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The Real Russia. Today. Internet isolation moves forward, making sense of Nord Stream 2, and dealing with anti-vaxxer parents in Russia

Source: Meduza

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

This day in history (three years ago): On February 12, 2016, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill sign an ecumenical declaration, known as the “Havana Declaration,” in the first such meeting between leaders of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches since their split in 1054.
  • Russian lawmakers pass first draft of Internet-isolation legislation
  • The Duma just passed legislation designed to kick soldiers off social media
  • Meduza explains the controversy surrounding a pipeline that could cut Ukraine out of Europe's gas business
  • Meduza summarizes the latest features on LGBTQ issues in and near Russia
  • Anti-corruption activist is beaten to death outside Moscow
  • Russian Supreme Court chief doubles down on Jehovah’s Witnesses ban
  • Court orders report of illegal fishing by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to be deleted
  • Moscow State University student officially detained after repeated arrests and alleged torture
  • Can Russian children get vaccinated without their parents’ permission?
  • Meduza's roundup of top news reported at Dozhd, BBC Russian Service, Kommersant, and Novaya Gazeta


🔗 Isolation legislation moves to phase two

The State Duma has passed the first reading of legislation co-authored by Senator Andrey Klishas that would allow the federal authorities to take control over the connection points linking Russia to the global Internet. Ostensibly as a defensive measure, lawmakers want to build the technical infrastructure necessary to sustain the Russian segment of the Internet in isolation from the rest of the world.

Deputy Leonid Levin, the chairman of the legislation’s steering committee, said in remarks before Tuesday’s vote that the bill needs certain amendments before lawmakers can consider a second reading. Every political party in the Duma opposed the legislation except for United Russia, which has a super-majority in parliament.

📵 No phones, troops

Lawmakers in the State Duma have passed the second reading of legislation banning soldiers from using any electronic recording devices and from talking online about their military service. In the bill’s explanatory note, the authors say the law is necessary because soldiers’ posts on social media have allowed investigative journalists to write about the actions of Russian troops in Syria. The legislation would also reduce the information available about fighting in eastern Ukraine, hazing in armed forces, and military training exercises. Read Meduza’s report on this legislation from September 2018.

🎣 Illegal reporting on illegal fishing

A court in Sochi, Russia, has ordered the investigative outlet The Insider to delete a 2018 article that exposed illegal hunting and fishing in a Caucasian nature preserve, Svobodnye Media reported. Fishing, hunting, and gathering are all prohibited in the area, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Insider’s report accused Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of participating in illegal fishing on the preserve. The preserve’s director, Sergei Shevelev, sued the publication for defamation. He demanded that the article be replaced with a public denial and requested 100,000 rubles ($1,518) in damages. The court reduced that amount to 10,000 rubles ($158).

At the time of this publication, The Insider’s article remains online. The publication has not yet commented on the court’s decision.

What's so steamy about Nord Stream 2? 💰

On February 12, European Union officials will discuss the status of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is currently being built from the Russian town of Ust-Luga to the German city of Greifswald along the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The United States and many European countries oppose the project, but it seems Russia and her main ally in this undertaking — Germany — are nearly at the finish line, following a compromise reached late last week in the EU. Meduza takes a closer look at Nord Stream 2 and why it’s fueled so much international tension.

Read the report here: “The controversy surrounding a pipeline that could cut Ukraine out of Europe's gas business”

Queerness from Prussia in 1812 to Kyrgyzstan in 2019 🏳️‍🌈

The first month of 2019 was a busy and often frightening one for journalists who write about LGBTQ life in the Russian-speaking world. While escalating arrests, torture, and killings of suspected gay and lesbian citizens in Chechnya made headlines, a number of publications also stepped beyond the Caucasus to report on queer and trans history in a variety of times and places. Hilah Kohen summarizes two recent Russian-language stories on LGBTQ life at length and briefly describes four English-language pieces. Read the report here.

Dead in Vinogradovo ⚱️

An anti-corruption activist has been beaten to death in a town outside Moscow. Late on February 11, masked assailants attacked Dmitry Gribov, the regional head of the Combating Government Corruption Center, crushing his head with metal rods. The incident reportedly occurred in Vinogradovo, north of the capital.

