The Real Russia. Today. Yakutia cracks down on migrants (but not from Kyrgyzstan), another former governor is detained, and John Williams takes down a Russian local official
Thursday, March 28, 2019
This day in history: 165 years ago, on March 28, 1854, Britain formally declared war against Russia, one day after France did the same. Moscow would lose the Crimean War to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain, and Sardinia.
- A Russian regional governor responded to social unrest by banning migrant workers from taking certain jobs. Was his order legal? (Yes.)
- Russian federal agents detain former Khabarovsk Governor and Presidential Envoy Viktor Ishaev for stealing money from Rosneft
- Belgorod city official resigns after new mayor is sworn in to music from ‘Star Wars’
- Russian federal agents raid the Church of Scientology in St. Petersburg
Aisen Nikolaev, the governor of Yakutia, has banned migrant workers from being employed in a range of 33 different industries in the course of 2019. Nikolaev signed the executive order after a Kyrgyz citizen was charged in a recent rape case, sparking a series of anti-migrant protests in the republic’s capital city of Yakutsk.
Pavel Chikov, a lawyer working for the nonprofit human rights organization Agora, announced that he would challenge the constitutionality of Nikolaev’s order if he could find a migrant worker who had been personally affected by it. The chief vice chair of the State Duma’s Committee on State Building and Legislation, Mikhail Yemelyanov, also said the order seemed “at first glance” to be illegal.
Actually, Nikolaev’s order was absolutely legal.
In his order, the governor of Yakutia referenced a federal legal norm that is written into Russia’s statute “On the Rights of Foreign Citizens.” The statute allows regional leaders to prohibit migrants from taking part in certain kinds of economy activity on a yearly basis if those migrants hold a temporary worker’s permit called a patent. The prohibition does not apply to highly trained specialists who do not need a patent in order to work in Russia.
Many of the country’s regions have similar prohibitions. In fact, Yakutia’s governor introduces one every year. This year’s order has been a topic of discussion since January. However, the document Nikolaev’s government issued in March differs fundamentally from that original prohibition:
- The newest ban lists particular jobs within the “Manufacturing” category, adds a new prohibited category called “Professional, scholarly, and technical activity,” and includes the profession of “chef de cuisine.”
- An exception for residents of exceptionally well-developed regions and another for participants in regional investment projects have disappeared from the order.
- The new order permits migrants to work in the freight rail industry and in pipeline-facilitated transport (e.g. at compressors or distribution stations).
In addition, comparing Nikolaev’s latest order with the equivalent prohibition from 2018 demonstrates that migrants have only now been permitted to take any position they choose within the mining industry.
The prohibition does not affect migrants from Kyrgyzstan.
Along with highly trained specialists, prohibitions like Nikolaev’s cannot affect citizens of the Eurasian Economic Union’s constituent nations: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Workers from those countries can become employed in Russia without a patent, which prevents governors from limiting the professions they can choose.
Federal agents have detained Viktor Ishaev, the former governor of Khabarovsk and the Kremlin’s former envoy to Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District. Russia’s Investigative Committee says Ishaev was detained on suspicion of stealing money from the oil company Rosneft. According to investigators, between 2014 and 2017, when Ishaev served as a vice president at Rosneft, a company he owns leased 280 square meters of office space to Rosneft at an inflated price. The case is being investigated as large-scale fraud. Federal investigators have asked a judge to place Ishaev under house arrest.
The case against Ishaev was built on evidence collected by Rosneft’s own security service, according to the news agency Interfax. On March 28, Rosneft announced that it is closing down its Far Eastern Representative Office, citing unspecified abuses discovered by the company’s own security service. Rosneft says the decision to liquidate its representative office in Khabarovsk was made late last year. A source told Interfax that Gennady Kondratov, the head of Rosneft’s Far Eastern Representative Office, has been detained in connection with the same case.
Journalists initially reported that Ishaev’s detention might be tied to a 10-billion-ruble ($153.4-million) fraud case in the lumber industry. Reporters speculated that Ishaev is connected to alleged criminal activity by former Khabarovsk Krai First Deputy Prime Minister Vasily Shikhalev and lumber industry tycoon Alexander Pudovkin, who were both arrested last week. According to the Attorney General’s Office, Shikhalev extended political patronage to Pudovkin between 2013 and 2018, showering him in federal subsidies worth more than a billion rubles ($15.3 million) and allowing more than 9 billion rubles ($138 million) in illegal lumbering. The case is being investigated as large-scale fraud and an abuse of authority.
For the second time in two weeks, FSB agents raided the Khabarovsk Krai’s government building, focusing their search on the office of Vladimir Khlapov, the government’s deputy head of security issues and cooperation with federal officials. According to RBC, Khlapov is one of Ishaev’s trusted confidants. The magazine’s source says Khlapov was detained, as well, but Khabarovsk regional officials denied this report. RBC also reports that federal agents detained Ishaev’s son, Dmitry. Other news outlets haven’t confirmed this rumor, but a source told TASS that federal officials also raided the offices of Ishaev’s family members.
Sergey Furgal, Khabarovsk’s current governor, says he “can’t wrap his head” around the news that Ishaev has been detained by federal agents. “For me, this isn’t just a news story. I don’t understand it at all, to be honest… I can’t even begin to imagine what, why, or how… I just can’t imagine it. I can’t wrap my head around it,” Governor Furgal told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. Sources close to the Putin administration told the newspaper Vedomosti that Ishaev supported Furgal’s election bid last year against incumbent and United Russia member Vyacheslav Shport. Several members of Ishaev’s old team later found roles in Furgal’s cabinet.
Viktor Ishaev was Khabarovsk’s first governor. Later in his career, he worked as a top executive at Rosneft. Ishaev took charge of the Khabarovsk regional government’s administration in 1991. In 1996, he was elected governor in the first round of voting and held the post for the next 13 years. After stepping down, he served as a presidential envoy to Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District, and as the Far East’s development minister. In 2013, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin hired him as an adviser, tasking him with overseeing the company’s development projects in the Far East. Ishaev left Rosneft in 2018.
Lyudmila Grekova, the head of Belgorod’s Culture Department, has resigned after being blamed for botching the new mayor’s swearing-in ceremony, where he took the stage accompanied by the iconic opening music from the film “Star Wars.”
“We decided to change the music, to make it more modern. We settled on that much, but we didn’t specify. There was no malice here. I myself demanded that it shouldn’t be anything foreign, and this was the result. We dropped the ball,” Grekova said after the ceremony, according to the Telegram channel Baza.
Officially, the Belgorod mayor’s office attributed the “Star Wars” music to a mistake by the building’s sound engineer. Culture Department officials say they chose different musical accompaniment: David Tukhmanov’s “Ceremonial March.”
Federal Security Service agents raided the office of the Church of Scientology in St. Petersburg on Thursday, according to the local news outlet Fontanka, citing sources in the city’s police department. The specific reasons for the search are still unclear.
Five leaders of the Church of Scientology in St. Petersburg have been under criminal investigation since June 2017 on charges of illegally operating a business, creating an extremist society, and inciting hatred. So far, however, the case has yet to come before a judge.