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The Real Russia. Today. Zolotov ditches the fisticuffs and sues Navalny, Zakharova says her parents' TV veranda is legit, and Moscow unveils a Solzhenitsyn monument

Meduza

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

This day in history. On December 11, 1918, Russian novelist and Nobel Prize laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn was born in Russia's Stavropol Krai. He died 89 years later in Moscow on August 3, 2008.
  • Navalny is being sued for defamation once more, this time by the official who wanted to beat him up
  • Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman says she acted ethically when a reality TV show remodeled her parents' country home
  • Russia's media regulator fines Google half a million rubles for ignoring local search-engine censorship law
  • Moscow unveils Solzhenitsyn monument on what would have been the writer's 100th birthday
  • Oleg Kashin says emigres are turning on Russia without the justification of Soviet dissidents
  • Andrey Sinitsyn thinks Russia’s police system risks greater repressions for the sake of signaling loyalty to the Kremlin
  • Ilya Klishin believes the police and state media are working at cross purposes on Russia's rap crackdown
  • Pavel Aptekar says the state wants to hijack the work of anti-corruption activists for less than ideal reasons
  • Gerasimov is caught promoting misleading numbers about Russia's contract soldiers
  • Maria Butina has a plea deal in the U.S.
  • Two Russian strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons land in Venezuela
  • U.S. State Department downgrades travel warning for Russia

He promised a duel, but you get a kangaroo court 🥊

Viktor Zolotov, the head of Russia’s National Guard, has filed a defamation lawsuit against anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, seeking a cool 1 million rubles (about $15,000). According to Shota Gorgadze, the lawyer representing Zolotov, the lawsuit relates in part to Navalny’s corruption allegations against the National Guard’s leadership involving property holdings. Zolotov says he will donate the money to an orphanage.

Alexey Navalny has been investigated and prosecuted repeatedly for supposedly defaming powerful Russian state officials. Most recently, in October, police interrogated him over two-year-old charges brought by Interior Ministry investigator Pavel Karpov, who accuses Navalny of sharing hyperlinks to the documentary film “Russian Untouchables,” which ties Karpov to the torture and murder of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergey Magnitsky.

In June 2018, Navalny was fined a symbolic 1 ruble for defaming Mikhail Prokhorov, after claiming that the billionaire bribed then Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin by paying three times the market value for his Italian villa. Navalny has previously lost similar defamation lawsuits brought by the billionaires Oleg Deripaska and Alisher Usmanov.

  • A day before Zolotov’s attorney announced the lawsuit, the magazine RBC reported that Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service launched an investigation into food purchases at inflated prices by the National Guard. The Russian Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office is also investigating the suspicious procurement deal, which Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation flagged in an investigative report in August 2018. Navalny’s group says the National Guard’s sole food-products supplier belongs to someone with close ties to Zolotov, who famously challenged Navalny to a fistfight afterwards. Navalny counter-offered to debate him on live television, but Zolotov refused.

An ethical veranda 📺

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova insists that she violated no laws or ethics codes when the NTV reality television show “Dachniy Otvet” built a luxurious veranda at her parents’ country home for an episode earlier this month. Zakharova told The Insider that the Foreign Ministry approved her participation on the TV program, arguing that she appeared on the show “as a daughter,” and not as a state official. She says her family contacted the network, asking to be on the show, after acquiring the real estate outside Moscow.

Transparency International Russia’s Ilya Shumanov, meanwhile, says Zakharova’s part in the show (she is on camera throughout the episode, giving tours of both the Foreign Ministry building and her parents’ country house) could be considered an ethical violation, insofar as NTV is a public broadcaster that works with the Foreign Ministry.

Spare change, Google? 💸

As promised, Russia’s federal media censor has fined Google for failing to comply with a law that requires online search engines to purge any hyperlinks to materials that are banned in Russia. Google has also refused to connect to the federal information system where these websites are listed. For violating Russia’s Internet censorship rules, Google has been fined 500,000 rubles ($7,520) — less than the maximum fine of 700,000 rubles (about $10,530).

Roskomnadzor first announced its intention to fine Google for noncompliance with this law in late October. The same legislation also prohibits Internet anonymizers and technology used to circumvent online censorship. Last year, journalists at VC.ru noticed that Google and Yandex had started removing links to such websites from their search results, before Russia's censorship law took effect.

100 years of Solzhenitsyn 🎂

Moscow has unveiled a new statue dedicated to the Russian novelist and Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn on what would have been his 100th birthday. Designed by sculptor Andrey Kovalchuk, the monument was installed in Moscow’s Tagansky District on the street that bears Solzhenitsyn’s name. President Vladimir Putin attended the opening ceremony.
Mikhail Metsel / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

The peanut gallery

🧐 Kashin is sick of traitorous emigres

In a new op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin leans into his nationalist sympathies, writing that Russian expats’ embrace of Ukraine and Western sanctions against Moscow has reached a point of “crystallization,” divorcing figures like journalist Aider Muzhdabaev and lawyer Mark Feygin from Russia’s domestic political reality. The split is so severe that no rational Russian oppositionist appears in public alongside radical emigres anymore, Kashin claims, arguing that they know it would damage their reputations at home to share the stage with anyone so hostile to the homeland.

