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The Real Russia. Today. Two Russian video-game magnates, Frolov on the Zelenskiy presidency for Moscow, and the Rosneft-Reuters feud

Source: Meduza

Friday, April 19, 2019

This day in history: 32 years ago today, on April 19, 1987, Russian professional tennis player Maria Sharapova was born in Nyagan, in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. The only Russian woman player to hold the career Grand Slam, Sharapova has been a U.S. resident since 1994.
  • Two Russian brothers started a video game company and got onto Bloomberg's billionaire list. Here’s their first long interview.
  • Former diplomat Vladimir Frolov weighs the Zelenskiy presidency for Moscow
  • Columnist Oleg Kashin looks at the imploded Leonid Slutsky case
  • Journalist Alexey Naumov says Moscow is back to square one, thanks to the Mueller report
  • Russia's ruling political party releases viral campaign videos ahead of local elections outside Moscow
  • Foreign Ministry official says Mueller report contains ‘no evidence’ of election meddling
  • Rosneft wants Reuters news agency banned in Russia for report about Venezuela
  • Chair of republic-wide people’s council becomes latest opposition elder arrested in Ingushetia
  • Russian company plans to create a federal Internet of things network

Top of the charts 💰

Corinna Kern / Bloomberg / Getty Images

In April, Bloomberg added Igor and Dmitry Bukhman to its list of U.S. dollar billionaires. The brothers, born in the northwest Russian city of Vologda, founded a video game company out of their hometown in 2004. Now, Playrix, which employs more than 1,000 employees and entertains about 30 million users every day with popular games like Homescapes and Township. The Bukhmans made their first games out of their Vologda apartment and almost immediately started raking in a profit. Now, Igor is 37 years old, Dmitry is 34, and each is said to have a net worth of $1.4 billion. We spoke with the Bukhmans about how they started making more money off their games, why they no longer live permanently in Russia, and what’s going on in the country’s domestic video game market today.

Read Meduza's story here: “Two Russian brothers started a video game company and got onto Bloomberg's billionaire list. Here’s their first long interview.”

Opinions and analysis

🗳️ Frolov: Zelenskiy’s presidency won't be a picnic for Moscow

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist and former diplomat Vladimir Frolov argues that Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s likely presidency in Ukraine is a mixed bag for Moscow. Frolov says the Kremlin initially hoped only that incumbent Petro Poroshenko’s re-election would leave him battered and pave the way to future success for a Russia-friendly parliamentary opposition led by Yuriy Boyko and Viktor Medvedchuk.

Zelenskiy comes without Poroshenko’s toxicity in Russia, Frolov says, which presents a “window of opportunity,” but it’s still unclear how Zelenskiy will interpret his mandate. Frolov says Ukrainian voters want him to “demolish” the country’s corrupt state, not unlike revolutionaries during the Maidan uprising. Moscow can release some of its Ukrainian political prisoners, and Kyiv can lift some restrictions on Russian language and cultural imports, but real progress in bilateral relations will depend on peace in the Donbas. Zelenskiy has stood vaguely by the Minsk Accords and the “Steinmeier Formula,” but Kyiv will never settle for “minority shareholder” status in the region, Frolov says, which make new breakthroughs unlikely. In other words, Frolov says, the Zelenskiy presidency will probably prefer to stick with the status quo laid out by the unenforceable Minsk Accords.

🤦‍♀️ Kashin: Slutsky is a typical apple on a rotten tree

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin says State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky is an “atypical but quintessential” Russian lawmaker, arguing that he’s neither an Old School politician who cut his teeth in Russia’s rough-and-tumble 1990s democratic elections, nor a modern-day technocrat (he’s neither a “veteran” nor an “android”). Slutsky owes his prominence in the Duma to backroom dealing and personal ambition, Kashin says, which is why he’s nevertheless squarely at home in Russia’s legislature.

Why is Kashin writing about Leonid Slutsky now? Alexey Navalny recently published new evidence about Slutsky’s luxury cars — revelations Kashin thinks are stale and underwhelming. Kashin also recalls journalists’ effort to force Slutsky’s resignation last year over sexual harassment allegations. The campaign failed, and Kashin says it was further undermined by a sexual misconduct scandal at Meduza. (Meduza was one of the media outlets that led the charge against the lawmaker.)

According to Kashin, calls for Slutsky’s resignation were always problematic, however, because they were premised on the idea that he alone marred the State Duma’s otherwise good reputation. In fact, Kashin argues, Russia’s parliament is a “cesspool of political functionaries,” which is also potentially how the Kremlin wants the public to see it. Want another conspiracy theory? Kashin speculates that Slutsky’s own people are feeding the “luxury cars” information to Navalny, so Slutsky can claim the attention from anti-Putin oppositionists as proof of his loyalty to the Kremlin.

🕊️ Naumov: The Mueller report is bad news for Moscow

In an article for Carnegie Moscow Center, journalist Alexey Naumov says the release of a redacted version of the Mueller report has shoved U.S.-Russian relations right back into the gutter they occupied before William Barr published his relatively whitewashed summary. The actual report is neither the smoking gun Democrats needed to impeach Donald Trump nor the exoneration the president required to seize more independence in future negotiations with Moscow.

In other words, the report has reinvigorated the partisan debate in the United States, preserving Russia’s toxicity for the White House. Evidence of Russian meddling in American politics, moreover, means Russia will remain both a domestic and foreign policy issue in Washington. The report’s redactions from data about the Internet Research Agency and Evgeny Prigozhin also indicate that more details about Russian meddling will emerge in the future.

Going forward, Trump will still have little room to deal with the Kremlin, and that could prevent U.S.-Russian rapprochement for at least another five and half years, if the president is re-elected in 2020.

Rap the vote 🗳️

The Moscow region’s Odintsovsky District is holding local elections on April 21. To drum up support among a younger demographic, candidates from United Russia, the country’s ruling political party, recently released three music videos. The website Odintsovo.info was the first to write about the rap mashups.

In the videos, United Russia candidates from different precincts in the district recite the names of streets and boroughs in Odintsovsky. Each clip ends with a call to go vote on Sunday. The candidates are never identified as United Russia politicians and the name of the party is never mentioned or shown on screen.

News briefs

  • 👼 Georgy Borisenko, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's North America Department, says Robert Mueller’s report contains no evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “There’s nothing there that would attract attention. It actually confirms the absence of any argument that Russia supposedly meddled in the American elections. There’s not a shred of evidence there. In fact, the report’s authors concede that they have no evidence,” Borisenko says. Read the story here.
  • 🛢️ The Russian state oil company Rosneft says a recent report by the news agency Reuters contains “patently false” information that President Nicolas Maduro is funneling money from Venezuelan oil sales through Rosneft to evade U.S. sanctions. Read the story here.
  • 👮 Malsag Uzhakhov, the chair of Ingushetia’s Council of Teips, has been arrested in the republic’s Nazran district, Mediazona reported. Uzhakhov’s son said that a group of armed individuals took his father away in an unmarked vehicle. Read the story here.
  • 🛰️ A company called GLONASS-TM that is controlled jointly by Igor Rotenberg, Rostekh, and GLONASS has announced plans to create a federal network using Internet of things (IoT) technology. IoT technology establishes remote connections among objects that would typically lack Internet access, enabling them to exchange data and be controlled remotely. Read the story here.

Yours, Meduza