Viktor Kostromin, one of Gribov’s colleagues, says he thinks the murder is linked to a past traffic dispute where Gribov was also attacked. The anti-corruption activist apparently spent two years trying to get a criminal case launched against the assailants, who also set fire to his vehicle. Recently, police started investigating one of the attackers, and the trial was scheduled to begin this week.

Doubling down on the JW ban ⚖️

The Chair of Russia’s Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, argued today that the country’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses is not motivated by religious animus. His statement came several days after an elder in the organization was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of organizing an extremist group.

Lebedev said, “No one is persecuting anyone else for their religion here. An organization was prohibited because, as the Supreme Court has previously indicated, the organization participated in illegal activity. Even if you changed the law, nothing would happen.” Lebedev was likely referring to Russia’s law “On Resisting Extremist Activity,” which resulted in the liquidation of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a legal organization.

In December 2018, Russian president Vladimir Putin indicated that he would speak to Lebedev in an attempt to lessen restrictions on the organization. Since the sentencing of Dennis Christensen, however, Putin’s representatives have distanced themselves from those efforts.

Another foiled “terrorist” ⚖️

A district court in Moscow has ordered Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov to be held under guard until March 7 or later. Prosecutors said Miftakhov, who is suspected of anarchist activity, participated in a 2018 attack on the Moscow office of Russia’s ruling political party, United Russia.

Miftakhov, a student of mechanics and mathematics, was first arrested on February 1 after a raid on multiple Moscow residences. He was accused of planting an explosive device near a gas line, but the device was found to be fake, and Miftakhov claims it was planted. The young man was released briefly on February 7 but was arrested again on the same day in connection with the attack on United Russia. He and other young people with anarchist connections who were arrested earlier this month have told journalists that police have tortured them and threatened sexual violence.

Seeking online advice for circumventing anti-vaxxer parents 💉

In late January, the writer Andrea Phillips pointed out that children in the United States had been posting frequently on Reddit to ask how they could receive immunizations without their parents’ permission. U.S. law on the matter varies from state to state, but it typically prohibits children under 18 from requesting health care on their own. In some cases, exceptions can be made. For example, some states allow doctors to determine whether they believe a child is mature enough to make decisions about their own treatment.

English-language media coverage on the issue has been extensive. Much of it has focused on the case of Ethan Lindenberger, an 18-year-old American whose story was first reported by the pop science publication Undark. The young man posted on Reddit to ask what he should do about the fact that he had received only one vaccination in the course of his entire life. Ethan’s mother actively opposes vaccinations, and his father shares her views. Ethan unsuccessfully attempted to persuade them to change their minds and ultimately began receiving recommended vaccinations on his own once he turned 18.

Stories like Ethan’s have led to calls for decreasing the age at which a child can make health care decisions. The necessary basis for such a move does exist in international law.

Russian children can request vaccines at age 15

Russia’s Federal Law Number 323 states that from the age of 15, a child can give informed consent to medical intervention independently of their parents. Medical intervention includes vaccinations. The issue of child vaccination has gained increasing attention in Russia due to rapidly growing rates of measles infections.

Russian medical organizations can also sue parents if they refuse to approve treatment that is necessary to save a child’s life. This right could be applicable in cases of post-exposure prophylaxis, when a vaccination is administered after contact with a dangerous virus or bacterium.

Some children have chosen to continue trying to persuade their parents

Children who ask for advice on Reddit but are too young to request vaccinations on their own are frequently told to continue telling their parents about the safety of vaccines while turning to doctors and nurses for help if needed. Children can also simply wait until they are old enough to request their own health care legally.

For his part, Ethan Lindenberg said his relationship with his mother has become tense: she saw his vaccinations as a betrayal and began to explain her opposition to vaccinations to her younger children in greater detail. Ethan said other children should be more open with their parents where vaccinations are concerned in order to avoid repeating his mistakes.

Top stories from Russia’s news media


  • 👂 Tambov Governor Alexander Nikitin was apparently recorded at an event earlier this month where he asked the region’s attorney general to take his defamation lawsuit against a local journalist to court. In an audio tape published by Dozhd, someone with Nikitin’s voice insists that he is an honest public servant, claims that the matter is being handled by the Kremlin, and asks Tambov Attorney General Vladimir Torgovchenkov to “agree” to bring the defamation case before a judge. Nikitin’s beef is with the local news website Znak.City, which in December 2017 published an interview with commentator Yuri Antsiferov that featured a political cartoon showing Governor Nikitin kneeling on the ground and wearing a dog leash held by Lieutenant Governor Oleg Ivanov, “the region’s real leader,” according to the text’s headline.

