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The Real Russia. Today. The dangers of Navalny's (and Putin's) labor union populism, lying to the Anti-Corruption Foundation, and anti-Putin graffiti

Meduza

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

This day in history: 117 years ago, on April 2, 1902, Russian Imperial Interior Minister Dmitry Sipyagin was assassinated in the Mariinsky Palace by a Socialist-Revolutionary radical. The murder was a severe setback to Finance Minister and reformer Sergei Witte.
  • Navalny’s labor union demands higher pay for civil servants, in accordance with Putin’s May 2012 executive order. Here’s why that’s impossible.
  • A former ‘Putin’s chef’ employee reported on sanitation violations in school lunches. Now, she says anti-corruption activists forced her to lie.
  • Columnist and former diplomat Vladimir Frolov explains what Russia wants in Venezuela
  • Graffiti about Putin triggers first enforcement of Russia's new law banning online anti-government insults
  • Duma to consider easing requirement for regional candidates to collect signatures from incumbent legislators
  • ‘Isolation’ of Russian Internet may require providers to use government-approved encryption techniques
  • Explosion in St. Petersburg military academy injures four, sparks criminal investigation
  • Social media content from Alexey Navalny, Ivan Begtin, Mikhail Fishman, Natalia Gryaznevich, Ilya Shumanov, and Aleksandr Peredruk

Dual populism 💸

In January, opposition politician Alexey Navalny created a labor union designed to hold state officials accountable for carrying out executive orders signed by Vladimir Putin on May 7, 2012. According to that presidential decree, kindergarten teachers, nurses, and lab technicians at hospitals and health clinics, as well as cultural professionals, should have started earning average salaries equal to 100 percent of the mean income in their regions, while salaries paid to doctors, higher education instructors, and researchers are supposed to average 200 percent. The idea promises to win Navalny a lot of new supporters: the government considers President Putin’s “May Orders” to be fully implemented, but most of the supposed beneficiaries are still surviving on below-average incomes, and sometimes their wages are still dramatically below average. Navalny’s labor union could boost his political popularity, but the project reproduces the same dangers Putin's executive order poses to the development of Russia’s healthcare, education, and culture.

Read Meduza's report here: “Navalny’s labor union demands higher pay for civil servants, in accordance with Putin’s May 2012 executive order. Here’s why that’s impossible.”

“Forced to lie” 📹

Natalya Shilova, who formerly worked for a company called Moskovsky Shkolnik that provides lunches for Moscow schools, appeared several weeks ago in an investigative video report by the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). In the video, Shilova spoke about sanitary violations committed by her former employer, which is allegedly tied to the Putin-allied businessman Evgeny Prigozhin. On April 2, she retracted the evidence she gave in a new video published on YouTube by the Federal News Agency, a media outlet that also has reported ties to Prigozhin and his “troll factory” in St. Petersburg. In her latest video, Shilova said she had agreed to speak with the FBK and its founder, opposition politician Alexey Navalny, in exchange for money that would allow her to pay health care costs for her child. She also asserted that the FBK report included inaccurate information.

Read Meduza's report here: “A former ‘Putin’s chef’ employee reported on sanitation violations in school lunches. Now, she says anti-corruption activists forced her to lie.”

Frolov: Here's what Russia wants in Venezuela 🕊️

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist and former diplomat Vladimir Frolov argues that Moscow is probably only scaring the U.S. with the prospect of another Syria-style military intervention in Venezuela and the threat of Russian military bases and missiles that would precipitate another “Cuban Missile Crisis.” In reality, the Kremlin is most likely preparing for a situation like Nicaragua in the 1980s, training local troops and providing assistance that is designed to maximize the costs of Washington’s attempts at regime change.

More significant military intervention, Frolov explains, would be impractical and too risky. Venezuela also lacks the terrorism threat that justified Moscow’s intervention in Syria, not to mention regional allies that could supply additional ground troops.

Frolov identifies three reasons Russia’s leadership is committed to some role in the Venezuelan crisis: (1) Rosneft has significant commercial interests in the country, and Igor Sechin has an enormous personal investment in the Maduro regime; (2) Moscow might want to raise the costs of regime change, and Washington's unabashed meddling in Venezuela is particularly enraging, making it the perfect time to teach the Trump administration a lesson; and (3) there’s an important domestic angle: Russia’s resurgence as a global great power has been a central pillar of Vladimir Putin’s presidency since 2014, and abandoning Venezuela to the U.S. would be a major blow to his reputation. Frolov ultimately believes Russia will realize the foreign-policy risks it embraced in Ukraine and Syria are not worth it in Venezuela, dismissing the threat of a “new Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear war.”

