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The Real Russia. Today. Putin's 2019 State of the Nation address, Ukrainian rap's preschool teacher star, and a ‘Russophobic’ FPS from Ukraine

Source: Meduza

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

This day in history: 19 years ago today, on February 20, 2000, former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak — a mentor and teacher of both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev — died suddenly in Kaliningrad due to heart failure. A criminal investigation was opened in May to look into Sobchak's possible poisoning, but the case was closed three months later without any findings.
  • Putin's 2019 State of the Nation address, in a nutshell
  • Russia's new hypersonic rocketry is as historic as the launch of Sputnik
  • Putin explains why Russia needs Internet-isolation legislation
  • How a rural preschool teacher became the star of Ukrainian rap
  • New first-person shooter gives players a ‘Decommunization’ award for destroying a monument to Lenin
  • Moscow students petition rector to defend classmate repeatedly arrested as part of crackdown on anarchists
  • Meduza's roundup of top news reported at BBC Russian Service, Novaya Gazeta, Mediazona, The Bell, and RBC

Putin's 2019 State of the Nation address, in a nutshell

🏗️ “National projects are built around people.” And you can’t fool people. People care what is done right now. Russia has colossal resources to grow and develop, and it owes these resources to its industrious citizenry.

👩‍👩‍👧‍👦 “We have been doing and will continue to do everything possible to strengthen family values.” Russia’s birth rate is falling, thanks to losses in the Second World War and in the 1990s. The country needs to be growing its population again by 2023. Russia must establish the principle of “more children, lower taxes.” The state knows where to find the money for these goals.

🏚️ “Poverty literally crushes people, depriving them of life prospects.” There used to be 40 million people in Russia living below the poverty line. Today, there are only 19 million. A social contract will help lower this number further, where the state allocates money so people can find work or receive training. Additional payments for pensions and other benefits shouldn’t depend on the subsistence minimum.

👨‍⚕️ “People often have to wait days to see a needed specialist.” By late 2020, people in any town should have access to medical care, which isn’t true today. Russians need a new outpatient care standard and they need electronic document management, so people aren’t required to produce doctor’s certificates.

🚮 “Waste problems have been ignored for a century.” The country has too many over-capacity landfills. And why have officials issued permits for the construction of homes near these dumps? “Shady businesses are cashing in on this.”

🚽 “Roughly 200,000 kids are still going to schools where there is no heating, running water, or indoor plumbing.” This problem needs to be solved within two years. Russia needs a school-focused version of “Zemskaya Medicine” (the 19th-century initiative to provide free medical care in rural Russia). The state should pay educators to move to villages and small towns.

🌾 “Nothing pure remains abroad.” Thanks to Russian scientists, the country is completely self-sufficient when it comes to wheat seeds. Russia should create its own national brand of “green” products.

👮 “[Investigators] lock up suspects and then go on vacation.” Russia still hasn’t found a way to relieve the state pressure exerted on the business community. For every one entrepreneur whose business collapses, 130 employees lose their jobs. Why does Russia treat ordinary corporate work like criminal collusion? Why are arrests prolonged unreasonably? State prosecutors and the Investigative Committee should review businesspeople’s complaints without delay. By 2021, Russia should eliminate all outdated regulations and guidelines completely and replace them with new ones.

🚀 “We will quietly tell them what we have in store.” Soon Russia will complete work on the latest “Zircon” hypersonic cruise missile, which can reach the speed of Mach 9, and could be deployed on the same ships currently outfitted with “Kalibr” cruise missiles.

💥 “Russia doesn’t plan to be the first to deploy such missiles in Europe.” The global situation has changed since the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed in 1987, but now the United States is violating everything itself and then looking for excuses. Moscow will respond in kind and asymmetrically: Russia’s weapon systems will be capable of striking not only missile launchers, but also at decision-making centers. Russia will either survive as a sovereign state or it won’t exist at all. “Some countries can [exist as vassals], but Russia cannot.”

🕊️ “Russia isn’t threatening anyone.” Russia is only responding and defending itself. The Americans are fond of pondering their own exceptionalism. “Let them count the range and speed of our advanced weapon systems.” In the end, Russians need peace to attain sustainable development.

