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The Real Russia. Today. Russia's plans in Libya, telecom shenanigans in Ingushetia, and the former Kaspersky Lab expert now on trial for treason suffers a pulmonary embolism in jail

Meduza

Thursday, October 11, 2018

This day in history. On October 11, 1986, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavík for negotiations. The talks ultimately collapsed, but they laid the groundwork for the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
  • Russia is suspected of deploying troops to Libya, but what's Moscow's play in this muddy conflict?
  • Ingush police open criminal cases against two activists, as mobile Internet service fails across the republic and protests continue
  • Kaspersky Lab treason suspect is hospitalized in critical condition after suffering pulmonary embolism in jail
  • Journalist says high-ranking police detective's murder could be tied to case against former Russian Railways president's family
  • Astronauts survive plunge to Earth after Russian rocket fails
  • Ukraine gets its own church independent of Russia’s patriarchate

Round two ✌️

Russian and Western media outlets say Moscow has been deploying troops to Libya for the past several months, reportedly to bolster one group in the country’s civil war. Russia is apparently filling a vacuum: the U.S. has effectively abandoned its efforts to intervene in the situation, and European nations are more concerned with stemming the flow of immigrants from Africa than resolving the conflict. Meduza takes a look at who’s fighting whom in Libya, and what Russia’s interests are in this messy conflict. Here are the questions addressed in the text:

  • What’s going on in Libya? Is Russia really planning to fight a war here?
  • Who’s fighting whom in Libya? Who’s on Russia’s side?
  • Who supports the West?
  • Why would Russia get involved in this mess?

Read the story here: “Russia is suspected of deploying troops to Libya, but what's Moscow's play in this muddy conflict?”

Hard knocks in Ingushetia 📣

Protests are still happening in Ingushetia, where police just opened criminal cases against two prominent activists: General Civic Forum chairman Musa Malsagov and a local clan council leader named Malsag Uzhakhov. According to Barakh Chemurziev, the head of the “Support Ingushetia” movement, the two activists are charged with insulting the state authorities, and police already have warrants to search their homes.

Since early October, thousands of people in Ingushetia have demonstrated against a controversial border deal with the neighboring republic of Chechnya that was meant to resolve a decades-long border dispute in the Sunzhensky District. Yunus-bek Yevkurov, the head of Ingushetia, is facing calls for his resignation.

Since the protests started, late on October 3, people across Ingushetia have complained about a near total loss of 3G and 4G mobile Internet connectivity. The telecommunications company Megafon publicly denies that it’s received any complaints about service outages in Ingushetia, but an employee anonymously sent the BBC photos of internal corporate emails apparently showing that Megafon is in fact aware of the data issue, but is taking no steps to fix the problem. Beeline and MTS customers in Ingushetia have also reportedly lost their mobile Internet connections.

The BBC reports that all three major telecoms could lose data connectivity simultaneously, if they were sharing the same faulty mainline, but an anonymous source in the republic’s IT sector told the news agency that Ingushetia’s mainline is operating normally. If the authorities orchestrated the mobile Internet outage, it would technically be legal in a formal state of emergency, though state officials have not yet declared an emergency.

Get well soon 🚑

Ruslan Stoyanov, the former Kaspersky Lab expert now on trial for treason, was recently rushed to the hospital in critical condition, after suffering a pulmonary embolism on October 1, his lawyer told the independent television network Dozhd. According to Inga Lebedeva, her client was hospitalized after repeatedly losing consciousness.

The case against Stoyanov is classified, but he is allegedly charged with passing secret intelligence to the FBI about Russian hackers. Days before Lebedeva revealed that Stoyanov has been in the hospital, the newspapers Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta reported that he and three accomplices, led by former FSB Information Security Center agent Sergey Mikhailov, may have been promised $10 million in exchange for data that led to the unmasking of Russian hackers, potentially including the GRU’s “Fancy Bear” operation, which stole internal records from the Democratic National Convention in the United States.

