The Real Russia. Today. Six years in prison for a Ukrainian teen, why Putin won't follow Nazarbayev, and Pavel Grudinin's raw deal
Friday, March 22, 2019
This day in history: 102 years ago today, on March 22, 1917, the United States became the first country in the world to recognize the Russian Provisional Government. The provisional government lasted about eight months, before the Bolshevik Revolution put an end to all that.
- A Russian court has sentenced a Ukrainian teen to six years in prison for ‘abetting terrorism.’ The suspect says FSB agents abducted him in Belarus.
- Tatiana Stanovaya explains why Putin won't go like Nazarbayev
- Journalist Andrey Sinitsyn says ethnic unrest in Yakutia means the era of ‘evil Americans’ is ending
- Scholar Ekaterina Khodzhaeva and former prosecutor Stanislav Rumyantsev warn against federal investigators meddling in Russia's medical profession
- Columnist Oleg Kashin thinks Pavel Grudinin got a raw deal
On March 22, the North Caucasian District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced 19-year-old Pavel Grib to six years in prison for abetting terrorist activity. According to prosecutors, Grib tried to convince a young woman in Sochi named Tatyana E. to stage a terrorist attack at her high-school graduation ceremony. Officials also accused him of supporting the “Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People's Self-Defense,” which is banned in Russia as an extremist organization.
Grib maintains his innocence, and his lawyer, Marina Dubrovina, argued in court that others had access to his Skype account, which sent messages to Tatyana about bomb-making. Dubrovina told Meduza that she plans to challenge the ruling, stating that prosecutors failed to produce evidence that her client is responsible for the correspondence at the center of the case.
Opinion and analysis
In an article for the Carnegie Moscow Center, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya says Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s resignation won’t likely affect Vladimir Putin’s transition-of-power calculus in the way that many observers have speculated. She argues that Kazakhstan’s unique political traditions, elite structure, and society, not to mention the country’s fundamentally different geopolitical conditions, mean that Nazarbayev’s exit doesn’t work as a model for Putin, though the Kremlin will pay close attention to the response from local elites.
The announcement in Kazakhstan this week has re-energized questions in Russia about Putin similarly resorting to a radical government redesign after 2024, possibly allowing him to wield head-of-state influence from a modified State Council or some other remade agency. Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya says this is unlikely, arguing that Nazarbayev’s approach is a poor fit both for Russia generally and Putin specifically.
For starters, Putin is probably reluctant to see himself as the Russian Nazarbayev, and prefers to view Nazarbayev as the Kazakh Yeltsin. In other words, Russia already managed its first post-Soviet transition of power, and Vladimir Putin is the happy result. Putin also lacks Nazarbayev’s enormous family, and his two daughters are largely hidden from the public eye, removing Kazakhstan’s family-dynasty component.
Most importantly, Putin’s “political coordinates” are totally different from Nazarbayev’s. The Russian president is a self-styled maverick and “geopolitical entrepreneur,” not a kindly “father of the nation.” Stanovaya has recently made this observation in other articles, as well, writing that the annexation of Crimea robbed Putin of “empathy” for his subjects, insofar as the Kremlin interpreted the decision’s popularity as a blank check to pursue foreign adventurism. As a result, Putin now largely ignores popular social demands and delegates almost all domestic policy. It is Putin’s achievements in foreign policy and his heroic role in the history books, Stanovaya argues, that he’s most afraid of losing in a mismanaged transition of power.
What about a collapse of the Putin regime at home? Stanovaya points out that the president has repeatedly rejected the “manual control” leadership foreign observers often attribute to his regime. It’s unlikely that Putin believes the Russian political system would collapse in his absence, which means he won’t resort to radical reforms before leaving politics. In other words, come 2024, the president will probably either amend his term limits or embark on another, new and improved tandem rule. In either event, reforms to the Constitution will be minimal, unlike in Kazakhstan.
There’s been ethnic unrest this week in Yakutia, where protests, arrests, and some violence against migrant workers followed a local woman’s rape by a Kyrgyz migrant worker. In an op-ed for Republic, journalist Andrey Sinitsyn compares the tensions to the “explosion of xenophobia” in Moscow’s Biryulyovo Zapadnoye District in October 2013, when another violent crime against a local young person sparked attacks against vegetable stands and migrant workers.
Around the time of the Biryulyovo riot, the Russian authorities briefly flirted with ethnic nationalists, probing the ideology as a mobilizing tool, Sinitsyn says. The Kremlin eventually ditched this group and endorsed a more traditional “imperial project” based on civic identity. Sinitsyn argues that the annexation of Crimea temporarily replaced Russians’ domestic xenophobia with outward-looking animosity aimed at the West. With the “Crimean consensus” fading, however, the external threat is losing its resonance, and Russians are instead displacing their collective anxiety about domestic social problems onto the country’s ethnic minorities. In Yakutia, locals are turning on Kyrgyz migrant workers, even though their numbers are relatively small and they’re statistically less likely to commit sex crimes.
In an op-ed for RBC, scholar Ekaterina Khodzhaeva and former prosecutor Stanislav Rumyantsev argue against new legislation recently submitted to the State Duma by the Kremlin that would allow the Federal Investigative Committee to use in-house review boards to consider reported medical malpractice. Khodzhaeva and Rumyantsev say the agency’s heightened attention on mostly frivolous complaints against doctors has already overtaxed regional forensic examination bureaus, inevitably degrading the quality of their work. Khodzhaeva and Rumyantsev say officials should pursue malpractice reports more carefully, as even the exam bureaus flag criminal activity in just 10 percent of cases.
Federal investigators have been overeager lately to meddle in the work of medical professionals, Khodzhaeva and Rumyantsev say, arguing that officials often press ahead with cases because proper forensic reviews take too long, and aborted inquiries make for bad crime statistics. The authors (remember that Rumyantsev is a former prosecutor) also point out that the Attorney General’s Office objects to the Kremlin’s proposal on the grounds that non-independent forensic experts are inherently less trustworthy.
In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin says the campaign over the past year to ruin Pavel Grudinin, the Communist Party’s presidential candidate in 2018, has also destroyed the “sparring partner” political system at the heart of Russian electoral politics. Kashin describes the system as window dressing in an authoritarian state, but he says the Kremlin simultaneously squeezes some utility out of presidential elections by fielding phony rivals, who draw some votes, transforming the elections into a kind of sociological study to see how much of the population is leaning marginally in which ideological directions.
Anyone who agrees to play the sparring partner’s ridiculous role is presumably promised something in return, Kashin says (ignoring Ksenia Sobchak's campaign), arguing that Grudinin never would have run in exchange for lawsuits against his business, a restraining order request from his ex-wife, the loss of his City Council seat in Vidnoye, and barred entry to the State Duma. In other words, something didn’t go according to plan, Grudinin’s deal was nixed, and now he’s paying the price.
Kashin speculates that Grudinin performed too well in polling, cruising purely on charisma, without even mounting a real campaign. Hyper-sensitive to sudden polling shifts and afraid of Grudinin’s charms, the Kremlin apparently changed its plan and decided to treat him like a genuine rival, instead.