Kashin believes the ethical grounds for “intelligentsia collaboration” with foreign adversaries that existed during the Soviet period are absent in today’s Russia. The totalitarian and murderous USSR has given way to “an ordinary, almost Western state,” he says, and what was once noble dissidence is now simply “nasty.”

🚨 Sinitsyn thinks “Soviet justice” is back, baby

In an op-ed for Republic, journalist Andrey Sinitsyn says the recent criminal investigation scare surrounding Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov may have passed without serious consequences, but it fits into the bigger story of Russia’s police system risking greater repressions for the sake of signaling loyalty to the Kremlin. This policing “innovation stimulus” has revived a Soviet-era sense of justice that sometimes leads to excesses that are not in the interests of Russia’s central authorities, such as the crackdown on rappers that accelerated dramatically in November. Rather than seek substantive changes to the country’s systems of governance and policing, however, the Kremlin finds it easier to respond to the worst excesses by launching random criminal cases for abuse of authority, Sinitsyn says.

🎤 Klishin sees a split between the siloviki and the Kremlin's media

In an op-ed for Vedomosti, RTVI digital director Ilya Klishin says the ongoing crackdown on some of Russia’s contemporary musicians is significant because the police and state media are working at cross purposes. “The siloviki have decided on repression and Kremlin journalists have decided (and been allowed) to report it,” Klishin writes, arguing that it’s impossible to know why events have unfolded like this, though he speculates that it could be “conscious subversive activity by the Kremlin's crypto-liberal tower” or a Putin administration official’s personal vendetta against Russia’s law enforcement hawks.

Klishin also notes that the likes of “Husky” and “IC3PEAK” weren’t exactly national treasures before the crackdown against them became a national news story. “To be an artist out of favor, incidentally, you don’t have to write good books or songs,” Klishin argues, acknowledging that violent lyrics and facepaint don’t appeal to everyone. Nonetheless, the recent actions by police put today’s performers on a historical continuum that can be traced back to the likes of Alexander Radishchev, the author and social critic exiled under Catherine the Great.

👮 Aptekar says the FSB is happy to run with Navalny's FBK, but only so far

In an editorial for Vedomosti, columnist Pavel Aptekar argues that Russian law enforcement agencies are using anti-corruption investigative work by activists and journalists to undermine their bureaucratic rivals without damaging the system of rents and abuses that sustains corruption. Aptekar’s article is a response to Monday’s news that the Federal Antimonopoly Service and Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office are investigating food purchases at allegedly inflated prices by the National Guard. In August, Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation published an investigative report making similar allegations against the National Guard and its only food-products supplier. (The Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office apparently opened its case before Navalny’s group published its report, but Aptekar endorses suspicions that this isn’t necessarily true.) In addition to infighting, Russia’s federal agencies are also likely interested in hijacking the anti-corruption agenda, in order to claim credit for citizen investigators’ work, Aptekar says.

Read it elsewhere 📰

📊 Stagnant contract soldiers

At his recent annual briefing for the Moscow foreign military attaché community, Russian General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov said, “The number of servicemen serving on contract has reached 384,000.” According to military blogger Denis Mokrushin and Russian Defense Policy, however, “384,000 is the very same number given by Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu almost exactly two years ago.” In other words, “Russia’s contract service program is treading water” and “has stalled with just enough new recruits to replace those who don’t renew their contracts,” writes Russian Defense Policy. “Perhaps most interesting, virtually no Russian media outlet is calling out the [Defense Ministry] on contract service.” Read the story here.

🕵️‍♀️ Butina's plea bargain

Maria Butina, the young gun nut who allegedly acted as a Russian government agent, developing covert influence among American conservatives, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with federal, state, and local authorities in any ongoing investigations, according to ABC News. Butina’s plea bargain notes that the maximum penalty for her offense is five years in prison, but she’ll likely get a lesser sentence and then a deportation ticket back home. Read the story here.

✈️ Two corrupt governments

Mike Pompeo / Twitter

“Two Russian strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons have landed in ally Venezuela in a show of support for the government there that infuriated Washington,” reports Reuters. Read the story here.

🛃 Don't reconsider — just be careful

The U.S. State Department has downgraded its travel warning to citizens contemplating a trip to Russia. Last year, the agency’s advisory read “reconsider travel — contains areas with higher security risk.” The new advisory — a “level two” advisory — encourages Americans to “exercise increased caution due to terrorism, harassment, and the arbitrary enforcement of local laws,” singling out only the north Caucasus and Crimea as do-not-travel regions. Russia’s U.S. embassy says it’s “satisfied” with the new advisory, comparing it to the warnings Moscow issues for travel to the U.K., Denmark, France, and Germany.

Yours, Meduza