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The Real Russia. Today. Russians are turned away at Boryspil International Airport, Kadyrov's prize-winning horsies, and a playlist of banned youth tunes

Meduza

Friday, November 30, 2018

This day in history. On November 30, 1853, the Russian Empire defeated the Ottoman Empire in the naval Battle of Sinop during the Crimean War. It was a decisive victory for Moscow in a war that Russia would ultimately lose.
  • Meduza speaks to Russian citizens turned away at the Ukrainian border in Kyiv, immediately after the government’s entry ban
  • Chechnya’s ruler has a stable full of prize-winning race horses, but you’d never know it, looking at his income declarations
  • Peskov shares Cohen's emails
  • Meet the religious prudes keeping Russians sexually uneducated
  • Russian musicians are being forced to cancel their concerts across the country, which makes now the perfect time to listen to their music
  • Consider the Kerch Strait crisis through the prism of a new political science article by Seva Gunitsky and Andrei Tsygankov

“Little boys, little girls — it didn’t matter” 🛃

On November 30, the Ukrainian government announced that it was banning all Russian men between the ages of 16 and 60 from entering the country until December 26, when President Poroshenko’s recent martial law decree is scheduled to end. Meduza spoke to several Russians who landed at Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv immediately after the ban was imposed. These individuals say they were denied entry into Ukraine on the formal grounds that border officials are admitting neither men nor women.

Mikhail Shishkin, designer

I fly to Kyiv periodically to give branding workshops. The last time was in September. This time, I had an invitation and a return ticket — everything was just like usual. At customs, they used to ask the frequent flyers almost nothing, but today they questioned all of us separately. The border guard, a friendly young woman, asked me whom I was visiting and where I was going.

Then I sat there waiting for a decision. They let in one man who was with his family, and generally it didn’t look like they were about to deny everyone entry. It seemed they were looking at everyone individually and deciding that way. And it wasn’t just Russians — I saw people from Iran and Georgia there, too.

But they turned me away, in the end, citing inadequate financial security. I didn’t have any cash on me or any bank statements — they’d never asked for that stuff before. I showed them the banking app on my phone: 60,000 rubles [$900] on one card, 10,000 [$150] on another, and a credit line of 250,000 rubles [$3,740]. But they said they’d already reached their decision. And now they’re denying everyone else on various pretexts.

Rodion Popkov, founder of the startup Proability.me

In two days, Kyiv is hosting the “Mafia” world championship, and there will be a lot of players from 10 countries across the world. Those who flew in yesterday from abroad got through customs without a problem. But today, since the morning, there was this order basically not to let men [from Russia] into the country.

We waited three or four hours. At first, there was just the order not to let us in, but it seems they didn’t yet have the rejection form. And later, I guess, it was ready, and then they denied entry to everyone [from Russia]. Little boys, little girls — it didn’t matter. This was the fifth time I’ve flown to Ukraine in the last three years, and today was the first time they brought me into a room, questioned me, and then denied me entry. Generally speaking, everyone handled the situation calmly and professionally.

The formal reason for denying me entry was the supposed vagueness of my visit. They said this, even though each of us had an invitation letter, and mine was directly from the president of the [gaming] federation. It listed his telephone number and there was even a copy of his Ukrainian passport. But they still refused to let us into the country.

I’ve lived in Georgia for the past three years. I don’t have any connection to what’s happening in Russia — zero. [On our flight] there was one woman who’s lived in Israel for years, and she even has residency, but they turned her away, too. They’re sending me back to Georgia on the same flight, but it doesn’t leave for another 12 hours. They took our passports and said they’d give them to the flight attendants, and we’ll only get them back once we’re on the plane. So we can’t even go to Duty Free and buy anything.

Olga Khanikova

I’ve lived in Israel for a long time, and I flew to Kyiv from there. I have a Russian passport with permanent residency in Israel. I’ve also got Israeli identification papers. They didn’t even question me separately. I’ve been sitting here for three and a half hours. They took my passport at the border. The line for questioning was huge, but now there are a lot fewer people, but they still haven’t given me a decision. So far, they’re not admitting anyone who has a Russian passport. There are a lot of women here, and many of them have kids with them.

