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The Real Russia. Today. Stanovaya says the Kremlin has finally had it with Navalny, interpreting Russians' ‘protest sentiment,’ and Skripal's dirt on Patrushev

Meduza

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

This day in history. On October 2, 1552, Russian soldiers under the command of Ivan the Terrible entered Kazan, leading to the fall of the Khanate. It was the final battle of the Russo-Kazan Wars.
  • Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya says the Kremlin wants to lock up Alexey Navalny for good
  • Sociologist Alexey Levinson says Russians' protest sentiment actually shows their faith in Putin on pension reform
  • Khakassia's gubernatorial runoff election loses another challenger
  • Scholar Ben Noble summarizes his new research, arguing that the State Duma is an important space for executive-branch disagreements, not a mere ‘rubber stamp’
  • A new book says Sergey Skripal shared information about a 1990s-era corruption scheme that reached all the way to a top Russian intelligence chief
  • More photos of alleged GRU Colonel Anatoly Chepiga surface
  • Yanukovych's old security chief wants to testify about Chepiga’s reported role in bringing Yanukovych to Russia
  • Two new scholarly papers suggest that Russia has weaponized (1) social conservatism, and (2) Star Wars trolling
  • The hole discovered on the International Space Station was made deliberately, says the head of Russia's space agency
  • Russia delivers S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Syria

Stanovaya says Alexey Navalny could be headed for the big house 👮

In a Facebook post, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya writes that the current Kremlin team tasked with managing domestic policies is strongly inclined to put anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny in prison. Navalny’s incarceration is “inevitable,” Stanovaya says, if Russia doesn’t soon witness a display of grassroots civic activism that changes the Kremlin’s calculus. Gone are the days when Vyacheslav Volodin convinced Putin to limit Navalny’s punishments to short jail sentences for fear of provoking street protests. The president’s new advisers “take Navalny a lot less seriously,” Stanovaya says. She offers the following four reasons for this change of heart:

  1. Navalny has been stuck on the sidelines of popular anger about raising the retirement age, and opposition to the policy has remained largely leaderless. It would be better to “neutralize” him now than later.
  2. Thanks to hostile coverage by state television, Navalny’s “anti-rating” is currently quite high, meaning that most Russians would either ignore or support his imprisonment, while liberals with any influence would be too scared to risk their positions to speak up.
  3. Viktor Zolotov’s “duel challenge” exposed frustrations in the National Guard that are a liability for the Kremlin, and some officials want to defuse the situation by throwing Navalny behind bars.
  4. As Putin’s approval rating suffers and advisers increasingly sense ominously that “things are in motion,” Navalny becomes a less important game piece that’s better swept off the board.

Levinson says protest spirit and trust in Putin moved in tandem

In an op-ed for the newspaper Vedomosti, sociologist Alexey Levinson argues that Russians were actually expressing their hopes that Vladimir Putin would rescue the country’s existing retirement system when 53 percent of respondents told pollsters this summer that they would likely attend street protests against pension reform. “In these answers was a protest itself against the legislation, and there was the hope that the president would block it,” Levinson says, pointing out that Putin’s popularity was still rising, even as protest sentiment spiked. The sociologist says this bubble mostly burst after Putin’s national address (where he offered a slightly watered-down version of pension reform), and now the president’s rating is falling again, as Russians’ protest sentiment slips but threatens to rise.

🗳️ Electoral dysfunction

The circus continues in Khakassia, where Just Russia candidate Andrey Filyagin has dropped out of the second-round gubernatorial race, which was previously delayed when incumbent Governor Viktor Zimin withdrew from the race. Communist candidate Valentin Konovalov, who lead in the first round of voting, will now likely face the Party of Growth’s Alexander Myakhar, who took fourth place in the first-round election (winning five percent of the votes). If Myakhar declines to compete in the runoff election, Konovalov could run unopposed on October 21.

Ben Noble says it's more than a rubber stamp 📑

Pushing back against perceptions that non-democracies typically operate “rubber stamp” legislatures, scholar Ben Noble has written a new article focusing on Russia that features “a statistical analysis of the extent of bill change” and “case studies of policy-making episodes.” The findings with both methodologies were the same: “Bill amendments did not result from legislators responding to executive initiatives and proposing their own changes. Rather, changes to bill texts resulted from policy disagreements between members of the political executive,” Noble explains, saying that his paper “show[s] how ministers and other members of the executive sometimes continue their policy disputes after cabinet has signed off on introducing a particular bill into the legislature.”

