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The Real Russia. Today. Torture in Yaroslavl, leaked hypersonic weapons intel, and #FreeMariaButina

Meduza

Friday, July 20, 2018

This day in history. On July 20, 1987, Paul McCartney started recording “Снова в СССР.” Consisting entirely of covers (mainly rock and roll oldies), it was originally released in October 1988 exclusively in the USSR.
  • Journalists publish video showing prison guards torturing an inmate in Yaroslavl
  • Federal agents investigate the leak of information about Russia's hypersonic weapons program
  • Putin says he doesn't like pension reform, but, well, you know...
  • ‘Fan ID’ is now good for friends and family free-visa travel to Russia (until the end of the year)
  • Putin won't rule out another Russian bid on a major international sporting event
  • Meduza's infographic on the math behind Russia's pension reforms
  • A Gulag museum is evicted from its premises in Yoshkar-Ola
  • Police want to talk to two journalists in connection with a report about Russia's cocaine scandal at its embassy in Argentina
  • Russia's Finance Ministry opens a dedicated counter-sanctions department
  • The former deputy commander of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops faces new bribery charges
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry says, no, it's not hypocrisy when it continues to use an instant messenger banned in Russia
  • Moscow is trying to free Olga Butina by rallying a hashtag

Torture in Yaroslavl 📹

On Friday, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a video recorded by a Federal Penitentiary Service employee, showing the torture of inmate Evgeny Makarov at a Yaroslavl prison on June 29, 2017. The footage was handed over to journalists by lawyers from the organization “Public Verdict,” which is defending Makarov. After the video was published, federal investigators in Yaroslavl opened a criminal case under Article 286 of the Russian Criminal Code: abuse of authority using violence.” Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova told the news agency RIA Novosti that she’s closely scrutinizing the case, and noted that this isn’t the first such violation at the prison in question.

Read the full story here.

Hypersonic leaks 🚀

The Federal Security Service is reportedly investigating a treason case in connection with leaked data about Russia’s hypersonic weapons program. According to the newspaper Kommersant, federal agents raided the office of the Central Research Institute of Mechanical Engineering (TsNIIMash) outside Moscow on July 20, and the office of Dmitry Paison, the director of the United Space Missile Corporation’s research and analysis center. Sources told Kommersant that officials believe the information leaked from someone at TsNIIMash “in close contact” with Paison.

Both TsNIIMash and the United Space Missile Corporation are part of Roscosmos, Russia’s federal space agency. The Tactical Missile Armament corporation, which is not part of Roscosmos, is responsible for developing Russia’s hypersonic projects, but sources say the company collaborates closely with TsNIIMash and the United Space Missile Corporation. Roscosmos confirmed to RIA Novosti that the FSB raided TsNIIMash.

A source at the United Space Missile Corporation told Interfax that Paison had no personal access to classified information about hypersonic development programs, and another source claimed that Paison has not been charged with any crimes.

Where have you already heard about Russian hypersonic weapons? The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (“Dagger”) nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile is one of the futuristic weapons Vladimir Putin mentioned in his March 2018 address to the Federal Assembly, where he showcased several dazzlingly deadly tools in Russia’s military arsenal.

Putin Putin Putin

🧓 Pension “tinkering”

“Which of the various options do I like? I can tell you: none. I don’t like any [of the plans] to raise the [retirement] age. And I assure you that there are few people, if any, in the government who like any, either.” —Vladimir Putin, July 20, 2018, making his first public comments about Russia’s controversial plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65 for men by 2028, and from 55 to 63 for women by 2034. A day earlier, the State Duma passed the first reading of legislation that would implement these reforms. Putin also warned that ignoring the solvency problems facing the country’s pension system would be cheating the Russian people.

⚽ Come on back, y'hear?

The benefits of “Fan ID,” Russia’s special visa-less travel category for soccer fans who visited the country during the FIFA World Cup, are only getting better, even though the tournament ended on July 15. Vladimir Putin revealed on Friday that friends and family members traveling with Fan ID holders can obtain free visas to visit Russia until the end of the year. The Fan ID holders themselves still don’t even need a visa.

🏆 More sportsball, anyone?

After a Winter Olympics and a World Cup, Vladimir Putin says he’s not done seeking international sports tournaments for Russia to host. Defending the massive expenditures required for such events, the president argued that hosting is about building infrastructure. “The most important ultimate goal isn’t just staging a celebration, even though it’s beautiful. The weekdays follow the holidays, and they should be productive,” Putin explained, sharing his vision of a nation where athletics become “a priority for millions of people.” Putin says he hasn’t yet decided if Russia will apply to host a future Summer Olympics.

