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The Real Russia. Today. Russia's Constitutional Court overrules the Ingush high court, Kiselyov promises a rap festival, and Frolov reviews the failures that killed the INF Treaty

Meduza

Thursday, December 6, 2018

This day in history. On December 6, 1917, the Parliament of Finland adopted a declaration of independence, ending its autonomy within Russia as its Grand Duchy of Finland. That same day, the Parliament adopted another bill transforming Finland into an independent republic.
  • Russia's Constitutional Court overrules Ingush high court and upholds controversial borderland deal with Chechnya
  • Russian state TV pundit says he will stage a rap festival at a nudist beach in Crimea
  • New study shows Russians plan to cut their holiday spending this New Year's
  • The U.S. plans to sail a warship into the Black Sea
  • Another Russian national has died in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • Vladimir Frolov reviews the missed opportunities and diplomatic bungling that led to the demise of the INF Treaty
  • A contractor accused of embezzling money from a Kremlin project says federal investigators robbed him
  • Two Higher School of Economics professors explain how the Russian Constitution keeps democratization hopes alive

Russia's Constitutional Court sides with Yevkurov and Kadyrov ⚖️

Russia’s Constitutional Court has upheld a controversial agreement between Ingushetia and Chechnya that surrenders disputed territory to Grozny. During the trial, representatives for both Ingush leader Yunus-bek Yevkurov and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov told the court that their agreement complies with Russia’s Constitution.

Ayub Gagiev, the head of Ingushetia’s Constitutional Court, refused to attend the hearing, stating publicly that approval of the agreement falls within the purview of his court, not the federal court. Judges on Russia’s Constitutional Court, however, ruled that Gagiev’s court lacks jurisdiction on this matter.

The Ingush-Chechen agreement was reached on September 26 and ratified by the Ingush Parliament on October 4. In late October, Ingushetia’s Constitutional Court declared the ratification to be unconstitutional, arguing that a republic-wide referendum is needed to approve the agreement. Yevkurov said the Ingush court’s ruling wouldn’t overturn his deal with Kadyrov, and promised to take the matter to Russia’s Constitutional Court.

For weeks in October, thousands in Ingushetia protested against Yevkurov’s border agreement for weeks, leading to dramatic scenes of street demonstrations and confrontations with Ramzan Kadyrov’s entourage.

Are you down with OPP? 🎤

Dmitry Kiselyov
Rossiya 24 / YouTube

State television pundit Dmitry Kiselyov says he will organize a three-day rap music festival at a nudist beach in Crimea in August 2019. “You can’t ban rap anymore than you can ban obscenities. It’s a cultural phenomenon that we face,” Kiselyov told the radio station Govorit Moskva on December 6. The pro-Kremlin pundits says he will stage the concert next summer as a response to the “hype” generated by his December 2 evening TV broadcast, where he defended rappers against Russia’s ongoing police crackdown on live performances.

Kiselyov says his rap festival will take place after the “Koktebel Jazz Party,” which he has personally organized since 2014, after the “Koktebel Jazz Festival” relocated to the Odessa region, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Bah humbug 🎄

A new study by the British firm Deloitte found that Russians plan to spend less this holiday season than they said they planned to spent last New Year’s. On average, respondents told pollsters that they will spend 16,900 rubles (about $250) this year. In 2017, the average anticipated expenditure was 17,600 rubles (about $260), though actual average spending was only 16,000 rubles ($240). Russians’ New Year’s holiday spending is roughly split between food and drinks (47 percent) and presents (42 percent).

Why are Russians planning to spend less? According to Deloitte’s study, the penny pinching is tied to fears about the country’s economic security. More than 60 percent of Russians say they believe a recession is underway, and almost one third of the country says it expects to lose purchasing power in 2019. In early November, Accounts Chamber Chairman Alexey Kudrin stated that Russians’ real disposable incomes have fallen 11 percent in the past four years. Russia’s Economic Development Ministry previously announced that real wages were expected to rise slightly in 2018, but Kudrin has also warned that this year could have “zero or even negative” growth.

The Americans

Black Sea showdown

“The U.S. has begun making the necessary preparations to sail a warship into the Black Sea, a move that comes amid heightened tensions in the region following Russia's seizure of Ukrainian ships and detention of Ukrainian sailors,” reports CNN. The U.S. military has already asked the State Department to notify Turkey about the possible arrival of an American warship in the Black Sea. Read the story here.

⚰️ Another dead Russian

A Russian national in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Florida died last Friday at a Jacksonville hospital, apparently after suffering a heart attack. Guerman Volkov, age 56, overstayed his non-immigrant visa and “entered ICE custody” in June 2017. In December 2017, a federal immigration judge ordered his deportation. Volkov is the third person to die while in ICE custody since October 1, and the second Russian citizen. In November, 40-year-old Mergensana Amar (a refugee from Buryatia) hanged himself at a detention facility outside Seattle, after a judge denied him political asylum.

🕊️ Vladimir Frolov on life after the INF Treaty

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist and former diplomat Vladimir Frolov says the cancelled meeting in Buenos Aires between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was a missed opportunity to discuss the “geographic modernization” of intermediate-range missiles in the “new era” after the U.S. withdraws from the INF Treaty. Specifically, he argues that Washington and Moscow might have found some “strategic stability” common ground on containing China’s missile arsenal.

