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The Real Russia. Today. Your 10,000-year reading list, Russia's reported help selling Venezuelan gold, and a new feature for Meduza's newsletter

Source: Meduza

Friday, February 1, 2019

This day in history (101 years ago): On February 1, 1918, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic adopted the Gregorian calendar.
  • 2019’s top Russia-related books: Meduza has your reading list for the next 10,000 years
  • Novaya Gazeta reports Russia helped sell Venezuelan gold, but Russia’s Central Bank denies it
  • Meduza news briefs: a senator's dad is arrested for major embezzlement, Russians are anxious about the country's direction, that Rosgeo guy is still on the books, an arrested activist loses her daughter, and Roskomnadzor retaliates against Ofcom
  • Columnist Oleg Kashin thinks Arashukov's arrest might mobilize Russia's elites for a new Thaw
  • Columnist Maxim Trudolyubov reviews the simultaneous uniqueness and trendiness of Russian political postmodernism
  • New newsletter feature: A roundup of top news reported at major Russian news outlets

Your reading list for the next 10,000 years 📚

Hundreds of books about the Russian-speaking world are scheduled to be published in English in 2019. Hilah Kohen's new reading list narrows that group down to 104 that show exceptional promise — and gives you the tools to find the ones you’ll love in seconds.

Find the list here.

Selling Venezuela's gold 👑

On January 31, Novaya Gazeta reported that Russian agencies may have assisted in the liquidation of Venezuelan gold. The previous day, a Boeing 757 owned by the Russian company Yerofei flew from Moscow to Caracas through Dubai, increasing speculation among journalists and anti-Maduro politicians that the jet was to remove $840 million, or 20 tons of gold, from Venezuela’s national bank. That amount would reportedly represent about 20 percent of the country’s holdings. The Boeing jet made one additional trip between Moscow and Caracas between January 18 and 19.

Read Meduza's full summary here.

Meduza news briefs

Opinion and analysis

😨 Kashin says Arashukov's arrest could mobilize the elites

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin argues that the dramatic arrest of Senator Rauf Arashukov earlier this week could spark the class solidarity among the political nomenklatura needed for “liberalization.” The first step in this process, which Kashin says could begin before or after Putin leaves office, will be a social pact among the elites not to arrest each other anymore.

Kashin says Arashukov’s personal background isn’t what makes his arrest distinct or important. A North Caucasian thug who rose to prominence thanks to family connections, Arashukov’s likely criminal record doesn’t really distinguish him from other senators (for example, experts from the “Agora” human rights organization say a dozen former senators have been convicted of serious felonies). Kashin says the suspension of Arashukov’s senatorial legal immunity, on the other hand, erodes the boundaries supposedly protecting Russia’s elites, fueling fears that Putin’s security apparatus is out to get them, which raises their receptivity to a Thaw similar to Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization.

💰 Trudolyubov says Russia's postmodernism is trending

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Maxim Trudolyubov says Russia’s notorious foreign-policy “projects” in recent years (intervening and meddling in Venezuela, Syria, Africa, Ukraine, Europe, and U.S. elections) are the work of “postmodern” “political entrepreneurs” who have exhausted the Soviet-era resources available for capture at home. He argues that the Kremlin hides Russia’s new “postmodern reality” from citizens behind the “decorations” of the state Vladimir Putin supposedly restored.

In fact, Trudolyubov says, today’s authorities are the people who learned to harvest the “ruins” of Soviet modernity. He calls Igor Sechin a quintessential example of this phenomenon, describing the Rosneft president as a political entrepreneur who uses “administrative-influence” and “trade-threat” mechanisms instead of market mechanisms and public instruments to accumulate his power and fortune.

Trudolyubov notes that Russia’s recent meddling and intervention “productions” were often implemented on the cheap, pointing out that mercenary work is cheaper and politically safer than official troops. Like “hybrid warfare,” this isn’t a Russian innovation, despite what many Western journalists like to claim. In fact, Russia’s postmodern turn is a global trend. After all, Trudolyubov writes, policymakers in any country today are working with the leftovers of the bygone modern era.

Top stories from Russia’s news media


  • 🚓 Russia’s Interior Ministry and the Russian Association of Motor Insurers are struggling to comply with government orders to consolidate their databases, delaying the launch of a new system that uses road cameras to verify insurance coverage.
  • 💥 Before the end of the month, Russia’s military plans to use explosives to clear a natural dam that is blocking the Bureya Reservoir, to avoid both a shutdown of the local hydro-power plant and evacuations of nearby towns that would be necessary in the event of flooding this spring.
  • ☦️ Andrey Kolesnikov gushes over Putin’s “human rights crusade,” writing about the president's attendance at a gathering to mark the 10th anniversary of the Russian Orthodox Church Local Council and the enthronement of the Patriarch. Alluding to Ukraine, Putin signaled his “respect for the independence of church life, all the more so in a neighboring sovereign country,” while “reserving the right to respond and do our best to protect human rights, including freedom of religion.” (Read a translation of Putin's whole speech here.)


  • ❄️ A big metal structure at Moscow’s Hydroproject Institute collapsed under the weight of snow on February 1. Nobody was hurt.
  • 🥾 The Attorney General’s Office is dusting off its investigation of the 1959 Dyatlov Pass incident, where a small group of experienced hikers died in the Ural Mountains under mysterious conditions. Was the military involved? Maybe it was aliens? Stay tuned!
  • 🤝 A Moscow district court jails an anti-corruption cop for accepting 15 million rubles ($228,700) in bribes. The police colonel allegedly extorted the money from a local engineering company.

