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The Real Russia. Today. Police try to recruit Navalny's staff, Frolov says Moscow could strike a ‘big deal’ with Trump in Venezuela, and the Tretyakov thief has a bad memory

Source: Meduza

Monday, January 28, 2019

This day in history (295 years ago): On January 28, 1724, the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences was founded by Peter the Great and implemented by Governing Senate decree. Since 1917, it's been known as the Russian Academy of Sciences.
  • Navalny foundation's office manager says police tried to recruit her as a mole, offering to pay for her mother's cancer treatment
  • Political analyst Mikhail Karyagin says Telegram channels are ruining Russians' grasp of facts and expertise
  • Former diplomat Vladimir Frolov says Moscow could be positioned for a ‘major deal’ with Trump in Venezuela 
  • Political expert Mark Galeotti says we're seeing Late Putinism, baby
  • The guy who stole a century-old painting in broad daylight from a Moscow museum has been caught
  • Police arrest drunken man who vandalized monument in Crimea dedicated to Russia's invading troops
  • Russian venture capitalists want lawmakers to legalize market for ‘depersonalized data’
  • Construction supervisor who helped build Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome reportedly found dead with self-inflicted gunshot wound
  • Read it elsewhere: NYT RussiaGate infographic, and The Bell gets Rybka's third book

Sorry about your mom 🚑

In a new video published on Alexey Navalny’s YouTube channel, an office manager for the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) named Olga Bulaeva recalls how the Russian police recently tried to recruit her to work against Navalny, offering to help pay for her mother’s cancer treatment.

In a six-minute video shared on January 28, Bulaeva describes raising two children as a single mother, as her mother fights cancer and cares for her father who suffered a stroke several years ago. Bulaeva says two uniformed officers recently detained her at a subway station as she was returning home from work. The men forced her into a room and left her alone with someone who introduced himself as “Dmitry.” He refused to release her until she listened to his proposal: cooperate with the police and she would get help paying her mother’s medical bills. Bulaeva says she was led to believe that this cooperation meant leaking information about FBK or writing something defamatory about Navalny.

When she refused to take the deal, Bulaeva says the man started insulting and threatening her, warning her that Navalny’s lawyers are “phonies,” calling her a naive girl, and claiming that the Anti-Corruption Foundation is full of crooks. When Bulaeva said she would consider cooperating, only if Vladimir Putin resigns from the presidency, the man offered her money one more time, before threatening police reprisals, if she told anyone about their conversation. In the end, Bulaeva was released without charges, and she ultimately decided to share her story on YouTube.

The peanut gallery

📰 Karyagin says Telegram is a fake news revolution

In an op-ed for Actual Comment, political analyst Mikhail Karyagin says the spreading influence of anonymous Telegram channels is causing a crisis in Russian journalism. Karyagin says traditional media outlets have started republishing anonymous, unverified claims by different Telegram channels, unwittingly amplifying various “information campaigns.”

Karyagin points out how recently recycled a (false) rumor reported on the channel Nezygar about Vladimir Putin supposedly moving his New Year’s Address to Magnitogorsk, and faults Ekho Moskvy for republishing Telegram posts by Maester on its blog platform. Karyagin says “real experts” also legitimize these anonymous sources of unverified information by writing columns for them: regional experts write for free, seeking national exposure, and recognized specialists (like Vladislav Inozemtsev writing for KremlebezBashennik) do it for money. What they’re also trading away, Karyagin argues, is their “symbolic capital” as experts.

Karyagin worries that mainstream readers lack insiders' healthy skepticism about the rumors circulating on Telegram. He also warns that these channels’ expansion beyond Telegram means more white noise in Russia’s news media, possible legal and ethical ramifications for the journalists who promote this content, and a general devaluation of real expertise in Russia, not unlike the damage done by cable TV news.

🤝 Frolov says Moscow's Venezuela gambit could lead to a ‘big deal’ with Trump

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist and former diplomat Vladimir Frolov says Moscow is playing the odds of “attractive,” “manageable risks” in Venezuela. Frolov says Russia’s foreign-policy problems in the country aren’t really the loans and contracts sunk in Caracas, or Venezuela’s significance as a Russian instrument of “nuisance power” in the Western Hemisphere. Frolov also denies any “ideological proximity” between the Kremlin and Maduro’s leftist “drug mafia” regime.

According to Frolov, the Venezuela crisis matters to Moscow because it challenges the two fundamental principles of Russian foreign policy since 2014: absolute state sovereignty and the illegitimacy of all coups and revolutions. Acknowledging that Moscow tossed aside these concepts when annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine, Frolov says the Kremlin’s new foreign-policy agenda reflects domestic concerns about the transition of power.

While the U.S. is far more capable of regime change in Venezuela than in a place like Syria (where Washington never actually set out to dethrone Assad), Russia’s position strengthens as the presidential crisis drags on without civil war. Moscow can’t expect to launch a military intervention like it did in Syria, but Russia can send arms and unofficial military advisers, so long as tensions remain simmering. Moscow also has a regional ally in Cuba, though this will be less useful than cooperation with Iran in Syria.

