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The Real Russia. Today. Skripal's niece and her BBC interview, a Russian triumph in orbit, and ugliness in Kemerovo

Meduza

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

This day in history. On July 10, 1984, at a press conference in Milan, acclaimed filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky announced that he would remain in Western Europe and not return to the USSR. He died two years later in Paris at the age of 54.
  • Sergey Skripal's niece in Russia denies making some big admissions in an interview with the BBC that she says never happened
  • Russian spacecraft completes fastest-ever orbital rendezvous with International Space Station
  • It's World Cup politics, as a Croatian player lands in hot water again, and Petersburg gets a new tribute to Stanislav Cherchesov
  • Firefighters in Kemerovo reportedly threaten victims testifying against an arrested colleague
  • The widow of the Kushchevskaya Gang's leader is getting her millions back
  • Moscow stops Washington from putting the interests of baby formula manufacturers over infants at the UN
  • The Kremlin regrets a U.S. senator's remarks about the Russian ‘mafia state’
  • Apparently Kim Jong-un’s private plane never came to Vladivostok, after all
  • An arrested Moscow district official says pretrial detention staff tried to stop him from running in September's elections
  • Kashin's alleged attackers are sent to prison, but not for attacking him

Victoria Skripal's mysterious interview 📺

Strange things are afoot with Victoria Skripal, the niece of Sergey Skripal, the former double agent poisoned and nearly killed in England earlier this year. On July 10, the BBC’s Russian-language service published an interview with Victoria, where she produced a copy of an exclusive contract with the Russian state television network Pervyi Kanal. Victoria told the BBC that she’d been hired to work as an economist for the production company “Direkt,” with a monthly salary of 115,000 rubles ($1,840), without doing any actual work, except for appearing on Pervyi Kanal’s talk shows. The BBC captured all these admissions on tape. A source close to Skripal also told the BBC that she also received a one-time payment of 1 million rubles ($16,000).

Hours after the interview was published, however, Skripal told the magazine RBC that she never spoke to any journalists from the BBC. She says she works for Direkt, but insists that she actually performs the economist duties laid out in her contract, pointing out that she listed her monthly salary on her application for a British visa. Officials in the UK have already denied Skripal a visa twice: first for being unemployed, and then for earning too little income. She reportedly plans to file a third application.

In early July, the political party “Just Russia” nominated Victoria Skripal for a seat in the Yaroslavl regional parliament, which will hold elections on September 9.

A Russian spacecraft triumph 🚀

The “Progress MS-09” Russian spacecraft has successfully completed the fastest-ever orbital rendezvous with the International Space Station, launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and reaching the station in less than four hours, after orbiting the planet just twice. Previously resupply missions with “Progress” spacecraft have taken either six hours (four orbits) or two days (34 orbits).

The third time’s the charm for Roscosmos, which canceled two previous “super fast-tracked” rendezvouses in October 2017 and February 2018 because of technical reasons, opting instead for two-day resupply missions.

Russian space officials hope to be able to send human beings to the International Space Station on fast-tracked 3.5-hour flights as soon as April 2020.

Soccer politics

☝️ Glory to social-media scandals!

The Croatian soccer player Domagoj Vida is back in the hot seat, following the publication of a second video showing him shouting the politically-charged phrase “Glory to Ukraine!” The video appeared late on July 9 on the Instagram channel Brutal Soccer. Apparently recorded sometime during the World Cup, Vida reportedly intended the video for a friend in Kyiv. He did not share the video himself, and it’s likely that it was uploaded to the Internet by his friends in Ukraine, according to Sports.ru.

On July 8, FIFA's Disciplinary Committee issued an official warning to Vida, after he and coach Ognjen Vukojevic posted a video on Facebook where they shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” following Croatia’s victory over Russia. Vida later denied that the gesture was a political message, dismissing it as “a joke for my Ukrainian friends.” Vukojevic wasn’t so lucky: Croatia’s soccer federation revoked his World Cup accreditation and apologized to the Russian public.

🎨 The coach is back

Artists from the group HoodGraff have repainted a graffiti tribute in St. Petersburg to the Russian soccer coach Stanislav Cherchesov, after vandals defaced it, following Team Russia’s loss to Croatia on July 7. The original painting showed Cherchesov pointing his index finger upwards. In the new, totally repainted image, he is giving the same military salute he showed Artem Dzyuba, after Russia went up 3:0 against Saudi Arabia, in the team’s first game of the 2018 tournament.

