Skip to main content

The Real Russia. Today. Still learning like Lenin, truckers protest again, and Wagner guards Maduro in Venezuela

Source: Meduza

Friday, January 25, 2019

This day in history (81 years ago): On January 25, 1938, the legendary singer-songwriter, poet, and actor Vladimir Vysotsky was born in Moscow. He died in 1980 at the age of 42, due to an advanced coronary condition brought about by years of tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse, aggravated by stress.
  • Meduza visits a Russian school where Soviet youth lives on
  • Moscow city officials took 789 days to ‘fix’ a broken street light. (In the end they just removed it.)
  • Russian truckers stage mass protests against fee limits on grain shipments that force them to break the law
  • Following apartment explosion in Magnitogorsk that definitely wasn't terrorism, local police are rounding up and maybe torturing Central Asian migrant workers
  • Columnist Oleg Kashin says Navalny is finally back on track with his new labor-union initiative
  • Political analyst Abbas Gallyamov says Putin is the only one left who can still rein in Kadyrov
  • Columnist Ivan Davydov says “Nastya Rybka” didn't aim to make political waves
  • Read it elsewhere: a compendium of Russia hacks, Russian mercs guarding Maduro, and resurrecting the identities of Rostov-on-Don's Holocaust victims

To live and learn like Lenin 🏫

Danil Aikin for ‘Meduza’

Mass youth organizations were a childhood staple in the Soviet Union. The Little Octobrists (ages 7 – 9), the Young Pioneers (ages 9 – 14), and the Komsomol (ages 14 – 28) served an analogous purpose to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in the United States, but in 1991, they collapsed along with the state that sponsored them. Anna Gerlinger, the principal of School 35 in the southern industrial city of Novokuznetsk, decided that her school’s Young Pioneer organization would not follow suit: she feared that the school would “lose its identity.” 28 years later, School 35 is now a lyceum, and Octobrists and Pioneers still roam its halls. They have formal salutes, wear the Pioneers’ signature red kerchiefs, and sing the organization’s classic songs, but communist ideology no longer plays a major role in their activities. Meduza’s special correspondent Irina Kravtsova traveled to Novokuznetsk to meet the present-day Pioneers and their teachers.

Read the report here: “A Russian school where Soviet youth lives on”

789 days for a heckuva solution 💡

Once upon a time, Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov noticed that a street light not far from Vnukovo Airport had stopped working. Good Samaritan that he is, Golunov reported the outage on Moscow’s “My City” Web portal, where fellow citizens can notify local officials about problems in the area. Three weeks after Golunov submitted his report, the city responded and promised to repair the street light. So he waited. And then he waited some more. Seven-hundred, sixty-eight days later, Moscow officials finally acted, dismantling the street light and removing it completely.

Throughout this process, staff at “My City” stayed in touch with Golunov, cataloging their endeavors over the course of two years. Meduza offers a paraphrased retelling of this exciting correspondence. Read it here.

Breaking the law to stop breaking the law 🚚

Russian truckers are staging mass demonstrations in the country’s southern regions, protesting against the low fees they are allowed to charge clients for transporting grain. According to the newspaper Kommersant, the maximum “tariffs” truckers are permitted to charge for grain shipments aren’t enough to cover fuel and maintenance costs, forcing drivers to overload their vehicles to earn reasonable income, which incurs fines and creates safety hazards.

“Several hundred” truckers (mostly transporting grain shipment) are blocking highway transfer terminals in the Rostov, Krasnodar, and Stavropol regions. Spokespeople for a truckers’ association told Kommersant that roughly 70 percent of drivers say the industry’s pricing needs reform.

Protesting truckers have sabotaged almost 100,000 tons of grain, which amounts to roughly four percent of Russia’s monthly shipments. The disruption has already affected several major exports, Kommersant reports.

Don't call it a terrorism case 👮

Police officers in Magnitogorsk reportedly arrested a Kyrgyzstani citizen earlier this month and tortured him in jail, according to Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz service. Khusnidin Zainabidinov’s wife says her husband is suspected of involvement in an explosion that destroyed a local apartment building and killed dozens of people. Russian officials have insisted that they believe the blast was caused by a gas leak, repeatedly denying rumors that it was an act of terrorism, but Zainabidinov apparently told his wife that police showed him photographs of several bearded men and asked him what he knows about them.

Local prosecutors are currently considering a Kyrgyzstani extradition request for Zainabidinov, who is wanted back home for his alleged involvement in June 2010 ethnic clashes that killed nearly 420 people (mostly Uzbeks) and displaced upwards of 80,000 people.

Human rights activist Bakhrom Khamroev says police in Magnitogorsk have been rounding up migrant workers from Central Asia since the December 31 apartment explosion. The city’s authorities, on the other hand, say the police are merely performing normal “preventative measures.”

Russia's Interior Ministry later denied reports that Zainabidinov is suspected of involvement in the December 31 apartment explosion, and state prosecutors announced that they will review information about Zainabidinov's apparent injuries in police custody.

The peanut gallery

💪 Kashin thinks Navalny's “Leftist turn” could be huge

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin says he thinks Alexey Navalny has finally stumbled onto a potent political project with the new labor union announced on January 24. Kashin credits the Russian authorities with instigating Navalny’s “turn to leftism,” arguing that the unpopular decision to raise the retirement ages triggered the country’s two most recent political events: Putin’s declining ratings and the gubernatorial personnel shakeup. Almost overnight, Kashin says, the Putin regime reverted to the Gaidar era, trading stability and “Russians rising from their knees” for a return to shock therapy.

