The Real Russia. Today. Zabaikalsky Krai ablaze, more mock Putin graves, and Russia's Runet user-data access
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
This day in history: 12 years ago, on April 23, 2007, Boris Yeltsin died in Moscow at the age of 76. The first president of the Russian Federation, Yeltsin was in office from July 1991 to December 1999, paving the way for his successor, Vladimir Putin.
- Photos: How Russia’s Zabaikalsky Krai fought a fire that destroyed more than 150 homes in 17 towns
- For more than a month, mock graves for Putin have been popping up around Russia. We talked to an activist leader about where they came from.
- Even without an Internet ‘nuclear option,’ Russian intelligence has been using an existing law to try to access RuNet user data for months. Here's how.
- Russian court fines Internet user hundreds of dollars for calling Vladimir Putin an ‘unbelievable fuckwit’
- The New Times questions ‘the seven leaders of the real Russian opposition’ about a post-Putin nation
- Kavkaz.Realii reports on Oleg Kashin blaming Ramzan Kadyrov for Boris Nemtsov's murder, potentially endangering Kashin
- Kremlin confirms meeting between Putin and Kim Jong Un will take place April 25 in Vladivostok
- Belarus halts benzene exports after receiving low-quality petroleum from Russia
- Court rejects lawsuit from pro-Navalny opposition activists whose social media data was given to security forces
On April 19, wildfires began to rage in the southeastern Siberian region of Zabaikalsky Krai. The flames spread quickly, riding through villages on high-speed winds. According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, more than 150 homes were destroyed in 17 towns, and more than 4,000 pets and livestock animals were killed as a result. The country’s Ministry of Emergency Situations reported that most of the fires were likely caused by open grass burnings, and both regional and federal government agencies have rushed to the aid of the fire’s victims. A state of emergency has been in effect in Zabaikalsky Krai every spring for several years as a precaution against wildfires, but that measure has not entirely prevented new disasters. The photographs, which were taken by Ksenia Zimina in April 2019, display the aftermath of the most recent fires. These images were provided by Chita.ru.
Since March 2019, members of multiple activist groups in cities around Russia have been putting mock gravestones for President Vladimir Putin in public places. The activists have said that the trend has become a kind of national protest meant to show that “Putin has died in the eyes of Russian citizens.” So far, “headstones” have been spotted in no fewer than seven Russian cities, with Yekaterinburg joining the list most recently on April 21. In two of the cities, the protest movement Agit Rossiya claimed responsibility for the mock graves. Meduza spoke with the movement’s press secretary, Grigory Kudryavtsev, who was accused of installing a headstone in St. Petersburg in early April and spent nine days in jail as a result.
The Federation Council has approved a new bill allowing for the isolation of the Russian sector of the Internet. Now, the bill awaits Vladimir Putin’s signature. The last law of this caliber to regulate Internet use in Russia was called “Yarovaya’s Package.” It was introduced into the State Duma three years ago and approved. The measure was supposed to take full effect on July 1, 2018 — almost a year ago. Meduza answers the following questions:
- What did Yarovaya’s Package have to do with the Internet?
- Is any of that actually working?
- Let’s deal with these one at a time. Why aren’t operators saving user traffic?
- Why can’t the FSB unencrypt all these companies’ files?
- How have Western companies reacted to Yarovaya’s Package?
- So Yarovaya’s Package isn’t operational at all?
- Will there be a delay before the Internet isolation law takes effect too?
A court in the Novgorod region's Chudovsky District has fined a local man 30,000 rubles ($470) for violating Russia's new law against insulting state officials on the Internet. The defendant, Yuri Kartyzhev, later uploaded a recording of the verdict being read out, where Judge Igor Ivanov says, “On March 31, 2019, at 6:45 p.m., Kartyzhev... shared on the social network VKontakte two notes with text that read ‘Putin is an unbelievable fuckwit,’ along with a graphic image of Russian President [Vladimir] Putin.”
According to human rights legal expert Pavel Chikov, Kartyzhev's case might be the first time Russia's court system has enforced the new law against insulting state officials.
What exactly is this new law? Signed by Putin in mid-March, the legislation entered force on March 29, 2019. It bans any information shared online that is expressed in an “indecent form” and offends the “human dignity” and “public morality,” while demonstrating “obvious disrespect for society, the state, or Russia's official state symbols, Constitution, or state agencies.” Fines range from 30,000 to 100,000 rubles ($470 to $1,570).
Russia's federal censor, Roskomnadzor, recently blocked two news outlets in Yaroslavl for reporting on anti-Putin graffiti painted on the outside of the local Interior Ministry building. In notifications to the two websites, Roskomnadzor cited other media regulations, however.
Kavkaz.Realii vs. Oleg Kashin 😨
On April 23, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Caucasus news branch, Kavkaz.Realii, published a news brief devoted entirely to columnist Oleg Kashin writing in a recent Facebook comment that Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov is responsible for the assassination of Boris Nemtsov. Kashin has repeatedly criticized Kavkaz.Realii as a vestige of Dwight Eisenhower's commitment to “captive nations,” arguing that several regional news branches poison Radio Svoboda’s otherwise high-quality reporting.
On Facebook, journalists Mitya Aleshkovsky and Ekaterina Vinokurova confronted Alexandra Garmazhapova, who works at Kavkaz.Realii (where masthead and newsroom information is hidden, apparently to protect the staff’s safety in Russia’s dangerous North Caucasus). Aleshkovsky and Vinokurova say Kashin’s Facebook comment isn’t newsworthy, warning that Kavkaz.Realii’s report actually poses a safety risk to Kashin, who lives in London, because the Chechen authorities have a history of seeking revenge against figures who insult Kadyrov. Garmazhapova defended the story, pointing out that it is accurate, and refused to say more about her work at RFE/RL.
