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The Real Russia. Today. A roundup of Russia's weekend voting, must-read reporting on Skripal and Butina, and a nationwide crackdown on pension-reform protesters


Monday, September 10, 2018

This day in history. On September 10, 1960, the USSR completed its first successful launch of a submarine-launched ballistic missile in the White Sea. The launch came 40 days after the U.S. conducted the world's first submerged SLBM launch.
  • Meduza rounds up the handful of upsets from voting in Russia's Sunday elections
  • Former American MMA fighter Jeff Monson is now an elected Russian city councilman
  • Four must-read stories from the Western media on Sergey Skripal and Maria Butina
  • Photos from the nationwide police crackdown on Alexey Navalny's anti-pension-reform protesters
  • Russian libertarian activist is jailed for 10 days over a ‘fascist offense’ he says he didn't commit
  • Moscow activists try to spark a new Occupy Movement against Putin, pension reform, and police persecution
  • Futuristic Russian warriors shoot lasers in new animated film ‘Cyberslav’
  • Say hello to the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. His son's family apparently tried to buy Hungarian residency for 360,000 euros.

Russia's regional election results 🗳️

On September 9, eighty regions across Russia held elections at different levels, including 22 gubernatorial races, 16 legislative assembly races, and 12 races for the city councils of regional centers. Seven single-mandate districts also held special elections for seats in the State Duma. Unexpectedly, gubernatorial competitors succeeded in forcing runoff elections in four regions where candidates backed by the authorities failed to win more than 50 percent.

Read the full report: “United Russia loses ground, as the Communist Party gains it. Here are the main results of Sunday's regional elections.”

👊 It's Monson season

Mixed martial artist Jeff Monson is now a bonafide city councilman in the town of Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow. He was elected this Sunday on United Russia’s ticket, though Monson instantly tried to distance himself from the party, tweeting, “I was invited by United Russia party [sic] to run but I am independent.”

Monson even had the governor’s endorsement. It’s quite a feat for a man who only this May acquired Russian citizenship (and renounced his U.S. citizenship). Monson is known for his love of Russia (especially its Soviet past), and he recently opened a martial arts school in Krasnogorsk. In a June 2018 interview with Meduza, he explained his turn to Russian politics.

  • Not every candidate with preexisting name recognition was victorious last weekend, however. Viktoria Skripal — the camera-hungry niece of the poisoned former double agent — failed to win a seat in the Yaroslavl regional legislative assembly, and Igor Vostrikov — who lost his entire family in a fire that consumed a shopping mall in March — didn’t get enough votes to join the Kemerovo regional parliament.

Must-read Russia reporting from the West 📰

🕵️ Mr. Skripal's story

“‘A Spy Story: Sergey Skripal Was a Little Fish. He Had a Big Enemy.’ Sergey Skripal and Vladimir Putin, Soviet men of the same age, were raised to wage war against the West. After the Soviet Union collapsed, one rose. And one fell.” Read the special report by The New York Times.

🕵️‍♀️ Ms. Butina's story

“Federal prosecutors have admitted that they wrongly accused Maria Butina, a Russian citizen now in custody on charges of illegally acting as a foreign agent, of offering to trade sex for a job as part of a covert effort by Russian government officials to infiltrate Republican circles in the United States.” Read the story at The New York Times.

“A U.S. District Court judge has imposed a gag order on public statements from lawyers involved in the case of a Russian woman accused of working in America as a secret agent for Moscow. Judge Tanya Chutkan on Monday ruled that Robert Driscoll, attorney for Maria Butina, had ‘crossed the line’ in his frequent public comments about the case.” Read the story at The Associated Press.

“When Maria Butina arrived in Moscow from Siberia in 2011 to launch a Russian version of the National Rifle Association, her shooting range coach said she didn’t even know how to fire a weapon. She learned fast, but her far-fetched bid to liberalize gun rights in Russia flamed out. By the time she arrived in Washington in 2014 to network with the NRA, she was peddling a Russian gun rights movement that was already dead.” Read the story at The Associated Press.

Nationwide protests against pension reform 🧓

On Sunday, September 9, supporters of the anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny staged protests across Russia against the government’s plans to raise the country’s retirement age. In many places, demonstrators marched where local elections were taking place for city council members, mayors, and governors. Most of the protests did not have permits from town officials, and police arrested hundreds of demonstrators nationwide. Some cities even witnessed violent clashes between law enforcement and activists. Meduza presents the following photos from rallies across the country.

See all the photos here.

⚖️ A libertarian's deprivation of liberty

A 33-year-old blogger and member of Russia’s Libertarian Party, Mikhail Svetov hosts a YouTube channel where he discusses libertarian ideas with guests, including oppositionist Ildar Dadin, Barnaul resident Maria Motuznaya (now on trial for sharing supposedly extremist online memes), former Yekaterinburg Mayor Evgeny Roizman, and former Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov. At the time of this writing, Svetov’s YouTube channel has amassed more than 102,100 subscribers and 7.1 million views.

On Sunday, September 9, Svetov joined a protest in St. Petersburg promoted by anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny against the government’s plan to raise Russia’s retirement age. City officials initially granted and later withdrew a rally permit, claiming that a burst water pipe made the original venue unsafe for a mass protest. Several thousand people turned out, nonetheless, and police ultimately detained more than 450 demonstrators.