Kashin sandwiches his optimism about Navalny’s labor union between a thoroughly unflattering portrait of Navalny’s political activism over the past two years. Kashin speculates that “someone promised” Navalny that he would make the presidential ballot in 2018, and he says Navalny’s campaign fell apart when that promise was rescinded. The “Smart Vote” project (to rally voters against United Russia) is already forgotten, Kashin says, and the spat with National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov only revealed that Zolotov is a relatively weak figure in Russia’s security establishment. Kashin also criticizes Navalny for drawing attention last week to leaked phone calls between Oleg Deripaska’s associates about the sex worker who exposed his August 2016 yachting trip with Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko (Kashin says this use of stolen intelligence is unethical and dangerous).

Why is Navalny’s labor union so special? Kashin says it has the potential to put the anti-Kremlin opposition in front of an issue for the first time. Typically, oppositionists are late to the party, joining social causes only after small civil society groups have mobilized and started staging demonstrations. In this pattern, oppositionists arrive as outsiders who complicate protesters’ negotiations with local officials. Kashin says the opposition has repeated this process with highway tolls, pension reform, residential resettlement, benefits monetization, and more.

Kashin argues that Navalny is now adapting a tactic employed by Soviet dissidents, trying to hold the authorities accountable to their own documented promises, in this case Putin’s “May Orders” guaranteeing raised salaries for public servants.

  • Accusing the Kremlin of creating its own political problems has been a common theme in Russian opinion writing lately. Just this week, Meduza’s newsletter has summarized similar arguments by columnists like political scientist Alexander Kynev (who says the authorities have “radicalized” the opposition) and RTVI digital director Ilya Klishin (who says the Kremlin has destabilized Russia’s mediaspace by sacrificing certain officials’ public image).

📞 Gallyamov says there's nobody left but Putin, when it comes to reining in Kadyrov

In an appearance on the television network Dozhd, political analyst Abbas Gallyamov says the autonomy and authority afforded to Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov is constantly changing. “The line is always moving,” Gallyamov argues, commenting on a recent ruling by Chechen courts (requested by Chechen prosecutors) that canceled 9 billion rubles ($135.3 million) in debt owed to a Gazprom subsidiary by local customers.

With the Putin regime “weakened,” Kadyrov can get away with more, Gallyamov says, explaining that there used to be Kremlin officials besides Putin who could contact Kadyrov and rein him in, but it’s now unclear how the Chechen leader would respond even to a call from the president’s chief of staff.

  • Despite Gallyamov's claims, the Attorney General's Office has ordered Chechen prosecutors to reverse their position and support Gazprom's appeal against the Grozny court's December ruling. The federal agency also says it will investigate the Chechen prosecutors’ “unfounded” court appeal that began this process.

💄 Davydov says Rybka's only sin was being politicized by Navalny

In an op-ed for The Insider, columnist Ivan Davydov argues that sex worker Anastasia Vashukevich’s only crime was being noticed by anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, who tied Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko to her footage of Oleg Deripaska’s yacht in August 2016. Davydov says Navalny’s involvement gave Vashukevich’s photos and videos a political dimension that she never intended, and it is politics that most frightens people like Deripaska (who rely on personal connections, not public institutions, for their wealth). Davydov even goes so far as to say that Deripaska is a more terrifying figure than Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov. (Davydov’s op-ed appeared before Vashukevich was unexpectedly released on her own recognizance on January 22.)

  • For a very different theory about Vashukevich's role in the Deripaska scandal, read Meduza's summary of Oleg Kashin arguing that she is a former FSB escort who was discarded after she served her purpose and got overconfident.

Read it elsewhere

  • 👾 National-security journalist and transparency activist Emma Best wants to compile all the data stolen and leaked by groups like Shaltai Boltai (Anonymous International), Ukrainian Cyber Alliance, and CyberHunta, who have been “penetrating and exposing Russian secrets for years.” According to journalist Kevin Poulsen, Best’s project, Distributed Denial of Secrets, is supposed to be something like “Wikileaks, but without Julian Assange’s aversion to posting Russian secrets.” These secrets aren’t anything new, but the new project is meant to make the information more accessible, especially to newbies and folks who can’t read Russian. “This Time It’s Russia’s Emails Getting Leaked” — The Daily Beast
  • 🛬 There may be as many 400 Russian military contractors now active in Venezuela, defending the Maduro regime against U.S.-backed opposition protests, sources told journalists Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev. The Russian personnel are reportedly “associated” with Evgeny Prigozhin's “Wagner” private military company, though Reuters was unable to confirm this information with its source inside the group. A “contingent” of Russian mercenaries apparently flew to Venezuela just days before the opposition protests started. “Kremlin-Linked Contractors Help Guard Venezuela's Maduro – Sources” — Reuters
  • ⚱️ “The Nazis executed an estimated 27,000 Jews, prisoners of war, and others in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, during their occupation of parts of Soviet territory during World War II,” write Polina Efimova and Katerina Patin, reporting on local activists' efforts to overcome unsympathetic state officials and honor the victims by “resurrecting the identities of those killed.” “Who Were the 27,000 Victims of Russia’s Worst Holocaust-era Crime?” Coda Story

Yours, Meduza