One more thing: Vinokurova recently took a job at the state-own media outlet Russia Today, making her concerns about a reprisal attack against Kashin rather strange, given RT’s mission to improve Russia’s image globally.
The New Times has unveiled an interview project called “After Putin,” where the magazine poses the same questions to “the seven leaders of the real Russian opposition”: former State Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov, dissident Garry Kasparov, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, and Moscow municipal deputy Ilya Yashin (former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and politician Grigory Yavlinsky declined to participate).
So far, the magazine has asked just two sets of questions, awkwardly worded as follows: (1) “The regime has fallen. You’re the head of state. Have you taken power according to the procedures laid out in the Constitution, or by some other means?” and (2) “The regime has fallen. You’re the head of state. Suppose you’re the head of the provisional government. What format does the transitional period take? How long does it last? Will you participate in the first free elections [to follow]?”
Here’s how the respondents responded:
Gudkov: After Putin, Russia will need a political coalition to enact “serious constitutional reform” to limit the president’s authority and grant more power to the parliament. The head of a provisional government should be allowed to participate in the first democratic parliamentary elections, but not the first presidential race. As for the State Duma, seats should be allocated according to the German model of mixed-member proportional representation.
Kasparov: Russia can’t expect a constitutional transfer of power from the current state because Putin’s government is a “mafia state” that won’t ever reform or leave power voluntarily. Once the regime is gone, rewriting Russia’s laws at the “state-constitutional level” should be the top priority. Provisional government figures should be excluded from future elections, preferably for life. The first open elections should take place within 18–24 months of the Putin regime’s fall.
Kasyanov: There should be snap elections, the moment the Putin regime falls. Without free elections, Russia lacks a mechanism for forming a provisional government. The authorities should return to the format they used in 2012, meeting with prominent opposition leaders for suggestions about political liberalization. The most urgent state-policy priorities are economic and social: canceling the pension-age hikes, lowering the Value-Added Tax, canceling the “Platon” highway toll system, reducing inflation, and protecting small businesses. If a provisional government does materialize, its leaders should be barred from running in Russia’s first open elections.
Navalny: The Putin regime will fall either to popular protests or a more gradual Perestroika campaign, wherein the state is left with too few officials willing to defend it. (The regime already hurts many of its loyal supporters and defenders, like underpaid police officers, Navalny says.) The greatest challenge in any transition will be avoiding an economic catastrophe, while purging the political system of self-reproducing “usurpers.” Judicial reform is necessary to uphold free elections, which means treating election falsification as a “super crime” worse than murder. Russia will also need to break the state’s monopoly on the mass media, and prevent an oligarchic mass media, like Ukraine’s today. Opening the political landscape will result in a diverse, potentially “radical” parliament, as persecuted grassroots movements burst into the mainstream, which will necessitate preventative measures against another usurpation of power. Should the leaders of this provisional government be allowed to run in the first free and fair elections? Absolutely. (Navalny is the only respondent to give this answer.)
Yashin: Grassroots protest movements should force the regime to begin a dialogue with representatives of the opposition and civil society. Talks like these would be the best defense against violence. Putin shouldn’t participate in these negotiations, however, given that his fate and the fate of his inner circle will be grounds for discussion, and his presence will make the talks too emotional. The way to get the Kremlin to the negotiating table is to erode Putin’s perceived legitimacy through public pressure. A provisional government would need to audit all the laws passed in the last 20 years, while pushing for free and fair elections. Leaders in this transition process should not be permitted to run for office initially, because they will have helped write the rules of the competition.
In an article for Zaborona, journalist Katerina Sergatskova condemns rhetoric from some in the Petro Poroshenko camp. During the election, she says many pro-Poroshenko journalists and activists betrayed their ostensible dedication to fighting disinformation, and suddenly started spreading fake news that suited their beliefs that Zelenskiy is a Putin crony and his supporters are just pro-Russians. (Sergatskova may be referring to StopFake chief editor Yevhen Fedchenko retweeting an image in early April that falsely attributed an endorsement video from former Crimea Attorney General Natalia Poklonskaya to Zelenskiy’s own campaign.) Sergatskova argues that Zelenskiy’s election actually debunked the two biggest myths about Ukraine’s democracy that Poroshenko’s supporters used to work hard against: (1) the country is divided into “vatniki” in the east and “banderites” in the west, and (2) the elections are all falsifiable. Sergatskova compares the pro-Poroshenko elitists now trashing Zelenskiy’s supporters to “a white cisgender man” who’s locked himself in his room.
- 🕊️ Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov confirmed that Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet on April 25 in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok. He said that official information about the location and timing of the meting had not previously been released to journalists in accordance with an agreement made during the planning stage of the meeting. Read the story here.
- ⛽ Belarus has temporarily stopped exporting benzene and diesel to the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine because it has received unsatisfactory source petroleum from Russia, said Deputy Director of the Belarusian Oil Company Sergey Grib. He added that exports of dark petroleum products remain at their typical levels. Read the story here.
- ⚖️ The Smolninsky District Court in St. Petersburg has rejected a lawsuit submitted by four supporters of the opposition politician Alexey Navalny against the social network VKontakte. Read the story here.