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The Real Russia. Today. Russia captures three Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea, Roskomnadzor sues Google, and the Kremlin frees a rapper

Meduza

Monday, November 26, 2018

This day in history. On November 26, 1939, the USSR shelled the Russian village of Mainila and claimed it had come from Finland. Four days later, Moscow used this false flag operation as an excuse to start the Winter War.
  • Russia captures three Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea, injuring three Ukrainian sailors
  • Roskomnadzor wants to fine Google for refusing to censor search results
  • Russia Today chief editor says the Kremlin helped free a rapper from jail
  • Russian hunters stumble onto a crashed Soyuz booster rocket in a forest

The battle for the Azov Sea 🚢

On November 25, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) border guards fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait area. Kyiv says at least of its six sailors were injured in the gunfire. The seized ships were brought to Kerch, where the wounded men received medical attention. The FSB says the ships violated Russia’s international border.

Wait, what the heck happened? According to Russia, the FSB tracked three Ukrainian naval vessels inbound for the Kerch Strait on the morning of November 25. The ships apparently had not requested access to the area. Russia then used bulk freighters to block the straight and closed the waterway to civilian traffic. A Russian Coast Guard ship then rammed a Ukrainian tugboat that was following the three naval vessels. (Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov later tweeted a video filmed from the Russian ship, the “Don,” that rammed the tugboat.) Russia also deployed military helicopters to patrol the area. The FSB later fired on and seized three ships: the “Berdiansk” and “Nikopol” gunboats and the “Yani Kapu” tugboat. Kyiv says six of its sailors were injured, and Russia captured more than 20 men in all.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has demanded the immediate return of the country’s sailors and ships, calling the FSB’s actions a violation of international law. On November 26, Ukraine’s Security Service opened a criminal investigation, formally accusing Russia of “waging an aggressive war.” (Anyone in Ukraine convicted of assisting in this effort faces up to 15 years in prison.)

In response to the Kerch Strait incident, Poroshenko proposed two months of martial law in Ukraine. After hours of negotiations, the Verkhovna Rada ultimately endorsed a limited imposition of martial law, effective in less than a dozen of Ukraine's 27 regions (in areas bordering Russian troops, including Transnistria). Martial law in these regions will take effect on November 28 and last just 30 days. The policy is not expected to postpone Ukraine's March 2019 presidential election.

Want some background reading on tensions in the Azov Sea? Check out Krzysztof Nieczypor's August 2018 report, “A Closely Watched Basin,” published by the Center for Eastern Studies in Poland.

As tensions flare around Crimea, fighting has also intensified in separatist-controlled Donetsk. According to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, the Ukrainian military started shelling residential areas of the self-proclaimed DNR, as Ukrainian vessels challenged Russia at the Kerch Strait. Kyiv, on the other hand, says “occupiers [in Donetsk] fired on our positions 16 times,” wounding two soldiers.

In a statement published on November 26, Russia’s Foreign Ministry called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss Ukraine’s “flagrant violation” of the rules of innocent passage in Russia’s territorial sea. Sunday’s conflict, Moscow says, was “thoroughly planned and orchestrated” to distract Ukrainians from domestic problems ahead of their March 2019 presidential election. The Foreign Ministry also said it warned Ukraine and “its Western sponsors” many times about “the dangers of artificially inflated hysteria” in the Azov Sea and at the Kerch Strait.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov echoed this sentiment on Monday, calling the naval conflict a “very dangerous provocation” and “an invasion of foreign military ships into Russia's territorial waters.”

Here's what the FSB claims. Ukrainian naval vessels entered the Kerch Strait and threatened to fire on Russia’s Coast Guard, according to an official statement by Russia's Federal Security Service. After the Russian authorities refused to allow the Ukrainian convoy to pass through the Kerch Strait into the Azov Sea, the Ukrainian ships allegedly uncovered their artillery guns, and raised them to 45 degrees, aiming at the fleet of Russian vessels. At a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday, Russia's First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, said the FSB detained two Ukrainian Security Service officers aboard one of the seized ships. The men were reportedly on “special assignment.”

🤕 Ukraine's injured three

Left to right, Andriy Artemenko, Vasyl Soroka, and Andriy Artemenko

On November 25, Russia’s Federal Security Service border guard fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels at the Kerch Strait. Moscow and Kyiv have since traded allegations that the conflict was staged to shore up the other’s domestic support. In Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko signed an executive order imposing martial law for 30 days. In total, Russia captured more than 20 Ukrainian sailors, wounding three men when taking the “Berdiansk” gunboat. Neither Moscow now Kyiv has reported the ranks of these men, but it’s known that they’re currently hospitalized in Kerch, in Russian-controlled Crimea. Meduza reviews what we know about these injured sailors.