In the article, Frolov takes a close look at Daniel Coats’s November 30 public statement, where the U.S. National Intelligence director identified the 9M729 cruise missile as a concrete INF Treaty violation by Moscow. According to Coats, Russia combined two types of tests “to develop a missile that flies to the intermediate ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty and launches from a ground-mobile platform.” Frolov says Washington’s revelations about the 9M729 are part of a diplomatic effort to rebrand the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty as a collective position, so Europe doesn't view it as a rogue move by the Americans.

While Frolov seems to regret the squandered G20 meeting, he largely blames Russia for prompting the U.S. withdrawal from the arms control treaty, rejecting Moscow’s allegations that the United States is also violating the agreement. Frolov also argues that the Kremlin made “returning to compliance impossible from both a political and practical point of view” when it recently acknowledged that the 9M729 has been deployed on Iskander missile systems. Frolov even dug up a November 2007 state news interview with Colonel General Vladimir Zaritsky, then commander of the Russian Missile and Artillery Troops, where the article's author wrote, “The flight range of a new cruise missile adapted for Iskander and successfully tested in May 2007 could exceed 500 kilometers [310 miles].”

Correction: Meduza originally attributed the above claim to Colonel General Zaritsky directly. The quote actually belongs to the author of the November 2007 article where Zaritsky offers other comments. We apologize for the mistake.

Robbing the thief 💸

Andrey Kaminov — the head of the “Ateks” federal state unitary enterprise and a suspect in the embezzlement case against several contractors and state officials involved in remodeling one of Putin’s presidential residences — says more than $30,000 disappeared from his personal savings, when federal investigators and FSB officers seized his assets on March 21, 2017.

In a letter sent to Federal Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin in late October, Kaminov reportedly says officials confiscated 8.5 million rubles (about $127,135) and $890,000 that belonged to his father. When Kaminov later studied the case materials against him, however, he discovered that the amounts listed in the police paperwork are only 8,003,580 rubles (about $119,700) and $860,000. Kaminov believes the officers who seized his savings and elected not to recount the money were likely the individuals who pocketed the missing sum. It’s unknown if Bastrykin ever responded to Kaminov’s letter.

Investigators say Federal Protective Service (FSO) Major General Igor Vasiliev embezzled money allocated to remodel the presidential residence in Novo-Ogaryovo. In charge of organizing engineering and technical support for the construction project, Vasiliev allegedly conspired with the owners of the Baltstroy holding company and several other high-ranking FSO officials to steal 1.5 billion rubles ($22.4 million) from the government by overcharging for air conditioners and roofing.

Police also arrested another two suspects in the case: Baltstroy co-owners Dmitry Mikhalchenko and Dmitry Sergeyev. In July 2017, federal investigators classified the case as “top secret,” stating that the details of the remodeling work on the presidential residence constitute state secrets.

Russian authoritarianism and democracy 🗳️

Promoting their new book, “Authoritarianism and Democracy,” Higher School of Economics professors Elena Lukyanova and Ilya Shablinsky spoke to Novaya Gazeta this week. In the interview, the two legal scholars argue that Russia’s current Constitution represents a “narrow democratic portal for the future transit to democracy.”

Lukyanova and Shablinsky reject the criticism that today’s Constitution is a “fake document.” “With great difficulty — overcoming many obstacles created deliberately by the state bureaucracy, including at the legislative level — incompletely, and often selectively, the Constitution nonetheless works,” the scholars say, “thanks to civil society, the European Court of Human Rights, the remaining independent media, and sometimes even the Constitutional Court.”

Lukyanova and Shablinsky nevertheless admit that Russia’s Constitution contains contradictory elements: chapters one, two, and nine establish civil rights and democratic foundations, while chapters three through eight “create the solid foundation for an authoritarian regime.” They attribute this split personality to the context of the December 1993 constitutional referendum, when the aftermath of the violent standoff with the parliament “dictated” a rigidly presidential form of government, despite Yeltsin’s personal commitment to human rights.

According to Lukyanova and Shablinsky, the “authoritarian bias” built into Russia’s Constitution boils down to (1) the president’s ability to appoint and dismiss the prime minister, without parliamentary approval, (2) the lack of direct elections for seats in the Federation Council, (3) the president’s power to constitute the judiciary, and (4) the president’s unilateral authority to determine the fundamentals of foreign and domestic policy. The two professors also say “creeping anti-constitutionalism” has eroded the rule of law in Russia, referring to pressure on the independent media, obstacles to the creation of political parties, and the “monster shadow government above the government” that is today's presidential administration. These phenomena, argue Lukyanova and Shablinsky, have occurred “outside the framework of the Constitution,” but still undermine its effectiveness.

Russia has avoided outright totalitarianism (apologies to Masha Gessen), thanks to Putin’s personal qualities as a leader, Lukyanova and Shablinsky say. “Putin, of course, is a supporter of authoritarian methods (the “power vertical”), but he isn’t cruel and he doesn’t enjoy suppressing his opponents — for him it’s not the goal, but just the cost,” the scholars told Novaya Gazeta.

What does the future hold? Lukyanova and Shablinsky conclude optimistically that Russia could follow the pattern set by the Soviet Union, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, where long-running authoritarian dictatorships were suddenly abandoned, when subjects finally realized the regime was an obstacle to their nation’s development.

Yours, Meduza