That's a lotta horseshoes 🏇

Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov owns 128 race horses, and they’ve earned 98 million rubles ($1.5 million) in competitions over the past four years — far more than anything indicated on Kadyrov’s income declarations. According to a new investigative report by the anti-corruption group Transparency International, Chechnya’s leader simply doesn’t declare his winnings.

According to the report, Kadyrov spends at least 46 million rubles ($685,600) to keep all these animals alive, though it’s unknown how much it cost to acquire the horses in the first place (or how many were received as gifts).

Kadyrov’s stallions have raced in Russia, France, the Czech Republic, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates. Since 2014, thanks to sanctions, Kadyrov hasn’t been able to collect prize money from races in the European Union, but the cash hasn’t stopped flowing in Russia and the UAE. Transparency International found that Kadyrov’s horses won a whopping 61.7 million rubles ($919,630) at races in the UAE between 2014 and 2018, plus another 36.4 million rubles ($542,500) in Russia during that same period. Kadyrov’s official income from 2014 to 2017 was 29.3 million rubles ($436,700) (he still hasn’t filed his income declaration for 2018). In the public version of Kadyrov’s declaration, the structure of his income isn’t specified, but it can be assumed that he only partially declared his horse race winnings, if he declared them at all.

Transparency International says Ramzan Kadyrov's income from horse races can only be approximated. Hippodrom.ru, Russia’s biggest horse racing website, only lists owners’ current horses, and does not track the profits from horse sales or rentals. Transparency International’s report says horses that competed several times in races between 2014 and 2017 for other people and later returned to Kadyrov earned a total of 11.5 million rubles ($171,400). Federal law doesn’t require Ramzan Kadyrov to declare his horses. Only real estate and vehicles are subject to income declarations, while horses are considered movable property. But Kadyrov is supposed to declare his horses’ winnings, and pay income tax on their prize money.

Transparency International is asking the president’s Anti-Corruption Office to review information that Ramzan Kadyrov both failed to declare his race horses and evaded the subsequent income tax. Researchers are also calling on the Kremlin to declare a “loss of confidence” in Kadyrov, if the evidence holds up, and boot him from office.

But his emails 📧

This Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov showed two emails to reporters from Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who contacted Putin's press secretary in January 2016 to try to get a meeting with either the president or his then chief of staff, Sergey Ivanov, or Peskov. Writing about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow, Cohen apparently didn't get the answer he was looking for. “We told them that Presidential Administration doesn’t build houses, and if they want to invest in Russia that we will be happy to see them at St Petersburg Economic Forum,” Peskov says the Kremlin told Cohen over the phone. Read the story here at Bloomberg.

Educated stupid 🍆

“But as the annual day of awareness approaches its 30-year anniversary, countries such as Russia represent one of the greatest challenges global public health officials confront in nations where conservative mores and institutions, such as the Orthodox Church, represent growing barriers to educating the public,” writes Daria Litvinova for U.S. News in a new report about Russia's HIV epidemic and its largely ignorant but highly sexually active youngsters. Read the article here.

Weekend blacklist 🎵

On November 30, the rapper Gone.Fludd announced that two of his concerts in Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude have been postponed, citing pressure from “every police agency you can imagine.” And this isn’t an isolated affair: for the past several weeks, under various pretexts, law enforcement has canceled concerts by Allj, IC3PEAK, and Friendzone. After venues were pressured into shutting down his concert in Krasnodar, the rapper Husky was sentenced to almost two weeks in jail for ignoring police orders (he was later released, apparently thanks to the Kremlin’s intervention). Concerts in Russia are fairly easy to stop, but the music itself is thankfully more resilient. Meduza offers the following recommended listening in a time of rising censorship.

