple and Google remove it from their app stores.

Russian news organizations, state agencies, and many of the most popular Telegram channels have started redirecting subscribers to their accounts on other social networks, including Facebook, Vkontakte, Twitter, Instagram, Viber, and TamTam.

Hours after Roskomnadzor won the legal right to start blocking Telegram, the popular Internet censorship-circumvention tool Opera VPN was leading searches on Apple’s App Store in Russia. Telegram, meanwhile, was the App Store’s most-downloaded free app.

In May 2017, the Ukrainian government blocked several of Russia’s most popular online resources, leading several prominent Russian state officials to praise Internet-circumvention technology. Today, many of those comments are coming back to bite the authorities. When Ukraine blocked Vkontakte and Yandex, Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin said blocking large popular online resources “discredits the government.” He also insisted that such censorship is unfeasible, saying Internet users will use anonymizers, VPN services, and other programs.

Why does Roskomnadzor want to block Telegram? The Federal Security Service has ordered Telegram to surrender the encryption keys for all user correspondence, and the company was already hit with an 800,000-ruble ($13,000) fine for noncompliance. Telegram insists that it is technically incapable of complying because its software architecture doesn’t store these keys centrally (the keys are created and stored on users’ own devices). Russian lawmakers say Telegram must redesign its software, if it’s not currently capable of complying with the country’s new “anti-terrorism” laws.

Argh, matey, here be th' proposed sanctions ☠️

Federal lawmakers have developed a plan to retaliate against the latest U.S. sanctions: transform Russia into a pirate state. Draft legislation submitted to the State Duma on Friday would give the government the authority to waive copyright restrictions on select foreign products, “allowing” Russian enterprises to produce those goods without the consent of their patent holders abroad. “The exhaustion of exclusive rights,” lawmakers say, could be used against the U.S. and other hostile states.

“In other words, we’ll gut-punch the Americans, since it’s precisely intellectual property that is responsible for all their success and, above all, the domination of the Anglo-Saxon and Western world. And we’d strike a blow against this right,” explained Mikhail Emelyanov, the deputy chairman of the Duma’s Legislation Committee.

The same draft bill would also grant the government the right to issue more restrictions on American imports (such as alcohol, tobacco, medicines, and foods), limit the work of international rating agencies in Russia, ban certain foreign software, prohibit foreigners from participating in privatizations, suspend cooperation in various sectors (including nuclear power, aviation, and rocketry), and more.

Volokolapocalypse continued 👮‍♂️

Officers from the Moscow region’s economic crimes police unit have raided the home of Volokolamsk Mayor Pyotr Lazarev, who says he’s received threats from high-ranking state officials and “certain criminal figures,” demanding that his administration stop issuing permits for local protests against the “Yadrovo” landfill. Lazarev says he’s the focus of a fraud investigation. Police also raided the Volokolamsk City Hall, searching for documents in an ongoing case. It was the second raid on the administration building this month.

On April 12, police raided the home of Yulia Kulikova, one of the defense attorneys for Artem Lyubimov, a businessman recently arrested “for resisting police.” Lyubimov has helped organize many of the town’s protests against the Yadrovo garbage dump. Officers also reportedly raided his home. Also on Thursday, law enforcement also raided the offices of the newspaper Volokolamsk Weekly and the “Moscow Raceway” sporting arena — both owned by the businessman Rustem Teregulov. According to the newspaper’s chief editor, police officers and investigators were looking for evidence of affiliations with several other companies suspected of criminal activity. Volokolamsk Weekly has reported extensively on the local protests against air pollution caused by the Yadrovo landfill.

This is part of a whole thing. This isn’t the first time the Moscow regional authorities have raided the offices and homes of local businessmen who supported Volokolamsk’s protesters. Read Meduza’s special report: “The consultant, the cosmetologist, and the car washer”

Two can meddle at that game. Or 12! 🗞

The Russian Federation Council’s Commission on Protecting State Sovereignty and Preventing Foreign Interference has identified 12 foreign media outlets reporting in Russian that supposedly meddled in the March 18 presidential election. According to Andrey Klimov, the commission’s chairman, the list includes several projects run through Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as well as RFI, Deutsche Welle, and The BBC. A full report with examples of the outlets’ supposed political interference (“biased reporting,” “incitements to boycott the vote,” and so on) will be published after Vladimir Putin’s next inauguration on May 7. In remarks to the magazine RBC, Klimov also criticized the Carnegie Moscow Center, highlighting its “suspicious” funding and allegedly jaded election coverage.

In March 2018, this commission released a report accusing the U.S. of meddling in foreign countries. Its sources were a Stalinist pseudo-historian, Wikipedia, and an American postgraduate student. You can read all about the ridiculousness in this special report by Meduza.

Who cares about this commission? It’s not wise to ignore this group. When the United States forced RT to register under FARA last year, the wrath of the Commission on Protecting State Sovereignty and Preventing Foreign Interference helped push lawmakers to authorize the federal government to designate media outlets as “foreign agents.”

Back to prison with you, Lyosha ⚖️

After Igor Sechin testified in a closed session on Thursday, the Moscow City Court upheld the eight-year prison sentence against former Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev. The judges also left in place a fine of 130 million rubles ($2.1 million). But the court wasn’t without mercy entirely: it revoked a prohibition on serving in the government. Now, when Ulyukayev gets out of prison, he can return to the civic service, if he wants.

In December 2017, former Russian Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev was convicted of soliciting a $2-million bribe from Sechin. The former minister denies the charges, saying that Sechin and Rosneft’s former head of security, FSB General Oleg Feoktistov, framed him.

Ulyukayev gave a pretty memorable closing statement in his first trial. Read it here in English: “An elderly gladiator and his cardboard sword

Meduza's special report on the biggest protest movement in Russia that you've never heard about ✊

According to various estimates, there are somewhere between 40,000 and more than 100,000 “defrauded co-investors” in Russia — people who paid money for new apartments, but were never able to move in because construction on these homes never finished. The problem has persisted for more than a decade, and the thousands of people cheated out of their money have spent that time organizing protests and appealing to state officials, but the government has yet to resolve the situation. Vladimir Putin even issued an executive order giving the country three years to abandon shared-equity construction completely. A year later, however, it still dominates Russia’s residential real estate market. In a special report for Meduza, Pyotr Manyakhin, a correspondent for Batenka.ru, learned more about how Russia’s cheated investors are fighting for their rights.

Celebrate Cosmonautics Day with some awesome Soviet illustrations 🚀

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to visit outer space. His near-earth orbit around the world and the satellites sent to distant planets inspired millions of people and demonstrated some of the greatest achievements of Soviet science. To celebrate the anniversary of Gagarin’s flight (what is now known as Cosmonautics Day), Meduza collected several illustrations about the Soviet space program published in the 1960s and 70s by the satirical magazine Krokodil.

Prepare yourself, mortal 🇷🇺💥🇺🇸

The situation in Syria has grown tense. Human rights activists say the Syrian government used chemical weapons to kill dozens of civilians, which could mean new Western sanctions against the Assad regime’s sponsors in Moscow. Russia, meanwhile, accuses Israel of bombing Syrian airbases, and the United States is contemplating a missile strike at targets in Syria that could provoke an armed response from Russian troops in the area. With all this happening, the Russian news media has started reporting on a potential war between the U.S. and Russia, going so far as to recommend what groceries people ought to take with them to bomb shelters. Meduza summarizes the most alarmist stories to grace Russia’s airwaves this week.

Yours, Meduza