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The Real Russia. Today. More sanctions/counter-sanctions mayhem, Meduza's Deadpool interview, and police torture

Meduza
13:13, 17 may 2018

Thursday, May 17, 2018

  • A public backlash pressures lawmakers to pause the adoption of legislation that would criminalize “observing or facilitating” new foreign sanctions
  • The State Duma adopts revised legislation allowing the government to impose sweeping new “counter-sanctions”
  • Meduza sits down with Ryan Reynolds to ask him Russian Internet users' weirdest Deadpool questions
  • Vkontakte says no to a controversial data-mining deal
  • Telegram gets into a trademark fight over its coming cryptocurrency
  • Russian police respond to the arrest of a state news reporter in Kiev
  • Russian investigators file charges against Ukraine's Constitutional Court judges
  • This weekend, activists in St. Petersburg will protest police torture
  • Police detain a reporter who co-anchors Navalny's YouTube channel
  • Someone threw a grenade at the home of a state prosecutor trying eight police officers in Ingushetia
  • Officials say a businessman found dead in his jail cell earlier this year killed himself
  • Demolition crews get back to work at Kemerovo's burned-down shopping mall
  • Trump wants options for new sanctions against Russia for alleged INF Treaty violations
  • Russia's population is still shrinking, but not as badly as before

With counter-sanctions like these, who needs sanctions?

🚨 Lawmakers press pause on a controversial criminalization

In a press release on Wednesday, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs stated its “categorical” opposition to draft legislation making its way through the State Duma that would criminalize observing or facilitating foreign sanctions against Russian citizens and Russian enterprises. The organization’s executive board says the law contradicts Vladimir Putin’s stated policy goals by creating “additional conditions for administrative pressure on businesses.”

The union warns that foreign countries could target Russian business owners with “secondary sanctions” for obeying the government’s proposed ban on observing Western sanctions, which would limit their access to global markets and ultimately hurt the Russian economy. The organization also objects to the criminalization of sharing information that could facilitate new foreign sanctions, arguing that this could apply to entrepreneurs who disclose information about the activities of their business partners.

Lawmakers are close to passing 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.

This law is a political hot button, too. If adopted, it would criminalize a common form of activism among Russia’s democratic opposition. The State Duma adopted a first reading of this legislation on May 15, and deputies planned to vote on a second reading on May 17, but it was postponed, in order to conduct “additional consultations with business and expert communities.”

💊 The government will have lots of leeway on what to ban

On Thursday, State Duma deputies adopted a much revised second reading of legislation authorizing the federal government to impose “counter-sanctions” on any “products and (or) raw materials” imported by organizations based in “unfriendly foreign states.” The amended second reading removes language specifying which goods and raw materials the government can ban, leaving it up to federal officials. The legislation does, however, prohibit sanctions on vital goods not otherwise available in Russia and doesn’t apply to goods brought into Russia by private individuals.

Medical care groups have expressed concerns that the government will nonetheless ban pharmaceuticals that aren’t made anywhere but America. Earlier this week, several nonprofit organizations addressed a joint letter to the speaker of the State Duma and the chairperson of the Federation Council, asking lawmakers to exclude medical supplies explicitly from the proposed counter-sanctions. The letter reportedly warns that a new boycott could affect medicines not technically registered in Russia but vital to patients nonetheless, as well as different medical equipment and supplies used by hospices and clinics that are otherwise unavailable in Russia.

The Merc with a Mouth visits the Motherland 🎬

Why is Deadpool afraid of cows? Why can't Deadpool just get plastic surgery? Does Deadpool make people horny? Ahead of the worldwide release of “Deadpool 2,” Meduza correspondent Sultan Suleimanov sat down with Ryan Reynolds, and asked him some of the strangest questions now circulating on Russian social media about the motormouth superhero Reynolds portrays in the film.

