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The Real Russia. Today. ‘Shaninka’ loses its accreditation, Konstantin Gaaze on the Kremlin's lack of pension fears, and three rejected protests

Meduza
14:26, 21 june 2018

Thursday, June 21, 2018

This day in history. On June 21, 2008, Russia defeated the Netherlands 3:1 in the quarter-finals of the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship.
  • Russian regulators revoke the accreditation of another top ranked, Western-linked graduate school
  • The Labor Ministry is working on reforms to pensioners’ minimum subsistence levels
  • The Kremlin isn’t all that afraid of mass protests against pension reforms — yet. Konstantin Gaaze explains.
  • Citing the World Cup, Moscow officials reject three requests for protests against pension reform
  • A journalist says the Moscow Mayor's Office threatened him after he leaked records from the city’s planning and land commission
  • A court fines news website 800,000 rubles for “drug propaganda” because of an interview with a libertarian
  • Investigators are reportedly resuscitating their efforts to identify and locate the man who ordered Nemtsov’s assassination
  • A lobbyist working for Oleg Deripaska visited Julian Assange nine times at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last year
  • Kyiv thinks Russian prison guards are force-feeding Oleg Sentsov

Problems for another top school 🎓

In a blow to Russian intellectual freedom, the Federal Education and Science Supervision Agency has revoked the accreditation of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, also known as “Shaninka” — a Russian-British higher education institution founded in 1995 and known for producing some of Russia’s best sociologists.

In a document issued on June 20, the federal regulator says it based its decision on “the results of an accreditation review” that allegedly uncovered multiple violations of Russian education standards. Shaninka has five departments and a student body of roughly three hundred. The school partnered with the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

In a statement posted on the school's Vkontakte page, Shaninka rector Sergey Zuyev clarified that the institution has lost its accreditation, but not its education license. Zuyev says the school will continue operating, as it evaluates the concerns raised by federal regulators. The loss of state accreditation means the school cannot issue state-approved diplomas or provide deferment from military service.

Shadows of EUSP. In 2017, regulators revoked the accreditation of the European University, which had operated in St. Petersburg since 1994. The Federal Education and Science Supervision Agency reported similar “education standard violations.” The school tried to get another license, but the government rejected the application. Like Shaninka, St. Petersburg's European University was considered one of Russia's top institutions of higher learning.

Pension reform

💸 Adjusting the poverty adjustment

Russia’s Labor Ministry is working on reforms to pensioners’ minimum subsistence level (the valuation of the consumer goods basket that includes foods and non-food goods, as well as obligatory payments and fees). The minimum subsistence level is used to calculate social security benefits to retirees who would otherwise live below the poverty line.

Each region in Russia calculates its own minimum subsistence level for pensioners, and the federal government also sets a nationwide minimum level. Where regional officials designate a minimum level above the federal level, the funding for the extra benefit payments comes from the regional budget. Where the minimum level is below the national level, money from the federal government is used to make up the difference.

Russia’s Labor Ministry has concluded that pensioners’ minimum subsistence levels are “unreasonably set too low or too high” in several regions, and officials want to remedy this by legislating a series of “unified approaches” to determine the minimum subsistence level. The ministry is assuring pensioners that this reform will not lower their benefits, though Elena Grishina, the head of the Labor Market and Pension Systems Research Laboratory, warned the magazine RBC that the changes could lower subsistence payments in some regions.

🏦 Don't call it a reform

In a special report for Meduza, political expert Konstantin Gaaze explains why the Kremlin isn’t all that afraid of mass protests against pension reforms, for now. Gaaze asks and answers the following five questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. Is raising the retirement age really such an unpopular idea?
  3. Could these reforms really spark major street protests?
  4. What are the authorities doing to reduce the risk of mass protests?
  5. Could a higher retirement age affect Putin’s approval ratings?

Read the answers here.

️⚽️ Thou shalt not disrupt soccer

Moscow City Hall announced on Thursday that it has rejected three permit requests for protests against Russia’s proposed pension reforms: applications for a July 1 rally by the Libertarian Party, a July 3 rally by the political party Yabloko, and a July 4 rally by the “Left Front” movement. City officials say the demonstrations would interfere with FIFA World Cup festivities.

Anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny plans to stage protests in 20 cities on July 1, but he is intentionally avoiding demonstrations in cities hosting World Cup games, where President Putin has suspended most public assembly rights during the soccer tournament.