🛰️ As historic as Sputnik

In his annual address to the Federal Assembly (a speech similar to the U.S. president’s State of the Union Address), Russian President Vladimir Putin compared contemporary Russian breakthroughs in military rocketry to the 1957 launch of Sputnik, the planet’s first artificial satellite. Putin says both Sputnik and Russia’s new Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle raise the country’s defensive capabilities and national security, and strengthen Russian science’s potential, “forming unique technological capacities.”

Why Russia “needs” Internet-isolation legislation 🔗

“They’re sitting over there — this is their invention, after all — and they’re listening, watching, and reading everything you say, and they’re storing all this information. But not for much longer.” — Putin speaking to the news agency Interfax, February 20, 2019

Vladimir Putin said on February 20 that Russia must defend itself against the threat of foreign powers trying to disable the country’s access to the global Internet. In effect, the president endorsed legislation now working its way through parliament that would authorize the state to control the exchange points connecting Russia’s Internet resources to the outside world’s. On February 12, the State Duma adopted the first reading of this “Internet-isolation” bill.

From storytime to millions of hits 🎤

In October of 2018, the rapper Alyona Alyona posted a nine-minute video on YouTube. The satirical clip, entitled “Ribki 2” (“Fishies 2”), begins as a parody of a rural children’s television show but quickly merges into a burst of impressively energetic, lightning-fast Ukrainian rap. The video went viral, and Alyona Alyona has published four equally popular music videos since. Each has received no less than a million views along with dozens of Russian-language comments declaring that the emerging Ukrainian artist already has the entire Russian hip hop world beat. However, what makes this story truly special is that 27-year-old Alyona Savranenko worked until very recently as a preschool teacher in the town of Baryshevka near Kyiv, and her day-to-day life there plays a prominent role in her videos. Meduza asked Savranenko about stardom, childhood, and body positivity.

Read Savranenko's story here: “How a rural preschool teacher became the star of Ukrainian rap”

“Hardcore Russophobia” 🎮

On February 15, the first-person shooter for PC, PS4, and Xbox One Metro Exodus went on the market. The game was developed by the Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver, a subsidiary of the German-Austrian company Koch Media. The game depicts fictional events that take place in Russia following a nuclear war, and its plot is based on the Metro fantasy series by the Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky. Glukhovsky worked with 4A Games developers to write the screenplay for Exodus.

Several days after the game’s release, players noticed an achievement titled “Decommunization.” Gamers can receive the achievement after destroying a monument to Vladimir Lenin by knocking off the statue’s arms, legs, or head. Dozens of videos soon appeared on social media that depicted players beating the monument or shooting at it.

Read Meduza's report: “New first-person shooter gives players a ‘Decommunization’ award for destroying a monument to Lenin”

Miftakhov’s story, continued 👮

The student council of the Department of Mechanics and Mathematics at Moscow State University has publicly petitioned the university’s rector, Viktor Sadovnichy, to step into the case surrounding graduate student Azat Miftakhov. Miftakhov, who is allegedly involved in the anarchist movement “The People’s Self-Defense,” has been arrested repeatedly since the beginning of this month. He was first accused of preparing an explosive device that was later found to be fake and then detained in a case surrounding the vandalism of an office belonging to United Russia, Russia’s ruling political party. Student activists have repeatedly demanded his release.

In today’s petition, students in Miftakhov’s department requested that Sadovnichy contact Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Investigative Committee, Prosecutor General, and Ministry of Internal Affairs to demand a “fair and objective investigation.” They also asked the rector to request that the identities of the officers who tortured Miftakhov after his arrest be revealed.

At least six members of the People’s Self-Defense movement were arrested this month along with Miftakhov, but he was the only one to be detained on court orders. Multiple activists who were arrested told journalists they had been tortured in custody, and anarchist activists believe they may become the next target of a large-scale state crackdown reminiscent of the “New Greatness” case that targeted teenagers in 2018.

Top stories from Russia’s news media

BBC Russian Service

  • 🛩️ The Beeb has sources who say Evgeny Prigozhin’s Raytheon Hawker 800XP business jet (with the tail number M-VITO) visited Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, in late January and early February, possibly playing a role in peace negotiations between Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and the leaders of 14 rebel groups. The plane has a habit of disappearing from online aviation tracking services just north of Africa. According to Oleg Panteleev, the head of the Aviaport Analytical Agency, this could mean that the pilot is deliberately switching off the plane’s transponder, possibly to conceal its final destination. It’s unknown if Prigozhin was aboard either of these flights, but he reportedly has extensive mercenary contracts and mining operations in the region.

