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The Real Russia. Today. The Yaroslavl prison torture scandal, Maria Butina's oligarch ‘funder,’ and Russia vs. the Lithuanians

Source: Meduza

Monday, July 23, 2018

This day in history. On July 23, 1940, U.S. Secretary of State Sumner Welles issued a statement condemning the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, refusing to recognize the annexation of the three Baltic states. This would become known as the “Welles Declaration.”
  • The Yaroslavl prison torture scandal: a lawyer flees and guards are dismissed/arrested
  • Konstantin Nikolaev may be Maria Butina's unnamed “funder”
  • Federal agents detain a celebrated scientist for leaking hypersonic weapons intel to the West
  • Russian Communists push for a national referendum against raising the retirement age
  • Russian investigators say Lithuania is illegally prosecuting Soviet soldiers responsible for 1991 violence
  • The Kremlin is spearheading a new ‘social-media monitoring system’ to hold local officials more accountable
  • Another candidate forces his way onto Moscow's mayoral ballot
  • A Navalny supporter in Kemerovo shakes ‘contempt of court’ charges
  • A prison wins a defamation lawsuit against Pussy Riot
  • Draft legislation would free 14,000 Russian prisoners immediately
  • Rosneft sues its Sakhalin-1 consortium partners for more than 1.4 billion dollars

Movement in the Yaroslavl prison scandal 🛫

Irina Biryukova, the lawyer working for the human rights group “Public Verdict” who turned over prison torture footage to Novaya Gazeta last week, has fled Russia after receiving threats. The organization says she also appealed to Russian law enforcement agencies, asking for state protection for herself and her family. In her letter to Federal Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin, Biryukova said several of the guards who appear in the torture video have threatened to take revenge against her for outing them to the public.

On July 20, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta published video footage received from Biryukova showing the torture of an inmate named Evgeny Makarov at a prison in Yaroslavl. The footage was recorded in June 2017. Though prison officials and local investigators refused to prosecute or punish the guards following earlier complaints, almost immediately after Novaya Gazeta published the video, federal investigators opened a criminal case under Article 286 of the Russian Criminal Code: abuse of authority using violence.”

The prison in Yaroslavl where Makarov was tortured has since fired 17 employees who appear in the video, and investigators have detained six of these men on criminal charges.

Maria Butina's sugar daddy 🍬

Meet Konstantin Nikolaev, the $1.2-billionaire who allegedly funded Maria Butina's unregistered foreign-agent work in the United States, according to The Washington Post. His son (who also “studies” in America) reportedly volunteered in support of Trump’s candidacy and was spotted at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. U.S. prosecutors haven’t formally named Nikolaev, identifying him only as Butina’s billionaire “funder.” Read the story at The Washington Post.

Hypersonic treason 🚀

Police have detained 74-yr-old scientist Viktor Kudryavtsev at the Central Research Institute of Mechanical Engineering (TsNIIMash) who allegedly passed secret intelligence about Russia’s hypersonic weapons program to operatives in a NATO country. Charged with treason, Kudryavtsev maintains his innocence. Another 12 people are reportedly being investigated in the case, but police have detained no one else, so far. Kudryavtsev’s arrest will likely lead to more scrutiny from Roscosmos and possibly a change in TsNIIMash’s official status.

Viktor Kudryavtsev is one of TsNIIMash’s leading researchers, the author of many scientific publications, and a government prize laureate. In February 2017, Kudryavtsev was one of the scientists who signed a public letter asking President Putin to pardon now-77-year-old Vladimir Lapygin, a TsNIIMash scientist sentenced to seven years in prison for treason.

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.

A referendum on pension reform? 🧓

Russia’s Central Election Commission has received a notice from the Communist Party about possibly holding a national referendum on raising the country’s retirement age, according to the commission’s secretary, Maya Grishina. It’s still unclear when the referendum would take place, but the commission has 10 days to respond to the notice.

Communist Party officials say the referendum would feature a single question: “Do you agree that the age in the Russian Federation at which citizens are entitled to old-age social insurance should not increase?”

On July 19, thanks to nearly unanimous support from United Russia deputies, the State Duma passed the first reading of draft legislation to raise the country’s retirement age from 60 to 65 for men by 2028, and from 55 to 63 for women by 2034. Lawmakers from every other party with seats in the parliament voted against the bill.

Oh, you Lithuanians, you ⚖️

Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case against the Lithuanian prosecutors and judges responsible for litigating the trial of persons involved in deadly clashes in Vilnius on January 13, 1991, when Soviet paratroopers and special forces occupied public buildings and stormed the city’s TV broadcast center. The ensuing violence claimed 14 lives and injured more than 700 people.

Russian officials say the Lithuanian authorities are knowingly prosecuting innocent people, insofar as Lithuania was part of the USSR at the time, and the Soviet soldiers were following lawful orders. Russian investigators also argue that Lithuanian officials have failed to present evidence of the soldiers’ guilt. There are currently more than 60 people on trial in Lithuania for their involvement in the 1991 violence, including several Russian citizens, such as former KGB officer Mikhail Golovatov, former Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, and former Vilnius garrison commander Vladimir Uskhopchik.

