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The Real Russia. Today. Mail.ru and Facebook, Oleg Navalny talks to Meduza, and the State Duma rejects a bill strengthening gender equality

Meduza

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

This day in history. On July 11, 1920, Yuliy Borisovich Briner was born in Vladivostok. As Yul Brynner, he would go on to star in beloved Hollywood films like “The King and I,” “The Ten Commandments,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and more.
  • A U.S. senator worries that Mail.ru might be the next ‘Cambridge Analytica scandal’
  • Meduza interviews Oleg Navalny after his release from 3.5 years in prison
  • Russian lawmakers reject 15-year-old draft legislation on gender equality, saying it's grown outdated
  • The Federal Tax Service wants access to all Russians’ bank accounts to combat illegal business operations
  • As expected, Russian lawmakers might water down proposed pension reforms
  • Pussy Riot member Maria Alekhina is fined for evading community service
  • A court orders Vladivostok police to compensate a man for his illegal detention at a protest
  • Greece will expel two Russian diplomats and ban entry to another two
  • Russian officials draft an initiative to reduce domestic Internet traffic routed through foreign servers
  • Journalists identify the 26-year-old man behind one of Russia's most popular Telegram channels
  • Two-thirds of Russians believe in the existence of an evil ‘world government’

Cambridge Analytica à la Russe 📊

Until 2015, several applications developed for Facebook by third-party companies had access to personal information shared by users and their friends. The apps could see names, genders, birth dates, places of birth, photos, and “liked” posts and pages. One of the businesses that collaborated with Facebook like this was the Russian company Mail.ru.

In May 2015, Facebook prohibited third-party applications from collecting information about users’ friends, but 61 companies — including Mail.ru — enjoyed continued access to this data for a limited time. Facebook acknowledged this in a new report submitted to the U.S. Senate, as part of an investigation launched after revelations that the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica acquired and used personal data about millions of Facebook users.

Read the full story here: “A U.S. senator worries that Mail.ru might be the next ‘Cambridge Analytica scandal’”

Life as Russia's number one political prisoner 🙋‍♂️

On June 29, Oleg Navalny went free from prison. Like his older brother, Alexey Navalny (the activist who created the Anti-Corruption Foundation), Oleg was controversially convicted of embezzling several million rubles from an Eastern European subsidiary of the cosmetics company Yves Rocher. Unlike his brother, Oleg was sent to prison for three and a half years. (Alexey was sentenced to probation.) While behind bars, Oleg studied English and Spanish, learned to illustrate, corresponded with dozens of people, and authored several stories for Meduza. After he was released on June 29, he spoke to Meduza’s Andrey Kozenko about his time in prison and his plans for the future.

Outdated equality ♀️♂️

Russia’s State Duma has finally decided what to do with draft legislation on gender equality introduced 15 years ago: toss it in the garbage. On Wednesday, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the initiative had “grown obsolete” since he helped draft it in 2003, when he was just an ordinary deputy. He isn't ruling out another initiative on gender equality, however, saying that lawmakers would study the need for a new analogous law that reflects the country’s modern realities.

The legislation trashed on Wednesday would have strengthened equal rights between men and women in the labor force and introduced quotas on the number of women and men employed by the state. Amendments introduced in the bill’s second reading would have defined workplace harassment as unwanted sexual attention.

Harassment in Russia today. Currently, there's no article concerning harassment in either Russia’s Criminal Code or its Code of Administrative Offenses. Back in 2014, some lawmakers tried to pass such legislation (imposing fines as high as 50,000 rubles, or $800), but the bill didn’t win the support of its State Duma oversight committee. Russia’s Criminal Code does contain Article 133, which prohibits coercive actions of a sexual nature. This criminal code applies to cases where someone is forced to commit sexual acts by means of blackmail, threats, or other manipulations of their dependent status. The undefined nature of harassment in Russia is partly why State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky has managed to avoid any repercussions for mistreating multiple women journalists over the years.

Prepare to stuff your mattress 🛏️

The Federal Tax Service wants access to all Russians’ bank accounts, including people who aren’t being audited. Sources told the newspaper Kommersant that the agency has submitted this proposal to Russia’s Finance Ministry, arguing that it’s necessary to combat illegal business operations. Experts told Kommersant that the new authority would let the tax service monitor all funds deposited into Russians’ bank accounts, allowing officials to charge additional taxes when people receive undeclared income.

Currently, the tax service can only get access to Russians’ bank accounts within the framework of a formal audit. In 2017, the Federal Tax Service audited 20,000 companies and sole entrepreneurs and only 774 individuals.

The pension thaw 🧓

As expected, Russian lawmakers are reportedly floating the idea of reducing the proposed hike to the country’s retirement age. A source in the parliament told the news agency Interfax on Wednesday that the legislation’s second reading will contain an amendment that would raise women’s pension age by only five years, instead of the proposed eight.

