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The Real Russia. Today. Navalny's 45 days in jail, Chechnya's new terrorism case, and Russia's latest criminalization

Meduza

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

  • Russia opens a controversial bridge to Crimea
  • Alexey Navalny gets 45 days in jail, and he could face new defamation charges in Kemerovo
  • Moscow's Cossack groups allegedly flogged the men who attacked Navalny's protesters
  • Chechnya's reportedly disappeared and executed are now charged with terrorism
  • Russia's criminalization of promoting foreign sanctions will hit the anti-Kremlin opposition
  • Kemerovo jumps the gun on demolishing the shopping center where a fire killed 60 people in March
  • Putin orders a bureaucratic makeover for the Education and Science Ministry and the Communications Ministry

A bridge to somewhere 🚚

Vladimir Putin attended a ceremony on Tuesday to open the new bridge linking Crimea to Russia. The president even got behind the wheel of a truck and drove it to Crimea. The bridge will open to heavy freight vehicles in October and to trains in late 2019. The bridge was built by Arkady Rotenberg’s construction company, Stroygazmontazh. Since the spring of 2014, he’s been under American sanctions.

🇺🇦 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the bridge will come in handy when “the occupiers suddenly have to leave our Crimea.” He wasn’t the only foreign official to issue a condemnation on Tuesday.

🇺🇸 “The United States condemns Russia’s construction and partial opening of the Kerch Strait Bridge between Russia and occupied Crimea, which was done without the permission of the government of Ukraine. Crimea is part of Ukraine. Russia’s construction of the bridge serves as a reminder of Russia’s ongoing willingness to flout international law,” the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday. Read the full statement here.

🇪🇺 The European Union issued a similar statement: “The Russian Federation has constructed the Kerch Bridge to the Crimean Peninsula without Ukraine's consent. This constitutes another violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity by Russia.” Read the full statement here.

Rotenberg's next project. Last month, Bloomberg reported that Stroygazmontazh will win a contract to build another bridge — this one to energy-rich Sakhalin Island. According to Russian Railways (as reported by Kommersant), the Sakhalin bridge will cost 3.5 times more per kilometer than the bridge to Crimea: 252.8 billion rubles ($4.1 billion) for a six-kilometer (3.7 miles). It will cost another 287.5 billion ($4.6 billion) to build railways connecting Sakhalin to local rail stations.

Navalny's never-ending legal problems 👮‍♂️

Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny is headed back to jail. On Tuesday, Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court sentenced him to 30 days behind bars for repeated violations of Russia’s laws on public assemblies, and then an additional 15 days for disobeying police orders during his arrest on May 5.

Navalny was detained in Moscow at Pushkin Square, where he organized an non-permitted demonstration against Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term. Police detained about 700 protesters in Moscow on May 5 and more than 1,600 across the country.

Navalny maintains that his constitutional right to the freedom of assembly obviates the need for a permit when protesting peacefully. He and several witnesses also deny that he resisted arrest when police officers detained him on May 5. Speaking to the judge on Tuesday, Navalny accused him of taking orders from the state authorities. “You’re not a judge — you’re just the other end of a phone call,” he said in court.

⚖️ And that's not all

Navalny might also face defamation charges in Kemerovo, where the district attorney’s office found that former Governor Aman Tuleyev doesn’t own the lavish real estate Navalny attributed to him in an investigative report published on April 10. Prosecutors have forwarded their report to local investigators, who will determine if a defamation case is in order. Tuleyev himself asked the authorities to audit his assets to disprove Navalny’s claims.

After serving as Kemerovo’s governor for more than two decades, Tuleyev resigned from office shortly after a deadly fire destroyed a shopping center in March. Less than two weeks after he stepped down, he was elected to serve as chairman of the regional parliament.

Don't worry — the Cossacks handled their people 🏏

The Cossack groups present at the anti-Putin protest in Moscow on May 5 have reportedly “flogged” those in their ranks responsible for attacking demonstrators with whips, according to Vasily Yashchikov, who’s been cited repeatedly in the Russian media as a “Cossack blogger.” Yashchikov says the Cossack groups held a joint meeting and decided to punish the individuals who used whips on May 5.