Incident 😉 management 😉

The Kremlin is reportedly spearheading a new social-media monitoring system called “Incident Management” that allows the authorities to follow social networks in real time, watching for complaints from locals and coordinating local officials responses. According to the magazine RBC, the system (developed by the company Medialogiya for 8.5 million rubles, about $135,000) is already being tested in two regions, including in Moscow. The system monitors five networks (Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), creating an “incident” whenever related disgruntled posts start appearing on multiple networks. Local officials are apparently supposed to respond to these incidents within 24 hours, and the Kremlin reportedly has real-time access to the statistics about all “solved and unsolved” “incidents.”

Another candidate joins Moscow's mayoral ballot 🗳️

The Moscow City Court has overturned the city’s election commission’s decision to reject Mikhail Balakin’s candidacy in this September’s mayoral race. On July 12, election officials turned down the entrepreneur after three municipal deputies withdrew their endorsements, citing “personal reasons.” The court ruled that this isn’t legal grounds for nullifying a municipal endorsement.

Balakin will join a ballot that includes “Just Russia” candidate Ilya Sviridov, LDPR’s Mikhail Degtyarev, and Communist Party candidate Vadim Kumin. All men will compete against Sergey Sobyanin, the “independent” incumbent who is virtually assured re-election.

According to the city’s “municipal filter,” in order to appear on the ballot in September, mayoral candidates need the support of 110 deputies: at least one deputy in 110 different municipalities across Moscow. Not a single politician from the anti-Kremlin opposition was able to meet these requirements, despite supplicating for support at a series of circus-like public meetings with municipal deputies. Read Meduza’s special report on this embarrassing process here.

Also in law and order

👊 She's off the hook

Investigators in Kemerovo have closed a criminal case against Ksenia Pakhomova, the local coordinator for anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny’s regional office. She was charged with contempt of court after she published a video online where she criticized the prosecution of blogger Stanislav Kalinichenko, who was charged with attacking law enforcement officials after he reported being beat up by several police officers.

Pakhomova joined Navalny’s presidential campaign in the summer of 2017. Afterwards, in what she believes was the authorities’ attempt to pressure her into abandoning politics, Pakhomova’s mother lost her job as the director of a local art school, and a close friend was expelled from his graduate school (though this decision was later overturned).

📰 Pussy Riot loses another one

A prison in Nizhny Novgorod has partially won its defamation lawsuit against Pussy Riot member Maria Alekhina and the publication Sobesednik, which in August 2017 published comments from Alekhina where she said prisoners at the facility are forced to work 12-hour shifts, manufacturing medical gowns that are sold at huge markups to hospitals, while earning less than $5 a day. The website must delete Alekhina’s comments with these claims, publish a retraction, and pay the prison 3,000 rubles (about $48). Sobesednik and Alekhina both say they plan to appeal the verdict.

🤷 14,000, not 100,000, maybe

In late June 2018, ten years after the bill was first submitted to the State Duma, federal lawmakers adopted a second reading of legislation that would mean less time behind bars for Russians convicted of many crimes. The draft law recalculates how pretrial detention is weighed when determining how much time should be considered “already served” when suspects in pretrial detention are sentenced to time in prison.

The bill’s supporters originally said the pretrial-detention recalculation would lead to the immediate release of as many as 100,000 inmates. According to the deputy director of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, however, the number of prisoners who would go free immediately is closer to 14,000, though roughly 100,000 inmates would get early parole, eventually.

Meduza previously explained how this legislation would change the way pretrial detention is weighed by Russia’s justice system. Read about it here.

Why you don't cross Rosneft 🛢️

Rosneft is taking its Sakhalin-1 consortium partners to the Sakhalin arbitration court, seeking more than 89 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) for their alleged “unjust enrichment” to the tune of 81.7 billion rubles ($1.3 billion). Rosneft also wants an additional 7 billion rubles ($110.9 million) for “the use of another’s monetary assets” between July 10, 2015, and May 31, 2018. The preliminary hearing is set for September 10.

One of Russia’s largest direct-foreign-investment projects ever, Sakhalin-1 is a consortium for oil and gas production on Sakhalin Island and immediately offshore. Eighty percent of the consortium is owned by U.S., Japanese, and Indian companies.

This isn’t the first time Rosneft has sought billions in court. The Russian government seized Sistema’s stake in the mid-sized oil company Bashneft in 2014, saying its privatization had been illegal. In May 2017, after buying a controlling stake in Bashneft, Rosneft sued Sistema for allegedly removing assets from Bashneft. In December 2017, Sistema agreed to pay Bashneft 100 billion rubles ($1.6 billion) by March 30, 2018.

Yours, Meduza