Novaya Gazeta

  • ⚱️ “Open Russia” activist Anastasia Shevchenko wasn’t allowed to visit her dying daughter at the hospital until just hours before the teenager died. Police interrogated Shevchenko all day, instead.
  • 💸 Alexander Soldatov reviews the generous donations Senator Rauf Arashukov’s family has made to the Russian Orthodox Church over the years, asking if this money was embezzled from Gazprom and laundered through the church.
  • 🚮 On January 31, police outside Moscow in the town of Kolomna raided the homes of at least eight activists who belong to a protest movement against a local landfill. Officers seized their communications hardware and interrogated nearly a dozen people.


  • ⚖️ A trial in Tula is underway against “Partisans of Guerrilla Truth” leader Alexey Menyailov and his wife, Slatana, who are charged with extremism for publishing videos that insult Stalinist concentration camp survivors and tout the superiority of men over women. The trial is going ahead at Menyailov’s insistence, despite prosecutors’ requests that the charges be dropped, in light of new legislation that lightens penalties on Internet extremism.
  • 👮 Vyacheslav Egorov, the leader of the trash protesters in Kolomna, is the first person in Russia in several years to be charged with the felony offense of “repeated public-assembly violations” — an infraction introduced in 2014 to crack down on pesky activists who won’t quit with the rallies.
  • ⚖️ Dima Shvets tells the story of Georgy Shevchenko, a man acquitted by a jury in November 2018 of murdering a homeless man in Moscow. Thanks to a series of unfortunate coincidences, police arrested Shevchenko for the crime and tortured him in custody.

The Insider

  • 🚌 The son of Kamo Avagumyan, who regularly wins major government contracts and owns a hotel with the son of Russia’s Attorney General, has apparently cornered the minibus commuter market in towns throughout the Moscow region, aggravating the already nightmarish traffic in the area.
  • 💬 Russia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal from 35 Telegram users hoping to challenge a Moscow district court’s refusal to hear their class-action lawsuit. The plaintiffs say the state violates their privacy rights by ordering the instant messenger to decipher their private correspondence. (Russia has been “blocking” Telegram since April 16, 2018.)


  • 💣 75 anonymous bomb threats from electronic accounts registered in Bulgaria led to the evacuation of 62 facilities across St. Petersburg on January 31, affecting 19 shopping malls and business centers, 17 schools, 13 health centers, 13 government buildings, and more than 29,000 people. Not a single explosive was found.
  • 📰 The Business News Agency ( has a new owner: Alexey Dementiev, the former deputy chairman of the St. Petersburg government’s Press Committee. The website is known for reporting news about the city’s political opposition, and Dementiev vows not to introduce any censorship.
  • 🎓 Federal Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin is laying off deputy directors in 64 regions across the country to free up resources for an expansion of the agency’s St. Petersburg Academy. Fontanka notes Bastrykin’s close personal ties to the academy’s rector, Alexander Efremov.


  • 📈 Russia’s Central Bank says real wages in Russia rose 4.6 percent — without factoring in the raises mandated by Putin’s latest “May Orders” for civil servants. With those pay increases included, the real-wage rise jumps to almost 7 percent.
  • 👮 In the wake of Rauf Arashukov’s arrest, RBC reviews the criminal charges against Russian lawmakers over the past decade: Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev (embezzlement and misappropriation), Senator Konstantin Tsybko (bribery), Duma deputy Denis Voronenkov (fraud), Duma deputy Alexey Mitrofanov (extortion), Duma deputy Oleg Mikheev (fraud), Duma deputy Konstantin Shirshov (fraud), Duma deputy Vladimir Bessonov (unlawful assembly organization and fighting the police), and Duma deputy Ashot Egiazaryan (fraud and embezzlement).
  • 🤝 Rosneft head Igor Sechin is asking Putin for additional tax cuts for the Priobskoye oil field that would cost the federal budget an estimated 460 billion rubles ($7 billion) over the next 10 years. Two years ago, Rosneft already secured 350 billion rubles ($5.4 billion) in tax cuts for its Samotlor oil field.


  • 🍕 “Yandex Food” (a service similar to Uber Eats) is introducing mandatory surcharges starting at 39 rubles ($0.60).
  • 🚫 Facebook and Twitter have deleted several hundred more accounts “affiliated with the Russian Internet Research Agency” and other “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Read the officials statements by Facebook here and Twitter here.


  • 💀 Federal agents have captured two of the men suspected of kidnapping and murdering the Ukrainian gangster Yury Vasilenko, who is believed to have ordered the contract killings of former State Duma deputy Denis Voronenkov and Ukrainian separatist Yevgeny Zhilin. The two suspects reportedly belong to an organized crime group in the Kursk region, where Vasilenko had a falling out.
  • 🕵️ German Alexandrov recalls the “Hollywood thriller” biography of Ruslan Gorring, the Rosgeo deputy director whose career abruptly ended this week, after the publication of scandalous Twitch streaming footage. The executive's history features an array of criminal activity and a mysterious family-wide surname change in 2011 that transformed him from Ganizhev to Gorring.
  • 🧐 Several “VIP prisoners” at Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison — including former governors and billionaires — were moved to accommodations still being remodeled to make way for at least 20 of the Ukrainian sailors captured in November 2018 at the Kerch Strait, to keep the foreign combatants from complaining about bad cell conditions.

Moscow News Agency

  • 💉 A Moscow district court has jailed Anna Glazova on suspicion of illegal drugs possession. The 27-year-old woman was the subject of a controversial article published on the website Batenka, Da Vy Transformer in December 2018 about her life as a “functioning heroine addict.” The website ultimately deleted the story on orders from federal officials who determined that the text promoted illegal drug use.

Yours, Meduza