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The Real Russia. Today. Meduza speaks to writer and journalist Linor Goralik, the FSB is allowed to get suspects drunk on camera, and a Telegram channel says it's sorry

Source: Meduza

Friday, March 15, 2019

This day in history: 102 years ago today, on March 15, 1917, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated the throne. He named his brother, Grand Duke Michael, the next emperor, but the grand duke deferred, ending the Romanov dynasty's 304-year reign.
  • A new online project collects the memories of thousands of ordinary Russians
  • FSB agents got this ‘Internet extremism’ suspect drunk and filmed him. A court says the footage is legitimate case evidence.
  • Anonymous Telegram channel apologizes for insulting mayor in Ingushetia after he vows to ‘find and punish’ them
  • Local official in Krasnodar is charged with breaking the law because he shared a picture created by Mikhail Khodorkovsky's news outlet
  • Yekaterinburg court refuses to place sitting Duma deputy in jail, following detention by federal agents
  • Columnist Maxim Trudolyubov says the Putin regime has a tense, hypocritical relationship with Western institutions

‘I just absolutely can’t not care’ 💡

Linor Goralik, a writer and journalist already known for her online innovations, has released a new media platform called PostPost.Media. The project, which has no external investors or sponsors, publishes ordinary people’s stories on subjects as various as children’s horror books, odd family eating habits, and Soviet government leaders: it highlights both the most memorable events in Russian history and Russian memories of familiar, everyday situations. The website also announces that a series of books based on PostPostMedia’s collected memories will be published beginning in the summer of 2019. Meduza journalist Dmitry Kartsev spoke with Goralik about how her project fact-checks the stories it receives and what can make nonfictional stories shock readers as much as fiction.

Read the interview here: “A new online project collects the memories of thousands of ordinary Russians”

Name your poison 📹

Oral arguments are done in the case against Dmitry Tretyakov, the Primorsky Krai lawyer charged with inciting extremism online. He is the first Telegram user to be tried in Russia for the felony offense; all previous cases in Russia involving criminal charges and social-media reposts have been against VKontakte users. Tretyakov’s current arrest expires on April 4.

Sergey Valiulin, Tretyakov’s lawyer and an attorney at Open Russia's Human Rights project, told Meduza that he tried to stop the court from admitting footage recorded by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents as case evidence. The four-hour-long video from April 2018 shows Tretyakov and another arrested man named Andrey Ternopolsky drinking alcohol that was provided by the FSB. Valiulin says this was a ploy by federal agents to induce his client to confess to the felony charges. The Primorsky court overruled Valiulin’s objection, however, agreeing with prosecutors that the footage was obtained legitimately in a covert operation.

Tretyakov’s trial will resume on March 27, and Valiulin says he expects a verdict no later than March 29. Prosecutors have requested a two-year prison sentence.

Valiulin accuses the state of “shrewd maneuvering”: “If the court agrees, then Dmitry will be freed automatically, because his time in pretrial detention recently hit the one-year mark, and in these situations time served is calculated on the principle of two days for each day.”

Valiulin says procedural violations have marred Tretyakov’s trial. He highlights the fact that defense attorneys weren’t given sufficient time to prepare their oral arguments. Human rights advocates are already planning to bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Tretyakov faces felony extremism charges because he shared a Telegram post by Arkady Babchenko, the Ukraine-based firebrand journalist who made world headlines last year for faking his own murder. When reposting the content, Tretyakov added the comment, “Agreed.” Russian federal officials say this amounts to inciting “extremist activities.” Investigators have not filed any related charges against Babchenko, however.

Running scared 🙏

The anonymous Telegram channel 338 has issued a public apology to Magas Mayor Beslan Tsechoev, who recently vowed to “find and punish” the channel’s authors for a post that he deems insulting.

In a post on Friday, 338 said its March 13 comments about Tsechoev were “unfounded” and expressed irresponsibly. The individual who wrote the offending post is apparently no longer an administrator for the channel.

“We deeply regret that our team permitted this, insulting someone, his colleagues, friends, and family. We failed to review this situation in a timely manner, lost track, and didn’t catch it,” 338 said in a statement.

The staff writer removed from the list of administrators was apparently responsible for much of 338’s content about politics and policies in Russia’s North Caucasus, which means the channel’s reporting on these issues will now decline.

According to the online tabloids 360 and Baza, Mayor Beslan Tsechoev vowed in a Facebook post on March 13 to “find and punish justly within the bounds of the law” the channel’s authors for their “immoral statements.” He quickly deleted the post, though not before readers recorded screenshots. In the post, Tsechoev indicated that 338’s authors live in St. Petersburg, though he didn’t reveal how he knows this.

