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The Real Russia. Today. Fridman and Aven visit Washington, plus questions about Putin's nuke-powered missiles


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

  • Misters Fridman and Aven go to Washington
  • Lawmakers sign off on sweeping (and vague) new “counter-sanctions”
  • The Kremlin says CNBC's report about Russia's dud nuclear-powered missiles is bunk
  • Russian air defense shoots down an attack drone in Syria
  • A court frees a woman imprisoned for killing her abusive husband
  • There's a new petition calling for the release of the jailed filmmaker Oleg Senstov
  • Police detain another two Navalny activists for promoting the May 5 anti-Putin protests
  • Prosecutors want a nationalist demonstrator locked up for hitting a cop
  • Russia's Supreme Court submits draft legislation to exempt first-time offenders from full-fledged criminal responsibility
  • Telegram users' class-action lawsuit against the FSB loses its appeal
  • A Putin advisor thinks Roskomnadzor ought to be investigated for harming the economy
  • New gigs for Igor Shuvalov and Alexey Kudrin
  • Textbook authors say Putin needs to stop education officials from holding up their work
  • Yekaterinburg's mayor is resigning, rather than stick around to watch direct elections die
  • The Russian Railways is considering “passenger blacklists”

Russia's two “friendliest” oligarchs come to D.C. bearing a message 🕊

According to the television station RTVI, American lobbyists working for the Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven (“two of the most ‘pro-Western Russian oligarchs’”) arranged for them to meet with several influential Washington figures at a private roundtable on May 21 at the Atlantic Council think tank. According to a leaked photograph of the event’s attendance list, the roundtable included Clay Berry (the deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Capital Markets in the U.S. Treasury’s Domestic Finance Office), as well as several prominent “Russia hands,” like Angela Stent, Anders Åslund, Ariel Cohen, Stephen Sestanovich, and others.

Why come to the capital? While in Washington, D.C., Fridman and Aven reportedly plan to meet with several congressmen to relay the Kremlin’s current position on sanctions and counter-sanctions.

Counter-sanctions are a go 🇺🇸🇷🇺

The State Duma has adopted a third reading of legislation authorizing the federal government to impose “counter-sanctions” on “products and (or) raw materials” imported by organizations based in “unfriendly foreign states.” The final draft of the law doesn’t contain language from the first reading that specified 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.

Why all the fuss over meds? Why are medical professionals concerned about losing access to American medicines, if the government isn’t allowed to ban “vital pharmaceuticals”? Meduza asked a gastroenterologist to explain Russia's convoluted pharmaceutical market and regular medicine shortages: “Why is it so hard to get needed medicines in Russia?”

Military happenings

🚀 Putin's nuclear-powered missiles are real — trust him

Sources familiar with a U.S. intelligence report told CNBC that Russia’s new “nuclear-powered” missile with “unlimited range” flew only 22 miles (remaining airborne for slightly longer than two minutes) in its most successful test yet. Moscow reportedly tested the weapon four times between November 2017 and February 2018, resulting in four crashes. Responding to the allegations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, “Listen to the president of the Russian Federation and believe him.”

🇸🇾 Send in the drones

Near the Khmeimim airbase in Syria, the Russian military reportedly managed to shoot down an attack drone on Monday. Syrian media outlets say Russian air defense fired four missiles at the drone, which tried to drop several small bombs on the airbase. On New Year’s Eve, drones attacked Khmeimim, reportedly injuring more than a dozen soldiers and damaging seven planes, though Moscow denies this information.

The courtroom ballroom

🔪 She's free to go

An appellate court has overturned Galina Katorova’s three-year prison sentence for killing her abusive husband. In March 2017, she stabbed her spouse to death when he tried to beat her. The couple moved from Vladivostok to Nakhodka, where Galina repeatedly filed police reports against her husband, only to withdraw them later. After the killing, she faced murder charges that were ultimately downgraded to inflicting grave injury intentionally. Prosecutors wanted her locked up for seven years.

⚖️ The Oleg Senstov saga

More than 130 scientific and cultural figures have signed a petition calling for the immediate release of the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2015 for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in Crimea. Sentsov, who denies the charges, declared a hunger strike on May 16, demanding that Russian prisons release 64 Ukrainian citizens he says are political prisoners. (He is not including himself in this list.)

For years already, prominent figures like Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev, and others have called for Sentsov’s release, which President Vladimir Putin has refused to facilitate, citing the justice system’s independence.

👮‍♂️ Locking up Navalny's peeps

The Moscow police have detained two more Navalny activists for organizing an unpermitted rally at Pushkin Square on May 5. Early on Tuesday morning, officers grabbed Ruslan Shaveddinov, an anchor on Navalny’s YouTube channel. When Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press secretary, showed up at the police station to help Shaveddinov, officers detained her, too.

Shaveddinov isn’t the first Navalny Live newscaster to end up behind bars. On May 17, police detained Elena Malakhovskaya for violating Russia’s laws on public demonstrations by reporting on the nationwide anti-Putin protests on May 5.

What happened on May 5? 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.