BBC Russian Service

  • 📺 In a long interview, the BBC questions television personality Tina Kandelaki about her political views, business record, and experiences in the media. She defends her attendance at the most recent World Economic Forum in Davos, arguing that the media’s attention on Oleg Deripaska’s absence exaggerated Russian oligarchs’ supposed isolation at the event. After a lengthy defense of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea (replete with observations about Western double standards), Kandelaki complains about self-appointed anti-Kremlin opposition leaders. She withholds her support for Alexey Navalny, while allowing that his videoblogger prowess could bring him success on a future Fox News equivalent in Russia. Kandelaki, who participated in Moscow’s protests against election fraud in 2011, says her post-annexation departure from opposition politics has nothing to do with the major state contracts awarded to her consulting agency “Apostol” (which went bankrupt last year after her departure). She says the state television sports network Match TV, where Kandelaki has been general producer for the past several years, was able to reduce its massive losses last year by making large cutbacks. Despite the channel’s lackluster ratings, Kandelaki says the project hasn’t “let down the country,” and therefore it hasn’t disappointed Putin, who ordered its creation. She also praises Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov as a model regional leader, and says she’s never had a financial relationship with either Kadyrov or Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, whom she interviewed for a puff-piece video on social media.
  • 🙏 Piotr Kozlov suggests three reasons why Russia hasn’t reversed its ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite Putin’s remarks last December in favor of religious freedom: (1) the courts are actually independent, at least insofar as Putin never actually ordered the Supreme Court to change its position; (2) the Supreme Court lacks the authority to invalidate laws, and it is legal violations not religious views that got the Jehovah’s Witnesses banned; and (3) the Supreme Court may be waiting on the European Court of Human Rights to rule on two appeals filed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • 🎸 In an interview with the BBC, Irkutsk musician Artem Galanov talks about his satirical work and following in the footsteps of performers like Sergey Shnurnov and Semyon Slepakov. At the beginning of the month, Galanov released a video on YouTube for his new song about a man who hangs a portrait of Vladimir Putin in his kitchen and suddenly finds his rural life marginally but noticeably improved. Galanov describes himself as a “restrained liberal,” telling the BBC that he attributes the popularity of political satire in Russia to censorship and a lack of alternative views aired on network television.


  • 📽️ Russia’s Cinema Foundation and Culture Ministry have published a list of the 24 film companies that failed to pay back state subsidies last year, disqualifying them from further government support. The debt totals roughly 720 million rubles (almost $11 million), more than 15 percent of which is owed by Enjoy Movies, which failed to return 112 million rubles ($1.7 million) allocated for a new “Aladdin” feature film. At a recent round-table hosted at the State Duma, filmmakers complained that the Cinema Foundation’s loans aren’t helping Russia’s film industry because the risks are too high. Producers need grants, not loans, they told lawmakers.
  • 👨‍⚖️ In a conference call at Russia’s Supreme Court broadcast to courts around the country, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said a new mechanism for reviewing rulings in appellate courts will be introduced this October, in an effort to reduce caseloads on judges and raise transparency. To address concerns about a lack of objectivity, appeals will start going to inter-regional courts, to avoid situations where a challenge is heard in the same courthouse as the verdict was delivered. After the conference, Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev told journalists about plans to continue decriminalizing certain felonies and expand the use of juries in district courts, and maybe even in civil suits.

Novaya Gazeta

  • 🏭 The “Winter Universiade” international student and youth competition will take place next month in Krasnoyarsk, bringing more than 110,000 guests to a city heavily polluted with smog in the winter, thanks largely to factories operated by Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal and En+ companies. To reduce emissions temporarily, City Hall has started distributing smokeless coal briquettes to residents in certain areas. The fuel is several times more expensive than ordinary coal, but the mayor’s office is giving it away for free, ostensibly as part of an environmental study (though locals have been asked to wait to burn the briquettes until closer to the Winter Universiade). In an emotional text, Novaya Gazeta columnist Alexey Tarasov says people in Krasnoyarsk are offended by the stunt and plan to set additional fires during the competition to draw attention to the city’s air pollution. President Putin is expected to attend part of the 10-day event.

Yours, Meduza