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The Real Russia. Today. The World Figure Skating Championships, a strange plot against Evgeny Prigozhin, and a bold lawsuit against the FSB in Ingushetia


Monday, March 25, 2019

This day in history: One year ago, on March 25, 2018, a fire killed 60 people, including dozens of children, at the “Winter Cherry” shopping center in Kemerovo. Read Meduza's report from the disaster's immediate aftermath.
  • A miracle at the World Figure Skating Championships
  • St. Petersburg activist investigated for trying to kill ‘Putin's chef’ is now under arrest for trafficking bombs
  • Admiral Alexander Kolchak’s archives have been declassified. Why is the White Army leader still so controversial?
  • Radio Svoboda deletes article about Prigozhin's catering business after threat of lawsuit
  • Russia’s Federal Security Service is being sued over Internet shut-off in Ingushetia last year during mass protests
  • Russia’s Federal Youth Affairs Agency now has the authority to get websites blocked

Miracle on ice ⛸️

Elizabet Tursynbayeva (silver), Alina Zagitova (gold), and Evgenia Medvedeva (bronze) at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships in Japan. March 22, 2019
Andy Wong / AP / Scanpix / LETA

The World Figure Skating Championships have come to an end in Saitama, Japan. The most-discussed event of the championships, the women’s singles competition, took place on March 22. In that division, Russian athletes Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva won gold and bronze respectively while Sofia Samodurova made the top eight. Elizabet Tursynbayeva of Kazakhstan also made the podium, earning a silver medal and becoming the first woman to complete a quadruple jump in any seniors’ competition. Meduza asked sports commentator Yekaterina Kulinicheva to discuss the significance of those results and explain why the Russian women’s win can be considered a true sports miracle.

Read the story here: “A miracle at the World Figure Skating Championships”

Meet the new new greatness, same as the old new greatness 💣

Roughly a year ago, police detained nearly a dozen people in Moscow on charges of belonging to an illegal extremist movement called “New Greatness” that was supposedly plotting a coup, relying on the diabolical tools of leaflets and online chat. The suspects and many of their parents, however, say they’re being framed for crimes they never committed by at least one undercover police source who tried to goad them into illegality. According to a new report by Novaya Gazeta journalist Denis Korotkov, a version of this same story is now unfolding in St. Petersburg, where suspicious characters linked to catering magnate Evgeny Prigozhin are apparently involved in a police operation against an activist named Vladimir Ivanyutenko, who’s accused of planning a bomb attack against Prigozhin.

Meduza summarizes Korotkov’s article here: “St. Petersburg activist investigated for trying to kill ‘Putin's chef’ is now under arrest for trafficking bombs”

Declassified but not defanged 📚

On March 21, it became public knowledge that Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, had declassified documents related to the criminal case against Alexander Kolchak. Kolchak led the White Army movement that attempted to regain control of Russia from the Bolshevik Red Army during the Russian Civil War of 1917 – 1923. Access to the documents declassified by the FSB remains limited: viewing them is still prohibited. Kolchak was executed by firing squad in 1920 after being convicted of war crimes, and in 1999, a Russian court declined to rehabilitate him. Rehabilitation is a legal practice typically used to exonerate the victims of Stalinist and post-Stalinist repressions, often after those victims have died. The fact that Kolchak was not accorded even that level of respect speaks to the controversy his name still inspires: in 2017, a memorial plaque mounted on the admiral’s former home in St. Petersburg was taken down just one year after its construction. At the same time, Kolchak has become the subject of various books and films, and he remains one of the most popular historical figures of the Civil War. Meduza asked history professor Andrey Ganin, a leading scholar at the Institute for Slavic Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences, to explain contemporary attitudes toward the figure of Alexander Kolchak.

Read the story here: “Admiral Alexander Kolchak’s archives have been declassified. Why is the White Army leader still so controversial?”

Bad timing for a bad story 👨‍⚖️

The U.S.-government-funded media outlet Radio Svoboda (Radio Liberty) deleted a story published last month about the activities of a company owned by the catering tycoon Evgeny Prigozhin, after receiving a letter of claim from the company calling the article defamatory.

The story, titled “They Acted Through Blackmail” (which you can still find here on Google’s cache), cites an anonymous source who claims that several competitors were forced to leave Moscow’s school catering market because of Prigozhin’s “Concord” food production facility, which dominates the city’s state procurement contracts.

Radio Svoboda says editors decided to remove the article after determining that the published information “could not be confirmed publicly without risk to our sources.” The journalists say they have no had evidence that Concord monopolized Moscow’s school catering business or committed any illegal, unfair, or fraudulent actions.

Taking the fight to the feds 📶

A man living in Ingushetia has filed a lawsuit against Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and Interior Ministry over the disconnection of mobile Internet services during last year's protests against a boundary agreement with Chechnya. Murad Khazbiev is suing the federal government in the Magas District Court, according to the newspaper Vedomosti, which has obtained a copy of his lawsuit.

“I [was] a participant of these events, and I wholeheartedly subscribe to the protesters’ critical statements and slogans,” Khazbiev states. “However there was no opportunity to share this opinion and express it publicly on social media, because I experienced limitations on communications over mobile Internet.”

Residents in Ingushetia previously asked Russia’s state censor, Roskomnadzor, to review the legality of the mobile Internet shut-off during last October’s mass demonstrations. Roskomnadzor later determined that the service disruption was executed on the basis of “the reasoned decision of law enforcement agencies,” though the censor never identified the police agency responsible.

Andrey Sabinin, the “Agora” human rights group lawyer representing Khazbiev, says the lawsuit also names Roskomnadzor and Megafon (Khazbiev’s telephone company) as third parties.

Last year, from October 4 to October 17, during mass demonstrations against a controversial agreement that ceded territory to the Chechen Republic, mobile Internet service in Ingushetia suddenly failed. The service went offline again on November 27, when hearings on the boundary agreement began in Russia’s Constitutional Court.

What's one more Internet cop? 🚔

Thanks to a government order issued on March 21, Russia’s Federal Youth Affairs Agency, Rosmolodezh, now has the power to order the state censor to block websites that distribute information “intended to encourage minors to commit life-threatening acts.” The new grounds for extrajudicial Internet censorship were introduced in legislation drafted by State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Yarovaya and signed last December by President Putin.

The government bylaws make Rosmolodezh one of several state agencies with the authority to flag prohibited online content for blocking. According to the March 21 directive, the Interior Ministry monitors for information about manufacturing and using illegal drugs, the Consumer Rights and Health Protection Service looks for information about committing suicide, the Federal Tax Service sweeps for information about illegal gambling, the Alcohol Market Regulation Service checks for information the illegal sale of booze, and Roskomnadzor is itself empowered to block websites for sharing child pornography, suicide methods, and the manufacture of illegal drugs. Websites in Russia can also be blocked by court order.

Yours, Meduza