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The Real Russia. Today. A state TV news anchor's confession, Navalny's latest bombshell, and a police torture investigation in Ingushetia

Source: Meduza

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

This day in history. On December 26, 1825, Russian army officers led about 3,000 soldiers in a protest in St. Petersburg against Tsar Nicholas I's assumption of the throne in the so-called “Decembrist revolt.” The uprising failed, but it was celebrated during the Soviet period.
  • State news anchor Ekaterina Andreeva gives a revealing interview
  • Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation digs up dirt on Senator Andrey Klishas
  • Federal officials open investigation into reported abduction and torture of Amnesty International researcher in Ingushetia
  • Sochi journalist sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly blackmailing federal lawmaker
  • St. Petersburg's lieutenant governor (the same one who once lied about birds damaging the roof of a sports stadium) has resigned
  • Head of Russia's ‘anti-extremism’ federal police department resigns, after ex-wife allegedly reveals undeclared real estate in Europe
  • Putin's hypersonic nukes are a go
  • Vladimir Ruvinsky reviews the evolution of the term “Russophobia” within the Kremlin
  • Andrei Kolesnikov says Alexander Surinov's ouster from Rosstat marks the beginning of technocrat supervision
  • Oleg Kashin says the Putin regime's stagnation has led to war lust
  • IT specialists find some of the same privacy violations on the website of Russia's media censor that got Alexey Navalny's voting project blocked

Confessions of a state news icon 📺

On December 25, the Russian-language service of the BBC published an interview with Ekaterina Andreeva, known to many as the face of the state television network Pervyi Kanal. In the interview, Andreeva makes several amusing observations, most notably revealing that she doesn’t watch television because she considers it ”too aggressive.” She also rejects accusations that she is part of the problem, arguing that her network merely broadcasts a ”weighted presentation of information.”

While she denies the existence of news coverage ”guidelines” distributed to TV stations, she also acknowledges that opposition politician Alexey Navalny isn’t permitted on Russia’s airwaves ”probably [because] he broke certain rules” (though she says she agrees with Navalny on corruption and immigration). Andreeva also disparaged the millions of Russians who protested against the government’s recent decision to raise the retirement age, calling demonstrators ”jacked up guys in masks.”

Navalny strikes again 👊

A new investigative report by Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) takes aim at Senator Andrey Klishas, one of the authors of Russia’s latest draft legislation that would impose draconian regulations on the Internet. According to the new report, Klishas neglected to list significant income and property on his tax returns. The omissions allegedly include large real estate holdings outside Moscow (some of which are apparently owned through an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands) and a Mercedes-Maybach luxury sedan worth an estimated $173,240. In 2014, FBK also discovered that Klishas owned a ”partially undeclared” plot of land in Switzerland and a collection of expensive wristwatches worth roughly 163 million rubles ($2.4 million).

Responding to Navalny’s investigation, Klishas acknowledged that he is a wealthy man, but denied that he has any Mercedes-Maybach or offshore companies, and insisted that he owns all his property legally and pays all the necessary taxes. Klishas also said he remembers Navalny from law school at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia in Moscow, where the two were classmates. ”I know a lot about him,” Klishas said cryptically, declining to elaborate.

An unexpected investigation 🕵️

According to the Committee Against Torture, Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation on December 3 into the October abduction of Amnesty International researcher and opposition activist Oleg Kozlovsky, who says Ingush anti-extremist police officers detained him, undressed him, beat him, and threatened him with blackmail and rape, if he refused to cooperate. Kozlovsky says he was even subjected to a ”mock execution” in a field, before he was dumped at a local airport and told to forget what had happened, or else his children would be murdered.

Kovslovsky was in Ingushetia to observe protests against an unpopular territorial agreement with Chechnya. Ingush leader Yunus-bek Yevkurov, who has championed the border deal, accused him of staging the abduction and torture as a ”provocation.”

Six years for the “blackmailing journo” 💰

A year after police arrested journalist Alexander Valov, a court in Sochi has sentenced him to six years in prison for allegedly blackmailing State Duma deputy Yuri Napso. Prosecutors say Valov demanded in June 2016 that the federal lawmaker pay him 300,000 rubles ($4,325) immediately and as much as 20,000 rubles ($285) every month afterwards to stop him from publishing negative stories on his website, BlogSochi.

The case evidence against Valov revealed that federal agents were monitoring his phone conversations as a political oppositionist for roughly two years before his arrest.

So long, another Petersburg official 👋

Another top official in St. Petersburg has resigned. Say goodbye to Igor Albin, the region’s lieutenant governor, who will be remembered by constituents for supervising the construction of the retractable roof Krestovsky Stadium, and for lying in August 2017 about birds damaging the retractable roof and causing leaks.

Albin later confessed to inventing the story: he says it was a prank designed to distract the public from construction problems and lewd chants by soccer fans, but it also coincided with the appearance of footage showing then St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko cheering for the Akhmat Grozny football club alongside Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, in an apparent betrayal of St. Petersburg’s team.

