This day in history. On December 3, 1991, the Soviet KGB was formally liquidated when Mikhail Gorbachev signed law 124-N on “reorganizing the state security agencies.”
On Sunday night, state television pundit Dmitry Kiselyov spent nearly 15 minutes of his flagship week-in-review show sticking up for Russian rappers, who had a rough November, full of cancelled concerts, police pressure, and backlash from parent groups. Kiselyov assured his viewers that he wasn’t defending some nasty American import, saying, “It’s believed that rap as a culture came from Black America. We got it in the 1990s. That’s not entirely true, however. The precursor of the Russian rap poetic tradition was Vladimir Mayakovsky, of course.” He then “rapped” some Mayakovsky lyrics, to prove their rappiness. The essence of Kiselyov’s remarks was that rappers represent an immensely popular, frequently patriotic “alternative subculture,” and they “shouldn’t be harassed.”
Who cares if a Kremlin pundit stands up for rappers? Russia's crackdown on rap, hip hop, and other pop artists accelerated in November. Meduza put together a “banned playlist” here, and talked to two Soviet rockers about their experience with censorship in the 1980s here. A day before Kisleyov’s show aired, police detained the “slaughterhouse” hard rave duet IC3PEAK at a train station in Novosibirsk. After searching them for drugs and questioning them at the station, the officers eventually released the musicians without charges. Some in the Kremlin apparently object to the new hostility toward rappers and other controversial pop artists. In later November, according to Margarita Simonyan (another state media pundit), the Putin administration told local courts in Krasnodar to order the early release the rapper “Husky” from his 12-day jail sentence.
Radio personality Anna Shafran, who has her own show on Vesti FM, where she also co-hosts a morning broadcast with pro-Kremlin pundit Vladimir Solovyov, has accused Moscow’s 20th “Non/Fiction” book fair of censorship for refusing to grant her stage time to promote her new book, which advocates the return of Russia’s monarchy. Apparently equally committed to civil rights and tsarism, Shafran addressed a video on Facebook to Irina Prokhorova, a member of the book fair’s expert council, citing the Russian Constitution’s ban on censorship. In an interview on Sunday, Prokhorova told Govorit Moskva that the book fair simply doesn’t have enough time and space to accommodate every author who wants to promote their work. “Censorship is when they don’t print the book for political reasons. Given that her book is published, I think any talk of censorship is inappropriate,” Prokhorova said.
Last week, Mikhail Rubin went on the radio station Ekho Moskvy to defend his investigative report for Proekt (summarized by Meduza here), where he and Roman Badanin claim that the Russian authorities have colonized and bought out Telegram news channels. The Proekt story is significant not just for accusing the Kremlin of meddling in social media, but also because it depicts anonymous channels (that ostensibly leak inside information) as unprincipled commercial projects designed to fool readers.
During the interview, Rubin cautiously explained his claim that Rosneft paid to acquire the popular Telegram channel Karaulny, saying the corporation maybe buys positive media coverage, or perhaps it spends money to prevent negative media coverage. Somewhat abandoning caution, Rubin also says it’s also possible that Rosneft works this way with other media, besides Telegram. Rosneft denies buying Karaulny, but Rubin insists that he has five very serious, informed sources who confirm the sale, and he argues that Karaulny’s content supports the claim.
Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova has second thoughts about the February 2017 law that decriminalized some forms of “light” domestic violence. She supported the legislation before Putin signed it last year, arguing that imprisoning “mildly abusive” husbands could leave mothers without breadwinners. Now Moskalkova says she’s in favor of the 2011 Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.
Moskalkova isn’t the only public official who’s criticized Russia’s 2017 domestic violence decriminalization. In February 2018, a year after Putin signed the legislation, Federal Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin said the law had allowed “maniacs to migrate to families and foster families.”
