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The Real Russia. Today. Yekaterinburg's criminal tolerance, Zhirinovsky's son takes in Miami, and ‘Russia Today’ feels sorry for Donald Trump

Meduza

Thursday, November 29, 2018

This day in history. On November 29, 1930, an armed rebellion in the heartland of partitioned Poland began against the Russian Empire. Despite reinforcements from Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, Moscow crushed the “November Uprising” by October 1831.
  • Police seize ‘International Tolerance Day’ drawings from Russian grade school, after news outlet calls them ‘gay propaganda’
  • Russian lawmakers were supposed to spend this week with constituents, but the Duma's deputy speaker decided to make love to Miami, instead
  • Maxim Trudolyubov thinks Russia's authoritarian modernization won't last
  • Tatiana Stanovaya says no heads will roll at the ‘new’ GRU
  • Dutch government now says it, too, has information that Moscow developed a prohibited cruise missile
  • Andrew Roth reports from blockaded Ukrainian port cities of Berdyansk and Mariupol
  • Russia Today thinks Trump's G20 canceled meeting with Putin is about Cohen, not the Kerch Strait
  • Trump’s company wanted to give a $50-million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Putin

Yekaterinburg's criminal tolerance 🏳️‍🌈

In mid-November, a grade school in Yekaterinburg held a week-long drawing contest called “Tolerant World” in honor of International Tolerance Day. In all, about 17 students between the fifth and 11th grade took part in the event.

The drawings featured images of same-sex couples and the LGBT symbol. On November 28, the Ural news publication Ura.ru published a photograph from the drawings exhibit. The outlet says it received the image from a reader. The photo shows several drawings, including one that features three couples: a man and a woman, a man and a man, and a woman and a woman. The drawing bears the caption: “We don’t choose our appearance, orientation, or race. We are all unique in our own ways.” Ura.ru’s story was titled “Ural School Holds Contest With Posters Showing Gays and Lesbians.” The website also noted that some of the drawings included rainbows.

Officials from the Education Department found nothing objectionable about the drawings. “They reflect universal human values: friendship, respect, mutual understanding, and acceptance of other people’s values and views,” local education officials told the news agency RIA Novosti. “In some of the drawings, there are rainbows — the symbol of purity, childhood, and friendship, embodying the unity of different nationalities. There were no drawings at the exhibit that promoted non-traditional values.”

The authorities sent psychologists to the school where the contest was held. Though city officials found no “gay propaganda” in the drawings, they conducted “outreach work” with the teachers responsible for the contest, and sent “Dialogue” youth center psychologists to the school. If necessary, the psychologists were supposed to clarify the drawings to students and parents. Staff at both the school and the “Dialogue” youth center told Meduza that only the Education Department is able to comment on the situation, but Yekatinerburg’s Education Department did not respond to Meduza’s phone calls.

The police seized the drawings. Local law enforcement officials say the students’ drawings have been confiscated and will be examined for signs of gender discrimination and “homosexual propaganda.” The expert review is expected to take a month. “Our officers went to the school to look around, after reports in the media about citizens being upset about the drawings. Additionally, the mother of one of the students studying at this school filed an official report,” police officers told reporters. The Interior Ministry’s Sverdlovsk regional office also issued a statement citing “multiple negative reactions [to the contest] from parents.”

Only in Miami 🏖️

Igor Lebedev, the deputy speaker of the State Duma (and the son of firebrand politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky), currently finds himself in a public spat with Sergey Neverov, the head of United Russia’s Duma faction. What happened? Neverov called out Lebedev on Facebook for vacationing in Miami during “regional week,” when lawmakers are supposed to meet with their constituents.

The scandal started on November 28, when Lebedev shared a video and nearly a dozen photographs from Florida with the caption: “You gotta love Miami!” Sergey Neverov, who is under U.S. sanctions (for helping to destabilize eastern Ukraine) and therefore prohibited from visiting Miami, commented on the post, reminding his colleague that the State Duma is currently observing a “regional week.” “Miami isn’t our region. It’s a long ways from Khabarovsk, Vladimir, and Smolensk. You and Mr. Zhirinovsky are more needed here,” Neverov wrote.

Lebedev responded that Miami “is attached as a constituency to one of the districts of the deputies in our faction.” Neverov did not respond publicly to this message.

According to the law, State Duma deputies have to keep up ties with voters. As a rule, this applies to the residents in the districts where deputies were elected, either on their party’s regional list or in a single-mandate race. Federal laws don’t say anything about maintaining contact with voters living abroad. Igor Lebedev won his Duma seat as the number-two name on LDPR’s national party list. (His father, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, was the party’s headliner.)

In Russia’s 2016 parliamentary elections, it was in fact possible to vote in Miami. Russia’s D.C. embassy opened a polling station in the Florida city, and the results were assigned to voting in Moscow’s Tushinsky District.