News briefs

  • 🔗 Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office has reportedly applied a new law that penalizes disrespecting the Russian government online for the first time. The occasion for the move was a news story about graffiti that used offensive language to describe President Vladimir Putin, according to TJournal. Read the full story here.
  • 🗳️ Two State Duma deputies from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Mikhail Degtiarev and Alexey Didenko, have proposed a bill that would decrease the so-called “municipal filter” for regional elections throughout the country. Currently, candidates who run for the highest office in their regional government must collect signatures from between 5 percent and 10 percent of their local legislative deputies depending on the region. The new bill proposes limiting that number to a maximum of 5 percent. Read the full story here.
  • 🔗 The State Duma committee on information policy is developing a new modification to current plans to isolate Russian Internet traffic from the World Wide Web, according to RBC. If the committee’s proposal moves past the development stage and is ultimately approved, both state-owned information systems and private Internet service providers will be required to employ encryption technology that is both produced in Russia and approved by the Russian federal government. Experts interviewed by RBC said the deployment of Russian encryption technology on a mass scale would allow government authorities to encrypt all online traffic in the country.
  • 💥 After an “unknown unencased object” exploded on the second floor of the Mozhaisky military academy in St. Petersburg, injuring four servicemembers, Russia’s Investigative Committee has initiated a criminal investigation. The Committee is treating the incident as an attempted murder case. A military investigation is also underway, and the academy has been evacuated. Read the full story here.

The peanut gallery 🥜

Alexey Navalny, founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (April 2)

Meduza’s reporting: Navalny condemns Meduza’s report on pay raises for doctors and teachers, calling it a “disgrace” that mischaracterizes his reasonable social platform as dangerous populism. “Jesus, it’s been a long time since I’ve read such clueless nonsense,” the activist wrote on his website. Navalny also personally attacks the author of the story, Dmitry Kuznets, mocking his past as a small business owner. He then pivots to a general mockery of Meduza’s Analysis Section, calling its editor and staff “stupid,” before arguing that Russia can find the money needed to pay civil servants by reducing militarism, Internet censorship, and media propaganda.

Ivan Begtin, director of the non-profit Informational Culture Organization (April 2)

Telegram’s trustworthiness: Though Telegram is a wonderful product and its founder, Pavel Durov, has done much to inspire Internet-freedom activists in Russia, the messenger remains one of the most private, least transparent services in the world, Begtin argues. It’s impossible to know who really runs the company or what assistance it offers intelligence agencies, Russian or otherwise. Some might say this level of secrecy is necessary in some countries, but it’s ultimately an unmanageable risk, Begtin says.

Mikhail Fishman, Dozhd anchor (April 2)

Two forms of elite repression: Fishman says Russian elites are victims of two forms of repression today: (1) demonstrative repressions that signal red lines in the sand (like with Kirill Serebrennikov and Viktor Ishaev), and (2) commercial conflicts that gobble up figures with too little weight within the establishment (like Michael Calvey and Mikhail Abyzov).

Natalia Gryaznevich, Open Russia spokeswoman (April 1)

Why Open Russia “disbanded”: Gryaznevich shares a map created by the investigative news website The Insider that shows all the different places law enforcement agencies have prosecuted Open Russia movement activists. “More than 160 cases, from charges of stealing water to felony offenses punishable by six-year prison sentences,” she writes, explaining that this crackdown is why the movement recently disbanded, in order to establish itself as a formal organization in Russia. “The decision to liquidate the movement was a choice between people and fundamental rightness, in favor of people,” Gryaznevich says.

Ilya Shumanov, deputy general director of Transparency International in Russia (March 28)

The origins of the state’s anti-corruption campaign: Russia’s security agencies, not the Kremlin, are responsible for the latest anti-corruption crackdown, Shumanov says, arguing that siloviki need to provide the Kremlin with advance notice (not ask permission) before launching criminal cases against former officials. These investigations are presented as something akin to the anti-corruption campaigns carried out in Saudi Arabia and China, but they’re really operations designed to seize and redistribute the assets of figures who’ve lost their political influence.

Aleksandr Peredruk, lawyer and spokesperson for Human Rights Defenders (April 2)

A raid connected to the October FSB bombing: An investigator from the Murmansk region’s Special Cases Division and a Federal Security Service special agent raided Peredruk's family home in Murmansk, where he was registered until March 2018, seizing their computer and several flash drives, searching for evidence that Peredruk was acquainted with the 17-year-old anarchist suicide bomber who attacked Arkhangelsk’s FSB headquarters in late October 2018. Peredruk says he didn’t know the bomber.

Yours, Meduza