“We came together, drew our conclusions, and discussed how it could have come to this. Clearly, there were provocateurs, but we nonetheless punished those who fought back with whips. We punished them according to our own Cossack customs and traditions. We flogged them. They got the whip so they’ll know better next time,” Yashchikov said Wednesday on the radio station Business FM.

On May 5, groups of Cossacks fought and harassed opposition demonstrators at Pushkin Square (sometimes with whips), as police officers mostly looked the other way. Journalists later discovered that Moscow City Hall has signed several contracts with Cossack organizations to “ensure public safety” at mass rallies. City officials insist, however, that they didn’t call on the Cossack groups to disperse the May 5 protesters. Yashchikov calls himself a member of “The First Hundred,” referring to an organization whose uniforms were spotted at Pushkin Square on May 5.

Chechnya's disappeared gay terrorist extremists 🤨

Some of the 27 people who were reportedly detained and executed in Chechnya in January 2017 have been charged with belonging to the terrorist group ISIS, according to Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova. She didn’t specify how many of the 27 people are under investigation, but she did state that federal officials have declined to open a criminal investigation into the disappearances.

In July 2017, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that 27 people had been executed in mass outside Grozny that January, a month after a series of raids following an attack on police officers. Chechen officials denied the information. The BBC’s Russian-language service says the new terrorism charges are aimed at people detained on suspicion of being LGBT, though Novaya Gazeta previously reported that the victims were rounded up for supposed extremist activities.

The relatives of some of the 27 people told the BBC that the local authorities forced them to sign statements claiming that their loved ones had actually moved to Syria. Moskalkova later claimed that the police had placed these relatives “under their protection” while investigating the disappearances of 18 people on Novaya Gazeta’s list.

In January 2018, human rights activists reported the disappearance of the wife of one of the men on the list. Chechen officials denied the story, sharing a photograph that allegedly showed the woman safely at home with her family.

The criminalization appeals for Western sanctions is happening ⛔️

Andrey Isayev, the first deputy head of United Russia’s State Duma faction, confirmed on Wednesday that the parliament’s draft legislation to criminalize the observance or promotion of foreign sanctions will apply to opposition politicians who lobby Western governments to target Russian citizens and their businesses. “Of the people whom I know who do this, there’s Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr., who takes credit for introducing ‘Magnitsky acts’ in eight countries and will keep lobbying for more. This amounts to a full confession, if it [the draft legislation] is adopted,” Isayev told the news agency Interfax.

Lawmakers are close to voting on a bill that would impose criminal penalties on anybody who observes or even promotes Western sanctions. The legislation has won the endorsement of the speakers of both houses of parliament, the State Duma’s first deputy speakers, the heads of all political parties with seats in the Duma, the federal government, and Russia’s Supreme Court. If adopted, the law would criminalize a common form of activism among Russia’s democratic opposition. Meduza asks and answers 12 questions about this legislation here: “The Russian authorities want to jail people for observing or even promoting Western sanctions”

Not so fast, Kemerovo 🚧

Investigators halted the demolition of the “Winter Cherry” shopping center in Kemerovo, where a fire claimed the lives of 60 people in March. Police say the building is still material evidence in their investigation, despite instructions from the region’s acting governor to begin tearing down the mall’s burned wreckage.

Dmitry Malinin, a lawyer representing the mall’s owners, told the newspaper Kommersant that he will appeal to the police and the district attorney’s office to find out why the demolition work started on May 15. The Winter Cherry’s owners don’t intend to give the premises to the city for free, Malinin added, and they’re still negotiating a reasonable price.

The Kemerovo governor’s office previously claimed that the shopping center’s primary owner, a local confectionery works, had donated the mall to the city, after buying out the minority shareholders that objected to the demolition. Local officials say they plan to open a public square on the grounds by September 1.

A bureaucratic makeover 💄

Vladimir Putin has agreed to split Russia’s Education and Science Ministry into two federal departments: the Education Ministry and the Science and Higher Education Ministry. As the names suggest, the former department will oversee the country’s grade schools and specialized secondary schools, while the latter will manage universities and scientific institutions, while managing national scientific development.

Showing no mercy to the federal government’s existing stationery, President Putin’s Tuesday executive order also renames Russia’s Communications Ministry into the Digital Development, Communications, and Mass Communications Ministry.

Yours, Meduza