Skip to main content

The Real Russia. Today. Russia has essentially banned Protestant preachers from its prisons, the USSR crushed the Prague Spring 50 years ago today, and Microsoft says Fancy Bear is back

Source: Meduza

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

This day in history. On the night of August 20-21, 1968, Eastern Bloc armies from four Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland, and Hungary —invaded Czechoslovakia and crushed the Prague Spring.
  • For years, Protestant preachers were allowed to visit prisoners in Russia. Then everything changed.
  • Incarcerated former law enforcement officers reportedly staged a prison riot outside Perm
  • Russian official warns that Oleg Sentsov will be force-fed, if his life depends on it
  • 50 years ago today, Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring. Here are Josef Koudelka's famous photographs of the invasion.
  • Nastya Rybka says she's cut a deal with Oleg Deripaska and handed over her supposed ‘Russiagate’ dirt
  • The mayor of Kirov has banned a march with flags on Russia's Flag Day
  • Monetochka's new music video about Russia's crime-addled 1990s is modeled on a classic cult film
  • Russia and the Central African Republic will sign agreement on military cooperation
  • Microsoft says Russian military intelligence targeted U.S. Senate and conservative think tanks
  • Russia’s Interior Ministry gets serious about rewarding police informants

Christians ✝️ vs. Christians ☦️

In the 1990s, preachers and pastors started meeting with prisoners in Russia, but three years ago the authorities shut down most of these visits. Protestant religious figures and experts attribute the policy shift to pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church and recent “anti-terrorism” legislation, as well as the fact that the Russian authorities associate evangelical churches with the West. Representatives from the Russian Orthodox Church, meanwhile, don’t see a problem, insisting that Protestants abused their visiting privileges at prisons. The issue isn't just about fighting prisoners' loneliness, however, and Protestants say the crackdown is hurting their work to rehabilitate ex-convicts — work that neither the Russian Orthodox Church nor the Federal Penitentiary Service bothers to do. Meduza special correspondent Sasha Sulim learned more about this quiet religious conflict.

Prison life

✊ A taste of their own medicine

Correctional Facility No. 37 in Russia’s Perm Territory may have witnessed a small prison riot over the weekend, according to one of the inmates’ wives. The spouse told the website that a group of prisoners demanded a meeting with the district attorney on August 17, but prison officials rejected the request. A day later, the guards allegedly threw 10 inmates in punitive confinement, where on the night of August 18 five of them attempted to kill themselves. Afterwards, reportedly in response to appeals by relatives, an assistant prosecutor visited the prisoners.

Local representatives from the Federal Penitentiary Service deny any rioting, saying that some inmates tried to provoke unrest in an effort to remove the warden, who’s apparently a particularly strict administrator. A spokesperson says the prison is often defamed by anonymous “whistleblowers,” and the Federal Penitentiary Service has appealed to the courts to protect its reputation.

Since September 2016, Correctional Facility No. 37’s inmates have been former law enforcement officials from the Federal Security Service, Federal Penitentiary Service, and Interior Ministry, as well as ex-judges, ex-prosecutors, and ex-cops. On January 1, 2018, inmate Artem Tronin (a former riot police officer) was found hanged in his punitive-confinement cell. Tronin’s family says prison guards drove him to suicide by harassing him for two months straight.

🍽️ Sentsov's looming force-feedings

Ivan Melnikov, the executive secretary of Russia’s Public Monitoring Commission, is none too pleased about Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike. On Tuesday, Melnikov told the news agency Interfax that Sentsov is only harming himself at this point, 100 days into his protest on behalf of Ukraine political prisoners. Melnikov also warned that prison officials would start force-feeding Sentsov, once the supplement mixture that currently sustains him proves ineffective.

Now serving a 20-year sentence for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in Crimea, Oleg Sentsov has been on a hunger strike since May 14.

50 years ago today, Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring

Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos / East News

Exactly 50 years ago today, on the night of August 21, 1968, Soviet troops (together with soldiers from several other members of the Warsaw Pact) entered Czechoslovakia and ended the “Prague Spring” — the attempt by Alexander Dubček and other leaders of Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party to put a “human face” on the country’s pro-Soviet regime. That day, a 30-year-old Czech man named Josef Koudelka was in Prague, having decided to put his engineering career on hold for a year and devote himself to photography. With no experience as a journalist, Koudelka took pictures that day that came to symbolize Soviet aggression. The negatives were quickly smuggled abroad and published in New York (without his name, for his own protection). A year later, Koudelka was awarded one of the world’s most prestigious photography honors: the Robert Capa Gold Medal for best published photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise, and in 1971 he joined the Magnum Photos international photographic cooperative, founded by Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Meduza is republishing Koudelka’s photos from Prague, when Soviet tanks arrived 50 years ago today.