Russian tech lays down the law

⛏ Vkontakte passes on a data-mining deal

Russia’s biggest social network, Vkontakte, has turned down a potential partnership with the country’s biggest credit group, the National Bureau of Credit History (NBKI), that would have allowed it to mine data from users’ public profiles. In April, the magazine RBC reported that Vkontakte’s parent company, Mail.ru Group, struck a deal with NBKI, but on May 16 Vkontakte’s managing director, Andrey Rogozov, told Meduza that the agreement never went through because they couldn’t find a format that didn’t violate the network’s data-protection principles. Rogozov says Vkontakte will continue to fight against unauthorized data-collection efforts, and block access to user information by all available technical and legal means.

Earlier this year, Vkontakte won a appeal against the company “Double Data,” after that company started collecting and analyzing public user data for commercial use by banks without Vkontakte’s permission. NBKI was actually one of Double Data’s clients and originally acted as a second defendant in Vkontakte’s lawsuit, but in August 2017 it reached a settlement with the social network. NBKI currently has more than 200 million credit history records on at least 84 million Russian citizens, and more than 4,000 companies use the bureau’s services.

💸 Telegram sues to keep its cryptocurrency name

Telegram’s new cryptocurrency isn’t yet off the ground, but the company is already in a trademark fight over the name of its coin, the “gram.” On May 11, in the San Francisco branch of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Telegram filed a lawsuit against a Florida-based company called “Lantah LLC,” which tried to trademark the term “gram” after Pavel Durov’s instant messenger began raising funds for its “Telegram Open Network.” Telegram is claiming “common law trademark rights” and accusing Lantah of trying to profit from brand confusion.

In early May, the newspaper Vedomosti reported that Telegram has created the first service in its future blockchain platform, the Telegram Open Network, and the company is testing it privately. “Telegram Passport” will allow users to save encrypted copies of all their identification documents, which can then be sent instantly to Telegram’s various partners. The new service could be up and running as soon as the summer, says Vedomosti.

Fraternal good times 🇺🇦🇷🇺

🗞 A traitorous reporter

Russian federal investigators have launched a criminal case in response to the May 15 detention of RIA Novosti Ukraine chief editor Kirill Vyshinsky, who faces treason charges in Kiev. Russian officials are investigating the obstruction of the lawful activity of journalists and knowingly bringing an innocent person to criminal responsibility.

Vyshinsky, who has Russian-Ukrainian dual citizenship, is accused of publishing content that deliberately justifies Russia’s annexation of Crimea and he also allegedly received monthly payments from the Russian state of 53,000 euros ($62,500) to distribute to newsroom staff, who conducted “subversive information activities.” Russian diplomats have already filed two formal notes of protest, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has vowed that Moscow will retaliate.

👨‍⚖️ A criminal Constitutional Court

On May 17, Russian federal investigators opened a criminal case against 15 judges on Ukraine’s Constitutional Court, charging them with violating citizens’ equal rights by ruling that Crimea’s declaration of independence on March 11, 2014, was unconstitutional. Five days after the declaration, Crimea held an internationally controversial referendum to join the Russian Federation. Most of the world has refused to recognize Moscow’s claim on the peninsula.

Protesting in Russia

📢 The gymnastics of obtaining a protest permit in Petersburg

Activists in St. Petersburg have obtained a permit to stage a protest against torture by law enforcement agencies. The demonstration will take place at Ovsyannikovskiy Sad on Sunday, May 20, according to the organization “Rupression,” which formed in response to the “Penza case,” where several suspects accused of terrorism say they’ve been tortured while in state custody.

The protest’s organizer, Elena Shendera, says her group initially wanted to hold a march and proposed five different routes, but city officials rejected each idea, saying that renovations or cultural events are already planned in those areas.

What is the “Penza case”? Last year, federal agents arrested several leftist activists on suspicion of forming a terrorist organization and plotting attacks during the March 2018 presidential election and 2018 FIFA World Cup. Three of the nine suspects say they’ve been tortured in jail. Police have refused to investigate these claims.

