The Real Russia. Today. Unrest in Ingushetia, Rosneft allocates millions to the nonprofit owned by Putin's suspected daughter, and here's what Russian experts are saying on Facebook
Monday, April 1, 2019
This day in history: 28 years ago, on April 1, 1991, the military structures of the Warsaw Pact were officially dissolved. The military alliance formally ended three months later with an agreement signed in Prague.
- Ongoing protests in Ingushetia: From the latest news to the very beginning
- A former Soviet defense minister has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Lithuanian court. What for? Why now?
- Columnist Oleg Kashin says Dmitry Yazov's case isn't the one to ponder in Lithuania
- Rosneft allocates millions to the nonprofit foundation run by Vladimir Putin's suspected younger daughter
- What Russian experts are saying on Facebook: Tatiana Stanovaya, Ilya Kukulin, Lilia Shevtsova, Serguei Oushakine, Maxim Trudolyubov, Alexander Verkhovsky, Alexandra Polivanova, Maria Eismont, and Sergey Belanovsky
Since October 2018, protestors in the Russian federal subject of Ingushetia have taken to the streets to object to their government’s attempts to give up territory to the neighboring republic of Chechnya. In a broader Russian political environment that has favored the Chechen government and accorded considerably less respect to protestors, residents of Ingushetia have been remarkably persistent in their demands. Here, Meduza reviews the Caucasian republic’s current political conflict in reverse chronological order.
Lieutenant General Dmitry Kava, the head of Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry, has filed a resignation letter. A police battalion accused of interfering with the dispersal of protestors was disbanded. Local authorities approved plans for a protest in Magas but later attempted to break up the event. The protests in Magas were triggered by a proposed amendment that would change referendum procedures in Ingushetia. The decision to change Ingushetia’s referendum laws was made after an unpopular territorial agreement between Ingushetia and neighboring Chechnya. The Constitutional Court of Ingushetia ruled the proposed territorial shifts to be illegal without a referendum. The Constitutional Court of Russia disagreed.
Read the full report here: “Ongoing protests in Ingushetia”
On March 27, a Lithuanian court sentenced Dmitry Yazov, a former defense minister of the USSR, to 10 years in prison in absentia. He was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the deaths of pro-independence Lithuanians during mass protests in Vilnius in January of 1991. In total, 67 people were charged in retroactive cases related to the protests. Meduza explains what happened in Vilnius, what charges Yazov faced as a result, and why the case against him came to a close almost thirty years after the events that sparked it.
In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin says a Lithuanian court’s decision last month to sentence (in absentia) former Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov to 10 years in prison is essentially a boring work of political stagecraft. Kashin says Lithuania’s imprisonment of former Soviet officer Yury Mel is far more “interesting,” because Mel actually came to Vilnius freely, where he was promptly arrested and sentenced to seven years behind bars. Mel has been locked up for five years already — a fate he could have avoided if he’d only stayed put in Kaliningrad, where he retired.
Kashin says Mel’s story is remarkable because it mirrors the same historical thinking Mikhail Gorbachev has adopted to preserve his legacy as a liberator: “I wasn’t there.” (Kashin compares this attitude to the “They’re Not There” Kremlin denial that Russian soldiers aren’t fighting in eastern Ukraine.) Why didn’t Mel stop to think that his name would “be on file” in Lithuania? “He is probably a typical Russian in this regard,” Kashin says. “We don’t really like to think about or reflect on the past.”
Kashin speculates that Russia’s future is wide open, meanwhile, meaning that today’s geopolitical relationships could flip in the years to come. He says this is roughly what has happened between Eastern European states and Russia since the fall of Communism, and ordinary Russians like Mel are now paying the price for Moscow’s lack of foresight and its failure to negotiate agreements against the prosecution of its military personnel. When Russia eventually makes peace with Ukraine in the Donbas, Kashin says, the Kremlin could leave its foot soldiers hanging again.
According to public procurement records available online, the state-owned oil company Rosneft has allocated 28 million rubles ($427,280) to Katerina Tikhonova’s National Intellectual Development Foundation. According to reports by Bloomberg and Reuters, Tikhonova is Vladimir Putin’s younger daughter, though the Kremlin has never confirmed or denied this information.
Read the full report here: “Rosneft allocates millions to the nonprofit foundation run by Vladimir Putin's suspected younger daughter”
What Russian experts are saying on Facebook 🥜
Tatiana Stanovaya, political analyst (March 28)
“Interesting things are afoot” in regional politics. In Ust-Ilimsk, Anna Shchekina won the mayoral race with support from the former mayor, and in the Khabarovsk region, Sergey Furgal won the governor’s seat with support from former Governor Viktor Ishaev. “[This is] the elites’ discontent, pure and simple,” Stanovaya says. The power vertical is over and so is United Russia’s political monopoly. It’s amazing how fragile the regime is when bottom-up support declines, she adds.