In a new op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin takes aim at Alexey Navalny, Sergey Parkhomenko, and the “Bolotnaya Square” Old Guard, arguing that their inability to compromise with the authorities and their tendency to attack moderates personally seals their obsolescence. Kashin responds specifically to two recent spats that occurred on Facebook: Navalny calling film critic (and frequent Meduza contributor) Anton Dolin a “toady” for the Kremlin, and Parkhomenko calling the late humanitarian Elizaveta Glinka “a servile, worn-out nonentity” before her death in a plane crash two years ago. Kashin also suggests that Parkhomenko’s role at the Kennan Institute in Washington and Navalny’s “Smart Vote” initiative rob the two of any claim to the Russian opposition’s “moral leadership.”
Kashin says it’s the moderates and loyalists who will “build the wonderful Russia of the future” (Navalny’s catchphrase) — “only these people, at any rate, have this chance, and those who sought it before lost it long ago,” he argues.
What prompted these attacks? Dolin questioned Navalny’s campaign against Rossiya-1 television anchor Sergey Brilev, whose British citizenship apparently makes his government “public council” memberships illegal. Dolin, who sometimes appears on state television, wrote on Facebook that he doesn’t see why Brilev’s citizenship is a public concern. Parkhomenko’s Facebook post was a response to Anna Federmesser, the founder of the “Vera” Hospice Charity Fund, joining the pro-Putin All-Russia People's Front.
In a new op-ed for Republic, columnist and former diplomat Vladimir Frolov takes a close look at Donald Trump’s last-minute decision to cancel his G20 meeting with Vladimir Putin. Frolov rehashes the “Deep State” explanation promoted by Russian state television and others (arguing that Trump needed to signal toughness on Russia, after Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted to lying to Congress about Trump Tower negotiations in Moscow in 2016). Frolov also reviews the U.S. national security community’s apprehensions about Moscow’s seizure of the Kerch Strait and Azov Sea becoming a “Crimea Annexation 2.0,” which potentially harms American interests and damages Trump’s personal credibility.
In addition to dissecting Trump’s likely motives, Frolov also highlights Moscow’s mistakes. Specifically, he says Putin’s comments at the “Russia Calling!” Investment Forum ahead of the G20 Summit were “overly triumphant” and helped back the White House into a corner. Losing the meeting with Trump was an “epic fail,” Frolov says, as it cost Moscow high-profile talks on arms control — the last area where Russia has any claim to superpower status. Frolov criticizes the Coast Guard for handling the Ukrainian ships too aggressively on November 25. “At what level was this decision made, and were the implications, including the scheduled meeting between Putin and Trump, considered at all?” Frolov asks.
In her Saturday radio show, columnist Yulia Latynina cited “strange rumors” that former Military Intelligence Directorate chief Igor Korobov was buried in a closed casket in a different cemetery than reported at a different time of day than was announced. Latynina even says she even heard a rumor that Korobov shot himself, despite the fact that his death was attributed to a “long and serious illness.” (She says she suspects this last bit of gossip was fabricated to boost the GRU's “prestige.”) According to Latynina's sources, neither Putin nor Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu attended the funeral.
Latynina attributes these developments to the military's supposed “incompetence,” recalling how Shoigu once supplied Putin with footage of American attack helicopters fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and convinced the president that he was looking at evidence of Russian aircraft bombing targets in Syria. “I've already said many times that Putin consciously tolerates a lack of professionalism in the Russian armed forces because he's afraid that professionals would stage a coup against him,” Latynina explained.
Following Ukraine’s imposition of martial law and a travel ban on most Russian men, what’s life like at the border with Russia? In a new report for The Associated Press, Nataliya Vasilyeva and Mstyslav Chernov describe the state of affairs in Chertkovo, Russia, and Milove, Ukraine, where a prickly new barbed-wire fence separates the two sides of Friendship of People’s Street. The story captures how the war in Ukraine has militarized the border and strained relationships where international borders used to be an afterthought. Read the article here.