👮‍♂️ Nothing but love for Navalny's people

Police have grabbed another Navalny activist. On Thursday, officers detained Elena Malakhovskaya, an anchor on Navalny’s YouTube channel, outside her home in Moscow. According to a lawyer for the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Malakhovskaya is being charged with inciting people to attend a non-permitted demonstration. On May 5, she co-hosted the Navalny Live channel’s coverage of nationwide anti-Putin protests, many of which took place without permits from local authorities. Across the country, police detained more than 1,600 demonstrators, including 158 minors. On May 15, Alexey Navalny was sentenced to 30 days in jail for organizing the “illegal” rallies.

Police work

💣 Sending a message in Ingushetia

On the morning of May 16, somebody in Ingushetia threw a grenade at the home of the local state prosecutor working the case against eight anti-extremism police officers accused of torturing detainees. The prosecutor was unharmed, but his security guard (a police officer) was hospitalized with a brain injury.

⚰️ He killed himself

In mid-January, police arrested Valery Pshenichny on suspicion of embezzling more than 100 million rubles ($1.6 million) from funds allocated to the construction of submarines. A few weeks later, he was found dead in his jail cell. On May 16, investigators formally ruled Pshenichny’s death a suicide, though officials haven’t yet determined if anyone drove him to kill himself.

Valery Pshenichny was the general director of the company “Novit Pro,” which is fulfilling a government contract with Admiralty Shipyard to build Improved Kilo-class submarines. On January 18, police arrested Pshenichny and Admiralty Shipyard deputy chief engineer Gleb Emelchenkov on suspicion of overstating the cost for developing a three-dimensional model of the ship’s hull, service system, and other equipment. Both Pshenichny and Emelchenkov denied the charges.

🛍 Kemerovo's shopping mall goes down for good, probably

They can’t quite make up their minds in Kemerovo, where the wrecking balls were swinging again on May 17, as demolition crews went to work on the “Winter Cherry” shopping center — the site of a fire that killed 60 people in March. The demolition started on May 15 and stopped a day later, after a lawyer representing the mall’s owners claimed that investigators are still treating the premises as material evidence in their case. The lawyer, Dmitry Malinin, also told reporters that his clients don’t intend to give their property to the city for free, and they’re still negotiating a fair price.

Kemerovo’s acting governor previously claimed that the shopping center’s owner, a local confectionery works, had donated the mall to the city, after buying out the minority shareholders that objected to the demolition. On Thursday, the region’s acting deputy governor claimed again that the Winter Cherry’s owners have consented to the mall’s demolition, also arguing that investigators have no objections to the dismantling of the building. Local officials say they plan to open a public square on the grounds by September 1.

The world is watching

🇺🇸 Washington moves ahead with INF violation sanctions

On Wednesday, Donald Trump ordered State Secretary Mike Pompeo to propose new sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s alleged violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. A spending bill for this fiscal year requires that the president develop and submit to Congress a plan to punish Russia for its supposed non-compliance with the treaty. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Washington’s notorious “overuse” of sanctions is unfortunate, and accused the U.S. of simply looking for another excuse to impose more sanctions.

📉 Russia is still shrinking, but by less and less

The bean counters at the United Nations say Russia’s population is still on track to shrink dramatically by 2050, but the demographic decline keeps getting smaller with each forecast. According to the latest figures released by the UN Economic and Social Affairs Department, Russia’s population is expected to fall to 132.7 million people by 2050 — down almost 10 percent from 2017’s population of 146.8 million people. In 2015, the UN said Russia’s population in 2050 would be 129 million, and in 2009 the organization predicted just 116 million Russians by 2050.

Russia’s current average life expectancy is 72.5 years. In a presidential decree earlier this month, President Putin instructed the government to raise Russian life expectancy to 78 years.

Yours, Meduza