Making peace with Deripaska 🕊️

Anastasia Vashukevich, aka “Nastya Rybka,” has apparently decided to cut a deal with Oleg Deripaska, after the FBI ignored her offer to expose his supposed role in “RussiaGate” collusion. On August 20, she told reporters at her trial in Thailand (where she’s charged with carrying on illegal sex work) that she’s handed over all her audio and video recordings of Deripaska, where he supposedly discussed Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In exchange for the data, Vashukevich claims that Deripaska promised “to do something for her.” She didn’t go into details, and she didn’t respond, when asked what happens if Deripaska reneges on his alleged promise.

Vashukevich and her “sex guru” spiritual advisor, Alexander Kirillov (aka “Alex Leslie”), recently lost a defamation lawsuit brought by Oleg Deripaska at a court in Ust-Labinsk.

In August 2016, Deripaska invited Vashukevich onto his yacht, where she photographed him and then Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko in the company of several supposed “escorts.” Anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny drew attention to the photos in February 2018, claiming that Deripaska, who used to employ the former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, may have discussed interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Happy flagless Flag Day! 🇷🇺

Tomorrow is Flag Day in Russia, everybody’s favorite non-vacation holiday! The mayor of Kirov is less than thrilled about the coming celebrations, however, and his office has even denied a permit to a local group that wants to stage a march through the city, followed by a demonstration. City Hall is telling organizers to pump the breaks, saying that the proposed route comes too close to schools, hospitals, and athletic centers — a violation of Kirov’s regulations on public assemblies.

Unfortunately for the demonstrators, who asked for a permit to march carrying only Russian flags (without any political banners or sound-amplification equipment), the Mayor’s Office didn’t offer them any alternative routes. Organizers are taking the matter to court, and some say they’ll march even without a permit.

In the 90s, people turned up dead 💀

In late May, Elizaveta Gyrdymova — aka “Monetochka” (Lil’ Coin) — released a new album called Raskraski Dlya Vzroslykh (Coloring for Adults). (Read Meduza’s review here.) This week, she put out a music video for 90, one of the songs on the album. The video was directed by Michael Idov, the former chief editor of GQ Russia and the author of the recent book Dressed Up for a Riot.

The video, steeped in 1990s nostalgia, is modeled on several scenes from the 1997 Russian cult film Brat (Brother), which starred Sergey Bodrov, Jr. In the music video, Gyrdymova plays Bodrov’s role, attending a party, sustaining a gunshot, and murdering people. The song 90 is a satire on the myth of Russia’s “troubled” 1990s.

Military matters

🤝 An agreement with the Central African Republic

Russia and the Central African Republic will sign an agreement on military cooperation on Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told the news agency Interfax. Moscow says it has deployed 175 military and civilian instructors to the country this year, to help train local security forces in the use of Russian light arms.

On July 30, reporter Orkhan Dzhemal, director Alexander Rastorguyev, and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were murdered in the Central African Republic, while collecting documentary evidence of Russian mercenaries’ activities in the country.

🐻 Microsoft says Fancy Bear is back

“Parts of an operation linked to Russian military intelligence targeting the U.S. Senate and conservative think tanks were thwarted last week, Microsoft announced early Tuesday. The company said it executed a court order giving it control of six websites created by a group known as Fancy Bear. The group was behind the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and directed by the GRU, the Russian military intelligence unit, according to cyber-security firms.” Read the story at CNN.

Informants wanted 👮

Russia’s Interior Ministry is getting serious about rewarding police informants. On Tuesday, the Justice Ministry confirmed an initiative to pay cash prizes to citizens who provide information leading to the identification and capture of criminal suspects. Compensation for these services will range from 50,000 rubles to 10 million rubles ($750 to $148,260), payable in cash or direct deposit. The specific rewards for particular ongoing cases will be posted on the Interior Ministry’s website and reported in the news media.

Russia’s Interior Ministry doesn’t currently regulate the way it compensates police informants. The ministry has no formal budget for these rewards (payments for secret cooperation with the police belong to another agency), and informants are usually compensated with certificates, medals, or gifts.

Yours, Meduza