This day in history. On December 5, 2017, the International Olympic Committee banned the Russian national team from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang for doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
On December 5, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court sentenced 77-year-old “For Human Rights” executive director Lev Ponomaryov to 25 days in jail for repeated violations of Russia’s laws on public assemblies. Ponomaryov allegedly encouraged people to attend an unpermitted rally on October 28 outside the Federal Security Service’s headquarters in Moscow, in support of the suspects in two criminal investigations against two supposed youth extremist groups (read more about them here and here).
On December 3, folklorist and anthropologist Alexander Panchenko announced on Facebook that he was fired from St. Petersburg State University. He says the school’s administration kicked him off the faculty back in August without any explanation. One of Russia’s leading specialists on folk Orthodoxy and Russian mystical sects, Panchenko believes he lost his job because he gave expert testimony in a trial against representatives of a Pentecostal church, “essentially shattering the prosecution's case.” Meduza spoke to him to learn more about the circumstances of his dismissal and to find out why the Russian state fights against religious groups.
Vadim Ampelonsky is off the hook. On December 5, police dropped embezzlement charges against the spokesman for Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal censor. In October 2017, he and two colleagues were placed under house arrest on charges of large-scale fraud. Investigators later reclassified the charges to embezzlement (lowering the damages caused from 23 million rubles to six million rubles — almost $90,000), but he still faced up to 10 years in prison. In May 2018, a Moscow district court also seized Ampelonsky's property.
Ampelonsky and his accomplices were suspected of billing the government for work by fictitious staff between 2012 and 2017 and keeping the wages for themselves. According to Ampelonsky’s lawyer, police are also dropping the charges against several other suspects, though he didn’t say against whom. Eighteen people have been named in the case, including Roskomnadzor’s former legal department head, Boris Edidin, “Main Radio Frequency Center” federal unitary enterprise CEO Anastasia Zvyzgintseva, and Zvyzgintseva’s former adviser, Akexander Veselchakov.
On December 2, an entrepreneur in St. Petersburg named Andrey Veselov wrote on Facebook that he’d interviewed more than 45 candidates for a sales manager position and found only one suitable applicant, “but she’s a girl,” so he decided not to hire her, he stated openly.
In a Facebook post later republished by the website VC.ru, “Ad.wize” executive director Nikolai Mikhailov later defended Veselov’s discrimination, arguing that childbirth and childrearing make women inherently unreliable staff. Mikhailov went a bit further, too, complaining that “fembots burn us at the stake” for hiring only men, and also moaned that employers can no longer hire “women over 35 or lesbians,” because “you can’t rule out anything anymore” (meaning that they can now have children, too).
On December 5, in a post on her Telegram channel, The Robber's Daughter, journalist Nastya Krasilnikova drew attention to the scandal, writing, “It’s hilarious and terrifying to read this: hilarious because it’s unbelievable that people would voice these ideas publicly in 2018, and terrifying because unfortunately a large number of women face these stereotypes when looking for work.”
In an article for the Carnegie Moscow Center, journalist Andrey Pertsev argues that the Putin administration is relying increasingly on corporate management tactics in the face of rising political competition and social uncertainty, putting the Kremlin at risk of becoming disconnected from the public. Pertsev says First Deputy Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko (the former head of the nuclear energy company Rosatom and the head of the Kremlin’s domestic policy since 2016) has introduced “corporate discipline with a Soviet touch,” built on key performance indicators (KPIs) and training camps devoted to team building and cultivating loyalty. Kiriyenko has worked closely with the Kremlin’s gubernatorial candidates, and the September elections are considered a big success because his new “young technocrats” won their races, while Old School candidates struggled.
Vladimir Putin has apparently embraced Kiriyenko’s business approach, judging by Kiriyenko-associate Alexander Kharichev’s supervisory role at the meeting of the State Council advisory body in Crimea last month. The group assembled according to a “new format” modeled on corporate training, and pro-Kremlin Telegram channels and even the state news media covered the event enthusiastically. Pertsev speculates that the State Council could even be one way Putin maintains political influence, after his current presidential term ends, pending certain “redesigns” in Russia’s executive branch.
So how’s everything working out? Pertsev has his doubts, arguing that all this borrowed corporate culture is a poor fit for the dialogue and compromise inherent to politics. He also worries that the Kremlin’s transition to a corporate model has created a corporate reality within the Putin administration, walling off federal officials to the lived reality of most Russians, in order to protect the president from politics that are increasingly chaotic and unpredictable. The Putin regime, Pertsev says, isn’t equipped for real political competition, so it’s trying to respond with strict corporate order. This transition to a business model, however, has coincided with the government’s declining popularity and the growth of social discontent.
Russian-American billionaire Valentin Gapontsev, the founder and CEO of the laser company IPG Photonics, has hired the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright to challenge the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision to list him as a Russian oligarch, arguing that Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to take up a “serious inquiry” before including his name on a list of purported Putin cronies in January 2018, according to The National Law Journal. While Gapontsev hasn’t been formally sanctioned, his lawyers argue that his inclusion on the “Kremlin list” has damaged his reputation. Read the story here.
In an article for Reuters, journalist Polina Ivanova reports from Berdyansk, Ukraine, where the Russian Coast Guard has blocked the Kerch Strait to vessels bound for Ukrainian ports, effectively putting this area under naval blockade. “The recent escalation in tensions has not affected ships coming to pick up grain from the Russian side of the Azov Sea,” the director of a trading firm operating in the area told Ivanova, who followed the story of the “Island Bay” cargo ship, still waiting to collect its 5,500 tons of wheat, for export to mills in Libya. Read the story here.
On December 5, the Ukrainian Attorney General’s Office published a 10-minute English-language video “reconstructing the events in the Kerch Strait” in late November that led to the capture of three Ukrainian ships and two dozen sailors. You can watch the video here. BBC Kyiv correspondent Jonah Fisher summarized the video in 10 tweets, arguing that the new evidence suggests “Ukraine was trying to demonstrate its legal right to use the Kerch Strait freely,” insofar as “the ships were instructed to proceed, despite it being pretty clear that Russia didn’t want them.” In other words, Kyiv decided “not to allow themselves to be pushed around here.” As for the “big picture,” the evidence shows that “Russia attacked the Ukrainian ships in international waters [...] as they were trying to leave.”
In a report for AFP from the Siberian city of Yakutsk, Maria Antonova says melting permafrost threatens water, sewage, and oil pipes, buried chemical, biological, and radioactive substances, and buildings across the region. “Nothing that was built on permafrost was built with the expectation that it would melt,” the deputy director of the Permafrost Institute told Antonova, explaining his group’s lobbying efforts in Moscow to conserve the permafrost and prevent serious harm to the environment of the Russian North and Siberia. And here's a fun fact: about 65 percent of Russia’s territory is covered by permafrost. Read the story here.
In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz argue that “military and diplomatic officials from the United States and Russia should meet to address and resolve the issues of verification and compliance” with the INF Treaty, not abandon it, as Washington has vowed to do in two months, if Moscow doesn’t comply with the agreement. Gorbachev and Shultz also call for an “informal forum of U.S. and Russian experts to address the changes in the security landscape that have occurred over the past decades, including missile defenses, precision conventional weapons, space systems, cyber-threats, and the nuclear weapons of other countries.” Read the text here.