  • This outlet 388 markets itself as a source for insider information about Russia’s security agencies, regularly publishing photographs from special operations and details about law-enforcement activities. The channel has more than 35,000 subscribers. According to investigative reporting by the website Proekt, the channel has ties to former members of the old pro-Kremlin youth group “Nashi.”
  • On March 12, Poland-based Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov claimed that Chechen Parliament Speaker Magomed Daunov declared a blood feud against him because he called Chechnya’s first president, Akhmat Kadyrov, a traitor. Spokespeople for Daunov later denied this, blaming the misunderstanding on a deliberately distorted translation.

Nice try, MBKh ⚖️

State prosecutors in the Krasnodar region have opened an administrative case against a district council member in Yeysk over an image he shared on Facebook. Alexander Korovainy is accused of “carrying out the activities of an outlawed undesirable organization” because he reposted an image created by the website MBKh Media, a news project launched by former oil tycoon, now self-styled dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

According to the website Golos Kubani, Korovainy shared an image based on the “10-Year Challenge” (a fad that recently swept the Internet, where individuals shared photos of themselves in 2009 and 2019, typically to showcase how well or poorly they've endured the last decade). MBKh Media’s spin on the meme highlights how Russia’s currency has depreciated and consumer goods have become more expensive.

Korovainy maintains that the image he posted was created by MBKh Media, not Open Russia. (There’s an ongoing debate about whether officials have banned the Britain-based “Open Russia Civic Movement” or the Russia-based movement by the same name. Khodorkovsky founded both organizations.) Korovainy also points out that Open Russia’s logo appears nowhere in the picture he shared. He insists that MBKh Media has no relationship to Open Russia, but prosecutors say the two entities are linked because “MBKh” is short for Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky.

  • There are two ongoing felony investigations launched earlier this year against Open Russia staff. Rostov activist Anastasia Shevchenko and Maxim Vernikov, Open Russia’s former coordinator in Yekaterinburg, are charged with working directly for an undesirable organization.

He fought the law ⚖️

A court in Yekaterinburg has refused to sanction the arrest of Vadim Belousov, a State Duma deputy detained this Friday on suspicion of receiving more than 3 billion rubles in bribes between 2010 and 2014. The ruling takes effect in three days, if officials don’t challenge the decision in appellate court.

  • Last December, at the Attorney General’s request, Belousov’s fellow lawmakers voted to strip him of his legal immunity as a State Duma deputy. It was the first time in the parliament’s history that members revoked a colleague’s immunity in a closed session.
  • Former Chelyabinsk Governor Mikhail Yurevich, whom investigators accuse of acting with Belousov, has fled Russia and is wanted by police.

Trudolyubov says the Putin regime is caught between Bolshevik paranoia and a twisted social contract with the West 🤝💥

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Maxim Trudolyubov says today’s Russian authorities are caught in “constant tension,” relying on the rule of law abroad but lawlessness at home. He says Russia’s political system is dualistic: weak institutions and arbitrary justice are needed domestically, so the seizure of assets and redistribution of wealth among the elites remain possible, while the West’s financial and judicial systems provide the missing security and infrastructure needed to keep Russia’s economy running.

The tension in this double standard is that Western institutions are efficient, but they’re also dangerous, insofar as their relative transparency sometimes rebounds back at Russia. (For example, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project’s recent “Troika Laundromat” investigation exposed how a Russian investment bank may have used Western banks to launder several billion dollars.)

Trudolyubov highlights the dualistic tension in two ongoing news stories: “Internet isolation” and Michael Calvey’s arrest. The Internet offers Moscow a tool to “troll” the West and build its own profitable online industry, though it is simultaneously a “CIA invention” that enables spying and makes Russia vulnerable to external disruptions. As the Kremlin readies an Internet kill switch to counter these threats, risking social unrest and economic damage, the Baring Vostok case also demonstrates the high costs Moscow will accept, in order to maintain a system of arbitrary justice at home.

Trudolyubov says a certain Bolshevik logic drives the Kremlin’s thinking about the Internet and foreign money, where the Putin regime interprets rising inflows from abroad as a threat and therefore evidence that Russia is on the right track. For example, every year President Putin meets with the head of Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service, who delivers a harrowing report about the foreign money flowing annually to NGOs in Russia (the unsubstantiated claim is always upwards of 80 billion rubles, or $1.2 billion). Trudolyubov points out, however, that the vast majority of these funds doesn't go to “foreign agents” carrying out politically sensitive work, but to NGOs controlled by major corporations, religious organizations from foreign parishes, and so on. In other words, this money helps fuel the regime, but it’s treated publicly (and hypocritically) as a national security threat.

Yours, Meduza