The surprising numbers behind Russian pension reform 🔢

What's Russia's average pension? How much money will the government save by raising the retirement age? How many pensioners are women? How much is Mikhail Gorbachev’s pension? What kind of pensions do cosmonauts get? When did Russia last revise its retirement age? Find answers to these questions and more, in Meduza’s new infographic spectacular.

Get out, Gulagers 🚧

Officials in Yoshkar-Ola started evicting a local Gulag museum on Thursday, after determining that the building is dangerously dilapidated and unfit for public tours. The museum’s director, Nikolai Arakcheyev, told reporters that the building “only needs” a new roof and repairs to its second floor, according to a safety inspection. Arakcheyev linked the eviction to last year’s arrival of Alexander Estifeyev as the head of the Mari El Republic, saying that he’s been “chasing out” “health inspection workers, firefighters, and police officers.” The Gulag museum was told to abandon its premises in May 2018.

The coke scandal, continued 💼

Police investigators want to question two reporters from the independent television station Dozhd, Anastasia Mikhailova and Kogershyn Sagiyeva, in connection with the cocaine-smuggling scandal that rocked Russia’s embassy in Buenos Aires earlier this year (when Argentina law enforcement discovered 880 pounds of coke packed in 12 suitcases hidden inside a school-housing complex attached to the embassy). The journalists’ interrogation is set for July 23. Mikhailova told Mediazona that she doesn’t know why exactly the police want to question her.

Police are apparently interested in a June 28 broadcast, where Mikhailova and Sagiyeva aired “exclusive materials” related to the case and showed a letter from Ali Abyanov, who’s now in pretrial detention, as well as excerpts from police interrogation records and other case materials. Dozhd also shared a letter from the man who allegedly organized the drug smuggling operations, Andrey Kovalchuk (who denies the charges).

Abyanov told Dozhd that the security team for “the embassy’s first secretary, Oleg Vorobyev,” knew that the suitcases were left at the school (Abyanov claims not to have known what was inside the bags). Dozhd says Vorobyev was in Argentina as a seconded FSB officer, and Kovalchuk may have been acting as an “agent” of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service (which was disbanded in 2016).

The many problems of Dozhd TV. In 2018, the police charged Dozhd with defamation, after the station aired a segment, titled “Mobsters from the 90s with links to Putin: The secret business empire of Ilya Traber, and how the president’s friends tie in.” Earlier this year, police summoned several Dozhd staff, demanding to know the whereabouts of the station’s former chief editor, Roman Badanin, who is currently studying in the United States.

A counter-sanctions department 🏢

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a government order creating a new department inside Russia’s Finance Ministry to counteract foreign sanctions. The change brings the total number of Finance Ministry departments to 25, and grants staff the authority to cooperate with foreign agencies and international organizations on financial restraints imposed by sanctions.

On July 19, the newspaper Kommersant reported that Russia’s Finance Ministry has drafted legislation that would reduce Russia’s use of U.S. currency in foreign trade, and possibly limit access to information about companies that could be potential targets for future economic sanctions. The proposal also calls for the creation of tax havens (“domestic offshores”) in Kaliningrad and Primorye.

Bribery charges, again 🤝

Vyacheslav Varchuk, the former deputy commander of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops (who’s already serving a six-year prison sentence for bribery), will face new corruption charges, a source told the news agency Interfax. On July 19, the Moscow Garrison Military Court sentenced Varchuk to six years in prison and fined him 20 million rubles ($314,500) for accepting a 10-million-ruble bribe. The judge also stripped him of his rank as a general. Varchuk took the money from an Interior Ministry communications officer who wanted additional funding for his department.

Russia's Foreign Ministry

💬 Do as we say, not as we do

Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, says she doesn’t see any hypocrisy in the ministry continuing to post updates on Telegram, despite the Russian federal censor’s efforts to block the instant messenger. She says the mid-April 2018 court ruling instructing Roskomnadzor to ban the service doesn’t apply to the Foreign Ministry. “We consulted with Roskomnadzor and got all the necessary explanations about this. The ban doesn’t extend to working on Telegram itself,” Zakharova told the newspaper Kommersant. She says she personally stopped using the app “because of service disruptions.”

✊ #FreeMaria

Russia’s Foreign Ministry is rallying its Internet supporters in support of Maria Butina, the 29-year-old Russian woman arrested in the U.S. earlier this week on charges of conspiring to act and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. “#FreeMariaButina We invite you to join us in a #flashmob to support Russian citizen Maria Butina arrested in USA [sic]. Set this pic as your avatar to protest against ungrounded actions,” the ministry wrote on Facebook, setting its own profile picture to a photo of Butina.

Yours, Meduza