On Sunday, Svetov appeared on Alexey Navalny’s live YouTube broadcast and “live tweeted” photos from on the ground in St. Petersburg. At 6 p.m., two police officers grabbed Svetov and escorted him into a police van, charging him with the misdemeanor offense of violating regulations on public assemblies.

Svetov spent the night in jail. On Monday, September 10, his case went before St. Petersburg’s Kirov District Court, which returned his mobile phone during the hearing, allowing him to live-tweet his own trial. The judge refused to let him or his lawyer call any witnesses, and his attorney was given just five minutes to read over the case materials.

Svetov was ultimately sentenced to 10 days in jail — twice as long as the punishment for Anastasia Orlova, the activist who actually organized the protest in St. Petersburg. The aggravating circumstance in Svetov’s case was an unpaid 2,000-ruble ($30) fine imposed in June 2018 for supposedly displaying Nazi symbols in public in Moscow in June 2017 at 25 Polikarpova Street. Svetov denies any knowledge of this case, saying he hadn’t heard about the conviction, the fine, or the address in question until his hearing on Monday.

Speaking in court, Svetov suggested that the case might have been launched in May 2018, after he helped organize a demonstration in Moscow on April 30, 2018, in support of Internet freedom and the censored instant messenger Telegram. Twitter users were quick to point out that one of Svetov’s YouTube videos does in fact partially show a swastika, but the video was posted well after June 2017, when he supposedly broke the law.

Libertarian Party spokesperson “Sonya Blade” tweeted a screenshot from the St. Petersburg public database of administrative offenses, showing that the records for the “Swastika incident” don’t match Mikhail Svetov’s patronymic or home address.

“I wish I knew what’s actually at this address,” Mikhail Svetov managed to tweet from court, before the judge ordered his arrest and confiscated his phone once again.

✂️ Nipping a Moscow Maidan movement in the bud

Moscow police smothered in its crib on Monday morning what activists surely hoped would one day be called the Tvardovsky Monument revolution. Officials reportedly detained six activists and at least one journalist at the Strastnoi Boulevard monument on September 10, cutting short the “indefinite protest against the authorities’ ineffectiveness.”

The open-ended demonstration (which involved several young people picnicking with juice boxes and McDonald’s takeout) was supposed to continue until the government canceled its “predatory pension reforms” and decriminalized “extremist speech” (an offense that's been used to persecute Russia's political opposition). The protesters also demanded the resignations of President Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

After the rally seemed to have ended, more demonstrators started assembling about 300 feet away, at the Rachmaninoff Monument, apparently hoping to keep the protest going. Police later detained another eight demonstrators. Before that happened, one activist told Meduza that similar rallies are planned in Saratov, Volgograd, and St. Petersburg, though he offered no details about where exactly they will take place.

The Strastnoi Boulevard demonstrations took place a day after nationwide protests against the government’s plan to raise Russia’s retirement age. In total, police across the country detained more than 1,000 activists on Sunday.

Russian animation is reborn, with laser swords ⚔️

The Russian animation company Evil Pirate Studio has released the first trailer for its new film, “Cyberslav.”

Most of the trailer shows a spectacular battle between the monsters and three knights who arrive at the gates, presumably to liberate the city. The warriors do flips, leap high, fire lasers, swing swords, throw nesting-doll grenades, and win the day.

The release date for “Cyberslav” is still unknown, but Evil Pirate Studio promises a feature-length movie.

Packed-bags patriotism 🛫

Sergey Naryshkin, the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, apparently belongs to that select group of state officials with relatives who have applied for residency in Hungary in exchange for investing at least 360,000 euros ($418,000) in government bonds. That’s one finding in a new joint report by the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the Hungarian investigative center Direkt36, and the news portal 444, which matched the names and birth dates Naryshkin’s family to official records.

Naryshkin’s relatives apparently applied for residence papers under Hungary’s “golden visa” program, which operated from 2013 until 2017. The documents link back to Andrey Sergeevich Naryshkin (the full name of the Foreign Intelligence Service director’s son) and his son’s wife, Svetlana Naryshkina, and their two daughters. Novaya Gazeta doesn’t specify when these applications were filed, or whether the residence permits were granted, but the newspaper says the Naryshkins have been in Hungary since 2015. It remains unclear, however, when exactly or how many times they have visited.

Before 2013, Andrey Naryshkin worked for the state corporation FGC UES (Russia’s largest electricity transmission company grid), but his position wasn’t especially high paying, and he hasn’t been an entrepreneur for several years, making it unclear how we was able to raise the 360,000 euros for the Hungarian golden visa investment. In the early 2000s, Andrey Naryshkin owned half of two trading companies in St. Petersburg that were founded in the 1990s. The other half of these businesses belonged to Evgeny Gilani, who was arrested in 2014 for his involvement in drug trafficking and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Nothing has been reported about Svetlana Naryshkin’s earnings.

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service is refusing to comment on the investigative report, and the Naryshkins are ignoring journalists’ messages.

Yours, Meduza