Novaya Gazeta

  • 🤝 On February 20, a group of activists in Makhachkala held a press conference, appealing to Putin and Dagestan head Vladimir Vasilyev, asking the state to prevent Chechnya from gobbling up Dagestan’s borderlands, like it did to Ingushetia last year. Parliament Chairman Magomed “Lord” Daudov is heading up Chechnya’s cartographic and cadastral border commission, working closely with federal officials, while the Dagestani government has failed to show similar initiative. In November, Chechnya’s parliament posted a map on its website that claimed several borderlands entirely for Chechnya. When bloggers noticed, the map disappeared from the parliament’s website. In early February, Chechen officials detained Khizri Khizriev (a key Dagestani official in borderlands survey work) on drug-related suspicions, but later released him after Vladimir Vasilyev’s administration intervened. Kadyrov later announced publicly that Grozny wants “an exchange of equal areas of 73 hectares” (about 180 acres). Vasilyev has promised in TV interviews that Dagestan won’t repeat Ingushetia’s experience.
  • ⚱️ On February 11, in the small town of Vinogradovo, outside Moscow, a 48-year-old lawyer named Dmitry Gribov was beaten to death not far from his mother’s home. Gribov was known for his modest lifestyle and willingness to help local clients who couldn’t afford private legal representation. He also wrote extensively in local media outlets about police involvement in the illegal drug trade. The man arrested for the murder spent years harassing and attacking Gribov, after a traffic collision involving his son.


  • ⚖️ A court in the Arkhangelsk area has fined 63-year-old Anatoly Kazikhanov 15,000 rubles ($230) for reposting sacrilegious memes online, including in an atheists' group. He was convicted of “deliberate public desecration.” According to the linguistic expertise cited in the case, reposting content denotes a “reference to authority.” What were these offensive memes? One, for example, referred to an Orthodox icon as “dirty glass.” Kazikhanov says he plans to challenge the ruling.
  • 👮 Last summer, police detained a 22-year-old autistic man riding a bicycle and behaving erratically. Footage of the man in custody caused a scandal on social media and prompted allegations from his mother that officials used excessive force. A new report by the Committee Against Torture, however, finds that paramedics and law enforcement officers acted within their authority to stop the detainee from hurting anyone, including himself. According to the Committee Against Torture, the case differs from a more severe incident involving the botched detention of a schizophrenic suspect in 2006, which resulted in the suspect's death. In the more recent case, officers didn’t know about the detainee’s mental condition, which makes their actions legal, the human rights group says.

The Bell

  • 🚀 The Roscosmos State Space Corporation’s new contractor for continued construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome might be Aras Agalarov’s Crocus Group, according to two federal officials and a source at Roscosmos. The company will reportedly be hired for 40 billion rubles ($610.4 million) to build a launch pad for Russia's new Angara rockets. Aras Agalarov is perhaps best known in the West today as the businessman whose son met Donald Trump Jr. in 2013 during the Miss Universe pageant in Russia. Rob Goldstone, who promised the Trump campaign damaging information about Hillary Clinton and attended the infamous “Trump Tower meeting” in June 2016, previously worked as a publicist for Agalarov’s son. Delays and corruption scandals have plagued the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, which began in 2011. Between 2015 and 2017, thirteen people were convicted of embezzling resources allocated to the project. Last year, the Attorney General’s Office opened 140 criminal cases, leading to 50 convictions, including guilty verdicts against the directors of two former construction subcontractors. The spaceport’s total construction costs are estimated to be 300 billion rubles ($4.6 billion), roughly 10 billion rubles ($152.7 million) of which has been stolen.


  • 🏦 Roughly six months before Michael Calvey’s arrest, Russia’s Central Bank discovered problems with Vostochny Bank’s corporate loans and evidence that assets had been withdrawn from Uniastrum Bank, before it merged with Vostochny in 2017. As a result, Russian regulators determined that Vostochny Bank would need to set aside 16.7 billion rubles ($255 million) in additional reserves. This led to a conflict between Vostochny’s two biggest shareholder groups: the investment firm Baring Vostok and the former owners of Uniastrum Bank (among whom Artem Avetisyan figures largest, with a 32-percent stake). According to the Central Bank, 54 percent of Vostochny Bank’s corporate loans should have been listed as problematic, but the bank reported only 24 percent, which could reduce its portfolio security level from 49.5 percent to 35.8 percent.

Yours, Meduza