Exit Center “E” 👮

On December 26, Russia’s Interior Ministry confirmed what the magazine RBC reported two weeks earlier: Timur Valiulin, the head of the ministry’s ”Center E” Anti-Extremism Department, has resigned. One source told the magazine RBC that Valiulin was forced out after his ex-wife revealed that he owned undeclared real estate in Bulgaria and Italy between 2010 and 2012.

Valiulin took command of ”Center E” in 2012, after heading Moscow’s organized crime prevention unit and the capital’s anti-extremism department. In April 2018, the U.S. government sanctioned Valiulin and dozens of other prominent Russians in response to “a range of malign activity around the globe” by Moscow. In October 2017, at a meeting of Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council, Valiulin advocated prosecuting parents and teachers whose teenage children and students participate in unsanctioned political protests.

Sources also told RBC that Russia’s other law enforcement agencies’ main complaints about Valiulin were related to his operatives’ meddling in commercial disputes, not Center E’s aggressive approach to political and online ‘extremism.’

Putin's hypersonic nukes are a go 🚀

“President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would deploy its first regiment of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles next year, saying the move meant his country now had a new type of strategic weapon,” reported Reuters on Wednesday, following a successful “pre-deployment test” of the new “Avangard” missile system. Read the story here.

The peanut gallery 🥜

😱 Ruvinsky looks at the evolution of “Russophobia”

In an editorial for Vedomosti, editor Vladimir Ruvinsky reviews the evolution of the term “Russophobia,” which circulated among nationalists before 2014, when it entered the vernacular of state officials. When “patriots” initially hijacked the word, it signified all critics of the Putin regime, but events in Ukraine gradually refocused the term on foreign adversaries, and now even Vladimir Putin is using the term to describe the hostile outside world (in his December press conference, the president spoke the word four times).

What does “Russophobia” mean to state officials today? Putin compares it to anti-Semitism, and State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has attributed Russophobia to the West’s “genetic” animosity toward Slavs. If the Kremlin genuinely believes that Russians are the world’s “21st century Jews” — a persecuted and stigmatized nation — it’s evidence that Russia’s leaders have lost their grip on common sense, Ruvinsky warns. It’s also possible, he adds, that officials in Moscow have utilized the term so aggressively in hopes of convincing the country that Western sanctions ostensibly targeting state officials and oligarchs are really aimed at the Russian people.

⚱️ Kolesnikov's eulogy for professional statistics

In an op-ed for Vedomosti, Carnegie Moscow Center senior fellow Andrei Kolesnikov argues that Alexander Surinov lost his job as head of Rosstat (Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service) because of fallout following Putin's erroneous claim during his annual end-of-the-year press conference last week that Russians’ real disposable income in 2018 might grow by half a percent, despite the fact that it fell 0.1 percent between January and November. Kolesnikov compares Surinov’s ouster to the USSR’s long history of firing (and sometimes firesquading) statistics department chiefs, when the numbers didn’t reflect policy priorities.

Kolesnikov says Surinov’s replacement, former Economic Development Ministry regulatory chief Pavel Malkov, is a pure “technocrat,” not a professional statistician, which marks a turning point in post-Soviet history. Going forward, Kolesnikov warns, expect Rosstat to lean toward federal objectives when massaging its margin of error.

💣 Kashin says the Putin regime has become the “Seinfeld” of states

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin offers his own spin on Russia’s supposed “stagnation,” arguing that the Putin regime has morphed into something Russians have “never witnessed before”: a “state about nothing.” Kashin describes this state as leadership without ideology — without even any trending debate about history. The only thing the Kremlin seems to offer today is anti-Western rhetoric and “talk of war,” which Kashin calls the Kremlin’s “need for a cataclysm to end the country’s prolonged timelessness.” “There’s nothing here to be defended seriously, and consequently there’s nothing against which to protest,” Kashin says.

Block yourself, Rosco 📡

Earlier this week, a court in Moscow sided with Russia’s media censor and blocked a website operated by opposition politician Alexey Navalny, ruling that 2019.vote violated Russia’s privacy regulations and abused Google Analytics and Yandex Metrics. Officials say Navalny’s team should have notified users when collecting any personal information, obtained their consent, and provided them with a “published document that states a privacy policy.” Moscow Tagansky District Court judge Olga Sinelnikova ruled that user data legally needs to be stored on servers in Russia, and determined that “Smart Vote” prompts users to share their bank account information to purchase merchandise without disclosing how it handles the information.

A day later, cybersecurity expert Alexander Litreev asked the federal censor (Roskomnadzor) to block the websites of the State Duma, the political party United Russia, and the news outlet Vesti.ru (a joint project by the state television networks Rossiya 1 and Rossiya 24), arguing that the three websites violate some of the same privacy rules that did in Navalny’s “Smart Vote” project.

Yours, Meduza