Husky

A native of Ulan-Ude, Dmitry Kuznetsov is a former Moscow State University journalism student and perhaps the most poetically gifted of Russia’s young rappers. He’s also the genre’s most politically controversial performer. This performer once criticized Vladimir Putin in a song released on Putin’s birthday, while last year he traveled to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and transformed separatist field commander Motorola’s poems into a rap song. (Admittedly, in Husky’s best loved songs, politics is just one aspect of the generally chthonian horror of Russian life.)

IC3PEAK

This is one of the best groups to come out of the “slaughterhouse” hard rave parties that were popular in Moscow in the mid-2010s. As a duet, Nastya Kreslina and Nikolai Kostyleva have a haunting, piercing, and powerful sound with a lot of bass, a lot of high frequencies, and tons of energy. At first, they sang in English (attracting a decent number of foreign listeners), and last year they switched to Russian. This year, they released several songs about the reality of life in Russia, which is when the group’s concerts started running into trouble.

Allj

He might be the most popular young rapper today, but in Allj’s case the hip hop seems to be turning into mainstream pop music, with a glossy house sound, lyrics about boozing and partying, catchy refrains, and all the rest. You may have heard his song “Rosé” (it was all the rage in Poland this year, for some reason), but it was apparently other compositions that made Allj the subject of public outrage and led to the cancellation of some of his concerts. For example, the Novosibirsk blogger Alexander Bessonov fabricated a whole story about a teenager and drugs around the song “Ecstasy.” From start to finish, the entire thing was made up.

Friendzone

With cartoonish but effective pop music made by and for high schoolers, this soulful boy-girl duet has aggressive guitars and a hip-hop groove. Friendzone’s songs are obviously designed for a specific target audience, and you can hear that in their music, but their songs are nonetheless well crafted. And apparently they’ve done such a good job capturing modern adolescence in their lyrics that parent groups and activists are now up in arms.

Egor Kreed

Kreed is known for his cover of “Million Roses,” his duet with Philipp Kirkorov, and a litany of inoffensive songs about love. A typical Old School Russian pop singer, Kreed’s main distinction is being younger than most other crooners, and it’s strange that he’s been getting censored. It could be due to the fact that Kreed is still technically a rapper, and he’s signed on Timati’s “Black Star” label. Whatever the reason, Kreed’s concert in Dagestan was canceled in October, after he started receiving threats (the music critic Khabiba Nurmagomedova might have played a role in this). They also postponed his November concert in Surgut, where police say Kreed's organizers failed to make the proper preparations.

Gone.Fludd

Twenty-four years old and raised in Murmansk, Gone.Fludd follows the canon of the so-called new school of Russian rap: a fast beat, heavy bass, refrains full of memes, and lyrics full of sex and mumbling. But he brings something all his own to the genre, as well. For example, Gone.Fludd has his own slang with terms like “superchuits,” which was the name of his last album, and means something like “very good.” On January 30, the rapper postponed his December concerts in Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude until spring 2019, citing pressure from “every police agency you can imagine.” The authorities are apparently demanding that he raise the age restrictions on his shows to 18 years or older (which, based on the letter of the law, would actually be logical).

Getting beyond autocracy 👑

Not a rap fan? Maybe you'd rather spent your weekend reading a few thousand words in a political science journal article? Now is a good time to check out “The Wilsonian Bias in the Study of Russian Foreign Policy” in Problems of Post-Communism by Seva Gunitsky and Andrei Tsygankov. In tweets on Friday, Gunitsky plugged the article, arguing that Western analysis of the Kerch Strait crisis demonstrates the over-focus on domestic drivers. The situation at home isn't irrelevant, Gunitsky and Tsygankov say, but geopolitics (Russia's “pursuit of primacy in its immediate neighborhood” and its “pursuit of peer recognition with major Western powers”) matter a lot, too.

The article concludes with four steps for a “more practical approach to Russia”: (1) assuming that Russian foreign policy isn't shaped by “autocracy” alone, (2) analyzing actual power and confidence levels among decision-makers, (3) considering how Western engagement and containment could influence Russia's foreign-policy responses, and (4) design policy based on “specific issues and factors rather than the general ‘corrupt autocracy’ approach.” Read the article here.

Yours, Meduza