This day in history. On November 27, 1971, the USSR’s “Mars 2” orbiter released a descent module. It malfunctioned and crashed, but it’s still technically the first man-made object to reach the surface of Mars.
Not far from the Baumanskaya subway station in Moscow, there’s a small two-story building attached to a brick warehouse that dates back to the 19th century. The warehouse was recently converted into lofts, but the annex houses a medical center called “Best Clinic,” which offers a wide variety of services ranging from dentistry and psychotherapy to surgery and cosmetic work.
Among all these options, Meduza also found clitorectomies — a surgery known as “female circumcision.” “There are no medical grounds for this operation, and the intervention is carried out for religious or ritual reasons,” the website explained, adding that the surgery is “crippling” and must be performed at the medical clinic, not at home.” (Best Clinic is a chain, but clitorectomies were available only on the website for the location near the Baumanskaya subway station. The clinic is owned by the “Classicus” company, which belongs to Marina Strokina and Dmitry Afonin.)
The website offered three kinds of clitorectomy: removal of the clitoral hood, removal of the clitoris with the hood and small labia, and infibulation (the removal of the inner and outer labia, and the suturing of the vulva). This last procedure, the purpose of which is to inhibit women from having penetrative vaginal sex, was described in the following language: “The clitoris, hood, and inner and outer labia are sutured, allowing only urination and menstruation.” The practice, known as Type III female genital mutilation by the World Health Organization, is especially widespread in some African countries.
According to the World Health Organization, the surgical methods described on Best Clinic’s website are “mutilating,” “painful,” and “traumatic.”
On November 22, Best Clinic confirmed to Meduza that the center performs “female circumcisions.” A representative named Yulia (surname unknown) stated that a clitorectomy, together with anesthesia and a follow-up analysis, costs patients roughly 70,000 rubles ($1,040). Yulia also mentioned a special promotion: clitorectomy consultations for 1,760 rubles ($26), instead of the usual 2,190 rubles ($32). She then recommended signing up with a surgeon, adding that it would be possible to come to the clinic’s reception office immediately. After Meduza’s correspondent visited Best Clinic and spoke to the center’s deputy general director, the webpage describing the center’s clitorectomy services suddenly disappeared from the clinic’s website.
On the first day in the trial against the 24 Ukrainian sailors captured after trying to pass through the Kerch Strait, a Russian court placed half the defendants under arrest until at least January 25. The men face up to six years in prison for allegedly crossing the Russian border illegally. The rest of the sailors (except for the three hospitalized wounded crewmen) are being held at a military compound in Kerch, though a Novaya Gazeta reporter says they’re at a temporary detention center. A few dozen Crimean Tatar activists rallied in support of the sailors, outside the courthouse, where there was a strong police presence. Kyiv considers theсе sailors to be POWs, saying they therefore cannot be tried in a Russian criminal court, but Moscow has ignored this argument. A top official in Crimea, meanwhile, has suggested exchanging the sailors for unspecified prisoners in Ukraine.
Kyiv has confirmed claims by Russia’s Federal Security Service that multiple Ukrainian national security agents were among the captured sailors. The FSB later published videos showing the interrogation of three crewmen, where one man says he “knowingly ignored” instructions from Russia’s Coast Guard and “was aware” of the Ukrainian ships’ “provocative nature.” Officials in Kyiv suspect these testimonies were given under duress. On the evening of November 27, the FSB said it had recovered a document from the sailors that allegedly describes a “secret” trip to Berdyansk.
In an op-ed for Novaya Gazeta, columnist Yulia Latynina argues that the Kerch Strait incident was likely just a local Russian FSB commander's misguided attempt to curry favor with his superiors, not a long-planned or well-considered plot by the Kremlin. Latynina also offers the following three questions: (1) Why didn't the Ukrainian ships return fire? (2) Why did Russia stop the November 25 Ukrainian naval convoy, but not a similar convoy on September 22 that traveled the same route? and (3) Why did Russia seize the ships and arrest the sailors, instead of chasing them into the Black Sea and ending their pursuit?
In an op-ed for Novaya Gazeta, Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer argues that Moscow likely instigated the Kerch Strait crisis because the Kremlin fears the Ukrainian naval base under construction in Berdyansk. Felgenhauer speculates that Kyiv would invite NATO ships for friendly visits, after the completion of the base, challenging Moscow's dominance in the Azov Sea and disrupting Russia's ability to fire cruise missiles throughout the region and defend Sochi on the Black Sea.
Think that sounds outlandish? Well, Felgenhauer also doesn't rule out that Sunday's showdown could be the prelude to another “Winter War” where Russia finally pushes Ukraine from the Azov Sea altogether, seizing a land corridor to Crimea. Russian troops would presumably advance disguised as separatists, he says, without air support and therefore in need of massive numbers.
Journalist Oleg Kashin published a video showing the police interrogation of Danila Veselov, the man allegedly hired by Alexander Gorbunov and Andrey Turchak to beat him nearly to death roughly eight years ago. If you're forgetting the details of this attack, read “The Kashin Obscenity,” a recent deep dive written by Sergey Dobrynin and Carl Schreck, published at RFE/RL.
There's another story by Carl Schreck worth your time: “Lonely Witness: A Gay Russian's Stalled Bid For Justice In Chechnya Crackdown.” In this article, Schreck reviews what's happened in the year since Maksim Lapunov became the only person to come forward publicly, on the record, about being targeted in the Chechen police's massive detention and torture operation against gay men in the spring of 2017. While Lapunov declined to be interviewed for the report, the story offers a thorough summary of his case and a wider look at LGBT persecution in Chechnya. Read it here.
Vladimir Putin plans to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Argentina this week, according to two people familiar with the plans, Bloomberg reports. Read the story here. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told journalists on November 27 that President Trump will discuss security and regional issues with Putin when they meet at the same conference in Argentina. “I think it will be a continuation of their discussion in Helsinki,” Bolton said.