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The Real Russia. Today. Moscow State Univ's FSB ‘infowar’ instructor, the Kremlin and the U.S. midterms, and Russia's Northern Fleet troubles

Meduza

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

This day in history. On November 7, 1920, Moscow Patriarch Tikhon issued a joint resolution instructing all Russian Orthodox Christian bishops to seek protection and guidance by organizing among themselves, providing the legal basis for the eventual establishment of the so-called Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
  • A former FSB agent is teaching students at Moscow State University how Britain defeated Russia in the ‘infowar’ over Sergey Skripal
  • The Putin-Trump (Trump-Putin?) Paris summit is off
  • Columnist Vladimir Ruvinsky parses what the the American midterm election results mean for U.S.-Russian relations
  • Kirill Serebrennikov's trial begins
  • Russia’s Northern Fleet is in for major delays, thanks to that dry dock sinking
  • Transparency International studied conflicts of interest in Russia's regional legislatures, and the results are depressing
  • Columnist Oleg Kashin says anarchist suicide bombers are good news for most
  • Vedomosti breaks down Andrey Ishchenko's decision to run as an independent in Primorye

Inforwar lessons from Professor FSB 🕵️

Moscow State University’s Political Science Department offers an elective course on “information war” where students are currently learning how Western intelligence agencies falsified news about the attempted assassination of Sergey Skripal and his daughter in order to embarrass the Kremlin and erode international trust in Russia.

According to a new report by the independent television network RTVI, the class is run by Andrey Manoilo, a lecturer in the Political Science Department and a former Federal Security Service agent. He tells his students that the British authorities successfully “transformed” the poisoning of the Skripals into a “nerve-agent attack on British society by a hostile foreign state,” arguing that London used “drive hunting” tactics to corner Moscow within “planted stories” that were released gradually, each supposedly more distorted and untrue than the last.

Manoilo also teaches his class that it was a huge mistake for Russia to put the two Salisbury attack suspects (who are widely believed to be GRU operatives) on television and involve President Putin in this process. The instructor also says Moscow failed to “recognize why British intelligence forged airport security camera footage” of the two suspects at Gatwick airport.

Moscow State University students reportedly told RTVI that the course provides them with “new information, not propaganda,” insisting that they “verify everything on the Internet.” Manoilo told the TV network that his course differs little from a class offered at Cambridge University, where students supposedly study “the Panama Papers scandal.”

RTVI reports that there is a similar course on “information war” offered to journalism students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Tatyana Alexeeva, the deputy dean of the school’s Political Science Department, admitted that it’s sometimes hard to present the subject matter in this class without personal bias. “It’s difficult, but it’s possible,” she told RTVI.

Post-midterms in the U.S. 🗳️

🥐 Paris is a no now

Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he will not meet with Vladimir Putin this weekend, contradicting earlier reports and remarks by the Kremlin that the two presidents would talk while in Paris for an unrelated gathering of world leaders. “The on-again, off-again meeting has been the subject of confusion and conflicting reports in recent weeks,” reports Peter Baker for The New York Times. Read the story here.

⏳ You take the good, you take the bad

In an editorial for Vedomosti, editor Vladimir Ruvinsky argues that the Democrats’ success in taking back the House of Representatives will likely ensure both new and sustained sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, Syria, and more. Aided by expertise from suspected-former-spy turned-political-expert Vladimir Frolov, Ruvinsky says the Kremlin can at least be happy that a Democrat-controlled House will limit Donald Trump’s ability to threaten Russia with an arms race. Moscow’s hopes for détente with Washington now go on ice until 2020, when Trump’s possible re-election could finally “untie his hands,” says Ruvinsky.

The Serebrennikov trial begins ⚖️

The trial against stage director Kirill Serebrennikov and his three co-defendants kicked off in Moscow on Wednesday. All four individuals pleaded not guilty to conspiring to embezzle 133 million rubles (more than $2 million) in government funds allocated to a theater festival. They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. “The proceedings were rather dry,” report Neil MacFarquhar and Ivan Nechepurenko for The New York Times. Read the story here.

Russia's naval nightmare ⚓

In a report for The Drive, Joseph Trevithick explains how the sinking of the PD-50 floating dry dock in Murmansk last month will lead to “a major gap in maintenance capacity” in Russia’s Northern Fleet over the next several months, if not years. Most of the sunken dock is apparently just 100 feet deep in the water, but technical obstacles and escalating damage to the machinery will delay repairs to the the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, which it turns out cannot get the service it needs anywhere else in the country. Unable to buy another dock from Europe, Moscow is left with the “embarrassing” option of turning to China, but Trevithick doesn’t expect Russia to suffer this indignity or abandon its own “crucial shipyard workforce.” Read the story here at The Drive.

Opinion writings

🤝 Conflict of interest much?

In an article for Republic, Transparency International Kaliningrad branch director Igor Sergeev summarizes the results of a new study examining dozens of regional legislatures, where his organization found 63 instances where lawmakers have conflicts of interest. Sergeev says district attorneys confirmed the findings in six cases, however. In Tatarstan, for example, Transparency International researchers say they alerted prosecutors to 26 conflicts of interest among local legislators, but officials refused to acknowledge a single one.

The study also shows that Russia treats nearly identical conflicts of interest differently in different regions. When Transparency International reached out to lawmakers to discuss Russia’s regulations against conflicts of interest, many legislators demonstrated a near total ignorance about these anti-corruption requirements. Sergeev says his group has appealed to the president and the prime minister for new measures to enforce Russia’s existing laws against conflicts of interest.

💣 Everybody loves bombers

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin argues that the recent anarchist suicide bombing of an FSB office in Arkhangelsk and subsequent arrests of an acquaintance in Moscow and a sympathizer in Kaliningrad are good news for everyone except the young people now dead or behind bars. Russian law enforcement, Kashin says, can look anticipate a funding boost and more opportunities to persecute and maybe even frame youngsters for committing extremism.

Anarchists, meanwhile, are simply lucky to have emerged briefly from Russia’s hidden subculture. The fact that one of the movement’s adherents actually killed himself — to protest the FSB’s treatment of the “Network” youth group (whose members say they were tortured in jail) — grants serious “weight” to a political group that was totally invisible before the terrorist attack. Even Kremlin political spin doctors, Kashin says, can expect new room to experiment with youth politics, now that the issue is re-energized as a national security threat.

✊ The party principle, the party of discipline

In an editorial for Vedomosti, editors Pavel Aptekar and Maria Zheleznova argue that Russia's Communist Party (KPRF) is burning through the “opposition credibility” it earned this September in Primorye, where candidate Andrey Ishchenko was likely elected in a later invalidated gubernatorial runoff. Another round of voting is scheduled for December 16, but KPRF says it won’t field a candidate, claiming that (1) its pick won’t be allowed through the “municipal filter” onto the ballot, and (2) its participation would legitimize the new vote.

Ishchenko now says he’ll run as an independent — just as soon as he collects the needed endorsements from 147 local deputies and at least 8,000 residents in the region. According to Aptekar and Zheleznova, the campaign is an effort to save face. Political expert Alexander Pozhalov says he thinks having Ishchenko in the race would help the new acting governor appointed by Putin, Oleg Kozhemyako, while damaging KPRF and possibly helping LDPR’s chances at the polls.

Yours, Meduza