👊 A nationalist faces hard time for hitting a cop on November 5

On May 22, state prosecutors asked a court to sentence the Artpodgotovka activist Vyacheslav Shatrovsky to three years in prison for striking a police officer on November 5, 2017, at an unpermitted rally in Moscow, where the authorities detained roughly 300 demonstrators. Police say Shatrovsky attacked an officer when asked to present identification. He says he fought to defend his son, who was also at the rally. The Russian authorities have banned Artpodgotovka as an illegal extremist organization.

🚨 Relax, first-timers

Russia’s Supreme Court has reportedly submitted draft legislation to the State Duma that would reform the country’s Criminal Code to exempt first-time offenders from full-fledged criminal responsibility, leaving them without a criminal record, as well. The new legal norm would apparently apply to roughly 80 minor crimes not punishable by imprisonment. The court’s chief justice, Vyacheslav Lebedev, first suggested the reforms in 2016.

📱 Class is dismissed

A class-action lawsuit against Russia’s Federal Security Service has fared as well with the Moscow City Court as it did with Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court: both courts dismissed their claims. Filed by the Internet freedom group “Roskomsvoboda,” 35 Telegram users joined a lawsuit against the FSB in mid-March, arguing that the agency’s demands that the instant messenger surrender correspondence encryption keys violate their constitutional privacy rights.

In March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights registered Telegram’s challenge against the Meshchansky District Court’s decision in October 2017 to fine the company 800,000 rubles ($13,000) for refusing to comply with the FSB’s demands. Since mid-April, Russia’s federal censor has tried (and mostly failed) to block Telegram in Russia.

💸 Can somebody check in on Roskomnadzor?

Russia's Internet commissioner, Dmitry Marinichev, is calling on the Attorney General's Office to investigate the “legality and validity” of Roskomnadzor's actions against Telegram, arguing that the federal censor has caused undue harm to the country's business interests, by blocking millions of IP addresses in its campaign against the instant messenger, and disrupting hundreds of other online services. Marinichev's suggestion is mentioned in the annual report submitted to Vladimir Putin by Russian Entrepreneurs’ Rights Commissioner Boris Titov.

Putin 4.0 🤖

💼 New gigs for Shuvalov and Kudrin

Sources told The Bell that President Putin has invited Igor Shuvalov, who spent a decade as first deputy prime minister, to serve as the next head of Vnesheconombank, confirming a rumor reported by the television station Dozhd in late April. It’s unclear if Shuvalov, who once famously laughed at the smallness of economy-class housing in Tatarstan, has yet accepted Putin’s offer.

Vnesheconombank is a state corporation owned entirely by the Russian government. As first deputy prime minister, Shuvalov was a member of the bank’s supervisory board.

The State Duma has formally confirmed the appointment of former Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin to serve as the head of Russia’s Accounts Chamber, the agency responsible for auditing the federal government. Since leaving the government in 2011, Kudrin was supposedly in the running to replace Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister. Following Medvedev’s reappointment after Putin’s latest inauguration, Kudrin accepted Putin’s offer to replace Accounts Chamber chief Tatyana Golikova, who’s joined Medvedev’s cabinet as the deputy prime minister managing social policy and healthcare.

📚 Fix the Education Ministry's textbook policy, Mr. Putin

Sixty-nine authors of school textbooks in Russia have signed an open letter to Vladimir Putin complaining that federal education officials are unjustly delaying the release of new textbooks by subjecting them to additional expert reviews before they can be approved. The group says the federal list of approved textbooks hasn’t been updated in four years, and none of the textbooks (except for books about Russian history) has been revised substantially since 2012. According to the letter, the Education Ministry allocated additional budget resources in 2018 to re-examine textbooks that were already evaluated in 2016 and 2017.

Russia recently divided its Education Ministry into two departments: one focused on schools and secondary education, and another dedicated to universities and research institutes. It’s unknown what effect this reform will have on the government’s textbook-approval process.

Roizman is peacing out, y'all 👋

Yekaterinburg Mayor Evgeny Roizman says he will step down from office, refusing to be a part of the regional government’s decision to suspend direct mayor elections in the city. “I’m announcing here today that I resign, not wishing to take part in this. It will be simpler for you this way. This way will be easier,” Roizman told a gathering of Yekaterinburg’s city council, which he chairs as mayor.

Roizman won Yekaterinburg’s close mayoral race in September 2013. Most of the administrative power in the city rests with its appointed “city manager,” however — a role that currently belongs to Alexander Yakov.

All power to the railways 🛤

The Russian Railways is considering the use of “passenger blacklists” to deny services to designated unruly individuals, according to the company’s general director. Landing on the list would cost people their train rights for a year. The company says it’s also aware, however, that trains are the only available mode of transportation in some cases, which is where new regulations will be necessary.

In November 2017, the State Duma adopted a law permitting airlines to implement “blacklists” that allow them to deny services to designated individuals. A month later, President Putin stated publicly that the same practices could be extended to Russia’s railways. Blacklists already exist on trains in Russia, but companies aren’t permitted to refuse services to anyone on these grounds, and can only warn conductors that they are carrying potentially dangerous passengers.

Yours, Meduza