LDPR’s single-mandate candidate in Tushino lost, and the party only won 12.43 percent of the votes in this district. Just two candidates from LDPR’s regional party list in Moscow made it to the Duma: Boris Chernyshov and Vasily Vlasov. Based on news reports and social media, Chernyshov spent his regional week in southern Russia, while Vlasov joined Vladimir Zhirinovsky at a meeting of the “Zemlyaki” (Countrymen) social movement.

Expert commentaries 🧠

Trudolyubov thinks Russia's authoritarian modernization won't last

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Maxim Trudolyubov argues that the Kremlin got spooked between 2011 and 2014, when protests swept Russia, the Arab world witnessed uprisings and civil wars, and Ukraine had the Maidan revolution. These events, Trudolyubov says, changed the Putin regime’s calculus for the institutional reforms promoted by liberal society, moving the Kremlin from suspicions to complete distrust.

The Kremlin’s obsession with stability has always been about achieving short-term effects (the president’s high rating, fixed gubernatorial races, and so on) at the expense of long-term certainty, which is only possible with strong institutions and consistent “rules of the game.” Russia’s authorities have tried to mask their assault on the country’s institutions through a kind of authoritarian modernization, says Trudolyubov, where the state invests in “positive programs” that lead to paradoxes like expanded, improved public spaces, on the one hand, and new legislation limiting people’s right to assemble freely, on the other.

Trudolyubov says Moscow is the crown jewel in this initiative — “the Kremlin’s most successful political project,” where the city’s “once disgruntled subjects have transformed into satisfied customers, skipping the stage of being citizens.” Showering Moscow and other select cities in beautification subsidies, Trudolyubov says, is also about signaling broadly to Russians and the world that a top-down, authoritarian alternative to grassroots-led civics is possible.

Like all things the Kremlin can offer today, however, this modernization effort doesn’t solve Russia’s long-term problems, and tomorrow’s satisfied customers could quickly become citizens with a list of demands. Trudolyubov argues that the recent gubernatorial upset in Primorye demonstrates the existence of other alternatives inside Russia. Primorye is Moscow’s competitor, he says, and it represents an altogether different sense of civic spirit that is built on independence, grassroots economic activity, and its own spontaneous rules.

🕵️ Stanovaya says no heads will roll at the “new” GRU

In an article published at Riddle, analyst Tatiana Stanovaya argues that the November 22 death of GRU chief Igor Korobov won’t likely cause a major reshuffle within the agency or a serious loss of influence. Stanovaya says President Putin is actually more likely to commit to a “performative strengthening of the GRU,” tying it to Russia’s Defense Ministry and Sergey Shoigu. This patronage — and the fact that the GRU has its own operational combat units — will probably be enough to secure the agency’s primacy over its traditional rival, the SVR. In her conclusion, Stanovaya says Korobov’s replacement, Igor Kostyukov, “will focus on stabilizing the agency’s influence in order to strengthen its position among Russia’s defense and security establishment.”

Read it elsewhere 📰

🚫 Russia gets another INF accuser

The U.S. is no longer alone in claiming that Russia is violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The Dutch government now says it, too, has information that Moscow developed a prohibited cruise missile, according to a letter written by the country’s foreign and defense ministers. The letter reportedly involves an SSC-8 missile with a range of more 500 kilometers (310 miles), which violates the INF treaty. Read the story here at The NL Times.

🚢 Life in Ukraine under Russia's undeclared blockade

In a report from Berdyansk and Mariupol, journalist Andrew Roth describes life under Russia’s “effective blockade” of the Azov Sea. Roth spoke to members of the cities’ hurting shipping industry, as well as activists who have been trying since before the Kerch Strait crisis to draw the public’s attention to Russia’s seizure of the region. There’s also this foreboding quote from Oksana Syroyid, the deputy speaker of Ukraine’s parliament: “Now for Russia, the Kerch bridge is like a jewel-pearl. And Russia will protect it severely. [...] Blocking the ports is a consequence of protecting the Kerch bridge.” Read the story here at The Guardian.

😑 Russia Today is worried about Donald Trump

Remember how Donald Trump was going to sit down with Vladimir Putin for a couple of hours at this week’s G20 summit? He’s not doing that anymore.

Donald Trump / Twitter

Here’s how Russia Today responded on Telegram to the U.S. president’s about-face: “It’s hard being President Trump. You fly to the G20, thinking you’ll meet with Putin. (1) You state publicly that right now is a ‘great time for a meeting,’ and the next thing you know… (2) CNN gets hysterical because Trump’s lawyer admitted to lying to Congress. This relates to the Trump Tower project in Moscow, and now Cohen says the negotiations continued not until February but until the summer of 2016 (when Trump was already a candidate). So CNN winks and announces triumphantly that it’s finally here: the connection to the Russians. (3) You cancel the meeting ‘because of Kerch.’ Mr. Trump, if they’re abusing you over there, blink twice at your next press conference.”

🏗️ BuzzFeed digs up more unpleasantness for Trump in Moscow

“President Donald Trump’s company planned to give a $50-million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan,” BuzzFeed News reports. The outlet has two police sources who says Cohen negotiated directly with Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s long-time spokesman. Read the story here.

Yours, Meduza