Ilya Kukulin, historian (March 30)
Kukulin mourns translator Tamara Kazavchinskaya, who died on March 30, 2019, at the age of 79. Kazavchinskaya produced several popular Russian translations of works by Daniel Defoe, Rudyard Kipling, Emily Brontë, and others. Kukulin credits her with helping organize Moscow’s first post-Soviet demonstration of uncensored literature in the early 1990s.
Lilia Shevtsova, political analyst (March 28)
Mikhail Abyzov’s arrest dominated headlines last week, but there were two other recent “dramas” in Russian politics, too: (1) Nazarbayev’s “resignation,” and (2) the end of the Mueller report. The former event was an “unpleasant gift” to the Kremlin, as it reignited the “transit” conversation about 2024 and all the related anxiety. These concerns “throw the president’s agenda in the trash,” making it harder for him to talk about the national projects he wants to promote. The absence of “collusion” in the U.S., meanwhile, means that Democrats will drop Russia from their agenda and focus on other ways to undermine Trump, depriving Moscow of the “bipolarity” it enjoyed when it seemed Putin had secretly installed the American president. This will make Russia less a priority to U.S. policymakers, Shevtsova says, and Moscow in turn will need to re-evaluate its U.S.-centric foreign policy, or invent new ways to get the Americans’ attention and restart the dialogue with Washington.
Serguei Oushakine, anthropologist (March 31)
Oushakine and his students at Princeton University have started collecting “propagandistic achievements” from the U.S. media, in order to study the operations of “local agitprop warriors.” His first is an MSNBC report accusing Russia of attacking U.S. diplomats in Cuba. It turned out to be noisy crickets.
Maxim Trudolyubov, political analyst (March 30)
“The Economic Ministry is located at the Lubyanka,” Trudolyubov declares, referring to data presented in a recent report by Kirill Rogov at the “Liberal Mission Foundation.” He includes a graph showing how the Federal Security Service’s economic crimes caseload has exploded over the past seven years to comprise a quarter of all investigations.
Alexander Verkhovsky, SOVA human rights center director (March 25)
Journalists write about “imprisonment for reposts and likes,” even though that behavior alone has never been used to imprison anyone in Russia, Verkhovsky says, adding that reporters conflate Criminal Code Articles 282 (inciting hatred or enmity or disparaging another person’s dignity) and 282.2 (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). He warns that the public has been similarly confused about new legislation banning online “fake news,” incorrectly believing that any unverified information about the authorities is now illegal.
Alexandra Polivanova, program curator for International Memorial (March 22)
In an interview with the affiliate Social Information Agency, Polivanova talks about the essence of democracy, the fight for access to information, and the difficulty of coming to terms with the past. She says access to “many important and needed” archival documents in Russia today is closed, but there is still a lot that is available, which is why there’s so much ongoing research about subjects like the Gulag. Polivanova attributes incidents of document destruction to a mix of conscious and unconscious acts, explaining that the state’s reflex is to deny access to anything.
Maria Eismont, journalist (March 25)
It’s been a year since several hundred “trash protesters” assembled at a landfill outside Kolomna to block garbage trucks bringing waste from other towns. Eismont describes the house arrest of Vyacheslav Egorov, one of the movement’s leaders, who’s now been unable to work or communicate with the outside world for two months. She thanks political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann for bringing Egorov’s case to the Presidential Human Rights Council’s attention. [Editor’s note: a day after Eismont’s Facebook post, a Moscow court upheld the case against Egorov, who’s charged with repeatedly violating public assembly rules.]
Sergey Belanovsky, the sociologist often credited with predicting Russia’s 2011 pro-democracy protests (March 28)
Focus-group research conducted in March 2019 shows that the “rate of change in the minds of Russians” is accelerating. Belanovsky notes the “prevailing attitude” that Russia’s strict presidential authority over the past 20 years hasn’t been worth it, as social and economic problems mount. Compared to last April and October, “negative trends” related to both the authorities broadly and Putin personally have strengthened. “Militaristic foreign policy” has lost virtually all popularity, Belanovsky says, and focus-group subjects expressed almost no interest in Syria or Venezuela. Sanctions are growing more unpopular, as well, as Russians lose faith in protectionism and import-substitution. “The most important result of the focus groups was the prevailing opinion that Russia’s political system must be radically restructured to be more democratic,” Belanovsky says, arguing that Russians are returning to a pro-democracy mindset that was more common in the late Soviet period than the post-1990s.