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The Real Russia. Today. Russia's system of ‘public advocates,’ threats to block OpenVPN, and a quiz for hardcore Soviet cartoon fans

Source: Meduza

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

This day in history: 75 years ago, on April 10, 1944, with help from guerrilla fighters, the Soviet Army finally drove German-Romanian troops from the city of Odessa.
  • How ‘public advocates’ are disrupting Russia’s justice system
  • Russia’s censorship agency has threatened to block OpenVPN. At worst, that move could interfere with systems from banking to cell service.
  • A quiz for hardcore Soviet cartoon fans
  • Russian investigators now want American investor Michael Calvey moved to house arrest
  • Last suspect in Russian treason case gets six years in prison, concluding FSB's worst scandal in recent memory
  • Columnist Oleg Kashin says a freed stage director's welcome-back ovation exposes Vladimir Putin's vulnerability
  • Social media content from Andrey Movchan, Maxim Trudolyubov, Ivan Kurilla, and Ekaterina Schulmann

Defendants need people who give a damn ⚖️

Since 2001, Russia has operated a system of “public advocates,” allowing individuals without a law degree (often defendants’ friends or relatives) to help defense attorneys build cases, including in felony trials. Recently, civic activists have started serving as public advocates, offering assistance not only to friends, but also to total strangers. Unlike appointed attorneys, these advocates can choose their own cases, and they’re free from certain restrictions on lawyers: for example, they can declare in court that they consider a trial to be politically motivated. Meduza asked three public advocates to explain what they do, why they’ve taken up this work, and how someone without a law degree but a direct interest in a case can help a professional defense attorney.

Read Meduza's report here: “How ‘public advocates’ are disrupting Russia’s justice system”

Russia flirts with another Internet collateral damage blowout 🛰️

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal censorship agency, wrote to the owners of 10 VPN services in late March to request compliance with the agency’s blacklist of websites that are blocked on Russian territory. Roskomnadzor threatened to block services that refused within the second half of May, and most of the VPN companies involved have already said they will not work with the agency. One of the companies on Roskomnadzor’s list is OpenVPN Inc., which has both its own paid VPN service and a VPN protocol that companies all over the world use to enable encrypted connections among devices. Meduza has learned that blocking that protocol might lead to broader disruptions in third-party services, somewhat like the agency’s efforts to block the messaging service Telegram in 2018. If Russian censors enforce their VPN blockage plan to the letter, areas from the banking system to the cellular service industry could experience unexpected technical issues.

Read Meduza's report here: “Russia’s censorship agency has threatened to block OpenVPN. At worst, that move could interfere with systems from banking to cell service.”

Test your knowledge of Soviet multiki 📺

In Russia, Animation Day is celebrated annually on April 8. Russia’s first cartoon, “The Beautiful Leukanida,” debuted on that day in 1912: it featured a group of black-and-white beetles. In the 107 years since, things have gotten much more colorful. Meduza presents a chance for you to test how attentively you’ve watched the best-known Soviet and Russian full-color cartoons.

Take Meduza's quiz here: “A quiz for hardcore Soviet cartoon fans”

News briefs 📰

  • ⚖️ Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee has asked a Moscow court to transfer American investor Michael Calvey and former Vostochny Bank chairman Alexey Kordichev from pretrial detention to house arrest, a spokesperson for the Basmanny District Court told the news agency Interfax. The two men have been jailed since mid-February on charges of fraudulent debt repayment. Another four suspects in the investigation are also being jailed. On April 9, Moscow’s Basmanny District Court extended the arrest of another suspect in the case, French national and Baring Vostok partner Philippe Delpal, until mid-July.
  • ⚖️ Russia’s Moscow District Military Court has convicted former Federal Security Service (FSB) agent Dmitry Dokuchaev of treason and sentenced him to six years in prison, also stripping him of his rank as major. After agreeing to a plea bargain and testifying against his former boss, Dokuchaev received a lighter sentence than the other suspects in the case: former FSB officer Sergey Mikhailov got 22 years in prison, former Kaspersky Lab expert Ruslan Stoyanov was sentenced to 14 years, and entrepreneur Georgy Fomchenkov (who also reportedly cooperated with prosecutors) got seven years behind bars. Read the full story here.

Kashin says Kirill Serebrennikov gets an ovation forever beyond Putin's grasp👏

A standing ovation greeted theater director Kirill Serebrennikov this week, when he returned to the stage at the Gogol Center, following his release from house arrest in an ongoing case where he's charged with stealing 133 million rubles ($2 million) allocated by Russia’s Culture Ministry to a theater project. In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin argues that the applause for Serebrennikov demonstrates cultural capital that his captors will never have. Kashin says Serebrennikov has achieved virtual sainthood and now wields “the power of truth,” whatever his merits as an artist. Russia’s authorities are maybe aware of this vulnerability, which is why, Kashin suggests, the Putin administration has pursued “escapist” adventurism in places like Ukraine, Syria, and even Madagascar.

The peanut gallery 🥜

Andrey Movchan, economist (April 10)

👨‍⚖️ Dumb, vague laws are holding back Russia: After describing several examples of how Russia’s byzantine laws and regulations are open to contradictory interpretations by federal agencies and courts, Movchan argues that Russia’s “illiterate” legal framework is the “catastrophe” at the center of the country’s problems with corruption, parochialism, and political turnover. Russia’s laws are currently calculated to allow the authorities to interpret them in their own way, “and then in another way, five minutes later,” so long as a higher-ranking official doesn’t intervene. When the next generation of leaders takes power in Russia, Movchan says, they’ll have to rewrite the country’s entire legal system — not just the repressive laws adopted in recent years.

Maxim Trudolyubov, columnist (April 9)

🎭 Russia’s justice system is like the angry gods of old: Commenting on Olga Romanova’s April 9 op-ed in Republic (summarized here by Meduza), Trudolyubov compares her parsing of criminal proceedings in the “Seventh Studio” case to divination, calling it a “science more modern and important than Kremlinology.” Romanova argues that a suspect like Kirill Serebrennikov might be the victim of a deal between unseen, powerful figures, which Trudolyubov says would resonate with “the ancients” who believed they were bystanders in stories played out by the gods. “This science needs its scribes and interpreters,” Trudolyubov writes, asking (perhaps facetiously) if Romanova can teach others to read the tea leaves, too.

Ivan Kurilla, European University at St. Petersburg historian (April 10)

🎓 Russian academia’s stifling power vertical: Responding to a report by Idelreal.org about the “ruthless power vertical” rector Ilshat Gafurov has implemented at Kazan Federal University, Kurilla says the story in Tatarstan isn’t an isolated situation, but a “systemic problem” throughout Russian academia. Arguing that this oppressive management style is designed to snuff out “pockets of freethinking,” he urges lawmakers to fund an independent audit of Russian higher education.

Ekaterina Schulmann, political scientist (April 10)

✂️ Last-minute fiddling with Russia’s “Internet isolation” legislation: On April 9, the State Duma’s website shared a revised draft of “Internet isolation” legislation in its second reading, including a table showing all recommended and rejected amendments. Then the information disappeared. Schulmann says she managed to save a copy of the file, however, and it’s different from what the Duma republished a day later. Comparing the two documents, Schulmann says someone removed 32 words (she doesn’t say which) from the legislation between Tuesday and Wednesday, while keeping it 30 pages long. The controversial draft law is scheduled for a vote in the Duma on Thursday, April 11.

Yours, Meduza