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The Real Russia. Today. Death and conspiracy theories in Magnitogorsk, Meduza's best investigative reports in 2018, and Moscow's new ‘American spy’

Meduza

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

This day in history (114 years ago): On January 2, 1905, Russian troops surrendered to Japan, ending the Siege of Port Arthur and the longest and most violent land battle of the Russo-Japanese War.
  • Meduza reports from on the ground in Magnitogorsk, at the site of a deadly apartment building collapse
  • Conspiracy theories circulate in Magnitogorsk, where local media outlets say police are hunting down terrorists
  • Meduza follows up on its best investigative reports of 2018
  • Maxim Trudolyubov says Moscow might have have to start ‘paying more’ for its control over Russia's regions
  • The New York Times reports on Moscow's dilapidated Seven Sisters
  • RFE/RL reports on Paul Whelan, the retired U.S. Marine arrested in Moscow for espionage

Magnetic mountain's collapse 💥

Federal Emergency Management Agency / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

In the early morning hours on December 31, a gas line exploded in a 10-story apartment complex on Karl Marx Prospect in the city of Magnitogorsk, almost completely destroying one section of the building. As of January 2, rescue workers had pulled 20 bodies from the rubble, and nearly two dozen souls were still missing, with the search still underway. Hours after the explosion, Meduza special correspondent Evgeny Berg traveled to Magnitogorsk to visit the blast site and the headquarters established in town to provide aid to victims.

Read Meduza's special report here: “Meduza reports from on the ground in Magnitogorsk, at the site of a deadly apartment building collapse”

🗣️ Conspiracy theories, fly!

As rescue workers in Magnitogorsk continue to pull bodies from the rubble at Karl Marx Prospect, the city has found itself in the grips of a terrorism scare fueled by an exploded van, the unexplained evacuation of a residential building, the sudden closure of two shopping centers, and a series of reports from the media outlets Znak.com and 74.ru that the incidents are connected to a supposed manhunt for terrorists rumored to be responsible for the December 31 apartment collapse. Officials have denied these allegations, stating that the vehicle exploded because of a gas-tank malfunction. At the time of this writing, however, there has been no official explanation for the apartment building evacuation or the shopping mall closures.

Meduza's top investigative reports in 2018 🏆

All year long, there are stories about people and events, and then the public’s attention moves on, and neither readers nor journalists ever look back. But not here. Before the year is up, Meduza returns briefly to the biggest news of 2018, selected by our own correspondents, to find out what happened after reporters swooped in to cover these stories and then left. (Astute readers will notice that these reports have almost nothing to do with Vladimir Putin. who is not in fact all there is to Russia.)

  • The shopping mall fire in Kemerovo
  • The “League of Schools” versus Meduza
  • Russia’s beauty-pageant industry
  • Teenagers come forward about abuse at an orphanage in Chelyabinsk
  • The “trash protests” and the Volokolamsk landfill
  • Hungary, the most authoritarian state in the European Union
  • The boundary between Chechnya and Ingushetia
  • Maria Motuznaya and felony charges for Internet reposts
  • Pavel Grudinin, presidential candidate and businessman
  • Cornering Russia’s funeral services market
  • Women of the maternity-ward mix-up
  • A Moscow health clinic offers female circumcisions
  • Anna Pavlikova and the “New Greatness” Case
  • Construction workers marooned at a military installation outside Kamchatka
  • Primorye's gubernatorial elections

Read the whole year-in-review roundup here: “To be continued”

Trudolyubov says Russia's regions will play the political market in 2019 📈

In an op-ed on December 27 for the newspaper Vedomosti, columnist Maxim Trudolyubov argues that the Kremlin’s electoral struggles in Russia’s regions in 2018 (in Primorye especially, but also in Yekaterinburg, Vladimir, and Khabarovsk) signal that Moscow is willing to pay a higher price to maintain its political control over the country. Trudolyubov says this amounts to allowing Kremlin-sponsored candidates to use more independent political rhetoric and draw greater federal subsidies, but the exchange remains “zero sum,” meaning that it might not sustain a true political legacy that can survive the Putin regime. In any event, Trudolyubov says, regions across Russia will look to extract more independence and resources from Moscow at the first hint of weakness from the Kremlin, in the years to come.

Read it elsewhere 📰

🏗️ Stalin's seven sisters (with pics!)

Want to read a story about the repairs badly needed by Moscow’s Stalin high-rises (“rechristened for tourists with the more palatable name of the Seven Sisters”)? If so, a new report in The New York Times by Neil MacFarquhar is the thing for you. Click for the story, but stay for the photographs by Pulitzer-Prize laureate Sergey Ponomarev.

🕵️ Russia's new American spy

Over the New Year’s holiday, Russian federal agents arrested Paul Whelan, a retired Marine, on suspicion of espionage. He was in Moscow to attend a wedding. A relative told RFE/RL that his brother “has a corporate security role” with BorgWarner, a U.S.-based supplier of automotive parts and components that says it has no facilities in Russia. Russia's state-owned conglomerate Rostec said in 2013, however, that its truckmaker, KamAz, “had a long record of collaboration with a subsidiary of BorgWarner known as BorgWarnerTurboSystems.” Read Carl Schreck’s report at RFE/RL here.

Yours, Meduza