So does this mean the State Duma is actually more democratic than it seems? No. “Authoritarian regimes sometimes struggle to pass legislation, much like governments in many democracies. But this isn’t necessarily a sign of emergent democracy. Rather, this difficulty can reflect policy disagreements between members of the ruling political elite, rather than opposition from legislators,” Noble says. Read his summary of his article here at The Conversation. You can get the whole academic article here, for a cool $36.

Skripal mayhem continued

🕵️‍♂️ Mr. Skripal the busy bee

Sergey Skripal, the former Russian spy targeted in a nerve agent attack this spring, fed Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service information about a 1990s-era corruption scheme that reached all the way up to Nikolai Patrushev, a top Russian intelligence chief and close ally of Vladimir Putin, according to interviews featured in a new book by BBC diplomatic and defense editor Mark Urban, “The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy.” While the interviews do not explain why Skripal was targeted, “they do paint the fullest picture to date of his life as a Russian spy and a British informant,” according to Ellen Barry’s summary of the book here at The New York Times.

🤳 Chepiga's damn photos

“A photograph on display at a Russian military academy is adding to the growing evidence identifying a Russian military intelligence officer who was allegedly involved in the poisoning of a former double agent in England. The photo, highlighted in an October 2 report published jointly by RFE/RL's Russian Service and the open-source investigative website Bellingcat, builds on other recent reports that have used data from passport registries, online photographs, and military records to focus on a Russian man identified by British authorities as Ruslan Boshirov.” Read the story here at RFE/RL and here at Bellingcat. After the publication of these stories, users of the imageboard 2ch.hk got in on the fun, unearthing what could be several more photos of Anatoly Chepiga (allegedly Boshirov’s true identity).

⚖️ Ukraine would like a word

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's security chief, Konstantin Kobzar, wants to testify about Anatoly Chepiga’s reported role in bringing Yanukovych to Russia in February 2014, when he was deposed in the final days of the Maidan Revolution. On Facebook on Tuesday, Yanukovych's lawyer posted a copy of Kobzar’s letter to a Kyiv district court. A day earlier, journalist Sergey Kanev claimed to have evidence that Chepiga received his Hero of the Russian Federation award for his part in rescuing Yanukovych from Ukraine in February 2014.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov says Kyiv now believes that Chepiga was involved in the Yanukovych mission. The former president is currently faces treason charges in absentia for asking Russia to invade the country during the Maidan protests in 2014, which precipitated Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

Weaponizing weapons

🐘 Weaponizing social conservatism

“Russians themselves are the biggest victims of their government’s propaganda and misinformation campaigns,” concludes a new study by journalist fellow Daria Litvinova about the history of Russian propaganda. The paper, titled “Human Wrongs: How State-Backed Media Helped the Kremlin Weaponize Social Conservatism,” features a deeply personal account of how the Russian media has struggled to deal with Vladimir Putin and his narrative of Russian values under attack from the West. The study’s conclusions are broken down into three categories: “the bad” (propaganda does change popular attitudes about human rights), “the good” (even propaganda instigates new conversations in society), and “the practical” (pressure from state propaganda leads to innovations by the independent media). Read the report here at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

✨ Weaponizing Star Wars

“Political discourse on social media is seen by many as polarized, vitriolic, and permeated by falsehoods and misinformation. [...] Persuading voters of this narrative remains a strategic goal for the U.S. alt-right movement, as well as the Russian Federation. The results of the study show that among those who address The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson directly on Twitter to express their dissatisfaction, more than half are bots, trolls/sock puppets, or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race, or sexuality. A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls,” concludes Morten Bay, an information studies expert studying at UCLA. You can read his paper, “Weaponizing the Haters: The Last Jedi and the Strategic Politicization of Pop Culture Through Social Media Manipulation,” here.

Friends and enemies

🕳️ Not an accident

“The head of Russia's space agency has suggested that the tiny hole discovered in the International Space Station was made deliberately, citing an expert commission investigating the issue. Dmitry Rogozin's remarks, made in an interview broadcast on October 1, deepened the mystery behind the hole that caused a small, brief drop in oxygen levels in the orbiting station in late August,” says a new report by RFE/RL. Read it here.

🚀 Lock 'n load

“Russia has delivered an S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Syria, it said on Tuesday, in defiance of Israeli and U.S. concerns that the arms sale would embolden Iran and escalate the Syrian war.” Read the story here at Reuters.

Yours, Meduza