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The Real Russia. Today. Russian skinheads, challenging Navalny's allegations, and Putin's holiday legislation

Source: Meduza

Friday, December 28, 2018 (Meduza's daily newsletter will return on Wednesday, January 2. See you all in 2019!)

This day in history. On December 28, 1943, the Soviet authorities launched “Operation Ulusy” and began deporting members of the Kalmyk ethnic minority (more than 93,000 people) to forced labor camps in Siberia. The nationality was accused of Axis collaboration, despite the fact that 23,500 Kalmyks fought in the Red Army. Roughly 16,000 Kalmyks died during the relocation — almost 20 percent of the group's total population.
  • How Russia’s white supremacists are trying build their own prison brotherhood
  • In special interview, the Russian National Guard's sole food supplier addresses corruption allegations by Navalny
  • The business that beat out ‘Putin's chef’ for a Kremlin banquet contract is apparently a front company for ‘Putin's chef’
  • Russia's ambassador to UK says partial restoration of diplomatic presence is imminent
  • Vladimir Putin's holiday legislative blitz

Your New Year's weekend longread: Russian skinheads

Maria Tolstova / Meduza

In recent years, the Russian authorities have escalated their fight against nationalist organizations and ultra-right activists. Experts say the policy shift is a response to the nationalists who participated in the 2011-2012 anti-Kremlin protests and the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, where they fought on both sides. Meduza special correspondent Sasha Sulim has learned that many imprisoned Russian neo-Nazis and other far-right fanatics never abandon their efforts to unite more broadly. Some of these people even hope to create their own prison “playing card suit” — an informal movement comprising convicts who share common ideals. One of the goals of this “white suit” is to build an alliance inside the Russian prison system analogous to the Aryan Brotherhood in the United States — the white prison gang and organized crime syndicate that has terrorized American penitentiaries for the past half century.

Read Meduza's four-part special report: “Rise of a skinhead”

  • Part 1: What the Aryan heart wants
  • Part 2: Student by day, insurgent by night
  • Part 3: “We stopped trusting each other”
  • Part 4: All Nazis love animals

Feeding Zolotov and responding to Navalny 🍽️

Boris Vaninsky is one of the owners of the “Friendship of the Peoples” company, which earlier this year became the sole supplier of food to Russia’s National Guard. This week, he granted an interview to the television station Dozhd, where he discussed allegations by Alexey Navalny that his business intentionally overcharged the Russian government for its services. Vaninsky fielded questions from Dozhd presenters Ksenia Sobchak and Anton Zhelnov and Novaya Gazeta publisher Dmitry Muratov and investigative desk chief Roman Sheinov. According to Sobchak, the network invited representatives from Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) to join the broadcast, but they declined. Meduza summarizes Vaninsky’s main statements. Verbatim quotes are marked “like this.”

  • Read Meduza's summary of Vaninsky's remarks on the five major allegations: inflated prices, the FSB's investigation, ties to Zolotov and Medvedev, contracting a single supplier, and expropriated assets in Crimea

Why hello there, Evgeny 👋

For a fleeting moment, it seemed that something Kremlin-related had actually not gone Evgeny Prigozhin’s way. On December 27, the magazine RBC reported that his catering company, “Concord M,” had failed for the first time in five years to win the contract to host the annual New Year’s banquet at the Kremlin. Instead, the business went to some new, unknown company called “MSK” that had been registered just seven months earlier.

Hours after this story broke, however, journalists at the BBC’s Russian-language service unearthed evidence that MSK appears to be a front company for Concord. The reporters tried to reset the password on the email address listed on MSK’s Kremlin contract, only to learn that the account’s recovery email has a domain, which belongs of course to Prigozhin’s catering company. The BBC’s journalists also discovered that the phone number linked to the account is the same as the contact number for Concord Catering. A man who answered the telephone line confirmed that the number belongs to both companies.

Who is Evgeny Prigozhin? Known commonly as “Putin’s chef” (because of close business ties with the Kremlin), Prigozhin is a St.-Petersburg-based catering mogul whose enterprises have lucrative contracts with Russia’s army, Moscow’s school system, and more. Journalists have also linked him to the so-called “troll factory” (blamed for meddling in American politics and sanctioned by the U.S. government) and the “Wagner” private military company, whose combatants have allegedly operated in Ukraine, Syria, and several African countries (despite Russia’s constitutional ban on mercenary activity). Several men also say they have carried out attacks and staged provocations against Prigozhin’s rivals on his orders.

Friends again 🕊️

Russian Ambassador to Great Britain Alexander Yakovenko announced on December 28 that Moscow and London have reached an agreement to restore their diplomatic missions partially. Appearing on the state television network Rossiya 24, the ambassador said Russia’s embassy in the U.K. will be half-restored.

In March 2018, Russia and Great Britain each expelled 23 diplomats from their countries, following the nerve-agent attack in Salisbury, England, against Sergey Skripal and his daughter. London accuses Russian spies of carrying out the attack, in violation of international laws. In retaliation, the Kremlin forced the British Council to end its work in Russia and closed Britain’s consulate in St. Petersburg.

Happy New Year's from Putin 🍾

Ahead of January 1, Vladimir Putin likes to bang out a bunch of new laws. This year was no exception. Here is a summary of the federal laws that now bear the president’s signature:

  • Administrative penalties for adults to encourage minors to attend unpermitted public demonstrations
  • The blacklisting and outlawing of NGOs found to be guilty of “election meddling”
  • An “experimental tax” on self-employed workers in Moscow, Kaluga, and Tatarstan
  • New restrictions on zoos and public animal feeding
  • The “decriminalization” of first-time hate speech violations (read more about this initiative here)
  • An end to roaming charges on domestic Russian phone calls (but mobile data roaming is sticking around)
  • The monthly minimum wage will rise roughly two bucks, from 11,163 rubles ($160) a month to 11,280 rubles ($162)

Yours, Meduza