If Maduro maintains the military’s support and remains in office, the Trump administration could find itself facing a serious defeat, unless it decides to embark on a risky armed intervention. In this situation, Frolov speculates, the Kremlin might be in a position to strike a “major deal” with the White House, backing off from Venezuela in exchange for recognition of its own sphere of influence in the former Soviet space. After all, Frolov says, Russia doesn’t really dispute the Monroe Doctrine.

Galeotti says we're witnessing Putinism's final stage

In an op-ed for Raamoprusland, political expert Mark Galeotti catalogs the stages of Putinism, tracking the Kremlin over the past two decades from “optimism” to “disillusionment” to “interregnal experimentation” and finally to “defensiveness” and “knee-jerk aggressiveness.” Galeotti calls this fourth stage “Late Putinism,” arguing that Russia’s leadership has finally fallen out of touch with its subjects. Despite flashes of enduring “power and purpose” in the Kremlin’s actions, Galeotti says the Putin regime’s political foundations are “decaying.” Whether this means death or a future reawakening, however, is too soon to say.

Whereabouts forgotten 🖼️

The man who walked into the Tretyakov Gallery on January 27 and stole a century-old painting by Arkhip Kuindzhi is now in police custody, according to Russian law enforcement. Officers say they’ve also recovered the undamaged “Ai-Petri: Crimea” landscape painting, which the thief reportedly tried to hide at a construction site in the Moscow region’s Odintsovo district. Police say the suspect is 31 years old, and the Telegram channel Readovka posted a photograph of his arrest.

The man later told reporters that he denies stealing the painting, though he could not recall his whereabouts when the theft took place. “I don't remember well. I need to refresh my memory,” he said, according to the news agency Interfax.

The same man is also a suspect in a separate illegal drug possession case and had been released on his own recognizance. Officials are currently evaluating his competency to stand trial and investigating whether anyone else was involved in the painting heist.

On Sunday evening, the suspect walked up to Kuindzhi’s little-known landscape painting of Ai-Petri (a peak in the Crimean Mountains), pulled it from the wall, removed it from the frame, and walked out of the museum without being stopped — all in front of witnesses.

What we've got here is a failure to communicate 👮

Police in Simferopol have arrested the intoxicated man who vandalized the city’s bronze monument to Russia’s unmarked soldiers who arrived in Crimea in February 2014, ahead of the secessionist referendum that led to Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula.

The Russian troops are known euphemistically as “the polite people.” The statue was erected near Crimea’s Supreme Council in the summer of 2016.

Police arrested the suspect for misdemeanor public intoxication and are investigating him for felony vandalism. The news outlet Vesti Krym previously reported that the suspect dumped red paint on the soldier depicted in the monument because he wanted to make a political statement against the authorities.

Scroll to the bottom and click ‘accept’ ✔️

The Internet Initiatives Development Fund is lobbying Russian lawmakers to adopt new regulations that would allow citizens to sell their own “depersonalized data” on the open market. The venture capital fund says individuals could earn as much as 60,000 rubles ($900) a year by providing this information to different companies. The organization argues that the draft legislation would help reduce Russia’s existing black market trade of individuals’ personal data.

Several industry experts told the newspaper Kommersant, however, that the draft law grossly exaggerates the amount of money people should expect to earn from selling their personal information. They say the legislation is really designed to benefit Russia’s “big data” business: the country’s banks, telecoms, and major online services. There is also serious disagreement about the concept of “depersonalized data” and whether it actually protects individuals’ confidentiality.

Stepping through the door 🚀

One of the key figures involved in supervising the construction of Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome spaceport has shot and killed himself, according to the news agency RIA Novosti. Dmitry Savin, the former head of the state company “Dalspetsstroy,” was reportedly discovered at his home in Moscow’s Vykhino-Zhulebino District late on January 27 with a self-inflicted head wound from a handgun registered in his name, according to the news agency Moskva.

Dmitry Savin was head of Dalspetsstroy until March 2015, when he stepped down, citing health reasons, and became the company's deputy director. A few months later, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin demanded Savin’s dismissal, blaming him for wage arrears. Rogozin also drew attention to the fact that Savin hired his wife to a high-paying job at Dalspetsstroy.

Read it elsewhere

  • 🔗 On January 26, The New York Times published an interactive infographic aggregating more than 100 contacts Donald Trump and more than a dozen associates had with “Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries.” The graphic is even color-coded and broken down into the following categories: “had contact,” “was told about contact,” “denied contact,” and “charged by Mueller.” “Trump and His Associates Had More Than 100 Contacts With Russians Before the Inauguration” — The New York Times
  • 💄 The website The Bell reported last week that it has obtained a copy of an unpublished third book by Anastasia Vashukevich (“Nastya Rybka”), where the sex worker at the center of a scandal involving Oleg Deripaska says she met the billionaire at an Austrian ski resort in January 2017. On the trip, she also saw the American lobbyist Adam Waldman, who is reportedly tied to multiple figures involved in the U.S. Russia investigation, including Julian Assange, Paul Manafort, and Christopher Steele. The investigative news outlet Proekt previously reported Waldman’s presence at the meeting in Austria, citing footage recorded by Vashukevich and shared in a “lecture” by her “mentor,” Alexander Kirillov. “Revelations to Come? A Deep Dive Into What Nastya Rybka Might Know” — The Bell

Yours, Meduza