The allegations about a $10-million paycheck have raised some eyebrows. American cyber-crime journalist Brian Krebs, for example, has suggested that the rumor is a fabrication planted by Pavel Vrublevsky, a Russian businessman with notorious ties to hackers, who spent 18 months in prison thanks to investigative work by Mikhailov’s FSB unit.

Stoyanov has been jailed in Moscow since his arrest in December 2016. His lawyer says he’s currently recovering in a private room, guarded by police officers, after spending several days in critical condition. Lebedeva says the hospital conditions are acceptable, but she worries that Stoyanov will be returned to jail prematurely, where medical staff have allegedly neglected his needs, for example by refusing to perform an ultrasound examination, even after he lost consciousness in May.

Lebedeva also complained that prison officials appear to be blocking Stoyanov’s personal mail, holding letters from his friends and family for months at a time.

Mr. Yakunin, in the parking lot, with the pistol 🧐

Novaya Gazeta special correspondent Irek Murtazin thinks Interior Ministry detective Evgeniya Shishkina was murdered this week possibly because she may have unearthed “explosive” information about an alleged corruption scheme orchestrated by the family of former Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin.

Fresh from spreading rumors about the treason case against Sergey Mikhailov and Ruslan Stoyanov, Murtazin’s latest special report pours cold water on theories that Shishkina’s murder was connected to either (1) an innocent man she arrested in a drug bust and then allegedly extorted, or (2) her investigation into cyber-criminals who stole frequent flyer miles from Aeroflot customers. Murtazin says internal investigators never corroborated the extortion charges, and says Shishkina hasn’t worked any drug cases in years. Additionally, he argues that the Aeroflot case has already progressed far enough that it’s now in the hands of prosecutors, not investigators, meaning that her murder won’t help the suspects.

Murtazin says Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation was the first group to draw attention to Yakunin’s embezzlement scheme, which involves his son earning “shares” on train tickets sold by two firms that he owns through a network of shell companies. Navalny published his investigation in April 2014, and almost two years later he announced that the Interior Ministry had “opened a preliminary investigation.” That case was reportedly supervised by an officer named Andrey Stepanov, who apparently reported directly to Evgeniya Shishkina.

The investigation into Yakunin’s suspicious ticket sales supposedly went dormant again for several months, until FSB agents arrested anti-corruption police colonel Dmitry Zakharchenko in September 2016, for allegedly receiving billions of rubles in bribes, with large chunks coming from the co-owner of the largest Russian Railways’ contractor, 1520 Group. The revelations refocused the Interior Ministry’s attention on Russian Railways, Murtazin says.

Fitting together these puzzle pieces of circumstantial evidence, Murtazin speculates that Shishkina’s police unit dug up “explosive” documents and information about Yakunin’s illegal operations, which triggered the threats, and then an arson attack against her car, and finally her murder.

Update. Following the publication of Murtazin's article, Vladimir Yakunin's spokesperson, Grigory Levchenko, issued the following statement: “The allegations made in the Novaya Gazeta article are completely false, including the outrageous reference to Yakunin in the context of the tragic death of the investigator. The journalist regurgitated baseless claims, and generally took 2 + 2 to equal 17. While using the Yakunin name might be good to maximize clicks and score political points, this was shocking journalism and we will take all necessary legal measures to demonstrate this.”

Read it elsewhere 📰

🚀 Burning out his fuse up here alone

“A Russian Soyuz rocket malfunctioned two minutes after liftoff Thursday on a mission to the International Space Station, triggering an automatic abort command that forced the two-member crew — an American and a Russian — to make a harrowing emergency landing in their capsule, 200 miles from the launch site in the steppes of Kazakhstan,” reports The Washington Post. Read the story here.

💔 The schism of a millennium

“The head of global Orthodox Christianity has decided to grant Ukraine its own church independent of Russia’s patriarchate, in a politically charged move that defies sharp warnings from Moscow,” write Roman Olearchyk and Henry Foy for The Financial Times. “The decision is a victory for Ukraine in a wider struggle against Russia that encompasses Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its continued support for separatists fighting against Kiev in the east of the country. But it has been condemned by Russian officials, who have warned it threatens to trigger the biggest Christian schism in a millennium.” Read the story here.

Yours, Meduza