Things get uglier in Kemerovo 👨‍🚒

On July 7, police in Kemerovo detained local firefighter Andrey Bursin on charges of criminal negligence during the fire at a shopping mall in March that killed 60 people. A top investigator now says Bursin’s fellow firefighters have threatened at least 20 victims from the fire, in an apparent effort to stop them from testifying against him. The firefighters have reportedly warned the victims that they should “fear God” and worry who will rescue them from the next fire. Some even told victims that it would have been better if they’d died in the fire.

Following the deadly blaze in March, police have charged 11 people with criminal acts. Bursin is the most recent suspect to be arrested.

Leave the gun. Take the unfrozen assets. 💰

A court in Krasnodar has unfrozen $5.5 million in assets belonging to Angela-Maria Tsapok, the widow of Sergey Tsapok. Her late husband once led the “Kushchevskaya Gang” — a mob group that controlled the town of Kushchevskaya from 1998 until 2010, carrying out murders, robberies, and extortion. Police finally investigated and dismembered the gang after the mass murder of 12 people, including several children. In 2013, Sergey Tsapok was sentenced to life in prison. He died a year later, still in pretrial detention.

Seven of the gang’s victims were awarded 150 million rubles ($2.4 million). So far, officials have recovered 119 million rubles ($1.9 million) from Angela-Maria Tsapok’s accounts. (After her husband’s death, she inherited the debt.)

Yanks and Russkies

🍼 Putting Washington in its place at the UN

Embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, the U.S. tried and failed to derail a UN effort to promote breastfeeding. Who saved the resolution? The Russians.

“The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorian government quickly acquiesced.” “In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.” Read the story at The New York Times.

🤝 The mafia state

After returning from Russia on a U.S. delegation to the State Duma, U.S. Senator John Neely Kennedy said that dealing with the Russian government is like “dealing with the mafia.” “Their philosophy is money and power. That’s the philosophy of Putin. He rules with an iron hand. He’s a dictator,” Kennedy said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was none too pleased to hear this, and on July 10 he told reporters that it seems the American establishment is “possessed by stereotypes and Russophobia.” “Of course, it’s hard to understand such talk, and I don’t know the context of the statement,” Peskov said.

Kim Jong-oh-never-mind ✈️

Vladivostok Airport denies reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s private jet landed there briefly on July 9. According to Flightradar24, a flight tracking website, Kim's private jet, also known as “Chammae-1,” landed at an airport in Vladivostok early on Monday and took off for Pyongyang about three hours later. The airport told the news agency Interfax that a passenger jet from the North Korean airline Air Koryo landed on Monday and then made its daily trip to Pyongyang.

The reports of Kim Jong-un’s plane in Vladivostok raised speculation that preparations might be underway for him to travel to Russia in the near future.

The wild politics of the Moscow region 📝

On June 14, police arrested Alexander Shestun, the head of the Moscow region’s Serpukhovsky district, on charges that his business illegally acquired 10 hectares (about 25 acres) of local land from the state in 2010. Earlier in the year, Shestun said in a video addressed to Vladimir Putin that Governor Andrey Vorobyov was threatening to confiscate his home and put him in prison, if he refused to resign. Vorobyov supposedly wanted him out because Shestun opposes the transformation of the Serpukhovsky district into a municipal precinct and he objects to further waste shipments from the city to Serpukhov’s over-capacity “Lesnaya” landfill.

In early July, Shestun complained in a letter to Central Election Commissioner Ella Pamfilova that pretrial detention staff were preventing him from filing the paperwork necessary to run in September’s district elections. Shestun says the detention center guards started treating him with respect, only after Pamfilova intervened on July 4, stating that they must provide him with the documents needed to register his candidacy.

A criminal sentence, but not in Kashin's case ⚖️

The St. Petersburg City Court has sentenced men convicted of kidnapping Alexander Gorbunov to between six and seven years in prison. In 2014, masked men kidnapped Gorbunov and demanded that he confess to organizing an attack on the journalist Oleg Kashin in 2010. One of the men convicted of the kidnapping, Danila Veselov, claims that Gorbunov organized the attack on behalf of then Pskov Governor Andrey Turchak, who now serves as secretary of the United Russia's General Council. Turchak denies any role in the assault on Kashin, which nearly killed him.

Yours, Meduza