Shut up, journalist

🕵 Secret planning archives

Journalist Andrey Novichkov, the coordinator of the “Arkhnadzor” movement, says he started receiving threatening phone calls from the Moscow Mayor’s Office after his group published an archive of meeting minutes from the city’s planning and land commission. Novichkov says he’s received calls “from telephone numbers at the city planning department,” demanding that he delete the records from the Internet and “report the name of the person who provided the information.” The callers, who refused to identify themselves, allegedly said “the authorities” would find Novichkov and his source, if he didn’t cooperate.

Moscow’s Planning and Land Commission was created in 2010 to “review and make decisions on issues related to the field of urban development.” Mayor Sergey Sobyanin heads the group, whose decisions have the force of mayoral orders for the city’s administrative agencies. On June 18, Novichkov’s group published hundreds of rulings on the demolition of historical buildings and the approval of construction of more than 500 parks and green spaces. Novichkov accuses City Hall of hiding the commission’s decisions illegally.

According to Arkhnadzor, Sobyanin has used the Planning and Land Commission as a “closed decision-making center” to carry out “vandalism” against the city for the past eight years.

🚫 Illegal libertarianism

A court in Syktyvkar has imposed an 800,000-ruble ($12,570) fine on the website 7x7 for publishing in its blogs section an interview with the libertarian activist Mikhail Svetov, where he argued that synthetic drugs are “more effective killers” than heroin. Experts at Russia’s federal media censor determined that Svetov’s comments constitute illegal drug propaganda.

The court also fined 7x7 chief editor Sofia Krapotkina 40,000 rubles. The website’s director, Pavel Andreev, says the penalty is an “act of censorship” intended to force the publication to shut down for providing a platform to “people with different views.”

The Nemtsov case is back? 😮

There appears to be more evidence that federal investigators have returned to the Boris Nemtsov murder case. On June 20, without citing any sources, the news agency Rosbalt reported that Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service are resuscitating the effort to identify and locate the man who ordered Nemtsov’s assassination. On June 21, a lawyer for one of the men convicted of killing Nemtsov told the radio station Ekho Moskvy that her client has recently faced intense interrogation in prison, where he’s allegedly been threatened with terrorism charges, if he refuses to cooperate.

Background on the convicts. On July 3, 2017, a Moscow court sentenced five men convicted of murdering Boris Nemtsov — Zaur Dadayev, the brothers Anzor and Shadid Gubashev, Terirlan Eskerkhanov, and Khamzat Bakhayev — to prison terms ranging from 11 to 20 years. This is the final word on the official version of Boris Nemtsov’s death, finding that Nemtsov was murdered for a simple cash reward, without any ideological or political motivations. According to this version, the murder was organized by Ruslan Mukhdinov, the driver for a Chechen police battalion deputy commander. It remains unknown where Mukhdinov is today, or indeed if he is still alive. According to the trial, the bread crumbs end at Mukhdinov, who supposedly masterminded everything. Meduza posed five questions about the verdict against Nemtsov’s killers, who to this day claim to be innocent. Read them here.

Russia and the world

👨‍❤️‍👨 Buddies in London

Adam Waldman, who has worked as a Washington lobbyist for the metals tycoon Oleg Deripaska since 2009, visited Julian Assange nine times at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last year, according to visitor logs seen by The Guardian. It is unclear, however, whether Adam Waldman’s 2017 visits were connected to Oleg Deripaska. Read the story here.

🍽 Sentsov's human rights

Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Lyudmyla Denisova believes Russian prison officials are force-feeding Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker sentenced to 20 years in prison for supposedly staging terrorist attacks in Crimea. In a letter to Ukraine’s Justice Ministry, which she shared on Facebook, Denisova says a recent claim by her Russian counterpart that Sentsov has gain a few pounds since announcing a hunger strike on May 14 suggests that he is being force-fed. She wants the matter brought before the European Court of Human Rights.

Pavel Chikov, the head of the human rights group “Agora,” announced on June 20 that the European Court of Human Rights has asked for medical reports on Sentsov and proof that Russian prison officials are observing his hunger strike rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova previously stated that Oleg Sentsov gained two kilograms (almost four and a half pounds) after a month of hunger striking. The filmmaker, who demands the release of all Russia’s “Ukrainian political prisoners,” has reportedly accepted daily nutrient supplements.

Yours, Meduza