In June, the Russian government submitted draft legislation to the State Duma, establishing a plan to raise the country’s retirement age from 60 to 65 for men by 2028, and from 55 to 63 for women by 2034. Interfax’s source says this language will still appear in the legislation’s first reading. Yaroslav Nilov, a deputy from Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, says he’ll introduce an amendment with a smaller increase for women. He told the news agency TASS that “a compromise is possible, but it’s all about the second reading.”

The newspaper Vedomosti has reported that the Kremlin is closely monitoring the public backlash to the proposed pension reforms, even assembling a kind of “brain trust” to “win back” the issue in the media. The newspaper’s sources say the Putin administration is also considering a less dramatic raise to Russia’s retirement age, and cutting the eight-year hike for women down to five years is apparently likely.

On July 11, however, Labor and Social Protection Deputy Minister Andrey Pudov warned that any softening of the proposed pension reforms would prevent the state from raising monthly retirement benefits by 1,000 rubles ($16), as projected in the current draft legislation.

Law and order

👮 Escorted from one trial to the next

Pussy Riot member Maria Alekhina was detained on Tuesday for evading court-ordered community service. Bailiffs were waiting for her as she left Moscow’s Izmailovsky District Court, where she and the magazine Sobesednik are being sued by her former correctional facility in Nizhny Novgorod for defamation. In August 2017, Sobesednik published comments by Alekhina claiming that the prison’s inmates work 12-hour shifts, manufacturing medical gowns that are sold at huge markups to hospitals.

The bailiffs escorted Alekhina to a district court in Kuntsevo, where she was fined 400,000 rubles ($6,475) for refusing to perform court-ordered community service handed down in two separate cases.

In April, she and the Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry “Enteo” Tsorionov were sentenced to 100 hours community service for releasing boxes of paper airplanes outside the headquarters of Russia’s Federal Security Service. In December 2017, Alekhina received a separate 40-hour community-service sentence for coming to the FSB’s office on the centennial of the Soviet secret police with a sign that read, “Happy birthday, executioners.”

⚖️ One for the little guy

The Primorsky Regional Court has ordered the police department in Vladivostok to pay a local man 53,000 rubles ($850) in compensation for illegally detaining him during an anti-corruption protest on June 12, 2017, when Alexey Navalny organized a series of nationwide demonstrations. The man was awarded 50,000 rubles in legal costs and another 3,000 rubles in moral damages.

Police detained hundreds of protesters on June 12, 2017. Meduza wrote about the crackdown by Moscow riot police here, and collected photos from around the country here.

Greek expulsions 👋

Greece will expel two Russian diplomats and ban entry to another two over suspicions they tried to undermine an agreement between Athens and the neighboring Macedonia last month, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported, citing diplomatic sources. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has promised to respond in kind.

The tubes

📡 Cutting out foreign servers

Together with the Russian government’s Analytical Center, the Digital Development and Mass Communications Ministry has drafted a “Digital Economy” initiative that would reduce the share of Russian domestic Internet traffic routed through foreign servers to less than five percent by 2024. According to the newspaper Kommersant, the program calls for the introduction of “digital technologies” and “platform solutions” in Russia’s state administration and provision of public services, as well as new subsidies for potentially breakthrough hi-tech projects.

In January 2018, Russia’s Communications Ministry approved a plan to cut Russian Internet traffic through foreign servers to 10 percent by 2024. A year earlier, the agency proposed cutting it to five percent by 2020. In 2017, the ministry wanted to reduce routing through foreign servers to just one percent. As of last year, foreign servers transmitted roughly 60 percent of all RuNet traffic.

📱 Only 26 and he's king of internets!

StalinGulag is one of Russia’s most popular channels on the instant messenger Telegram, with each post attracting an average 299,900 views. Typically, the account shares socio-political commentary about current events in Russia. The person behind it all has remained anonymous, until now. According to the magazine RBC, the channel’s creator is a 26-year-old man living in Makhachkala named Alexander Gorbunov.

The Twitter account “@StalinGulag” first appeared in June 2013. Based on that account’s early tweets, it used to exist as Gorbunov’s personal Twitter account at “@AlGorbunov,” where he sometimes shared hyperlinks to his posts on LiveJournal, which was also registered in his real name. RBC also discovered that @StalinGulag was originally registered using the same email address listed on Gorbunov’s Vkontakte page.

@StalinGulag currently has almost 1.3 million followers on Twitter, and the Telegram channel (launched in 2016) now has roughly 290,000 subscribers. It costs 150,000 rubles ($2,420) to get sponsored content posted on the channel, and market experts told RBC that the whole project is worth an estimated 5 million rubles ($80,600). The magazine says Gorbunov has even hired a small staff of writers and PR managers to help him run the channel.

Annuit cœptis 🌐

According to a new poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, a whopping two-thirds (67 percent) of Russians believe in the existence of a “world government” — up from 45 percent just four years ago — and 74 percent of those people think it’s out to get Russia. Who controls this diabolical global conspiracy? About a quarter of Russians say it’s oligarchs and bankers, and about 30 percent of Russians believe the world government’s main aims are power and influence.

Yours, Meduza