🥜 Comments from the peanut gallery

Fresh from allegations by The New Times chief editor Evgeniya Albats that he espouses “Nazi” views on Ukraine, columnist Oleg Kashin downplays the significance of Sunday's “not a war” at the Kerch Strait. In his latest article for Republic, he recalls the 2003 dispute surrounding Tuzla Island (the sandy islet in the middle of the Kerch Strait), where a right-wing Russian political party tried unilaterally to build a dam that would reconnect the land to the Taman Peninsula, restoring it as part of Russia. He ends with a message about the shared political-technological history between Russia and Ukraine, implying that both Moscow and Kyiv are capable of zany antics in the Azov Sea.

Opposition politician and energy sector expert Vladimir Milov wrote on Facebook that he believes Vladimir Putin is trying to use the naval conflict to “strip the Azov Sea of international status with just a few shots and claim it for himself.” Milov also warned that he believes the Trump administration will ultimately “swallow” this development, disappointing those who think he's been tougher than Obama against Russian aggression in Ukraine.

In another Facebook post, opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov also blamed Putin for the ships' seizure in the Black Sea, claiming that it was orchestrated to win back public support, amid domestic problems involving housing, waste management, currency, retirement, childcare, and sanctions. Gudkov also stressed that peace with Ukraine will be one of the main initiatives for Russia's post-Putin leaders.

In his column for the opposition website EJ.ru, journalist and political commentator Arkady Dubnov speculates that the Ukrainian sailors may have deliberately planned to defy Russian instructions to turn back from the Kerch Straight, but he believes it was a justified effort to expose Moscow's illegal seizure of the Azov Sea.

Play ball or pay up? 💸

On November 26, Russia’s federal media censor announced administrative charges against “Google, LLC” for failing to comply with a law that requires online search engines to purge any hyperlinks to materials that are banned in Russia. Google has also refused to connect to the federal information system where these websites are listed. For violating Russia’s Internet censorship rules, Google faces a fine as high as 700,000 rubles (about $10,430).

Roskomnadzor will not take its case to court, but reach a decision internally. The agency has the authority to issue fines without court orders.

Roskomnadzor first announced its intention to fine Google for noncompliance with this law in late October. The same legislation also prohibits Internet anonymizers and technology used to circumvent online censorship. Last year, journalists at VC.ru noticed that Google and Yandex had started removing links to such websites from their search results, before Russia's censorship law took effect.

Jailhouse rap ⚖️

On Monday, November 26, a district court in Krasnodar overturned the 12-day arrest of the rapper Dmitry Kuznetsov, better known as “Husky,” and the performer was promptly released. According to Russia Today chief editor Margarita Simonyan, Husky has the Putin administration to thank: the jail sentence apparently angered “two or three” Kremlin officials, and they intervened in the local courts. A source close to the Putin administration later confirmed this rumor to the independent television network Dozhd.

In August, Simonyan similarly implied that officials in the Putin administration contributed to the pretrial release of Anna Pavlikova (a teenager detained in the controversial criminal case against the “New Greatness” extremist movement).

  • Kuznetsov was arrested in Krasnodar late on November 21, after police reportedly hounded him out of two venues and pressured organizers into canceling a scheduled concert. In the end, he tried to perform for a crowd of die-hard fans atop a parked car, but that’s when officers moved in and dragged him downtown.
  • Regional officials reportedly warned venue owners that Kuznetsov’s lyrics are under investigation for potential extremism, particularly when it comes to disseminating harmful information to minors about drugs and suicide. Husky says police in Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, and Perm are also planning to ban his concerts. Earlier this month, YouTube made one of his music videos unavailable in Russia. (It features a lot of violence and some drug use.)
  • In mid-November, Meduza reported on a growing backlash in Siberia by parent groups, supported by local police, against hip hop concert performers. For example, the cities of Krasnoyarsk and Kemerovo banned shows by the St. Petersburg group “Friendzone.”

Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity 🚀

This Monday, NASA managed to land its “InSight” probe on Mars for an underground look at the Red Planet. In the middle of a Russian forest, meanwhile, two hunters recently stumbled upon a crashed Soyuz booster rocket. Matthew Bodner, a journalist who often writes about Russia's space industry, says the whale-sized hunk of metal could be from a recent launch out of the northern Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Check out the video footage here.

Yours, Meduza